Rock and role for stargazers

YOU could pay millions to take a trip on a space mission and get your hands on your very own piece of moon rock – or you could take a trip to the region's own hub of astronomical activity.

By Nick Richards

YOU could pay millions to take a trip on a space mission and get your hands on your very own piece of moon rock – or you could take a trip to the region's own hub of astronomical activity.

Here, Nick Richards looks ahead to a key event for astronomical enthusiasts in Suffolk.

EVER wanted to take a close up look at some real moon rock without even taking your feet of planet earth?

Well, here's your long-awaited chance – courtesy of the Orwell Astronomical Society.

This Saturday and Sunday the organisation will be holding key open evenings at its impressive observatory at Orwell Park in Nacton.

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One of the star attractions on display at this weekend's show is moon rock from the last recorded moonwalk.

This took place thirty years ago and, as Ken Goward from the society explains, it fittingly coincides with their anniversary.

"It's quite a good coincidence as we're actually in our 30th anniversary this year.

"Because of that we thought it would be a good idea to focus our agenda for the open evenings on telling the story of the last time that man walked on the moon."

Apollo 17 was in fact the last Apollo mission to land men on the moon.

It carried the only trained geologist to walk on the lunar surface, lunar module pilot Harrison Schmitt.

Compared to previous Apollo missions, Apollo 17 astronauts traversed the greatest distance using the Lunar Roving Vehicle and returned the greatest amount of rock and soil samples.

Eugene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17, still holds the distinction of being the last man to walk on the Moon, as no humans have visited the Moon since December 14, 1972.

"The actual samples of rock are only thumbnail size, but they are very interesting and worth seeing," continued Ken.

"We will also have meteorites on display and we will have telescopes pointing to the exact spot on the moon where the crew of Apollo 17 landed on that mission all those years ago."

The Orwell Astronomical Society started in 1967 and has the honour of being sited in a truly great Suffolk building.

The observatory building itself dates from the Victorian era.

A wealthy Victorian luminary, Colonel George Tomline, purchased the Orwell Park Estate in 1848, and retained ownership until his death in 1889. During the period 1848-1878, he remodelled and extended the Orwell Park mansion. Astronomy was a popular hobby at the time, and Tomline was a keen astronomer. During the last phase of work to extend the mansion, Tomline built the observatory.

Ken went on: "Our main aim has always been to restore the observatory.

"It has survived in its current state for a great many years and unfortunately by the time we started to restore it, we were very aware of how much it had suffered from that period of neglect.

"It's had water exposure and general deterioration, but also it was occupied by the army during the war and a certain amount of notable damage took place at that time"

Despite this damage and deterioration, the observatory still remains an incredible landmark which is well loved by the members of the society – and by all those who visit it on the scheduled open evenings.

"It's an excellent observatory and rare," said Ken. "There aren't many examples of Victorian observatories left in the country so we are very lucky to have one like this here in Suffolk.

"Even if the weather is cloudy when visitors come to our open evenings, there will still be plenty of exhibits to look at. We hope to meet with experienced and novice astronomers – as well as those who just have a basic curiosity for what we see in the sky above us."


n The Orwell Astronomical Society open evenings take place tomorrow and Sunday between 5pm and 9.30pm. Admission is £1 for adults and 50p of children and senior citizens.

Admission money raised this weekend will go towards the further restoration of the observatory


The successful Apollo 17 manned lunar landing mission was the last in a series of three J-type missions planned for the Apollo Program.

The J-type missions have been characterised by extended hardware capability, by a scientific payload larger than the previous G- and H-series missions and by use of a battery powered lunar roving vehicle (LRV).

As a result of these additions, the Apollo 17 mission had a duration of 12.6 days, and a time on the lunar surface of 75 hr with a total surface traverse distance of approximately 35 km.

The Saturn V carrying Apollo 17 was launched from NASA John F. Kennedy Space Center at 05:33:00am local time on December 7, 1972.

The members of the crew were Ronald Evans, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt.