Carol Christian spends a lot of her time at great heights – as a skydiver, climber, and flight instructor. Her role of Skywatch co-host takes her even further, into realms beyond physical reach.
It’s a logical role for the former stunt pilot instructor and aspiring astronaut – Christian passed NASA’s astronaut screening in 1995, and continues to apply for a shot at space. “Being off-planet is really of interest to me,” she said.
For now, she’ll settle for visiting the cosmos via research, and sharing that knowledge with her listeners. Christian likes discussing the more unusual angles to the science of the day, like the astronomical background to paintings of Vincent Van Gogh, or the creative leaps in technology that allow space probes to overcome the tremendous natural obstacles to their missions.
Christian’s interest in astronomy began after she completed her undergraduate degree in physics at the University of Dayton. She was looking for a field that combined her love for physics with a second skill, and astrophysics seemed a likely match. Boston University provided her with a graduate degree and PhD in physics and astronomy.
During working hours, Christian has dual responsibilities. She’s a science and technology advisor at the State Department’s Office of eDiplomacy, where she counsels officials on technology useful for diplomatic and humanitarian needs, such as satellite systems that track natural disasters and the environment. She’s also the National Virtual Observatory education director for public and science community outreach.
Christian lives in Baltimore, Md., with her two dogs, Summer and C.D.
Jim O’Leary remembers when his fascination with the sky began. He was a child, looking up and noticing for the first time how the clouds billowed and drifted across that expanse of blue. There were obviously processes at work he didn’t understand, that had to be explained. It was the start of a lifelong curiosity about the cosmos.
In high school, he and a friend would doze outdoors in sleeping bags, a telescope set up nearby, waking at 3 a.m. for the best view of Saturn. O’Leary tried his hand at astrophotography, taking pictures of the sky. College brought a different focus, and he graduated from the pre-med program at Catholic University with a bachelor of sciences in biology and chemistry.
But astronomy would soon be back. O’Leary decided to take some post-college time off before entering medical school, and ended up with a part-time job at a planetarium in Fitchburg, Mass., presenting school and public programs. “I realized, ‘My God, this is what I really enjoy doing,’” he recalled.
The part-time job turned into a full-time job, and that led to other planetariums and science centers. Today, in addition to his work as co-host of Skywatch, O’Leary is senior director of the planetarium, IMAX theater, observatory, and SpaceLink and TerraLink centers at the Maryland Science Center.
His favorite Skywatch topics bend toward our galactic neighborhood and the solar system, planets like Mars, so recognizable and concrete. “You can imagine yourself walking across that dusty landscape.”
In his spare time, O’Leary enjoys photography and visiting Ireland, where his parents were born. He’s written articles for magazines and participated as a host home in the Children’s Friendship Project for Northern Ireland, which fosters relationships between Catholics and Protestants.
O’Leary lives in Perry Hall, Md. He has three, nearly grown children.