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  • Rollin P. Van Zandt
  • Rollin P. Van Zandt

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    Wall of Honor Level:
    Air and Space Sponsor

    Honored by:
    Jean and Lowell Braxton

    Rollin P. Van Zandt (1911-1994). All of science intrigued and fascinated Rollin, most especially astronomy, prompting him to build his own telescope around 1952. He was a driving figure in the Peoria Astronomical Society and in the creation of two observatories and a planetarium in Illinois. With his precision mechanical skills, he was able to work on telescopes, including assembly, repair and installation.
    In addition to his full time employment as a mechanical engineer, he taught introductory astronomy classes at both the Peoria Astronomical Society and Bradley University, Peoria. Realizing that textbooks on astronomy became outdated often by the time they were published, he wrote his own texts in looseleaf style, attempting to update them yearly. His Astronomy for the Amateur came out in two volumes, the final editions dated 1977 and 1978, each edition ballooning in size due to the constant deluge of new information and photographs discovered by NASA spacecraft and made available to the public.
    He sold some 5000 of these texts to astronomical societies and universities.
    Rollin was active in the Astronomical League, a confederation of amateur astronomical societies throughout the country, as president, secretary, and other positions, contributing articles for its publication the Reflector, edited and wrote booklets for the League, and contributed several papers including his Noah’s Ark Project on Mars, presented at the League’s convention in 1991. He submitted a similar paper at the Planetary Society’s “Case for Mars V” conference in Boulder, CO, in 1993. These papers described his concept of colonization of Mars, creating livable biomes from selected Martian craters, using his considerable engineering knowledge and skills in the planning, adding technical information from his intense study of Mars, and research related to the survival of a human colony on Mars.
    Rollin was deeply spiritual, but became less religious as he aged. His questing mind always asked, “Why?” But he never had trouble meshing science and religion. To explain his understanding of the connections between these fields, he studied the Bible and other religious texts and countless scientific disciplines, working for years on a book, never finished.
    In early January 2016, we learned that Minor Planet 2000 CG 112 was officially designated 71539 VanZandt by the International Astronomical Union and announced in the Minor Planet Circular 96937 issued by the Minor Planet Center at Harvard Center for Astrophysics. He had been nominated by a former student and friend devoted to astronomy.
    He inspired many people, youngsters to elderly, by his enthusiasm, drive, and fascination for astronomy, by his awe of the Universe, his generosity in imparting all he knew to answer questions and to find answers to more questions. Rollin’s life exemplifies Geoffrey Chaucer’s description of the “Oxford Scholar” in the Canterbury Tales: “And gladly would he learn, and gladly teach.”
    When a former student asked if there was anything he hadn’t been able to do, he answered: I did most everything I ever wanted – except walk on the Moon, but if I ever got there, I’d know my way around!

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