CAC’s Unsung Hero


Kevin Abke, Cactus Writer

Central Arizona College and the Astronomy Department at the Signal Peak Campus have,
according to Dean Bunkelmann, an unsung hero — Robert Boedeker.

In March, 1976, while Robert was in the 9th grade, Robert contacted former astronomy professor Allan Morton to learn how to photograph a comet. Since that day, Robert has volunteered his time and energy to assisting the astronomy department here at CAC. He later attended classes at CAC, graduating in 1993 with an Associates of Applied Sciences from the Manufacturing Engineering Technologies program. Since his first visit to CAC’s astronomy department, Robert has been deeply involved with the activities and events of the department. He has built his own telescopes and used them to take photographs.

The benefits of the astronomy department are not just limited to star gazing. The learning benefits for the students add to the quality of the education for the STEM program, math and sciences, and other science related fields. Because of the equipment and abilities of the CAC astronomy department, CAC is a leader to students looking to move forward to major universities. Robert’s efforts are a direct factor in the success of this department and for the students.

The astronomy department has several 10” and 14” telescopes to provide learning tools for students. Robert also assists in the maintenance of these telescopes as well. The complex nature of CAC’s astronomy department does not disappoint. Having the equipment available to be able to see eclipses, comets, planets and moons, and so much more are what makes the department’s activities so much more than just star gazing. The observatory, which can accommodate up to 100 people also has a viewing platform that projects images onto a screen. In April 1986, following the return of Halley’s Comet, CAC was able to purchase a former NASA 24” telescope from a state surplus sale. This commitment by the college to the astronomy department was a massive undertaking. A 24” telescope is not commonly found at community colleges, making CAC a prominent scientific educational facility. The telescope was the brainchild of Allan Morton, professor of astronomy, and Norman Shinkle, a professor of math and science.
The size of the telescope has presented CAC with many challenges. Without having an astronomy background the thought of a 24-inch telescope does not seem like it would be that big — until you see it!

To get the telescope to the college required a large flatbed truck and a heavy-duty crane to install it. Robert explained that the first attempt to bring the telescope to the college failed because the truck they planned to use was not able to haul such a large object. Robert was deeply involved in the process to get this 7-ton telescope installed and operational. A telescope this size was not something you put in the garage and pull out for fun. It required more than just a tripod, it needed its own concrete reinforced steel mounted platform.
The observatory had to have power to run the motors of the telescope and for the computers to operate it.

Therefore, a construction project had to be planned. Power lines were run to the site and concrete was poured. The building that makes up the CAC observatory was built around the telescope and sits on a rail system, which moves the building to expose the telescope to the open sky. In 1995, an addition to the building was added to the observatory to house the computers and store other equipment in an office at the site.

The telescope was not new when the college acquired it. Due to its unique nature, parts for a telescope of this size are not available in stores. Robert used his degree, experience and the help of Mike Walton, to mill components for the telescope as many of the parts are no longer available.

For over 40 years Robert Boedeker has devoted himself to the success of the astronomy department. When asked Boedeker said “It has been a pleasure” to be able to work with the department.” I was completely amazed at what I saw, not only through the lens of the telescopes, but by the capabilities of the department. I strongly encourage students, faculty and staff to visit the observatory at Signal Peak.