Monday, March 28, 2005

A Sad Note

Sir Patrick Moore, the British amateur astronomer whose many books and programs on the subject inspired many people world-wide to immerse themselves in the pleasures of stargazing, has been forced to give up his favorite hobby because of an injury sustained in WWII.
A spinal injury suffered during the Second World War has left the astronomer unable to use his hands without great difficulty. He can only walk with the aid of two sticks and now experiences problems standing to peer through his telescope.

However, he said yesterday that he will continue to present The Sky at Night, the television programme he has presented for nearly 50 years.

"It is most annoying," Sir Patrick, 82, said yesterday. "I suffered a wartime injury to my spine. I was a flyer in the war.

"The doctors told me there was trouble ahead and that I might start having problems at around the age of 30. But I lasted for quite a lot longer. Up until five years ago I was still playing cricket.

Despite his troubles, Sir Patrick retains the traditional British stiff upper lip.

"Frankly it is upsetting. But there you are. I have had a very good innings and done most of the things I am capable of. I mustn't grumble."

Sir Patrick's love of amateur astronomy has spanned more than seven decades.

He began stargazing at the age of six. From then until he was 16 he suffered from a heart complaint and spent much of his childhood at home. He was unable to go to Eton, as planned, and when he was due to go to Cambridge, the war intervened.

During his illness, he picked up his mother's copy of The Story of The Solar System, which sparked his lifelong passion.

He spent the war in the RAF, rising to the rank of squadron leader. It was while he was serving with the RAF that his sweetheart was killed in the Blitz, and he has remained single ever since.

Sir Patrick first started presenting The Sky at Night in 1957. Listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as the longest serving television presenter, he failed to appear on the BBC1 programme only once, when he suffered a bout of salmonella food poisoning from a duck egg.

After so tirelessly promoting amateur astronomy in a world where ever fewer people can actually see the stars from light-poluted cities and suburbs, Sir Patrick has left instructions for one last star party.

He acknowledges that at 82 he is now on the "last lap", but says he does not mind. He has one last trick up his sleeve.

He has arranged for his body to be donated for medical research and he has left funds for one last "star" party at his home.

He said: "I have given instructions for a lighted candle to be placed on the table. A prepared tape will be played in which I give notice that I am about to do my best to blow it out. If I manage it, everyone will know that I am still around."


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