My Time Machine

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Being able to see the stars at night has always been one of my most favorite things about living in the 573. If you have lived in large polluted cities where you can’t see the stars, then you know what a gift it is. Sure it’s a lot easier to go online and see all the stars you want, but seeing it with your own eyes in real time gives me a chance to think about time. Wondering about time, I believe, has made me a happier person. When I look up at the night sky, I’m able to remember things from my past. I wonder what the places look like at this very moment in time. I wonder how they have changed. What about the people I knew? What are they doing? Do they wonder about time? Do they value their time? Do you? How we spend our time on earth should be important to everyone. After all, time and the amount of time we have on this earth is finite.

Here is something to ponder. When you look up at the night sky, the number of stars that you can see on a clear (moonless) night in a dark area (far away from city lights) is about 2000. When you look up to the night sky, chances are that what you are looking at occurred long, long ago in time. It takes 2.5 million light years for the image of the Andromeda galaxy to appear in our night sky. If you think about it, looking up into the night sky is like looking into a time machine and images of things the way they were long ago. The cool thing about this is, we can in fact, travel further back in time with a telescope. Billions of years back. That’s a lot to ponder if you think about it.

Recently, we met a man who is obsessed with time travel. Meet Dennis Vollink – astro-photographer and his amazing time machine.

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573: Tell us about yourself.

I was born in Battle Creek, MI, and attended St. Philip Catholic High School, where I met my wife, Kathy. I went to college at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO, and graduated in 1974 with a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering (distinguished Graduate). After graduation I married Kathy, then attended Undergraduate Pilot training in Del Rio Texas, graduating in 1975. For the next 7 years I was an Air Force instructor pilot in T-38 advanced jet trainers, both at Del Rio and also Randolph AFB in San Antonio. While I was in San Antonio I attended Trinity University night school and worked towards Masters in Physics/Solar Engineering.

When I was transitioning out of the active Air Force and into the Air Force Guard, I was introduced to Bob Drury and was hired as a pilot and engineer with Drury Southwest, Inc. Kathy and I moved to Cape Girardeau in October 1981 and we have been here since then. I retired from the AF Guard as a Lieutenant Colonel.

Cape Girardeau has been a great place for our family. We raised our two sons and daughter here. Tim, our oldest son, graduated from SEMO with degrees in Horticulture and Graphic Arts. He is a graphic artist with Drury Southwest Signs and does photography both for the company and on the side. Matt, went to Quincy University, married Laura Burdick of Cape Girardeau, and is a teacher and soccer coach at Notre Dame High School here in Cape. He teaches world history and philosophy. Mary Beth, our daughter, went to the University of Illinois at Champaign and graduated last year with a degree in Physics. She is now a Physics teacher, also at Notre Dame High School. We are blessed to have them here. Tim and Matt each have two children; our 4 grandchildren are Connor (13), Anna (11), Leo (3) and Josephine (1).

Kathy & I are active in our parish, St. Mary Cathedral. I am also active as a volunteer with the St. Francis Hospital Board, SEMO River Campus Board of Managers, Discovery Playhouse, SEMO Engineering Physics Advisory Board, Northern Arizona University HRM Board of Advisors, and Knights of Columbus. I continue to act as the liaison officer for SE Missouri for the USAF Academy.

I have been blessed with a very exciting job, helping our team develop, build, and plan hotel and commercial developments across the country for Drury Southwest, Inc. I am the company president in addition to mechanical engineer, one of the company pilots (8,500 hours), and have board duties for both Drury Southwest, Inc. and Drury Hotels Company.

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573: Tell us about your cool hobby.

I got interested in astronomy and physics while in grade school. I got my first telescope in the 7th grade and used it visually quite often while growing up in Battle Creek. I was always amazed at the views and the wonders of space. When we moved to Cape Girardeau, I was able to get a Meade 10” and also 14” reflector telescopes. I would set these up in my driveway and use them mostly visually but I also did some film photography. It was difficult and time consuming to set up, so I never had much luck at good pictures. I have always received an astronomy magazine and was able to see the big

advancements the amateurs were making with digital equipment vs film. I started planning an observatory so I would not have to set up the complicated mounts every night and would be able to enjoy the views and photography more. We finished the observatory in 2006 and have been making improvements to our equipment and processes since then.

To help learn the hobby, I have attended astrophotography and astrophysics conferences for amateurs in Arizona and California three times and will be going back next year. There are a number of very dedicated astro-photographers around the world that attend these conferences and share their work and techniques. It changes every year with the advancements in equipment and processing. There are a number of professionals that have training courses and materials that also help greatly.

It’s really cool to see the photos come to life, realizing that the photons that make them travel thousands to millions of light years end up in my 6” scope here in Cape. Creation is going on in every direction of space.

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