I'm in San Diego attending a conference of about 150 people from all over the world who are interested in using robotic telescopes (such as NSO!) for student research and education. There are some big names here - Bob Denny, the head of DC-3 Dreams and the author of the ACP control software that runs our telescope; Frederick Hessman, who wrote the astronomical plug-ins that we use with ImageJ to do the bulk of our image processing work; John Briggs, the head of the long-running Summer Science Program; Joseph Haberman, one of the founders of PlaneWave instruments, the maker of our telescope; Stella Kafka, the head of AAVSO; and many, many others. Many people here have worked with and know each other for many years (though, often only via email!)
The big robotic networks - Sierra Remote Observatory, iTelescope, Las Cumbres Observatory, Dark Sky Observatory, SkyNet - are all represented, and give pause for thought, which leads to this question: with all of these incredibly high quality, robotically-controlled telescope networks, located in places that have 250 clear nights per year (or more), often using 1 or 2 meter telescopes, what is NSO's place in the world of robotic telescopes?
We are still developing a full answer to this question, but part of the answer certainly will include our wonderful facility and excellent viewing (when the clouds don't interfere!), our local ties to the Northeast Kingdom, and the personal connection and contact we can provide to those interested in astronomy and astronomical imaging.
On the van ride to the hotel I was fortunate to meet David McKinnon, the leader of the Charles Sturt University (in Australia) Remote Telescope Project. He and his colleague Lena Danaia are passionately interested in exploring the question of how astronomy education in particular, and science education in general can be improved so as to engage and benefit all students. This may hold the key to how NSO and NKAF can really contribute to this wonderful endeavor!
More reflections tomorrow!