Future Reflections                                                                                       Convention, 2002

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NFB Hosts Public Release of Touch
the Universe:A NASA Braille Book of Astronomy

by Barbara Cheadle

NFB President Dr. Murer welcomes guests and the media to the National Center for the Blind to celebrate NASA's release of Touch the Universe (poster on back wall depicts the book cover)

NFB President Dr. Maurer welcomes guests and the media to the National Center for the Blind to celebrate NASA’s release of  Touch the Universe (poster on back wall depicts the book cover).

 

On November 21, 2002, the National Federation of the Blind hosted NASA’s public release of the much-anticipated sixty-four-page book, Touch the Universe: A NASA Braille Book of Astronomy. Some thirty blind students from five states (Maryland, Colorado, Michigan, New York, and Washington) attended the event. The students were delighted with the full-color, tactile, large print, and Braille embossed book of fourteen photographs taken by the Hubble Telescope. They were a little awed, too, to meet the book’s author, Noreen Grice, and other VIPs from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) who sponsored this special event. On the same day, another event marking the release of the book took place on the DePaul University campus in Chicago. Students from the Wisconsin School for the Blind and the school’s director, Mark Riccobono, joined Dr. Bernhard Beck-Winchatz to celebrate with him the completion of the project he had dreamed up.

In the vernacular of today’s youth, Touch the Universe—A NASA Braille Book of Astronomy is “awesome.” I highly recommend it for literate blind students of all ages. The well-written scientific content, incredible tactile images, crisp Braille, easy-to-read large print, and stunning color photographs combine to create a book that is as beautiful as it is informative. It truly belongs in the home of every blind student, and on the bookshelves of every library, school, or other institution that serves blind and visually impaired students.

Following are several photographs of the Baltimore event hosted at the National Center for the Blind (the national headquarters of the NFB), a press release describing the development of Touch the Universe, and a review of the book by Carol Castellano.

Several officials from the National Aeronautice and Space Administration
Several officials from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) took part in the event. Pictured from left to right are Mr. Courtney Stadd, NASA chief of staff and White House liaison; NFB President Marc Maurer; Dr. Edward Weiler, NASA associate administrator, Office of Space Science; and Dr. Kent Cullers, blind radio astronomer and director of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, R&D, SETI Institute. Other special guests at the event (not pictured) were Mr. Al Diaz, director of the Goddard Space Flight Center; Dr. David Leckron, Hubble Space Telescope senior scientist; Mr. Charles T. Horner III, assistant administrator, Office of Legislative Affairs (NASA); And Dr. Steven Beckwith, director of the Space Telescope Institute.

Here’s how you can order the book: Touch The Universe: A NASA Braille Book of Astronomy is available from National Academies Press for $35.00, plus $4.50 for shipping and handling for the first copy and $0.95 for each additional copy. The book can be ordered by mail or by Internet. To order the book online, go to http:/www.nap.edu/catalog/10307.html. To order by mail, send your request, your mailing address, and check or money order made payable to National Academies Press, to National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20055.

Touch the Universe Book Now Available—

Students who in the past have not been able to experience some of NASA’s spectacular discoveries now have a unique opportunity to touch the stars. Some of the most majestic space images from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope are now part of a special Braille book that combines tactile illustrations with striking images of planets, star clusters and nebulae, as viewed by Hubble.

The book, Touch the Universe: A NASA Braille Book of Astronomy, is the brainchild of Bernhard Beck-Winchatz, an astronomer and faculty member at DePaul University, Chicago. He undertook the project to allow visually impaired students the same opportunities as those who are sighted to engage themselves in space science.

Teaming up with astronomer and author Noreen Grice, Beck-Winchatz developed this much-needed space science resource book for the blind with a $10,000 Hubble Space Telescope grant for education programs.

In 1999, Grice published Touch The Stars, a book with touchable pictures based on drawings of constellations, comets, galaxies and other astronomical objects. “I was fascinated by Grice’s book,” recalled Beck-Winchatz. “I thought it would be intriguing to create similar tactile pictures based on real Hubble Space Telescope images, but I didn’t think this could possibly be a new idea. There are 10 million visually impaired people in the United States; it seemed outrageous that these resources would not be available before now.”

Ben Wentworth, terry Garrett and Paul Clarke
Ben Wentworth (right) science teacher at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind, and (left to right) students Terry Garrett and Paul Clarke describe testing the prototype images created by Noreen Grice.

Grice, who is based in Boston, originally began experimenting with techniques to make astronomy more accessible for the visually impaired more than fifteen years ago after having observed a group of blind visitors at the Charles Hayden Planetarium in Boston. Ever since that experience, she has worked on ways to make science more accessible to the blind and other people with physical challenges.

To allow both blind and sighted readers to enjoy the Hubble images in Touch the Universe, Grice developed clear tactile overlays for each image. The overlays were sent to Benning Wentworth, a science teacher and astronomy enthusiast at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind in Colorado Springs. His students evaluated each image for clarity and provided important suggestions for needed changes.

“Based on the students’ comments, I was able to revise the images and make aluminum master plates,” said Grice. With the final plates, plastic overlays were produced in a heat vacuum, or thermoform, machine. The tactile thermoform pages, placed in front of the color HST images, make these images accessible to readers of all visual abilities.

NASA - Marc Maurer and Amy Herstein
In the large conference room at the Center, students were able to examine copies of  Touch the Universe. Here Dr. Maurer and Amy Herstein of Maryland examine an illustration together.

The book is for middle school students, high school students, and adults alike and is expected to attract the attention of mainstream educators, a number of whom already use Grice’s first tactile book in science classes. Four hundred copies will be printed in the first run, and the book will sell for slightly above production cost so earnings can offset future updates and production of a second edition.

For Beck-Winchatz, helping to create such a valuable resource tool has been rewarding. “Scientists often live in ivory towers,” said Beck-Winchatz. “It is only through partnerships like this that we get to share what we are doing. However, educational endeavors like this one require money. The grants for education from NASA’s Office of Space Science allow us to branch outof pure science and use some of the results of research to affect the lives of the general public and, in this case, the blind and visually impaired.”

Ann Taylor and students
Ann Taylor (center), staff member of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC), demonstrates the Tactile Image Enhancer Junior to a group of students from the Maryland School for the Blind and the Baltimore City public school vision program. All guests at the day’s event were given the opportunity to tour the IBTC and the National Center for the Blind.

 

 

Noreen Grice and Jessica Watson
Noreen Grice signs a copy of her book for Jessica Watson of Maryland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kent Cullers and Chris Micelli
Blind astronomer Kent Cullers explains some fine points of astronomy to Washington state student, Chris Micelli,, as they peruse the book together.
Walter Adams and son Karl Martin Adams
Karl Martin Adams of Michigan is clearly delighted as he inspects his copy of Touch the Universe. Dad, Walter, who is a scientist, seems just as pleased as Karl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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