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Astrotourism and Dark Skies: Traveling to See the Stars (S2-E1)

The Book

What is Astrotourism?

  • We look around, but not up

Stargazing / Astronomy

  • So how much of the skies are we actually seeing- When I look up, I see stars, but only the brightest - reason we need to travel 
  • 80% in the world live under light polluted skies - 99% in US

Dark Skies / Dark Places

  • International Dark-Sky Association 
  • What do they do?
  • What criteria used to have a place considered Dark-Sky designated
  • Light pollution examples (smarter lights and placement) Las Vegas

Designated Dark Sky sites

  • Where? - All over the world. Canada, Australia, Iceland - also in Europe, UK and Asia.
  • Awareness.
  • So, we get out to one of these amazing Dark Sky designated parks and, we’re coming out of our neighborhoods where we see our usual 12 stars in the sky, now we’re seeing literally thousands. How do we get our bearings

Teach us to be amateur astronomers

  • what to look for in the sky? 
  • (focal points - Ursa Major - Big Dipper - 
  • How far can we see? Moons planets (how many?) suns, galaxy (Andromeda), satellites (International Space Station) how far can we see with the naked eye? Do we need a telescope? Portable options
  • Skies always moving: locations and months). Tools for viewing. 
  • Things to avoid. Full moon. Time for eyes to adjust (keep the cellphone parked)
  • How do we know when astro events are happening in our area? Good resource?


  • - How far south can it be seen?
  • Aurora Australis - I’ve always heard of the Northern Lights, but had no idea the same phenomena happened in the South.

Meteor Showers

  • Never seen one, or a shooting star (are they stars?)
  • Comets and astroid debris. We take things for granted. How to plan them?
  • Geminids meteor shower Dec 14-15 peak. One of the strongest. Best time to view? Asteroid based meteor shower (more rare).


  • 3D effect
  • Next one's coming up.


  • The Book
  • Beautiful photography
  • with a cellphone

Space Flight

  • Viewing rocket launches (India, Japan, Kazakhstan, New Zealand)
  • Space Camp
  • The difficulty of putting a human on the moon
  • So long since our last flight (Dennis Tito - International Space Station - First Space Tourist... $20 million - Cost! Where are people going?
  • Suborbital Space Tourism - what is it
  • What form do you see for private flights into space? How soon?


Valerie (00:00):
Hi, this is Valerie Simmick, author of Dark Skies, A Practical Guide to Astro Tourism, and you're listening to Travel Fuels Life.

Drew (00:20):
Hello everybody and welcome to Travel Fuels Life, the show we share stories, tips and inspiration to help you live a travel lifestyle. I'm your hoster Hamish, and welcome. It's to season two and I am so ready to get this kicked off. It took a couple extra weeks, sorry about that. I'm really happy to say that that long anticipated new whiskey history podcast is out and online for you guys to listen to. It is called Whiskey Lore. It took a little bit longer for me to write the stories and produce the stories than I thought it was gonna take, but got that done. It's online, so go check it out. It's on your favorite podcast app and now we can get into talking about travel again. So how should we kick off season two of Travel Fuel's Life? Well, we always tend to look around the planet for things to do, but this season I thought we'd kick off by talking about how we can look up and see a universe that awaits us. So my guest is Valerie Stem and she just released a brand new book through Lonely Planet called Dark Skies, A Practical Guide to Astro Tourism. It's a book that literally opens up a whole universe to you and gives you tons of ways to not only look at the stars through some amazing destinations, but also have some ways that you can better see those stars and planets from not too far from where you live. So we're gonna jump right into the conversation with Valerie and I started off by asking her to describe Astro Tourism.

Valerie (02:03):
Astra Tourism is the sort of a new name for a type of travel that some people have been doing for a very long time, and it was first coined, at least that I saw. It was first coined by Conde Nas Traveler in about 2015. And it's basically the idea that a person might travel for an astronomical experience on Earth. So it doesn't necessarily include space tourism, which is what you described of us sort of going to space and seeing what's up there. It's more about having those experiences right here on earth. So the most common forms of astro tourism, it's best to give examples that makes it make sense really quickly is going to see the Aurora. That's a very, very popular one. And also people traveling for either rocket launches or to see solar eclipses. So after tourism really started to rise in 2017 when we had the total solar eclipse across America and a whole bunch of people traveled to see this phenomena that had basically never been interested in the science of astronomy in any way before. And that experience opened them up to it. And we've seen a big rise in all kinds of astro tourism since then.

Drew (03:07):
And this is interesting to me because we look all over the globe for places to go to travel to, but we have this whole canvas over our heads that we don't really pay attention to. So this whole concept of also doing the star gazing and the astronomy side of things and having that be a way for us to experience the world as well. And this concept of dark skies and dark places, which I'd like to get into in just a few moments, but let's jump into the star gazing side of this because this is something that people could do while they're at home as well as being able to go to places to see the stars. When I look out my back window and I'm looking up or I stand out on my back porch and I look up how much of these stars am I actually seeing?

Valerie (04:10):
Well that depends a lot on where you live and how much light pollution there is, which I'm sure we're gonna get more into light pollution later. But basically depending on whether you're in a rural suburban or an urban area, there's a different amount of light that's being reflected or actually shown into the night sky and that can impede how many stars. You can see unfortunately most people in urban areas, they say it's roughly about a dozen stars, which is doesn't seem like very many at all. It's usually more than an actual dozen whenever. I mean I've been in London recently and I could see more than 12 stars, but you're certainly missing the vast majority of stars if you live in an urban area. But I found that in my research and the writing I've done within one to two hours from most urban areas, there's at least one good dark sky site where you can exponentially increase the number of stars that you're able to see. So it's not necessarily the case that someone needs to travel for a whole weekend or fly somewhere to get to a dark sky site. Often if you're even in one of the biggest urban areas in the world be you can travel within just a couple hours and get to a good site where you see way more stars than you can see from your back window.

Drew (05:16):
Okay, so what's interesting to me is that I always thought it was more the industrial pollution and the carbon emissions that might be blocking my view, but this whole concept of light pollution is brand new to me. So would you explain what that is and maybe how we can combat it?

Valerie (05:38):
Light pollution is generally defined as light shining where it's not needed when it's not needed. And that's a little bit of an abstract definition, but it basically means if you have a light on your house or if there's a streetlight or a car light and it's illuminating an area which includes the sky that you don't really need that light to be. So the biggest example, actually there's one here in Sausalito I just noticed and I'm irked and I'm gonna go find out who it is. They've got some sort of spotlight on their house and it shines straight up from their house every night. And I have, what are you lighting up there? Why are you lighting? Basically I'm not opposed to light. And that's actually something that I've discussed a lot with people in the field is we're not opposed to lighting things correctly. <affirmative>, if you need light for safety, for security, for being able to see you going while you're driving, that's perfectly reasonable.

But light is very poorly managed and we sort of let it spill out from the places we need it into places we don't need it. And that can affect all kinds of things, not just the quality of the night sky and the clarity of the night sky plays into how well you can see. So as you mentioned like emissions, pollution, if there's more particulates in the air, they will be lit up by whatever light is being spilled into the air too. So that's going to decrease your visibility also. But it also affects all kinds of other natural behaviors. So a lot of animals are affected by light pollution, humans are affected by light pollution. That's where there's been some research on user like human sleep patterns and our disruptions to our sleep patterns as part of living in urban areas because it's not dark enough and our brains aren't getting the proper rest that happens to animals. It happens to change hunting behavior and feeding behaviors. So light pollution basically is this you light being where it shouldn't be when you don't need it to be there. And all of the implications of that are much wider reaching in the environmental world than we realize, including our impact on ourselves.

Drew (07:29):
So how can we take care of this with technology? I mean we're talking about different types of lighting. How do we get, what should our cities be using? Or even my neighborhood has lights throughout the neighborhood to keep things illuminated.

Valerie (07:48):
I'm far from an expert on this. I actually don't work a ton in light pollution and I haven't worked on a team to do light pollution reduction plan. There are people who are certainly experts, but basically the two things that you can do, there's three actually if I understand the mechanics correctly. One is adjusting the brightness <affirmative>. So without getting too technical, there are lumens which is sort of the measurement of brightness. And we over brighten our lights because we think it makes us feel safer <affirmative>. And so reducing brightness to the correct level that's needed for safety security, but also for properly lighting, there's adjusting the color of the lighting and I believe that can play in with lumens, but I'm not totally certain on the science there. Basically blue lights have different impacts than white lights, than yellow lights and orange lights and all of them they study user like not user, they studied animal behavior and human behavior in these different lighting conditions.

We hear a lot about blue light because of all of our screens. That's what they're talking about is how the color of lighting affects what our brains do. And then there's also a really simple solution no matter what light bulb you have, whether it's bright or dim or blue or white or yellow, is just making sure that lights are properly hooded so they have a covering on them that only directs the light down onto the ground or into the building where you want the light to be instead of allowing it to spill upward into the night sky where you don't need it.

Drew (09:11):
And so you're in California and California always seems to be a mile ahead of everybody in these types of practices, but if a community or people locally are interested in being able to have this thought process brought into their own community, who would they reach out to for that sort of thing?

Valerie (09:35):
The first place I would advise people to start is with the International Dark Sky Association, which is the main primary, most well known accrediting body for dark sky sites in the world. And they include a classification for communities and urban areas. So you don't just have to live near National Park or somewhere that's already quite naturally dark to be able to improve the light pollution issue in your area. They have a lot of resources about light pollution. They have suggested fixtures and suggested hoods and bulbs and all of that information. They provide that on their website, which is why in my world I don't try and be an expert on every piece of this puzzle. I try and point people to the right resource and they are the perfect resource. If you wanna learn more, then you can also research what it takes to become a dark sky designated place at the kind of class or qualification that your area can fit in. Usually what it takes to actually get dark sky designation is a very passionate individual or group of individuals taking lead. So cities are not necessarily incentivized to replace all their light fixtures because that's going to cost money, it's gonna take time where if individual citizens are very passionate about this, it is possible to sort lead the charge and get a community on board to adjust all of their lighting fixtures or lighting settings to improve their light pollution.

Drew (10:49):
Well, very nice. And so the Dark Sky Association, the International Dark Sky Association, I never heard of this organization before. So in some ways it's this building awareness that these organizations are out there, but in trying to figure out where we're gonna travel to be able to see the most in the way of stars meteor, showers, planets, all the things that we can view, how can we figure out where these places are? And your book is an excellent example because I really enjoyed looking through there and the amount of places that you feature in there. What's the best way to find these dark sky places?

Valerie (11:31):
Obviously my book, I agree and it's funny that you say that my book is a great resource because my very first thought was not my book <affirmative> even though it is. And the goal of the book was really to inspire people, not necessarily to help you plan the trip, but to give you the inspiration to realize that these dark sky locations are all over the world. If you're really keen on experiencing truly dark skies and you wanna ensure that that is happening. So what I mean is if you want to travel to a destination and know when you get there, it's going to be dark. The International Dark Sky Association has a great list of all the places that they have designated on their website. They have a map. So that's a good place to start. There's several other accrediting bodies around the world, I believe one is called the Starlight Foundation, I think that's what they're called in Europe.

And they also have a list of, actually there's very little overlap between the two. So if you're going to Europe, they may be a better resource and using their maps that really, if you pick a place based on what they're listing that's been designated, it is going to be dark. Because to become a dark sky place, you have to go through a series of light measurements and retrofitting your lights and adjusting your lumens and all of these technical issues before you can reach your designation. And that means that, and it's protected as well. So the individuals in the community are ensuring that everything is compliant to retain that designation. So it will be dark if you go to those places. Some of the places in the book are already on the list, some are not. And so there's always a risk in the development of tourism in some of these areas that there will be more light pollution in years to come than there is now when we included them in the book.

Drew (13:05):
Well what's interesting to me is that as I was looking at some of the places listed in your book, I've actually been to a couple like the Headlands International Dark Sky Park right at the top of the lower peninsula of Michigan and I didn't even know what that was and didn't take advantage of it. And I guess that's what surprises me is that these places are everywhere

Valerie (13:27):
They are. And that's one of the things we tried to highlight in the books. I've heard a lot of feedback from people who say the one that they often call out is Cherry Spring State Park in Pennsylvania, most people have no idea that this state park is certified as a dark sky place. It's one of the best dark sky sites near the eastern seaboard. And people have been through the area, have traveled, have visited during the daytime and had no idea that they have the designation. They increasingly designations that are dark sky places are using that designation as part of how they are attracting people to come visit. But in that's only been in the past few years. So like you said, you could go to one of these places during the daytime and not realize it's got spectacular night skies and all of this public outreach and programming to teach you about the night sky. It just might not be something you're even aware of. And we try to highlight that in the book too.

Drew (14:15):
So we get out to one of these amazing dark sky designated parks and we're coming out of our neighborhoods where we normally see 12 stars up in the sky at night. Now we're literally seeing thousands above us. How do we get our bearings?

Valerie (14:31):
Yeah, that's a great question. It's hard to know. What you'll see actually was someone asked me my favorite night sky trivia and I said, well I don't have an answer because it depends on what time of year we are reviewing from what the conditions are, how much you know about the night sky. And that's how I kind of come up with my fun facts about the night sky when I talk with people, primarily what you can look for in the night sky, and this is going to vary throughout the course of the year, there's gonna be constellations of some kind <affirmative>, you may be able to see the Milky Way depending on the time of year. It's more visible in the summer months in the Northern Hemisphere. And you may be able to see several of the planets in our solar system, particularly Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn move through the night sky throughout the year and they are often easily spotted.

So usually the brightest things in the night sky are the visible planets <affirmative>. And then there are some other stars that you can, as you get more interested in, you can kind of learn, oh that reddish one is this one and that reddish one is a different one. And you know, start to learn about different star classes. You can go down the rabbit hole of I'm sure astronomy very quickly. But it really does depend. So as we're in the winter constellations right now, the main one that you'll see would be Orion Orion's by far the most popular winter night sky constellation. It's the one that sort of looks like an hourglass. You can see Casie Oia, which is a W shape. You can see the Big Dipper, which is part of I RSA major. And depending on your location that may be quite high in the sky, it may be quite low in the sky pointing generally in the direction of the North star Polaris.

What else is in the sky right now this year? This month actually as we're recording this, there is an intercellular comment that's moving our, it's way through the sky and I think that we'll be able to see it. I don't know if we've heard if we're gonna be able to see it with our naked eye, but if you have a pair of binoculars, you should google comet boa <affirmative> and see if you can spot it if you have a clear night. We haven't had any clear night since it came into the visible distance here in Sausalito, so I have no idea if it's visible yet, but it's through the whole month. It's kind of making its closest approach to earth and the sun and it's a good opportunity to see something that came from outside solar system.

Drew (16:36):
And is there a really good resource for figuring out maybe whether it's an app or something that helps you of look at this ahead of time and prepare for what you're gonna see up in the sky so that you can again get your bearings and be able to pick these things out?

Valerie (16:56):
In terms of preparation, the two sites that I use, I also write resources on my own website but I use space.com, it's a obviously space website, a website called In the Sky, I think it's in the sky.org. And then I also use, here's one more I can't think of. Oh I use an app called Night Sky. That's the one I'm often using when I'm out <affirmative>. But it's best if you're going star gazing pro tip, look at the app when you're still sitting in your car, whenever you arrive, wherever you're star gazing, try and get oriented while you're in your car and then put your phone away so that your eyes are adjusting to the darkness so that you can see more of the stars. Cause if whip your phone out to see what you're seeing, you actually kind of blind your eyes and then when you look back at the night sky, you actually lose some of the definition and the brightness of the stars.

Drew (17:41):
That's funny cuz when I was reading your book it was talking about on full moon nights it can sometimes be hard to make out all the stars. And I was thinking, well that's interesting because how many people look down at their cell phone and they can't keep their eyes away from their cell phone, they're, it's constantly a distraction and that's really gonna impede your ability to be able to see the stars over your head.

Valerie (18:04):
And the night sky apps, the one I use that said is called Night Sky, which is sort of a class in a class of night sky apps broadly, most of them use light and brightness adjustments. So it's not like it's a white screen when you're looking at it at night, it's a dark screen cuz you're looking at the night sky on the app. It still has more light than your eyes are used to once they've adjusted to the darkness. But we kind of carry a full moon in our pockets if we want it <laugh>.

Drew (18:28):
So are we missing out by not having a telescope?

Valerie (18:32):
I don't think so. I have a telescope, I have a very introductory level telescope. I think that you can certainly go out and appreciate the night sky without a telescope. The telescopes just allow you to see further and deeper into space and unlock things that are fascinating and interesting, but also mind bogglingly far away <affirmative>. So if you're enthusiastic, it's a great Christmas gift but I don't know that it's a necessary one, you know can get started. Especially if you're just very enthusiastic getting started. You don't need one from day one. In fact, if you have a pair of binoculars, that's actually a really great place to start.

Drew (19:05):
Okay, nice. So for traveling and trying to plan around things like the Aurora Borealis has always been something that I've wanted to see and when I think about it, I think well either I'm gonna have to go to Canada in the wintertime or I'm gonna have to go to Iceland to go see it. So where are some good places to go see the Aurora Borealis and in places that aren't gonna be overly busy, I guess I know Canada's probably not gonna be <laugh> depending on where you go, you're gonna be able to find plenty of territory to go see it.

Valerie (19:41):
Luckily Canada's very large and there are lots of places that you can get away from the crowds. Alaska is a great contender and Alaska winter travel is increasingly common. There's a large number of businesses that are staying open into the Aurora season or staying open year round, which is great. And I actually grew up in Alaska, so I've seen the Aurora growing up, which was a very fortunate thing. I didn't realize. The other places that I would recommend if you're planning a trip, I would look at Finland. Finland is sort of the third tier of the three Scandinavian countries, <affirmative>. So it's like Norway, Sweden, Finland and Finland has fewer crowds and I've interacted with some of the people who are running tours there and they seem very enthusiastic to get more people coming to Finland in the winter. And if you are open for a totally different experience, that's actually the exact same phenomena you can head to the southern hemisphere. So New Zealand and Tasmania both can experience the southern lights, which are called the Aurora Astras instead of Aurora Borealis in the Northern hemisphere. It's caused by the exact same phenomena but it's visible down south. And so if you're in that area in the winter months, you can see it down there.

Drew (20:47):
Very nice. That's something else I didn't really know about. I, I've always heard of the Northern lights but didn't know we had the same phenomena down in the south, so very cool. Well let's switch gears and talk about meteor showers. Now I have never had the pleasure of actually seeing a meteor shower, but I hear that they happen all the time. Can you tell us first what meteors are and then where and how we can see them?

Valerie (21:16):
Technically a meteor is just an object that comes through the atmosphere. So it can be comprised of a number of different things. It can be rock metal, ice, dirt, anything that we encounter. Anything that, if you think about the celestial dance of the earth in the plane of the solar system, we are constantly moving. We forget that because we're on a very large body in the solar system, it doesn't feel like we're moving, but we're constantly sort of moving through a plane and we're rotating at the same time, which is thoroughly disorienting if you think about it too hard. And so anything that's out in our plane of orbit that we move through is and we hit it with our atmosphere is going to light up as it enters the atmosphere and usually burns up. Sometimes pieces make it all the way to the ground.

So basically meteor showers are caused by the trails of debris left from comments and asteroids. So as a comet asteroid travels through space, it's leaving this trail of dust, ice, dirt, rock pieces, et cetera. And that's sort of maybe a line that cuts through our orbital path and every time we cross that line that's left of that debris, we pick up some of it and hits our atmosphere and lights up. So that's the very general description of what causes a meteor shower. And the nice thing is because our orbit is very consistent, we have a very non eccentric orbit is what they call it. We can count on that meteor shower phenomena happening every single time we cross the path, which is once a year roughly. So meteor showers are exceptionally consistent they vary in strength and intensity, meaning some years we might get a lot more activity depending on a variety of astronomical phenomena but for the most part you can set your calendar by them. I have a calendar that I keep of all the astronomical phenomena including meteor showers and you can plan to go see them every single year. If the weather's bad one year, you can go to the next year. It'll be pretty much the exact same day every single year.

Drew (23:13):
So would we want to go to a dark sky place to see them the best or is this something that we could do from home pretty easily?

Valerie (23:21):
You could do both. I mean of course a dark sky site's gonna be better because it's gonna give you a better chance to see more <affirmative>. But if you only wanna drive to your nearest large park in your community or there's a observatory here in the Bay area, we have one main observatory that's open to the public and it's about 40 minutes away if that. That's as far as you wanna go. Perfectly good too. And if you have a nice backyard that's got a fence or trees around it that sort of block the light from any of your neighbors even that's good

Drew (23:48):
Enough. Okay. I might have to tell my neighbor to take his foot light out from the backyard cuz he runs it all night too and I don't know why.

Valerie (23:55):
Oh yes, <laugh>. Yeah, well that's what you should start. You should ask him, Hey I noticed you have this light on, are you lighting it for any particular reason or just cuz you like wasting energy and <laugh>? No, you don't have to say the second part, but you just ask him why. Cause he may not even realize that he's doing that. You know, don't even think you turn the light on, you go to bed and he doesn't realize runs all night and everybody notices.

Drew (24:16):
Right? Absolutely. So what is the next big meteor shower that's coming up?

Valerie (24:22):
The next thing meteor shower is happening on, I think the peak this year is December 13th. It's called the Geminis meteor shower. I'm just checking my calendar. It's expected to peak on the night of Friday the 13th, which would be at the time of recording. This is next Friday for us. Nice. And this is actually, I consider this the best meteor shower of the year in terms of activity. However, it's in the middle of basically the middle of winter for the northern hemisphere and it's a lot colder. So we typically see fewer people go out to see the meteor shower. But it's an incredible spectacle. I think it usually predicted to be over 100 meteors per hour, which means you should see a meteor about every minute if you're standing in a good place with good visibility. And yeah, it's gonna be a fantastic show. I'm looking forward to it. I'm hoping we get clear skies by then

Drew (25:12):
<laugh>. So what time of the day is the best or I should say night, what time of the night do you have to stay up till 3:00 AM or can you see 'em earlier in the evening?

Valerie (25:21):
You could see them earlier in the evening. So actually a meteor showers happen over more than just one night. They usually begin a few days before the peak increase in frequency of meteor activity until the night of the peak. Then there's a whole lot of activities we sort of pass through that primary trail of debris and then it tapers off a few for a few days afterward. And that window varies depending on the meteor shower. So some are two weeks, some are two days. It kind of just depends on what caused the debris field that we're passing through <affirmative>. But in the case of the gems, you could go probably go out right now and you might spot meteors that are part of it, technically part of the gems meteor shower on the night of February 13th, I would advise people to be out at as late as you can from about 10:00 PM onward. It should be nice

Drew (26:07):
And we're not gonna have another eclipse in the United States. So I understand until 2024, is that correct?

Valerie (26:13):
There's actually another eclipse another without jumping too deep down another rabbit hole. There's three different types of eclipse <affirmative> and we're gonna have a what's called an annual solar eclipse in 2023, which is the best way to describe it as a ring of fire. So the moon is a little bit further away and it doesn't fully block the sun. And so there's this kind of the sun that forms around the black batter of the moon. So that's 2023. And then the next total solar eclipse where the moon fully blocks the sun will be 2024.

Drew (26:42):
And I had never seen an eclipse before until this past one and it just absolutely blew my mind. It's just like this 3D effect. I could never understand why people wanted to go see an eclipse until I finally saw one and now it's like, ooh, I wanna see another one. So where's the next place that we could go to see an eclipse if we're gonna travel?

Valerie (27:06):
Well, if you have the budget, there's going to be a total salary eclipse. I believe it's Christmas day, actually let me see if I can find it on my calendar that quickly <laugh> but it's passing across I think the best place. And I was chatting with a couple people. The best place, yeah, it's on Christmas day is it's an annual eclipse. Excuse me India. So are you gonna have to fly a little bit to get to that one? All right then. Yeah, unfortunately it's a little bit further away. There's another total solar eclipse happening in December of 2021 that will be visible over Antarctica. So again, gonna need to travel for that one. Total solar eclipses happen every few years and so it's mostly a matter of planning ahead if it's something you really wanna see. The one that's happening across the US in 2024 is passing Northeast, entering the US from the Mexico border with Texas crossing over Western Texas and then cutting up across the Great Lakes area ish.

I'm sort of speaking very broadly. And then up through New England and into southeastern Canada. And so the place that I plan to be is Indianapolis, Indiana. That's in the path of totality and it's called the crossroads of America. And it's in this kind of perfect path of the solar eclipse. I used to live in Indiana, so I like the area, but there are several great places along that path of totality. The main question I get asked is whether it's really worth it to travel for totality or is it just good enough to see the partial eclipse? And so I wanna ask you, did you see totality or did you just see the partial eclipse?

Drew (28:39):
We were right on the edge of it. So yeah, I mean it was considered a total eclipse here. If I'd have gone just a couple of miles up the road we wouldn't have. So yeah, it was absolutely beautiful. And then I talked to some friends who live up in North Carolina about an hour for me and they're like I don't know what this is all about. Why is everybody so excited about this? Yeah,

Valerie (29:03):
Exactly. Yeah, big change. It's a dramatically different experience to experience totality, which is a hundred percent of the sun being blocked by the moon. And I agree, you've kind of said the 3D effect is very fascinating. So it gives you this crazy sense of the reality that there are huge things moving around the solar system and we are on one of them. And that's like the most dramatic way to experience it is watching the moon, which we love the moon and we think about her all the time, but we don't really take for granted that it's there and it doesn't really get in the way and it blocks the sun. I mean you can imagine for millennia when this would happen in ancient civilizations, how mind boggling that would've been that all of a sudden the sun goes away and you don't understand the mechanics of how that's happening. We understand now thankfully, but it's still a deeply almost spiritual experience. So absolutely plan ahead. Travel for totality. Don't go for the 98% coverage, it's not the same

Drew (29:58):
<laugh>. Well, and it's interesting to me too that of all the phenomena that we have, eclipses are the ones that have the thinnest thread to be able to view one. So you really have to plan on a specific location to go see it. Yes, that goes across the country, but it's still kind of this thin thread. So when you're trying to plan out your trips to go to a place like this, there's a lot of considerations that you have to make that you may not have to make for the Aurora Borealis where you could be standing in a variety of places in Canada. Whereas here you're trying to get to a thin threat. Do you feel like it's better to try to plan something outside of a population area to do this or I mean, have you had that experience of just a log jam of people going to a city that's gonna be hit by this coming eclipse?

Valerie (30:55):
When I plan for the 2024 eclipse, I'll use the exact example because I think it's really relevant. I am not going to try and travel on either day on side of the eclipse because I am predicting it will be a mad house. <laugh> the 2017 eclipse. I was in Oregon, I was in a pretty rural area but the traffic was a nightmare and I think everybody agreed that the traffic was a nightmare and way more people came out for that eclipse than where we're expecting and more people traveled for totality, which is fantastic, but it is a narrow band. So there's squeezing a lot of people into this one area that then have to get back home and that's gonna cause traffic no matter what. So I'm probably gonna make it into at least a three day trip. That said, I personally would not go for a rural experience because being in a crowd, there was certain experiences that I had at the eclipse that wouldn't happen if I were alone.

So I was standing in sort of an amphitheater a manmade amphitheater. And as totality happened, the sounds that people were making and that sounds weird, but there was not wows or oos and os, it was like this almost primal sounds that people were making and they were playing this Japanese drum music to mark the totality. It was like an experience. And that would've happened if I hadn't been in an event. So I personally will go where there are going to be people cuz I also like to look around at the crowd. I mean we've seen these famous photos from the Apollo launches where you all the photos of the crowd and everybody's staying there, open mouth. That's part of the experience for me is seeing the awe and being in the crowd of people having that communal experience. I, I'll never forget it, so I'm happy to seek it out again.

Drew (32:38):
So I looked through your book and there's some amazing photography in there who did the photography for you?

Valerie (32:45):
You can't see, but I just put my finger in my nose. It was not me. <laugh>. I chatted with Lonely Planet so not me, nose Ghost. I chatted with Lonely Planet. When we first started working on the project, they asked what they wanted and they said, you're not expected to do the photography if you have photos, great. And I said, no, I'm not a professional astro photographer. Please get the best photos we can get. But also please keep in mind that we want these photos to be more realistic. So photography is a wide range of final product in terms of you can leave the shutter open longer, you can do post-processing, et cetera. That might make the photo look not as realistic as you'll experience when you actually go to that place <affirmative>. And because it's a lonely planet and I was committed to inspiring people to actually go to the destinations we profiled, I wanted the photos to look like what you would see at least a little bit closer to what you would see than the full power that Astro photography can do, which is take amazing Noy way photos that we can't see a fifth of what's in that photo with our own eyes, et cetera.

Drew (33:44):
Yeah. So this is the one time we really can't use our cell phones to take pictures.

Valerie (33:48):
Well no <laugh> getting there. I actually, I bought the new iPhone personally because it had the new night mode and then Google won up it with their own astro photography mode. And this phone is actually really impressive at its night mode. It is definitely not a pro photo <affirmative> tool. I have a camera, if I'm going on a trip specifically for the night sky, I bring my tripod, I bring my remote, I bring my camera, I look at my manual settings and all of that to take proper photos. Even still, I am very much an amateur as photographer <affirmative>.

Drew (34:20):
Well let's talk about the part that I thought we were gonna be talking about when I first heard of this whole concept, which is space flight first of all, there's two aspects of this so I can tell One is just going out to experience like a NASA event or even other countries, which I never really had considered because I have always been used to what's going on at Cape Canaveral and what we're doing here in the us but you actually can travel all over the world to go see rocket launches. So I understand.

Valerie (34:59):
Correct. And it's very exciting. That's actually one of the things that I'm most interested in doing more is what I call rocket tourism. There's a fantastic book by a author named Joe Lardo, his book's called Spaceport America, and he travels to all of the active space ports across the, well, I dunno if he traveled all of them. He talks about basically all of them all over the world. Alaska, French, Giana New Zealand. I don't know if he goes to New Zealand if they were launching, but that point because there's a US company that launches from New Zealand, he goes to Kazakhstan and China and all these different places that we launch from that most people don't ever think of. We think of Kennedy, <affirmative> and Canaveral. That's where all the attention was true. We even have a launch facility here in California called Vandenburg. It's where the military does the majority of their launches.

And most people aren't even aware that you can see that except when SpaceX launches something and everyone thinks there's aliens in Los Angeles. But other than that, there's lots of destinations around the world where you can go see rockets if that's what you're interested in. And I would highly advocate, it's a fantastic demonstration of the immense technological power of humankind to watch something defy gravity and go to space. So especially if you live in the area, but if you don't keep an eye on the schedules, if you're going to be in one of these launch facility like countries, I would plan a trip I hope to myself someday.

Drew (36:15):
Well, and then we talk about space flight and maybe us humans having a chance to get into space. So I understand that there's really only been one space tourist to this point. This Dennis Tito that went to the International Space Station. Is that true or have there been other people who have done it?

Valerie (36:33):
There are, oh man, this is a pop quiz here as a leader, seven. Seven private citizens, seven private citizens have paid to go to the International Space Station on nine flights. So some people went twice because they have lots of money, <affirmative>. And then officially there is one more space tourist her name is Beth Moses and she works for Virgin Galactic. She went was the very first non-pilot passenger on one of their test flights and she's in charge of their astronaut experience. So she was the very first person to get to go. And it wasn't a public flight, it was a test flight. So it was just her and the two pilots. So that would make, I guess eight people else actually is right now. I think someone right now is on the ISS who's a tourist officially.

Drew (37:16):
So do they work while they're up there or do they just hang out? Mean would be, I know the whole concept of going to the International Space Station is really cool, but I'm sitting there thinking, what are you doing once you get there?

Valerie (37:31):
Well, yeah, it's an interesting question I imagine. So to be able to go to the International Space Station currently you have to basically pay Russia for a seat on a rocket and you have to go through Russia's training program to be able to go at all. So I think it's three or four months that you spend in Russia training, learning Russian because your commander will be Russian, <laugh>, all of these sort on the ground training things before you can even go once you get to space, I believe they do help with research and whatever the crew is working on. So for example, last week both of the toilets broke on the iss and I'm sure if you need the toilet you're gonna help fix it just like you would if you were in a crew on a ship of some kind here on earth. The people who go to spaces I understand are typically very enthusiastic.

So being able to live that dream is part of why they go, they don't mind that it's a lot of work or that they're working. It's not like vacation. They're not there to lay on a beach in the sunroom of the iss. The other thing is when you're in space, you have to do a lot of personal maintenance. So they work out quite a lot several hours a day. So in the grand scheme of it, you're not going to the ISS to lounge around. You're going there because you're passionate about what the ISS stands for and the research they're doing and that's what you wanna be part of too.

Drew (38:47):
So it makes me wonder what the goal of private flights are going to be. I mean, again, is this going to be just a matter of getting up into space and then getting people back down just to say they went? Or where is that going and what are people thinking of? Or is that still just undefined at this point?

Valerie (39:08):
I think all of the companies that are looking at launching people the space, and right now there are two main contenders in the us it's Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, and there's been a lot of discussion and rightfully so. I think tourism is a very powerful force and we should engage critically with the implications of tourism, especially when tourism is developing in a place or a destination, which we can call space a destination. When we're talking about space tourism, <affirmative>, a lot of people have critically discussed, what's the point of this? Why are these billionaires spending all this money? Is this really for the betterment of humanity? And when we get into the discussions of the missions for these companies, typically what they say is we want people to experience how fragile our planet is. And the most impactful way to do that is to show them this tiny sliver of atmosphere is all that protects us and this one blue planet is all we have. And if we tell people and we show them photos and they're like, yeah, that's really cool, I get enthusiastic about that, whatever, but I still drive a car, right?

Drew (40:13):
Gas guzzler, whatever,

Valerie (40:15):
Gas guler, I have carbon emissions, I'm still flying everywhere, et cetera. And so I think the mission, especially Virgin Galactic, cuz they are a strictly tourism company, they don't, they have another arm of the Virgin brand sort of that's working on launching <affirmative>, but they're two different companies. So the Virgin Galactic is the tourism arm. I think it is strictly to inspire people because people come home and they tell their friends and they change their lives and their behavior to protect this place that they now understand is so fragile and important for us as humans, we have no backup. If we don't solve our climate problems, there's nowhere to go. There are people working on that Elon Musk, but he hasn't gotten us to ours yet. So we can't count on that as a solution for the survival of our whole species. Nevermind that as humans, we're quite individualistic and we wanna survive ourselves. So we have to take care of what we have. And the experience of seeing the earth from space is very powerful in changing people's behavior for that.

Drew (41:13):
There is an in between. So I have learned from reading your book, suborbital Space Tourism, what is that?

Valerie (41:22):
Suborbital Space tourism. And that's actually what both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are technically doing, which is if you think about the difference between going up and skimming the surface of space versus doing a lap around the planet, that lap is an orbit <affirmative>. So that's what we mean by orbital. So it would be actually going up into space and making an orbit around the planet as this very broad definition, suborbital is kind of launching up to the edge of space, experiencing what space is up there, weightlessness, seeing the earth from above and then coming back down. And that's really the destination. It's just to get as high as you can, as safely as you can without leaving the earth, the gravity well of Earth entirely. So I hope that makes sense. Sure,

Drew (42:09):
Absolutely. Absolutely. Now a lot of these are new concepts to me. I mean it's really interesting to, we're breaking new ground all the time and so we gotta stay up on all of this. And I appreciate you taking the time today and taking us through the whole astro tourism concept. It's a very wide ranging subject, so it was good to kind of get a little touch points on each one. But if people wanna learn more about this, what are some good ways including how to get your book and how to keep up with what you're doing?

Valerie (42:42):
Yeah, so my book, dark Skies is available from Lonely Planet. You can also find it on Amazon and other e-commerce store websites. I also sell signed copies on my own website, which is called Space tourism guide, space tourism guide.com. And that website is also a great resource if you are interested in learning more. So I work with writers to cover things like urban stargazing, stargazing from different cities, best locations to see the Northern Lights, how to go to these various launch facilities and watch a launch. We always have an eclipse guide whenever there's an eclipse coming up. So if you wanna travel for an eclipse, we've got that information. So we cover a pretty wide swath of the exact same things you'll find in the book. And then of course Google is always gonna be your friend if you have a specific query. Google's gotten really, really good at understanding that this is a topic that people are interested in learning about and interested in traveling for. And so the resources are the search result, resources are getting better and better.

Drew (43:36):
Well, Valerie, it has been an absolute pleasure having you on the show this week, and thanks so much for introducing us to this whole concept of Astro Tourism and I wish you a whole lot of success with your book and I, I'm looking forward to making my own plans to find some great locations to check out the stars and the events above.

Valerie (43:57):
Yeah, your backyard gonna go up for the Geminis this week, this upcoming weekend.

Drew (44:01):
Absolutely. Absolutely. Thanks so much.

Valerie (44:04):
Thank you.

Drew (44:06):
Well, just a plethora of information on a topic that I must admit I was not very familiar with. So I hope we sparked some new travel ideas for you. And Valerie was very modest about her book. It is very in depth. I mean, you're gonna learn a whole lot of stuff from that. So I would advise you to go out and check that book out called Dark Skies. And as she said, it's out on Amazon and other book sellers. You can also find it@travelfuelslife.com slash shop and it's in our Amazon store as well. And don't forget, if you are a fan of whiskey travel and history, then I have a podcast for you. It is called Whiskey Lore. It is whiskey spelled with an E. You can go out on Apple Podcast, Google podcast. Your favorite podcast app should be out there. Now, new Seasons every three months with 10 to 12 episodes each season.

They are stories. It's gonna be a little bit different from this podcast. So you can go out there right now binge listen to the first few episodes, don't forget to rate and subscribe to it, and also to this Travel Fuel's life. And I've got a great season coming up for you, some great guests to help inspire not only living a travel lifestyle, but with this episode opening up some new possibilities of places that we can go and things that we can do. So I am looking forward to bringing that all to you. And until next time, safe travels and thanks for listening to Travel Fuels Life.


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