Monday’s total solar eclipse will be the first to fully cross the US — in 14 states, from Oregon to South Carolina — since June 8, 1918. Back then, Woodrow Wilson was president and we were still fighting World War I. That rarity, says former astronaut Mike Massimino, is why many Americans will gaze toward the sky through special viewing glasses.
“It’s a pretty big story when the Olympics only comes around once every four years. This isn’t something we’ve experienced for almost 100 years,” said Massimino, 54. He is hosting “The Great American Eclipse” from the College of Charleston in South Carolina. The show will include footage from weather balloons that capture images 100,000 feet above Earth; NASA high-altitude jets flying in the shadow of the eclipse; and dozens of earthbound telescopes along its path. The network will also air “Great American Eclipse: Countdown to Darkness,” at 9 p.m. on Sunday and will broadcast live from Madras, Ore., from noon to 2 p.m. Monday.
Massimino spoke to The Post by phone from his office at Columbia University, where he is a professor in the engineering department.
What makes eclipses so special?
It’s a natural event that occurs because of the way our planet, moon and sun relate to each other. It’s not a fake — it’s not Disney World, it’s not a movie. It’s a reminder of where we are in the universe. We are on a planet, which is like our spaceship. Sometimes we forget that.
Why is this one different?
We have a couple eclipses a year, but most of our planet is water and people don’t live on a lot of the land. So it’s very rare for an eclipse to come over an inhabited part of the world and for it to come across the United States like this.
Why will you be in Charleston?
Since Charleston will be the last place [the eclipse] will be [seen] in totality, more or less, it’s kind of a good way to have the buildup coming across the country and seeing the reaction as we go. It’s probably one of the more desirable places to be along the path.
Where are the best places to view it in New York?
Wherever you are, you’ll be able to enjoy it. You want to be able to get a good view of the sun, so being in Manhattan with all the buildings might not be the best. Get to an open area where you have a better look.
How has interest in space changed?
There’s great interest not only through social media, but also with commercial companies now, the privatization of space travel. We saw applications for the latest astronaut class nearly triple.
Did you know there’s been a resurgence of Bonnie Tyler’s song “Total Eclipse of the Heart”?
Really? Is that right?
You haven’t been thinking about the song lately?
No, but now I am. [laughs] Now I am.
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