O. Richard Norton(1937 - 2009 A.D.) passed away at Hospice House in Bend, Oregon, on May 17 after a long illness. A life-long educator and the author of popular books and articles about meteorites, astronomy and planetariums, Richard discovered his life’s passion when he built his first telescope at 14. His love for the sky and all things astronomical led him from an after-school job at Cave Optical Company in Long Beach, California, to a career in public science education.
While studying astronomy and meteoritics at UCLA, he was a lecturer at Griffith Observatory and Planetarium in Los Angeles. In 1957 he worked at the Nevada Test Site as a field researcher for the Atomic Energy Commission. There he witnessed the last 10 above-ground nuclear explosions and conducted research at the test site on the ecological effects of radiation. After graduation in 1960, he worked briefly as an optical engineer at Northrop Corporation and Tinsley Laboratories.
But he soon returned to his beloved planetariums. After 2 years at Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco, in 1963 he became Director of the University of Nevada’s Fleischmann Planetarium in Reno, where he also taught astronomy. There Richard designed the world’s first 35mm fisheye motion picture system, called the Atmospherium, which was used to project realistic time-lapse motion pictures of developing weather systems onto the interior of a planetarium dome. His first book, The Planetarium and Atmospherium, An Indoor Universe, was published in 1969. He was a planetarium design engineer and consultant for Minolta Camera Company in Osaka, Japan. Richard became the founding director of the University of Arizona’s Flandrau Planetarium in 1973, where he continued teaching and co-designed a fisheye projection camera system which flew on the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1984, producing the first full sky motion pictures from space. In 1978 he started Science Graphics, a company that manufactured sets of teaching slides in astronomy and other sciences for use in college level courses.
Richard loved teaching and sharing his enthusiasm for astronomy, the space program, photography, geology and telescope making. He gave public lectures and taught community education classes, even venturing into the Arizona State Penitentiary to teach in maximum security and protective custody. He led field trips to Cape Canaveral, where he had his fisheye cameras at most Apollo launches, and on solar eclipse trips around the world, from Mexico to Romania.
In 1986 he moved to Bend, where he taught astronomy at Central Oregon Community College for 7 years. In Bend he rediscovered his early passion for meteorites. His book Rocks From Space was published in 1994, followed by The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Meteorites in 2002. His wife Dorothy Sigler Norton, who is a scientific illustrator, produced the illustrations and cover designs. The Field Guide to Meteors and Meteorites, published in 2008, was co-authored with Bend geologist Lawrence Chitwood. Many of Richard’s meteorites are on display at the Sunriver Nature Center in Sunriver, Oregon.
Richard loved classical music and had studied piano since the age of 7. In Bend he started a series of concerts called the Four Seasons, which were held for more than 10 years at the Norton home on the equinoxes and solstices.
Richard is survived by his wife Dorothy, his sister Gloria Berg, three children from previous marriages and a granddaughter.