Mike Smithwick

Mike Smithwick
Developer, astronomer, inventor
San Jose, CA

"Sometimes we need a catalyst or muse to make us recognize the grandeur around us."

Visionaries come and go. Idealists such as Martin Luther King or Ghandi, or artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs.

It must’ve been about 1965 one crisp weekday morning, as I waited on our porch to be taken to school. The moon was in last quarter, dangling lazily in the blue over the point of our house. With the few minutes I had, I wondered what the moon might look like “up close,” so I grabbed my dad’s binoculars. Its snowy white surface against a pre-dawn azure sky, peppered with hundreds of craters, unchanged for billions of years, made it simultaneously magical and majestic. Is it any wonder Buzz Aldrin, following Neil Armstrong down the ladder to that dusty 4.5-billion-year plain, called it “magnificent desolation?”
Visionaries come and go.
Scientists from Ptolemy to Stephen Hawking to Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. Engineers such as Wernher von Braun to Robert Goddard.
Visionaries come... and go.
But the universe never does. The moon we gaze at tonight is the same as the one that shone down upon the pharaohs of Egypt and the emperors of Rome, to the plumber you called this morning. It knows no title, status, wealth, fashion fad, skin color or hair style, intellect, religion, age, or a favorite baseball team. The unblinking stars do not care whether you’re PC or Mac, vegan or the owner of McDonald's, server at a soup kitchen or patron, saint or sinner, Christian, Muslim, or a follower of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster; whether you love Goa trance or Handel, Baroque or Brutalist, boxers or briefs, light meat or dark, regular M&Ms or mint; whether you're a fan of "tastes great" or "less filling," Itchy or Scratchy, iPhone or Android; whether you're a butcher, baker, or candlestick maker, male, female, or unsure, dog owner or cat lover, app author or app user, conservative or liberal, left handed or right, sighted or sightless, hearing or deaf—or all of the above.
Nearly 30 years ago, when I was working on the first version of my planetarium software, Distant Suns, I handed a copy to my first-ever beta tester to see if it worked on his machine. He told me it was so peaceful that he liked to turn on his computer after a hard day’s work, launch my software, turn out the lights and imagine he could just dive into the monitor and swim away.
Sometimes we need a catalyst or muse to make us recognize the grandeur around us: a newborn kitten, a comet stretching across the sky, the nucleus of an atom, or the galaxy with a supermassive black hole.
One fan wrote me that my software cost him $600, as he had to go out and get a telescope. I had done my job. I just wonder how many other telescopes were purchased, how many more young kids caught their very first glimpse of the moon up close. And how many of those went on to become visionaries in their own right, perhaps bringing a new grandeur to others and making them say “wow!” 
Find something today that makes you whisper “wow.” And tonight, if it’s clear, go outside and look up. Then ask, “what next?”
Oh, and that bit about the moon being “snowy white.” The moon is in fact one of the darkest bodies in the solar system, reflecting back a scant 12% of the sunlight that hits it.
~ Mike Smithwick

Mike Smithwick grew up around planetariums and observatories, developing a keen love of exploration above the air and beyond. He’s worked at NASA in flight simulation graphics, was eyewitness to three Apollo launches, and traveled around the world chasing eclipses, while working full time on his planetarium software, Distant Suns, for the iPhone and iPad.

Distant Suns was first released in 1987. But the iPad was the dream device Mike was waiting for, so it’s no wonder Apple selected it to showcase the new iPad on launch day in 2010.
In his so-called spare time, Mike teaches astronomy to a 5th grade class, collects NASA space memorabilia, participates in 19th century recreations of vintage balls, tries to explain his love of ‘50s Tiki music, and is trying to figure out a cute name for his new kitten.
Learn more about Mike and his work at www.distantsuns.com.