The WrightED Lecture Series - SPACE

Presenters: Joe Tanner  //  Gary Curtiss  //  Larry Meckel

Sept 14 - Nov 2

Fall 2021 program

wrighted lecture series fall 2021 space

From September 14 - November 2 we're talking about SPACE! Join our three presenters while they discuss what it's like to be an astronaut, space rocks, and space weather in this exciting series.

All class fees will go directly to the Wright to support their community efforts.

We look forward to having you join us for this exciting lecture series as we expand our educational opportunities for the entire community.

$15 per lecture OR $70 for the fall semester
(a 30% discount)

FREE to our local high school students who register.

Lectures will be held via Zoom. And for those who work...not to worry...enroll and view at your later convenience!

If you have questions, please contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or contact Larry Meckel, the Program Coordinator (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

September 14, 21 & October 5

Presented by Joe Tanner

WrightEd What's it like to be an astronaut

This three-lecture course is designed to describe what it is like to be an astronaut, from the selection process through the experience of flying in space to the physiological effects of spaceflight on the human body.

The first lecture will cover the astronaut selection process from historical and current perspectives. Application requirements were significantly different for the Mercury Seven astronauts than they are for the selection of Group 23 currently in progress.

The second half of the lecture will cover training for spaceflight. The type of training required has changed a great deal from the early orbital flights to now preparing to again set foot on the Moon. The second lecture will describe what it is like to fly in space. Joe will use pictures and videos to chronicle his experiences on four Space Shuttle missions and seven spacewalks. Details of the Hubble Space Telescope servicing and assembly of the International Space Station will be presented.

The final lecture will address the physical effects of spaceflight on the human body. It is not as easy as it appears. The lecture will conclude with what is currently happening in space and a best guess summary of future planned missions. Ample time will be provided in all lectures for questions.

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dialogue with and ask questions of an astronaut!

October 12, 19 & 26

Presented by Gary Curtiss

WrightEd rocks from space

This course summarizes our understanding of meteorites: where in space do they come from, how they were formed, their age and composition, the various types (classification), classic historic events and notable impact craters from around the world, how to identify them, where to collect them, and what they are worth. We’ll look at numerous images of the various types of meteorites and of impact sites as well as hand specimens from Gary’s personal collection.

November 2

Presented by Larry Meckel

WrightEd space weather
The sun appears very stable and unchanging to us on a daily basis. But it is in reality unbelievably violent every second of the day. Those processes provide the light and heat that make life here possible. But they also emit a steady stream of energy (many wavelengths) and charged particles called solar wind. That solar wind travels 93 million miles and impact Earth constantly. All those dynamic processes on the sun, their products (particles and energy), and their ultimate impact on Earth are all referred to as our Space Weather. Fortunately we have very effective shields in place. This lecture will examine all those processes and the products for each step along the way. All these events are monitored every hour by telescopes both on Earth and on satellites and compiled into daily weather reports just like we have for our daily Ground Weather. We will also look at some of the very large events from the historic past and the major disruptions they produced. Life on Earth as we know it is very dependent on that delicate balance between what comes in and how effective our shields are. Were those shields ever ineffective in the past?
Joe Tanner

Joe is a retired NASA astronaut and Navy pilot. He earned a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Illinois before joining the Navy to pursue his passion for flying. After earning his jet Naval Aviator Wings in 1975, he trained in the A7-E and cruised the Pacific on the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea. Flying high performance jets fueled his long-held interest in human spaceflight. He eventually joined the NASA team at Johnson Space Center as a research pilot and flight instructor. He has logged more than 9000 flight hours in a variety of aircraft. Perhaps his favorite was the Shuttle Training Aircraft where he taught shuttle astronaut pilots how to land the Space Shuttle.

Though very happy flying and supporting missions for eight years, Joe never lost sight of his goal to be an astronaut himself. After several applications, he was selected as a member of the 1992 astronaut class. During his sixteen-year career as an astronaut, he flew four missions on the space shuttle with one being to the Hubble Space Telescope and two to the International Space Station. He performed seven EVAs or spacewalks during his four missions totaling more than forty-six hours. He has logged 1069 hours in space.

After retiring from NASA, he worked as a Senior Instructor in the University of Colorado Boulder Aerospace Engineering Sciences Department where he taught a two-semester engineering projects course to students at the Masters and PhD levels. He is fully retired now and enjoying mountain living with his wife near Ridgway, Colorado. He enjoys hiking, climbing, skiing, building projects, working on old cars and does some consulting work on NASA and other government proposals. Joe is also an active member of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

Gary Curtiss

Gary, a retired geologist, became fascinated with meteorites as a child and has now been studying and collecting them for 50 years. He studied meteoritics and cosmochemistry at Arizona State University and owned a meteorite cutting and prep lab in Lakewood, Colorado. His favorite memory is of cutting the ‘Black Beauty Martian meteorite for the University of New Mexico. He continues to follow his passion of collecting, cutting, and displaying meteorites as well as sharing his vast knowledge of the topic with others. He gave this course for the OLLI Continuing Education Program at the University of Denver earlier this year. He hopes that, someday, one will pay him the honor of crashing through his roof.

Larry Meckel

Larry has a BA from Rice University and a PhD from Johns Hopkins University. He has been in oil and gas exploration most of his career, first with Shell Oil and Development Companies and then as an exploration consultant working worldwide. He was an Adjunct Professor at the Colorado School of Mines from 2004-16 where he taught various graduate level courses in Geology.

In those capacities, he has taught several hundred courses for the oil industry, university students, professional societies, and now adults via continuing education programs at the University of Denver and the Wright Opera House. In 2011 he was awarded the Distinguished Educator Award by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists for teaching excellence and then in 2017 their highest professional award, the Sydney Power Memorial Award, for his contributions to petroleum geology.

He was a summer resident in Ouray starting in 1970 and became a full-time resident in 1999. He and his wife Barbara enjoy hiking, jeeping, and photography in the San Juan Mountains.

Previous Courses

Geology of the Ouray Area as Viewed by Drone

Instructors: Mike Boruta and Steve Cumella
geology of the Ouray Area as Viewed by Drone
This two-part lecture series by Mike Boruta and Steve Cumella will explore the amazing geology of Ouray. Mike’s drone photography and videos will be used to look at features that make Ouray’s landscape so distinctive. Drones allow views and perspectives not possible by other means. We will take a drone’s eye view of some interesting geologic features in the Ouray area including dinosaur tracks, rock glaciers, volcanic deposits from the world’s largest volcanic eruptions, and faults that record the history of past mountain building episodes. Ouray’s spectacular scenery is the result of distinctive rock formations, mountain building episodes, and erosion by streams and glaciers.  Mike’s images help us see and understand geology’s important role in creating this beautiful landscape.

Narrow Gauge Railroading in the San Juan Triangle

Instructor: Don Paulson
Narrow Gauge Railroading
The four sessions will look in depth at five railroads that operated in Ouray, San Juan and San Miguel Counties: the Ouray Branch of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad which ran from Montrose down to Ouray, the Rio Grande Southern Railroad which ran from Ridgway to Durango, the Silverton Railroad which ran from Silverton north over Red Mountain pass down into the Ironton Valley, the Silverton Gladstone and Northerly that ran from Silverton north to Gladstone, and the Silverton Northern Railroad that ran east from Silverton to Animas Forks. The class will also look at the history of the Ridgway Railroad Museum and its half-mile loop railroad.

Understanding Eastern Religions with Western Minds

Instructor: Kelvin Kent

Understanding Eastern Religions with Western Minds

Three separate presentations, between 60 and 90 minutes each, depending on length of Q & A time.

Hinduism
Hinduism is widely regarded as the oldest, practiced religion in the world with over 1.2 billion adherents. This session will cover how Hinduism evolved, the origin of the caste system, the great Epics, deciphering the hierarchy of Gods, rituals, festivals and practices, plus their concepts of time and how the mind works, and how this religion impacts nearly every aspect of their daily lives. 

Buddhism
Is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy? Was Buddha a God or an ordinary mortal human being? We will examine what Buddha taught and what he sought to change in northwest India 2500 years ago. We will also look at how Buddhism split into its main sects and what the beliefs and teachings consist of, plus how and when Buddhism spread to many parts of the world and why it is so popular today, especially in Western countries. 

Islam
It is calculated that Islam will overtake Christianity in sheer numbers within approximately 50 years. How did Islam come about? Exactly who was Mohammed? Why was Islam able to move so rapidly across the Middle East and Asia? What was and still is, the impact of Islam on our world today - especially in the fields of science, astronomy, medicine and mathematics? Who are the Sunnis and Shias and how do their sects differ? Who are the bad guys? We will delve into all of these and much more, in an effort to understand the history, development and relevance of Islam today.

Maps That Changed the World

Instructor: Larry Meckel

Maps that changed the world

This online lecture course is designed to chronicle the most important milestones in the history of cartography. It will take us from prehistoric rock carvings to digital maps of outer space, a time span that will cover over 8000 years of human history.

Evolution of Life on Earth

Instructor: Larry Meckel

Evolution of Life on Earth

This continuing education course will look at the evolution of life on Earth over a 3 billion year period. Specifically, it will chronicle 28 major and exciting milestones in the development of life from those very first, one-celled bacteria to the emergence of man, a truly amazing journey. The concepts of origins, changes, and extinctions will be important and recurrent themes.

Some of the 28 interesting milestones we will consider are:

  • The change from single to complex cells
  • The start of vertebrates (the fish)
  • Emergence onto land (fins to feet)
  • Two huge breakthroughs: the seed (for plants) and the egg (for animals)
  • The origin of feathers and flight
  • Emergence of flowering plants
  • The first primates

The course ends by considering two intriguing aspects of life: (1) the “art of longevity”, namely a look at those species that survived through all the turmoil and continue to live today and (2) those organisms that live at the very extremes of temperature, pressure, and toxic conditions.


The Wright Opera House is a 501c3 nonprofit, operating a historic venue and premier performing arts organization located in the City of Ouray. It is supported by event fees and by generous donations. Click here to make a tax deductible donation to the Wright.


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