S3, E9: Why You Have to See the April Solar Eclipse, According to an Airstream-Loving Astronomy Expert

In this week’s episode of Unpacked by AFAR, Scott Roberts—founder of Explore Scientific—shares his tips on viewing the April eclipse, how eclipse travel can change your life, and the enduring power of an Airstream.

It’s not too late to make plans to see the April solar eclipse! This week on Unpacked, an astronomy and eclipse expert—who travels around the country in his vintage Airstream—shares how eclipses have changed his life, and why we should all try to see one in our lifetime.


Aislyn Greene, host: I’m Aislyn Greene, and this is Unpacked, the podcast that unpacks one tricky topic in travel each week. And today we are merging the worlds of eclipse chasing and Airstream travel. Doesn’t that sound like such a great combination?

As you may know, on April 8th, 2024, the sun, Earth, and moon will come into complete alignment and a total solar eclipse will sweep over a section of the United States. This will plunge cities around the U.S. into darkness for up to four minutes and 27 seconds. Cities include Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas in Texas; Little Rock, Arkansas; Indianapolis, Indiana; Cleveland, Ohio; and Buffalo and Rochester in New York.

So this week, we’re going to hear from Scott Roberts, founder of Explore Scientific, a company that designs, builds, and sells telescopes, binoculars, microscopes, and more. He’s also a passionate amateur astronomer who has seen four solar eclipses and travels around the United States for astronomy events in his vintage Airstream, a 1968 Overlander he named after his mother. The very Airstream he’ll be taking to Texas in April to see the eclipse.

We talked about how and where to view the eclipse, the ways seeing an eclipse can change us, and why the Airstream is such an enduring symbol of adventure.

Hey, Scott, welcome to Unpacked. It looks like a beautiful day where you are. Where, where are you?

Scott Roberts: I am in Springdale, Arkansas, and we are right in front of, uh, the, uh, Explore Scientific building.

Aislyn: That’s so cool.

Scott: This is the Airstream, right. And it’s called the Barbara Jean. This thing has, uh, it has solar panels. It’s got, uh, on-demand hot water heater, and it works really well.

Aislyn: You must have been pretty comfortable those couple of years you were on the road.

Scott: Oh yeah. When I first got it, somebody asked me, uh, you know, “What does it, what does it feel like to you?” And I said, “I’m, I’m gonna sleep in it the first night. And, uh, at that time, it still had the original 1968 shag carpet. All, all of the, uh, you know, attributes of the Airstream were original at that time. The only thing that’s still original right now are these, these little lights, yeah.

Aislyn: I love it. All right, well I wanna hear more of your Airstream stories for sure, but I was hoping we could start with what do you, what do you do?

Scott: I am founder and president of a company called Explore Scientific. We do telescopes, microscopes, binoculars, uh, optics for outdoor exploration, you know. I have a big interest in astronomy. I’m known for that field. And, uh, mostly what I, what I do in astronomy for my own enjoyment is I like to do educational outreach in astronomy.

So, you know, if I, if things don’t seem right in the world and I can’t just go on a camping trip in my Airstream, I will go to, uh, a street corner with my telescope and, uh, and let people look at it, maybe get their first glimpse of Saturn’s rings or see the moon for the first time. I’m always blown away by how many people have never seen the rings of Saturn before, for their own—you know, they see pictures of it and everything, but—

Aislyn: But with your own eyes.

Scott: —they see it for the first time. With your own eyes, you know? And, uh, people are struck by a couple things. One is that they initially don’t think it’s real—

Aislyn: OK.

Scott: —that they’re really seeing the real live planet, you know. And so, they’ll look around the front of the telescope and they’re looking for the slide or something I stuck in front of the telescope. And then I, I’ll say, “No, no,” and I’ll tap the telescope so it vibrates a little bit. And they can see the planet jiggling. They go, “It’s live.”

Aislyn: Wow.

Scott: This is the real deal, and you’re looking 900 million miles away. And, um, that is something that just, uh, I don’t know why, but that number blows a lot of people away. They think, Wow, I’m seeing something 900 million miles away. But, you know, seeing planets, I mean, we’re looking at stuff literally in our own celestial backyard.

Aislyn: Have you always been, like, fascinated by celestial events and bodies and things like that?

Scott: I have a pretty young memory. Um, my mother, Barbara Jean, this is the name of the Airstream, she, uh, was a Navy wife, you know, and so we lived on military bases and stuff. And, uh, we were living in, my mother tells me that it was a Quonset hut, you know those kind of Airstream-shaped buildings, you know. But I remember I had my toys out on the kitchen floor, and I was looking out the screen door, and I saw a bright light, but because it was going through a screen door, it made a diffraction spike. So you got like this cross, OK. And I just, I was fascinated by that. And uh, and I asked my mom what that was, you know, and she said, “Oh, that’s a star.” I now realize that that was probably Venus, you know.”

Aislyn: Yeah. To be that bright.

Scott: I think I was three years old at that time. So I had some interest in that. And I was born in 1959, so I am a, you know, a space-race baby.

Aislyn: Yeah.

Scott: And, uh, an Apollo-era kid, you know, and all of that. And so [I was] always interested in the idea of, of exploring space. So I, I had a real fever about it until I was, well, certainly I, I always have, but by 10 years old, I want a telescope so bad. I mean, I’m pleading with my parents to get me one. And uh, yeah, I got a little tiny telescope for Christmas. I was thrilled over it. And I thought that I wanted to become a photographer.

Aislyn: Oh, OK.

Scott: So I, I built my own darkroom and, uh, I started producing images, you know, best I could. And then this, uh, this got me really fascinated with optics and what they can do, you know.

Aislyn: I see. Yeah.

Scott: So I start working in a camera store, and I’m starting to teach, uh, photography, This is in California. I’m then reintroduced to astronomy, but now on a higher level, you know. And so we start selling telescopes for serious amateur astronomers. And um, this is just before Halley’s Comet came around.

And so there was that comet fever that was going on and, and uh, yeah, it was amazing. And I got to meet—during this time, I got to meet JPL [Jet Propulsion Laboratory] scientists and professional astronomers and stuff, and uh, you know, I, I was very glad I made that turn to go and do something I love to do.

Aislyn: Well, you, you mentioned the kind of fever around the, the comet and I feel like we have a similar fever going on right now around this coming solar eclipse, and so I was—

Scott: That you do.

Aislyn: —curious to know why you personally think eclipses are so fascinating.

Scott: Well, uh, you know, no one can tell you how amazing a total eclipse is, OK. You can see videos, you can see pictures. Um, and they’re, the pictures are beautiful and the videos are amazing by themselves, but it is not as amazing as actually witnessing one, um, because, um, it’s something that really strikes at your core, you know.

So the first total eclipse I saw—I’m now at this time working at, I go beyond the camera store and I’m working for a telescope company, OK, manufacturer. And WGBH Boston—the guys who do the Nova presentation—contact me and they say, “Hey, we need, uh, equipment.” They don’t tell me who they are at first. They just say they need equipment because of the eclipse.

And I go, “OK, well this is the kind of equipment that you need,” and all the rest of it. And they said, “Well, we don’t have anybody that can operate that. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Well, I don’t know,” you know? And they said, they said, something like, “Would you do it for a documentary?”

And I said, I said, “Yeah, that sounds interesting.” And I said, “Who is this?” And he goes, “Oh, well this is Nova from WGBH Boston.” And I go, “I’m in.”

Aislyn: Yeah. Yeah. “I’m sold.”

Scott: I’m in. So, so we go to Hawai‘i and, um, and we start getting set up and we go to Mauna Kea. Now Mauna Kea is at 14,000 feet, OK. And they, they gave us special privileges. You know, we are from Nova, the National Geographic guys are there, and, uh, basically a who’s-who of documentary filmmakers are on the mountain. So I’m getting everything set up and, uh—this is part of a longer story, I’m not gonna go into the full details of it—but I stay up, I stay awake nonstop for four days, OK, doing this eclipse.

Aislyn: What?Scott: Yeah. Yeah. One of the things that you find out at 14,000 feet, because of lack of oxygen, it’s very difficult to sleep, OK. This is probably what kills people, OK. Right? You’re staying awake ’cause you can’t get rested enough, right. Because there’s not enough oxygen in your blood to actually go to sleep.

But, uh, when the eclipse finally arrives, I, I have everything all set up. I have trouble getting things set up. It may be part of the, an exhaustion problem. And there was some equipment issues that I had to overcome, which I did. And so as the eclipse is starting to happen, the clouds had come up to the level where the, the clouds were actually covering up our lenses on our cameras. We have 35-millimeter motion picture cameras, and they, they cover it, OK. And I’m going, “No!” Like that—I actually stick my head up. I stand up and my head’s above the cloud level.

Aislyn: Oh my God.

Scott: And I can see the sun is coming, all right?

Aislyn: Yeah. Yeah.

Scott: And so they, they have an open PA system and they are counting down the minutes until what they call first contact. And, uh, and they’re doing it in multiple languages ’cause it was French teams and people from Spain and, you know, so they’re, it’s, it’s simultaneously all these languages. And they’re playing, “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles, you know, and I’m, I’m a huge Beatles fan anyways, so—

Aislyn: That sounds magical.

Scott: —and plus I—it’s very magical and almost hallucinogenic because I have been awake for four days, OK. This was day four, OK, and the eclipse is there. As the sun just gets a little bit higher, it warms up just enough, the clouds drop down to where, about where my feet are.

Aislyn: OK.

Scott: And then they continue to keep dropping and so the sun gets, you know, you’ve seen these, uh, sequences where the sun continues to get eaten up by the—covering up by the moon and, and then totality hits. And Aislyn you, when you see this, you are completely, utterly unprepared for how you’re gonna feel for this, OK.

Aislyn: Really?

Scott: Really. And you know, I’ve seen beautiful comets. I’ve seen lots of amazing stuff in the sky. When this happened, I had this feeling of impending doom.

Aislyn: Oh, wow.

Scott: There’s something very, very wrong. And it was at that point that I realized that I had, I could understand why armies dropped their weapons and ran, OK.

Aislyn: Like, just get away. Hide. The world is ending. Yeah.

Scott: It’s ending right now. You know, something is very, very wrong. The sun is, you know—but as it’s happening, and this was a, a particularly long eclipse, like, like what we’re going to experience in, in, uh—we’re going down to Texas for this one. Uh, we got an over four-minute-long duration, OK.

Aislyn: Wow.

Scott: For that particular eclipse, it was called the Great Eclipse because at, by the time it got to Mexico, uh, they had a seven-minute-long duration, you know, so it was just the geometry of the moon and the sun and the Earth and all the rest of that stuff. And you can conceptually understand this geometry and you can learn it in school, and maybe you’ve done the math or whatever, but when you see it, it’s like you can’t believe it, OK. You cannot believe it. And it, it affects people differently. But I’ve never heard anyone that’s actually seen a total eclipse, like, “Yeah, I saw a total eclipse. It was all right.” I’ve never heard that.

Aislyn: Are some people happier and more excited and others are more freaked out? Is that what you see in terms of the variety?

Scott: When you’re with a group, what you hear are squeals of delight, and people going, “uhhh,” like, and gasping, like almost gasping for air. And they just, they’re like, for all of them, if it’s their first time, you, you certainly hear those things, but even the experienced. And there are people that become addicted to eclipses, and this will be my fourth total eclipse, um, that I’ve gone after.

Aislyn: I was gonna ask.

Scott: As soon as it’s over, you wanna see another one. I mean, it’s just like you can’t get enough.

Aislyn: And so it sounds like what makes this one coming in April unique is the duration. Are there any other aspects that make it special?

Scott: Duration. So there, there’s several really special things about this eclipse. One is, is that it’s going over a very, uh, populated area with easy road access to get to the center line. Um, it’s going over the most populated areas of the United States, and therefore it’s going to be the greatest science event in human history.

Aislyn: Right. Wow.

Scott: There will be millions of people watching this, OK.

Aislyn: Wow.

Scott: And um, so, uh, you know, if you don’t go and see this and you live in the USA, shame on you, you know. Because, well, it’s almost like if you don’t, if you’ve never seen one, you know, then you don’t know what you’re missing, And then you do see one, you go, “Wow, everybody should see this because it will change your perspective on life.”

Aislyn: Wow. Do you think it makes people feel—

Scott: Paradigm shift.

Aislyn: Paradigm shift. In what way? Like, what do you think that is?

Scott: Because suddenly you, you are realizing, you know, it’s not conceptualizing anymore. You’re realizing that you’re on a planet, OK? It’s moving through space, alright? And something so amazing is happening in the sky that is beyond anything you’ve ever experienced, ever, OK? There’s no light show or concert or—I’m a father. I rank the experiences to watching childbirth.

Aislyn: Wow.

Scott: It is that level of like, “Oh my God.”

Aislyn: Yeah. Yeah. I guess that awareness, you know—we, so we go about our lives and we’re driving and working and eating, and we’re not really thinking about—unless you’re, you, perhaps—what is surrounding us, what we’re part of.

Scott: Right. And that’s, I’m not very, very special in that regard. But when I wake up in the morning and I see the sun come, I don’t think of it as the sun. I see it as a star.

Aislyn: Hmm. Cool. Yeah.

Scott: And we’re very close to the star, and I see, you know, that this star is keeping everything alive here, OK. It’s incredibly special. And it’s not just, um—when you say stuff like that, you know, if we were, if we were at a bar and I was telling you, “Yeah, you know, the sun’s special, it’s really amazing.”

Aislyn: I’d be like, “Uh . . . “

Scott: She’d be like, “Oh my God, how can I get away from this guy?”

Aislyn: I’ll be like, “I’m gonna move down to this end of the bar.” I’m just kidding.

Scott: Exactly, exactly.

Aislyn: But it’s, I love that perspective, you know? ’Cause I do not think that way, but now I will.

Scott: You go outside and you think that the sun is like a light so you can see stuff.

Aislyn: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Basically.

Scott: And now it’s dark and OK, it’s bedtime or whatever, but you know. So if I walked out outside the Airstream right now, I can feel the warmth of the sun. That’s from radiation and you know, the lightest photons that I’m seeing being emanated from our star. All the stars that you see, it’s the same thing, OK? Same process. And some people get really philosophical about this.

Aislyn: I’m sure.

Scott: I’ve heard amateur astronomers go kind of really down the rabbit hole on this.

Aislyn: Real deep. Yeah.

Scott: Real deep. They, they’ll say things like, “Well, you know, you are now looking up and you’re seeing the Andromeda Galaxy.” And one guy put it so eloquently, I, I don’t know if I can do it, but he said that it’s as if you were meant to see those star, that starlight to hit your eyes.

Aislyn: Yeah. Wow.

Scott: And it’s traveled across all this time. It’s just for you. Those photons, those original photons, those same photons aren’t hitting other people. They’re going for you, OK. You’re seeing it and you’re looking back into time all this time, you know. So there’s kind of a time travel aspect to it. I’m really big on trying to connect people with the universe, you know.

Aislyn: Since we have this eclipse coming up and there’s so many people who will watch, who will participate in a way that we haven’t had before, do you expect to kind of see that shift in a lot of people?

Scott: Oh, I do. Definitely. This definitely happens. Yeah. Because they experience something like that and they go, “Well, gosh, I wanna do more of this.” They’ve experienced something and they want, they wanna kind of connect the dots for themselves after they’ve seen something like this. It’s like, “OK, now what do you think about—”

Aislyn: They have a thirst.

Scott: Yeah, exactly. A thirst. It’s like a religious experience. It’s like they’ve been baptized or something, you know, and now they want to talk about it. Uh, and you can see, you can see it in their face and in their eyes that, you know, they have really witnessed something that is just, you know, awe-inspiring. They’ve got real awe going on inside of them.

Aislyn: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, we use—

Scott: And it’s good for you.

Aislyn: It sounds like it’s good and I think we could use that just as a collective right now, you know, something to unify us in that way.

Scott: Absolutely because you get, you get, uh—it’s interesting that you bring that up ’cause we got so many issues in the world today, and people are being bombarded by what’s going on. And while it’s true that all those things are happening, what’s also true is that there are, I’m not gonna say bordering on a miracle, ’cause they—miraculous things are happening all the time, but you’re now so desensitized to it.

But you, you know, the, you can train yourself to appreciate, you know, what is happening on a, on a very immediate kind of level, And, and this is really sad because, um, you are spending more time thinking about how you’re different and how things out there are happening to you, OK. And so you feel very disconnected. And this is, I think this is why people live like in an almost a perpetual state of suffering, you know. They are going, “Yeah, it was a pretty good day, you know, this happened and that person argued with me,” or whatever, you know. Whatever. You should be jumping up and down and going, “I am alive!”

Aislyn: The sun came up!

Scott: Breathing this—the sun came up! Do you realize what that means?!

Aislyn: I, I know. Oh my gosh. I gotta make a, put a Post-it on my computer that says, “The sun came up. Don’t complain about anything.”

Scott: Anything. That’s right.

Aislyn: So it’s been talked about quite a bit, that Texas is the very best place in the United States to see this eclipse. How, how was that determined?

Scott: We, we looked at a website called Eclipseophile, OK. And this is where all the eclipse chasers, they, they look at the, uh, what’s called fractional cloud cover data, OK. Eclipseophile has done an amazing job of collecting cloud cover data over the last 20 years. And uh, it turned out that for a 20-year average, Texas, southern Texas, if you’re gonna stay in the United States, has the best odds for clear weather. So that’s the reason why everybody’s going down to Texas, right.

Where we’re going to be is, we’re gonna, we’re going down to San Antonio, OK. And then we’re gonna shoot across from San Antonio going west, couple of hours, uh, out where a little town called Leakey, uh, Texas is, and we’re gonna be on a private ranch. So my intention is to bring Barbara Jean, the vintage Airstream, down there. We will have a Starlink, um, internet connection. We have a person that, uh, does catering. They’re coming out from Florida for this with their catering truck because they do star parties. They do astronomy events.

Aislyn: Oh, what? You can get a caterer for a star party? Damn, that’s cool.

Scott: I know, I know, they know what amateur astronomers—it’s gonna be fun. And so, yeah. And so we’re gonna be out there and, it’s over the same spot where the eclipse of, the annular eclipse of 2023, happened. So it’s literally over the same spot of ground these—

Aislyn: Very cool.

Scott: —two eclipses are crossing, OK. And so the people that, uh, attended that eclipse certainly are coming back for the total, OK.

Aislyn: Well, where would you send somebody who’s in this place where, “OK. I haven’t, I don’t know. I hadn’t made plans yet”? Where would you say—

Scott: I would tell you to come with me down to Texas, OK.

Aislyn: All right. Can I join your ranch?

Scott: You’re gonna be with—Yes, you can join. You can join. There’s still space. Um, we’re making it very affordable. If you go to Explore Scientific, not Explorer, but explore scientific.com/eclipse, you’re gonna see something called the Crossroads of the Eclipses Star Party.

Aislyn: Oh, neat. OK, I’ll take a look.

Scott: You click on that and you buy a ticket and you can go. You’re gonna be in one of the best spots in the entire country to see it.

Aislyn: OK. On a practical level, what do you need to view an eclipse? How do you get ready? Do you need gear? What’s the best way to view one?

Scott: You need these, OK. These are eclipse glasses, alright. So your first time you see an eclipse, uh, most people that are eclipse chasers are gonna say, “Look, for your first time because—”and they always say the first time, ’cause they know it’s not gonna be your last time, OK. Right? Because once you see one, you’re gonna go, “I gotta see another one.”

Aislyn: We gotcha.

Scott: I gotcha. Exactly. It’s very addictive. Uh, can be very expensive. I have had friends that have spent tens of thousands of dollars to go see an eclipse, OK. So it, it can be that expensive. Um, just to be able to drive to one, OK, is really rare. Um, so you gotta, you gotta go, uh, you’re gonna buy, you know, I sell eclipse glasses as well, so you’ll see all the, the things that you need, all right? But most, most eclipse chasers are going to tell you your first eclipse, you just need to see it. OK.

Aislyn: OK. Don’t over-prepare.

Scott: Don’t bring a bunch of camera gear. Don’t over-prepare. Because you’re—being that you’ve never done one and you have not seen it, you’re gonna be inexperienced and you’re gonna concentrate too much on your gear, trying to get the great photo. Later, I do recommend that you do try to do that, but your first time, uh, you need to go out and have very inexpensive eclipse glasses. You need to make sure that those eclipse glasses have this ISO rating on them, OK.

Aislyn: Got it.

Scott: And that they’re safe for you. We are shortlisted on the American Astronomical Society’s website, and that’s the organization that all the professional astronomers belong to, OK. And so we are, we’re listed as a recommended place to get your eclipse glasses. This involves us testing and making sure that these things are really safe.

And so the way that you’re gonna use them, these things just kind of fold up. And you know, you, you can download free apps for your phone to tell you when the first contact is going to happen and when to put on your eclipse glasses, et cetera.

But, but if you’re with a group like us, I’m gonna say, “OK, everybody put their eclipse glasses on.” And you’re gonna do that by looking down at the ground first, and then you’re just gonna move your head, so you can feel the warmth of the sun on your face so you can kind, just by the feeling of that—you’re gonna see this, this ball, uh, and you’re gonna go, “Oh wow, that’s the sun. It’s pretty big.” I mean, it’s not gonna fill up your field of view of the glasses, but you’re gonna say, “OK, I, I see that. It looks as big as the moon does,” OK. Right? In the sky with a naked eye.

And there’s a slow march of the sun getting more and more eaten up, you know, first contact. People say, “first contact,” and, you know, you know that it’s gonna happen. But still, it’s, it’s a slow, it’s a slow march. And so, you know, you might look up at it for a while and go, “OK, it’s, you know, not that much of it’s eaten up.” And you know, you, you drink some water or whatever and talk to your friends, and then you check again. “OK, more, more, more.” OK, now it’s starting to get close to where, you know, you’ve got the last remaining parts at this point. Everybody’s, like, in a trance. They’re watching this, all right. And they see it and they go, “Wow, OK. It’s getting, there’s like now a thin line.” And you start to see, like, little tiny dots around the edge of the moon and those are called Baily’s Beads. And it’s the sunlight going between the mountains on the moon, OK.

Aislyn: OK, oh wow.

Scott: It’s really fascinating. It’s beautiful to watch. And they do, like, a little twinkling dance, OK? And then all of a sudden everything kind of goes dark ’cause you’re wearing eclipse glasses. And a lot of people forget to take them off at this point.

Aislyn: Oh, no.

Scott: ’Cause they think they gotta keep ’em on the whole darn time, right?

Aislyn: But once—

Scott: At this time you pull ’em off and you just look at it, OK.

Aislyn: Wow. Wow.

Scott: And now you’re going to see this beautiful display of the corona, which is invisible to you all the time, but it is out there all the time too. You might see prominences that look like giant flames leaping off the sun, OK. Uh, but like frozen, like in slow motion, you know, these arcs. And it doesn’t get black now. It’s like a really dark blue color in the sky. Uh, but you probably can pick out if there’s some planets nearby, OK. And there will be Jupiter nearby. Um, you’ll probably see it, OK with, with a naked eye. And, um, there’s also going to be a comet next to Jupiter during this same time, but the comet will appear much fainter than the glow of the, the, uh, sun. So you probably won’t see it naked eye.

Aislyn: OK.

Scott: But, um, it will be miraculous and you will feel the temperature drop, OK.

Aislyn: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Scott: Right. And we’re gonna be in Texas, so there’s a lot of birds and, you know, natural wildlife around us. These animals will feel like it’s, it’s time to go to bed, OK. Or, or to wake up if they’re nocturnal, OK. And they do so in a very short amount of time, in seconds, really.

Aislyn: So you just get this silence that comes?

Scott: Yeah, yeah. Yes. Or, or you hear things that you’d only hear at night.

Aislyn: Yeah. Wow.

Scott: And so that is in effect. And, um, there’s something called shadow bands, which also occur. And this is, uh, the interference of the sunlight, uh, interacting with our atmosphere and stuff. It’s beautiful to watch. And you’re gonna have four minutes of it, four minutes and 20 seconds or so from our Texas location. The further north you get, the shorter this gets, but still you’re gonna have some minutes, OK, to watch it no matter where you are in the United States, if you got clear skies.

And then you’ll see something called, and I, I talked about those, the, the Baily’s Beads. Usually right after the eclipse, and sometimes at the beginning of an eclipse, you see something called the diamond ring effect. It’s the last bright shaft of sunlight that’s coming off the edge of the moon, and it’s just beautiful, OK. And that’s usually, like, the amazing finish of an eclipse, you know? And you just go, “Wow, what was that?” And now it’s starting to get so bright that you gotta put your glasses back on.

Aislyn: Yeah. Put your glasses back.

Scott: You gotta put ’em back on. And then you’ll watch the, the final phases of it. But you’ll hear people squealing, you will see people crying.

Aislyn: Wow.

Scott: Yeah. It’s that big of a deal. So I’m, I’m excited to see it again, uh, obviously, and really want you to see it. Because, you know, this is something you’re gonna remember for, really, for the rest of your life.

Aislyn: Amazing. Well, and you mentioned that you will be, you’ll have Barbara Jean down there, your Airstream, and I just want to ask you a couple more questions going back to what you started with about your Airstream travels. Were eclipses the reason that you decided to kind of buy this Airstream and hit the road? What was, what was the inspiration for that?

Scott: No, I, I’m a telescope maker, OK, and designer. And so I go to a number of astronomy events and I wanted to, I wanted to simplify my life. So there was that desire, you know—I’d hit a point in my life where I’d just go, “Well, you know, I don’t really want all the stuff I’ve got.” And so, you know, I had a house full of stuff and, shrunk everything down to where I could live in an Airstream.

Aislyn: Amazing.

Scott: And that was a lot of fun. It was really, really, uh, a, a feeling of freedom, to be able to unload like that. And then to be able to travel and basically have your home with you all, you know?

Aislyn: And then how long did it take you to kind of outfit it? Because it sounds like you basically redid everything.

Scott: That did take a couple years.

Aislyn: Did you do it as you were on the road or was that like kind of over time?

Scott: No, no, No. No, no. I did pay for a guy to do it. It was my design. It ended up, I hired a guy that—through the guy who did the major work on the Airstream, we hired a guy that did installs for luxury jets. So, like, if you see, like, this, this, is, like, aluminum wrapped around there and stuff, and it’s curved. And the Airstream is, there’s no—every Airstream is unique, you know, and they all have their curves and stuff like that. And so, uh, so he built all these things, really custom cabinetry.

So I, I knew I wanted an expanded, uh, bathroom. I wanted ample, uh, counter space where I could lay out my computers and stuff like that. This Airstream is—it’s daytime right now, but if it was night, I would show you that, uh, the lighting in here can go from white light to red light.

Aislyn: Oh, nice. OK.

Scott: And astronomers need red light to protect their night vision. So, um, I have, uh, I have a microwave drawer, so it’s kind of, everything’s out of the way and stuff, and it slides out and, you know, I can heat up coffee or hot chocolate or whatever, you know. And all of the cabinets and everything have locks like you would see, you know, on a boat.

I had friends that, that did boats for a long time and, you know, and this, the Airstream, just as it’s going down the road, it’s, I can’t remember what they said, it’s like a level-five earthquake the entire time as it’s going down the road. So things break, and you uh, you gotta be able to fix them and stuff. So, and I, I’ve had to fix things on, on this Airstream too, but for the most part it’s been a very rugged, reliable—this is a 50-year-old Airstream, OK.

Aislyn: Wow.

Scott: And it’s, it’s really good enough for another 50 years.

Aislyn: Why were you drawn toward an Airstream, and why do you think people love them so much?

Scott: OK, so this, this is my journey. This is my Airstream journey. I always admired the Airstream. My mother, Barbara Jean was kind of a gypsy. You know, she moved all the time. She would’ve loved this thing. She would’ve loved it. You know, you wake up on the Florida Keys, watching the sunrise, you know, and you’re, you’re getting a, a view that no one else has.

Everybody talks about, you know, you’re taking your home with you, you’re going with a community that, you know—and when you’re pulling one of these things, it’s not like, you know, you’re pulling a trailer.

People see it and they go, “Wow, that’s, that’s an Airstream.” They, they something in their head kinda kicks off. It’s like seeing a telescope. You imagine the exploration that you’re gonna have in space, OK. When you see an Airstream going down the road, you imagine the adventure that you’re gonna have. And, uh, and people—

Aislyn: It’s so funny. It’s so iconic in a way that you don’t, you don’t usually react that way to just a, a regular RV, right? It’s like, “OK, it’s an RV,” but an Airstream is like, yeah—

Scott: Yeah. You and your family are not going to do selfies in front of any trailer, OK. But an Airstream, you’re going to, right? And that’s what it’s like.

Aislyn: I love it.

Scott: Yeah. And I have people stop me routinely and, and ask me about it. And, uh, you know, why I got an Airstream and, “How can I get one?”

Aislyn: How many eclipses have you witnessed with Barbara Jean?

Scott: Uh, with Barbara Jean, uh, one.

Aislyn: And so this will be two.

Scott: And that would’ve been the 2017 uh, eclipse up in, uh, uh, Casper, Wyoming, so.

Aislyn: Is there anything else you wanna add about your Airstream adventures or your work or eclipses and why we should see them?

Scott: You know, you definitely should see this, this total eclipse if you live in the Americas or if you live in Mexico. If you’re in Mexico watching this or, or listening to this, Mexico’s actually gonna have better weather prospects than the United States will, OK. So that’s, that’s, uh, something to certainly check out. Uh, go and look at the eclipse websites that are out there. Go to star parties. You know, get out there, stop thinking about, “Gosh, I really would like to have an Airstream one day,” you know. And darn it, just go get one. Do it.

Aislyn: And go to a star party.

Scott: And go to a star party. Or go to the national park or do anything that you love to do because, uh, you’re, once you do it, you’re gonna go, “Wow, I do not know why I didn’t do this before. I don’t know why I didn’t take this trip before. I didn’t go on the road before.” You know? I mean, the clock’s ticking. You, you’ve got this miraculous time called life, OK? And you’re not gonna be able to make these long trips when you’re 90, OK?

And, you know, I think everybody should have a telescope. I think it’s an essential piece of, uh, exploring your universe. You know, you have a universe that, you know, that you can explore on a personal level, right? I think having a telescope, a microscope, and a pair of binoculars are essential for people that live on Earth, OK. Which is all of us. Enjoy it. Don’t take things so seriously. Because I think if you do some of this stuff and you make yourself happy, OK, you’re gonna add some years to your life. And they’re going to be good ones.

Aislyn: Well, you seem very happy.

Scott: I am. Take it in, wake up, you know, and, uh, start to understand, you know, this, this pale blue dot that you live on. You know, you’re very, very lucky. Very lucky to be alive. The conditions to create life are probably all over the universe, all right. But so far, we haven’t found any other place where life exists except here.

Aislyn: It’s a wonderful note to end on. Thank you. Really nice to meet you.

Scott: You too.

Aislyn: Thanks for showing me your Airstream.

Scott: Thank you.

Aislyn: Thank you, Scott! In case you are as persuaded as I am that we need to see this solar eclipse, we’ll link to his Explore Scientific website, including the trip he’s organizing in the show notes. And if you’ve already planned a trip, let us know which part of North America you’ll be in at unpacked@afar.com. And you can see a photo of his Airstream on AFAR’s social media accounts or by subscribing to our Behind the Mic newsletter (link in show notes).

Ready for more unpacking? Visit afar.com and be sure to follow us on Instagram and X. We are @AFARmedia. If you enjoyed today’s exploration, I hope you’ll come back for more great stories. Subscribing always makes that easy. And be sure to rate and review the show on your favorite podcast platforms. It helps other travelers find it. And if you ever want to ask a question or suggest a topic for coverage, you can reach out to us at afar.com/feedback or email us at unpacked@afar.com.

This has been Unpacked, a production of AFAR Media. The podcast is produced by Aislyn Greene and Nikki Galteland. Music composition by Chris Colin. And remember: The world is complicated. We’re here to help you unpack it.