- Associated Press - Saturday, March 4, 2017

HASTINGS, Neb. (AP) - Hastings College’s man on space has left the sphere of instruction for good.

Clyde Sachtleben, 80, has vacated his familiar part-time role as J-Term astronomy teacher and made his retirement permanent after serving 41 years as full-time head of the physics department through 2001.

Sachtleben, who helped grow the college’s astronomy program from two $200 cardboard telescopes in 1978 to a state-of-the-art computerized off-campus observatory that that bears his name, assumed a J-Term instructional role shortly after his retirement in 2001 through this year, the Hastings Tribune (https://bit.ly/2lZW6tc ) reported.

“I decided enough was enough,” he said. “My history story is over after 56 years.”

Sachtleben joined the Hastings College staff in 1960 for what he had intended to be a short-lived couple of years at age 24.

Having recently completed his master’s degree in physics at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the crew-cut wearing graduate was sold on the job by Harry James, the frugal department head who operated the department out of a one-room basement classroom in the library on a $300 annual budget.

Three years later Sachtleben was named department head upon James’ retirement. With the help of Carl Throckmorton, a former instructor at Hastings High School, and secretary Alene Tanner, he grew the department through multiple grant proposals to become one of the college’s premier academic attractions.

“We had good equipment, a new building and two fellas who wanted to do whatever it took to make the department better,” he said. “We loved to teach very good students.”

When the college introduced its January Interim Term (now called J-Term) in 1965, Sachtleben and Throckmorton organized a trip that would give students hands-on exposure to training at two national laboratories in Chicago. So successful was the program that it continues to be offered every other year to this day.

During the 1980s, Sachtleben helped a senior physics student named Clayton Anderson land a summer job at NASA through a telephone interview conducted from his office. Handing him notes throughout the 30-minute telephone interview, he said Anderson was less than sure of how he fared, but was contacted the following day by NASA and offered the position.

“That was a huge step for Clay,” he said. “He got his feet on the job there and did a good job.”

After submitting 15 applications to become part of NASA’s astronaut program, Anderson finally was accepted in 1998 and eventually landed a role with the program. As an astronaut, he participated in five missions and logged more than 166 days in space.

In addition to being invited with Throckmorton to Anderson’s first launch in Florida, Sachtleben received telephone calls from Anderson on three different occasions from space. It was perhaps the first call - the one he missed - that meant the most.

“He left a message that said, ‘This is Clay. I’m flying over Hastings right now and thought I would like to say thank you for what you did down there to get me up here,’ ” he said. “I walked a step higher than before that day.”

Jim Dugan, a Hastings College physics professor who headed the department for 16 years, joked he isn’t exactly sure the college has seen the last of Sachtleben.

“He’s threatened that (retirement) before,” he said with a laugh. “After he officially retired full time, he taught an abbreviated astronomy class for a while and really enjoyed it. He did a great job with kids, no doubt.

“He was a great teacher and helped a lot of students along the way, including astronaut Clayton Anderson. And Clayton would tell you that. Even after he retired, he loved to talk to the students and showed a great interest in them.”

Observatory program director Dan Glomski has known Sachtleben for more than 30 years. Though he was Sachtleben’s subordinate on the job, Glomski said the men enjoyed a working relationship that enabled them to communicate on equal ground.

“We worked well together,” he said. “We were able to talk about a lot of different things and exchange ideas. Technically speaking he was boss, but our relationship was never that way at all.”

Sachtleben’s contributions to the college are far-reaching, he said.

“As far as the observatory, it wouldn’t be there without him,” Glomski said. “He’s been absolutely key to the astronomy program at HC. Every time I walk into the observatory and set up for a Saturday night program, I always give a silent thank you to Clyde for all he did to get that building going.”

Despite Sachtleben’s declaration to the contrary, Glomski is confident his longtime friend will remain connected to the program in some capacity going forward.

“He’s taken his very last step down - we’ll put it that way - (but) he’s not going to entirely disengage himself from what’s going on out there,” he said. “He’ll still be around.”


Information from: Hastings Tribune, https://www.hastingstribune.com

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