Gazing up into a night sky, it's easy to get swept off into the heavens.
Thousands of stars appear, like diamonds on velvet, with more graduations of intensity than the naked eye can perceive.
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Rod Martin was no more than 5 years old when he peered into the universe and became starstruck.
It was the beginning of a hobby that would eventually become a career and a lifelong passion.
For the past 27 years, Martin has been director of the William M. Brish Planetarium in Hagerstown.
He also has been a science teacher with Washington County Public Schools.
But at the end of this school year, Martin will be retiring.
He's looking forward to biking, golfing and traveling. And he might take a class or two just for fun.
But he won't be hanging up his telescope.
"I plan on using it more," he said.
Discovering the galaxy
Martin, 60, was born in Hagerstown and moved to St. Thomas, Pa., when he was 3 years old.
Shortly afterward, he had his first encounter with astronomy.
"I was probably 4 or 5 when my parents woke me up in the middle of the night — which was probably 9 or 10 p.m. — to see a brilliant aurora display," he recalled. "I'll never forget the colors and the sight."
And as the space program took off in the late 1950s, he said, "we used to look for satellites crossing the sky, specifically Echo. I began learning about the planets and really enjoyed looking at meteor showers."
Following graduation from James Buchanan High School, Martin headed off to Shippensburg University (then Shippensburg State College), majoring in elementary education.
He also took every astronomy class that was offered.
Martin said he began teaching in March of 1972 at Fountain Rock Elementary School and, in 1975, earned his master's degree in science for elementary teachers from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Several years later, he became a science teacher at Smithsburg Middle School, where the curriculum included astronomy. He also started an astronomy club.