A Short Autobiography of N6PJL

I was born Karen Ann Halberg on July 27, 1953 in Cleveland, Ohio, the first child of Richard A. Halberg and the former Janet J. Jenkins. (My brother, Wayne Allen Halberg was born in 1959.)  In 1953 my father worked for U.S. Steel in Cleveland. Two years later, he went to work for Hiller Helicopter as a design engineer, and we moved to Hagerstown, Maryland. My dad had always wanted to live in California, so the next year, when he got the chance to transfer to Palo Alto, California, he jumped at the chance, and we made the cross-country trek in our green and white 1955 Chevy.

Because my Dad was in the aerospace business, which at that time was very unpredictable in terms of job security, we lived in several different places in the San Francisco Bay area, and even spent a year in New Orleans, Louisiana while I was growing up. We finally settled in Manhattan Beach, in Southern California when I was in high school. Dad was a design engineer who worked on the fuel tanks for rockets like the Saturn 1B that sent the first Apollo spacecraft into orbit.

Sometime during my second grade year, I became interested in science and acquired several little "Golden Books" on various topics, one of which was "Weather". Fascinated by that book, I wrote my own little "book" on weather complete with illustrations. I was eight or nine when someone gave me a children's book on the solar system. I was absolutely thrilled! I memorized all the facts on the planets, and decided I was going to be an astronomer when I grew up. I remember being very embarrassed when people asked me what I wanted to be, because, in those days, girls just did not dream of becoming astronomers!
Over the next few years, I read everything I could find about astronomy. I had all the book-learning a kid could get, but, for some reason I never went outside at night to learn the constellations until high school. We never even owned a pair of binoculars. I did get one chance to look through a small telescope when a friend down the street put his telescope on Saturn. What a thrill!!! I remember that feeling every time I show someone a planet through our telescope and watch their excitement.

During my junior yearof high school, I became interested in shortwave radio. I had discovered, quite by accident shortly before we moved to southern California, that at night I could pick up KFI in Los Angeles on my little portable radio. Dad explained to me how AM signals bounce off the ionosphere, and I was intrigued enough that I used my babysitting money to buy a small shortwave receiver. It had very poor selectivity, and an analog dial, but it picked up the BBC and many other major broadcast stations. I got a lot of enjoyment out of it for several years.

I also decided it was time to get outside to learn the constellations, so several times a week, whenever the Manhattan Beach fog cleared, I would go out in the back yard with my constellation charts and try to pick out the bright stars in the major constellations. The limiting magnitude in the Los Angeles basin is about 3 or 3.5, so it was a tough job, but I succeeded in finding my way around the sky quite well. Then in 1970, I bought a telescope. Looking back, I now realize it was an awful instrument--a department store 60mm refractor on a wobbly alt-azimuth mount. With a lot of work, I was able to find the moon and planets and a few other things with it in the murky Manhattan Beach skies.

In fall 1970 I started college as an astronomy major at UCLA and joined the astronomy club. I soon had the use of a nice 8-inch Cave Optics instrument, so the 60mm refractor went into the closet. Over the next two years I ground my own 6-inch mirror and put together a 6-inch f/7 reflector. I used that original telescope until just two years ago. Our astronomy club had monthly star parties in the desert or the mountains, and I quickly discovered that there are a lot more stars than you can see from Manhattan Beach!!

As is to be expected, college brought a lot of changes to my life. It was a difficult time of growing up, but a very fulfilling time as well. Besides getting an education, I became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the summer of 1973, I got an exciting summer job. Jet Propusion Laboratory hired me as a summer student to work at Table Mountain Observatory outside of Wrightwood, California in the San Gabriel Mountains. What a summer!!! If this was what astronomy was all about, I wanted to do it forever. The only thing missing was doing the data reduction on all the photographic plates of the spectra of Jupiter and Mars we took all summer long. I got a chance to do that after going back to school in the fall. Since I only had two classes left before graduation, I went to school in West LA in the mornings and worked at JPL in Pasadena in the afternoons, then drove home to Manhattan Beach in the evening--what a commute! Fortunately, that only lasted until December. In January I moved to Sunland after becoming a full-time contractor at JPL. Jim Young, the astronomer at Table Mountain that I had worked for the previous summer, and I eventually started dating. He introduced me to ham radio, and I got my novice license in 1974--WN6GPY.

In the fall, I  moved to Provo, Utah to start graduate school at Brigham Young University. It was there that I discovered a love for teaching while working as a teaching assistant in physics and astronomy classes. Our team of T.A.s also gave planetarium lectures to school children and other groups. I used the BYU amateur radio club station W7OHR to communicate with Jim by CW. That was more frustrating than it was useful, as propagation was not always very cooperative! In March 1975 Jim and I got married. Since he had a job in California, I went back to Utah the next fall without him to finish my classes, then returned home to complete my thesis during January and February of 1976. Finally I went back to BYU in March to defend it and take my oral exams (ugh!). I survived and came out of the experience with an M.S. from the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

In fall 1976 I got a job teaching astronomy and algebra part-time at two different community colleges--Victor Valley College and Riverside Community College. The experience was good, but the pay was not, and the commute was long. I realized that in order to stay in that profession, it would be necessary to find a full-time position somewhere. Meanwhile we were working on adopting a baby, and in January 1979 when three-week old Eileen arrived, I decided to become a full-time mom. For the first time in my life, astronomy was not even in my thoughts most of the time--motherhood was awesome! When Eileen was a year and a half old, Jim's 14-year old son, Jeff, came to live with us, and a few months later we adopted a four-year-old boy named Bryan. Jim's daughter Jennifer later lived with us during the 1984-85 school year, so we had a full house!

The next years were busy ones, and astronomy gradually became a more important part of my life again. In 1984 I decided it was time to get my ham license again, starting over as a novice--KB6IJL, then upgrading in 1986 to general (N6PJL) and, finally, in 1989 to advanced. As my children grew up, I began looking for my own career direction again. I looked into community college teaching, but discovered it was even harder to find a full-time position than it had been ten years before (and there was that 45-minute commute to even the closest college, which made part-time teaching impractical). It seemed that teaching high school was the best way to go. I earned my teaching credential from Cal State San Bernardino in 1992, and got my first job in Riverside at Norte Vista High School. The next year, I transferred closer to home--just 8 miles away at Serrano High School where I have been teaching ever since. I don't get to work as an astronomer, but I do get to teach it (as part of an Earth and Space Science class). In addition I assist the JPL navigation team observing the beacon asteroids for the Deep Space 1 spacecraft which is testing a new autonomous navigation system that will make future spacecraft less dependent on commands from earth. I also have begun a variable star observing program with AAVSO (the American Association of Variable Star Observers) which I can do from my back yard with our new 10-inch telescope.

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