Staff Spotlight - Michael Unger

March 10, 2020

The Space Centre wouldn’t be what it is today without our amazing staff. We’d like to take a moment to shine the spotlight on a member of our little space family.

How long have you been working here?
I’ve been working here since 2006. 

What is your position at the Space Centre? 
When I first started I was an Interpreter and working in guest services. Watched the building change a lot and now as Programs Coordinator I have more influence on the programs and the direction of things, which is exciting. We have workshops that are curriculum based. We have a team of Interpreters that I coordinate with the programs. That’s the school side.

Of course, we have our daily programs and everyday operations. Plus we do outreach. We’ve got our portable planetarium and events. So for all of that I’ll coordinate with staff and organize that. On top of that, I also organize our public events and special events. There’s the adult nights. Those programs are ones that I initially came up with, the adult nights. Making them 19+ so we can serve alcohol and really focus in on a specific audience. When I first came in, that’s kind of one of the first programs I put my stamp on and they’ve been very successful. Those are the kind of events that I like to go to, so yeah, it’s been really fun. 

What is your favourite thing about space?
There’s tons of things I love about space. Probably one of my most favourite things about it is talking about the search for extraterrestrial life. That’s what really got me interested in space when I was a kid. I was a big Star Wars fan. Now we’re getting closer to sending missions to Europa, which is one of Jupiter’s moons. It’s got an ocean and potential for life there in that ocean. They just announced a new mission to go to Titan, which is one of Saturn’s moons. They’re going to send a drone helicopter because Titan is essentially an Earth-like planet, even though it’s a moon of Saturn. It’s as big as the Earth, it’s got an atmosphere, and it’s got lakes. There’s no oxygen, there’s no water. It’s methane and it’s a different composition, but there could be life there. That really excites me! I think in our lifetime, they’ll find something. With all the missions being planned right now, I think there’s a pretty high probability. That’s really exciting. How will that change how we feel about exploring space? Will it create some sort of new boom? 

What’s your favourite memory working at the Space Centre?
When I first started, I was really lucky to see a lot of the history of this building. We’re into our 52nd year now, but I came here as a kid when I was 8 years old. And then came back for a laser show as a teenager. The third time I came here was when I started working here. So I got to see a lot of the people that have been working here since the very beginning. This building, especially in the 70s, was the major science institution in Vancouver. This was a place to come and learn about the stars and was a unique thing to Vancouver. The laser shows were obviously very popular back then. John Tanner, who did the first show in 1968 here, was still working here when I started. Someone like him had such a rich knowledge and was very connected to the history of this building. It was really nice to see. Most of those people have now left. Mike is the only one still around and I really appreciate being able to pick his brain because he knows stuff that might not be on our drive. I’ve also been able to use Harold, which is the old planetarium projector, which was a total dream because it’s such a cool machine. If you wanted to make the stars spin you had to actually move the dials and it was a very intricate mechanical machine. We’d use all these slide projectors to create the imagery.

I did a one man storytelling show, this was back in 2010. It was called, ‘Johnny Tomorrow,’ and it was semi-autobiographical, but also a story about this building and the history behind this building and we did that with the old system. There were actual slides made and it was probably my biggest thrill. Got to come in one early morning with Mike and he showed me some options and I got to sit back and look through. It was like creating my own universe. It was a really fun memory. 

What do you recommend people check out at the Space Centre?
I think for adults, if you’re in your 20-40s and you’ve been here before as a kid but would like to explore again, you should really come to our adult Cosmic Nights. We cater towards them and they go a little deeper on subject matter. We have feature lectures, and bring in expert scientists. So those are great for learning more and being able to have some wine or a beer in the Space Centre is an added bonus. Some of my favourite stuff is when we do Family Nights, like Star Wars Night is a big hit and I’ve got a personal connection to that.