A POPULAR astronomical club set up at the height of the space race in the 1960s has celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Clacton and District Astronomical Association celebrated the milestone at its monthly meeting at the United Reform Church in Carnarvon Road.

Guest speaker Nik Szymanek, a leading expert on astrophotography, gave an excellent talk on the first steps in astrophotography and club secretary David Pugh gave a short presentation about the early history of the club.

Mr Pugh said: “The association first formed as a result of interest in the Apollo 8 mission orbiting of the Moon.

“On January 3, 1969, a letter entitled Journey into Space appeared in the East Essex Gazette postbag.

“This had been submitted by the council’s then entertainments manager Harry Thompson to gauge interest in forming a discussion group on the subject of ‘Understanding the Universe’.

“Thirteen people, encouraged by the advertisement, initially met at Harry’s home and Clacton Astronomical Association was formed.

“In January 1974, members joined an evening woodworking class at Colbayns School to build a wooden dome for an observatory.

“The completed dome was too big to go in anyone’s car so the two halves were carried two miles through the streets of Clacton and across a railway bridge by two teams of four, looking like enlarged armadillos.

“The transfer took the best part of the day because of the weight and the amount of enquiries received from the general public.

“Local builders Shears-Neal kindly provided the bricks for the circular brick wall and even two apprentice bricklayers to build it.”

The observatory, completed in the grounds of Clacton County High School, lasted over 22 enjoyable years until seriously vandalised in 1997.

However, several members now have their own telescopes and a couple have their own observatories.

Mr Pugh added: “In April 1984, the association hosted its biggest ever venture, the first East Anglian Astronomical Convention at the town hall with Patrick Moore as the star speaker.

“Although CDAA has always been a fairly small society - currently 36 members - they are a friendly group and always maintain a good monthly meeting programme with regular lectures and monthly night sky presentations.

“Two of our originally junior members have even gone on to important positions related to the space industry.

“Professor Ian McCrea is currently head of Space Physics and Operations at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and has appeared on both the BBC Sky at Night and Star Gazing Live programmes.

“Stewart Turner is the Met Office’s Space Programmes Manager heading a team that decides which satellites to use and providing advice on long-term strategies on space related programmes.

“CDAA feels justly proud of its early nurturing of their interest in astronomy and space.

The club celebrated the milestone with a buffet, birthday cake and a bumper raffle.

Guest speaker Nik Szymanek was also presented with honorary lifetime membership by chairman Mike Haynes.

The monthly meetings take place on the first Thursday of each month, except August, at 7.30pm.

For further details about the club, call David Pugh on 01255 429849.