I first became interested in the stars in the summer of 1962, when I was 6 years old and the family did a camping trip around Lake Superior. Woke up in the middle of the night, went outside the tent, looked at the sky and was astonished by the beauty of the stars.
I learned of and joined the local astronomy club in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1967. It was the Apollo era and I was totally enthralled by the idea of space exploration. But, in 1971 one of my high-school teachers told me that the Apollo era was ending as there were too many poor and starving people in America for the government to be able to continue spending a huge fraction of its budget on NASA. I moved on to other things. Years passed. Decades passed.
Did a BS in Chemistry at RPI and a PhD in Applied Math at Cornell. Did a few postdocs and then took a permanent position at AT&T Bell Labs' Math Research Center in Murray Hill NJ. In 1990, Princeton University lured me away from Bell Labs. Been at Princeton ever since.
In 1999, I learned that a friend of mine (who worked down the hall) was an active amateur astronomer. He told me that he was the director of the local amateur astronomy club. I expressed interest and asked the name of the club. He said it was the Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton. The person was Kirk Alexander. Kirk invited me to a star party. I went. Kirk had a 7" Questar. The views of Jupiter through his telescope were awesome. A month later I bought myself a 3.5" Questar. A year later, I transitioned from visual observing to astrophotography.
On Nov. 12, 2001, I went to a dinner talk at Forbes College (here at Princeton). The title of the talk was "Terrestrial Planet Finder: Detecting and Characterizing Earth-like Planets Orbiting Nearby Stars". The speaker was Ed Turner. The talk was very interesting. It inspired me to work on the high-contrast imaging needed to take pictures of Earth-like planets around Sun-like stars. From that day up until now I have been actively collaborating with my colleagues in Astro and Aerospace Engineering on designing a NASA space telescope to image Earth-like planets.
I've also remained an active astrophotographer. In 2005, I bought myself a Takahashi FSQ-106N and a 10" Ritchey-Chretien telescope from RCOS. I've had the pleasure of taking many astro photos from the driveway at my house here just 8 miles north of Princeton.
I've also co-written a book with J. Richard Gott entitled "Sizing Up The Universe". It is published by National Geographic. And, just last week, Richard and I signed a contract to write a new book with the tentative title "The Universe in 3D". This book will have four authors: Richard, me, Michael Strauss, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. I'm looking forward to working on that book.