James Albury spends a lot of time in the dark. Leaning back and surrounded by stars, he juggles whether to fly to Neptune or Saturn. Neptune it is. Stars rush forward and planets swing by as Albury moves at speeds NASA can only dream of. This is the life of a planetarium director, and Albury is the man in charge at Santa Fe’s Kika Silva Pla Planetarium.
Albury took over the helm at the Kika Silva Pla Planetarium less than two months ago and is still testing it out to see what his new baby can do. His first creation, “Meteors!,” opened Friday, Nov. 20 and not only supplied an explanation and history of meteors, past and present, but also came with its own 5,000-year-old, 75-pound meteorite. Listening to Albury during the show, you could hear the enthusiasm in his voice. This is a man in his element.
“I get to do something I have been passionate about since I was a child,” says Albury.
Indeed, he has been making a living under these celestial recreations since he was barely into his teens. He was born in Denver but grew up in Miami where he started volunteering at the Miami Museum of Science’s planetarium at age 14. He began by helping with seating, but by age 15 he was behind the console and on the payroll. While he quickly learned the mechanics, he could not take on narration duties until his voice changed. Albury stayed with the Miami Museum until age 22.
At 21, he arrived in Gainesville for his first tour of duty as a recruit in the UF Astronomy program. He knocked off his bachelor’s degree and one year of master’s work before re-entering the work force as part of UF’s Office of Academic Technology. Thirteen years later, Albury left UF for a position at Lifestyle Family Fitness in Jacksonville. The change let him reduce his cross state commute –he lives in the Green Cove area — and spend more time with his wife, Kandra, and two daughters, Drea, 16 and Mira, 14.
The new career also dovetailed with his passion for bodybuilding. In his slim black suit, Albury does not give the impression of massive muscles, but he has been competing for years. In 2003 he won the Gainesville Bodybuilding Championship where he won the overall men’s open title. He currently has his own website on bodybuilding at fitness.podarco.com.
As if having a family, pressing heavy metal, and racing across solar systems were not enough, Albury also runs a side business with his wife. Albury is the man behind the camera for Events by Kandra. Busy guy.
Now, as he settles into his new digs at Santa Fe, Albury plans to channel some of that boundless energy into expanding public awareness of the planetarium. Within the next year he would like to double attendance. One thing that surprised him when he arrived on campus was how few students knew about what was going on at the planetarium, or had recently seen a show. He would like to add four to five new shows to the current lineup this year, and every year if the budget permits.
For the immediate future, he intends to roll out Planetarium Awareness Week. The event, to be held during the last week of the semester, will include two live and two pre-recorded shows each day. These free shows will be ideal for students who need to chill out for an hour or so in the midst of finals. He plans to finish the week with a free U2 concert that was filmed specifically for full dome presentations.
- James Albury, planetarium coordinator, 352-381-7068 (office) or firstname.lastname@example.org
- David Hackett, for help facilitating your story, 352-256-3424 (cell) or email@example.com