Chicago is known for many things. But being the perfect place for stargazing isn't one of the Windy City's traits. If Audrey Fischer has her way, though, it will be.
She wants to be able to look up into the sky — even in the Loop — and see the stars.
It's a daunting task, so Fischer is taking it one star at a time through her organization, One Star at a Time, which aims to unite people from across the planet via the starry sky. This is only possible if everyone in every city can see the stars, which isn't feasible in most urban areas. So Fischer is working to create star parks in Chicago and around the world.
Star parks are designated areas where the city's lights are either off or directed downward through a type of shielded fixture that reduces glare, so that it becomes possible to see the starry sky.
Fischer is working with Gov. Pat Quinn and other political figures to reduce light pollution and put the stars back into the city. Right now, there are star parks. But if Fischer achieves her goal, we won't need designated areas because you'll be able to see the stars anywhere you stand. The sky's the limit.
Q: How did you get involved with preserving the sky?
A: There was a need to reconnect people with their starry nights. These stars exist over every kid's backyard, but they're needlessly hidden. The technology exists today to provide the artificial light we need without giving away the stars. It's a win-win situation. We only lack the will, and I believe that is due to a misunderstanding.
Q: Why is it so important to be able to see the stars in the sky?
A: Starlight belongs to each and every person in the world. A starry night gives people a reason to look up and to realize that others from around the globe share the same sky. Starlight is the path to closer understanding of our universe, each other and ourselves — and maybe it's even a path toward peace.
Q: What is your favorite star?
A: Up until recently, I didn't have a favorite star. However, sadly, my father passed away in early February, and I wanted to choose a special star that would remind me of him. It would need to be available in all seasons and to be seen even in the light-polluted skies. The perfect star to represent my dad is Dubhe. Dubhe and Merak are the two pointer stars in the Big Dipper. These guiding stars point to the North Star, and knowing this, one can never be lost. This is perfect, because their initials stand for dad and mom, who were my guiding stars my whole life.
Q: Where were you born?
A: In Chicago. I grew up in Chicago Ridge, then went to Orland Park for two years during high school. All the other years, I split between the Beverly area of Chicago and Lakeview on the North Side.
Q: Do you have any children?
A: No. "Cheaper by the Dozen" is my favorite movie, and I really pictured myself with lots of kids. But ovarian cancer and a total hysterectomy on my 19th birthday put an end to that. However, I enjoy my nieces, nephews, godchildren and volunteering with the grade schools and Scouts with astronomy outreach.
Q: Are the stars your day job?
A: Starlight is volunteer work from the heart. I pay for my expenses through grooming puppy dogs by day. It's a great job, and it's just about the only job where it's legal to get kisses from the clientele without upsetting your spouse. I started out with champion English setters, then started grooming my friend's show dogs for the dog show ring. When I got sick from the cancer, I found out that this was a great part-time job that I could do in between the chemo treatments. Later on, I needed this to pay off my very high medical bills.
Q: What did you want to do when you were 13?
A: I wanted to become an astronaut. I remember the day my teacher advised me to be practical and to reconsider because very few people will ever actually go to space. If she knew I wanted to go to space to see the planet as a whole without imaginary borders and pray for peace, she really would have known how unrealistic I truly was.
Q: What would you do if you won the lottery?
A: I would buy the stars back.
Q: What was your favorite year of your life?
A: When I was 21. This was the year I was cleared from cancer, and I looked at life differently than I had before being diagnosed — especially since I was given a life expectancy of three months. I was done fighting for my life, so I could focus on living life in the most meaningful way I could. No longer would I look at something and think silently, "Oh, I wish I could do that." I did it. Sometimes, it was very difficult, but I discovered that not only was it worth the effort, but success tasted better when it did not come easy.
Q: What's something that was hard for you to do?
A: I wanted to go scuba diving, but I didn't know how to swim. I was the only one who started out by doggy paddling the laps. Now I am a master diver and have dived with magnificent manta rays in the night dives. I'm also afraid of heights, but I wanted to hang glide. This was a huge challenge to overcome. I am still afraid of heights on a ladder or a high balcony, but I absolutely love to fly my glider in air shows, and I've even flown with hawks.