A star-studded trip to witness the 1973 eclipse

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Retired Pennsylvania science teacher Stephen Berr made plans two years ago to witness this year’s solar eclipse in Driggs, Idaho.

He reserved a hotel room, and invited family members. Prepared as he was, life had different plans for him. After a life-threatening bout with pneumonia earlier this year, and many health complications, and he won’t be able to go.

But, he’s had eclipse adventures to fill entire books — perhaps the most stunning of them is a star-studded trip in 1973 to witness the sun’s darkening off the coast of West Africa.

“The Canberra” ocean liner was loaded with science lovers, and some of the greatest and most famous science minds of the time. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Scott Carpenter, as well as scientist and prolific writer Isaac Asimov.

Even though money was tight, Stephen and his wife Barbara Berr had decided this was the opportunity of a lifetime.

Stephen was in his 30’s then, and he made a short film about the trip, which he narrated.

“We got the cheapest room, no windows, I think we paid $800,” he recalled.

“And we had two little kids, and my mother watched the kids in Brooklyn,” added Barbara. “And, we went, and it was a floating college.”

Stephen’s short film shows crowded lecture halls as he narrates that ‘free lecture tickets were more valuable than money.’

Days passed without land in sight — spent listening to lectures or trying out different telescopes. Eventually, The Canberra positioned itself off the coast of Mauritania — the perfect spot to witness the eclipse. Berr says the decks were a forest of telescopes and cameras. Excitement grew,until the sun finally disappeared behind the moon, ‘in a magnificent diamond ring’ as the film describes it.

“When you see the eclipse from the ocean it is a magnificent sight,” said Barbara Berr. “It seems so low, like you can touch it. It was beautiful, it gets cool, and darker, and you see other stars. It is very special,” she said, tearing up.

Stephen Berr says all of the passengers were trying to get close to Isaac Asimov — who had told everybody that he was an “eclipse virgin.”

“So it began, and he shouts out “my god they are right the stars do shine during the day.”

Barbara said while everybody had their cameras, and telescopes, the famous scientist was standing there with his hands behind his back, just taking it in.

“It is an amazing event to see the thing that you see every day in the sky as a brilliant object suddenly get darkened,” said Stephen Berr.

The Berr’s son Jonathan will lead a group of 30 relatives on the trip his father had planned for this year, to see the eclipse in Driggs, Idaho.

Jonathan be face- timing the whole event so that Stephen and Barbara can watch from home.He says that after his many health problems, and being in and out of the hospital, he is just glad to finally be home.

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