Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science / Buhl Science Center Technician, and later Planetarium Producer for the Henry Buhl, Jr. Planetarium and Observatory at The Carnegie Science Center, passed-away on Saturday at age 56. The following is from a Facebook post, on the Buhl Science Center group Facebook page, by Jeannine Noll, from a Facebook message from Mike Orban, from an e-mail message from Dennis Bateman:
Copied From Michael
From Dennis Bateman (from electronic-mail message of Carnegie Science Center Co-Director Ron Baillie to staff of The Carnegie Science Center):
Mike - Jim Hughes passed away today.
James was an enthusiastic lover of life. His positive approach and humorous slant on life was infectious propelling him to accomplish great success in everything he set his hand to. The fourth of five children to Roy and Frances Hughes, he was every bit “a middle child” creating peace, harmony and smiles in family life.
He married Dorinda Sankey in 1988. The couple settled on Observatory Hill in Pittsburgh’s Northside. James fathered son, Andrew in 1995 and daughter, Veronica in 1998 offering up fun filled, action packed childhoods for both children. He joined the Riverview Presbyterian Church finding faith, service and fellowship within the church community and grew a deep admiration for Rev. Robert Forsythe who lead Riverview Presbyterian thru 1995.
A graduate of Shaler Area High School and receiving an associate degree in Communications from the University of Pittsburgh, James was a music lover with keen abilities in sound recording and editing. Literally growing up at the Buhl Planetarium & Institute of Popular Science, James sat in the sound room of the planetarium listening to the sky shows most every weekend as his father, Roy worked as a technician at Buhl.
James began his work at the Buhl Planetarium as a “star pilot” in 1985. He operated the Zeiss II projector bringing joy to audiences in the Theater of the Stars. He also joined the Laserium team of laser pilots in the mid-1980’s rocking out audiences to Pink Floyd in the midnight hours. At that time, plans to build the Carnegie Science Center were at hand. James was instrumental in ushering in the newer digital technology into the planetarium theater. Opening in the fall of 1991, the Carnegie Science Center housed the new Buhl Digital Dome, a high definition projector system designed by Sky-Skan.
That era brought opportunities for James to use his creative skills to write and produce original planetarium shows that were then sold and distributed internationally. Between 1991 and 2010, James distributed more than 450 planetarium shows to universities, museums and other independent planetariums around the world. Under James’ creative brilliance, the Buhl Planetarium became a major show producer and distributor to the field. He was described by a co-worker “like a conductor of an orchestra with over 100 pieces of machinery at his command blending everything together for a planetarium show experience like no other.”
The first originally produced sky show by James was in 1991, “Venus: Earth’s Fiery Twin.” Then he produced the Buhl’s first blockbuster, “Through the Eyes of Hubble with Gates McFadden of Star Trek narrating. Other original productions followed: “Search for Life in the Universe” narrated by Leonard Nimoy, “The New Cosmos,” “The Sky Above Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and then in 1995 a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University to produce “Journey Into The Living Cell” and “Tissues Engineering For Life.” In the late 1990’s the Buhl Planetarium upgraded to full dome digital equipment when James produced “A Traveler’s Guide to Mars.” James shared his expertise in theater design, equipment installation and show production around the world working with institutions in China, Australia and throughout Europe. In all of James’ creative work within the planetarium industry, he was kind and funny with a heart tied to faith and spirituality. He said, “everyone is as unique and as complicated as a galaxy.”
James is survived by his children, Andrew James, 22 and Veronica Lee, 19 both of Pittsburgh. Also survived by his former wife, Dorinda Sankey, two brothers, Roy Jr. and Robert Hughes and two sisters Diane Hughes of Pittsburgh and Shirley Bentley of Tampa, Florida. He is also survived by sisters in law, Eileen Hughes and Beverly Cohen, 14 nieces and nephews.
There will be a private memorial service.