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Bobby Ray stargazers
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Billy Hix travels to many small-town schools with his inflatable planetarium to teach about space, all free of charge. - photo by Taylor Moore
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Students in Grace Odom’s fifth grade class, from left, Hudson Hillis, Mason Anderson and Elizabeth Carr, take in the view inside Billy Hix's inflatable planetarium. Each of them were enthusiastic and had plenty of questions for Hix as he showed them the different objects in space. - photo by Taylor Moore

The Bobby Ray Stars got a closer look at the stars in our sky, right from the gymnasium on Wednesday. 

Solar System ambassador of NASA, Billy Hix, brought his personal portable planetarium to the elementary school to give the fourth- and fifth-graders a unique learning experience, all for free. The Tennessee native worked for NASA at the Marshal Space Flight Center for many years before moving back to Tennessee to care for a parent, where he taught future and current science teachers.

“From the start of my working career, I looked for ways to reach out to rural schools to let students know that they could dream big,” said Hix. 

Hix lives in Shelbyville and he, along with his wife, travel to schools with his inflatable observatory to educate children that grow up in places that remind him of his home. Hix is retired and travels voluntarily, charging no money from schools.

“I grew up in rural poverty and have never forgotten the feeling of low expectations for each student and a disregard to science,” he said. “We were expected to stay in our community and either farm or be a wife of a farmer, and while there is nothing wrong with that, it was not what I wanted to do.”

Hix has visited approximately 75 schools, teaching over 72,000 students about space and the stars. He said, “My goal is not to turn students into astronomers, but to excite students about learning in general.” Hix said he would like to reach 100,000 students eventually.

He said, “The greatest payment is when a student tells me ‘this was the greatest school day ever.’” The students of Bobby Ray were excited by the lesson, getting an up-close view of constellations, giant stars and far away galaxies. Hix incorporates storytelling to teach the young minds about space in a way that’s easily digestible, and it worked for the Stars who got to see it.