The Nexstar 5

Most of the classic telescopes I own are decidedly not GoTo. Maybe it’s because I grew up in an age where even PushTo telescopes were rare (in those days, we called those contraptions “Digital Setting Circles”). Perhaps it’s because the first serious telescope I had was a 10″ Coulter Dobsonian, and I just got very comfortable with star hopping. In any case, I have little patience for the ponderous and noisy systems of early “classic” GoTo scopes (which is why I’ve never had any desire for an LX200 or Ultima 2000).

And yet…there is the Nexstar 5. The original. One of the early GoTo telescopes, and the grand-daddy of the long Nexstar line which extends into the present day. Why do I like this telescope so much? And why on Earth did I buy it twice?

My experience in mechanical design may have something to do with it. I’ve been in the MCAD game for 19 years, and in my work I’ve met hundreds (more probably thousands) of engineers and designers. I have great respect for what these folks do. I’ve felt their pain and reveled in their triumphs on numerous occasions. Over time, I came to recognize design trends in consumer and industrial products, and I could tell that contemporary telescopes of the day were warmed-over, slightly updated versions of old designs. Sometimes the only thing that was new on a “new telescope” was the paint job and model name.

The Nexstar 5, however, was a breath of fresh air. It wasn’t an evolution of the same single-arm mount from years past; it was a complete redesign. It looked good — really good. And it turned the heads of many astro-magazine readers, including mine.

When I stepped into the Eagle Optics showroom those many years ago, I saw it in person and instantly fell in love. It looked so cool. I immediately pictured it on the bookshelf in my living room, like a souvenir brought back from a trip onboard Jean-Luc Picard’s Enterprise-D. I started thinking:

It had almost the same aperture as my trusty RV-6, but this was so much more portable. I could take it on an airplane to Australia, if I went there someday. It has to have a better GoTo system than the old Tangent-based systems — the hand controller is totally different. And, it would also be my first SCT. Gotta have at least one, right?

I purchased the telescope on the spot, and for the next week I had a few clear nights to use it. It looked awesome in my living room. But under the stars? It just didn’t seem to have any punch. I like planets and globulars, and they seemed soft. After that one week, I boxed up the whole thing and took it back to Eagle Optics. They graciously and cheerfully refunded my money, and that was it.

Years passed. Other telescopes came and went. But one evening while perusing Astromart, I came upon a sweet deal: an original Nexstar 5 (not the N5i which was the current incarnation) with JMI fitted case, dew shield, 30mm Plossl eyepiece and tripod…all for a quarter what a new setup like that would cost. My thoughts went back and forth between my previous experience and that ad:

It does look very cool. With the case, it’d be truly ready for travel. And maybe the first one was just a bad example, optically. And wow it looks really cool. Gotta pay with cash, but I have a tax refund that would more than cover it.

I decided it was fate. The response was sent, the deal was closed and scope was delivered inside of a week. What happened next? You’ll have to read about that next time.

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