The lawmaker who gave us calamari as the official state appetizer is working on another designation: Rhode Island's official state astronomer. The unpaid position would help promote interest in stargazing and science through lectures and classroom visits.

The lawmaker who gave us calamari as the official state appetizer is working on another designation: Rhode Island's official state astronomer.

State Rep. Joseph M. McNamara, D-Warwick, introduced a bill on Thursday that would establish the honorary, unpaid position of official state astronomer. Qualifications include at least a bachelor's degree in astronomy and science, as well as experience in lecturing to the public on astronomy.

The astronomer, who would promote astronomy, engineering and science around the state and in classrooms, would be appointed by the secretary of state to a five-year term. The title would not allow the holder "to confer any official status upon any of the scientific findings, lectures, teachings or pronouncements of the astronomer; nor shall the statements or views of the astronomer be regarded as the official position of the state in any court of law."

 "A constituent requested it," McNamara said Thursday, "And I thought it was a good idea."

McNamara, who said he graduated from Pilgrim High School in 1969, remembers that "our labs were state of the art. We were caught up in the race to the moon. I feel that same enthusiasm today."

Whether it's reports of China landing on the dark side of the moon, or of NASA's New Horizons robotic explorer viewing a snowman-shaped space rock at the edge of the solar system, or talk of human travel to Mars or videos of SpaceX launching a Tesla sports car into space and landing its spent rockets on target and upright, "I think there is a renewed interest and curiosity about space," McNamara said.

Teachers could ask the state astronomer to visit their classes, without incurring any expense.

"I think it would be an asset to the state," McNamara said. "I think it would generate a lot of excitement."

Also listed as introducing the bill, which was referred to the House Health, Education & Welfare Committee, are Representatives Gregg M. Amore, D-East Providence; Deborah L. Ruggiero, D-Jamestown; Mia A. Ackerman, D-Cumberland; and James B. Jackson, D-West Warwick.

— dnaylor@providencejournal.com

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