Documentary Tells Story of Self-Taught Astronomers Whose Inventions Changed the World Distributed via American Public Television

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From Dan Handley Science Media, LLC, American Public Television begins distributing UNDAUNTED: The Forgotten Giants of the Allegheny Observatory, a one-hour documentary that tells the inspirational stories of determined scientists whose discoveries helped pioneer early aviation, solar research, and the founding of astrophysics.

UNDAUNTED: The Forgotten Giants of the Allegheny Observatory

These people were so determined to understand the skies, they resorted to making their own scientific instruments—and ended up changing the history of astronomy and aviation in the process.

UNDAUNTED: The Forgotten Giants of the Allegheny Observatory is a one-hour documentary that tells the surprising stories of the people behind the birth of astrophysics and the invention of flight. The film is presented through WQED Pittsburgh and exclusively distributed to the over 360 independent and public television stations in the U.S. via American Public Television ( beginning May 19, 2013 via APT's show catalog.

Although largely being a self-taught scientist, Samuel Pierpont Langley’s work not only led to the establishment of a nationwide system of time zones, he also pioneered solar research, established the discipline of astrophysics, and created the first unmanned mechanical flying machine years before the Wright brothers. Langley’s major accomplishments have been honored through the many places and things named after him: the NASA Langley Research Center, Langley Air Force Base, U.S.S. Langley, and the ”langley” unit of solar irradiance, among others.

With only a grade school education, steelworker John Brashear was so inspired to understand the heavens that he taught himself college-level mathematics, physics, and astronomy. Despite poverty and many devastating setbacks, he went on to become one of the best scientific instrument engineers in the world—including creating the experimental optics central to establishing acceptance of Einstein’s theory of special relativity. “Uncle John,” by which he became affectionately known, became a world-famous promoter of science education, highly respected community leader, and valued friend of Andrew Carnegie and other wealthy industrialists.

The film is not only informative, but the stories in it clearly demonstrate the value of hard work and steadfast perseverance despite repeated failure in the quest to learn, discover, and invent. The film serves as an important lesson from the 19th century that is even more relevant today as America tries to maintain its innovative and economic competitiveness.

UNDAUNTED is narrated by accomplished film, television, and stage actor David Conrad (Ghost Whisperer, Wedding Crashers, Men of Honor, Boston Public, The Good Wife, CSI Miami). It also features an interview with astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson of the American Museum of Natural History and Dr. Tom Crouch, Senior Curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

About the filmmaker: Dr. Dan Handley is a biomedical research scientist committed to promoting science and science literacy — so much so that he decided to step out of the lab to get behind the movie camera. His technical education includes Johns Hopkins University, Biophysics, B.A., Carnegie Mellon University, Logic and Computation, M.S., and University of Pittsburgh, Human Genetics, Ph.D.

The film was made possible with support from the following institutions:

Producer-Level Supporters:

  •     The Buhl Foundation
  •     The Pittsburgh Foundation
  •     The Richard King Mellon Foundation
  •     The University of Pittsburgh

Associate Producer-Level Supporters:

  •     The Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh
  •     The Fine Foundation
  •     The Hillman Foundation
  •     The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation

Other Supporters:

  •     The Heinz Endowments Small Arts Initiative
  •     Fort Pitt Capital Group
  •     The Henry J. Simonds Foundation

The Allegheny Observatory is owned and operated by the University of Pittsburgh as both a research and educational institution.

Executive produced by William Peduto, Pittsburgh City Council Member.

Produced in association with The Senator John Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, PA (

Key Facts:
Interviewees include:
o    Astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson of the American Museum of Natural History
o    Senior Curator, Dr. Tom Crouch of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
o    Professor George Gatewood, Professor Emeritus University of Pittsburgh
o    Professor William Fickinger, Professor Emeritus Case Western Reserve University
o    Nancy Robinson, University of Pittsburgh
o    Kurt Bell, Archivist, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania

Original musical score composed and conducted by Scott Michael Burns.

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