Product Refinements and Introductions
Under its new ownership, Questar continued much of the same work that the company had always performed. In addition to building 3.5- and seven-inch telescopes for amateur astronomers and naturalists, Questar maintained its business with clients in government and industry who required specialized optical instruments. Questar sustained its decades-long relationship with Cumberland Optical, who eventually adopted the use of an advanced Modulation Transfer Function unit for testing the performance of optics it shipped to its client in New Hope. Numerous other businesses functioned as suppliers for Questar, where workers assembled countless parts in much the same way that Lawrence Braymer described in his “Questar News” installment for April and May 1961.
Refinements to existing products and development on new ones proceeded apace. In 1997, the Questar Seven Astro, a simplified version of the company’s seven-inch telescope, emerged onto the market.
In the September 2002 issue of Sky and Telescope, Questar announced that it had begun using titanium and other new internal components to produce lightweight versions of the two Questar Seven models it sold. Not only could the updated Questar Seven dissipate heat better, but it also now had the ability to accept two-inch eyepieces.
And between September 2002 and April 2003, the company updated the optics, baffle system, and secondary spot size on its 3.5- and seven-inch Questar telescopes.
For navigation, mounting, driving, and storing an instrument, Questar introduced other new products and made refinements to existing ones. Around 2005, Questar called upon FJR Manufacturing, Inc., the company’s supplier of Tri-Stand mounts, to produce a Questar-branded German Equatorial Mount. The new product, which shared close similarities with the mount that supported the Vega 6 Maksutov-Newtonian made by Infinity Instruments, did not stay on the market for long.
Some changes were more subtle. Since the 1950s, for instance, Questar had numbered the right ascension circle on standard-mounted 3.5-inch telescopes using hour and degree markings. But around 1999, the company began using modern hour and minute indications.
In 2016, Questar began producing its updated handheld Powerguide III drive controller, which featured a back-lit touchscreen interface. The company promised that further enhancements for the accessory would appear in future years.
And in late 2019, the company updated the carrying case that it included with new Standard and Duplex Questar telescopes.
Questar also pushed into product areas it had never ventured into before. In February 1999, the company submitted a patent application for a stereoscopic long-distance microscope for viewing objects at a distance of 100 to 300mm.
After tapping the mind of solar observing enthusiast Michael Olshausen, the company introduced its Maximum-Resolution Solar Spectrometer, or “Qmax Spectrometer.” In his November 2002 review of the device, Sky and Telescope writer Dennis di Cicco noted how the unit delivered an “absolutely incredible high-resolution view of the solar spectrum from 3850 angstroms in the violet to 6900 in the red.” To test it, di Cicco borrowed Gary Seronik’s Questar from his desk. As opposed to a view of the Sun’s disk that one sees through a properly-filtered telescope, the Qmax Spectrometer confused some of di Cicco’s colleagues, who looked up and said, “Lines?” “Yup. That’s what you see,” he replied. “Lines, and lots of them.” The device allowed observers to dissect the spectrum of light from the Sun and enabled them to see the composition of our nearest star in the same way that astrophysicists made their groundbreaking discoveries in the nineteenth century. In spite of its $4295 price tag, di Cicco boldly wrote that the Qmax was “one of the coolest gadgets I’ve tested recently.”
Another accessory introduction came in October 2022 when Vernonscope introduced a 20mm Brandon eyepiece in both standard 1.25-inch and Questar-specific versions. The addition complemented the long-existing six-piece set which consisted of eyepieces with 32, 24, 16, 12, 8, and 6mm focal lengths. A few months later, Vernonscope brought out flat-top versions of their Questar Brandon eyepieces. The design, which lacked an eyecup around the field lens, harkened back to the form of the original Japanese-made eyepieces that accompanied new Questar telescopes and the early versions of the Questar Brandons that appeared in the early 1970s.
Perhaps the most anticipated new product was the Questar 5, whose development the company revealed in the spring of 2017. The new model had been in development for years. In 1999, Jim Perkins found Lawrence Braymer’s original documentation from 1947. Inspired, he started his own optical design work and pondered how to mount the new instrument. By April 2018, Perkins’s prototype Questar 5 was ready to debut at the Northeast Astronomy Forum in Suffern, New York. By 2021, he had solidified the optics and was in the process of resolving various other issues.
Along with developing the Questar 5, Jim Perkins also took on most of the responsibility for creating or updating most of the company’s instruction booklets, specification sheets, and other documentation. Following the trend that had already been underway in the 1990s, Questar pulled its marketing operation in house.
After decades of having a presence in Natural History, Scientific American, and most notably on the inside front cover of Sky and Telescope, Questar opted for smaller advertisements on the interior pages of a handful of magazines. In an effort to promote its 50th Anniversary Questar, the company ran a large number of promotions that highlighted its special-edition telescope. Advertisements for it appeared in Sky and Telescope between August 2000 and August 2004 and in Astronomy magazine between November 2000 and February 2002.
In addition to announcements for the Lightweight Titanium 7 and the Qmax Spectrometer, Questar ran a handful of other advertisements in the first few years of the 2000s. One summarized the multitude of purchase rationales the company had made for its signature telescope over the years: fine machining and optics, attention to detail, an overall high level of craftsmanship, the notion that a Questar could be a future heirloom that a buyer could hand down to the next generation, and so forth. The company then prodded its reader: you “know you want one and you know someday you’ll get one. But why wait?”
Another advertisement featured a colorful image of the Dumbbell Nebula that Princeton University mathematics professor Robert Vanderbei captured with his Questar telescope. “Some people use the Hubble. Some people use 14 inch scopes. But, if you are Bob Vanderbei and you have a Questar, you only need 3.5 inches.” The promotion, which first appeared in the August 2003 issues of Sky and Telescope and Astronomy magazines, would be the last distinct advertisement that Questar created.
For the next few years, the company reran a few other promotions in amateur astronomy magazines. In the November 2003 issue of Astronomy, Questar ran its last advertisement in that publication. The following month, the company’s last full-page advertisement appeared in Sky and Telescope. Between January 2004 and May 2005, Questar published eleven more promotions there before ending its longstanding magazine advertising campaign altogether.
Adoption and Influence
When the company ended its magazine advertising in the middle of 2005, perhaps those at Questar felt justified about the move. After decades in business, an enduring sense of aura and lore about the Questar telescope had arisen in the minds of many amateurs. Government contract work was steady and profitable. The company often found itself swamped with work. All of it was proof that Questar enjoyed a strong level of adoption and still had significant influence.
Decades after company boasted about its role in the space missions of the 1960s, government and private entities continued to find new uses for Questar’s products. In 1993, NASA used a modified QM-1 long distance microscope to inspect and test the Wide Field Planetary Imaging Camera that was to be installed on the Hubble Space Telescope. At the Starfire Optical Range at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, a 3.5-inch Questar telescope helped capture images of the Space Shuttle Columbia shortly before its destruction on February 1, 2003. In late 2008, Questar developed a modified dual-focal-length version of its seven-inch telescope that was part of a rocket tracking system for NASA. And in 2014, Planet Labs used Questar optics for its fleet of tiny Dove satellites that could capture high-resolution images of the Earth.
Notable astronomy professionals also continued to gravitate to the Questar telescope. Although Tele Vue’s founder Al Nagler called his company’s 85mm refractor his “Goldilocks” grab-and-go instrument, he also admitted that, “if I judged telescopes by their sheer beauty and elegance, I guess I would rate my Questar as the ‘Majesty Factor’ winner.” The famed comet hunter David Levy received a Questar telescope as a wedding gift from his wife, Wendee, and he proceeded to name it “Cupid.” And when Michel Mayor won a Nobel Prize for his work in physics, the ABC, a Spanish national daily newspaper, depicted him in a photograph standing next his Questar Duplex when it ran a story about his award.
Questar telescopes still drew filmmakers into choosing them as props. In the 2007 movie Into the Wild, William Hurt played a successful NASA engineer who, in one scene, received a Questar Duplex as a birthday gift from his family. Hurt’s character was immediately captivated by the gift.
For the well-heeled, Questar continued to maintained its status as a mark of prestige. In its October 2008 issue, Wired magazine featured entrepreneur Jay Walker’s “cabinet of incredible collectibles” which featured, among countless other items, a Questar Seven.
The Longevity of Questar
Perhaps Lawrence Braymer’s greatest feat of all—one whose full maturity he never lived long enough to see—was the staying power of the 3.5-inch Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope he began designing in the late 1940s and brought to market in 1954. No other telescope has come close to achieving that remarkable accomplishment. Requiring very few improvements over the course of its incredibly long production run, the Questar telescope represents all the more of an unbelievable triumph considering the context in which its creator worked. In the mid-1980s, Douglas Knight recalled a comment one industrial designer once made to him: “I don’t know how Larry Braymer did it without a computer. But don’t touch a thing!”
In its 1989 booklet, Questar reflected on its long history:
Tradition is a vital aspect of any company that has survived as long as we have. Like innovation, though, tradition cuts two ways; where innovation can become trendy, tradition can turn stodgy and stifling. We feel that a tradition which goes this route is no true tradition, but beyond that we want you to know why our forty years of imaginative effort is important for you—why is guarantees a better instrument for you today.
The company continued to note that “tradition is as alive for us as it will be for you when you use your Questar.” Those who build it create “something permanent” with “a level of commitment and pride which is rare indeed in today’s world of easy promises and even easier compromises.”
And in a series of advertisements that appeared in Sky and Telescope in 1997 and 1998, the company featured an image of its Standard Questar below a brief headline that said it all: the Questar was “still the finest small telescope” one could have.
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4 Bridget Wingert, “Questar’s New Owner Sees a Universe of Business Possibilities,” Bucks Local News, August 15, 2001, https://www.buckslocalnews.com/new_hope_gazette/questars-new-owner-sees-a-universe-of-business-possibilities/article_79d9cc7a-3a77-5142-8f14-2f38271ef4c9.html, accessed October 10, 2020.
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16 Dennis di Cicco, “Questar’s Qmax Spectrometer,” Sky and Telescope, November 2002, 54-55.
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18 “Questar Eyepieces,” Vernonscope, n.d., https://vernonscope.com/questar-eyepieces/, accessed January 29, 2023.
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20 Jim Perkins, email message to author, March 12, 2021; astro140, online forum content, Cloudy Nights, April 22, 2018, https://www.cloudynights.com/topic/574477-questar-5/?p=8533529, accessed April 8, 2021.
21 Jim Perkins, email message to author, September 28, 2020.
22 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, August 2000, 71; Questar Corporation, advertisement, Astronomy, November 2000, 35; Questar Corporation, advertisement, Astronomy, February 2002, 81; Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, August 2004, 121.
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27 Matthew L. Wald with Andrew C. Revkin, “Loss of the Shuttle: The Inquiry; Scientists Suspect a Wider Field of Debris, With the Breakup Starting Over California,” New York Times, February 8, 2003, 23, https://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/05/us/loss-shuttle-inquiry-scientists-suspect-wider-field-debris-with-breakup-starting.html, accessed June 16, 2020; George Johnson, “Loss of the Shuttle: Photographic Evidence; From Earth, Special Photos Of Columbia,” New York Times, February 8, 2003, 13, https://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/08/us/loss-of-the-shuttle-photographic-evidence-from-earth-special-photos-of-columbia.html, accessed June 16, 2020; John Fleck, “Tiny Telescope Took Critical Shot of Shuttle,” Albuquerque Journal, February 13, 2003, A1, https://www.abqjournal.com/scitech/shuttle/833266news02-13-03.htm, accessed March 5, 2020.
28 Jim Perkins, “Questar Serial Number Systems” (unpublished manuscript, August 20, 2020), typescript.
29 Mike Wall, “First ‘Cubesats’ in Record-Breaking Fleet Launched from Space Station,” Space.com, February 11, 2014, https://www.space.com/24651-cubesats-launch-space-station-planet-labs.html, accessed October 10, 2020; Eric Hand, “Startup Liftoff: How Flocks of Small, Cheap Satellites, Hatched in Silicon Valley, Will Constantly Monitor a Changing Earth,” Science, April 10, 2015, 172-177; “Cute Little CubeSats,” Red Chair Blogs, May 1, 2015, https://www.redchairblogs.com/starstruck/2015/05/01/cute-little-cubesats/, accessed April 9, 2021.
30 Al Nagler, “Rodger W. Gordon’s Thoughts on the Tele Vue-85 and Questar 3.5",” Tele-Vue, August 13, 2020, http://televue.com/notamnomen/2020/08/13/rodger-w-gordons-thoughts-on-the-tele-vue-85-and-questar-3-5/, accessed August 15, 2020.
31 David H. Levy, “David Levy’s Lifetime of Observations,” Astronomy, September 2013, 57; Debe Campbell, “BSTC star party to feature comet-finder Levy,” Arizona Jewish Post, November 22, 2019, https://azjewishpost.com/2019/bstc-star-party-to-feature-comet-finder-levy/, accessed February 26, 2020.
32 Gonzalo Lopez Sanchez, “Michel Mayor, Nobel de Fisica 2019,” ABC (Spain), October 9, 2019, https://www.abc.es/ciencia/abci-michel-mayor-nobel-fisica-2019-creo-vida-comun-universo-201910091711_noticia.html, accessed October 10, 2019.
33 Into the Wild, directed by Sean Penn (2007).
34 Steven Levy, “Mr. Walker’s Cabinet of Incredible Collectibles,” Wired, October 2008, 188-189.
35 Charles Shaw, “New Hope’s Questar: A Quiet Company,” New Hope Gazette, March 21, 1985, 3, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/files/FAQ/, accessed October 15, 2019.
36 Questar Corporation, Questar booklet, 1989, 3.
37 Questar Corporation, Questar booklet, 1989, 4.
38 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, April 1997, 81.