Assembly of the telescope starts with the tripod, which is usually simple to put together and involves removing protective plastic from the tripod and attaching a tripod leg spreader and associated hardware. If the telescope is a Celestron, tighten the spreader against the tripod legs as instructed in the tripod assembly instructions but do not overtighten. The spindly design of some leg spreaders means they can and will break if too much tension is applied. Once the spreaderis snugged against the tripod legs, make sure these legs are all spread completely apart. If they are not, move them until they are as far apart as they will go and retighten the spreader. If the new scope is a Meade, assemble the threaded rod that extends through the tripod base and attach the spreader to it, but do not tighten anything down yet.

Place the now fully assembled tripod in an open area indoors. Leave the legs unex-tended if they are extendable. Then, stop! Before going further, there is—if you are like many people—a rather unpleasant task ahead. Sit down and read the manual. I know it is difficult. There is a brand new CAT that is just begging you to play with it. Resist the urge and read the instruction manual cover to cover at least once. The instructions that follow here are a good general guide, but they do not replace manufacturer's telescope-specific instructions. True, both Meade's and Celestron's manualsare written in something that resembles golden age Greek to most beginners, but the generic assembly and checkout directions that follow should help make the instructions in the manual clear—clearer, anyway.

The first step in assembling a fork-mount scope (German equatorial mount [GEM] instructions follow) is to get the scope/fork/drive base onto and secured to the tripod. Even if a wedge has been purchased for use in astrophotography, set the scope up in alt-azimuth fashion directly on the tripod for now.Before beginning, double-check the tripod. Make sure the legs are firmly spread apart and that they are completely unextended.

Before assembling a Celestron telescope, ensure that the bolts that attach telescope to tripod are close at hand. On some models, there actually will not be any separate bolts; they will be "captive," permanently attached to the tripod head. With bolts ready, carefully grasp the Celestron by the handles on its fork or if it does not have handles, just by grabbing each fork tine firmly and lift the scope onto the tripod head. A Celestron tripod will have a center "positioning" pin and a corresponding depressed area and hole on the underside of the drive base that will help guide the telescope into place. Work slowly and carefully and that ensure the drive base is properly centered on the tripod head. If the scope is difficult to seat properly, stop, set the CAT down on the floor, take a breather, and maybe get some help from a friend or family member. Getting the telescope on the tripod will be simple after a little practice, but it is much easier with help the first time.

When the base is properly positioned on the tripod, rotate the scope/drive base carefully until the holes on the tripod (or the captive bolts) line up with the holes in the drive base. There are usually distinctive markings of some kind on the base that will help line up holes and bolts. Then, carefully thread in the attachment bolts. If they do not want to screw in easily, stop and adjust the drive base. Be very careful not to "cross-thread" these bolts.

Meade scopes are both easier and more difficult to attach to their tripods in alt-azimuth fashion. They are easier in that there are not three bolts to tighten; all that must be done to secure scope to tripod is to screw the threaded rodthat protrudes through the tripod head into a single center hole on the underside of the scope drive base. They are harder in that there is no pin to guide the scope into place. It must be centered accurately on the tripod before the rod can be threaded into the hole.

Before lifting a Meade, adjust the tripod spreader so its three arms line up with the tripod legs, tightening the securing knob slightly to keep it in that position. Do not completely tighten the spreader at this time. Lift the scope onto the tripod and, as with a Celestron, center it on the head as accurately as possible. When the base is centered, reach below the tripod head, grasp the threaded rod, and screw it into the drive base. If it will not go, recenter the scope. The "C" clip that is placed on the scope end of the rod during assembly will prevent the rod from screwing in too far. After the rod is successfully threaded into the base, tighten the knob below the spreader to secure it against the tripod legs, but not too tightly.

If it is still difficult to get the CAT on the tripod after some practice, consider investing in one of the accessories several manufacturers produce to make mounting a fork-type telescope easier. Starizona (Appendix 1) makes a clever device, the Landing Pad, that makes attaching a fork-mount Meade or Celestron to a tripod simplicity itself. The Landing Pad attachment is bolted to the tripod head and features "arms" that guide the drive base accurately into position. This accessory or one of the competing products is handy for an 8-inch telescope but may be a necessity for larger, heavier CATs.

With the CAT safely on the tripod, following the instructions in the manual, unlock the scope's declination/altitude lock and move the tube until it is level, so that it is easier to work with. Relock the declination lock when the tube is in the desired position. Celestron has produced a few scopes that cannot be unlocked and moved by hand in declination. If the telescope requires a motor to move it in declination, go to the mount checkout section, get the scope powered up so it can be moved with the HC, and position the tube level using the hand control. Next? Proceed to install permanently mounted accessories such as finder scopes. Work carefully, keeping the manual at hand, and be careful not to cross-thread screws and bolts.

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