The good old days of amateur astronomy weren't always so good. They were good for SCT buyers in one way, however. Both Meade and Celestron shipped new telescopes with sturdy cases. These cases might be simple wooden footlockers or they might be custom-made plastic cases with die-cut foam, but there was something to keep the CAT organized and safe. By the mid-1990s, the dollar had shrunk so much that the companies began to discontinue cases for all but their most expensive models, and soon those were gone as well.
Why are cases a big deal? Not having a case for an SCT compromises its portability, which is one of the reasons for buying a CAT in the first place. You have a beautiful new scope. Do you really want it rattling around in the back of a pickup
R. Mollise, Choosing and Using a New CAT,
DOI: 10.1007/978-0-387-09772-5_6, © Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2009
truck wrapped in a bedspread or even bouncing around on the back seat of a Lexus? It is possible to make do with the telescope's cardboard shipping container for a while, but that will eventually disintegrate. What is needed is a permanent solution, both for transporting the telescope and for storing it. A case does more than make a scope easy to haul around; an SCT that is kept in a case will be much less prone to dust intrusion in its optical tube assembly (OTA).
There are several ways to solve the case dilemma: buy, adapt, or make. Buying is the easiest and often most practical solution. In the United States, long-time astronomy accessories dealer Jim's Mobile Industries (JMI) offers heavy-duty cases that will fit any current and many older Schmidt Cassegrains. These cases are not cheap—one for a basic fork-mount C8 costs a little over $300—but they are worth their asking prices. They are made from heavy-duty plastic, are filled with die-cut foam designed for each particular scope model, and often do not just make transporting a telescope easier, they make it possible. I own a JMI NexStar 11 case, which, like many of the company's cases for larger-aperture telescopes, is equipped with a set of wheels. I can guarantee that without my wheeled JMI I would use my NS11 a lot less. The combination of sturdy case and wheels makes it no more difficult to transport this "big" CAT than it is to haul around my C8.
Are JMI's cases too pricey? Soft Cordura fabric cases designed to fit around the foam a telescope was shipped in are available from Meade for some of their models (although they seem to be phasing them out). The price is about $160 for an 8-or 10-inch model. Similar soft cases are being sold by several other manufacturers for both Meade and Celestron fork-mount models. Some folks turn up their noses at soft cases, thinking they do not provide enough protection. However, when it comes to scope protection, it is what is inside that counts; the foam the telescope rests in and soft-side cases do protect the CAT as well as hard cases. Soft cases are also considerably lighter.
If spending $160 or more for a case right after plunking down a couple of grand for a telescope does not seem palatable, get on down to Walmart (or another discount store). It is especially easy to buy a "telescope case" there for a German equatorial mount (GEM), one that costs just a few dollars. A large Rubbermaid container that is large enough to hold both the OTA and the GEM head costs less than $10. Buy a few pieces of foam in a craft store, place one on the bottom of the Rubbermaid box, put the OTA on that, put the other piece of foam on top of the OTA, and lay a CG5 GEM head on that. The resulting case is not attractive or professional looking, but it is simple, cheap, and effective and can keep your scope and mount safe at home and on countless road trips for years.
Admittedly, it is not quite so easy to find a make-do case for a fork-mount CAT, particularly a larger-aperture one. It is possible, though. A good choice for an 8-inch, even in this day, is still the humble footlocker. Meade and Celestron did not make their footlocker-style SCT cases back in the day—they bought them and modified them—and so can you. At back-to-college time, it is even possible to find footlockers with nice shiny finishes in colors that approximate Celestron orange and Meade blue.
If the fork-mount CAT is much larger than a Celestron NexStar SE, though, a footlocker probably will not be big enough. Another item that has been used for fork-mount scope cases is large plastic toolboxes. Stanley's Job Box series models have wheels and handles and seem as if they were designed to be CAT cases. Even large ice chests (coolers) can be pressed into service as SCT containers.
One thing these solutions have in common is that they work best if it is possible to adapt the original scope packing foam to them, perhaps padding any voids with cheap foam. Dense foam for a heavy fork-mount scope is not easy to come by or cut. In the past, amateurs have tried soaking foam with water, freezing it, and then cutting with a sharp knife. Most often the end result was just a mass of soggy foam rubber.
Another option is building your own case. A skilled woodworker can probably cobble together a CAT case in an afternoon. In some ways, that is an easier solution than trying to adapt toolboxes and ice chests since the case can be built in the exact dimensions needed to hold the packing foam snugly. Other than the need for skill to do a nice job, there is only one drawback to going this route: weight. Homemade plywood scope cases often turn out to be so heavy that they do not get used much, even if they are equipped with wheels.
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