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SAO During the Whipple Years

The Origins of Project Celescope
  • David DeVorkin
Part of the Astrophysics and Space Science Library book series (ASSL, volume 334)

Abstract

In 1955, the moribund Astrophysical Observatory of the Smithsonian Institution closed its doors on the south lawn of the Smithsonian Castle. Vestiges of its 60-year old legacy of monitoring solar radiation were transferred to Cambridge under a new name, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and became housed within the Harvard College Observatory complex under the direction of Fred Whipple. Whipple, restarting the SAO almost from scratch, worked within the Smithsonian’s ancient tradition of maintaining a world-wide network of solar observation stations by morphing it into a similar network of satellite tracking facilities for the IGY, quickly and quietly phasing out the solar work. Under the SAO name, however, Whipple did much more, vastly expanding his interests in meteor research and hyperballistic studies, deftly orchestrated to parallel his tracking facility empire which in time included aeroballistic studies, atomic time standards, and other associated technological and scientific campaigns. He also made sure SAO played a prominent role in NASA’s emerging ‘observatory class’ series of scientific satellites and used it to create a theoretical astrophysics unit. It is this last activity that we will introduce here, showing how Project Celescope fitted into Whipple’s plan for SAO, and how it contributed to make the combined Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics the largest astronomical organization on the planet by the 1970s.

Key words

Smithsonian Institution Fred Whipple NASA Project Celescope Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Harvard College Observatory space science 

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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • David DeVorkin
    • 1
  1. 1.National Air & Space MuseumSmithsonian InstitutionWashington DCUSA

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