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)


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 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

7. References

  1. Carmichael, L., 1958a. Letter to F. Whipple, dated 4 April. In Carmichael Folder, FLW/SIA.Google Scholar
  2. Carmichael, L., 1958b. Letter to F. Whipple, dated 18 September. In Carmichael Papers, SIA.Google Scholar
  3. Davis, R. J., 1956. Ultraviolet stellar magnitudes. In Van Allen, J. (ed.). Scientific Uses of Earth Satellites. London, Chapman and Hall. Pp. 157–165.Google Scholar
  4. Davis, R. J., 1958. Letter to F. Whipple, dated 24 September. In FLW Papers, Davis folder, SIA.Google Scholar
  5. DeVorkin, David, 1990. Defending a dream: the Abbot years. Journal for the History of Astronomy, 21, 121–136.ADSGoogle Scholar
  6. DeVorkin, David, 1993. Science with a Vengeance: How the Military Created the US Space Sciences after World War II. New York, Springer (reprinted, paperback study edition).Google Scholar
  7. DeVorkin, David, 2000. Who speaks for astronomy? How astronomers responded to government funding after World War II. Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences, 31, 55–92.Google Scholar
  8. Hufbauer, Karl, 1991. Exploring the Sun: Solar Science Since Galileo. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University.Google Scholar
  9. Keddy, J. L., 1958. Letter to T.K. Glennan, dated 8 December. In NACA folder 1958–1959, FLW Papers, Box 4, SIA 7431.Google Scholar
  10. Keddy, J. L., 1959. Letter to T.K. Glennan, dated 17 September 17. In FLW RG 260-6-07/59, SIA.Google Scholar
  11. McCray, Patrick, and DeVorkin, David H., 2003. Project Description: “Astronomy During the Cold War: The Case of The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (1955–1975)”. National Air & Space Museum submission to NSF (and funded for 2004).Google Scholar
  12. McCray, Patrick, n.d. Work in progress on Project Moonwatch and the satellite tracking programs of SAO.Google Scholar
  13. McDougall, Walter A., 1984. … the Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age. New York, Basic Books.Google Scholar
  14. Medaris, J. B., 1960. Countdown for Decision. New York, Putnam.Google Scholar
  15. Meinel, Aden, 1959. Astronomical observations from space vehicles. Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 71, 369–380.ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Moran, J. Anthony, 1958. Letter to L. Carmichael, dated 10 September. In Carmichael Papers, SIA.Google Scholar
  17. Naugle, John Earl, (n.d.). Manuscript draft: “First Among Equals: The Space Science Board” ( NASA History Office SP-4215.Google Scholar
  18. Neufeld, Michael, 2000. Orbiter, overflight, and the first satellite: new light on the Vanguard decision. In Launius, Roger, Logsdon, John, and Smith, Robert (eds.). Reconsidering Sputnik: Forty Years Since the Soviet Satellite. London, Routledge. Pp. 231–257.Google Scholar
  19. Neufeld, Michael, 2005. The end of the Army space program: interservice rivalry and the transfer of the Von Braun Group to NASA, 1958–1959. Journal of Military History, in press.Google Scholar
  20. Newell, Homer, 1960a. Letter to H.L. Dryden, dated 18 February. 19600218-006216-Documentation OAO-NASA, NASA History Office.Google Scholar
  21. Newell, Homer, 1960b. Letter to Files, dated 18 February. 19600218-006216-Documentation OAO-NASA, NASA History Office.Google Scholar
  22. Newell, Homer E., 1980. Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science. Washington, NASA History Office.Google Scholar
  23. Rudney, Robert S., 1971. A Preliminary History of the OAO Program (1966–1968). HHN-115, internal NASA report, NASA History Office.Google Scholar
  24. Smith, Robert W., 1989. The Space Telescope: A Study of NASA, Science, Technology and Politics. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Whipple, Fred, 1930. Determination of stellar temperatures. Monthly Bulletin of the Eastbay Astronomical Association, 5, 33–35.Google Scholar
  26. Whipple, Fred (ed.), 1956. New Horizons in Astronomy. Washington, Smithsonian Contributions to Astrophysics, Volume 1(1).Google Scholar
  27. Whipple, Fred, 1958a. Letter to L. Carmichael, dated 29 March. In Carmichael folder, FLW/SIA.Google Scholar
  28. Whipple, Fred, 1958b. Letter to A.L. Loomis, dated 29 March. In FLW/SIA.Google Scholar
  29. Whipple, Fred, 1958c. Rough draft of a letter to L. Carmichael, dated 26 September 26. In Carmichael folder, FLW/SIA.Google Scholar
  30. Whipple, Fred, 1958d. Letter to L. Carmichael, dated 26 September. In Carmichael folder FLW/SIA.Google Scholar
  31. Whipple, Fred, 1958e. Statement of Dr. Fred L. Whipple, Director, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, Mass. In Legislative History on H.R. 12575 “The Space Act of 1958”, Volume III. NASA Law Library. Pp. 367–389.Google Scholar
  32. Whipple, Fred, and Davis, Robert J., 1960. Proposed stellar and interstellar survey. The Astronomical Journal, 65, 285–290.ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Whipple, Fred, 1977. Oral history interview. American Institute of Physics, Center for History of Physics.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

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

Personalised recommendations