Buoyed by the Whitford Committee report, and by NSF funding for the start of the first 130 foot antenna, Caltech quickly submitted a revised and enhanced proposal for the Owens Valley Array (OVA). The new proposal now included a total of eight 130 foot alt-az-mounted antennas to operate at wavelengths as short as 3 cm.Footnote 50 Caltech proposed completing the construction of the array by 1971 at a cost of nearly $15 million. The new OVA proposal apparently received “excellent reviews,” but in an April 1967 visit to the NSF, Stanley was informed that there was no possibility of funding in FY1968 but that FY1969 looked more promising.Footnote 51 Stanley also suggested the possibility of funding only one additional antenna in 1969, a suggestion he later regretted when he learned that the OVA was already included in the NSF’s planning for FY1969.Footnote 52
The VLA and OVA proposals were very different. NRAO was proposing to build an elaborate national facility to be used by any qualified scientist with an appropriate program, and thus needed to be “flexible and versatile” (Heeschen 1981). This meant full sky coverage and ability to form images in one day or less. Caltech proposed a more modest instrument, with only limited public access. When first proposed, NRAO considered the VLA primarily as a continuum instrument, but recognized that spectroscopy was important, and that the design should not “preclude its future use for spectroscopy” (Heeschen 1981). The OVA put more emphasis on spectroscopy. In spite of the Whitford Committee recommendation to phase the construction of both instruments, it was clear that it would not be feasible to build both instruments, and until someone decided which would get built, nothing would get built. But, how would the decision be made? Who should decide?
The Dicke Committees
By 1967 the NSF had been either unable or unwilling to fund either the OVA or the VLA. Moreover, there were other competing proposals: from Cornell for upgrading the Arecibo radio telescope to permit observations down to at least 10 cm wavelength, from Harvard/MIT
for a large radome-enclosed radio telescope, and from a Caltech-Berkeley-Michigan consortium for a 100 meter fully steerable dish. These were all viable projects with persuasive scientific need and strong technical preparation. To consider these five major proposals, NSF convened an “Ad Hoc Advisory Panel for Large Radio Astronomy Facilities” with Princeton’s Robert Dicke as the chair.Footnote 53 The Panel met in Washington DC for five days at the end of July 1967 to receive testimony from each of the five proposed projects and to make recommendation to the NSF. In addition to the eight members of the Panel, more than 40 representatives of the proposing organizations, government agencies, and all three military services participated in at least some of the deliberations.
The Panel report,Footnote 54 issued just over two weeks after their final meeting, recommended as its clear first priority that the Caltech proposal for the eight-element Owens Valley Array “be accepted in its entirety and funded as soon as possible, with an adequate operating budget.” Secondly, the Panel urged that the Cornell proposal to upgrade the Arecibo telescope “also be accepted in its entirety, and funded as soon as possible.” The MIT-Harvard proposal for the 440 foot dish was deferred pending the outcome of the Arecibo upgrade and further engineering studies. The Caltech-Berkeley-Michigan proposal was declined. Acting on the recommendations, the Arecibo upgrade was included in President Richard Nixon’s proposed FY1970 budget, but was not approved by Congress. The NSF also took the first steps toward funding the OVA, and included funds for building the first 130 foot antenna at the Owens Valley. As it turned out, the rest of the OVA was never funded, but the single 130 foot telescope had a long successful history as part of the early US VLBI program (Chap. 8) and for single dish studies.
All of the Dicke Committee recommendations carried the proviso “that at least 50% of the time available for astronomy on such facilities should be made nationally available to qualified visitors,”—a clear endorsement of an “open skies” operating philosophy, but noticeably “open” only to US-based scientists. The Panel supported the VLA concept and the need for 1 arcsec resolution. However, they argued that more work was needed to demonstrate the advantage of the VLA proposal “in terms of economy of dishes and tracks, optimization of picture resolution elements, sky coverage, observation time, and flexibility,” and only recommended continued study and actual measurements to “demonstrate the feasibility of interferometric techniques over very long baselines.”
Disappointed and upset with the Dicke Committee report, which appeared to “damn the VLA with faint praise,” NRAO had no choice but to continue the design effort as recommended by the Committee and demonstrate that the VLA would work as claimed. To reduce the cost, the number of antennas was decreased from 36 to 27. This resulted in an increase in the side lobe level from about one percent to about two percent. The updated design was issued in January 1969 as Volume III of the VLA proposal (NRAO 1969). Volume III included a discussion of prospective sites, a more detailed analysis of possible configurations, a conceptual design of the antenna elements and transportation system, along with the design of various components and subsystems, including the local oscillator, IF distribution, and delay systems. The proposal also reported on the successes of the GBI, including the demonstration that it is possible to maintain the required phase stability over baselines comparable to the extent of the VLA. The antenna and transporter studies, the design of the front end parametric amplifiers, the IF delay system, and the evaluation of computing requirements were contracted to industry. Most of the instrumental design work and planning for computing resources was done by NRAO scientists and engineers, to a large extent led by Weinreb and Clark respectively. As Cam Wade later explained “We took advantage of the delays to do things over again that we’d done in haste the first time.”Footnote 55 The new cost estimate was now only just over $32 million.
Volume III of the VLA proposal made only brief mention of a possible future spectroscopic capability. In June 1969, Caltech countered with an update of their OVA proposal which focused on current spectroscopic observations at OVRO and spectroscopic applications of the OVA.Footnote 56 The new OVA report also discussed the possible expansion of the OVA within the Owens Valley and to adjacent valleys as well as stating that 50 percent of the observing time at OVRO was being made available to outside observers, thus addressing two of the NRAO criticisms of the OVA. The proposed cost of the OVA was close to $17 million.
Meanwhile, the NSF continued to be vague about VLA funding and asked that NRAO submit two construction plans, one for receipt of funds in FY1971 and the other in FY1974 or later. Heeschen advised the AUI Board that FY1971 “would not be unsatisfactory,” but “if construction funds are postponed until 1974 or thereafter, it would be necessary to stop all design work until it was known precisely when construction funds would be available.”Footnote 57 However, the NSF would not commit to the VLA or to the OVA without more explicit community endorsement.
Volume III brought the VLA design up to a point where NRAO felt the VLA was ready for final prototyping and construction. With no clear prospects for VLA construction, in 1969 Dave Heeschen dissolved the VLA Design Group and ceased further development work. With the uncertain prospects for VLA funding NRAO enthusiasm waned. George Swenson had no enthusiasm for continued fighting for the VLA and likened the situation to “scrubbing the decks on the Titanic.”Footnote 58 Dave Heeschen had no patience for defeatism and suggested that it was time for Swenson to return to the University of Illinois.
By 1969 none of the Dicke Committee recommendations had been funded, but the Arecibo Observatory became part of the NSF-funded National Astronomy and Ionospheric Center (NAIC). The discovery during the previous two years of pulsars (neutron stars), atomic recombination lines and interstellar (organic) molecules, along with new precision tests of General Relativity and new observations of quasars and radio galaxies, had changed the landscape of radio astronomy, which the Committee “contrasted with the tragic standstill in the funding of new facilities.” Meanwhile, the 100 meter Effelsberg antenna and the 12-element Westerbork Array were nearing completion, as were new radio telescopes in India (Ooty
) and at Cambridge in the UK. In view of the changes since the 1967 Dicke Committee report, the NSF reconvened the Committee “to reconsider its former recommendations, … and to reaffirm or alter the recommendations and priorities.” There was no mandate to prioritize the recommendations. Accordingly, the Panel “reaffirmed its previous recommendation” that the Arecibo telescope be improved and that the Owens Valley Array be constructed,” and recommended “with equal urgency the construction of the large radome-enclosed fully steerable dish and the Very Large Array.” (Dicke 1969)Footnote 59 The Committee reaffirmed the recommendation that at least half of the observing time on these facilities be available to visitors and that there be sufficient operating funds to facilitate their use by non-expert observers. They also made a point of endorsing “the support of radio astronomy research and facilities at the universities.” All the proposed projects received an enthusiastic excellent recommendation and were all deemed urgent. Such an unrealistic blanket endorsement wasn’t really useful to the NSF. Only the Arecibo resurfacing would get a new start in FY1971, but there was no resolution of the VLA/OVA issue. NEROC tried an end run to fund the construction of the 440 foot dish through a special Congressional appropriation to the Smithsonian Institution (Sect. 9.5), but that plan failed in Congress.
In an attempt to resolve the stalemate, Heeschen and the NRAO staff held several discussions with Caltech to explore the possibility of jointly building an array. At an 18–19 September 1968 meeting in Charlottesville, Heeschen and OVRO Director Gordon Stanley discussed their views on some of the scientific, technical, and administrative issues facing a joint operation.Footnote 60 Apparently there was sufficient common ground to agree to extend the discussions with a visit by NRAO staff to the Owens Valley. On 11–12 November, Clark, Heeschen, Hogg, Hvatum, and Wade met with OVRO’s Marshall Cohen, Alan Moffet, Duane Muhleman, and George Seielstad. While there was general agreement that the two groups needed to have close and continued contact on scientific and technical issues, both sides came away suspicious of the motives and commitment of the other. Curiously, Stanley could not, or chose not, to attend the meeting, but his report to the Caltech administration emphasized the disadvantages to Caltech of a joint program.Footnote 61 In early 1969, Stanley again met with NRAO scientists during visits to the potential VLA sites in Arizona and New Mexico, but returned claiming to have detected “the unshakable determination of the NRAO people to proceed with the VLA,” and said that “the unanimous consensus of the [Caltech] radio astronomy group is that we do not proceed further with the attempt at cooperation on an array with the NRAO people.”Footnote 62
As later described by Hogg,Footnote 63 there were perhaps four areas of disagreement between the Caltech and NRAO concepts:
Caltech argued for a smaller number of larger dishes to facilitate calibration and to minimize maintenance. NRAO argued for a larger number of smaller elements to improve the u,v coverage.
The Owens Valley was too small in the east-west direction to accommodate the full extent of the NRAO VLA concept. At one point Heeschen offered to consider a joint project that would more closely follow the Caltech design, but only if the array were built on a site that allowed for future expansion.
The NRAO scientists designing the VLA and using the GBI all had strong backgrounds in continuum research, while spectroscopists were mostly using the 140 Foot and 36 Foot. Noting that the H I work at Westerbork was clearly very productive, Caltech put more emphasis on spectroscopic observations. NRAO ultimately appreciated this deficiency of the VLA and adopted full spectroscopic capability for it.
Caltech did not fully buy into the visiting user concept and envisioned an operating model more like that of the Owens Valley Observatory and not the NRAO national observatory model which emphasized user support.
Desperate to find funding for the VLA, in August 1969 Heeschen, Hvatum, and Wade met in Reno, Nevada, with officials from the University of Nevada to seek their possible support in obtaining VLA seed money from the Reno-based Max C. Fleischmann Foundation. The University expressed interest and offered office space, but could offer no help with persuading the Foundation to support the VLA. AUI President Gerry Tape’s three-page proposal to the Fleischmann FoundationFootnote 64 was rebuffed with a curt response that the Fleischman Foundation was not interested in funding the VLA.Footnote 65
The Greenstein Committee
By early 1969, both NASA and the NSF, as well as the Bureau of the Budget (BOB), were becoming increasingly aware of the need to prioritize the many planned initiatives in both space and ground based astronomy. Following a “prospectus” prepared by the BOB,Footnote 66 both the NSF and NASA approached the National Academy of Science (NAS) to conduct “an independent study … which can assess the priorities of astronomy from the scientific point of view, specifically cutting across the lines of responsibility which may tend to bias the planning of individual agencies in favor of particular techniques.”Footnote 67 It took the NAS four months to respond with a two page proposal to form a “main committee of approximately 12 experts … to undertake detailed planning of the study, to oversee the work of some 12 panels, and to prepare the final report” with oversight by the NAS Committee on Science and Public Policy (COSPUP) chaired by Harvey Brooks.Footnote 68 The NAS moves deliberately with their studies, and expected that the report would take two years and would be delivered in mid-1971. The NSF, perhaps surprisingly, was apparently optimistic about the prospects for early construction funding, and NSF Director Leeland Haworth responded that the summer of 1971 would be marginally late to address even the NSF FY1973 budget proposal. He expressed concern that “information on astronomy is urgently needed by the Federal agencies and the Executive offices to develop astronomy support plans for earlier fiscal years. Absence of this information might slow down the U.S. astronomy program.”Footnote 69 Haworth then proceeded to request “an interim preliminary report … by early spring 1970 … [which would] make it possible for your study to have a real impact already on the FY1972 budget and prevent any undue delays.”
Jesse Greenstein from Caltech was approached to lead the study, but was less than enthusiastic. Although he had devoted most of his career to optical spectroscopy, as discussed in Chaps. 1–3, Greenstein was involved in radio astronomy almost from its beginnings. He had organized the first major international conference on radio astronomy which ultimately led to the creation of the NRAO, had convinced DuBridge to begin a radio astronomy program at Caltech, and had played a major role at Caltech in the 1963 discovery of quasars, although his personal (and Caltech’s?) goals were unmistakably for a southern hemisphere partner for the Palomar 200 inch optical telescope (Greenstein 1984a, b; Trimble 2003; Kraft 2005).Footnote 70
Greenstein noted that none of the recommendations of the five-year-old Whitford report had been implemented, and anticipated that the Second Dicke Committee meeting scheduled for the following month would serve to set priorities for radio astronomy. He expressed doubt on the value of a new study without some broader indication from BOB, Congress, and the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC), of what they wanted from a new report, whether it was an appropriate time for a new report, and he asked whether “there is any point at all in proposing large sums of money for a physical science which is not notorious for its extensive contributions to the industrial welfare, to the inner-city, to pollution etc. which seems to be the major interest of the informed Congress, and of the current administration.”Footnote 71
Greenstein was ultimately persuaded to Chair the Astronomy Survey Committee and agreed to provide the requested interim report. He initially approached 21 colleagues to join the main Steering Committee, only one of whom, Bernard Burke from MIT, was a radio astronomer. At their first meeting on 11–12 October 1969, the Steering Committee heard from the NSF, NASA, BOB, and Congress about their plans and expected budget levels, discussed the final composition of the committee and membership of the panels, and reviewed previous recommendations, including the Whitford report and the recently issued, but inconclusive, second Dicke Committee report.
Rather than appoint panel members who would be perceived as neutral, as was done for the Dicke Committee, Greenstein populated the Radio Panel with representatives of all the competing proposals: Dave Heeschen for the NRAO VLA, Marshall Cohen for the Caltech OVA, Frank Drake for the Arecibo resurfacing, and Bernie Burke for the NEROC 440 foot dish, and he asked Heeschen to Chair the panel. The choice of Heeschen as panel chair was not without controversy, as some committee members felt that he would bias the panel toward the VLA.Footnote 72
Greenstein promptly informed Heeschen and the Panel that, “the NSF has recently taken a very strong position in favor of a major expansion in radio astronomy,” and he put the Radio Panel on a fast track so that the BOB could not use the existence of the Greenstein Committee as an excuse to delay.Footnote 73 Understanding that the Arecibo resurfacing would be in the NSF FY1971 budget, at their first meeting on 10 November 1969 the Radio Panel debated only the relative merits of the VLA, the OVA, and the NEROC dish.Footnote 74 But they were unable to reach any consensus. If they assumed that all three projects would be funded during the next decade, the Panel argued that the OVA should be built first, but if only one project were to be funded, then the Panel favored the VLA, with only Cohen and Burke dissenting, supporting instead the OVA and the NEROC dish respectively. With so little time to meaningfully address the long-unresolved issues of priority, the Panel report did little more than endorse the Dicke Committee report that all four proposed projects (including the Arecibo upgrade) were important and urgent and that they be started in FY1971, although they also added a fifth project, a millimeter wavelength dish also being proposed by NRAO (Chap. 10). The Radio Panel interim report,Footnote 75 dated 1 December 1969, was approved by Greenstein and Brooks without the normal lengthy Academy approval process, and was forwarded to the new NSF Director William McElroy on 16 December.Footnote 76 However, at the same time, the NAS President Philip Handler informed Greenstein, that
the whole picture developed more rapidly than McElroy or DuBridgeFootnote 77 expected, and the FY 1971 books are now closed. At this time nothing would be gained by dissemination of the report beyond Dr. McElroy within the Foundation … but you can appreciate the privileged and sensitive nature of this paragraph.”Footnote 78
Greenstein could only reply, “We do what we can, in a rather rough world. I shall try to encourage our younger experts in the field of radio astronomy to plan for a realistic future.”Footnote 79
With the exception of the Radio Panel, all of the other panel chairs were members of the parent Survey Steering Committee, but the Radio Panel was represented only by Frank Drake and Bernie Burke, each of whom had their own priorities. Heeschen informed Greenstein that this was a problem, and threatened to resign if it wasn’t fixed.Footnote 80 Whether Greenstein was trying to correct this imbalance or was reacting to NAS President Handler’s criticism that there were no committee members from the South,Footnote 81 in March 1970, Greenstein belatedly asked Heeschen to join the Steering Committee.Footnote 82 Again, there was some concern raised, including by Heeschen himself, that this would give NRAO and the VLA an appearance of an inappropriate advantage, but Greenstein pointed out that Heeschen was sensitive to the issue of bias, that he was a member of the NAS, and that “he is viewed by radio astronomers of the country as one of the most well-balanced and fair-minded persons possible.”Footnote 83 Still, having concerns that his “real or assumed bias toward NRAO could serve to work against radio astronomy in general and NRAO in particular,” Heeschen only reluctantly accepted this increased responsibility.Footnote 84
The four previous studies of radio astronomy priorities, the Pierce, Whitford, and two Dicke Committees had all endorsed the construction of a large radio array, but none set priorities among the modest sized university array proposed by Caltech, the more elaborate and more expensive national facility proposed by NRAO, a large steerable radio telescope of the type proposed by NEROC, or the proposed upgrade of the existing Arecibo fixed spherical reflector. Greenstein realized that the only way to get anything funded required making hard decisions about priorities, and Heeschen was determined that the NRAO VLA be the top priority.
As requested by the NSF, the Astronomy Survey Committee issued an interim report which was limited to ground based astronomy projects that might be started in FY1972 or FY1973. Having been told that there would not be more than $3 to $6 million a year for any new starts in these years,Footnote 85 which excluded even a start on the high price tag VLA or OVA, the Radio Panel could not agree about the relative merits of enlarging either the Owens Valley or Green Bank interferometers. After much debate, the Radio Panel endorsed the 65 meter millimeter wave dish also proposed by NRAO as its top priority (Sects. 8.7 and 10.3) and recommended that the NSF also take over the university radio astronomy projects that had been dropped by the Department of Defense (DoD) as a result of the Mansfield Amendment.Footnote 86 But after the meeting, Cohen wrote to Heeschen, “I am very concerned over the millimeter dish being put in front,” and he argued instead for “two more telescopes at Owens Valley, with about 1½ miles of track,” pointing out the “cost effectiveness of the Owens Valley Observatory” and that three Caltech OVRO graduates were on the NRAO senior staff.Footnote 87 The interim report of the Radio Panel also suggested that the NSF explore the possibility of increased cooperation with NASA for very long baseline interferometry (Chap. 8).
The interim report of the parent Survey Committee included the NRAO millimeter telescope as its first priority, NSF support for all former DoD astronomy facilities, and gave an honorable mention to expanding the GBI along with other modest optical and infrared opportunities. In approving the report, COSPUP stressed that “such interim measures should not be taken as implying any decreased importance of the various items in the list provided by the Dicke panel of the NSF [and that] delay in the Dicke program will permit the Europeans to move ahead of the U.S. in this important area.”Footnote 88 This caveat seems to have escaped the notice of the BOB, as did the concern expressed by NAS President Handler about the eroding position of US radio astronomy and the “brain drain” of young American radio astronomers.Footnote 89
In responding to the interim report, the NSF Director expressed his view that “In spite of the present fiscal stringencies, I am convinced that the U.S. must start on the VLA.”Footnote 90 Although the OVA would have been the cheaper choice between the two array proposals, the NSF was reluctant to spend so much money on a single university facility, rather than at the NRAO where the array would serve the broader community. Moreover, the NRAO was the poster child of the NSF and NRAO had a direct link to relatively high levels at the NSF that university groups did not enjoy. The NSF was committed to making the national observatory a success and wanted to build the VLA, but they needed the endorsement of the community. This recognition that the NSF, as well as the White House Office of Science and Technology (OST), already favored the VLA helped to ultimately swing the Radio Panel to support the VLA.
However, the modest recommendations for radio astronomy contained in the interim report appeared inconsistent with the ambitious Dicke Committee recommendations and the earlier endorsement of the Radio Panel which claimed that the VLA, the OVA, the NEROC dish, and the Arecibo resurfacing were all important and were all urgent. The apparently unaggressive interim report was based on earlier information provided by BOB Director Hugh Lowerth and Philip Yeager from the House Committee on Science and Astronautics “that there was no possibility at all of funding for any part of the Dicke program beyond resurfacing of Arecibo for at least the next two years.”Footnote 91 But as Harvey Brooks reported to Handler, “I am now told by Bill McElroy that the information given to us … was wrong, and that the interim report and COSPUP letter have confused the issue within OMB [White House Office of Management and Budget],Footnote 92 and resulted in general confusion about the priorities within the Administration…. The NSF now feels that the VLA should be top priority but that the COSPUP letter undermined [their] case with OMB for the VLA,” and that according to McElroy, “The difference between the interim report and the Dicke panel seems to have been deliberately used as an excuse for deferring any new starts in radio astronomy.”Footnote 93 Indeed, the minutes of National Science Board (NSB) Executive Session for 3–4 September 1970 show that the NSF had already included the VLA in the NSF FY1972 budget request to OMB, although in view of the on-going Vietnam War and the then large budget deficit, it did not survive to get into the President’s FY1972 budget request. Interestingly, this information was already known to NAS President Handler, since at the same time, Handler was also a member (and recent Chair) of the NSB, but he was not free to divulge this confidential information to the members of Greenstein Committee. In fact, the NSB minutes show that “The Chairman reminded the Board that all subjects discussed in Executive Session, particularly with respect to the budget, are to be treated as highly confidential.”Footnote 94
Having dispensed with the interim report for modest new starts in FY1971 and FY1972, the parent Survey Committee and the Radio Panel now had to address the serious issue of dealing with the major projects: the VLA, the OVA, and the NEROC dish. Since the Radio Panel interim report had included the NRAO newly proposed 65 meter millimeter wave radio telescope in its preliminary recommendation for a 1972 new start when they had thought that any new start had to be limited to $6 million, Heeschen was caught having to either appear to reverse that interim recommendation, or support a project that was competing with the VLA.
Greenstein stressed the need to prioritize the panel’s recommendations and not just to present what might appear as a shopping list. Burke, Cohen, and Heeschen were committed to the large dish, the OVA, and the VLA respectively, to which they and their colleagues had already devoted many years of hard work and significant design funds. They were not in the mood to compromise. According to anecdotal reports, the Radio Panel deliberations were intense, with no holds barred, resulting in figurative “blood on the floor.” On one occasion, when a panel member complained of the bias of the Chair toward the VLA, Heeschen walked out in disgust and threatened to resign.
After several Radio Panel meetings, it was clear that the non-committed panel members as a whole preferred one of the arrays over the NEROC dish, and it came down to choosing between the OVA and the VLA. Burke had participated in the VLA Design Group, and appreciated the potential power of the VLA. Perhaps more relevant, he was a member of the AUI Board of Trustees, and was sympathetic to the role of a national observatory of which he was a major user and from which he received significant support. With the NEROC dish off the table, Burke cast his lot with the NRAO VLA, and the rest of the panel went along. But there was no real agreement on whether or not the Panel should report a prioritized list which might make it more likely that at least the top one would be funded, or an unranked list which might increase the chance for two or more projects to be supported. At the last meeting of the Radio Panel in San Francisco on 18–19 February 1971, the panel agreed to stress that the entire program was needed if the US was to be preeminent in radio astronomy, but, recognizing that they could not all start at the same time, that the first new start would be the VLA. Once the Radio Panel agreed to support the VLA as the first priority for the radio astronomy, things moved very fast. Even before the Steering Committee had issued its formal report, Greenstein, together with Heeschen, went to OST to make the case for the VLA.
The formal report of the Radio Panel (Heeschen 1973), which appeared much later than the report of the parent Survey Committee (Greenstein 1972), was broad and convincing, citing the exciting discoveries by radio telescopes over the past decade that so fundamentally changed our view of the Universe. While not mentioning any specific proposals, appropriately leaving that for the NSF, the Radio Panel recommendations were nevertheless clear and unambiguous. Recognizing that the Arecibo resurfacing had already been authorized for construction, the Radio Panel recommended in order of priority the construction of (1) a large aperture synthesis array, (2) a large fully steerable parabola, and (3) a large telescope for millimeter observations (Sect. 10.3) (Findlay and von Hoerner 1972). To balance the strong support given to the NRAO VLA and millimeter telescope projects, the panel also expressed strong support for a wide range of university activities by recommending that “construction of new instruments at university facilities should continue, … in some cases, where outstanding competence exists, major new university instruments should be provided,” and said that “Support for new operations, new state-of-the-art equipment, and maintenance of existing university facilities must be maintained at a level that will allow effective research.” In support of the VLA, the Radio Panel specifically noted, “One of the most active areas of radio astronomy is the study of non-thermal sources, including quasars and radio galaxies.”
Concurrent with the Astronomy Survey, the NAS also ran a physics study, led by Alan Bromley from Yale. A panel on astrophysics, chaired by George Field from Harvard, was appointed to jointly support both the astronomy and physics surveys. One of the present authors, (Kellermann), represented radio astronomy interests on the Astrophysics and Relativity Panel, which recommended that “the Astronomy Survey Committee take into account the need for a large array that can synthesize a beam of the order of seconds of arc in a reasonable period of time, for study of extragalactic radio sources” (Field 1973a, b) so the VLA came to the parent Survey Committee blessed by two separate panels.
There were no other large “shovel ready” projects coming up from the other panels. The optical astronomers preferred more observing time and improved detectors over building more powerful new facilities, and were willing to support the VLA.Footnote 95 Acceptance of the VLA as the top project for the Committee was perhaps easier in the full Steering Committee than it was in the Radio Panel. Multiple straw ballots, each with different constraints and weighting criteria, put the VLA on top each time, usually by a wide margin. According to Heeschen,Footnote 96 Greenstein was initially very opposed to the VLA. Although he had played a prominent role in founding NRAO, Greenstein had come to see the relatively well-funded big national observatories as a threat to university-based, individually-driven scientific research.Footnote 97 He too threatened to resign from the Committee but realized that doing so would undermine the whole study.Footnote 98
Heeschen knew that the VLA had strong supporters on the Committee, and thought it better that he did not attend the final Steering Committee meeting held in Boulder, and thus it was Burke who presented the case for the VLA. Greenstein himself later explained that he was finally sold on the VLA by its expected capability to resolve the long-standing radio source count controversy, and also by the expectation that it would contribute to the broader cosmological issues facing astronomy.Footnote 99 Also, Greenstein was never enthusiastic about the OVA. He came into the Survey hoping to get a copy of the Palomar 200 inch telescope in Chile. Moreover, he had little confidence in the OVRO management to construct and operate something of the magnitude of the OVA. At a higher level, within Caltech, there was more interest in enhancing the high energy physics program than in the radio astronomy program. Indeed, after John Bolton left Caltech at the end of 1960, there was only a token effort to bring in a new Director from the outside. The main competition to the VLA came from the NASA proposed series of High Energy Astronomy Observatories (HEAO) but since this was a NASA, not an NSF program, and since the cost of HEAO was an order of magnitude larger than that of the VLA, they were not really in any direct competition.
The final report of the Astronomy Survey Committee (Greenstein 1972) recommended as its top priority “A very large array, designed to attain a resolution equivalent to that of a single radio telescope 26 miles in diameter,” but added, “this should be accompanied by increased support of smaller radio programs and facilities at the universities or other smaller research laboratories.” A program to develop instrumentation for optical telescopes, support for the new field of infrared astronomy, a series of High Energy Astronomy Observatories
, and the large millimeter-wavelength antenna received second through fifth priorities respectively. The NEROC proposal for “a large steerable radio telescope designed to operate efficiently at wavelengths of 1 cm and longer” was given only tenth priority and was never built. Radio astronomers would need to wait another 30 years before a large steerable radio telescope would be built in the US, and it only happened then as a result of a freak accident (Chap. 9).
The Survey Committee report probably ended up with a stronger endorsement of the VLA than intended by many members of the Radio Panel. Indeed after the report was released, Cohen again wrote to Heeschen that he was having second thoughts; that “the VLA will not touch on the exciting and fundamental problems: molecules and compact objects,” and that he was getting a lot of negative comments from other radio astronomers.Footnote 100 Nevertheless, on 22 March 1971, Heeschen, together with Cohen and other members of the radio panel, met with Edward David, President Nixon’s controversial new Science Advisor, at a meeting organized by Geoff Burbidge. David noted that the group’s support for the VLA “reaffirms the budgetary proposal made last year by NSF,” and indicated that no further discussion was needed on this topic.Footnote 101 However, as result of his abandonment of the NEROC dish and his public support of the VLA, Burke faced a formidable challenge at home from his MIT/Harvard colleagues, who accused him of something just short of treason.Footnote 102
Sensing that the tide was shifting toward the VLA, in May 1970 Stanley wrote to the Caltech management suggesting that the time had passed for the OVA.Footnote 103 Trying to salvage something for OVRO, Caltech withdrew the OVA proposal and instead proposed a more modest Owens Valley Interferometer (OVI). The new Caltech proposal exploited a perceived weakness of the VLA proposal and emphasized the spectroscopic opportunities made possible by building only two new 130 foot antennas to operate together with the existing 130 foot and two 90 foot antennas. In an apparent about-face from their earlier position, the new proposal discussed the OVI as “a nationally-available facility.” The proposal for $6.5 million was sent to both the NSF and NASA, but was never funded.Footnote 104 Gordon Stanley stepped down as OVRO Director in 1975 and was succeeded by Alan Moffet. Under the leadership of Marshall Cohen, Caltech shifted their emphasis to VLBI (Chap. 8).
Ironically, following the lengthy period of controversy between NRAO and Caltech, once the decision was made in favor of the VLA, it would be Caltech graduates such as Barry Clark, Edward Fomalont, Eric Greisen, and Richard (Dick) Sramek who played major roles in the final design, construction, and later the operation of the VLA. Two of the long-time VLA site directors, Ron Ekers and Miller Goss, had both worked at Caltech.