|Gerard P. Kuiper Early Graduate Students Missions to the Moon Telescopes & Research|
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There was a University President in those days, Richard Harvill, who had a lot of ambition for this University. We cheeky graduate students used to make fun of him all the time, but his idea was he was going to make the UA into “The Harvard of the West,” or something like that. So he was very open to creating first-rank departments. People of great ability like Kuiper and Sonett at the Lunar Lab and Aden Meinel at Optical Sciences and the various guys over at Steward would present him with their plans for making their respective departments much more high powered. He was quite supportive of that. That all came from Harvill. He made it all possible.
Finally the Space Sciences Building was built [in 1965], and we all moved in there. There was enthusiasm about all the research. Tom Gehrels was extremely active. Elizabeth Roemer is one of the best comet astronomers in the world. The Department was essentially Tom Gehrels, Elizabeth Roemer, Ewen Whitaker, Bob Strom, and then he had a lot of non-faculty positions, a lot of research positions. They were filled by younger people.
Very soon Kuiper built up some real strengths. He hired Frank Low, who was eminent. Frank Low was developing the whole field of infrared astronomy, which from that time became a very important field. In fact, although it was called the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, a lot of the research there was on non-planetary objects. Frank was there for many years in that Department, in that research group, but he was doing a lot of work on stars, on any kind of infrared source that was significant. The research was really front-line. The whole selection of sites for the Moon, the first landing on the Moon and all—that research group contributed a lot to that program. That was the early years of LPL.
This building was built by NASA to provide a place in this country for planetary science to be conducted away from astronomers, because astronomers looked down on planetary people. Astronomers didn’t let planetary people have time on telescopes. Astronomers thought that the planets weren’t very interesting and asteroids were worse—stars and galaxies, these were the things that warranted those resources.
NASA of course saw the need to do supporting observations because of the space program that was just coming on line, the Apollo mission to the Moon. Nobody had maps of the Moon; nobody knew what the Moon was made out of. To take pictures and to try to understand more detail of what the Moon was going to be like when we landed on it, NASA created this place.
Kuiper populated it with people like Ewen Whitaker and Bob Strom and Tom Gehrels and Pat Roemer, all of whom were doing things that complemented each other, all of which were deemed important to provide background information for the space program. NASA built a telescope that accompanied the building, which is the 61-inch up in the Catalinas. That was dedicated to planetary work. It was a place in the country where planetary astronomy and supporting planetary research could be conducted without the interference and constraints that typically applied in other institutions where astronomy was king.
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