|Gerard P. Kuiper Early Graduate Students Missions to the Moon Telescopes & Research|
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8
I was one of the few people who could write a program in Fortran, and use the very few computers that existed. It was that combination of background and skills that allowed me to step in and take over Kuiper’s [airborne spectroscopy] project.
I remember asking him, “You know, I’ve never had…” I don’t know if I said this, but I didn’t think I could name the nine planets.
He said, “It doesn’t matter. You learn planetary science by doing it.”
To this day, the department says we don’t offer an undergraduate minor or major in planetary science because you should be good at something else. Be a good physicist, a good chemist, geoscientist, and you can pick up the planetary stuff on the job. Kuiper saw no problem with hiring me without any background in astronomy. In fact, it’s not been a limitation.
I talked to Kuiper some about his philosophy of planetary exploration. He said, “What do humans do when they get to a new place? The first thing they do is look around. You have to be able to look around.”
I was trained as a traditional astrophysicist. Astrophysicists don’t look at pretty pictures. They look at data and they apply high-powered mathematics to analyze the data and infer basic physical processes. Just looking at pictures isn’t going to get you anywhere.
That was part of the, I might say contempt, that the astrophysicists had for planetary scientists back in those days, is that all they were doing was looking at pictures and they weren’t doing fundamental science.
You have to disagree with that when you start seeing pictures like the Cassini pictures which show such intricate physical processes; for example, the rings of Saturn. There’s so much beautiful physics being exhibited there, and certainly even in landforms on satellites. So I think that was a rather unenlightened point of view, which probably originated with just the low resolution of images available from spacecraft in those days.
Even before we had the lunar orbiter, there was a program here which I was involved in to obtain high resolution telescopic images from the Earth. That was done right here in the Catalina Mountains, with a telescope that Kupier had built and was sponsored by NASA. We went up almost every night to photograph the Moon at the highest resolution we could and produced an atlas from that.
|Directory | LARS | LPL Library | LPL WebMail | Webmaster|
Department of Planetary Sciences
Lunar and Planetary Laboratory
1629 E. University Blvd.
Tucson AZ 85721
Copyright © 2008 Arizona Board of Regents