|Early Days Gerard Kuiper Missions to the Moon Telescopes & Research|
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I was looking for someplace where you could do planetary science, and there basically were very few places in the country. There was Harold Urey, there was Gerard Kuiper, there was Fred Whipple—Urey at UCSD I guess at that time, and then Whipple at Harvard. I applied and came out here, and thought that was really exciting.
I was at Steward Observatory as an astronomy graduate student with most of my classes there, and across the campus was LPL, in the PMM building, and I had my assistantship and office there. There was Dale Cruikshank, there was Alan Binder, there was Toby Owen who was a year or two ahead of us. But what courses could we take? In astronomy we were studying stellar interiors and stellar atmospheres and so forth—not planets. So Dale and Al and I got involved with the Geology Department.
Spencer Titley was on the faculty in geology. He was already working with the Flagstaff group of Gene Shoemaker. That group was the predecessor of, or maybe it already was, the Astrogeology Group in the in U.S. Geological Survey, which is still in Flagstaff. Certainly in Arizona at the time, those were the two big centers. Kuiper and Shoemaker were already carving out groups to study the surface of the Moon when I arrived in June of ’61.
My job in the assistantship was making these rectified photographs of the Moon, and doing a lot of work in the darkroom—which, incidentally, was a nice little highlight to arriving in Arizona in the summer, because the darkroom was always 68 degrees.
Titley, in the Geology Department, took us under his wing. He really did a wonderful thing. Cruikshank and Binder and myself, he took the three of us on, on kind of a crash program of petrology and mineralogy and so on. He took us out on some field trips—I remember we all packed into some vehicle and went off to some mine that he was showing us in the Whetstone Mountains.
Spencer Titley was an economic geologist, and he wanted to be in the Space Program. He wanted to get into the Gemini program; had a big portfolio of letters to NASA saying scientists should be involved. He was involved with Gene Shoemaker at the United States Geological Survey in terms of the stratigraphic mapping they were doing.
Well, Kuiper had zero interest in students. We were on our own. He would not help us in any way. We were there to work in the Lunar Lab and be his assistants, although we learned a lot of stuff so it’s not all that bad. Although I must point out that the first semester as a graduate student, I was observing at McDonald Observatory for two weeks with Kuiper during final exams, so I had to take my final exams early, and his attitude was, “Well, just tell your professors to give you an A.” But I was supposed to walk up and say, “I’ve got to go observe with Kuiper, give me an A”? It doesn’t work that way.
So we were on our own. Spence said, “Hey, come on over to the Geology Department, take whatever courses you need, and I’ll help you get the basics of geology”—because we had no geology, of course. What I was studying, trying to, was what we now call planetary science. There are degrees now. In those days, there were no degrees, it was all: What on earth are we supposed to study? What are we going to need to do this work? It was clear we needed geology of some kind.
You probably know, Kuiper had written a series of books—Barbara Middlehurst edited the latter of those—but he had written The Earth as a Planet. He understood that the study of the planets was not astronomy anymore. Clearly one had to understand geology and geophysics and so forth and so on. I had come to that conclusion too.
So it moved in this direction, but in the beginning it was very confusing as to what we were supposed to do and how we were supposed to get educated.
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