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Fred Whipple's Empire: The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, 1955-1973

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posted on 2019-09-12, 13:30 authored by David H. DeVorkin

This book explores the forces and drives that brought two astronomical institutions together—the Smithsonian's frail Astrophysical Observatory in Washington, DC and the besieged Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts—to become the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in the early 1970s, one of the largest institutions devoted to astronomy and space science in the world. Astronomer Fred Lawrence Whipple was key in its transformation process, initiated in 1955 by Harvard astronomer Donald Menzel working in concert with Smithsonian secretary Leonard Carmichael and Harvard dean McGeorge Bundy. Initially, Whipple wanted to create an academia-based institutional model for conducting space science in the United States making the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory a central organizing unit. Instead, after the U.S. government created NASA, Whipple deftly adjusted, building complementary programs in space astronomy and geophysics, geodesy, and ground-based optical and radio astronomy.



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Smithsonian Institution; National Air and Space Museum