Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland 20771

Special Joint Colloquium of:

Thursday, August 14, 2008 / 2:30 PM, Building 3 Auditorium
Day of week and time are different from standard Engineering Colloquium.

W. Patrick McCray

"Keep Watching the Skies!: The Story of Operation Moonwatch and the Dawn of the Space Age"

ABSTRACT -- When the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957, thousands of ordinary people across the globe seized the opportunity to participate in the start of the Space Age. Known as the "Moonwatchers," these largely forgotten citizen-scientists helped professional astronomers by providing critical and otherwise unavailable information about the first satellites. This talk will tell the story of the network of pioneers who, fueled by civic pride and exhilarated by space exploration, took part in the twentieth century's biggest scientific endeavor.

Around the world, thousands of teenagers, homemakers, teachers, amateur astronomers, and other citizens joined Moonwatch teams. Despite their diverse backgrounds and nationalities, they shared a remarkable faith in the transformative power of science--a faith inspired by the Cold War culture in which they lived. Against the backdrop of the space race and technological advancement, ordinary people developed an unprecedented desire to contribute to scientific knowledge and to investigate their place in the cosmos. Using homemade telescopes and other gadgets, Moonwatchers witnessed firsthand the astonishing beginning of the Space Age. In the process, these amateur scientists organized themselves into a worldwide network of satellite spotters that still exists today.

Drawing on previously unexamined letters, photos, scrapbooks, and interviews, McCray recreates a pivotal event from a perspective never before examined--that of ordinary people who leaped at a chance to take part in the excitement of space exploration.

SPEAKER -- W. Patrick McCray is a professor in the History Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara and a research group leader at the NSF-funded Center for Nanotechnology in Society. Before moving to UCSB in 2003, McCray worked as a historian at the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics in College Park, MD. McCray's research focuses on the history of modern science and its intersection with politics and popular culture. His 2004 book Giant Telescopes: Astronomical Ambition and the Promise of Technology. (Harvard University Press) describes how astronomers overcame political and technical challenges to build the latest generation of very large ground-based telescopes. McCray's newest book, Keep Watching the Skies: The Story of Operation Moonwatch and the Dawn of the Space Age (Princeton University Press) tells the story of amateur scientists and their role in tracking the first satellites. He is currently writing a new book for Princeton that explores the history of various exploratory technologies in the 1970s and 1980s including nanotechnology and space exploration. He has also worked since 1999 with colleague Robert Smith as they document the history of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Engineering Colloquium home page: https://ecolloq.gsfc.nasa.gov