Fred L. Whipple
Fred Whipple had been deeply involved in the US space program since its tentative beginnings in the New Mexico desert in 1946, launching captured German V-2 rockets with scientific instruments in their nose cones. Anticipating the new era, he led the development of a worldwide system of satellite tracking and satellite orbit determination. So, when Sputnik was launched, SAO was ready, and became the center in the U.S. for information about when the next satellite would fly overhead, catapulting the institution into the national awareness. Although the satellite tracking program was SAO's most publicly visible face during the 1960s, the era also saw an expansion of the Observatory's research into solar system studies, stellar physics and theoretical astrophysics. The study of comets became the work that Whipple himself is most remembered for. Meanwhile, as SAO shut down the last of its solar observation stations in 1962, HCO took on the solar physics legacy with its participation in NASA's Orbiting Solar Observatories. Read more...
1973 was a milestone year in our history, with the creation of the Center for Astrophysics. Theorist George Field became the director of both SAO and HCO and the research programs of the two institutions were merged. At around the same time Riccardo Giacconi's X-ray astronomy team from the MIT spinoff company American Science and Engineering, which had recently flown the first X-ray satellite Uhuru, came en masse to SAO to form the core of CfA's High Energy Astrophysics Division, which then went on to develop the Einstein Observatory satellite which flew from 1978 to 1981. The Multiple Mirror Telescope started work in Arizona in 1979 to give SAO a top-class ground based observatory. By this time the CfA was acknowledged as one of the main astrophysics research institutions in the world, and the flood of purple-covered preprints emanating from Garden St (in the days before astro-ph) were a familiar sight in astronomy libraries everywhere.
Irwin Shapiro was SAO's sixth director and CfA's second from 1983 to 2004. Shapiro's background was in radio astronomy, and among the many projects undertaken with CfA's massive expansion during his tenure, the Submillimeter Array on Mauna Kea was his special child. SAO's contract with NASA to operate the Chandra X-ray Observatory, under the leadership of Harvey Tananbaum, led to further expansion of the organization; Giovanni Fazio's infrared camera on the Spitzer observatory gave us a well-rounded space portfolio while projects such as the CfA Redshift Survey underscored our role in the ground-based studies. The solar telescopes built by the High Energy and Solar/Stellar divisions, flown on Spartan, SOHO and TRACE, brought SAO full circle with a newly dynamic solar research program.
Charles Alcock is the current Director of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA), Director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), Director of the Harvard College Observatory, and Professor of Astronomy at Harvard University. He is also the Principal Investigator for the Taiwan-America Occultation Survey and previously the MACHO Project, an international project involving scientists from seven institutions in the US, Australia, Canada, and Britain.
His research interests include large astronomical surveys, the outer solar system, cosmic dark matter, astronomical data mining, and virtual observatory technologies. He earned his PhD in Astronomy from the California Institute of Technology (1977) and a BSc (Hons) in Physics from the Auckland University, New Zealand (1972).