The University of Arizona

LPL's July 20 open house celebrates lunar missions, birth of lab

By Lori Stiles, July 12, 1999

Robert Strom, 520-621-2720,
Maria Schuchardt, 520-621-4861,
Ewen Whitaker, 520-795-9513
Charles P. Sonnett, 520-621-6935
William Hartmann, 520-622-8060

On July 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong took his "one giant leap for
mankind" on the moon. Armstrong and Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr., spent 21
hours on the lunar surface before rejoining their fellow astronaut, Michael
Collins, in the spacecraft, "Columbia." Armstrong and Aldrin brought back 46
pounds of lunar rocks and soil. They left an American flag and a plaque
inscribed, "Here Men From Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon The Moon. July
1969 A.D. We Came in Peace For All Mankind."

Maybe you missed that historic moment on television - maybe you weren't yet
born. Or maybe the first moon walk is still a vivid memory and you want to
recapture the magic of that moment.

Whatever your motivation, if you want to relive those early days of space
travel and meet some of those who made it happen, the University of Arizona
will give you the chance Tuesday, July 20th.

On this 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the UA Lunar and
Planetary Laboratory will hold open house in the Kuiper Space Sciences
Building from 1 p.m. - 9 p.m. The open house celebrates the entire Apollo
program (1967-72), said Maria Schuchardt of the Space Imagery Center, who is
organizing the event.

Open house exhibits on each of the Apollo missions will display rare
memorabilia, including an American flag that made the lunar roundtrip.
Videos of all the Apollo missions will air continuously in Room 312. Guests
are invited to use computers in Room 316 to surf the web for
Apollo program pages and can take away handouts of some of the best URLs to
visit. More is still in planning stages.

Not to be missed:

3 p.m. and 7 p.m. talks by Ewen Whitaker and Robert Strom, UA scientists
with key roles in the moon mapping programs used to determine lunar landing
sites. The talks include a screening of the 28-minute, 1971 video, "In the
Mountains of the Moon." LPL researchers will field questions after the 7
p.m. presentation.

For LPL such a celebration is particularly appropriate, for without the
lunar missions there might be no LPL and without LPL the missions would have
been much more difficult. In some sense this 30th anniversary celebration
also is a birthday party for LPL.

The story behind these ties between the moon missions and LPL is detailed in
"The UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Its Founding and Early Years,"
which was written in 1985 by Whitaker, who now is associate research
scientist emeritus at the Lunar Lab.

The story behind the LPL_s birth centers on the late Gerard P. Kuiper, for
whom the space sciences building is named. Kuiper, a leading authority on
solar system astronomy, was director of the Yerkes Observatory in Chicago in
the early 1950s. At that time, relatively few astronomers had any interest
at all in the moon. But Kuiper was keenly interested in getting high-quality
photographs of the moon for scientific research.

At the 9th Congress of the International Astronomical Union held in Dublin,
Ireland, in late summer 1955, he circulated a memo called "Considerations of
a New Photographic Lunar Map." Then he personally lobbied colleagues to
realize the pressing need for an atlas of large-scale, high-resolution
photographs of the lunar surface.

Only one other astronomer at the meeting shared his enthusiasm for this
project. That was Whitaker, who was then a professional astronomer at the
Royal Observatory, Greenwich, England. Whitaker traces his fascination with
the moon back to 1951, when he joined the Lunar Section of the British
Astronomical Association, a long-established organization of amateur
astronomers. Whitaker, too, concluded early on that scientists needed
scientifically suitable images of the moon. Kuiper and Whitaker began
regular correspondence on the topic of their strong mutual interest after
meeting in Dublin.

In early spring 1957, Kuiper applied to the National Science Foundation to
fund the "Lunar Atlas Investigations Research Project." Confident that he
would win NSF support, he quickly invited Whitaker to spend two or three
months at Yerkes helping him on the project. Kuiper got his
NSF grant in April. Whitaker's boss at the Royal Observatory granted
Whitaker leave only very reluctantly - Whitaker had to forfeit his entire
year's holiday in exchange for a month at Yerkes.

Whitaker left London Airport for Chicago O'Hare on Saturday night, Oct. 5,
1957, "just as the evening newspapers were splashing the banner headlines:
'Sputnik 1 Orbits the Earth.' "

Fate had just dealt an ace to scientists bent on photographing and mapping
the moon. It proved an winning hand for the University of Arizona, too.

Sputnik 1 panicked the U.S. government and military into a space race that,
however inauspicious its start, mobilized extraordinary science and
engineering talent for the U.S. space program. In January 1959, the
U.S.S.R.'s Luna 1 spacecraft flew within two diameters of the moon's
surface. In September 1959 Luna 2 became the first spacecraft to land
(crash, actually) on the lunar surface. Shaken to the core by such Soviet
successes, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army independently pursued
serious moon-mapping efforts necessary for America's future unmanned moon

Kuiper sensed a windfall of funding opportunities for lunar and planetary

But at Yerkes, Kuiper was plagued by discontent from "nonlunar-oriented"
staff astronomers, from the burdens of observatory administrative duties,
lack of work and laboratory space, telescope limitations and Chicago
weather. He began to think about moving the entire Lunar
Project to a more favorable location - someplace west that offered still,
dark, dry skies critical to good telescope "seeing."

Kuiper called Aden B. Meinel, a former colleague at Yerkes who had just
secured a major new national astronomical observatory at Kitt Peak, Ariz.,
near Tucson and was serving as its founding director. Would the University
of Arizona be receptive to the idea of a Lunar and Planetary Laboratory?
Kuiper asked.

What happened next is the stuff of legends. An October 1960 edition of
Tucson Citizen summed it up: "The University of Arizona got the only lunar
and planetary laboratory in the country today when 14,000 pounds of books,
papers and instruments were unloaded on campus. The director is the world
famous astronomer Gerard P. Kuiper."

>From 1960-62, Charles P. Sonnett was chief of sciences at the Lunar and
Programs Office at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. It was Sonnett who
approved Kuiper's first research grant at the UA. (As chief of the Space
Sciences Division at NASA Ames Research Center 1962-70, Sonnett was
principal or co-principal investigator on 10 lunar space experiments -
including Apollo 12, 14, 15 and 16. Sonnett would in 1973 succeed Kuiper as
LPL director as well as become founding head of the new UA planetary
sciences department.)

By 1961, Kuiper, Whitaker and William Hartmann (now with the Planetary
Sciences Institute in Tucson) and others were working on the Photographic
Lunar Atlas, an atlas of "rectified" (that is, astronaut's-eye) views of the
lunar surface. Kuiper began expanding his staff and launching new programs
and projects with NASA support.

By 1963, Kuiper was principal investigator on the team that chose impact
points for the Ranger 6 - 9 moon missions. Whitaker said, "It somehow fell
to my lot to choose impact sites for each of the six or so days of the
available 'launch window' when a suitable trajectory of the moon was
possible." Whitaker applied his talent in the same way on the later Surveyor

Ranger 7 was a euphoric experience, according to Whitaker. "As the
Experimenter team, we had the privilege of seeing the first hurriedly
produced prints, and our excitement can be imagined as we viewed the lunar
surface with up to 1,000 times higher resolution than had ever been
available before!"

Ranger 7 also heralded the era of instant, public science, he added: "A
national TV, radio and press conference was scheduled for 9 p.m. that
evening (31 July 1964) and we had just a few hours to examine the pictures
and come up with answers to all the questions that had ever been asked about
the moon! The conference probably marked Kuiper's finest hour."

Analysis of Ranger 7, 8 and 9 photographs was a major LPL effort.
Collaborating with Kuiper on the work were Hartmann and LPL Professor Robert
Strom, who joined LPL in 1963 and specialized in the geology of the moon's
surface features.

By 1965, UA Lunar Lab staff began observing with Kuiper's "pride and joy" --
the new 61-inch precision optical reflecting telescope near Mount Bigelow.,
northeast of Tucson. The night after "first light," Whitaker and a
colleague took a trial series of photographs of the moon using a camera
destined to become a workhorse in the LPL's intensive lunar photography
program. High resolution photography of the moon and planets took precedence
over all other programs for the first 18 months at the 61-inch.

Kuiper's Photographic Lunar Atlas had been published in April 1960. But
lunar surface photos from the 61-inch were so strikingly good, LPL
researchers took thousands more photographs for a supplement. Whitaker and
Strom chose the best 225. Stephen M. Larson, now a senior research associate
at LPL, was then one of two undergraduate students who prepared the 11 x 14
copy negatives.

The result -- the "Consolidated Lunar Atlas" published in 1967 -- "is the
finest lunar atlas ever produced from groundbased photography, and is also
probably the last," Whitaker wrote.

Not incidentally, by 1966 the University had a new 5-story, 51,600
square-foot, NASA-funded $1.12 million space sciences building.