One of our perennial topics of interest is, Operation Moonwatch. Moonwatch was initiated in 1958 by Dr. Fred Whipple at the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory during the International Geophysical Year (IGY).
Operation Moonwatch created an international network of dedicated and enthusiastic volunteer sky-watchers of both genders (women made up about a third of all observers) and from every walk-of-life. These citizen-scientists joined professional astronomers to track and report on satellites travelling through the night sky. Often we hear from old "Moonwatchers" or, increasingly, genealogists that have learned through family lore or old paperwork about a relative's participation in the project and are eager to learn more.
The report from the Blomenfontein observation station, on Naval Hill near the old Lamont-Hussey Observatory, was detailed and complete. It also included photographs of the observational set-up and drawings diagramming the layout of the entire observation station. What I enjoyed best, though, were the detailed organizational lists. These provided names of volunteers, their occupations, tasks and responsibilities and descriptions of nightly activities.
That made me smile, but I don't think you'd see that sort of personal touch in reports covering a partnership like Moonwatch today. And that's too bad. I mean, what a great recruiting tool – a night out, under the stars with others who share a common interest and cake, too. Heck, I'm all over that!
For more information about Operation Moonwatch, check out, Keep Watching the Skies: The Story of Operation Moonwatch and the Dawn of the Space Age by Patrick McCray. Dr. McCray made extensive use of Record Unit 255 for this book.
- Record Unit 255 - Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Moonwatch Division, Records, 1956-1975, Smithsonian Institution Archives