Agency history, 1956-1975

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  • Spitz, Armand
  • Campbell, Leon Jr
  • Hirst, William P
  • Roth, Herbert E
  • Werner, Albert
  • Vanderburgh, Richard C
  • United States Air Force
  • Volunteer Flight Officer Network


Agency History


  • This is an agency history. It does not describe actual records. The Smithsonian Institution Archives uses these histories as brief accounts of the origin, development, and functions of an office or administrative unit to set that unit in its historical context. To find information on record holdings, please double-click the highlighted field "Creator/Author", which will open on a brief view of relevant records.
  • Guide to the Smithsonian Archives, 1996
  • The Moonwatch Division of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory was created in 1956 as part of the Satellite Tracking Program established to track and photograph the artificial earth satellites to be launched during the International Geophysical Year, 1957-1958. The surprise launch of Sputnik in 1957 generated much enthusiasm for the satellite program. Amateur astronomers, often supported by local businesses and schools, formed groups of volunteers who manned rows of telescopes searching for satellites. The Moonwatch Division directed and instructed the observers, loaned them equipment, and tabulated the data collected. Scientists were named in other parts of the world to help establish Moonwatch teams in many foreign countries. Gradually many teams came to be composed of a single observer, highly skilled in satellite tracking and often affiliated with a local observatory or university.
  • The Volunteer Flight Officer Network (VFON) was established in 1963 by Denver Moonwatch team leader Herbert E. Roth to collect eyewitness reports of satellites and meteor sightings from airline pilots and other flight personnel. Roth was employed by United Airlines, which agreed to support the project by providing printing and mailing funds. In 1966 the VFON became affiliated with Moonwatch, which advised Roth and assumed a part of the mailing expenses. In 1969 Moonwatch assumed complete administrative control of VFON under a contract with the United States Air Force. Before its termination in 1975, the VFON had grown to include the employees of 118 airlines in fifty-seven countries and had collected approximately 4,200 observations. The Moonwatch program was terminated in 1975.
  • Directors of the Division included Armand Spitz, 1956-1957; Leon Campbell, Jr., 1957-1962; Richard C. Vanderburgh, 1962-1964; William P. Hirst, 1964-1968; and Albert Werner, 1968-1975. Herbert E. Roth served as sole Director of VFON.
  • For a history of the larger creating unit, refer to "Forms part of" above.

Repository Loc.

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Capital Gallery, Suite 3000, MRC 507; 600 Maryland Avenue, SW; Washington, DC 20024-2520


  • 1956
  • 1956-1975


  • International Geophysical Year, 1957-1958
  • Satellites
  • Artificial satellites
  • Tracking
  • Volunteer workers in science
  • Telescopes
  • Artificial satellites--Tracking


Mixed archival materials

Local number

SIA AH00175

Full Record

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