NATIONAL RADIO ASTRONOMY OBSERVATORY ARCHIVES
Finding Aid to the Papers of David S. Heeschen, 1945-1998
See also the Papers of Woodruff T. Sullivan III, which include a 47 minute oral interview with Heeschen conducted in 1973, and Papers of Kenneth I. Kellermann, which include a series of interviews with Heeschen conducted in 2011.
Location of collection: National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Archives, 520 Edgemont Rd., Charlottesville, VA. Phone: 1-434-296-0203, email: archivist at nrao.edu
Title and dates of the collection: Papers of David S. Heeschen, 1945-1998
Size of the collection: 7.5 linear feet.
Papers/Records created by: Heeschen, David S. (1926-2012)
Short description of collection: David S. Heeschen (1926-2012) was a consultant to Associated Universities, Inc., during the planning process for a national radio astronomy facility, and was the third National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) employee, beginning work on 1 July 1956, almost five months before the signing of AUI's formal contract with the National Science Foundation to organize and operate NRAO. Heeschen served as Acting Director from 1961-1962, and was Director from 1962-1978. These papers include material on the founding of NRAO and on NRAO and U.S. radio astronomy history, on Heeschen's work at Harvard University from 1953-1957 with the Radio Astronomy Project, and on his personal scientific research at Harvard and NRAO.
The papers of Dr. Heeschen in his capacities as Acting Director and as Director are included with Director's Office materials in the NRAO institutional records in the Archives.
Biography: David Sutphin Heeschen was born in Davenport, Iowa, in 1926, received his bachelor and Master of Science degrees from University of Illinois in 1949 and 1951, and his Doctor of Philosophy in Astronomy from Harvard University in 1954. After teaching for a year at Wesleyan University, he returned to Harvard in 1955 as a lecturer and research associate. His work at Harvard was principally in radio astronomy, and he was associated with the Harvard Observatory Radio Astronomy Project from its beginning in 1953 until 1956, helping to set up Harvard's 24 foot and 60 foot telescopes. He was a consultant to Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI) during the planning process for a national radio astronomy facility, and was the third National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) employee, beginning work on 1 July 1956, almost five months before the signing of AUI's formal contract with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to organize and operate NRAO. Heeschen served as Chair of the NRAO Astronomy Department, then as NRAO Acting Director from 1961-1962, and as Director from 1962-1978.
Between Heeschen's arrival at NRAO and the end of his time as Director, NRAO grew from an idea and plan to a major world center for radio astronomy. Under his leadership, the 140 foot and 300 foot telescopes and the interferometer were completed in Green Bank, the 36 foot telescope was built in Tucson, and the Very Large Array in New Mexico was planned and designed. By the time he stepped down as Director to resume his own research, VLA construction was nearly finished, successful observations were being made using the completed portion of the array, and planning for the VLBA had begun.
Following his resignation as Director, Heeschen served briefly as Assistant Director for Tucson Operations, Assistant Director for Socorro Operations, and as Acting Project Manager during the initial phases of work on the Green Bank Telescope. He retired from NRAO in December 1991, but continued to pursue his research interests and to advise on NRAO projects.
Heeschen's thesis work at Harvard was on galactic hydrogen, and he made the first observation of HI emission from clusters of galaxies in 1954. In 1956 he and Frank D. Drake made the first study of HI in a star cluster. He studied radio source spectra and source variability, and his early work provided the basis for the calibration of flux density scales at centimeter and decimeter wavelengths. He was the first to recognize the relation between radio luminosity and spectral index for radio galaxies, and he discovered the daily variation in compact radio sources known as "flicker."
Outside astronomy, Heeschen was a long-time amateur radio operator, an avid sailor, and a sports car enthusiast. In a film on radio astronomy produced in 1967 by the American Astronomical Society, he is shown in Green Bank driving Morton S. Roberts, who later succeeded him ast NRAO Director, to a telescope in a green (officially British Racing Green) Jaguar.
Dr. Heeschen was a member of the American Astronomical Society, where he served as President from 1980-1982, a member of the International Astronomical Union, where he served as a Vice President and member of the Executive Committee from 1976-1981, and of the International Scientific Radio Union, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences. He served on numerous advisory committees to international, federal, and private organizations, and on the astronomy Decadal Review committees for the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. He received the 1980 NSF Distinguished Public Service award, the 1985 Alexander von Humbolt Distinguished Senior Scientist Award, and was NRAO's 1993 Jansky Lecturer.
Heeschen died on 13 April 2012.
[Biographical note written by Ellen N. Bouton, with additions and corrections by David S. Heeschen.]
Accession history: Materials on NRAO history and notes for his talks on that history were donated to the Archives by Dr. Heeschen in March 2003. He donated an additional group of materials, including correspondence, committee files, and photographs, in May 2007. His early scientific research materials had been in an NRAO storage area for many years and were moved to the Archives when that storage area was emptied in 2006.
Access to collection: No restrictions. The Archives are open part-time; contact the Archivist for appointment.
Publication rights: Copyright has been assigned to The National Radio Astronomy Observatory. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Archivist.
Preferred citation: [Identification of item, box, and file], Papers of David S. Heeschen. Archives, National Radio Astronomy Observatory / Associated Universities, Inc.
Processing notes: Arrangement, description, indexing, foldering and boxing of the initial group of material was done in early 2006, and a second group of material was received in May 2007. In 2010, the collection was completely reorganized to better integrate the differing types of materials that comprised the two donations from Heeschen, and to incorporate Heeschen's early scientific research materials that had been in an NRAO storage area. During the processing, photocopies were made to replace thermofax sheets and newspaper clippings, and fasteners were removed.
Correspondence Series: This series includes correspondence from 1954-1993. Early correspondence discusses Heeschen's work at Harvard, early association with AUI/NRAO, move to Green Bank, and preliminary planning for NRAO. Later correspondence, buth during and after his time as Director, is generally about speaking engagements, participation in committee and advisory group work, and other non-official matters. Heeschen's correspondence in his capacities as Acting Director and as Director are included with Director's office materials in the Records of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Size: 0.5 linear feet.
Subject Files Series: This series includes general subject files dated 1971-1991 (with one folder dated 1949). Material is primarily related to Heeschen's work on non-NRAO committees, as American Astronomical Society president, and as a member of a delegation visiting China in 1977. Size: 0.5 linear feet. Click here for a listing of general subject folders, or use the NRAO Archives online catalog to search for specific items or across multiple series/collections.
Radio Astronomy History Series: This series has been divided into five units:
Scientific Research Series: This series includes materials on Heeschen's radio astsronomy research, and has been divided into four units:
Collected Publications Series: This series contains copies of preprints, reports, and published articles dated 1945-1987 retained by Heeschen. Size: 0.25 linear feet. Click here for an item listing, or use the NRAO Archives online catalog to search for specific items or across multiple series/collections.
Photographs Series: This series contains photographs dated 1956-1990 collected by Heeschen, including photographs of NRAO people and events as well as photographs taken elsewhere. Size: 0.25 linear feet. Click here for a listing of folders, or use the NRAO Archives online catalog to search for specific items or across multiple series/collections. Related Material: See also photos of the Harvard 24 and 60 foot telescopes in the Harvard University Astronomy Unit above.
Additional Materials about Heeschen: These materials are about Heeschen but were not created or collected by him. Included are obituaries, talks from his memoral service, biographical material from his family, and photographs. Size: 0.25 linear feet.