[Drake, 1962]
Frank Drake, 1962. NRAO/AUI image.


[Westerhout and Drake, 1968]
Gart Westerhout and Frank Drake, 1968. NRAO/AUI image.


[OZMA team members at 25th anniversary, 1985]
OZMA team members at 25th anniversary, 1985. NRAO/AUI image.


[Drake, 1999 Jansky Lecturer]
Frank Drake, 1999 Jansky Lecturer. NRAO/AUI image


NATIONAL RADIO ASTRONOMY OBSERVATORY ARCHIVES

Papers of Kenneth I. Kellermann: Oral Interview Series

Interview with Frank D. Drake
At NRAO in Green Bank, West Virginia
September 14, 2010
Interview Time: 28 minutes
Transcribed by Sierra Smith

Kellermann

This is Ken [Kenneth I.] Kellermann. Itís September 14, 2010 and Iím with Frank Drake in Green Bank, West Virginia. I did want to go over because you told me this story once, but I didnít write it down, about the 36 foot.

Drake

The 36 foot?

Kellermann

Yeah, I know you paid a big role in that, getting Frank Low and everything.

Drake

I got Frank Low there and I got the 36 foot.

Kellermann

But I think what you put in the book may have been a little bit exaggerated. There was an extra half a page in the annual budget request or something.

Drake

No, thatís not exaggerated. That annual budget request must be in the files somewhere. That was, you know, a major document. It must be somewhere.

Kellermann

Yeah but you said there was a spare page so you just wrote that in, half a page.

Drake

Yeah, thatís true.

Kellermann

But surely there must have been some broader discussion.

Drake

There was no discussion. Thatís so weird. It was a last minute thing and it was just decided to just try it, we canít lose.

Kellermann

So what year was that? It must have been- when I came in í65 it was...

Drake

Under construction.

Kellermann

Nearly complete. The dish was at the bottom of the mountain waiting to be moved up.

Drake

It was probably í62 but there is one paragraph saying, "We propose to build a 36 foot millimeter dish for $1 million." The $1 million came from using a scaling law I developed from the cost of various antennas as to how to you could predict the cost of an antenna depending on its wavelength, minimum wavelength and size, and the price is the square root of the maximum frequency and the diameter to the 2.7 power, if I remember right.

Kellermann

2.7, I think, is a standard number that everybody uses now and .7 for the frequency.

Drake

That may be what I used but it came from such a calculation. You know, I didnít go to any manufacturer or engineer or anything. I used entirely that simple formula.

Kellermann

And at what point did you recruit Frank Low? How did you know about him?

Drake

How did I know about him?

Kellermann

He was at Texas Instruments.

Drake

He was at Texas Instruments. Somebody, and thatís what I canít remember, told me. Well, at NRAO we talked about we should get into millimeter wave astronomy about which we knew nothing and somehow, I wish I could remember, somebody told me that there was this invention at Texas Instruments of a velometer that would work at 1 millimeter wavelength and was very sensitive and it had been invented by this guy Frank Low. So I made a trip to Dallas and talked to him about it. And he was really interested. I brought him on a visit to Green Bank and he agreed to come. That was how that worked. There was no big deal there, not a lot of coaxing or arm twisting.

Kellermann

Things were easy then.

Drake

Things were easy and I think he was kind of fed up with the industrial ambiance of Texas Instruments. And when he came he just took over. He ran the project like he was an independent operator.

Kellermann

Which he became. Did he handle the contact and the mechanical aspects and everything?

Drake

Yeah. We got him a dish.

Kellermann

Yeah, there were some small dishes.

Drake

There was one of these Kennedy spin cast dishes which I think was a 6 foot dish which got mounted on a mount just back of the Jansky Lab. And the waveguides and feeds were all made in the lab. They were tiny things. They were incredible looking. The feed looked like a soda straw. And he put it all together and we did assign him a technician and his name was Arnold Davidson, who went with him eventually when he went to [?].

Kellermann

When I came in June of í65- I remember now. I asked you the other day when you left. I came for a visit in 1963 on my way to Australia and you were just leaving.

Drake

[?] summer of í63.

Kellermann

And thatís when I came. And when I came in í65, Frank was already gone and Arnold was here and Dave [David S.] Heeschen. He had two weeks left or something. Dave Heeschen told me, "Well, youíre interested in source spectra. Learn all you can about velometers in the next two weeks."

Drake

Did you cope with it alright?

Kellermann

Well, no. I mean we had an arrangement after the telescope was built. So I would go out there and work with Arnold and Frank. We never got part Saturn I think. There were huge thermal effects and you couldnít start observing till...

Drake

Dark?

Kellermann

No, until it settled down. You couldnít use it during the day. 10 oíclock at night and just getting focused.

Drake

And the atmosphere was probably coming and going.

Kellermann

That wasnít too bad.

Drake

When we first came it was mid-winter and that was pretty good then. There was very little water vapor.

Kellermann

I was talking about Kitt Peak, not here.

Drake

Oh, Kitt Peak?

Kellermann

Yeah, the 36 foot.

Drake

Youíre not talking about the 6 foot, youíre talking about the 36 foot.

Kellermann

Right. So it must have been finished in í66 or something. So when you came [John W.] Findlay and Heeschen were here?

Drake

Yeah, there were both here already, hadnít been here long, just three or four months. It was not long. And we were all in the nut bin, as it was called.

Kellermann

That was the house that was right here past where the gate is now?

Drake

Yeah, and then very quickly we moved into a house that was farther up in the site because the nut bin was a one story place. And I could show you the house but I canít remember the name of it but it was two stories. The three of us were on the second floor and on the first floor were the first two electronics technicians, Warren Wooddell and Dewey Ross. And then soon thereafter Grote Reber showed up.

Kellermann

I was going to ask you about that actually.

Drake

And life changed.

Kellermann

Iíve heard all the stories. I got to know him pretty well too.

Drake

He was a character.

Kellermann

Did you have some specific responsibility or area then? John was in charge of electronics I gather, of all instrumentation.

Drake

Yeah, actually at that time, you know, there was no telescope so none of us had any specific titles or anything. Later on when the 85 foot was built, I became the Director of Scientific Services and Telescope Operations. And thatís when we invented this thing, which had been a great success, called the telescope operator. That was a whole new concept because up until then radio astronomer all ran their telescopes themselves.

Kellermann

That was essentially a copy of the night assistant.

Drake

Yeah, the same thing as a night assistant but that had not existed in radio astronomy. But since we were going to be bringing in a lot of visitors it sounded like a good plan. Plus we needed the help. We needed more hands and the first one was Fred Crews.

Kellermann

Right. Actually Fred told me thatís not the case.

Drake

There is somebody before him?

Kellermann

Yeah.

Drake

Do you know their name?

Kellermann

I forget. Somebody we know but I forget who it was. But it was only a month or so.

Drake

Fred was there very early. He might not have been the first. There was a guy named [Tim Hankens?] who went to Arecibo.

Kellermann

No that...

Drake

[Homer Boyer?] was early too.

Kellermann

He was here much earlier. He was here before Fred.

Drake

There was George Grove, Homer Boyer, Fred Crews. I forget who else. Iíll have to look it up, make sure of the staff, or something might ring a bell.

Kellermann

So there was no director then except for Lloyd Berkner.

Drake

There was this ongoing search for a director.

Kellermann

Iíve read a lot about this but what was the attitude here locally about the situation?

Drake

Nobody cared much because we were getting the stuff done. We didnít need a director then. Everything was so simple. We didnít have a telescope. We didnít have an observing program. And we did everything just sort of by consensus. With that few people it was easy.

Kellermann

You all got along well?

Drake

Yeah, everybody got along.

Kellermann

Even with John.

Drake

Oh well, he was ok. I mean he was pompous once in a while but he was fine. And then very soon Hein Hvatum came and that got to be the team. And Hein was real easy to work with. He was always cooperative. Later on another year, it was probably a year then Sebastian von Hoerner came and Dave Hogg.

Kellermann

Yeah, Dave first came as a student.

Drake

If you say so.

Kellermann

Yeah, Iíve talked to him. Do you remember your number?

Drake

No, I donít but it was a very low number. It was like 4 or 5 or something because at that time the only other staff member was [Beety Sheets?] and there was probably somebody in maintenance.

Kellermann

I think Berkner and [Richard] Emberson had numbers.

Drake

Did they?

Kellermann

Thatís what Heeschen said once, should be able to look that up.

Drake

It was some low number, yeah. A lot of stuff got built then. I was just thinking that it almost seemed like overnight the Janksy Lab, the cafeteria, and the residence hall, and the maintenance building. Those all happened...

Kellermann

Before you came?

Drake

No. When I came there was nothing.

Kellermann

Thatís right. You said you were in the other building.

Drake

There were no new structures whatsoever. We were making due with farmhouses.

Kellermann

And were relations with the locals as sensitive as has been described later?

Drake

Yeah, but, you know, the deed was done. The land had been bought. The families had been evicted- you know that was before my time whether they actually evicted them or whether they just paid them enough that they didnít mind.

Kellermann

Fred told me that their farming wasnít doing very well, the structures were old, and that they were not unhappy to be...

Drake

Yeah, I think that was the case as long as they got paid, maybe probably more than they expected but actually not very much, they were happy. And we used to hire some of the locals to babysit our kids and such and they were always really friendly.

Kellermann

Yeah, I did too when I was here.

Drake

My wife taught Becky [Sheets?] to play the piano.

Kellermann

So why did you leave?

Drake

It was because Iíd been in Green Bank for five years and it was getting really boring. And it was decided that the national centers should get to know each other better or something so we were invited to visit Kitt Peak.

Kellermann

Yeah, that was gone when I came [?]. That was good.

Drake

It was like a visit to another planet. There was a real town and city and restaurants and stuff and real schools. And I gave a paper at some meeting of the radio emission of Venus, which Iíd done with the 85 foot, and some guy from JPL [Jet Propulsion Laboratory] offered me a big position at JPL and I thought, "Wow, I can move to a big city, a big laboratory with lots of money and equipment." That was the attraction. It turned out to be a big mistake. JPL was awful.

Kellermann

Well, knowing what I know now, yes. Thatís why I asked the question but we didnít know then or you didnít know then.

Drake

No, I didnít. I loved the experience of Green Bank- the people, what we were doing, the freedom we had. It was all great. It was really great.

Kellermann

But the move to Charlottesville was already known.

Drake

No.

Kellermann

Yes, when I came in í63 Dave told me about the moving plan to Charlottesville.

Drake

I was partially responsible for that, I think, because...

Kellermann

You were leaving.

Drake

I was leaving and part of that was that the school was terrible in Green Bank. I had two kids approaching school age and this offer came from JPL. I thought, "This sounds good," and the fact that I bailed out, I think, created pressure for the Charlottesville move because a lot of families were moving out.

Kellermann

I came out when I was still single, everybody moved and I just stayed but by that time the elementary school was ok.

Drake

They fixed it up later?

Kellermann

Yeah and a lot of the NRAO spouses taught. So through elementary school is was ok. You know, you didnít have a lot of the problems you had in big cities but then as soon as you got to the middle grades...

Drake

It wasnít good.

Kellermann

I mean it didnít offer the advanced opportunities you get and of course, the fraction of the local people that went on to higher education was very low. So the whole peer pressure situation...

Drake

Was not good.

Kellermann

We left when our daughter was 10.

Drake

The same experience as mine, I guess. Yeah, I felt that the family was just too limited here, limited education but limited everything else, extracurricular stuff.

Kellermann

Yeah, but that changed.

Drake

Yeah, it seems to be pretty good now.

Kellermann

Ok, well thanks. Oh, I did want to ask you about [Otto] Struve.

Drake

Struve, oh god. Did you overlap with Struve?

Kellermann

No. So one reason that when he came he was already very old though I realize he was a lot younger than I am now.

Drake

He didnít want to come so that was a part of it. Actually he knew he wasnít competent. Have I told you any of that story?

Kellermann

No, I mean Iíve read a lot.

Drake

Itís a somewhat longer story. After all our searching for a director they recruited Joe [Joseph L.] Pawsey, which was terrific and he came here...

Kellermann

Yeah, Iím familiar with all that.

Drake

The brain tumor and all that, and then suddenly one day, Joe Pawsey is gone and we were back at square one- no director, nobody in sight. And AUI [Associated Universities Incorporated] Board was searching around for a director and Struve was on the Board, I think.

Kellermann

No, there was a committee.

Drake

He was involved in the search somehow, either as an AUI Board of Director or just...

Kellermann

No, there was a Selection Committee that was appointed.

Drake

Yeah, he was on it.

Kellermann

I found the papers of Ira Bowen, who was the chair, and I found his papers at the Huntington Library. So itís got all the details of that and the problems that they had and everything. Then Struve volunteered or was drafted. But what I really want to know is what it was like when he was here and the 140 foot problems.

Drake

They were all over his head. Let me just tell you what he told me, why he had taken the job. He said heíd been on that search committee and he saw that what was to be a great observatory was in desperate need of leadership and his statement, this is a quote, he said, "I am a solider in the army of astronomy and I saw it as my duty to take on this job because this was a very important institution that needed an experienced director." But the phrase I remember him saying is that, "I am a solider in the army of astronomy." And then he came and one of the few- Iíve probably told you some of this stuff before and things he said. For one thing, he studied all the programs that were going on and what the telescope could observe- at that time it was the 85 foot- discovered that we could only see like 50 radio sources or something like that and he got really upset. You canít do a lot of research if you can only see 50 things. One of his first comments was, "You have to discover some variable radio sources because then youíll have something to observe forever." That was one of his first comments. And then I actually mapped the galactic center with the 85 foot and his comment on that was, "Oh, thank god. Youíve justified the whole cost of that telescope." And then the other thing he did, he missed working on stellar spectra, optical spectra, and so he hired Roger Lynds and [Beatty Lynds?], actually to get [Beatty Lynds?].

Kellermann

Oh.

Drake

Yeah because sheíd been his assistant and he wanted her as an assistant so they could work on some optical spectra he was going to get some place so he hired [Beatty?]. In those days, you didnít hire a wife and not the husband so he hired Roger as an astronomer and got [Beatty?] as Assistant to the Director and Librarian. And they showed up and that made his life better because he could talk optical spectra with [Beatty?]. And she was working then on her dark nebulae catalog.

Kellermann

Did he bring, I donít remember her name...

Drake

Also, yeah...

Kellermann

Who was his librarian or assistant? She was still here when I came.

Drake

Yeah, he brought her. I forget her name. But [Beatty?] was to be his sort of science colleague because the radio astronomers didnít talk the same language and he was always uncomfortable in meetings when we were talking in megahertz and beam widths and things. He was pretty unhappy as solider duty. He would occasionally go off to New York for a week at a time. I never knew what he did.

Kellermann

To AUI?

Drake

No, he would go as vacation. He would go just get out of there for a week. Heíd do that every few months, just disappear for a week and then come back. His wife hated it. You know, we built the redwood house for him.

Kellermann

That was built specifically for him?

Drake

That was built specifically for Struve because he was so tall, because there wasnít a suitable directorís residence. It was built with him specifically in mind so everything is oversized. I donít know if youíve noticed that.

Kellermann

I havenít been in there in years.

Drake

And his wife lived in the redwood house and she came to no social events and occasionally you would meet her walking the observatory road, you know, the one that goes down to the 140 foot, and sheíd be in sort of a long robe and she was like sort of a ghost walking the road. She had a purple robe sheíd walk in. But she didnít mix at all. She didnít come to any social events. He must have been having a real tough time. So finally he moved on to Berkeley and there was another directorial crisis but by now Dave had been around long enough that heíd earned the trust and respect of the authorities in AUI so they made him Director.

Kellermann

I think not from the way he tells it, [Isidor Isaac] Rabi.

Drake

Rabi. I was there. Rabi tapped him.

Kellermann

No, but they didnít get along. Apparently Dave said that Rabi was unhappy with move to Charlottesville, wanted to go to Princeton or...

Drake

That was after my time.

Kellermann

He said he didnít speak to him for a year.

Drake

Thatís wonderful.

Kellermann

I mean, Rabi didnít speak to Dave.

Drake

Yeah. But I think Rabi got fed up with this whole business, revolving door. I remember there was a meeting of the trustees. For some reason I was there, I donít know why. Rabi just announced, "Weíre going to make Dave the Director."

Kellermann

Were the 140 problems...

Drake

That really didnít affect the astronomers because that was all contractors dealing directly with AUI, you know. So Emberson and those guys were coming and going but it didnít wash down on us at all. We were happily doing our stuff with the 85 foot. No, we never were involved. The only way we were involved was picking the site. They asked us to find the site, exactly where to put it. Findlay did that. He went out one day with a stake and pounded it in the ground and that was it.

Kellermann

Certainly during the 85 foot era it wasnít really a national observatory in the sense of attracting people.

Drake

It did attract a few mainly [Gart] Westerhout. Westerhout was coming all the time. I canít remember any other visitor but Westerhout was real active.

Kellermann

He was a big user on the 300 foot.

Drake

Yeah, the whole time I was at Green Bank Westerhout was coming and going.

Kellermann

He did a long time after I came.

Drake

I remember the time he went out- the first day he was here with his kids and was driving down the road to the Hannah House and told the story about how he saw a snake in the road and they donít have snakes in Holland. You had to show his kids a snake so they stopped the car and ran over towards the snake and the snake ran off into the grass. He came to the 85 foot where we were after that and was telling us about this, "We went in the grass and we actually could find the snake because it kept making this rattling sound."

Kellermann

I think the whole time I was here I saw one rattle snake and that wasnít on the side, it was hiking.

Drake

I never saw any but he did.

Kellermann

Ok, well thanks.


Modified on Wednesday, 16-Apr-2014 11:28:08 EDT by Ellen Bouton, Archivist (Questions or feedback)