Bernard F. Burke, interviewed by Kenneth I. Kellermann on 20 June 2012

Creator

Papers of Kenneth I. Kellermann

Type

Oral History

Interviewer

Kellermann, Kenneth I.

Interviewee

Burke, Bernard F.

Location

Pushchino, Russia

Original Format of Digital Item

Digital audio file

Duration

21 minutes

Interview Date

2012-06-20

Notes

Transcribed by Sierra Smith.

The transcription may have been read and edited for clarity by Kellermann, and may have also been read and edited by the interviewee. Any notes added in the reading/editing process by Kellermann, the interviewee, or others who read the transcript have been included in brackets. During processing, full names of institutions and people were added in brackets and if especially long the interview was split into parts.

Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event.

Series

Oral Histories Series

Transcription

Kellermann

Ok, I’m with Bernie Burke at Pushchino in Russia and it’s June 20, 2012 and Bernie is talking about the reaction to the [Jesse L.] Greenstein Committee/ [David S.] Heeschen Committee decisions on the VLA and the CAMROC dish.

Burke

Well, I was at a meeting and Dillion Ripley, the secretary of the Smithsonian, was there. By that time the Smithsonian was the main backer of the CAMROC dish, so I tried to explain to him the logic of why it was done and why the CAMROC dish did not survive. And he only had a very brief comment, he said, "I don’t like being stabbed in the back." And he turned away and walked away. That’s all, isn’t it?

Kellermann

Yeah, but, of course, the other side of that story is that your support, Marshall’s [H. Cohen] support- the people that had been opposing the project getting together to support it is what turned the tables and got it built.

Burke

Oh, want me to tell that story?

Kellermann

Go ahead.

Burke

Of course, at the beginning I had been defending the CAMROC telescope and reasonably successfully... [noise in background] So I successfully defended it and then one day Herb Weiss, who was the engineer in charge of the physical design of the telescope, said, "Bernie, I want to show you something." He had a letter and the main business was something having to do with Lincoln Lab. And so the letter went, "Dear Herb, that business about the Arctic antennas, I think everything is going to be alright. The contracts will be in place. Well, how is that radio telescope of yours coming along? I hear that once the radio astronomers make up their mind, they are going to get what they want." And Herb was convinced that all I had to do was be the super salesman and we would have CAMROC in the bag. Unfortunately, I understood the situation much better than Herb. So at the next meeting, I said, "Well, I think that it’s absolutely true that we are only going to get one thing and that one thing has to be the biggest and best in the world and so I’m going to have to say that we have to go with the VLA." And then as I remember...

Kellermann

I’m sorry. That was in Heeschen’s Radio Panel or the Greenstein Committee?

Burke

Heeschen’s Radio Panel. And Dave Heeschen had played it very cool. He had not tried to advocate. He was a properly neutral chairman. Well anyway, what I did is that I turned to Marshall Cohen and I asked Marshall Cohen, "Marshall, don’t you think that’s the right thing to do?" And Marshall initially sort of slinked down in his chair and then said, "Yes." And so that meant we’d solved the problem.

Kellermann

But the CAMROC dish would have been the biggest and best of its kind in the world also.

Burke

Well, not the same way. The CARMOC dish was going to be a little bit bigger than the Parkes Telescope.

Kellermann

It was 440 feet, wasn’t it?

Burke

Yeah...

Kellermann

As opposed to 210.

Burke

But it was attenuated by the radome.

Kellermann

Yes, but it would have had four times the collecting area and you’re right, there would have had some losses in the radome.

Burke

It’s not the same kind of change and it was not on point with the new wave of aperture synthesis. So it was old fashioned. Now, I can tell you one more thing that happened. Ok...

Kellermann

Yeah, go ahead.

Burke

About a week later, I got a call from the President’s Science Advisor’s Office. The Science Advisor was Ed David [Edward E. David Jr.], whom I had known for a long time, and Ed assembled a group of us. Were you there Ken?

Kellermann

No.

Burke

Well, it was a small group but representative and what he wanted to do...

Kellermann

So who was that: you, Dave [Heeschen]- I know Dave has talked about it...

Burke

Dave was there.

Kellermann

Marshall?

Burke

I think Marshall was there. And what he wanted to hear was that the radio astronomers fully backed the VLA. He didn’t want to be in a position to decide to back it and then have a lot of people complaining that that wasn’t right. So we understood the game. We all agreed, "Yes, that’s what we want." So that’s what we got. So that’s the story.

Kellermann

Ok, well thank you.

[Break]

Kellermann

You were starting to say something about the Greenstein Committee.

Burke

Yeah. We met in New Mexico- no, in Aspen but at the ski resort that is right outside Aspen.

Kellermann

Snowmass.

Burke

Snowmass. It’s about 1,000 feet higher than Aspen and so at any rate we finish our business and then having concluded that, Jesse Greenstein thanked us all for our work and said, "And these recommendations are so much opposed to my way of doing science that I am going to resign as chairman."

Kellermann

This was after the last meeting?

Burke

At Snowmass, we were still at Snowmass and we a meeting to go to next day...

Kellermann

At what point in the process is this? Is this after...

Burke

After we’d agreed on the substance of the report.

Kellermann

The whole report, now just the radio report? The whole committee?

Burke

The whole committee, all of the priorities, and so George Field and I had an emergency conference outside after the committee had dissolved. And so George and I were discussing what can we do and the answer was that we have to talk to somebody whom Jesse Greenstein respects. It could not be Leo Goldberg because Leo and Jesse were not on the best of terms. So we agreed it had to be Lyman Spitzer. And George said he’d be happy to talk to Lyman but it wouldn’t be as effective as me because he was Lyman’s student. And so I called up Lyman Spitzer and explained the situation. And Lyman immediately understood the problem and so he said he would get in touch with Jesse. And the next morning Jesse said, "Well, some Irish politician has been at work and so I’m going to have to withdraw my resignation." End of story.

Kellermann

Well, that’s interesting because, well, I’d heard, I guess, Dave had mentioned that Jesse had resigned but I never knew the background of the details. But what was it that was so different from his style? What was it that he didn’t like- his way of doing science that you mentioned?

Burke

Big, federal centers.

Kellermann

So why did he ever accept chairmanship of a committee whose purpose was to make decisions about big, federal...

Burke

Frank Drake had a theory. We were at about 8,000 feet and some people at that altitude don’t think as clearly as they should.

Kellermann

Yes. In fact, Bernie, I think it is more like 10,000 feet. I mean I have been there. I have skied there and I believe...

Leonid Gurvits

10,000 feet is only 3,000 meters, right?

Kellermann

Yes.

Gurvits

So that is still 6,000 feet below ALMA?

Burke

Oh, yes.

Kellermann

Yeah, well, also it is 2-3,000 feet below the highest parts of the ski area so...

Burke

I only remember it being 1,000 feet above Aspen Village.

Kellermann

I think it is more than that. But anyway, if this is so contrary to his- and I think you’re right, he has said this and I know his style but (a) he was a regular user of what was then the biggest and most expensive telescope in the world, the 200 inch...

Burke

Private.

Kellermann

Private but still... so it wasn’t big facilities that he was opposed to, it was the federal funding...

Burke

The federal government.

Kellermann

And the implied control of the...

Burke

Yes. Now, the irony is the revival of radio astronomy in the United States really began with the combination of Jesse Greenstein and Merle Tuve. And Merle had a very different attitude and his attitude was that there could be facilities of a federal nature but he wanted all of the private institutions, the universities, to be able to use it but to go there as users and also to use their own equipment.

Kellermann

Which is what you did in the beginning.

Burke

Which is what I did, yeah. Jesse, I think, he was much more enthusiastic about getting things going and I think it was a bit going back on his very principle of encouraging us.

Kellermann

As you certainly remember in the early days of the 300 foot, there was a lot of that, the DTM [Department of Terrestrial Magnetism] back end, and the Naval Research Lab brought front ends and still fairly recently the pulsar people bring their signal processing but for the most part that doesn’t happen anymore.

Gurvits

Arecibo still works that way.

Kellermann

Arecibo?

Gurvits

There are lots of different kinds of equipment brought by...

Burke

But people don’t bring their radio transmitters there.

Gurvits

Transmitters?

Burke

Ionospheric part?

Gurvits

It’s too big.

Burke

One of the leaders of that is Gordon Pettengill. Most of the work was done at Lincoln Lab and then MIT. Although he was director for two years.

Kellermann

Of Arecibo?

Burke

Yeah. Well, he wanted to be sure that the radio transmitters would be properly installed. It’s very easy to do it wrong.

Gurvits

His portrait in the gallery of directors of Arecibo. He was director for a couple of years.

Kellermann

That person with the funny Russian accent is [?] [Gervitz?].

Gurvits

You are recording or what?

Burke

Well, one of the remarkable things about [William E. "Bill"] Gordon was in those days they had a habit of firing the director and firing the director regularly occurred. And I think among the first five directors, Gordon was the only one who was not fired. He left of his own accord.

Gurvits

You mean Arecibo?

Burke

Yeah.

Gurvits

Well, in later days they were not fired.

Burke

Well, let me count them.

Gurvits

Ok, let’s count.

Burke

The first was Bill Gordon. Tommy [Thomas] Gold thought that he was not organizing the science properly. So Tommy organized that Bill should be fired and Tommy took over. Tommy roused so much resentment that he was fired. And then Frank Drake took it over very successfully but due to a complication, which takes another session, due to a complication he was fired, basically for insubordination.

Kellermann

Insubordination to who?

Burke

To the leadership of Cornell. Then he was followed by, who was the Swede?

Kellermann

Tor Hagfors.

Gurvits

Tor was later probably, no?

Burke

No...

Kellermann

Oh, John Findlay was there for a year.

Burke

John Findlay was another one who was not fired.

Kellermann

But he was only there for a year as a visitor.

Burke

Hagfors was there for five years and he was fired.

Gurvits

Well, wait a minute. He was fired to the director of NAIC [National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center] so he was promoted actually.

Kellermann

No, he means after that.

Gurvits

Afterwards from where?

Kellermann

NAIC.

Burke

He was fired from NAIC. Well, he was not renewed.

Gurvits

I had job interview with him. I remember that time. Tor Hagfors was already my time.

Burke

And then who was the next director?

Gurvits

Mike Davis.

Kellermann

No, no. Well, of Arecibo but not NAIC.

Gurvits

Paul Goldsmith.

Kellermann

That’s right.

Burke

Paul Goldsmith?

Gurvits

Yeah.

Kellermann

He was certainly fired.

Burke

He was certainly fired.

Gurvits

And then Bob [Robert L.] Brown.

Burke

And then Bob Brown and he has survived.

Kellermann

No, no. Bob only went for a limited period and stayed through that period and left. That was planned.

Gurvits

How about Don Campbell.

Kellermann

Don was...

Gurvits

After Paul.

Kellermann

Don was acting director for several times in between.

Burke

Yeah.

Gurvits

And then finally he was real director.

Kellermann

That’s right. We still have a long walk ahead of us. Why don’t you tell us...

Burke

Are we on our way?

Gurvits

We are on our way.

Kellermann

The background of Frank Drake. I suppose we are supposed to be there.

Burke

The background of Frank Drake? I might as well tell that story. Frank was a man of honor and he believed that NAIC had to be a national facility and the people at Cornell thought that Cornell was not deriving enough benefit in the form of graduate student support. And so a strong groundswell of opposition developed. Even Ed Salpeter became opposed to Frank. And that says he didn’t manage his politics very well because Ed ordinarily would have backed him. And so...

Kellermann

But Frank was getting it from both sides because from the NSF [the National Science Foundation]...

Burke

NSF to be more national and from Cornell to be more parochial. And so I was the chairman of their advisory committee at which we discussed the case and Frank Rhodes had just become president. And we asked Frank Rhodes to sit outside so we could discuss the matter. So we kicked the President of Cornell out of the room. Later, of course, we talked to him. And Frank had preceded to make his own case with the NSF and the NSF backed Frank. So Frank Rhodes said he’d take the responsibility, that Frank’s behavior was not acceptable, that on serious matters he had to coordinate with Frank Rhodes or whoever was president. And so he had to go. And so we had to conclude that he had to go despite the fact was that one of the things we did was to interview all the staff of the observatory and it was clear that the observatory with one exception were thoroughly behind Frank as director. They admired him. He treated them right. He got the best work out of them. So we had to agree despite the fact that the observatory staff fully back Frank Rhodes...

Kellermann

Frank Drake.

Burke

Frank Drake rather. Frank Rhodes was absolutely right. He had to go.

Kellermann

And, of course, your committee reported to Frank Rhodes?

Burke

Yes, our committee reported to Frank Rhodes so that’s what we had to do.

Kellermann

I was on that committee, I guess, right after that. It was just as Tor had come and I was impressed that the president of Cornell would come to the meetings and took such a deep interest in it. And, of course, that was still the remains of the incident that you just described, why he was so involved. I hadn’t appreciated that.

Burke

Now, the next thing that I do remember is that I got to know Frank better...

Kellermann

Frank?

Burke

Frank Rhodes, when I was on the Science Board and he was the chairman. And so it was behind us. We never discussed it. It was done business and a president of a university, I think, has to be a switch. Once the circuit has been opened or closed that’s the way it stays.

Kellermann

Ok, I guess that’s enough.

Citation

Papers of Kenneth I. Kellermann, “Bernard F. Burke, interviewed by Kenneth I. Kellermann on 20 June 2012,” NRAO Archives, accessed July 31, 2021, https://www.nrao.edu/archives/items/show/13893.