Interview with Gart Westerhout on 5 March 1993

Description

Gart Westerhout, interviewed by Steven J. Dick at the U.S. Naval Observatory, Washington D.C. on 5 March 1993.

Creator

Papers of Gart Westerhout

Rights

Contact Archivist for rights information.

Type

Oral History

Interviewee

Gart Westerhout

Location

Original Format of Digital Item

Audio cassette tape

Interview Date

1993-03-05

Notes

This transcript is PART 2 of a series of seven interviews of Gart Westerhout by Steven J. Dick conducted between 19 February and 29 July 1993. The transcript of all interviews was checked and corrected by Dr. Westerhout in October 2000. The original audio tapes were deposited at the U.S. Naval Observatory. Because the interviews were conducted while both Westerhout and Dick were federal employees, there are no copyright restrictions on the interview. The interview is posted here as a supplement to the Papers of Gart Westerhout at the suggestion of Dr. Dick, who provided the transcript, with his permission and that of the Westerhout family.

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

Additional Materials About Westerhout Series

Transcription

Begin Tape 2 Side A

Dick

The last time we covered the Leiden years. There's one thing I see on your bibliography here that we didn't talk about, I wanted to ask you about, and that was that you wrote an article with Blaauw, Gum, and Pawsey on "The New IAU System of Galactic Coordinates." What was that all about?

Westerhout

That was all about the new system of galactic coordinates. In 1953, we began to find out that the galaxy was warped. By the time it was 1955, with the southern data, we found out that the galaxy was warped up to the north, in the Northern Hemisphere, and down to the south in the Southern Hemisphere, sort of like a sombrero. If you made cross-sections through the hydrogen distribution in the galaxy, you find that it's sort of S-shaped, with a large flat area within a radius of 10 kiloparsecs and then outside it bends up, probably influence of the gravitational effects of the Magellanic clouds and all those sort of things.

But we also, by the time we had all those data together, I first made a solution of the galactic plane as determined by the hydrogen, restricting the solution to the region within the solar circle, because slowly, as soon as you got out of that, you got the bend over.

Dick

You do have an article the same year with Gum and Kerr on 21 cm determination of principal plane in the galaxy.

Westerhout

Exactly. It's the same general story. I had also made up myself a very accurate (in those days) position of the galactic center, Sagittarius A, with the Dwingeloo telescope in 1956 -'57. And that was sort of confirmed by other observations, but none of them was really as precise, and they basically affirmed that overall that would be a good place for the center of the galaxy to be. The plane was not exactly the way the old coordinate system was, and the basic thing is that the old galactic coordinate system started, like all coordinate systems, at where the celestial equator crosses the galactic equator, which was, of course, a moving point, as it usually is, because the celestial equator moves in among the stars.

So we decided to kill two birds with one stone. In the 1955 IAU meeting, we proposed a new galactic coordinate system. In 1958, that was adopted with, I think, the requirement that by 1961, it was going to be in place.

Dick

Who had done the old galactic coordinate system?

Westerhout

Oort and Mulders 1930 or '29 or something like that.

Dick

So now with this new 21 cm work, you had a better idea of the center of the galaxy and the plane.

Westerhout

And the plane of the galaxy.

Dick

So you could think about new galactic coordinates.

Westerhout

Right. The general idea was that since the hydrogen quite clearly was in the gravitational plane of the galaxy, that should be it [the galactic plane]. There was a little constraint, and that is that an equator, in general, is a great circle, so the equator had to go through the Earth. We also wanted the equator to go through the center of the galaxy. As a result, since the Earth was 14 plus or minus 20 parsecs removed from the galactic plane, we decided that within the error bar, the Earth is in the galactic plane.

However, that defined galactic plane. When we now look at the position of the center of the Galaxy--Sagittarius A star--it's about three minutes of arc below the galactic plane. The reason for that is the definition that we gave to it at that time. We simply did not have three minute of arc-type accuracies. People have always been accusing me later on of doing things wrong--we should have waited with those galactic coordinates, made a better position. And, yes, of course it should go through the Earth, and of course it should go through the center of the galaxy. There's no question about it. But it should also be parallel to the layer of hydrogen.

I had discussions with real astronomers who said, "It must go through the Earth and it must be parallel to the layer."

"Well, in that case, sir, it won't go through Sagittarius A star."

"Of course it will go through Sagittarius A."

"Okay."

They said, "Fine. Sagittarius A is obviously in the plane, so we'll do it in the plane."

"Well, sir, in that case it'll be a small circle."

"Huh?"

These were genuine astronomers and these discussions happened quite a few times before people finally realized that an equator has to be a great circle, must always go through the Earth, and if we want to also have it go through Sagittarius A, we're simply fortunate that the Earth is that close to that defined plane for the galaxy.

So we then established that, and the IAU defined it. In fact, I got myself onto a committee in 1955 at the Dublin IAU meeting. I became a member of an IAU working group on the determination of new galactic coordinate system. Blaauw was chairman, and Gum was one of the members of that working group.

Dick

So this was not something that you sat down one day and declared; it was something that required considerable consultation.

Westerhout

Absolutely. But the calculations came from Kerr and Westerhout. The two of us simply made those calculations together, the Southern Hemisphere and the Northern Hemisphere combined, his data for the Southern Hemisphere, mine for the Northern Hemisphere.

Dick

So what were some of the other contentious issues?

Westerhout

There were not really any contentious issues. What I'm relating, what I just related just shows you the stupidity. There were also questions about should it be ... it was defined in the B1950 system as to where exactly everything was, and people said, "But this precession and so on, everything is going to change." And I was into astrometry way back then. I had to make sure that everybody realized that the B1950 system was never going to change. It might change to a different kind of system. But this is in the fifties. J2000 wasn't thought of at all yet. It took a long time...well, some people had some trouble with the idea that that system doesn't change with precession, doesn't change with anything. That is fixed--completely, 100 percent fixed. So that's how it was defined.

I don't think it has ever been redefined in J2000. It could be. What we defined was the position of the galactic center in B1950 and the position of the pole in B1950. That was it. That was all that was necessary, of course--the zero point and the pole.

Then we got Luyten, for example, standing up at an IAU meeting and saying, "That's stupid. The pole should be determined, and I've looked on the charts, on my Palomar charts, and there are several very distant galaxies within half a minute of arc from the pole. Those should be determined as the pole." Well, yeah, you could do that, but we didn't like it, so that was voted down.

Dick

So that new galactic system, when you see bI or b II, bII is the new system.

Westerhout

Exactly. b II is the new system. Then about fifteen years later, IAU decided to drop the "II" because by then the bI was simply never used anymore.

Dick

And that's the system that's still in use today?

Westerhout

It's the regular galactic coordinate system.

Dick

Do you think that will ever be revised again or there will be a need?

Westerhout

I don't think there's a need. I don't think there's ever a need. We've talked about it, but nobody has ever seen a need to go any further than that.

Dick

It wouldn't be worth the trouble.

Westerhout

It wouldn't be worth the trouble. Right. And, of course, a number of galactic sources are defined in galactic coordinates in the sense that their name is derived from their longitude and latitude--14.35, -0.5 ; that's a source. I mean, I'm making an arbitrary number, and that's in galactic coordinates and that's a galactic source. So you're not going to change those things anymore. It's close enough, basically. It's very much closer than the old one, which is 1.5-degree slanted with the present. Now there is a few minutes of arc. Of course, that you're never going to worry about anymore. But it mainly had to do with the fact that for your galactic research, it was ridiculous to use an old system. You could do it so much better, always make those corrections. So that's where that came from. I think it was officially adopted at the '61 meeting in Brighton, if I'm not mistaken. We discussed it extensively in '58.

By the way, when I was appointed to that working group, I was not a member of the IAU; I was a graduate student. They only discovered that after we were back in Leiden. So I presume...I think Oosterhoff was secretary general, and Oort was something else, and Blaauw was something else, vice president, so within three months I was a member of the IAU.

Dick

That helps!

Westerhout

Always helps. Always helps. So I became a member of the IAU somewhat earlier than most other people. But, of course, I had satisfied all the requirements. I didn't have a Ph.D. yet, but I had published already zillions of papers. That was funny. I think I noted that myself. I went to Blauuw, I said, "Do you know, Adriaan, I'm not a member, but I'm a member of your working group." "Oh, we'd better do something about that."

Dick

Should we move on to the second of your three careers?

Westerhout

Right.

Dick

University of Maryland. You came in 1962, I think.

Westerhout

Right.

Dick

And you were hired there to build up a program or to start up a new program?

Westerhout

To start an astronomy program as part of the Physics and Astronomy Department. Officially that summer the Physics Department changed its name, by Senate action, to Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Dick

So there was no astronomy there before?

Westerhout

There was no astronomy there before. There was occasionally a class taught by somebody from Goddard or so on, but rarely. And Opik from Ireland spent half a year each year, attracted by Singer, who did space physics.

Dick

So what were your main challenges in doing that?

Westerhout

The reason I came to Maryland was the challenge of starting something brand new in an extremely active and enthusiastic physics department. That was the main challenge. Some subsidiary things were that it was relatively close to Green Bank, which is one of the other jobs I was considering at the time, and the job at Berkeley, and I took this one in a football college. "You're crazy!" says Van de Hulst. But that's why I went over in early January of '62, just to make absolutely sure that I had read it all right and found out indeed it was just exactly what I thought it was. Football had long since disappeared.

But I chose that because that specific challenge of starting something on my own, I was ready to be my own director rather than working in Green Bank as part of a staff or working with Harold Weaver as a coequal in the radio astronomy at Berkeley. I wanted to do something. At that point I was ready to do something on my own, so that's what we did.

One of the additional attractions was the closeness of the United States Naval Observatory. That was an item in my consideration already in 1962.

Dick

When had you first heard about the Naval Observatory? In Leiden you knew about it?

Westerhout

You always knew about the U.S. Naval Observatory. It was one of the most famous observatories in the world, particularly when you were into galactic dynamics. That's where the proper motions came from. There's no question about it. [H. R.] Morgan...there was an article by Oort and Morgan, but Morgan already had the N30. The N30 was the system that Oort felt was very much better than the old FK systems. That's what he used as his proper motion data.

Dick

So there had been correspondence or collaboration back and forth between Leiden and the Naval Observatory even in the early days.

Westerhout

Oh, yes, although I found it interesting that the only paper I could find with Oort was the one by Oort and Morgan in 1951, which was rather late in the game. I thought there was collaboration much earlier than that. I'm sure there was collaboration and there was discussion in the early days of Leiden. Of course, at Leiden van de Sande Bakhuysen at the turn of the century was operating a major transit circle program. I'm sure that all the transit circle people always discussed these things with each other. And, of course, when you look at the Leiden Observatory, it resembles the main building of the Pulkovo Observatory, of the Naval Observatory, of the Yerkes Observatory. They were all built at the same time, and everybody copied each other's designs. 1853 was when they built the Leiden Observatory.

Dick

But that wasn't the original building. Leiden goes back 300 years.

Westerhout

Oh, yes, sure. Sure. Before that, they were in the Academy Building. But that was the new building, and around those days they all built buildings that were all the same--central building, the transit circle rooms. In the case of Leiden, there was one transit circle room on one side and a lecture room on the other, and then the housing for the astronomers beyond them. Look at the old Naval Observatory on 23rd Street--exactly the same design. It's sort of interesting.

Dick

So what were the highlights of your Maryland years? You had to hire a lot of faculty, I guess.

Westerhout

To hire faculty? Two people had already been hired, and Van Wijk had been there for a year. Erikson had just been hired before me, but had already made a commitment to come to the Leiden, so Erikson arrived in Leiden three weeks before I left for Maryland. I had met Erickson before at meetings and at his observatory in California and so on.

Dick

Which Erickson is this?

Westerhout

Bill Erickson. William C. Erickson. Staff member of Maryland from 1963 until about four years ago when he retired. William C. Erickson. He now lives in Tasmania, but he comes back here sort of half the time. The other name was Van Wijk.

Dick

Sounds like another Dutchman.

Westerhout

It was another Dutchman, indeed. Uco Van Wijk. And Van Wijk was a student of Bok, had spent time in South Africa. There was a Van Wijk Sequence somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, photometry and all that kind of thing, and they had hired him as a good teacher. He was a very good fellow with students and so on, so he started teaching the elementary courses, and he was responsible then for building the Maryland Observatory, which we dedicated in 1964. We got a 20-inch telescope from the NSF and we built a building. There was a central building and two bays. Same story again. The bays both have roll-off roofs, because I was a strong believer in roll-off roofs for the simple reason that (a) it's simple; (b) you see the whole sky; and for educational purposes, which was, of course, the main reason why we built it. Later on we acquired, on the other side, an old astrograph from the Naval Observatory and a Tinsley refractor, I think--maybe reflector.

Dick

An old astrograph from the Naval Observatory?

Westerhout

Yes. I presume it's still there. It was an astrographic camera originally used for taking photographs from aircraft, one of those huge lenses. I think it's still sitting there. In that second bay at one point there were three telescopes, also a beautiful pendulum clock with a copper engraving on it saying "On Loan From the United States Naval Observatory." I have, in vain, looked for the loan papers at the Naval Observatory, but I'm sure they're still in the file at Maryland. The Naval Observatory has long since lost them. I'm sure the Naval Observatory has absolutely no idea that that clock and that telescope are still there. That happens. I mention it to people every now and again, particularly to people like Annette and so on, who are keen on inventories and so on. They look and they sort of wonder.

Dick

So you spent fifteen years at Maryland.

Westerhout

Right.

Dick

I don't know what you can say. You did a lot of teaching.

Westerhout

A lot of teaching. I put a great emphasis on [it], first because I was interested; second, because I had good teachers; and three, because I liked to teach it myself, the elementary course for non-science majors. That became extremely successful. As I think I told you at one point, at the heyday we had 1,600 students a semester that took the course, plus out of those, about 300 took the lab as well. The lab, of course, took a lot of graduate students to teach. So that course provided us with a lot of teaching assistantships, as well as standing in the university.

The interesting thing is, people always said, "Boy, you were clever. You really built something popular so you'd get more money." That was never the idea. But it so worked out that that was it. So we grew by leaps and bounds--permanent tenured faculty positions.

Dick

How did you get so many students interested in astronomy?

Westerhout

Because we made the course popular. I always put the best teachers in it, and as a result, the course became very popular. A guy from the Naval Observatory taught it several times, the Korean K. C. Chou . You don't know K. C. Chou?

Dick

No.

Westerhout

Some old people here will be able to tell you everything about K. C. Chou, who finally disappeared from the face of the Earth after having borrowed hundreds of dollars left, right, and center from every Tom, Dick, and Harry. He's now vice president of the National University of Korea, and he dared to come to my office a few years ago. He greeted me loudly, and I closed my door and I said, "K. C., this is the first time I see you. Don't you have anything to say?" "Huh?" I said, "Did you ever pay back the $500 to the Griggs Fund at the Naval Observatory, which was meant for students who were in trouble, for quick loans? Did you ever pay back? Where did you go when you left that course that you were teaching in Baltimore, in the middle of the term, and I had to take it over?" And I said a few things. Well, he was hoping that we could not talk about that stuff anymore, but I did talk about it. Then I gave him some advice about his observatory and I showed him the door. He said to himself, "I'm not going to see that fellow again. He remembers everything."

He finally taught also a course at the University College in Baltimore, an evening course, because he was full time at the Naval Observatory. He started borrowing money from the students there, so the dean would start calling me, of the University College, saying, "What is this fellow?"

"Look, you appointed him, not me."

"Yeah, but you recommended him."

"He's a good teacher."

"Yeah, he is a good teacher."

He was a good teacher to undergraduate students, but adults would not talk about him. I found that out when he had finally vamoosed. They came for two evenings, and he didn't turn up. After two evenings, they finally told the dean that that teacher hadn't shown up, because they wanted to protect him. They knew he was always in trouble. It turned out he had gone back to Korea, had left his wife here, dumped her. Amazing character.

I met other people--Jack Brandt from Goddard and Robert Chapman, good teachers from around the area also. In fact, Brandt and Chapman got a book out of the course. After having taught it twice, they decided, "Hey, we can write a textbook."

Dick

Both solar system people, right?

Westerhout

They were more solar, yes. They taught the general course. Jack Brandt is a general astronomy person.

Dick

But did you try to build up radio astronomy in particular at Maryland?

Westerhout

No, not in particular. In fact, I started out with a course in radio astronomy for undergraduates and then another course in radio astronomy for graduate students, and then after four years, we abandoned that title. I felt strongly radio astronomy was simply a means to an end. You didn't teach spectroscopy. You didn't teach photometry courses. So later on we incorporated radio astronomy in a two-semester instrumentation course, and there we had the students do experiments. I collected an old ten-foot radio dish from Green Bank. It was sitting on a trash heap. We mounted that, and students set up an array of antennas in a big field, which is now a parking lot. You know, you could see the sun, you could see Cassiopeia A, and they learned a lot of things there.

Dick

Grad or undergrad?

Westerhout

In between. This was the so-called 400 Level, which was taken by all the incoming graduate students, but was also open to all the senior undergraduates, and all departments had that overlapping level, which was very good, because many kids coming in, of course, were physics. You don't look at an undergraduate astronomy major. He may be good, but usually his physics background was not important, so he was not a good physics student. Espenschied was a graduate student there. He failed bitterly. He managed to get through, but it was clear after a year that he was -

Dick

And then he came to the Naval Observatory?

Westerhout

Then he came to the Naval Observatory. It was clear he had absolutely no physics. He had a degree from Harvard, an astronomy degree from Harvard. I thought, "Boy, there's a good guy!" Turned out he had absolutely no physics. Therefore, he started failing his physics courses. The handwriting was on the wall, so I think after one or two years he went to the Observatory. He was obviously good, all the things he did, but he was not for the University of Maryland. He might have succeeded at Georgetown eventually, because they didn't really require much in the way of physics. We required a lot of physics because I wanted to get modern people out who could go widely around and not just a guy who knew how to push a button to make a telescope run.

Dick

So how big was your graduate program? How many graduates came out of there in astronomy?

Westerhout

In the fifteen years that I was there, about forty Ph.D.s, I think.

Dick

Forty.

Westerhout

Something like that, plus a number of master's.

Dick

How many of those in radio astronomy? Woody Sullivan and Tom Kuiper and these people come to mind.

Westerhout

Yes.

Dick

You say you didn't particularly push radio astronomy.

Westerhout

No, but of course there was myself and Frank Kerr, who came in 1966, and so on. So there was quite a bit of work done. There were big research grants in radio astronomy. There were also big research grants in stellar atmospheres--Roger Bell, for example. Tom Matthews came from Cal Tech. He had a research grant in extragalactic things and so on. So there were students in all different walks of life. I would say of those forty, about twelve or fifteen were probably in radio astronomy. Jill Knapp is another example. Yes, about twelve or fifteen probably got their degree in radio astronomy. But that was partly due, I'm sure, to the fact that a few of the main characters in the department were in radio astronomy. That was not malice aforethought.

I tried to build up...I offered jobs to all sorts of people that I wanted to get, like Kahn in England and Kippenhahn in Germany, a high mucketymuck by now in German astronomy. They were little fellows then; they didn't want to come. I offered a job to Karl Heinz Böhm and his wife, both of them very established in Kiel. Karl Heinz wrote back and he says, "No. There's two reasons why I don't want to come. One, my old father. We can't leave Germany because of my old father. Second, it's too hot in America, and I like the rainy weather from Kiel." So four years later, he turns up, out of the blue, at Seattle, University of Washington. So I saw him at a meeting.

Dick

Well, it's rainier.

Westerhout

I said, "What the heck has happened to you? You wrote me at the time," and so on and so forth. He said, "Well, (a) my father died; and (b) Seattle, Washington, is the only place where it rains regularly." He remembered it exactly. He says, "But I feel ashamed that I never contacted you any more."

So we tried to get all sorts of people. We got a number of good people. Wentzel was an early attraction. Patrick Harrington in planetary nebulae, and so on. I did the rounds of universities, gave colloquia, advertised to schools about the program, just basically to get better faculty, more faculty, and to attract graduate students and so on and so forth.

Dick

That's probably still going strong, I take it.

Westerhout

That department is still going strong. However, they finally decided to separate from physics. I always thought that was wrong and I told them so, so they stopped coming to me for advice.

Dick

You thought they should or shouldn't?

Westerhout

They should not. I thought that the connections with physics were absolutely excellent--very good for the students, very good for the faculty.

Dick

Did you have any contact with the Naval Observatory during those years?

Westerhout

Yes.

Dick

You've already mentioned the telescope.

Westerhout

The telescope. I came here every now and then. I came to the colloquia, I went to dinner parties that Strand gave. The first few years we were invited to the Christmas parties. In those days, the Naval Observatory Christmas parties were very ornate affairs in the library, with the wives of the Superintendent and the department heads each serving tea for fifteen minutes, and it was an honor to serve tea out of the silver tea service. They would be sitting behind the table, serving the tea, and there were cookies. Then Santa Claus came. Oh, our children loved it, going to the Naval Observatory to see Santa Claus! That all went by the wayside, all went by the wayside, alas. It all had to be organized much better and so on. That was nice. And I met some of the Superintendents, you know. Strand would say, "I've got a new Superintendent. You should come and meet him." I'd come and meet the new Superintendent, talk with Clemence in his low, low voice. Clemence had a very low voice.

At one point I started hiring Seidelmann to give our course in celestial mechanics. Peter Musen at Goddard gave the course for a number of years, and he got too old, so I hired that young whippersnapper Seidelmann, and he's still doing it. It's now twenty years! He's been doing this for twenty years. Pretty good. That's the celestial mechanician, and people wanted to know why don't we hire. I mean, Musen wanted to be hired. Musen felt that he had been teaching celestial mechanics now for so long, there were several graduate students who got their Ph.D. under him in celestial mechanics, he should be hired. And I said, "Look. I do not want to hire a celestial mechanician. I want to offer courses, but I have a limited number of faculty positions, and that's not a field I want to go into." So he went to the dean. Of course, the dean couldn't do anything about that, because I knew the dean.

The dean comes to me and he says, "What the hell is this with Musen?" I said, "Well, I told him. Too bad." We do that here all the time. It's precisely the same in university environments. People are suddenly becoming obstreperous and so on and so forth.

Dick

Had you done any teaching at Leiden before you came to Maryland?

Westerhout

No, I did not have a teaching position. I was getting close to starting to do that, but I had done an enormous amount of lecturing. I was always on the lecture circuits for amateur astronomers. Once a month -

Dick

But the university environment was a new experience, aside from having been in one.

Westerhout

That's right. It was a new experience in...well, yes and no. It was a new experience. The close contact with all the physicists, that was quite new. I learned a lot of physics in those days, even though my Ph.D. is called astronomy and physics. I took a lot of physics courses in Leiden, but I got a lot of insight in what was happening in all the modern physics, because there were solid state guys and nuclear physics and solid state and high energy physicists and space physicists. Everybody was there. In fact, space physics...oh, yes, I forget. I completely forgot the famous Ernst Opik.

Dick

Irish.

Westerhout

Well, Estonian. Got his Ph.D. in Moscow State University in 1912 and lived in Estonia happily ever after until the Russians overran Estonia in 1944, and he moved out with the Germans, because he was staunch anti-Russian. He was part of the Estonian University in Hamburg for two years. I think he was director.

Dick

What was your connection with Opik?

Westerhout

My connection with Opik is that Fred Singer, who ran the space program at the University of Maryland, and built his own rockets, terrapin rockets...you know, the terrapin is the mascot of the [University of Maryland]...those were called terrapin rockets. The biggest one was about five, eight feet high. Launched rockets into the ionosphere. A university did that! Absolutely amazing. And he at one point got enamored by Opik in discussion, so he got Opik to come and spend half a year every year at Maryland, and that started in 1958, four years before I came. So I found Opik basically well ensconced and teaching a course in whatever he wanted to teach a course on. Sometimes it was meteors, sometimes it was all sorts of esoteric things. Unbelievable character. So he came every year, so he was part of the faculty in that sense. But he always remained part of the physics faculty, for some reason or another, and of course he didn't really want to participate in faculty meetings and so on. He was well in his seventies, but he was an interesting figure, and the students liked to talk to him.

If you could get along with Opik, he was a fantastic man. Absolutely everything he could talk about, and a lot of things he had written about long before they were invented. There have been a number of festschrifts published on him and long stories after his death which relate all the various things he worked and published in long before it was proper. He was extremely critical of all sorts of things and all sorts of people, and he and I clashed every now and again, you know. He, in fact, had a big run-in with Tom Van Flandern, too. He came to a colloquium here that Van Flandern gave and lit into Van Flandern, saying, "This is absolute baloney what you're saying because of such and such and this and this and that and that numbers." Van Flandern did not have any answers, because Opik, while Van Flandern gave the colloquium, had been making a whole lot of calculations on the back of an envelope. That was Opik--he did that.

Dick

It had to do with the varying value of G or something like that?

Westerhout

No, it had to do with Van Flandern's theory of the exploding planet between Mars and Jupiter, that one. Opik could show conclusively what sort of effects it had, and Van Flandern, in his usual enthusiasm, didn't want to believe that. I still remember that. That was interesting. That was when I was here already.

Dick

Should we move on to the Naval Observatory? Do you have anything more you want to say about Maryland? That was your second of three careers.

Westerhout

I think there's two things we must say about Maryland. In 1972, I sent a letter to the faculty and the students, saying, "I've been here ten years as head of the department. It's time somebody else takes over." I sent that letter to the dean also. That set up a search committee. Well, five days later, the dean got a letter and I got a copy, signed by all the graduate students and all the faculty, urging the dean not to accept my resignation. That was nice. That was really nice. I couldn't do anything else but stay on.

Unfortunately, three months later, the university started reorganizing. I was, of course, a member of the Senate and so on. We'd been talking about it. The university started reorganizing, and instead of all the college system, the College of Arts and Sciences, we were going to be divisions--five divisions. One of them was the Division of Physical Sciences and Engineering. Those had to be organized, so the president of the university appointed me to organize the Division of Physical Sciences and Engineering. So I spent a year organizing that division, and that was a major job, because I had to get the engineers in the engineering college to basically swear off their college and to collaborate with the physicists and the mathematicians. And engineers don't want to collaborate with physicists and mathematicians. The physicists were strong on one end, and the mathematicians were strong on yet another end. The computer scientists would get up and so on. So these were meetings that went on and on and on. It was very interesting.

Dick

Was this something you were in favor of? Did you think it was a good idea?

Westerhout

I thought it was a good idea. So basically we finally ended up with a constitution. That's where I really learned how to get people talk for a long time and finally have them talk out, and then you decide what it is that you want to do, which, of course, was what I wanted to do anyway, although I had learned a lot from all the discussions, and you basically make sure that Mr. So-and-so would be completely counteracted by Mr. So-and-so, who completely didn't agree with him. So these things would go back and forth. We'd have four-hour meetings once every three weeks or so, for three-quarters of a year. Then the draft went through many, many things. But that was finally hassled out.

Then I applied for sabbatical. I got a Humboldt Fellowship, a senior Humboldt Fellowship, which for reasons of the income tax people was tax-exempt because it was equivalent to the Nobel Prize. It was not for services rendered; it was entirely in recognition for what you had previously done. It was, of course, recommended by a person in Germany who then expected you to come and work there--in this case, Peter Metzger at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy. "Come and spend a year with us. Do whatever you damn well please, but come and spend a year with us." I could, in principle, have accepted it and then gone somewhere else.

Dick

But where did you go?

Westerhout

I went to Bonn, of course, to the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, in '73, more or less immediately after I had finished organizing that division. I remember I had applied for a sabbatical, I got that, that all went through the vice president, and then the president, whom I knew well, calls me in one day. He says, "Goddamn it, Gart. Gaylord (or whatever his name was) has approved your sabbatical. What sort of tricks are you pulling on me?"

I said, "What do you mean? I want to go on sabbatical. I've spent a whole year organizing this thing."

He said, "But didn't you know that you were going to be the chairman of the division?"

I said, "Well, in the first place, you never told me. In the second place, no way would I accept that appointment."

"Why not?" So we bandied that about for a while, and he says, "You double-crosser, you. You're going on sabbatical without telling me." Ha!

Dick

Why did you not want to accept that position?

Westerhout

Because the in-fighting was so enormous, that I decided that was not for me to now run those people. It's one thing to write a constitution, but to run that whole thing, I had had enough. So I again resigned from the department, and this time I went on sabbatical as well. I said, "I'm not coming back as head of the department, so you'd better find somebody else," which, of course, was easy, because Frank Kerr was the other senior faculty member, so he then became head of the department, and it was high time. So that was that little interlude. So I went to Bonn in 1973-'74, and we spent a whole year there.

Dick

Then you came back to Maryland and taught?

Westerhout

And taught and did all sorts of fun things, and was a faculty member until 1977. So then why did I come to the Naval Observatory?

Dick

Yes. We're coming to the end of this side [of the tape]. We have about two minutes left on this side. Why did you decide to leave the university position for a government position?

Westerhout

In the first place, I'd been teaching for fifteen years, and I sort of felt that I was getting a little bit stale. I also had the feeling that I wanted to sort of get into...I wasn't really actively looking for anything, to leave Maryland, but I was sort of open to thoughts. Then out of the blue, Kai Strand calls me and said, "You know I'm leaving."

I said, "Why the heck are you leaving?"

He says, "I'm seventy. I'll be seventy in February. I've got to retire."

I said, "You're not seventy." Strand looked fifty-five. He still looks young.

Dick

Now he looks seventy.

Westerhout

Now he looks seventy, and he's eighty-six. February he turned eighty-six.

So he says, "I think you should apply for the position."

I said, "Huh? I don't know any astrometry."

He says, "Come on."

So we talked a little bit, and I said, "Sure, I'll apply. Where do I apply?"

"At the Navy Yard," and so on.

So I sent a letter of application, like you do--a five-page letter of application of all the things I could do for the Naval Observatory, with my curriculum vitae, to the Navy Yard.

Well, three weeks later, Kai Strand said, "So you decided not to apply."

I said, "What? I did apply."

"You did? Well, they have no record of it. What did you do?"

I said, "Well..."

"Where did you send it?"

"I sent it to the Navy Yard, the address you gave me."

"What did you send?"

"I sent them a long letter."

He says, "And a Form 171?"

I said, "What's a Form 171?"

"Oh, my God!" says Strand. So Strand called the Navy Yard and told them to hold everything. I ran to a government institution on the Maryland campus, got a 171, filled it out, got into my car, and handed it to the CCPO man at the Navy Yard.

He says, "Oh, that's what Dr. Strand meant."

I said, "Did you ever get my letter?"

He says, "Yeah, we probably did."

Dick

They don't do anything with letters.

Westerhout

No. "We probably threw it out."

Dick

This is your first experience dealing with the government.

Westerhout

Isn't that a neat story?

Dick

This [tape] is at the end.

End Tape 2 Side A

Begin Tape 2 Side B

Dick

So you applied for the position at the Naval Observatory. This would have been in '76 or so?

Westerhout

No, '77. January of '77.

Dick

Did you have to come in for an interview then?

Westerhout

That then took off, as it does, when one tries to appoint people. It takes a long time. There was, of course, first a committee that had to look at those things. Then there was an interview, and the interview was about April. About three months after the applications were closed, they finally got around to the interview. In the meantime, Strand had left. He had to leave at the end of February, because the minute he turned seventy, he had to leave.

Dick

Do you know who any of your competitors were?

Westerhout

Yes, I know exactly who my competitors were: Seidelmann, Currie, and Lou Larrimore. Lou Larrimore was an ONR guy who was providing the Observatory with some 6.1 and 6.2 money. He simply thought, "Well, I might as well try." So those were the four. I don't know who else applied, but those are the four that were interviewed.

Dick

So a Scientific Director then was chosen by a committee consisting of -

Westerhout

No, it was chosen by the Superintendent.

Dick

On the advice of a committee.

Westerhout

And the committee consisted of a man again from ONR, Kosloff. Was he from ONR or from OP-08? I don't know anymore. But somewhere in the secretary's office, in the R&D area. Besides Larry Frederick, I do not even know who the other two were anymore; I've forgotten that. I'm sure that can be found...but Larry Frederick was there. And I walk in, and, you know, I'm always jovial. I walk into the conference room, and there's Larry Frederick sitting as a member. I said, without saying anything to anybody, I said, "What the hell are you doing here, Larry? Aren't you applying for this job?" They all started to laugh. Larry explained that, no, he was not applying for this job; he was a member of the committee. But, you know, I could do that. I walked right in there and said, "What the hell are you doing here?"

Dick

So who was the Superintendent at the time?

Westerhout

Smith. Joe Smith.

Dick

He was just finishing when I came in '79.

Westerhout

Joe Smith always says, "I hired Westerhout because he was a radio astronomer, and the Naval Observatory wanted to get into radio astronomy." Now, that was certainly true, the Naval Observatory wanted to get into radio astronomy, but I don't think that was really the reason why I was hired. I mean, I fulfilled all the requirements, I guess.

Dick

But that's interesting. That's one of the things I wanted to ask you. In general, did you have an agenda when you came, for what you wanted to do, to get done here?

Westerhout

No. No, I did not have an agenda. I simply decided, hey, here's the job of Scientific Director. What does it entail? Chief civilian, but not in charge of anything. Chief advisor to the Superintendent. Now, Strand was in charge of everything. He had slowly but surely, over the years, gotten his Position Description at the organization of the observatory changed so that he had the line of supervision over the department heads instead of the Superintendent. He used that craftily at the time of the big reorganization, the Black October in 1976, which fell upon poor Joe Smith's shoulders the minute he came in. He came in September, and in October, all these RIFs [Reduction in Force] were taking place and all that.

Dick

This was a reorganization instituted by Strand.

Westerhout

Instituted by Strand. Strand always maintains because he was forced to by the organization in the Navy, who wanted to get rid of a number of GS-16s. So Routly was demoted to a 14. The two transit circle departments were combined into one, that got rid of a second person. There Schombert was the senior man. Benny Klock was the junior man. So Schombert became it. Klock was a good friend of Strand's, and Strand figured that Klock would become head of the transit circle department. Well, Schombert became, because he was senior, so Klock was demoted to a 13. The position that Duncombe had, Duncombe had left just before. That was a 16. That was immediately downgraded to a 15. So basically the only 16 that was left was Winkler, and the Scientific Director, which wasn't a 16, but a PL-313, Public Law 313, which was sort of a leadership position.

Dick

They didn't call it SES [Senior Executive Service] in those days.

Westerhout

No. SES was established two years later, two or three years. I have a big certificate that I'm a plankowner of SES, one of the original SESs.

Dick

So when you came in, things were really in a...well, I don't know if you would say a chaotic state.

Westerhout

No, not anymore, because this was three-quarters of a year later. So everything had settled down. Schombert retired two months after Strand left. Talk about mean. Strand had fully expected Schombert to retire, but Schombert said, "No way for that bastard am I going to retire. I'm going to stay." And as a result, Klock got downgraded.

So one of my first tasks was to assist the Superintendent in making sure that Hughes became head of that new Transit Circle Department and not Klock, because that's what the Superintendent wanted. It turned out that the committee that interviewed the various people also came to that conclusion. That was not a pleasant task to be saddled with the minute I came in, because the committee met a month after I got here, and Smith was determined that his friend Jimmy Hughes--he called everybody Jimmy and Herbie and so on. He never got to me, because somehow or other "Garty" doesn't sound right, though that's what I was called when I was little.

Dick

Really?

Westerhout

Yes.

Dick

It would have sounded right to you, but it didn't to him.

Westerhout

Ken Seidelmann was Kenny. Gernot was always Gernot. Herbie was the fiscal officer. He just hired a fiscal officer finally, instead of a civilian.

Dick

So anyway, the position of the Scientific Director is, technically speaking, to advise the Superintendent.

Westerhout

Right. So the Superintendent changed to PD the minute Strand left, and took all those things out again that had slowly but surely crept in there.

Dick

Did you realize what you were getting into, though? Here you were coming from someplace where you were in charge, to someplace where you just said you're not in charge.

Westerhout

I liked it, actually. Strand, of course, started talking to me immediately and told me to start working on getting those rights back, because this was no way to do it. I said, "Look. In the first place, I want to look at it for a few years to find out whether it's really necessary, but for the time being, I like the idea of the buck stopping there and not on my desk. They can't blame me for anything that goes wrong. It's always the Superintendent." And I still enjoy that. It's interesting. It has worked.

In an interview like that, of course they ask you ... because they know damn well that here is a civilian, and how can he get along with the military. What do you do when the military says one thing, and you want to do it a different way? I said, "You advise him." I said that to them. I said, "You advise him exactly what he should do in such words that he strongly feels that it is his thoughts, and that Westerhout completely agrees with what he has suggested." And the whole room, particularly the military people, started laughing again. I said exactly the right thing, and, of course, that holds in a university, too. That holds in any capacity where you're advisory. You are not going to stomp your foot on the ground and say, "I want this done," because ten to one, the other person will then do just the opposite. You work together. You work together through gentle persuasion and so on, without ever stomping on the floor. And that has worked all these sixteen years.

I like the system. I like the system because in these sixteen years, the fact that there's a new Superintendent every three years has really kept me on my toes. It's kept me young, and it's provided me with new insights, new ideas. "Hey, he's got a neat management style. I'm going to do it that way." And, "He has a neat way of dealing with such and such and so and so."

Every Superintendent I have learned a lot from, even people like Vohden, who really didn't do much, but was still powerful enough that he could handle things, because the whole Van Flandern business happened during Vohden's years. I still remember one day Vohden says, "Come in. What's this about Van Flandern?"

I said, "He had a grievance." He wanted a grievance, but he wanted to aggrieve. He said, "I can handle Vohden." This was after Smith had left. So he came in to Vohden and he talked a little bit, and Vohden listened--how bad all this was, and he didn't get promoted and so on, and he earned it, and so on. Vohden says, "I hear your arguments, and they're all very good arguments. I really think you've got some powerful arguments. Why don't you go along the route that is established in the federal government? Submit a grievance. Start the grievance procedure."

Poor Van Flandern was completely deflated. After he'd been listened to so nicely and comments and so on, he was told, "Hey, submit a grievance." And that was Vohden. He would do these things extremely calmly. "What an idiot!" said Vohden after Van Flandern left, of course, but it was so pleasant and so nice. I thought, "Gee, what a powerful way of completely deflating an argument."

Eventually Van Flandern did aggrieve, and that took long years before it finished...but Van Flandern tried to change his PD. That's another little story for the record, and that's something I must give to you at some point. I think I still have the PD as written by Van Flandern and annotated by Captain Smith. One of the things, Van Flandern went to all the rules and regulations in the handbooks on how to write these, to try to get his PD up to a 13. Or was it a 14 that he wanted? I forget now. And his argument was, "I'm a branch head. If you don't give me a higher grade, all these poor people who are working for me won't get higher grades either. I must go first, and then we start working on the others." Misbegotten idea, of course. I mean, it wasn't "I" the whole observatory. Indeed, we later on set up a committee to institute...to look at all the grades, and then a whole number of people got increased, among them Harrington. We made sure that there was another person who got his higher grade first, rather than Van Flandern. But that's sort of a minor detail.

But Van Flandern felt that he was the greatest in the observatory and he should have a higher grade. So he wrote a PD, and Captain Smith would look at that. One time a draft appeared of the PD, and there it said that "Incumbent must be capable of doing research which might change the laws of physics." He was referring, of course, to his change in the constant of G. And Smith crossed that through with a red pencil and wrote in the sideline, "No employee of mine shall change the law of physics." Period. "Here at the Naval Observatory, we do no such thing." [Laughter] I have that somewhere. That's one of these little items of glory that you must never forget. "No employee of mine shall change the laws of physics."

Dick

You think the dual head, military/civilian head system works quite well.

Westerhout

I think it works quite well. You have to have a little bit of the nature in order to handle it. I'm sure there are people who couldn't handle it. But basically the people you see here, whether it's Winkler or myself or Seidlemann or someone, have not really too much problem. You sit there and complain bitterly with every Superintendent, because there are always things that you say, "Jesus! I would have done that differently." But that doesn't matter. In the end, something positive comes out.

A lot of people say, "My God, that Hagen!" But when you look at where we got under Hagen, we got a long way. Right in the beginning, Hagen got a number of the young people together and said, "I want ideas." Out of that came two things: the CCD on the 24-inch, which we invested money in, and Kammeyer's work on the satellites. Just getting the younger people to come up with ideas, that was really an initiative, and he started in with that relatively shortly after he came. He made a number of blunders, but in general he realized that there were a number of things completely wrong as far as rules and regulations were concerned, and they had to be set straight.

Before Hagen, we had one command inspection. Anawalt was inspecting. That was the first command inspection we ever had. We fell flat on our face, and Hagen inherited that, and was told in no uncertain terms, "You'd better do something."

So that's part of the deal. As time goes on, the oversight roles of all these various authorities have become stronger and stronger, and the Observatory simply couldn't get away with it. We've been trying to tell the staff that, but the staff always has the feeling that this bureaucracy comes from the Superintendent. Of course, the only thing the Superintendent can do is obey orders. We try to do it as easily as we can, but in the fifteen, sixteen years that I've been here, the number of rules and regulations that we have to obey have been...I mean, think only of our safety officer. When she started, we all thought, including her, that it was sort of ... in the beginning it might be full-time job for a little while, making sure that everything...and thereafter, she can do something else. Well, that was not the case, because as she became the safety officer, all those rules and regulations started mounting up and they became stronger and stronger.

Flagstaff began to notice that, so Flagstaff started asking to help with the safety officer. Before we had the safety officer, Flagstaff was inspected, and they sent an armored truck to carry away the little vial of radium that was there, and Ables made the mistake of mentioning, did they have any radioactivity--"Sure," says Ables, opening a cabinet. "There's my radium which we used to use to make very good calibration points in the photometers." You put a little dab of radium on there, and since it has a half-life of 4 billion years or so, that's a really nice light source, stays constant for God knows how long. Four billion years? Anyway, it has a very long life.

And they backed away, those guys, and Ables had to struggle for half a year to organize, get that stuff removed. At one point they wanted to send an armed convoy. He talked them out of that. You see, these were the people who knew it was radioactive, but they did not know the difference between one kind of radioactivity. These are radioactive rays that go right through your body. No, out of radium comes these little slow alpha particles that drift along. They don't go and shoot into your system at all. That's why you can handle radium without much trouble. And that's why radium is effective as radium treatment. People swallowed radium in the old days, because nothing gets destroyed. But that could not be clear. So that was long before we had the safety officer. I mean, Harold can tell you some things. Somehow or another, I don't know how we managed to stay out of all those inspections here for all those years. Long before we had the safety officer, we already had mercury-spill vacuum cleaners. That came in while I was here in the last fifteen years. They weren't there before; nobody ever thought of mercury as something dangerous. If you wiped it up, you wiped it under the floor or in the cracks, and that was that. Those mercury spill cleaners only came ten years ago or so on. As the rules get stronger and so on, you get more and more inspectors. Now we've got industrial hygienists who come around regularly.

Dick

Too much regulation.

Westerhout

Yes. As time goes on, every Superintendent had to establish more and stronger rules and regulations. Things went up. People have been wondering how the dickens did we get along with a resources management, a Fiscal Division, that was four-man strong, four or five. Five, I think. How did we do that? And the two answers to that: one, our budget was $5 million instead of $20 million.

Dick

When you came in.

Westerhout

Yes. And therefore the amounts that we purchased were sort of maybe 100 purchases per year. Now it's well over 1,000. And secondly, the rules and regulations, the checks and balances that are now required of a fiscal department are enormous, absolutely enormous. Absolutely every single thing had to be documented. One person cannot do two or three of the same things, and so on. That's why in Flagstaff, Betty Riepe is their fiscal person, but Fred Vrba is the controller of incoming documents, and Jeff Pier is the controller of outgoing documents, and somebody else. They have to distribute those things, and they have to keep...now, Flagstaff is a very small organization with very little in the way of procurements. They have $1,000 limit. So it's not that much. But they were again completely violating the law; they simply bought things. They had to start documents. So now they have filing cabinets full of things just for their one-dollar "Get a transistor for a dollar in Radio Shack on your way in." Well, Betty Riepe has to call the Radio Shack for a price quote, and has to record that duly in a recording book or something like that. Well, they streamlined all that. Nobody ever thought of those sort of things. They didn't here either.

Dick

Can we go back to '77? You mentioned that Smith said that he really wanted to get somebody in radio astronomy. Why did the Navy want somebody in radio astronomy?

Westerhout

Because in 1972-'73, Ken Johnston and Cam Wade, using the interferometer in Green Bank, had shown in a scientific paper that you could see the rotation of the Earth by looking at quasars. The accuracy was good enough that with that kind of a baseline, you could indeed see the rotation of the Earth. At the same time, Ryle and Ellsmore in England wrote a similar paper and did the same sort of thing. Some more experiments were done, and by 1976, the guys at NRL got together with the Naval Observatory guys--Winkler and McCarthy and so on--and formed a little committee trying to find out should we, the Naval Observatory, who has as its task to determine Earth's rotation with zenith tubes, shouldn't we look into doing this in the radio astronomy.

Dick

So this was in process before you came.

Westerhout

This was in process before I came. And that committee came out with a report in May of '77 or thereabouts, saying that it was indeed something that should be done. At that point, apparently they knew that I was going to be hired, so they sat down and waited and said, "Well, let Westerhout handle that."

So about three months after I arrived, and after having looked at that somewhat and tried to figure out what to do, Dave Heeschen told me that he was going to close the interferometer in Green Bank, because the VLA was slowly but surely getting built, and he says, "Another year and we won't need the interferometer anymore. Moreover, I don't have any money for it." And it just sort of came without Dave having any idea that we were interested. So I looked at it, and I talked to Ken Johnston, I talked to all sorts of people, and we said, "God, the amount of money we're going to save!" This was just when we were beginning to think, "How can we POM for that? How can we put this in the budget to acquire two radio telescopes to form an interferometer with a baseline of a few kilometers? Can we do it at Maryland Point? Can we use the Maryland Point antenna and another one that we put somewhere?" Maryland Point is the NRL radio astronomy place. And so on. So there suddenly comes a big interferometer falling in our lap--no capital expense.

So Joe Smith and I started doing the rounds with briefings, up and down the line, up to all sorts of guys in the various OP codes in the Pentagon. We got as far as the under secretary of the Navy for R&D. We briefed her; it was a she at the time, Ruth Davis. Ruth Davis had an assistant by the name of Admiral Ross William's, and there was a number of people in the room there. Ruth Davis was enthusiastic, said, "This is neat. Absolutely we should do that. Ross, make sure it gets done." So, "Yes, madam." Later on, of course, Ross became the Oceanographer of the Navy, which is kind of interesting. I saw him in an earlier incarnation. So when Ross came here, he already knew everything about what we were doing in Green Bank, which is nice.

Still nothing happened. Heeschen at one point started handing out pink slips to his personnel. His personnel wrote to Senator Bird. Senator Bird wrote to the secretary of the Navy, "I understand that the Navy is very interested, but my people are being put on the street. Why can't the Navy do something about it?"

Dick

That got things moving!

Westerhout

That got things moving. Actually, it took a second letter from the senator. They still sat on it, because although they all said, "Yes, absolutely," nobody knew how completely outside the budget process you could handle that. So finally the assistant secretary for R&D, the boss of the Ruth Davis lady, because Ruth Davis wrote a memo which she sent around to many, which I'd gotten a copy of only three years later, somebody handed me a copy of that, about how great an idea this was and this must be funded and so on.

Finally, in order to get the senator off his back, the under secretary for acquisition and R&D, to whom ONR and the Office of Naval Technology report, so he had those in his pocket, rather than CNO, he said to ONR and to NOT, "You each pay Westerhout $225,000."

So both ONR and NOT told me the next morning, "We've been ordered to give you all $225,000. What for?" So then we had to go brief ONR and NOT, because they weren't taking that lying down, of course, but the money was there suddenly; 450K is what we needed.

So Heeschen withdrew his pink slips, and we started negotiations first with NRAO, but pretty soon the NSF said, "Wait a second. You can't negotiate with NRAO. NRAO is a contractor. You have to negotiate with us." So we negotiated with the NSF. In reality, we negotiated with NRAO for a memorandum of understanding (MO).

Dick

Because NSF was funding NRAO. Right.

Westerhout

NRAO was told, "No way." Since ours was the first time that somebody from outside ... NRAO had no idea that they couldn't do that. Of course, the negotiations were still between NRAO and us, and I still remember this was between Ted Riffe, who was their administrative officer at NRAO--associate director for administration or whatever. Jim Desmond is his successor. And of course I knew the people in Green Bank since 1959. I knew everybody intimately, all these people. So he had instructions, Ted Riffe, from Dave Heeschen, "Now make sure that they don't send the Marines. We don't want to have anything to do with the military," and this, that, and the other.

So these discussions, these debates, they went...aarrgghh...and there were the two NSF guys sitting in there every now and again, cringing. "Jesus, these guys are arch enemies." And the one day that we really hammered everything out, when the day's affairs were finished and we were miles apart, we said, "Now let's have a drink." So we went to a local bar somewhere in Washington and had a drink, and we chatted about old times. Larry Randall later said to me, "I thought you were going to kill that guy. It seems you know him very well."

I said, "Yeah, we're very good friends."

He said, "I've never seen good friends discuss things in that heated a manner."

I said, "Hey, we both represent different bosses."

Dick

What was the most contentious issue?

Westerhout

There wasn't really much in the way of contentiousness other than they didn't trust us that we weren't going to classify it, and they wanted all sorts of statements in there that, "We shall not put Navy guards in there," and so on. We didn't want that. We finally settled on the statement that NRAO or NSF does non-classified work and has free and complete access to the site by all comers, and the Navy has to obey that. And that we were willing to do. And now we are negotiating a new MOU for the clock, which does have a classified component in there. Hey, that's understood. I mean, there was nothing really, but, you know, everybody was standing on his...but that was a nice MOU, actually, that we negotiated. It worked for ten years and then we changed it a little bit, and it's still going.

Dick

So radio interferometry then began in '77, '78 at Green Bank?

Westerhout

In September of '78.

Dick

For the Naval Observatory.

Westerhout

October of '78. Right.

Dick

And that program continues, so that's been a very successful program.

Westerhout

Very successful.

Dick

And has increased the accuracies of the Earth's rotation work by what amount, would you say?

Westerhout

Well, the Green Bank interferometer changed it by about a factor of ten over the PZTs, the photographic zenith tubes, that we used before.

Dick

But the photographic zenith tubes were still used?

Westerhout

Were still in use as a backup. Basically we used those as a backup.

Dick

Until what year or so ago?

Westerhout

About five years ago.

Dick

But the big one was just put out of commission.

Westerhout

That was an R&D instrument. It was never used for Earth's rotation as such.

Dick

Then you went to VLBI.

Westerhout

Yes. In '83, NOAA started attempting to use VLBI to do that, and tried to convince us to immediately abandon Green Bank and go in with them for VLBI. We're always looking for backups, so we said, "No, we're not going to abandon Green Bank until we really get good VLBI data." So we collaborated. We jointly operated the Polaris network of NOAA, which consisted of the dish in Richmond, Florida, which belonged to them, and a telescope belonging to Harvard in Texas--Fort Davis--and the Westford telescope in Massachusetts. That was the Polaris network, and we collaborated by running the Richmond station.

Dick

So the dish at our Richmond station belongs to NOAA?

Westerhout

Belonged to NOAA. It's down; it's gone.

Dick

Destroyed in Hurricane Andrew.

Westerhout

In fact, that dish was built by the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism of the Carnegie Institution of Washington by Merle Tuve in 1958 or 1960, in Rockville, a big empty lot that they had there. Slowly but surely, Rockville grew into it, and finally there was no way that that land could be maintained, so they wanted to get rid of the dish, and it was basically sitting there, surplus. At that point, NOAA was trying to figure out, "How the dickens can we get a dish?" So I sent them to DTM, and they tore down the dish and built it up again in Richmond. So that's where that dish came from, the 1958 dish. It was built by Howard Tatel, who designed an 85-foot dish of that type for the DTM. Then the DTM didn't have the money, so they scaled it down to 60-feet, and they could build a 60-foot antenna. At the same time his 85-foot design was taken by NRAO and by the University of Michigan, and two of those dishes were built almost simultaneously.

So the VLBI started then getting results in the '85-'86 time frame. At that time, or even earlier, we started negotiating with the four agencies to build a correlator here. That was NASA, NRL, NOAA, and ourselves. We pooled our money and we built a correlator here, and our main contribution was the location, the installation, the heat and the power, the whole kit and caboodle.

Dick

And the purpose of the correlator is to correlate tapes.

Westerhout

The tapes. It's absolutely necessary for VLBI. Before that, they were all correlated at the Haystack Observatory in Massachusetts, where there is another correlator. This one was built by them.

Dick

And there are not very many correlators around.

Westerhout

There's a third one in Bonn, Germany. Now NRAO is in the process of finishing one for the big VLBA, of course. There are other correlators of lesser magnitude in a few places. Cal Tech built one, the Japanese have one that they built themselves. But there are only three correlators of this type, and then the fourth one built by NRAO with a lot of advice from the Haystack people. So that then got us into VLBI. By 1988, after having done ten years in Green Bank, it became clear that VLBI was again almost an order of magnitude better.

Dick

Than Green Bank.

Westerhout

Than Green Bank. There is an interesting graph that they showed for a while. Green Bank's Earth rotation data would sort of have wiggles as a function of time. It would go...you could see the Earth fluctuating over periods, but sometimes there were wiggles that only lasted ten or fifteen days, and we were forever looking what sort of loose contacts in the receiver might cause that. Then the first VLBI data came, which were that much better. They fitted right on top of that. All that thing that we thought was noise or systematic errors was real. That gave us an enormous amount of faith in what we had done previously in Green Bank, but at the same time it showed that VLBI was that much better. There was then a period to verify that indeed VLBI basically started giving the same results, and finally then in '88, we decided to stop using the interferometer.

Dick

In Green Bank.

Westerhout

In Green Bank. Well, the senator heard that. So he wrote a letter, and Admiral Seesholtz was called on the mat, and Admiral Seesholtz came back and says, "Goddamn it, what have you gotten me into now? And what can we do about it? Because I had to promise them I would stay in Green Bank." So that's what he did. I said, "Look. That thing won't be used anymore. We have to get into VLBI." So we got $1.5 million to get into VLBI, and that's how our VLBI took off. One of the dishes in Green Bank was used for VLBI, and so on and so forth.

Dick

So that's the way it stands now?

Westerhout

That's the way it stands now. We are still operating the interferometer on behalf of NRL. That is going to stop at the end of this fiscal year. The old computer and all is still used. The interferometer is used continuously, day and night, to measure the brightness of sixty or seventy quasars. And in that, quite a number of these interstellar scintillation events have been found, where at the higher frequency, where the ionized gas in some disturbance in the interstellar medium becomes rather opaque, it's like a...what do you call it? Occulting star--goes down and up again. The frequency that is three times lower, where it's not opaque but it scatters, the star comes in and starts doing that. From those combinations, the NRL group could calculate the size of the objects given the idea of where they are, and, of course, it became clear that they must be interstellar. These are tiny little interstellar clouds of maybe a few light minutes across or so, very much smaller than the solar system--little things that drift through. Try and figure out their speed and so on, Tony Hewish from Cambridge helped with that early analysis. Quite a few more of those events have been found; scientifically it's very interesting.

The other thing--and that's why we have so far felt that we could support it--is that it keeps track of what quasars are doing. Some quasars sort of peter out, and that usually goes together with changes in the shape or the structure. So any quasar that's on our program of determining the precise rotation of the Earth, any of those quasars that starts doing something funny is immediately studied with VLBI and VLBA and so on, to try and find out has its structure changed, and a thing like that is then thrown out of the program. We put a new one in.

Dick

But the Green Bank interferometer will be closed down at the end of this fiscal year?

Westerhout

Yes, because we simply don't have the money anymore. Now, it may well be that Ken Johnston will dig up the money, but I don't think he will.

Dick

But Byrd won't complain now because there's a VLBI dish there at least.

Westerhout

There is a VLBI dish. The interferometer was only a small fraction of the money. Now, in '89, the senator started agitating that he wanted more presence of the Navy in Green Bank, and we couldn't get out from under that either. We kept saying, "We don't want it," but at that time it was the oceanographer's staff that was called by the senator, so they had to reply. We provided several options, you know. I was bold enough to ask for $1 million to...and I forget what that was. The word came back, "No, no, no, no, no. At least $10 million." So with $10 million, we decided to put a clock there and a new VLBI antenna, a modern one, rather than the crummy old one we are using now. That was accepted. However, halfway through that deal, the senator suddenly decided that there should be a building, a joint operations building. He got that from Green Bank employees who started agitating, getting more money out of the Navy. That will really keep the Navy there.

So $5.4 million of MILCON (Military Construction) money was provided to the Navy in FY '92, and $10 million of OPM money for the acquisition of a clock and a VLBI antenna, with all bells and whistles. That's what we're now building. The bids for the big joint operations building to be built by the Navy at NRAO, as an addition to the Jansky Lab, will be opened on the twentieth of April or something, and they'll start building.

Beautiful! You've never seen such a beautiful clock vault in your life. Unbelievable! I mean, everything stabilized, dual or triple redundancy in the air-conditioning systems and whatnot. It's really nice. One of the last things that we discovered, that everything was duplicated in the air-conditioning system except the pipes. So if one condenser failed, another would immediately take over and everything. If one pipe failed, everything was shut down. So all the pipes are doubled. The whole system is duplicated.

Dick

What will go in the clock vault then?

Westerhout

Twelve hydrogen masers and about twenty cesiums. When you've got $5 million for a clock, you can buy a lot of hydrogen masers.

Dick

So why do you still need the Richmond station, then?

Westerhout

Ah! Now! Now we're talking modern astronomy, right? That's what the current struggle is, the captain and I, have been working on particularly hard this week, because there are people who feel we don't need the Richmond station. The Richmond station has two purposes: one, it contains the staff and the equipment that monitors, that can monitor and does monitor, all time systems, including GPS. There's a classified GPS receiver there. That has the capability of transferring time by satellite to other organizations, that has a master clock which, now that we have the satellite connection, we are slowly but surely getting to be exactly at the same time as our master clock here. Green Bank will have the same, but most importantly, the organization has the expertise to take over in case there's a gas explosion in the Time Service Building and Winkler and Klepczynski and Wheeler and Schmidt and all these guys crap out. Somebody has to immediately be able to take over. We must have a staff away from Washington that can do that.

Dick

Why don't you just take it to Green Bank?

Westerhout

An experienced staff. So you take that staff to Green Bank. All right. That costs you $310,000 for the move, and you save, because you don't need the one guy that's needed to operate the VLBI antenna, it saves you 50K. So the argument is, why should you take them to Green Bank. It costs you more money. Annually it can save you 50K. And we have not quite made it understood yet that -

End Tape 2 Side B

Citation

Papers of Gart Westerhout, “Interview with Gart Westerhout on 5 March 1993,” NRAO/AUI Archives, accessed May 25, 2024, https://www.nrao.edu/archives/items/show/15322.