HomeFinding Aids to the CollectionsFinding Aid to the Records of The National Radio Astronomy Observatory, 1951-Timeline of NRAO History

Timeline of NRAO History

1933-1955 1956-1965 1966-1975 1976-1985 1986-1995 1996-2005 2006-2015 2016-


Jansky Antenna 5 May 1933 Karl G. Jansky's detection of radio waves from the center of the Milky Way announced in a front page article in The New York Times.
Summer 1937 Grote Reber constructs first radio telescope in Wheaton, IL; completed in September 1937
1940 Reber publishes Cosmic Static papers in Journal and Proceedings of the Institution of Radio Engineers.
26-27 December 1953 American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston includes review papers on radio astronomy.
4-7 January 1954 Washington Conference on Radio Astronomy discusses status of radio astronomy in the US.
3 May 1954 Conference convened by AUI President Lloyd Berkner marks first formal association of AUI with the Radio Astronomy Project. Berkner proposes asking NSF for money; ad hoc committee established.
26 July 1954 First meeting of the ad hoc committee. Berkner and R.M. Emberson present research proposal to be made to the NSF for a grant of $105,000 to support a feasibility study of a national radio astronomy facility.
13 January 1955 NSF advises AUI that $85,000 has been granted for purpose described in the proposal.
8 February 1955 AUI receives funds granted on 13 January by NSF and begins active work. Emberson named Acting Director of project; ad hoc committee becomes Steering Committee. Search for site begins.
28 May 1955 Steering Committee reviews specifications for RFPs for 140 foot telescope and larger (up to 600 foot) telescope.
11 October 1955 NSF advises AUI of a new $140,500 grant for the support of a program for the establishment of a radio astronomy facility.
13 December 1955 After extensive review of sites, Steering Committee recommends Green Bank, WV.


March 1956 By end of March 1956, AUI has acquired purchase options, running for one year, covering 6,200 acres in the Green Bank valley. Total purchase price called for by options is $502,000.
9 August 1956 West Virginia Radio Astronomy Zoning Act becomes first legislation in the world intended specifically to protect basic research.
17 November 1956 Alan Waterman, Director of the NSF, and Lloyd Berkner, President of AUI, sign the NSF/AUI agreement establishing NRAO with AUI as the managing agency; Berkner becomes Acting Director of the NRAO.
14 May 1957 Offices open on Green Bank site with move of temporary AUI office from Marlinton, WV.
17 October 1957 Dedication of Observatory in Green Bank.
Summer 1958 12 Foot antenna begins observations. Construction begins on 85 Foot Telescope and Calibration Horn Antenna, and on the works area building.
14 August 1958 Groundbreaking for the 140 Foot Telescope.
16 October 1958 Dedication of the Howard E. Tatel 85 Foot Telescope.
16 October 1958 Grote Reber arrives in Green Bank to oversee reassembly of his Wheaton antenna at the entrance to the Green Bank site.
19 November 1958 The National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ) was established by the Federal Communications Commission to minimize possible harmful interference to the NRAO in Green Bank, WV and to the radio receiving facilities for the US Navy in Sugar Grove, WV.
Summer 1959 First NRAO summer student program.
July 1959 Works area building occupied, the first completed new building on the Green Bank site.
Tatel Telescope 13 February 1959 First observations with Tatel 85 Foot Telescope.
1 July 1959 Otto Struve becomes first NRAO Director.
October 1959 Residence Hall and Jansky Laboratory buildings completed and occupied in Green Bank. First observations made with the Calibration Horn Antenna.
March 1960 Absolute flux measurements of Cas A begin with Calibration Horn Antenna.
Project Ozma equipment 11 April 1960 First observations for Project OZMA.
October 1960 300 foot transit telescope concept chosen.
27 April 1961 Groundbreaking for 300 Foot Telescope.
1 December 1961 Otto Struve resigns as Director. David S. Heeschen becomes Acting Director.
17 December 1961 J.L. Pawsey appointed as Director, effective 1 October 1962; because of ill health he is unable to take up the position and dies on 30 November 1962.
March 1962 Observations begin with 40 Foot Telescope.
21 September 1962 Test observations begin with 300 Foot Telescope.
1 October 1962 300 Foot Telescope operational with continuum receivers for 750 and 1400 mc.
19 October 1962 David S. Heeschen becomes Director.
1962 Beginning of millimeter-wave radio astronomy at NRAO: Funding request for a telescope of ~30 feet in diameter made in 1962; request approved by NSF for inclusion in FY1964 budget.
1963 First digital autocorrelator built; used on 85 Foot Tatel Telescope.
1963 Panel on Astronomical Facilities of National Academy of Sciences (NAS), headed by A.E. Whitford, meets with D.S. Heeschen.
February 1964 Completion of 85-2 construction (cabling to connect 85-1 and 85-2 still to be done by NRAO).
1 June 1964 First observations with 2-element interferometer, fringes observed on 3C 273.
June 1964 Construction of Jansky antenna replica at entrance to Green Bank site completed.
2 December 1964 Excavation for new Charlottesville building begins.
1964 Ground-Based Astronomy: A Ten-Year Program report prepared by the Panel on Astronomical Facilities (Whitford Panel) for the Committee on Science and Public Policy of the NAS recommends what becomes the VLA: "A very large high-resolution pencil-beam array with low sidelobes to be constructed as a national facility."
February 1965 140 Foot Telescope construction completed.
11 February 1965 NSF gives final approval to locate 36 Foot Telescope on Kitt Peak.
23 May 1965 First observations with 140 Foot Telescope made by S. von Hoerner, measuring occultations of radio sources by the moon at 234, 256 and 405 Mc.
June 1965 Foundation on Kitt Peak completed for 36 Foot Telescope.
13 October 1965 Dedication of 140 Foot Telescope in Green Bank.
20 December 1965 NRAO takes occupancy of new building in Charlottesville. By the end of January 1966 the Director's office, library and part of the scientific staff will have transferred from Green Bank.


26 May 1966 36 Foot reflector on Kitt Peak laid on its mounting.
Fall 1966 VLA Design Group begins work.
1967 First use of independent oscillator-tape recording interferometry with widely spaced antennas between the 140 Foot antenna in Green Bank and the NRL Maryland Point antenna (VLBI).
January 1967 Two-volume VLA proposal submitted to NSF. The third volume was added to the proposal in January 1969.
May 1967 36 Foot Telescope is turned over to NRAO by the manufacturer.
Green Bank interferometer Spring 1967 Three element interferometer completed in Green Bank, enabling aperture synthesis observations.
14 August 1967 NSF's Advisory Panel on Radio Astronomy Facilities (the Dicke Panel) concluded it was too soon to decide on the exact form a very large array should take. The VLA proposal was promising, and the NRAO should concentrate "extensively on phase-coherent radio astronomical research at a resolution of 1 sec of arc or better to show conclusively the expected tremendous stride forward that should result from a very large array with this resolution."
36 Foot January 1968 36 Foot Telescope begins operation on Kitt Peak.
January 1968 First international VLBI observations, between 140 Foot and Onsala, Sweden.
June 1969 Dicke Panel reconvenes; recommendations include beginning VLA construction.
October 1969 NSF requests that Bureau of the Budget include $2M to initiate construction of the VLA. The request was received too late in the budget cycle and is not included.
December 1969 Greenstein Committee advocates start of VLA in 1971.
9 June 1970 Resurfacing of 300 Foot Telescope begins in Green Bank.
Spring 1971 Greenstein Committee final report names VLA as its highest priority.
1972 Publication of Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 1970s, vol 1: Report of the Astronomy Survey Committee (Greenstein Committee), recommending the VLA as top priority astronomy project for 1970s.
August 1972 Congress approves VLA project.
8 November 1972 RFP for 28 VLA antennas issued to 10 companies.
1 January 1973 VLA construction project begins operations as a division of NRAO.
March 1973 Operations begin with the 4th element of the Green Bank interferometer, a remotely-located 45 Foot antenna.
April 1973 VLA field office established in Magdelena, NM; VLA construction begins.
18 October 1973 E-Systems, Inc. awarded subcontract to design and fabricate the VLA antennas.
2 November 1973 NRAO takes possession of central VLA site.
1974 Introduction of cryogenic Schottky diode mixers for radio astronomy.
30 January 1974 E-Systems, Inc. awarded subcontract to design and fabricate transporter no. 1.
May 1974 NRAO-Tucson moves to offices on Forbes Blvd., having outgrown previous offices in a storefront on Campbell Ave. and in the basement of Kitt Peak National Observatory building on Cherry Ave.
31 March 1975 Service Building and Antenna Assembly Building completed at VLA site.
May 1975 VLA project personnel move from Charlottesville to VLA site and offices in Socorro, NM.
13 August 1975 Land acquisition of Wye completed.
VLA 22 September 1975 Antenna no. 1 and antenna transporter no. 1 accepted.
24 October 1975 First observations by antenna no. 1: Venus and 3C273 at 1.3 cm and Virgo A at 6 cm.


18 February 1976 VLA antennas 1 and 2 obtain first fringes with 1.24 km baseline.
June 1976 Asynchronous computer and 13 employees move from Charlottesville to NM.
18 October 1976 Four-element array of VLA antennas obtains first fringes.
July 1977 25-Meter Telescope for Millimeter Wavelengths: proposal submitted to NSF.
June 1978 Formal announcement in Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, vol. 10, no. 1: the VLA is open for scientific proposals.
1 October 1978 David S. Heeschen ends term as Director; Morton S. Roberts becomes Director.
1 October 1978 The Green Bank Interferometer ceases to run as an NRAO user instrument and is taken over by the USNO to monitor earth rotation and polar motion.
March 1979 Creation of FITS (Flexible Image Transport System), the standard data interchange format used by most astronomical software.
July 1979 Work begins on writing AIPS software.
9 November 1979 Final VLA antenna, no. 28, accepted from E-Systems.
1980 First use of cryogenic field-effect transistor (FET) amplifiers.
January 1980 First use of self-calibration for VLA images.
28 August 1980 VLA used as a portion of VLBI network.
VLA dedication 10 October 1980 VLA dedication.
November 1980 First AIPS (Astronomical Image Processing Software) release to general users.
VLA 22 January 1981 All 27 VLA antennas working in the A configuration.
24 March 1981 First meeting of Working Group to upgrade 36 Foot.
1982 Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 1980s, vol. 1: Report of the Astronomy Survey Committee (Field Committee) recommends the VLBA as #2 priority astronomy project for the 1980s.
April 1982 Astronomy Advisory Committee votes against support of 25-meter millimeter wave telescope.
VLBA May 1982 Proposal to construct and operate VLBA (Very Long Baseline Array) submitted to NSF.
June 1982 First synthesis imaging workshop held in Socorro, NM.
15 July 1982 36 Foot Telescope closes for resurfacing and upgrade to 12 meter.
August 1982 VLA remote observing via dial-up lines.
1983 First US community science workshops on the design of a synthesis array for millimeter-wave astronomy; workshops continue thorough 1989.
16 April 1983 VLA Visitor Center dedicated.
12 Meter 17 January 1984 First observations with 12 Meter Telescope.
September 1984 NRAO-Tucson offices relocate from Forbes Blvd. to University of Arizona Astronomy Dept. building's new addition.
30 September 1984 Morton S. Roberts ends term as Director.
1 October 1984 Hein Hvatum becomes Acting Director.
1 January 1985 Paul A. Vanden Bout becomes Director.
January 1985 Decision to build a combined VLA/VLBA operations center in Socorro.
March 1985 NASA Voyager Project work begins. The VLA will be used with Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Deep Space Network in Goldstone, CA to track NASA's Voyager encounter with Neptune in August 1989.
May 1985 Initial VLBA construction funds released.


VLBA February 1986 Construction on first VLBA antenna begins at Pie Town, NM.
September 1987 The US Naval Observatory stops using the Green Bank Interferometer for monitoring earth rotation and polar motion. Two elements of the Interferometer (85-1 and 85-2) continue operation for monitoring extragalactic and galactic variable sources for the Naval Research Laboratory.
AOC construction September 1987 Array Operations Center construction begins in Socorro, NM.
October 1987 First observations made with partially completed VLBA.
1988 Introduction of niobium superconductor-insulator-superconductor (SIS) mixers for radio astronomy.
300 Foot collapse 15 November 1988 300 Foot Telescope collapses.
8 December 1988 Dedication of Array Operations Center, Socorro, NM.
January 1989 The 85-3 telescope begins operation as part of the USNO VLBI array, and also begins pulsar monitoring as a backup project.
July 1989 Green Bank Telescope (GBT) design funds received.
24 August 1989 Telemetry from Voyager Neptune flyby received by VLA.
July 1990 Proposal for the Millimeter Array (MMA) submitted to the NSF.
December 1990 GBT construction funds received.
GBT groundbreaking 1 May 1991 Groundbreaking for the GBT.
May 1991 The Decade of Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics: Report of the Astronomy Survey Committee (Bahcall Committee) recommends the MMA as #1 priority ground-based astronomy project for the 1990s.
1 July 1991 On-site heavy construction for GBT begins.
VLBA April 1993 Construction finished on 10th and final VLBA antenna on Mauna Kea, HI.
29 May 1993 First observations made with all 10 VLBA stations.
20 August 1993 VLBA dedication.
November 1994 National Science Board (NSB) approves a project development plan for the MMA and endorses further planning.
February 1995 The new USNO 20-meter telescope begins operation for the USNO earth monitoring program; 85-3 continues monitoring of pulsars.
May 1995 Completion of 45 Foot Telescope GB Earth Station, funded by NASA as part of their support of OVLBI.


1996 Design of single-chip balanced and sideband-separating SIS mixers.
March 1996 Green Bank Interferometer closes for lack of funding.
June 1996 NASA contracts with NRAO to design and build amplifiers for the Microwave Anisotropy Probe (MAP) later renamed Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP).
November 1996 The GBI starts up again, run by a cooperative agreement between NRAO, NASA, NRL and USNO, observing mostly galactic variable sources.
12 June 1997 VLBI Space Observatory Programme (VSOP) first fringes with the VLBA.
May 1998 National Science Board authorizes the expenditure of $26M for a three-year MMA design and development program.
October 1998 Operations begin from expanded Jansky Lab in Green Bank.
June 1999 NSF signs Memorandum of Understanding with European institutions for a joint design and development phase of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), a project that joins the MMA with the European Large Southern Array project.
19 July 1999 140 Foot Telescope in Green Bank closes as an NRAO user facility.
May 2000 Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium, the 2001 report of the National Research Council Board on Physics and Astronomy (McKee/Taylor Committee) reaffirms the recommendations of the 1991 decadal committee by endorsing "the completion of the Millimeter Array (MMA; now part of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array)". The report also recommends the EVLA as one of the major initiative priorities for the coming decade.
26 July 2000 12 Meter Telescope closes as NRAO user facility; University of Arizona begins operation of telescope.
22 August 2000 "First light" with the GBT.
GBT dedication 25 August 2000 Dedication of the GBT.
6 October 2000 Operation of the Green Bank Interferometer ends.
November 2000 EVLA Phase I proposal submitted to NSF.
November 2001 US Congress appropriates $12.5 million to initiate construction of ALMA.
15 November 2001 National Science Board approves construction of EVLA Phase I.
1 June 2002 Paul A. Vanden Bout ends term as Director; W. Miller Goss named Interim Director.
1 September 2002 Fred K.Y. Lo becomes Director.
May 2003 NRAO Science Center opens in Green Bank, providing science exhibits and teaching space.
6 November 2003 Groundbreaking at the 2900m altitude site of the ALMA Camp, future site of the Operations Support Facility near San Pedro de Atcama, Chile.
1 November 2004 Celebration of the opening of Joint ALMA Office, Santiago, Chile.
2 December 2004 EVLA first fringes.
14 January 2005 GBT and VLBA observe the Huygens Probe descent to Titan, providing ground-based observations of velocity during the probe's descent through Titan's atmosphere.
April 2005 Addition to NRAO's Edgemont Rd. building in Charlottesville completed. The North American ALMA Science Center moves into the new space.
11 July 2005 NSF authorizes AUI representatives to sign a contract with General Dynamics, Inc. for the construction of up to 32 ALMA production antennas, the initial 25 to cost $169 million.
ALMA October 2005 Groundbreaking for the Technical Building at the 5000m altitude Array Operations Site of ALMA.


2 March 2007 First fringes with two ALMA prototype antennas at the ALMA Test Facility in New Mexico.
3 September 2007 First pointing observations after successful completion of Green Bank Telescope azimuth track repairs.
19 December 2008 First ALMA production antenna, built by Mitsubishi Electric Company, conditionally accepted by the ALMA Project.
6 February 2009 ALMA Director Thijs de Graauw and the NA ALMA Project Director Adrian Russell sign the conditional acceptance agreement for the first Vertex Antenna.
30 September 2011 At 1700 UT, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) officially begins early science observations in northern Chile.
31 March 2012 The Very Large Array (VLA), with new state-of-the-art electronics and software, is rededicated as the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (JVLA), honoring the founder of radio astronomy.
18 May 2012 Fred K.Y. Lo ends term as Director; Anthony Beasley becomes Director.
13 March 2013 ALMA is inaugurated after nearly three decades of planning, engineering and construction.
20 July 2015 The Green Bank Telescope will be one of two radio telescopes participating in $100 million Breakthrough Listen project, the biggest scientific search ever undertaken for signs of intelligent life beyond earth.


1 October 2016 New 10-year agreement between NSF and AUI for operation of the JVLA, the North American share of ALMA and NRAO's development laboratories and administrative and management functions. The GBT and VLBA, formerly NRAO instruments, are now independent facilities known as the Green Bank Observatory (GBO) and the Long Baseline Observatory (LBO), with AUI managing both the GBO and LBO for NSF under separate cooperative agreements.
17 November 2016 Management Agreement Concerning Operations of ALMA signed by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), AUI and ESO.
7 September 2017 Astronomers embark on the VLA Sky Survey (VLASS) which will produce the sharpest radio view ever made of about 80% of the entire sky, and is expected to detect 10 million distinct radio-emitting celestial objects, about four times as many as are now known.
13 September 2017 NSF provides $11M in FY2018 funding to support design/development activities focused on the Next Generation Very Large Array (ngVLA).
23 October 2018 VLBA is reintegrated into NRAO.
27 May 2021 Agreement signed with mtex antenna technology GmbH of Germany to develop a production-ready design and produce the prototype 18 meter antenna for the Next Generation Very Large Array (ngVLA).
9 August 2021 NSF awards $23 million to NRAO for design and development work on the Next Generation Very Large Array (ngVLA), including producing a prototype antenna.
25 July 2023 NSF approves the ngVLA project to enter the NSF Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction (MREFC) review process, signaling strong and technical promise and growing project readiness.