Mission Number Three: STEM Education and Research
After several years of inactivity at the site, the government decided to dismantle the facility and let it return to the forest. Recognizing the tremendous value and potential for the site, Don and Jo Cline decided to rescue the campus and use it to help educate future generations of young scientists. The Clines reside in Greensboro and have been active for many years in supporting astronomy and science programs at several colleges, universities and museums. A not-for-profit foundation was established in September 1998. In January 1999, the Clines acquired the site and gifted it to the foundation. The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute was born: a 200-acre infant with a proud heritage, untapped potential and vast needs.
Of the government investment over the years, it is estimated that what was left at the PARI campus represents a value of about $200 million. Much of the initial work at PARI was oriented to restoring the facility and its instruments to the level necessary for scientific and educational purposes. For example, PARI invested more than three million dollars to upgrade the electronic drives and computer controls for the two 26 meter radio telescopes. Overall, the private monetary investment in the facility is more than $20 million and the time investment by literally hundreds of people is beyond calculation. Today, PARI has a fulltime salaried staff, a network of consultants and an active roster of several dozen volunteer workers.
PARI’s mission is to provide hands-on educational and research opportunities for a broad cross-section of users in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. Scientific instruments at PARI include two 26m (85ft) radio telescopes, a 12.2m (40ft) radio telescope, a 4.6m (15ft) radio telescope (dubbed “Smiley” and operated remotely by students and teachers), a high frequency Jupiter-Io/Solar antenna, 11 optical telescopes on the PARI Optical Ridge, five weather and atmospheric monitoring stations, and various environmental monitoring and measuring instruments. All of these instruments are used students, teachers and volunteers of all ages, making PARI one of the few places in the country where world-class instruments are not restricted to limited use by top scientists. At PARI, students learn by doing, which makes it a very rare and valuable resource for students and teachers alike.
To date, several thousand students have been inspired by PARI programs that provide hands-on experiences to take science out of the classroom and into the realm of the imagination. Little did NASA realize 50 years ago what a powerful role the site would play in the future education of generations of young scientists. And PARI scientists and educators will tell you they have just scratched the surface of the site’s vast potential.