Mission Number Two: National Defense
PARI’s 12m radio telescope was used by the Department of Defense to intercept signals from Russian satellites during the Cold War and for other classified purposes. It was housed in a radome primarily so orbiting satellites could not tell where it was pointed. PARI has removed the radome and is now recommissioning the telescope for scientific pursuits.
In 1981, the Rosman Tracking Station was transferred to the Department of Defense (DOD) and used for satellite data collection. At its peak during this era, about 350 people were employed at the Rosman facility. During the years of active operation, it is estimated that the government invested several hundred million dollars in the site.
The “smiley” face on PARI’s 4.6m radio telescope was painted as a joke during the height of the Cold War. The Soviet Union was intensely interested in the DOD base and often sent satellites to photograph the campus. Each Soviet photo contained a “smiley face” as a friendly wave. Today “Smiley” is a student favorite and is used remotely via the internet by middle and high school students and teachers to study radio astronomy.
In 1995, the facility was closed and DOD operations were consolidated elsewhere. Of the 23 antennae, 19 were moved to other locations and most of the instrumentation and electronics were removed from the site. However, the bulk of the infrastructure remained, including PARI’s two signature 26 meter (85 ft.) dish antennas, and was maintained by the USDA Forest Service.
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