The five-year-old National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) dedicated a new facility (the Rosman Tracking Station) in the Pisgah National Forest southwest of Asheville, NC, that would play a critical role in the pioneering early days of the U.S. space effort.
During the NASA era, the Rosman Tracking Station played a vital role in the space program, communicating with satellites and manned space flights as they passed over the East Coast. The Rosman facility also played a key role in the research and development of modern conveniences taken for granted today, such as weather satellites, GPS systems and coast-to-coast transmission of color TV signals. Eventually, satellite communication technology evolved and the Rosman Station was not as critical to NASA, but it was of growing importance for another important mission
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.
The Learning Center’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. The Learning Center has removed the radome and is now re-commissioning the telescope for educational opportunities for learners of all ages.
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 the Learning Center’s two signature 26 meter (85 ft.) dish antennas, and was maintained by the USDA Forest Service.
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. Don Cline resides in Greensboro and has been active for many years in supporting astronomy and science programs for learners of all ages. 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.
The evolution of PARI continues as the Learning Center at PARI is born, focusing on providing a one-of-a-kind summer camp experiences. The Learning Center at PARI looks to engage learners of all ages, educators at multiple levels, and provide institutions with unique facilities. The culmination of these efforts provide the inspiration and education for next generation of thinkers. We make science fun!