Oral History Transcript — Dr. Richard E. McCrosky
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Interview with Dr. Richard E. McCrosky
Richard E. McCrosky; October 9, 2005
ABSTRACT: Richard E. McCrosky, known variously as "Mac" and "Dick", was born on 28 April 1924, the youngest of 4 children to Ralston Duncan and Josephine Edna Dietz McCrosky, of Akron, Ohio. This interview was conducted for his biographical profile and especially to gain insight into his work and training at Harvard in the 1940s and his professional career at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory from the 1950s through the 1980s. Includes commentary on family background, early schooling, development of interests, jobs as a child and as a student, work with brother at MIT, courses at Akron University in chemistry, wartime training in meteorology at Denison University, colleagues during wartime including Harlan Smith, duty in Hawaii, return to MIT in physics with Harlan Smith, recruited by Fred Whipple for job at Harvard for the Harvard Meteor Project. Bulk of the remainder of the interview deals with his work setting up meteor camera systems in the West and his career interests, growth and development of his interests in astronomy and meteoritics, the design and installation of Baker Super-Schmidt Cameras, and especially his development of the Prairie Network. Questions are directed to "Mac's" relationship to other SAO staff, especially his work for Whipple, impressions of Whipple, his management style and personality.
DeVorkin:This is an oral history interview with Richard E. McCrosky. The interviewer is David DeVorkin and the date is October 9. The interview is taking place in Dr. McCrosky kitchen, in his home in Harvard, Mass. The auspices, American Institute of Physics and the Smithsonian. Please give me an idea, Dr. McCrosky, of where your family came from, when you were born, who your father and mother were, brothers and sisters, and letís carry you through to your training years.
McCrosky:I was born April 28, 1924. Iím the youngest of four children. And, you called me ďRichard.Ē No one has called me Richard, except my mother, in generations. Itís a name that Iím told my sister, who was fifteen when I was born, gave me. I donít know if this is true. Thatís what my mother says. My sister says itís not true. I think it was probably just, oh, a reward to her for having; now having three brothers instead of having another sister.
DeVorkin:She called you ďRichardĒ?
McCrosky:Yes. She named me.
DeVorkin:Others refer to you as Dick McCrosky?
McCrosky:Or Mac, most frequently. But, this was true of everyone in my family. We were, including my sister and my mother, all Macs. We lived in Akron, Ohio. My father was raised on a farm and my mother in the city. They met in college, which would be an unusual place for either of those people, a farm boy and a woman in the early 1900s.
DeVorkin:Whatís your fatherís full name?
DeVorkin:And, your mother?
McCrosky:Josephine Edna Dietz.
DeVorkin:What was your fatherís occupation?
McCrosky:He was trained as a pharmacist, but he also once owned a movie house with his father in law, and a lumber yard. Eventually he began manufacturing things to sell to bakers. Our house always smelled wonderfully of vanilla and chocolate. This was being done in the basement, you see. It was a one-man factory.
DeVorkin:He was selling food products?
DeVorkin:Oh, okay. Not utensils. . .
McCrosky:No. No. He was an inventive guy, in that way.
DeVorkin:Did he have a shop at home?
McCrosky:Yes. In the basement. In my time we lived in three different houses, and the last one had a good-sized basement, and thatís where all the work was done.
DeVorkin:Was this all around Akron?
McCrosky:This was all around Akron, yes.
DeVorkin:Let me ask about your mom. She was in college?
DeVorkin:So, she has a college degree?
McCrosky:I doubt it. I donít know.
DeVorkin:Did she work at any particular thing?
McCrosky:She didnít. She was a mother and a housewife; A very strong person, probably stronger than my father.
McCrosky:Yes. Stronger. I donít think she often had the last word in the family, but she sure always had a word. [Laughter]
DeVorkin:How was your father on making family decisions and what people would be doing with their lives?
McCrosky:Well, I always think of my mother as making family decisions. Now, I may be wrong. I didnít like any decisions my parents made. We were politically very different. [Laugh]
McCrosky:My parents were very conservative, biased and racist I would say. And I wasnít. You see, they were in their forties when I was born, so there was a large age difference between us.
DeVorkin:Now, were you the last of four children?
McCrosky:Yes. We were five years apart.
DeVorkin:Five years apart and thereís four of you?
DeVorkin:Thatís quite a spread.
DeVorkin:So, would you say you were raised by your mom and dad or by your siblings?
McCrosky:Oh no. By my mother, sure. My dad a little bit, but my mother ran the house. She may not have run my father but you sure knew who ran the house.
DeVorkin:Please briefly give the names of your siblings, and what they ended up doing in life?
McCrosky:My sister was Clarabelle, like the cartoon cow, named after our two grandmothers, Clara and Belle. She was one of these glass-ceiling women. She was much, better than they ever let her be. She was very smart and she worked for BF Goodrich all of her life. She trained almost every Vice President Goodrich had while she was there. She wasnít Vice President, but she trained these young men.
DeVorkin:What was her position?
McCrosky:She was in a sales department. I donít know what she did, what she did day-by-day, but I know these people came to see her long after they were well-to-do and well employed.
DeVorkin:Did she marry?
McCrosky:No. Never married.
DeVorkin:So, she kept her maiden name?
McCrosky:Yes. My oldest brother, was ten years my senior, was named Robert Duncan, Bob. He was a chem engineer. He got his doctorate at MIT and worked almost immediately after his degree at the stadium at the University of Chicago where they were making the A-bomb.
DeVorkin:He was part of the Manhattan Project?
McCrosky:Yes. Under DuPont. He was with DuPont until he retired, ending up as the safety officer in South Carolina. At the big H-bomb plant in Aiken, South Carolina. Savannah River. So anyway my younger brother, five years my senior, is Charles Dietz, nicknamed ďChickĒ. He spent a long time in the Army. He spent five years in the Army starting before the war, and getting out at the end of the war. The thing I remember about him is that every time he would write a letter home he would have a different rank. [Laughter] He was the classic master sergeant. They wanted to promote these guys but he was happy where he was. He didnít like officer-dom any more than I did when I got in the Army. He was also a BF Goodrich employee, as well as Bob. They all were. He ended up as the manager of a plant in Illinois, in a small town. Henry, Illinois. Where as well as being the manager of the Goodrich plant he was also the mayor of the town, nominated by both the Democrats and the Republicans. [Laughter]
McCrosky:These people are all gone. Iím the only survivor.
DeVorkin:Tell me a little bit about your family, in terms of what home life was like. What were your family values about learning, education, and what you would do in life planning a career?
McCrosky:I donít know where that came from but obviously it was strong. We all went to college. I canít tell you it was expected. I donít think we felt forced, but it was expected, surely.
DeVorkin:Were there magazines that the family read?
McCrosky:No. There was a newspaper, but, oh there was Time and Life. But at the library, what we had at home was probably only a tenth of what I have here. Not a lot.
DeVorkin:What kinds of books?
McCrosky:[Laugh] Well, I remember it was probably three or four bookshelves, maybe five feet wide. I remember on occasions sorting them all by title. Then later, sorting them all probably by author. And then I may have even sorted them by color.
DeVorkin:Did you find books fascinating?
McCrosky:Oh yes. I got a library card very early on and went into the library and took the topmost book on the left-hand side and decided that was the place to begin and Iíd read them all before I got done.
McCrosky:That was only probably a ten-minute fantasy. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:You mean you intended to do that?
McCrosky:Yes. Oh yes.
DeVorkin:But you didnít?
McCrosky:No. Of course not.
DeVorkin:But, thatís what you wanted to do?
McCrosky:I thought it would be a good thing to do.
DeVorkin:But you did read, apparently, a good bit. What kinds of books were you attracted to?
McCrosky:Oh gosh, I canít remember anything specific. Lots of things.
McCrosky:Literature. Not mysteries, particularly.
DeVorkin:The classic literature?
McCrosky:Yes, as a child. I was reading childrenís books.
DeVorkin:Did you read science books?
McCrosky:No. There may have been but I donít recall them.
DeVorkin:What about history?
McCrosky:Yes. I would have read history.
DeVorkin:I take it you went to public schools?
DeVorkin:And, these were public schools in Akron?
DeVorkin:Do you have any memorable school experiences that you feel are important for us to know about in shaping your life?
McCrosky:I have one. I wish I knew the date but itís impossible for me to find. Sometime in September of 1938.
McCrosky:The grade school I went to was very near the high school I wanted to go to because thatís where all of my friends went.
DeVorkin:Did the grade school have a particular name?
McCrosky:Grace. However, I happened to live on a boundary of another high school, Buchtel, which was a long way away. Whereas the high school I wanted to go to was very close, but I lived on the wrong side of a boundary. The only way I could get to the high school I wanted was by getting a paper route, because the Buchtel High School was double session and freshmen went there from noon to five. And, the papers came out at three or three-thirty. So, if you had a paper route they would let you go to a school so you could work.
DeVorkin:Now, thereís a new motive for taking a paper route.
DeVorkin:So, it wasnít the money?
McCrosky:Oh it was both. Both my brothers had paper routes; it seemed like something you were supposed to do.
DeVorkin:Did you have a bike? Was the paper route on a bike?
McCrosky:Oh yes. I had a terrible route. Long roads. Anyway, the reason I thought of this problem is it was early in September of 1938, because I went a few days to the wrong school, got a paper route, and then moved to West High where I eventually graduated, after dropping out. It was on almost that day that my wife survived the 1938 hurricane in Westerly, Rhode Island. So, you said, ďDo I have a day that I remember in school?Ē Yes. I donít know why I remembered at the time, because I had no idea who my wife was. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Of course. But, thatís the date?
McCrosky:But that was the day I transferred from one school to another.
DeVorkin:That was an important transfer for you?
McCrosky:I think it was. Again, I donít know why, but I know things like that change your life.
DeVorkin:Was it because of your friends, or was it because of something about the school?
DeVorkin:And, what was it about the school?
McCrosky:Well, Buchtel was a kind of an upper class school and West wasnít. I belonged at West.
DeVorkin:So, you felt more comfortable there?
DeVorkin:Any influential teachers?
McCrosky:I had two high school teachers that I remember. One was a Finnish lady who taught us Latin, and one was the socialist, I now know, who taught us Civics. They were great. Very good.
DeVorkin:And, you now recognize that this person was a socialist?
DeVorkin:In the late Ď30s?
DeVorkin:Do you have the name of the person?
DeVorkin:Okay. Thatís fine. What about the development of your interests? Did you take any science? When were your first science courses?
McCrosky:Yes, all I could take.
DeVorkin:You took all you could take?
McCrosky:Oh yes, sure.
DeVorkin:Now, was that because of an interest?
McCrosky:I surely had an interest; we looked upon my father as a chemist.
DeVorkin:Ah. I see.
McCrosky:So, that seemed like the thing I ought to do. My two brothers felt the same way. One of them ended up as a chem engineer so at that point I decided, ďWell thatís chem engineering, that sounds better than chemistry.Ē By this time Iíd had a year of college chemistry and I didnít enjoy it particularly.
DeVorkin:You had college chemistry in high school?
DeVorkin:Oh, I see. This is after you went to college?
McCrosky:Yes. I was a high school dropout.
DeVorkin:Well, you mentioned that and I was going to ask you about it.
McCrosky:I hitchhiked to Cambridge with my parentsí blessing. I think they were just glad to see this kid leave. [Laugh] I was a seventeen year old teenager who disagreed with my parents. Who would want me around? [Laugh] Let him go see his brother. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Ah. So, your brother was off at MIT?
McCrosky:Yes. And, so I hitchhiked to Cambridge.
DeVorkin:You actually dropped out of school?
McCrosky:Well, this was summertime. I hadnít dropped out yet. But, but my brother had a big project and he needed help. This was his Ph.D. thesis and his advisor offered me a job.
DeVorkin:What was it to do?
McCrosky:I was a lab assistant. I did everything. I mean, lots of things that any bright kid could do. I also worked in the shop making things. But, mostly I twiddled the knobs and kept notes.
DeVorkin:This must have been something that your brother had asked his advisor to do?
McCrosky:I donít think so. No. It would be very unlike him.
DeVorkin:So how did the advisor come to think of you?
McCrosky:I guess I impressed him.
DeVorkin:So, this was after you showed up there?
DeVorkin:Oh, I see.
McCrosky:When it was time for me to come back in September to go to high school they asked me to stay. And hell, it was a question whether I could get through high school or not and miss a semester. And, they said I could. It turns out they were wrong. But, they said Iíd had enough extra courses that I could get through in one semester. So, I stayed until December of Ď41.
DeVorkin:Iíll be darned.
McCrosky:I was there until December 7th of Ď41. I came back home probably at Christmastime, and went back to school, where I found I didnít have enough credits to graduate. But, someone decided that one semester at MIT was worth whatever extra I needed. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:This is a very unusual way of dropping out, by the way.
McCrosky:Oh sure. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:So, you were just way ahead of the game. You took off a semester but then you had to make up that semester, basically?
McCrosky:No, I had always taken extra courses.
DeVorkin:Oh, I see. So, you were able to still graduate, so to speak, on time?
DeVorkin:Well, then let me ask, were you thinking about college?
McCrosky:Sure. Oh yes.
DeVorkin:How did that all work out? Where did you end up?
McCrosky:I went to Akron U, which cost $5 a year.
DeVorkin:Was there a money issue at home?
McCrosky:Oh sure. I didnít think about going anywhere else. I had free room and board and tuition was $5 a year.
DeVorkin:Did you ever consider going to MIT?
McCrosky:Not then I didnít. I did later. You didnít ask me about my high school graduation.
DeVorkin:Oh, no I didnít. How was it?
McCrosky:Well, I didnít go, [Laughter] because my last semester in high school, a friend and I were building barrage balloons at General Tire.
DeVorkin:Yes. You were working. Sure.
McCrosky:Seven days a week, eight hours a night, and then trying to stay awake for school. Crazy. I shouldnít have done it, but I did.
DeVorkin:Was there a manpower shortage?
McCrosky:Oh yes, because the war was on.
DeVorkin:How did your family react to your job? To the war? They didnít like you working?
DeVorkin:They wanted you to go to school?
McCrosky:Oh yes. Well, I did go to school. I was just doing both.
DeVorkin:Were there any questions of family finances at this time?
McCrosky:We were never well off. We were adequate.
DeVorkin:So, you decided to go to Akron? And, was chemical engineering in your mind?
McCrosky:Chemistry then. I went to summer school.
DeVorkin:Is it still called Akron University?
DeVorkin:You started in summer school?
McCrosky:Yes. I had a night class in chemistry. I donít remember other courses at all, but I went in the fall term, and then I joined the Army.
DeVorkin:When did you join?
McCrosky:February 10th, 1943.
DeVorkin:Did you volunteer?
McCrosky:Well, I knew I was going to be in sometime, And somehow I learned about this program that the Army-Air Force had for training meteorologists. They decided they needed a lot more than they had, so they created quite a large program for this. We all realize now that they simply had misplaced the decimal point on the number of people they needed.
DeVorkin:Do you remember how you heard about this?
McCrosky:No, I donít. Someone told me.
DeVorkin:Was it at the university?
McCrosky:Yes. I applied to that and after induction, went to Denison University in Ohio, for a year of math and physics. It was great.
DeVorkin:Do you remember any particular teachers of physics or math ematics who were influential on you?
McCrosky:I remember an incompetent physics teacher and a very, very young math teacher.
DeVorkin:Was it a year program?
DeVorkin:What was your meteorology training like?
McCrosky:None. This was just the beginning. They just chose people they thought they could teach. There were 200 of us there. The most remarkable group of people I met until graduate school.
DeVorkin:They came from all over the place?
McCrosky:Well, most of them from that region. There were a number of these schools. I donít know how many, three or four perhaps. But for this one most of them came from the Midwest.
DeVorkin:Was there anything about the physics, or about the training there that was geared directly toward what youíd be doing in the Army, or were these straight academic courses?
McCrosky:These were straight academic courses. We were almost all eighteen year olds.
DeVorkin:Had you gone to any kind of boot camp before then?
DeVorkin:So, this was straight to Denison?
DeVorkin:Where did you go from there?
McCrosky:Well, the program closed. You were supposed to then go to a real meteorology school, and become a weather forecaster for the Air Force. But, the program closed because I think someone remembered that factor of ten. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:So, you never got into meteorology?
McCrosky:But, of those 200 people, three of us ended up working for Fred Whipple.
DeVorkin:I understand Harlan Smith was one of them?
McCrosky:Yes. He was. And, the other was Bob Wells.
McCrosky:There was a really competent bunch there. I didnít keep track of many of them. One of them I had no trouble keeping track of. He just died a few months ago. It was Bill Rehnquist. He was not our favorite. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:The Bill Rehnquist? The William Rehnquist?
DeVorkin:He was in that same course?
McCrosky:Yes. Heís given a speech about it, which I found on the Internet, and he said he had trouble keeping up, and I think that was probably true because he didnít have a scientific bent.
DeVorkin:Was the fact that you were in training, and you were going to be doing something very real for the war, did this give an extra impetus for you to learn to achieve?
DeVorkin:You had all the motivation you need?
McCrosky:I think so. Yes.
DeVorkin:But, did this make you more interested in physics or math?
McCrosky:Not that in itself, but this is also where I met Harlan Smith, and his interest was in physics. And for me it grew from that I think, more than anything.
DeVorkin:So, what did you do when the program closed?
McCrosky:You had a choice of what to do. Bob Wells, Harlan Smith, Dick McCrosky, and Bill Rehnquist all chose to go become weather observers.
DeVorkin:And, what was a weather observer?
McCrosky:A guy who goes and measures the temperature and plots maps for forecasters.
DeVorkin:Did you all go together?
McCrosky:No. We went different places, but we all got back together, strangely enough, except Rehnquist didnít get back with us. Yes he did. Yes. We all got back together because they now wanted to train radio sound technicians, people who could repair transmitters and radiosonde receivers. And so they chose a select group, that they had already decided weíre something special, you see, and they sent us to places. [Laugh] And so, we went Chanute Field first.
McCrosky:Chanute. Thatís in Illinois. That was a major training place.
DeVorkin:Oh. Thatís a famous flyer?
McCrosky:Yes. We went to three places. Chanute was first, and this is where Bob Wells and Harlan Smith and I all ended up together again coming from various places. And from Chanute we went to Harvard for an electronics school. And then we went to Fort Monmouth to learn how to change oil in an engine.
DeVorkin:Is that joke?
McCrosky:Yes. That was an educational joke.
DeVorkin:Isnít that Signal Corp?
McCrosky:That was Signal Corp. But, Signal Corp was part of the Army, and the Air Force was part of the Army then.
DeVorkin:Right. So, youíre having all of these contacts with electronics, with meteorology?
McCrosky:With engines. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Where were your interests, or were they all on hold during the war?
McCrosky:My interest was to get out of the Army and get back to college. I was not a professional soldier.
DeVorkin:But, were these experiences changing your interests at all?
McCrosky:Yes. I was, Iíve become less and less interested in engineering and more in physics.
DeVorkin:What was your service like?
McCrosky:[Laugh] Oh, I hadnít worked very hard, had I? Iíve been going to school for a couple of years.
DeVorkin:Sounds pretty good to me.
McCrosky:Yes. You couldnít hope for much better. Well, from there we were sent back to airfields to be weather observers once again. And, by this time Iím a corporal making big money.
DeVorkin:This all took place in the States?
McCrosky:All in Texas. I always went south for the summer and north for the winter when I was in the Army. [Laugh]
McCrosky:When the war was over some of us were sent to Kearns Field, Utah to go overseas.
McCrosky:And, again all these people that weíd known, [Laugh] for two and a half years all end up in the same place once again. As a matter of fact we ended up on the same boat going to Hawaii. When we got there the weather service was really a unique organization within the Air Force. They took great care of us. I donít know why, but they did. By directive we never served KP. We never had guard duty.
DeVorkin:Someone was looking over you.
DeVorkin:General Hap Arnold?
McCrosky:Yup. I donít know why but I mean he was the one. I worked nights as much as I could. I enjoyed that. And so, I would sleep in the daytime and there would be barracks inspections, and people walking by. ďWhat is that man doing there? Get that man out of bed. Is he sick?Ē ďNo. No. He works nights. Heís a weather man.Ē ďOh. Oh.Ē [Laugh]
DeVorkin:But, that woke you up?
McCrosky:Yes. Thatís all right. It was still worth it. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:So, you worked nights?
McCrosky:Yes. A lot.
DeVorkin:As a weather observer? You preferred the night?
McCrosky:Yes. When we got to Hawaii they wanted us to do radiosonde work. This was for real now after almost three years. This is the end of Ď45. We were out there relieving people who have been there too long. There were eight of us. Again.
DeVorkin:Harlan Smith was one of them?
McCrosky:Well, no. Wells had gotten out earlier somehow. Well, Iíve forgotten whether he was there or not.
DeVorkin:But, Harlan Smithís the one?
Harlan Smith was there for sure. We were all inducted in the Army on the same day, and we all were corporals, probably made corporal on the same day.
People with technical training typically got to that. My dad got to corporal also.
Yes. My brother, on the other hand, with technical training, became master sergeant. [Laugh]
Well, that was by his choice, right?
None of us had "choices." I eventually became a sergeant. [Laugh] Anyway weíre on this troop ship and everyone is gone. Theyíve emptied the ship, and there are eight of us still standing there. And, they have no idea why weíre there. They asked us, ďWell, whoís in charge of this group?Ē ďWe donít know. Weíre weathermen. We donít have people in charge. We donít do that.Ē ďWell, whoís been in the longest?Ē and then we go through this whole business, and they finally chose Bagelman because he was the lowest in the alphabet. [Laugh] They made him in charge. H was ordered to get us off that ship as soon as possible. So, we took our barracks bags to the edge of the ship and dropped them down to the dock as being the quickest way off. [Laugh] We were not good soldiers.
DeVorkin:But still, you served there, and you were doing radiosonde?
McCrosky:Not yet. We were in Hawaii about to be assigned, and there were seven places to go, and one of them needed two. I donít know why it needed two but it did. And, at this time my brother was sending ďSmittyĒ (Harlan Smith) and me handwritten lessons in thermodynamics. My brother felt that anyone who doesnít know thermodynamics is illiterate.
McCrosky:So, it made sense for Smitty and me to go to the one that required two people, and that was Guadalcanal, which was the furthest one out, and no one wanted to go there anyway because it was the furthest one out. Obviously youíre going to be the last one back. But, in fact if youíre the furthest one out youíre the first one back, and thatís what happened to us. So, we got back and were discharged in February of Ď46.
DeVorkin:Now, let me ask, obviously youíre getting very close to Harlan Smith?
DeVorkin:Youíre learning thermodynamics together?
McCrosky:[Laugh] Well, I donít know if we learned any.
DeVorkin:What did you talk about doing after the war?
McCrosky:We knew we were both going to go to MIT, as a matter of fact, sometime probably when we were still at Denison we had written MIT, both of us separately, telling them that we were coming after the war. They wrote back and said, ďSorry itís too early. You canít apply yet. We donít know whatís going to happen.Ē So, as soon as we got out of the Army — Smitty was from Wheeling, West Virginia, and Iím from Akron. Weíre not very far apart. And so, we got together and went to Cambridge to MIT and said, ďOkay. Here we were.Ē And they said, ďOh, youíre too late.Ē [Laugh] Well weíre in Cambridge, and we knew about Harvard. So, we decided, ďWell, letís go try Harvard.Ē And, Smitty had been a Westinghouse Science winner in the early years, probably number one, maybe number two.
DeVorkin:Wow. I didnít know that.
McCrosky:There was never much question of his getting in. I had less of a reason except that when I was in there in the Army I had nailed their electronics course and beat everyone, but that was because I had a peculiar knack. Iím able to troubleshoot. Anyway, I didnít think I had too much of a chance, and one of the things you had to do when you applied was tell them why you wanted to go to Harvard. I was honest. I told them I didnít want to go to Harvard. I wanted to go to MIT but they wouldnít have me. And, I donít know whether that made a difference or not, but anyway I was accepted as well. And so, we started.
DeVorkin:You were effectively juniors?
DeVorkin:It must have been a bit difficult straightening out your experience, your training, and what you get credit for?
DeVorkin:Was this on the GI Bill?
DeVorkin:And so, you entered in what major?
DeVorkin:So you went to physics? Give me a sense for your junior and senior years and how you eventually segued into astronomy. What physics courses or particular physics professors you had?
McCrosky:I donít remember them. They werenít important in my life. What made a difference in both of our lives was just by chance we happened to pass a bulletin board in the physics department outside the library. I donít know why we looked at but anyway there was this message that said, ďDr. Whipple is looking for . . .Ē I donít remember the rest of it, but it was interesting. So, we both applied at the observatory, and Fred didnít know he could only hire one of us. No one told him that, you see, but anyway he hired both of us. Smitty full-time and me part-time. Thatís how it started. This was to set up some stations in New Mexico for the Harvard Meteor Project.
DeVorkin:Let me just stop there and ask you a question. There was an obituary written on Harlan Smith in 1991, talking about how he joined the Air Corp at Denison University, the one-year course in math and physics, and the three-year course at Harvard. I mean it was really amazing how you guys really paralleled?
DeVorkin:But then he said that while at Harvard in the spring of Ď44 he renewed his acquaintance with Shapley and discussed a career in astronomy?
DeVorkin:That doesnít sound right?
DeVorkin:Interesting. You certainly didnít have any experience like that, and you had no knowledge of his?
McCrosky:No. I donít think we ever went to the observatory. Maybe — it would not have been a renewal.
DeVorkin:This is not what I would call an authoritative obit. (McCrosky: Yes.) This was by a fan on a website.
DeVorkin:So, Iím giving it very low weight. But, it just said that and I was very curious.
McCrosky:No. I donít think thatís at all likely.
DeVorkin:Okay. I was just wondering. Thatís fine. So, you and Harlan Smith both started working for Whipple as undergraduates in physics?
McCrosky:No, we quit [school]. He was working full-time. He had dropped out. I was working part-time. I had not dropped out. One day I had just had enough and I quit, and I went to Fred and said, ďFred, Iím ready to go full-time.Ē And he said, ďWell, where do I get the money?Ē I said, ďThatís your problem. Iím ready.Ē [Laugh]
McCrosky:You know youíre not quite settled after one year out of the Army and that was the problem. I just wasnít ready to settle down.
DeVorkin:So, what did you and Harlan do?
McCrosky:We were working on the same program together.
DeVorkin:Tell me a bit about that program, how you learned about what he was doing, what you thought about it, what that exposure meant to you?
McCrosky:I donít know. You have to know Fred Whipple to understand this.
DeVorkin:Well, thatís what Iím trying to do.
DeVorkin:So, this is why itís so valuable to me. [Laugh]
McCrosky:Yes, we were not unique, and Iíve seen Fred do this a number of times, but he hires people he thinks or knows can do the job, tells them what he wants done, and then ďGoodbye folks. Iíll see you later.Ē Iíve never seen anyone who gives as little direction as Fred did. He just knew people, I think. He made some mistakes but not many.
DeVorkin:Did he not have to train you?
McCrosky:No, he didnít.
DeVorkin:What did your job entail?
McCrosky:He didnít know, he didnít know anything about what we had to do.
DeVorkin:Well, for the record, these are the original Baker-Nunns?
McCrosky:No. This is long before, years before.
DeVorkin:What were you setting up in the Southwest?
McCrosky:There had been, in Cambridge and at Oak Ridge across the street here, pairs of cameras photographing the same region of the sky at meteor heights, getting two-station photographs of meteors. That was Fredís bag then.
DeVorkin:And so, these were conventional wide-field astrographs?
DeVorkin:So what was your job?
McCrosky:To find some new cameras, add to these, and build two stations in New Mexico, and to choose a site.
DeVorkin:Ah. So, you had to, you did site surveys, instrument procurement, if you want to think about it that way?
McCrosky:Not instrument procurement. [Laugh] Just what can you get out of war surplus? These were always old Army things. We werenít building new equipment.
DeVorkin:Youíre just using war surplus aerial cameras?
McCrosky:Right, war surplus aerial cameras, several of them.
DeVorkin:What was your experience with optics and making cameras like that?
DeVorkin:And, Fred just figured you could figure this all out?
McCrosky:Well, it was a question of putting a shutter in front of the cameras. And, the shutter had to run at a constant speed so you had to have a synchronous motor. It was very hard to find synchronous motors. So, one of our jobs was to go to junkyards and find synchronous motors.
DeVorkin:How could you tell it was in working order?
McCrosky:We tested them and we found enough. But, it was not something that we could then, on that day, go out and buy. We had to scrounge.
DeVorkin:I can imagine.
McCrosky:I donít know how we got around making shutters. Iím sure Fred had no part in this. He wouldnít have. He was busy. But, we made shutters out of circular saw blades. We didnít make them. We had them made.
DeVorkin:You take a circular saw blade and cut out a pie cut?
McCrosky:Or you cut holes in it. And then, thereís another person who enters at this time. Three people, shortly afterwards anyway. One was Bill Liller, He was an undergraduate at the time, and he and Smitty and I designed these structures to hold the cameras, which rode on, again, war surplus trailers and flatbeds. And, I just canít imagine Fred having any part of this except saying, ďThat looks all right.Ē
DeVorkin:Did he have intermediate people then? People with more experience who you were working with?
McCrosky:No. Not really.
DeVorkin:What about Luigi Jacchia?
McCrosky:Well, Yes, Jacchia knows less about mechanics than anyone. When you give Luigi a ride in a car he never knows which door to enter. [Laugh] Itís true. And, itís not because heís from England. Heís from Italy. I love Luigi, you know, heís a marvelous guy but there was nobody between Fred and us.
DeVorkin:Were these systems set up in portable trailers?
McCrosky:That was the idea. Once we got them there we poured them into concrete. We never moved them.
DeVorkin:So, you drove them there from here?
McCrosky:We were going to drive them there, but then we found that the Army would ship them to us by train.
McCrosky:Or the Navy. I guess the Navy was paying for all of this. Yes, Naval Research.
DeVorkin:So, they shipped them, you picked them up, and dipped them in cement, basically, at sites that you selected?
McCrosky:Well, Smitty and I did a survey of the Southwest. Thereís a paper on this, where we were using our meteorological knowledge. We knew how to read weather maps.
DeVorkin:Ah, a very interesting tie-in.
McCrosky:We went to MIT and got all their maps for years and years, and other information.
DeVorkin:It would be ďHarlan Smith and Richard McCrosky, ďWeather Conditions in Southwestern USA Cloud Coverage.Ē
McCrosky:Yes. We did the work long before that. We did the work in order to choose the sites we went to. We didnít choose the actual sites. Fred, Iím sure, did that.
DeVorkin:You were using synoptic weather map data from 1939 to 1946, on some twenty stations in the Southwest.
DeVorkin:Give me the year of your first trip out there.
McCrosky:I didnít go until we went to set up the stations.
DeVorkin:Which was when?
DeVorkin:And these are the original small astrographs?
McCrosky:Yes. They really are, you know, tiny little things.
DeVorkin:Youíre talking about something just hardly eighteen inches long?
DeVorkin:And, the lenses were what, four inches, three inch?
McCrosky:There was a five-inch aerial camera that didnít work very well. There was a three-inch aerial camera that was better. And, there was a one and a half inch, called patrol cameras. One was in Cambridge and one was here.
DeVorkin:Those were the famous ones?
McCrosky:They were Ross lenses.
DeVorkin:Triplets, I think?
DeVorkin:What we need to do is talk about how this segued into your training in astronomy. I take it this must have had an influence for you?
DeVorkin:Or, did you graduate eventually in physics?
DeVorkin:Was there an undergraduate astronomy major?
McCrosky:Oh, I think so. There may have been a degree. I donít know. By the time I got back, which was probably Ď52, or Ď51, I needed only a semester or something, four courses or something like that.
DeVorkin:You had worked for Fred from Ď48 or something like that to Ď52?
McCrosky:Fifty-one. At one point I only needed one course to get my degree, and Iím sorry. Iíve forgotten some details, and I have no way of recovering them.
DeVorkin:We can probably recover them in the actual Harvard undergraduate records.
DeVorkin:But, I know that itís around this time, the first paper that comes up in astronomy database, was film molding for the Baker Super Schmidt meteor cameras?
DeVorkin:You did this paper with Phillip Carol, Robert Wells?
McCrosky:Right. He was a graduate engineer at Purdue by this time, and he came to visit us and we had this problem, and Fred hired him.
DeVorkin:And then of course Fred is also on the on this as an author. So, during this time you didnít spend all your time in the Southwest. But how would you typify where you spent most of your time?
McCrosky:Almost all of my time there.
DeVorkin:In the Southwest?
McCrosky:Yes. Eventually I think Bob Wells took over my job in New Mexico, and I came back to finish school and start graduate school. It was just natural that I would go on in astronomy then. I donít remember having to make a decision.
DeVorkin:Can you remember at all your growing interest? What attracted you, finally?
McCrosky:Oh, just, Iím attracted by problems.
DeVorkin:What was it about astronomy? Was there something about doing astronomy that was attractive to you especially?
McCrosky:No. No. It was available. Nothing special about astronomy; for Smitty it was. Astronomy was almost a religion for Smitty. Not for me.
DeVorkin:Had he had a prior interest?
DeVorkin:You donít remember any very significant discussions about it during the war when you were with him?
DeVorkin:You didnít talk about it?
McCrosky:Most of our discussions were political.
DeVorkin:Did he ever, say at Guadalcanal, look up in the sky and talk about the southern sky?
McCrosky:Yes. He must have shown me the Southern Cross.
DeVorkin:Did you know the stars at all?
McCrosky:No. And still donít. Itís not the sort of thing I do. Iíve had to know enough to be a meteor observer, but I donít like memory work.
DeVorkin:What was your contact with Whipple during this time? Were there frequent letters? Was there any kind of a regular report system that you had?
McCrosky:Not a regular report, but there were reports. He came to visit us probably twice a year. When Bob Wells was running the show down there he wrote Fred a report on the back of a cereal box. [Laugh] Fred was not pleased. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:He did this for a particular reason?
McCrosky:No, it was handy. [Laughter] He was a funny guy.
DeVorkin:How did Fred express himself about this sort of thing, when he wasnít pleased?
McCrosky:He showed it to me. He showed me this report heíd gotten from Bob and he was not happy.
DeVorkin:What did he suggest be done?
DeVorkin:He just wanted to show it to you?
McCrosky:I donít know.
DeVorkin:Was Fred the kind of guy who wanted to share things with other people?
McCrosky:You have to remember the observatory, at this time, consisted of five professors, five seriously underpaid women, two machinists, a custodian. That was about it.
DeVorkin:Could we talk about some of those people?
DeVorkin:Did you take courses from, Bart Bok?
McCrosky:Yes. I donít think I ever took any from Donald Menzel. I took them from Dick Thomas, who was often the fifth man, or was occasionally anyway, and, a good friend of mine.
DeVorkin:And from Fred?
McCrosky:Yes. Fred was not an inspiring teacher. He was kind of bored by it. I donít think he would admit that, but I think it. He had other things on his mind.
DeVorkin:What about Cecelia Payne-Gaposchkin?
McCrosky:Oh yes. Oh dear. I was an assistant for a course she gave which I also took at the same time. She was making photographs of stellar spectra, and she was making little photographs to pass out to everyone in the class. This star, this star, and this star, and she was doing all this work in the darkroom. I said, ďMrs. G. Iím supposed to be doing that.Ē And she, ďOh no. No. No. You have more important things to do.Ē [Laugh] Oh, what a woman. [Laugh] She made professorship, she stood before the observatory audience and said how proud she was but she felt that she had been inappropriately cast as an opening wedge. You know, she was six foot plus. She was a huge woman. She didnít think she should be cast as an opening wedge. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Yes. Iíve heard that term before. Nanny Lou Dieter mentioned that. Was she there about the same time you were?
McCrosky:Later. She was there. Yes. Iíd forgotten about her.
DeVorkin:Anyway, youíre taking courses, youíre learning about astronomy. Are you developing broader interests, different interests?
McCrosky:Yes. Bok had an influence on me. He had plans for me. When I was going to go to Bloemfontein, South Africa and do a program for him for a thesis, Fred talked me out of it. He said, ďThat will lead nowhere. And anyway, I have things for you to do here.Ē And, thatís why I stayed.
DeVorkin:How did you feel about that kind of advice?
DeVorkin:Do you think it was good advice?
McCrosky:Probably was. You never know. I was not unhappy with the choice.
DeVorkin:Did you continue doing site surveys though in the Ď50s, to your recollection?
DeVorkin:What was your involvement then with the production of the first Baker designs? Did you work with James Baker?
McCrosky:No. As far as the optics is concerned I donít think anyone ever worked with Jim Baker.
McCrosky:Who could? [Laugh] He was a force unto himself. I had no abilities there, whatsoever.
DeVorkin:But you, as an observer, had very practical experience, and did he need any of that in designing his instruments?
McCrosky:No. I was the one who tested all the Super Schmidts and I actually did some shop work at Perkin Elmer.
DeVorkin:Oh, you did?
McCrosky:Yes. As you know, already now thereís a curved field for this and making the curved plate holder was something they just got tired of doing. So, they set me to work doing that. I had nothing better to do. I was there to test the camera.
DeVorkin:This was your first paper? Film molding?
McCrosky:Thatís molding the film to fit these [Super Schmidt]. One is simply something to hold the other.
DeVorkin:Right. So, this wasnít just sheet film pressed against a form.
McCrosky:Oh no. Itís curved. Eight inch radius of curvature. Itís like this.
McCrosky:No. Film. We molded it. We called it molding, not distorting. Because if you take that piece of film — and itís probably on Whippleís desk still — it doesnít flatten. It stays in this shape. As far as we know, forever.
DeVorkin:How do you measure it?
McCrosky:Oh, Jim Baker made a camera that takes this curved film and projects it onto a flat glass.
DeVorkin:I see. So, then the original that was taken at the camera was an intermediary step in producing the flat?
McCrosky:Well, it was the primary step.
DeVorkin:But, it isnít what you directly measure?
McCrosky:From Luigiís point of view it was a preliminary step.
DeVorkin:To get it to the point where you could measure it, you measured a flat plate?
DeVorkin:Do you think any of those molded films are left?
McCrosky:Oh, I hope so.
DeVorkin:Yes. Iíd love to be able to at least collect one.
McCrosky:I have no idea what theyíve done with them.
DeVorkin:Okay. What was the process of molding? Why was it something that nobody wanted to do?
McCrosky:Well, Eastman wanted to do it, but not at a price that we could afford.
DeVorkin:What was the process of doing it?
McCrosky:Itís a kettle with a hotplate in the bottom, and the cover is a diaphragm of gum rubber. The top is a mold of the proper shape which has cool water running through it. You make a sandwich of this mold and the kettle with the film in between, and you pressurize it. And, the film blows up into the mold, and sets.
DeVorkin:That makes sense.
McCrosky:And thereís a lot of, ďWhat temperature should we use, and what distance we should have, and what kind of rubber do you need and what temperature should the two things be?Ē An awful lot of playing around with this, just the sort of thing that I did for six months at MIT. [Laugh] Twiddling dials.
DeVorkin:Was this the substrate only or did it have the emulsion on it?
McCrosky:No. The emulsionís there.
DeVorkin:So, you did it all in the dark?
McCrosky:Oh yes. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:[Laugh] Thatís a little issue that I think we should know about.
McCrosky:Yes. We did it in the dark, [Laugh] although when I first arrived at the observatory there was an observer who scolded a graduate student once for coming into the darkroom while he was developing. His eyes were closed. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:He was in the darkroom with his eyes closed?
McCrosky:With his eyes closed.
DeVorkin:Doing the processing?
McCrosky:Yes. [Laugh] He was not always sober.
DeVorkin:[Laughter] Thatís hilarious.
McCrosky:Well, itís a story. I wasnít there.
DeVorkin:So, now this molding machine was only at Perkin-Elmer? Or did you have one here at Harvard?
McCrosky:Oh, it wasnít at Perkin Elmer. It went to New Mexico.
DeVorkin:So, you molded it right there in New Mexico?
McCrosky:Oh yes. Then there was the problem of designing things that would hold this strange shape before exposure and during development. Bob Wells did a lot of that.
DeVorkin:Now, this was Bakerís design. Did he help you, or was he concerned at all about all of the mechanical processes that his design was going to create? In other words, did he ever say to anybody, ďGee, Iím sorry I couldnít get a flat field for you?Ē
McCrosky:[Laugh] No. He knew. We knew that if worst came to worst we could make glass blanks and Eastman Kodak would coat them one at a time. I mean, this was very expensive to do it that way. Impossibly expensive. We really had to learn how to mold.
DeVorkin:How many plates would you go through, letís say, in an observing session?
McCrosky:I donít think we called them plates. We called them film. This is a F/0.6 camera. Something like that. F/0.8 maybe. We were taking ten minute exposures. We were going through fifty a night, at least.
DeVorkin:How long would it take, actually, to make one?
McCrosky:Just a minute. I fortunately never had to do it. I never had to do the production. We always hired someone to do that.
DeVorkin:It was sort of like a waffle iron then? A very sophisticated device that created a surface?
DeVorkin:How did the Super Schmidts perform?
McCrosky:Oh, they were marvelous. Marvelous.
DeVorkin:Who made the mechanics for them?
DeVorkin:When you worked at Perkin-Elmer — and, can you tell me when you actually worked there? Was it in Norwalk?
McCrosky:It was in Norwalk,
McCrosky:They made six of them. I was there for all of them, and it didnít happen all at once. I was probably there off and on for a year. I was back in school when I was still going down, testing Super Schmidts for the Canadians, among others. They had two.
DeVorkin:Now, do you remember when Fred Whipple said that you didnít want to work for Bok?
McCrosky:No. In fact, he said that twice. Once when I was choosing a thesis, and once when I had gotten my degree and was looking for a job elsewhere.
DeVorkin:Well, letís first talk about the thesis. How did the topic develop? Because looking through these I couldnít tell which one was your thesis.
McCrosky:You wonít find it.
DeVorkin:Was it on meteor fragmentation?
McCrosky:Yes in 1956?
DeVorkin:ďSome Physical and Statistical Studies of Meteor Fragmentation.Ē
McCrosky:Yes. That was my thesis.
DeVorkin:And, itís listed, actually, in the university microfilms as 1956, PhD. So, you must have entered into that say somewhere around Ď54?
DeVorkin:What was the process? Did you have to propose, and was that proposal accepted?
McCrosky:No. Things werenít that formal then, I think Fred and I decided. I donít think we had to go to a group. I donít remember, anyway.
DeVorkin:Did you come up with the idea for this thesis or did he suggest it to you?
McCrosky:He had another idea. Well, what we wanted was a method of not making flat plates and giving them to Luigi to ponder over for months. But, we have thousands of these. How can we do it quickly? That was the proposal. I made a method; I made a [optical projection] dome with proper grids and measuring things. If you just put two plates on that the star fields overlap, because youíre looking like so from the two stations.
DeVorkin:ďLike so,Ē means triangulation?
McCrosky:Right. And so you put the two films and put them on this celestial sphere, which is a Plexiglas sphere that I made in an oven with my wifeís help. And, then there are a number of tools — I donít remember them at all well — that let you read off of these devices the numbers you need to find the velocity and altitude and radiant, and eventual the orbit of the meteor. What you donít get is the deceleration, which is Luigiís bag. You see this requires very, very careful work.
DeVorkin:You have to actually measure each of the images? I mean, the meteors look like streaks?
McCrosky:Well with breaks in them. The cameras are being driven.
DeVorkin:Theyíre driven? So, the stars are stars?
DeVorkin:And, thatís your reference frame?
DeVorkin:And your meteors are these lines of spots?
DeVorkin:And then he would have the technique for determining deceleration?
McCrosky:Well, I could measure velocity, but I couldnít measure change in velocity. As a matter of fact I couldnít measure velocity very well, but well enough to get an orbit. So, I would get orbits, heights, brightnesses. I mean, you can do a lot with that; particularly if you have two thousand of them, whereas Luigi, at this time, had a hundred. We were identifying new showers that way.
DeVorkin:Your thesis, though, is on fragmentation. ďPhysical and Statistical Studies of Meteor Fragmentation,Ē and Iím interested in how you got into that, because at the time, both the Army and Air Force were very interested in ablation studies and in the effect of the atmosphere. Iím wondering what your knowledge of all of that was?
McCrosky:I got into that later. I think at this time people in general didnít know about an ablation problem. I donít think we had a reentry vehicle to worry about.
DeVorkin:It was something that was slowly growing?
DeVorkin:And then became a big deal?
DeVorkin:So, at this point, this was purely studies of the atmosphere or studies of meteors?
McCrosky:In my case it was just studies of meteors.
DeVorkin:Whipple had both interests?
McCrosky:Oh yes. Well, the money for studying meteors comes from the fact that you could study the atmosphere. That was not Whippleís primary interest.
DeVorkin:The atmosphere was not?
DeVorkin:You say his primary was the meteors?
DeVorkin:But he really got very involved with upper atmospheric studies and that sort of thing. I think Richard Thomas was involved with that?
McCrosky:Well, a little bit. Peripherally, yes. Well, Iím just saying, the way you get money to study meteors is to study the atmosphere.
DeVorkin:With your thesis now, big things were happening of course during this time that you were on your thesis. The Smithsonian was coming to Harvard. I would be extremely interested in your recollections of what knowledge at a graduate student level you had of the negotiations, or of the actual transfer? You know, like rumors in the hall, people talking, speculating what this would mean? How was the atmosphere?
McCrosky:I think it was secret. I didnít know about it. I was very close to Whipple, but I never heard a thing about it.
DeVorkin:So, he really kept it . . . very quiet?
McCrosky:I think so. Yes. You may find people who knew more than I did, but I donít remember knowing anything until almost when it happened.
DeVorkin:What was your reaction when you heard about this?
McCrosky:Iíd never thought that I was going to be a part of it. I didnít see myself as ever being a part of the Smithsonian.
DeVorkin:By then you were on your thesis and you were looking to a career? This is around í54 and í55.
McCrosky:Somewhere in there I started looking for jobs outside of Harvard because thatís what youíre supposed to do. Not that I wanted to leave Harvard, but — I said this happened to me twice. The first time was Bok, and then I went to Wesleyan in Middletown Connecticut. They were looking for someone, so I went down there and got an interview. I told Fred what I was doing, and I think he said, ďWell, you have a job here with me.Ē Well anyway I didnít go to Wesleyan. I stayed here.
DeVorkin:You said it was because it would be the normal thing to do?
DeVorkin:Did anybody else advise you?
McCrosky:No. I self-advised. By this time I had already bought this house. I was a graduate student when I bought this house. After we finished buying it we had $5. [Laughter]
DeVorkin:Now, you were married?
McCrosky:Yes. Thatís an interesting story too. People in general at the observatory, professors, people high up, did not like Harlow Shapley. They thought of him as trying to be a dictator. Not successful, but trying to be. And he was horrified when Fred offered me $2,000 a year. That was my starting salary.
DeVorkin:After the Ph.D.?
McCrosky:No. Before. To go to New Mexico. And, that was just an example. Fred didnít care for Shapley. I liked him a lot. He had a secretary who got her job because someone had hired her when she wrote down A-R-T thought she meant A-S-T, so sent her to the observatory for a job. That was my wife.
McCrosky:Anyway, so my wife, I mean she was not my wife then. My to-be wife worked for Shapley, and she and I got to know him much better than anyone else at the observatory. (Although they had known him for thirty years.) And, we liked him. He was a nice guy to us.
DeVorkin:Your wifeís maiden name, full name?
DeVorkin:And, what was her training?
McCrosky:Sheís a Smith graduate. So that means she didnít know anything. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Is that the general opinion of Smith graduates?
McCrosky:She had no science at all.
DeVorkin:She was working for Shapley in what capacity?
McCrosky:Shapley had a lifelong secretary and she needed a typist.
McCrosky:And, that was Jeanís first job.
DeVorkin:What was Shapleyís secretaryís name?
DeVorkin:[Laugh] How did you actually start talking to, to Jean, if I can call her Jean?
McCrosky:Shapley used to come to New Mexico and see us a couple times a year. Not because he had anything to do with the project, but just because he was in the neighborhood, and I think he knew we enjoyed him. He would tell us stories. Now, a lot of people said Shapleyís stories were stories, and maybe some of them were.
DeVorkin:Youíre saying like ďstoriesĒ?
McCrosky:One he told me was that he was a twin. [Laugh] And, I went back and told Fred that, ďDid you know that Shapley was a twin?Ē And Fred said, ďOh come on now, thatís another one of his stories.Ē [Laugh] And, he was. Which I found by asking his son, after Harlow died, and he told me the story. And, this has nothing to do with Fred, but itís an interesting story, that when it came time for the kids to go college they only had money for one. Harlow went and Henry stayed on the farm. Do you know the rest of the story?
McCrosky:At the age of seventy-something the twin — oh, they were estranged for many years. But, at the age of seventy or something the twin went back to University of Missouri and got his degree. Thatís not Shapley, thatís Alan.
McCrosky:Yes. Alan knows. Alan doesnít tell stories. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Interesting. I know Willis a little bit but not Alan.
McCrosky:Anyway, one of the stories he told us was a banquet at the Kremlin that he attended. And, in this great place with all the Czars, China, and everything, thereís an ant crawling across the table. [Laugh] And, Shapley picks it up and puts it in his pocket to study later.
DeVorkin:Oh yes. Right. He was a big fan of ants.
McCrosky:Great fan of ants. Well at one of our stations in New Mexico we had a most ferocious ant that, if he bit you, you were in trouble. And so, I gathered some of these together, put them in a coffee can and sent them to Shapley. [Laugh] Jean, my wife, was the one who opened the mail, and she opened the can and took them to Shapley and said, ďWhat do I do with these?Ē And he said, ďFeed them some sugar water.Ē [Laugh] That was how Jean met me.
DeVorkin:I see. When were you married?
DeVorkin:Did her family come from this area?
McCrosky:From Rhode Island. Westerly.
DeVorkin:So, that would not have been a factor as to where if you moved to Wesleyan, itís still New England?
McCrosky:Oh no. That was never a factor. No. As a matter of fact, at one time, we thought we were moving to South Africa.
DeVorkin:For the Boyden Station?
McCrosky:Yes, when I was going to do something for Bok.
DeVorkin:Oh, thatís right. Well, how did Whipple convince you to stay?
DeVorkin:So, you were perfectly content?
DeVorkin:You saw this as a good professional step?
McCrosky:I was doing things I enjoyed.
DeVorkin:You were well into working on meteors? You got into radar techniques?
McCrosky:No. That was Gerry Hawkins.
DeVorkin:Oh, I see. I guess you must have done some measuring or some analysis of his data?
McCrosky:I donít know.
DeVorkin:In 1957, ďVariations from a Poisson DistributionÖĒ?
McCrosky:Oh. Oh yes. That was somebody elseís, that was someone elseís radar data, probably the Canadians. Iíve forgotten. It was not hard data. Well, the reason Whipple asked me to stay was that he was going to start this radio meteor project and he wanted me to head it and then he hired Gerry.
DeVorkin:Oh. Okay. [Laugh] Because you do have at least several papers with Gerald Hawkins. This is on the Meteorite Photography and Recovery Project known as the Prairie Network, which we must talk about. And then also created in Ď58, the Radio Meteor Project analyzed meteoritic mass, velocity, orbital parameters, and the team, or the people who were leading the team, chief scientific investigators include Gerald Hawkins, Richard Southworth, Richard McCrosky.
McCrosky:Well, I had no part in it.
DeVorkin:Oh. This is from the archival records, from the Smithsonian Archives.
McCrosky:I had almost nothing to do with the Radio Meteor Project.
DeVorkin:No analysis or anything? But, you did do the Meteorite Photography and Recovery Project?
McCrosky:That was mine.
DeVorkin:We have to go through that.
McCrosky:Now, Hawkins had no part of that. I had as little to do with Hawkins as possible.
DeVorkin:Oh, thatís interesting. Heís the one who did Stonehenge Decoded and got into crop circles, and stuff like that?
DeVorkin:Okay, what I want to ask is how the atmosphere in the place changed in the IGY period, and especially as the SAO network staff started building up rapidly. What do you think is the best way to approach that with you: to appreciate your role in building up the Baker-Nunns, which were, of course — I think of them as the next generation beyond the Super Schmidts. Is that a fair statement?
McCrosky:Well, I donít, but thatís all right. Itís a different camera. Itís not better. Itís different.
DeVorkin:And, different in what way?
McCrosky:Itís a narrow field.
DeVorkin:Relatively narrow field?
McCrosky:Yes, quite narrow. The Super Schmidt was a fifty-seven degree field.
DeVorkin:I see, a really wide field?
McCrosky:And, the Baker-Nunn was just built for looking at satellites. I had very little to do with the Baker-Nunn. I had things to do with the Baker-Nunn stations but not the camera itself.
McCrosky:The way things changed was not just because Smithsonian came to Harvard, but because money then became free. Someone at NASA told me he believed in the ďbarrel of moneyĒ funding technique. ďYou send the investigator a barrel of money and he spends it. And when he gets down near the bottom thereís a note that says, ĎYouíre out of money. Ask for more.íĒ [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Can you tell me who that was?
McCrosky:Well, if it was my contract monitor it was Morrie Dubin, but Iím not sure it was Morrie. I donít know who told me the joke for sure. He was our monitor at the Air Force before he went to NASA.
McCrosky:He was at the Air Force Center here in Lincoln, MA, and then he went to NASA. And so, we did too. Some of our money started coming from there. But, that was the big change. Fred was very good at raising money.
McCrosky:What Iím trying to say is all the changes arenít due to the Smithsonian arriving here. Iím not sure what it would have been like if it hadnít. If Fred had been here there might have been a Harvard satellite tracking program.
DeVorkin:Fred Whipple has said in an interview that he needed the Smithsonian connection to be able to build something as big as the satellite tracking.
McCrosky:Probably true, yes. If he says so itís true.
DeVorkin:Did you become a Smithsonian employee?
McCrosky:Yes, when Sputnik went up. Chuck Whitney and I were drafted by Fred to do orbit work on Sputnik. We were just doing dog work, the hand computations that we knew how to do. The real work was being done by Don Lautman. Heís writing the big programs. But, he needed someone just to do these little things and Chuck Whitney and I did that for many weeks. It was about that time, I think, when I moved to Smithsonian, but I canít tell you when exactly.
DeVorkin:Were you in the Meteoritical Studies Section?
McCrosky:I donít know.
DeVorkin:[Laugh] You donít know?
McCrosky:Well, how would I know? I mean thatís something the Smithsonian keeps track of. People donít. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Oh, thatís very interesting. Well, Don Lautman was in satellite tracking.
McCrosky:Right. And, I took one of the Super Schmidts to Maui and set up the first tracking station. There were no Baker-Nunns yet. I also sent one to Argentina with an observer of mine from the Meteor Project.
DeVorkin:Let me give you a few names and ask whether you worked with them. In 1957, at least, Charles Whitney was in the Solar Astrophysics Division, as far as Smithsonian was concerned, doing acoustic wave studies in the solar atmosphere. Under Meteoritical Studies there was John Reinhart.
DeVorkin:He was Director of Meteoritical Studies, and there were a number of different divisions under him in that division. There was Meteor Photography that was headed by Luigi Jacchia. Now, so were you working for Luigi?
McCrosky:No. Luigi and I never worked together. We worked together but we never worked for one another.
DeVorkin:Did you work with Lautman?
McCrosky:[Laugh] — Iím one of the authors of the first published orbit of a satellite, of an earth satellite. There were three authors, Fred, Don Lautman, and me. What I did was to drive Fred and Don down to MIT to the computer at two oíclock in the morning where we would keep putting data in until we got an orbit that didnít intersect the surface of the earth. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Well. Thatís good.
McCrosky:And we published that one. [Laughter] I didnít work for Don. We spent many long nights together.
DeVorkin:What about with Carl Henise or Leon Campbell?
McCrosky:Carl and I went to South America to choose sites for satellite tracking. I donít think we ever did anything else together.
DeVorkin:So, you didnít have a bureaucratic reporting structure?
DeVorkin:Basically you were just talking directly to Whipple throughout all of this?
DeVorkin:But, working in collaboration with these other people?
McCrosky:Yes. I mean, Iíve explained my relationship with Henise and Lautman, and Luigi.
DeVorkin:What about with Alan Heinike?
McCrosky:No. He was Associate Director or something like that?
DeVorkin:Yes. And, he was supposedly Associate Director for the satellite tracking programs overall, in Ď57.
McCrosky:I really didnít have anything to do with the satellite tracking except I volunteered to move the Super Schmidt for them. Other than that I didnít have much to do with it. I once told Fred Whipple that my favorite scientist of all was Grote Reber.
McCrosky:Because he never worked with anyone else. I considered that to be ideal. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Oh, I see what you mean.
McCrosky:Fred disagreed strongly. He said, ďThatís not how science is done anymore.Ē But, I tried my best to stay that way. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:What Iím trying to do at this point is figure out where you fit into the structure as it explained itself in the directorís reports.
McCrosky:Well, what does it say?
DeVorkin:In Ď57 your name doesnít come up.
McCrosky:Am I at Smithsonian by then?
DeVorkin:Well, Iím not even sure.
DeVorkin:Letís move onto Ď58. Weíre going, again, into the Meteoritical Photography Studies and there we have Fred Whipple and Gerry Hawkins, Meteor Columns. Meteor Photography is still under Jacchia.
McCrosky:Itís not Meteor Photography, its Meteor Photography Analysis.
DeVorkin:And, then thereís Micro Meteorites, Ablation. Here you are. Under the satellite tracking program you came, officially, in 1956, and you were heading up the Observational Program under Satellite Tracking. You were in Hawaii in í57-58.
DeVorkin:So, thatís, thatís the first entry into the official infrastructure. It looked like, technically, you were working directly for Heinike, even though you probably didnít know it. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Iím only saying on paper, because everybody had to be accountable on paper. And, the important thing for me to know is how would you describe where you fit in?
McCrosky:I worked for Whipple.
DeVorkin:You worked for Whipple? But, letís go even beyond that. Letís say, were you not working for yourself?
McCrosky:Yes. Well, would I have anything to do if it hadnít been for Fred? No. Did I need a lot of help from him? No. By then I was pretty much raising my own money.
DeVorkin:You indicated that you had Maurice Dubin as a contact in the Air Force?
McCrosky:Yes. And, at NASA, eventually.
DeVorkin:Did that start, actually, in Ď58, when you worked with him?
McCrosky:I donít remember. ONR supported the Meteor Program to begin with, and then it went over to the Air Force. Morrie might have been there from the beginning or not. But, that would have been, you know Ď53 or Ď54 or something like that.
DeVorkin:But, in the 1958 report what was written was that the ďBaker-Nunn cameras for the precision photographic program have been installed. Twenty observers and their families reached their posts. But, pending the installation of the cameras an interim observational program was carried out under the supervision of Dr. Richard McCrosky in Hawaii, and Kenneth Morrison in Argentina.Ē
DeVorkin:Could you walk me through the process of setting up that station, and how you did it, what the goals were, and how Haleakala was chosen?
McCrosky:I donít know. Haleakala had been chosen and the site had been built by Walt Steiger, who was in the astronomy department or physics department at the University of Hawaii. He was the honcho who got all that done. He was good. We were lucky to have him. So, when I got there, there was already a building. I suppose that by that time I had sent the specs for the pier, as far as I know, that was done before I got there.
DeVorkin:Steiger writes in an informal history of the Haleakala period at the University of Hawaii (This is more a history of the department): ďThe facility was ready for the camera on July 1, Ď57, but the camera was not ready. Because of the importance of the Hawaii station SAO decided to send one of its meteor tracking Schmidt cameras, and with it came Dr. Richard McCrosky, his assistant and observer Walter Webb, and a crew to install the camera.Ē
DeVorkin:You were the crew?
McCrosky:We were the crew.
DeVorkin:Okay. So, he says, ďIt was this team then that initiated satellite tracking from Haleakala.Ē
DeVorkin:Were you there in Haleakala when Sputnik went up?
McCrosky:Oh no. We went because Sputnik went up.
DeVorkin:Ah. It was not in July when you went.
McCrosky:No. We did go. He said it was ready in July. I think we got there in time for Christmas. Now I need my wife. She knows these things. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Were you there when the Baker-Nunn arrived, and were you involved in installing it?
McCrosky:I was involved in uninstalling mine, not installing theirs.
DeVorkin:How long were you there totally?
DeVorkin:And so you got there in December, and stayed through June?
McCrosky:It sounds right.
DeVorkin:Did you track any of the American satellites or the subsequent Sputnik?
DeVorkin:What did you actually do? This was all meteor work?
McCrosky:No. It was all satellite tracking. But, in order to track satellites you have to have a prediction, and we almost never got those.
DeVorkin:So, what did you do?
McCrosky:Well, we tried. We photographed and I think we made the first photograph of Sputnik but no one else thinks so. I donít think they even measured the plate. It was a farce Iím afraid. I consider it probably the most wasteful six months of my scientific career, and I worked like a dog. [Laugh] [— discontinuity —]
DeVorkin:He was an observer, basically?
McCrosky:I donít know what he was, and I donít know what he did afterwards, although I know he went to the Science Museum in Boston and was an outstanding success there. [— discontinuity -]
DeVorkin:You didnít have a triangulation network in Haleakala?
DeVorkin:So, you couldnít really do meteor work?
DeVorkin:And so, it was either satellites or nothing?
DeVorkin:Without predictions? So, for this entire period then?
McCrosky:No. We took photographs and I spent a lot of time turning the Super Schmidt into a camera that could track in two directions. It didnít work very well but it helped a little bit.
DeVorkin:The Super Schmidts were equatorial, as you said right?
DeVorkin:And so tracking a satellite is kind . . .
McCrosky:It means you have to put the right rate into the declination. I can do the arithmetic, and I made the machinery that was going to do this, but it didnít work very well. I didnít expect it to.
DeVorkin:I mean, thatís rather complicated? You do need a good ephemeris to know when and where?
DeVorkin:Were there any MoonWatch teams in Hawaii?
McCrosky:Not that I know.
DeVorkin:Because I understand that MoonWatch turned out to be more valuable than anticipated because they could provide rough positions which could give a preliminary ephemeris?
McCrosky:I donít know.
DeVorkin:Yes. I was just wondering if maybe while you were there you would try to campaign for a MoonWatch?
McCrosky:Wouldnít have helped to have a station there. It would have helped to have an ephemeris. Because of Cambridge, not from Hawaii.
DeVorkin:Oh, thatís true. So you didnít need a local MoonWatch. Why didnít information get to you?
McCrosky:I donít know.
McCrosky:I have a bitching letter to Fred written in those days which probably exists in his files.
DeVorkin:Iíll look for it. [Laugh] Thatís exactly the kind of clue I need, because clearly something wasnít working right. And, you were frustrated.
McCrosky:Well, yes I was frustrated.
DeVorkin:So, when the Baker-Nunn showed up and you packed up the Super Schmidt you came back to Cambridge?
McCrosky:I brought it back to New Mexico. And yes, I came back to Cambridge.
DeVorkin:Through that time, this is already Ď58, youíre publishing on the meteor wake, but then you get into something totally different in í59. And, in fact it even predates that. At some point you were one of four authors on a paper on Operating an Astronomical Telescope on an Earth Satellite?
McCrosky:Yes. And that was the end of my relationship with that problem.
DeVorkin:That was the end of your relationship?
McCrosky:Yes. Very, very brief. It was kind of like my role in the first satellite orbit. I was not important. I was there. I was probably making suggestions, but that became Bob Davisís program and I was not involved after that. In spite of what they say.
DeVorkin:Would you have wanted to be part of it?
McCrosky:No. I had lots to do.
DeVorkin:Then was it Whipple who asked you to be part of the program initially?
McCrosky:Whipple surely chose the names on that; it wasnít even a paper was it?
DeVorkin:This was in the Astronomical Journal, (McCrosky: Oh, it was?) and it was a Plan for Operating an Astronomical in a Earth Satellite. And I just wanted to know how did you become involved? Iím most interested in hallway conversations, the idea, developing the idea, your contact with Bob Davis, and all of that. Can you lead me through the steps?
McCrosky:No. I canít. My involvement couldnít have been more than a month. At some time this group sat down and discussed the possibilities and problems.
DeVorkin:And, you were part of that group?
McCrosky:I was part of that group.
DeVorkin:You didnít take notes?
McCrosky:No. No I didnít.
McCrosky:Jean and I were married in Jeanís familyís living room, and her brothers were camera nuts, and she made absolutely sure that they would not have any cameras flashing during the ceremony, and they agreed. But, Babbie Whipple was there with a movie camera grinding away.
DeVorkin:So, there are movies of your wedding?
McCrosky:No. She double exposed. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Oh no. [Laughter] Okay.
McCrosky:Babbie is still embarrassed by that. And, weíre not, of course. [Laughter]
DeVorkin:Did you take pictures during your various journeys to Haleakala, and New Mexico?
McCrosky:I am responsible for exposing more film than anyone except the U.S. Air Force, but Iíve hardly ever taken a snapshot.
DeVorkin:No visual record then of your time down there? Or, did other people take pictures?
McCrosky:Yes, Ansel Adams photographed Walt W. and me. My son uncovered a copy.
DeVorkin:Let me try to pick your mind on the suggested rocket experiment.
McCrosky:When is that?
DeVorkin:Well, this was 1959, and this was in an SAO special report. ďFor the Determinations of Atmospheric Densities and Winds at Extreme Heights.Ē Do you have any memory of that?
DeVorkin:So, itís something you actually talked about but didnít necessarily do? I mean, you have pictures of rockets here.
McCrosky:Yes. Theyíre just something else. That draws a blank.
DeVorkin:Okay, let me see.
McCrosky:Is Fredís name on it too?
DeVorkin:No. Itís just you.
McCrosky:Suggested Rocket Experiment?
DeVorkin:Iíll let you think about it.
McCrosky:People were releasing gases, and we were photographing them. They showed winds, but that wasnít a program of mine. It was something that the Air Force did and we photographed for them. Youíre probably right.
DeVorkin:Well, itís a record.
McCrosky:George Weatherall once told me of a paper that I had written, but I had absolutely no memory of it.
DeVorkin:Let me see what I have here. Okay, the Fragmentation paper, the Weather Conditions, Orbits of Photographic Meteors. I donít have a copy of it because the SAO reports werenít on ADS which is unfortunate. And, I didnít get a chance to go find it.
McCrosky:I have no idea. Send it to me if you find it.
DeVorkin:I certainly can find it, and I will send it because what you could do is maybe add comments when you read the transcript. That would be very helpful. One of my questions was, and probably would be in the special report, ďWho was supporting this kind of work?Ē I can see how itís related to your meteor work.
McCrosky:Yes. Well, we did a lot of work for the stuff going on at Holloman [A.F.B.], and White Sands, because we had the best cameras, and the best reduction procedures.
DeVorkin:Now starting then, and again the paper that has your name on it, The Plan for Operating an Astronomical Telescope in Earth Satellite, you also have no memory or no significant involvement in?
McCrosky:I didnít realize that was a paper. I thought that was an abstract?
DeVorkin:Yes. It was an abstract. Oh, so you werenít even part of the presentation?
McCrosky:I doubt it.
DeVorkin:But, what you did recall is very important actually. You do recall sitting down around a table or something with Davis, and Whipple, and Whitney?
McCrosky:I must have. Yes, I mean I wouldnít be there otherwise. I didnít put my name there.
DeVorkin:Did Whipple, during this time immediately after Sputnik, bring people together to think how, you know, ďHow do we react to this? What kinds of activities?Ē
McCrosky:Now, youíre asking questions about an organization that I think didnít exist.
DeVorkin:Thatís interesting. Tell me about that.
McCrosky:As I have said, Whipple hired people and told them to go do it. Thatís what he always did to me, from the time I was twenty-two until the time I was sixty-two thatís how things worked.
DeVorkin:Did he ever talk to you though about his strategy? How important the tracking stations were? Where he wanted tracking to be in his overall scheme of things?
McCrosky:I donít recall now. I had my own things to worry about. Tracking satellites was not one of them.
DeVorkin:So, you stuck with meteor work?
DeVorkin:Because weíre definitely going to talk about the Prairie Network. But, I just wanted to clean up everything first.
McCrosky:Iím sorry to be so vague.
DeVorkin:Itís okay. Itís all right.
McCrosky:I think my vagueness is meaningful.
DeVorkin:Yes it is. Let me get the dates then, again. In Ď58, then, from until about June or so, you were in Haleakala? You did not come back until the summer. And, by that time there was already a space telescope project going on, as I understand it, from a record that weíve kept from the actual documents, and that sort of thing. And, there were people like Gerhard Schilling involved? And, Iíd be very interested to track him down. I think heís in Newport News, Virginia. But, did you work with Schilling at all, or did you know him?
McCrosky:He was an administrator.
DeVorkin:He was basically an administrator at that time?
DeVorkin:So I wonít carry you through the satellite tracking or Celescope projects, or anything like that. You really had no contacts with them?
McCrosky:Not really. No.
DeVorkin:So you continued almost exclusively then in meteor work, asteroidal meteors, estimates of luminous efficiency. You did some work on simulated meteors. I was wondering, and this is again a report, in 1961, where youíre reporting on artificial meteors. How did you get into that work? Who did you work with and these artificial meteors came from? Oh, these are the sounding rockets here?
McCrosky:Yes. Well, that was an ARPA program. It was now common knowledge that people were interested in ablation problems. The people at MIT, under ARPA, who had some flight stuff for them, asked me to talk about meteors one day. I told them what I always thought was the remaining meteor problem, and that was the question of luminous efficiency. We know how bright a meteor is, but we donít know how big the thing was that made it. The relationship between the mass and the luminosity was always a puzzle and we had no way to get at it. So I guess I told them what we could do, and what the problem was, and that if they were going to reenter things I would like to be there to see them, and maybe I could learn something. And, they said, ďWell, that would be very nice. Weíll set up a couple of stations with your Super Schmidts for you on the Eastern Shore.Ē Wallops Island. And they asked, ďIs there anything we can do for you?Ē And, I said, ďWell, Iím really not interested in five-inch aluminum spheres, how about something steel?Ē And, they said, ďWell, that sounds interesting. Letís do that.Ē And so, they ended up with this seven-stage rocket. I call it seven stages. Itís really not quite true.
DeVorkin:Part of it looks like a Nike?
McCrosky:Yes. Well, Iím not sure which one weíre looking at. I never had to worry about that part.
DeVorkin:Thereís some pretty odd looking combinations?
McCrosky:Yes. The final version, the one that really worked for me was three stages up and then two stages down, of rockets.
DeVorkin:Two stages down?
McCrosky:Yes. This is reentry.
DeVorkin:Oh I see. You were accelerating (McCrosky: Yes.) coming in?
McCrosky:Weíre trying to get meteor velocities. Fifteen kilometers a second. I donít know what we reached, twelve probably. Anyway, so there are two coming back down, and then the last, the sixth stage was their usual thing, which was a fifteen inch spherical thing filled with propellant and a nozzle. That was their test body. It started off as a five inch and weíre maybe looking at the five-inch model here. Eventually it was a fifteen-inch sphere that they would fire back.
DeVorkin:Thatís the oddest one. Iíve never seen anything like it.
McCrosky:Well, of course not. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Were these classified?
McCrosky:No. They would have never let me see the important thingís in here.
DeVorkin:So, because the last stage is really the reentry stage?
McCrosky:Thatís the reentry stage?
DeVorkin:And, itís really quite large?
McCrosky:Well, itís two rockets plus the spherical rocket.
DeVorkin:Well, that nose cone looks conical. But, it was inside of that?
McCrosky:Well, itís at the ass end of it. Itís here. This goes up and this part fires back down. So, I suppose itís in here. On the end of this fifteen-inch rocket, on a few occasions they would put a shaped charge, which was the seventh stage. And, the pellet from the shaped charge was about the size of a nickel.
DeVorkin:A bunch of them?
McCrosky:One. Weíre looking for a meteor. Not a whole lot.
DeVorkin:So, youíre just creating one meteor?
McCrosky:The payload for this monster was a nickel. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Yes. Thatís amazing.
McCrosky:And, it worked. We got a number of them. We knew the mass fairly well, because the shaped charges had been tested ad infinitum. We knew the composition.
DeVorkin:And, this is a way to get a standard?
DeVorkin:And the Baker Super Schmidtís what you used and they worked just fine, I take it?
McCrosky:Oh yes. They didnít have to be very accurate for us. We have a fifty-seven degree field during reentry. As long as it doesnít end up in New Jersey, which one of them did.
McCrosky:[Laugh] Well. I think they exploded it before it landed. Well, the interesting thing this huge ungainly rocket is sitting on the gantry and thereís a hook, and thereís an eyebolt, think of it as an eyebolt, on the rocket. And itís holding the rocket in place. And, the rocket takes off. Thatís the end of the guidance. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Oh, well yes. These are spin stabilized?
DeVorkin:[Laugh] Yes, youíre not talking about a very sophisticated system here?
DeVorkin:But, evidently the spin stabilization was enough. And, where were the cameras set up?
McCrosky:One was at Wallops Island, and the other was at East Bank. Some place south on the peninsula.
DeVorkin:Were there Smithsonian staff manning the stations, or was that Air Force?
McCrosky:I was always there, but most often it was someone from Lincoln Lab, but on occasions I took my two favorite people along.
DeVorkin:Who were they?
McCrosky:Chuck Tugas, and Skip Schwartz.
DeVorkin:The people that you published with included R.K. Silverman?
McCrosky:[Laugh] He was our contract monitor at the Air Force. I guess that was the payoff.
DeVorkin:And, thatís the only one with the simulated meteors where you had a co-author. But then you were working from there to ďLuminous Efficiency of Iron and Stone Asteroidal Meteors?Ē
DeVorkin:Now did you use the data from the nickel to calibrate your natural meteor combinations?
McCrosky:I guess at some point I thought I had had a natural meteor that I could clearly attribute as asteroidal, rather than as a cometary, origin to it. And if it really was an asteroidal meteor then I didnít have to have the artificial one. But, they would have been different velocities. And, thereís a strong velocity function. So, I donít remember that paper.
DeVorkin:You had some earlier papers on fragmentation, back in Ď55, but then you, you got back to fragmentation later on. But first, before we do that, I definitely want to talk about the Prairie Network. You have a special report, SAO Special Report #173. That was in 1965, called the Prairie Meteor Network you co-authored with Boeschenstein. Who is he?
McCrosky:He was a sometime graduate student who was not scholastically adept, but very clever. The only thing he insisted on was that he work for nothing. [Laugh] His father was chairman of the board of Corning Glass.
McCrosky:So, who cares? [Laugh] He was a good friend, and he did lots of things for me. He probably fought me about putting his name in.
DeVorkin:So, you definitely wrote the paper then?
McCrosky:Yes. I wrote the paper.
DeVorkin:Did you design the Prairie Network?
DeVorkin:And, did you conceptualize it? In other words was it something that you said had to be done or that Fred wanted to do?
McCrosky:Fred had this idea for a long time, and he called it, his was always the Texas Network. I think thatís what he used to call it.
DeVorkin:But, you called it the Prairie?
McCrosky:Thatís where we put it. That was Gerry Hawkinsí name. Gerry thought up that name. That was his only part of it, but he was the one, as an Englishman, decided that was an appropriate name and I agreed.
DeVorkin:Well, in developing the program you needed support, and I wanted to know who did you propose to, and how did you get the money to do it?
McCrosky:I proposed to NASA a long time before it happened. But then we got into the bucket-of-money years and it became possible to do. Again, it was Marty Dubin who was our contract monitor for the Prairie Net.
DeVorkin:And, it was always NASA?
McCrosky:Always NASA, yes.
DeVorkin:Things get really, really complicated at SAO during this time.
DeVorkin:Yes. Here you are.
McCrosky:Who did I work for?
DeVorkin:Well, itís under Meteoritic Science, and Fred Whipple is running it. Heís in charge of a section on meteorite impacts on satellites. Richard Southworth is doing zodiacal cloud work; interplanetary particles Robert Briggs; Giuseppe Colombo and Don Lautman on micro meteorites; and then Dr. Cook, Gerry Hawkins, you, and Franco Verjani? Youíre all in something called Theoretical Studies of Meteors.
McCrosky:Oh, were we?
DeVorkin:But, youíre certainly not doing only theoretical studies.
McCrosky:No. I hardly ever did.
DeVorkin:Right. Youíre also under artificial meteors, but, under photographic meteor data itís listed, Jacchia, Verjani, and Briggs. So, oh here it is. The Photographic Meteorite Recovery Program.
DeVorkin:Now, thatís the Prairie Network?
DeVorkin:Thatís definitely under you, under Meteoritic Studies, which is expanded to several pages of this spreadsheet. Itís really getting to be a very complex and very big project. Was this Whippleís intention to be able to recover physical samples?
DeVorkin:Because thatís what it was all about?
DeVorkin:So you were able to get support from NASA. Were there any military interests in this at all at the time?
McCrosky:Not that I know of. I mean I had been thrown off of White Sands in the 1950s because I was suspect and Iíve never had clearance of any kind.
DeVorkin:You were thrown off?
McCrosky:It was because I foolishly bought a copy of Das Kapital in Las Cruces. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Well, thatís all it takes. This is the McCarthy Era then?
McCrosky:I suppose. Yes, more or less. It was bad times. Korean War. No, not McCarthy.
DeVorkin:Were you subject to reenlistment, or re-draft, or anything?
McCrosky:No. I wasnít subject.
DeVorkin:So then the Prairie Network, can you give me sort of a narrative history of it as you see it? The development of the network, its operation, and how successful it was?
McCrosky:There had already been a meteorite recovered in Czechoslovakia, one that had been photographed by Zdenk Ceplecha. And, that was just a matter of luck. He was photographing meteors like all of us, but this one happened to be a meteorite, and he was able to predict an impact point for it. Iím not sure how much of an influence that had except that it meant that it was possible. I met Ceplecha shortly after this event and he told me that he was going to start a network in Europe, and he asked me how mine was coming. I said, ďWell, I have to wait for the money.Ē And he said, ďOh, you Americans. Money. Money. Money.Ē I said, ďWell, when are you going to start yours?Ē And he said, ďWhen I get approval.Ē [Laughter]
McCrosky:It was a very large program. We got, as usual, war surplus cameras. These were aerial cameras.
DeVorkin:So, these were not Baker Super Schmidts?
McCrosky:Iíve got sixty-four of these. Baker Super Schmidts come a million bucks apiece.
DeVorkin:Oh, the early ones were that expensive?
McCrosky:They are now.
DeVorkin:But, Iím not talking about Baker Nunn. Iím talking about the Super Schmidt. They were that expensive?
McCrosky:Well, they would be now yes. I mean, itíd be more than that now. But, I mean they were hundreds of thousands. They were big. They were three tons. They had glass optics twenty-four inches across. A big camera.
DeVorkin:So then the Prairie Network is small cameras?
McCrosky:Weíre looking for very bright meteors. We donít care about faint ones. Weíre looking for something bright enough to come in, survive, and get to the ground.
DeVorkin:So, this is strictly fireballs?
McCrosky:One hoped so. And, we predicted that weíd get lots, which weíd recover quite a few, but we didnít. So, we started by getting these aerial cameras. If you know what you want and you think the military has it, all you have to do is find out where it is. And, these were somewhere in Mississippi, and we got a hundred of them. They were on our books at $6,400 apiece.
DeVorkin:But, did they cost $6,400 apiece.
McCrosky:Oh, Iím sure they did. But, they were excess property from the military.
DeVorkin:Was there any go between?
McCrosky:I sent someone down and he picked them out. I mean, heís someone who worked for me. He didnít know anything about cameras but he knew what a damaged case looked like. [Laugh]
McCrosky:So, we got a hundred of them. And, I designed all the electronics to make Ėautomatic stations. Theyíre just sitting there doing their thing, without help.
DeVorkin:But, they were tended, werenít they? I mean, somebody had to replace the film?
McCrosky:Once a month. It was roll film. [Phone rings] Decide where to put the stations and how to space them. And, thatís just a matter of a lot of geometry and a lot of moving things around, and trying to find the optimum.
DeVorkin:If these were automated stations they had to be reset every night?
McCrosky:There are four cameras in each station and theyíre fixed.
DeVorkin:Theyíre not driven?
DeVorkin:Okay. And so theyíre taking star trails then?
DeVorkin:Very interesting. Four cameras covering most of the sky?
McCrosky:Yes. A few blind spots, but not many. These are wide angle. These are F6. An hour or two exposures. The film we mostly used came from Air Force surplus. Whipple once said that he had looked over seven acres of film to find the comets that he found. Yes. I donít know whether it was seven — some number. That he had looked at to find the comets he had discovered. We actually exposed more than that a year. These were ten-inch wide rolls.
DeVorkin:And so maybe each camera gets . . .
McCrosky:Oh, five, six, seven, eight.
DeVorkin:So, thereís about thirty frames a night?
McCrosky:Yes, per station.
DeVorkin:And then you have how many of these cameras?
DeVorkin:Did you employ somebody to — I mean, all these came back to Cambridge, right?
McCrosky:Oh no. Our headquarters was in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nothing came back. Well, they came back when they had to be measured.
DeVorkin:Well, what happened in Lincoln?
McCrosky:The people who maintained the network, and searched for meteorites, and developed the film. As I say, we got the film surplus from the Air Force and then sold the silver from the developer. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Now, you developed a nomographic procedure for quick analysis of the films?
McCrosky:That was for the Super Schmidts.
DeVorkin:Youíre coming out with papers on the analysis, but you had, here it is, ďSpecial data-reduction procedures for Prairie Network Meteor Photographs." This was you and Posen? Whatís his first name, actually?
DeVorkin:Oh, thatís a woman?
McCrosky:Yes. These are back in the days when people had their own programmers and their own secretaries. You donít have that anymore.
DeVorkin:This report in the abstract describes the procedures employed to obtain trajectory and luminosity data for photographs, made with the network cameras, complete trajectory and luminosity results are tabulated for twenty-nine meteors. By later that year you have eighty-two more meteors.
McCrosky:Weíre just looking at the bright ones. Weíre not trying to compete with the data that the Super Schmidts got. That was precise stuff. Weíre just trying to look for the asteroidal material. We want to see something that gets down really low.
DeVorkin:Low into the atmosphere? [Clock chimes]
DeVorkin:You do start collaborating with Ceplecha in your two programs in 1968. And then, by Special Report #305, which is early Ď69, you and Ceplecha come up with ďFireballs and the Physical Theory of Meteors,Ē which is a very important paper as I understand it. And, this is a confirmation of the low density of fireballs?
McCrosky:Of cometary material. Fireballs can be anything. Itís a question of brightness, not of competition.
DeVorkin:And then, this provides a lot of studies of different physical effects, thermal shock, ablation, pressure fragmentation, all of these kinds of processes?
DeVorkin:Were you exploring those yourself with Ceplecha?
McCrosky:We worked very closely and the ideas belong to both of us.
DeVorkin:Did you have any contact with Air Force interests, by this time, or had ablation studies moved on completely?
McCrosky:They had moved on completely. I think they had solved their problems.
DeVorkin:By 1970 you actually moved back into meteor simulation by rocket flights again. This was Ď62 to Ď67, or is this the same period?
McCrosky:Itís the same period. It went on for some years.
DeVorkin:You worked with W.G. Ayers?
McCrosky:He was a NASA engineer. Iím not sure what his role was in meteor work. I just donít remember.
DeVorkin:Your primary role was in photography?
McCrosky:Yes. In analyzing the photographs.
DeVorkin:What about Shao, C.Y. Shao.
McCrosky:Heís a guy who worked for me for many years. Heís someone I had to lie about for so long.
DeVorkin:Oh, what do you mean?
McCrosky:He came here via Taiwan. Heís Chinese but he came via Taiwan by luck on his part. But, he had never been able to be a citizen here for different kinds of reasons. We only allow two a year [at SAO]. And so, I had to write a letter every year saying that he was important to the national defense, or whatever they asked me to say. And, I said it. Of course, eventually they said, ďOllie Ollie Oxen Free,Ē and all these people who had been waiting for years got citizenship.
DeVorkin:Iím interested in your work on the tensile strength of these bodies. Was this allied with Whippleís research into cometary nuclei?
McCrosky:We all believed that these meteors were very fragile, but Iím not going to say because of Whippleís comet model — I donít know. Youíd have to ask Whipple which came first.
DeVorkin:Well, I know that assumptions about the tensile strength of these bodies was critical for him to be able to interpret meteors trails in terms of atmospheric data. There was some controversy in the Ď50s over that. Iím wondering if this is a continuing issue?
McCrosky:Yes. We hadnít resolved this problem entirely. The difference between cometary and asteroidal meteors. Thatís how we always described these two structures. One very fragile, and the other not.
DeVorkin:In your abstract with Ceplecha in the SAO report in 1969, you say, ďWe recognize a number of uncertainties and inconsistencies in the classical theory of meteors.Ē But you were saying that hopefully these could be narrowed down by observational data.
McCrosky:That was my reason for having the Prairie Net. I mean, my own reason was to solve this problem of the luminous efficiency. You could sell it because of collecting meteorites.
DeVorkin:Now, there was an issue in the Ď60s that I think Whipple got into some sort of a tiff with the National Museum of Natural History people who were collecting meteorites, as to where the meteorite collection was properly to be located.
McCrosky:I donít think Whipple got into that. Really?
DeVorkin:What is your recollection of it?
McCrosky:I worked with that group at Smithsonian. They always wanted to be sure they got it, but I donít think Whipple would have ever said that he wanted it. There was always a problem with NASA saying that maybe they ought to have them.
DeVorkin:Oh, I didnít know that. Okay. Was the Lost City meteorite fall, was that one of the issues?
McCrosky:That was the only recovery. And people say ďWhy only one?Ē I say, ďWell, if you look at the data on Lost City youíll see why.Ē This meteor was absolutely unique. We had no other meteor that behaved as nicely as that one did. [Laugh] It got down to nineteen kilometers. Almost a half a scale height lower than anything else we had ever observed.
DeVorkin:You said half of scale height?
DeVorkin:Were you involved in the retrieval at all? Who retrieved it?
McCrosky:Skip Schwartz. Iíve mentioned these two people. Schwartz came to New Mexico about the time I did and became the manager of that station, and then went to the Radio Meteor Project and ran that for years. And then came to Prairie Net and ran that until the end. Then I hired him and he worked with me at the observatory here at Oak Ridge. There are any number of things I could not have done without him. And the other one was Chuck Tugas, who was an observer in New Mexico, and then went to Satellite Tracking, and then came to Prairie Net. Fred said, ďYou got too many good guys. I want one.Ē [Laugh] And, he made Chuck in charge of Mount Hopkins.
McCrosky:I donít know if you know the rest of that story or not?
DeVorkin:What is it? Because I know that they moved a Baker-Nunn there.
Chuck built Mount Hopkins. And, he ran afoul of the law. He wasnít getting the support he wanted and had needed, for sure. But in any case he found it convenient, if he wanted someone to build a road, to say to him, ďLook, you build the road Iíll give you the bulldozer,Ē which was war surplus. And so, Chuck went to jail.
DeVorkin:Oh my. And, did the Smithsonian defend him?
McCrosky:No. As far as I know Whipple didnít even write a letter.
DeVorkin:Boy. Oh boy. And, he did this because there was no cash?
McCrosky:Well, he didnít see anything wrong with it. I mean it was just money to him, you know. He wasnít making any money on it. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Oh, I see.
McCrosky:No. He was naÔve, but a magnificent guy.
DeVorkin:Was he good at building the observatory?
McCrosky:Oh yes. He was good running that. Everyone will tell you that Chuck Tugas built Mount Hopkins. I mean, he was there alone, to begin.
DeVorkin:Dave Latham was involved in setting up the first telescopes, As I understand it.
McCrosky:I think so. Yes.
DeVorkin:And, did he work with Tugas as well?
McCrosky:Oh, he would have, some. Dave would not have been involved with building the road or the building. I mean, Dave could have but I donít think he was.
DeVorkin:Now, moving through the Ď60s and into the Ď70s, of course, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory combined with Harvard was getting larger and larger and the operation was getting more complex. Iíd be very interested in your observations of how the atmosphere for research in the place changed through the Ď60s, through the last few years of Whippleís tenure? Relationships with Harvard. Relationships with Goldberg.
McCrosky:I donít have any first-hand knowledge. I only remember Fredís comment about Leo. He said, ďThereís a man whoís always willing to pour gasoline on troubled waters.Ē [Laughter]
DeVorkin:Instead of oil?
DeVorkin:I see. I see.
McCrosky:Fred didnít get along with Leo, I guess, at least as Director to Director.
DeVorkin:Did it become difficult in any way for you to operate?
DeVorkin:So again you were insulated?
DeVorkin:How did your life change? How did the institution change at Fredís retirement from the directorship in Ď72?
McCrosky:I think by this time is the Prairie Net over? I asked for ten years for the Prairie Net and thatís what I got. But, by this time, I am probably at this observatory over here doing astrometry.
DeVorkin:So, you did astrometry with the Wyeth reflector primarily?
DeVorkin:Because thereís a good number of papers, and itís identified as the 122 cm reflector, I think it was?
DeVorkin:Yes. Exactly. So, it was definitely the Wyeth, not the instruments out at Hopkins?
McCrosky:Oh no. No.
DeVorkin:But, how did, how did the life of the observatory change in Whippleís last years? Was this a major revolution, a major change for you?
McCrosky:Not for me. No. I was to myself very much. I didnít notice a change.
DeVorkin:Okay. In 1971 there was a paper that was published in an IAU colloquium on Combined Observations of Meteors by Image Orthicon Television Camera and Multi-station Radar. What was your input to that?
McCrosky:I had forgotten that one. Thatís thirty-one. I just counted the number of observatories that I have been responsible for, and I got up to thirty. [Laughter]
DeVorkin:Now, by saying you were ďresponsible forĒ you mean the overall program of all these different stations, somehow you were responsible for them?
DeVorkin:And, that was your role at the Smithsonian, basically?
McCrosky:Often. Very often. I mean, they were always things of my interest except for Mount Hopkins, which I was director of briefly.
DeVorkin:Oh, I didnít know that.
McCrosky:Yes. Well, no one did. No one knew it at the time. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:What was your input then?
McCrosky:On this one? Well, we had the Radio Meteor Project in Havana, Illinois. And, radar looks at the meteor in cross section. You see, thereís an ion column and the radar reflects off of this line of ions. So, any meteor that the radar sees is going to be going down somewhere else and that somewhere else is Champagne, Illinois. So, I had an image orthicon at Champagne looking up at the meteors, optically that they were looking at with radar. I donít know that we ever got any results. Where does it say? [Laugh]
DeVorkin:It was in the Journal of the Evolutionary and Physical Properties of Meteorites1. And thereís no abstract with it. Youíre one of the authors along with A.F. Cook, G. Forti, Annette Posen. She was your research assistant basically? R.D. Southworth?
McCrosky:Yes. Dick Southworth.
DeVorkin:And, J.T. Williams?
DeVorkin:So, in acquiring the image orthicon, who was responsible for that?
McCrosky:Oh, I donít know where we got it. I was responsible, but in this case, with immense help from J.T. Williams, who was another Schwarz and Tugas type.
McCrosky:He runs Mount Hopkins. He runs the MMT.
DeVorkin:Exactly. My interest here is to ask if there was any interest in using image orthicon technology for much more rapid data reduction?
DeVorkin:And, the choice of the image orthicon, were you involved in that as opposed to another type of detector?
McCrosky:No. Iím not quite sure how we got hold of it. I can almost guarantee you we didnít buy it.
DeVorkin:[Laugh] Another one that struck me as interesting is in 1974 with a lot of other authors, well not that many. Josh Grindlay, E.L. Wright2.
McCrosky:Yes. Isnít that funny? [Laugh] That paper. I know which one you mean.
DeVorkin:ďSearch of Optical Emission From Cosmic Gamma Ray Bursts.Ē
DeVorkin:Was Trevor Weeks running all of this?
McCrosky:No. It wasnít Trevor.
DeVorkin:So, where did that come from?
McCrosky:Who was the first name?
McCrosky:We simply looked at a zillion Prairie Net films. Also the Prairie Net films were sent to someone in Montana who was looking for straight lightning. We had lots of lightening photographs too. And, straight lightning would be something caused by a straight ion precursor, which in turn might be caused by a monopole, if monopoles exist. So, this was a search for monopoles. I was not involved in that either. I just provided the data.
DeVorkin:Right. So, you werenít involved in the analysis or the consideration of gamma ray astronomy or anything like that?
DeVorkin:Now, something else happened, at least in your vitae, which is fascinating, and I think you had nothing to do with it. But, starting in 1975, Ď74 or Ď75, your vitae just explodes, but theyíre all IAU telegrams?
McCrosky:Sure. Brian Marsden at this point is just frantic over the fact that no one will do any astrometry of asteroids. And, I said, ďOh, I can do that. I can do that at this observatory, which happens to be next door to me. And, I havenít been there in twenty years, but Iím sure I can use the telescope.Ē [Laugh] And so, thatís how that started.
DeVorkin:So, that was photographic astrometry with the Wyeth Reflector?
DeVorkin:How good was the Wyeth as far as its field was concerned?
McCrosky:Oh, we didnít care. In that case you know where youíre looking. Youíre just trying to improve a little bit on the position. Have you talked to Marsden?
DeVorkin:I will be. But, the interest here is the accuracy, the astrometric accuracy.
McCrosky:It depends on the focal length, not on the field.
DeVorkin:Thatís right. So, you could use narrow field. It doesnít even have to be a wide field because you have a lot of stars?
McCrosky:Well, yes, you donít have a lot of stars that are in catalogues, but you do have a lot of stars.
DeVorkin:The origins of that were stimulated by Brian Marsdenís request?
DeVorkin:Because you have quite a few papers on that?
McCrosky:Oh yes. But, for a while I was about the only person doing it, you see, and now amateurís do it. Amateurs stick a CCD on their little telescope and do better than I could.
DeVorkin:Isnít that amazing?
DeVorkin:Now, there still is, there are a lot more papers on Prairie Network fireballs. Youíre analyzing them through the 1970s. You continue to publish on fireball end heights quite a bit.
McCrosky:This is with Ceplecha I presume.
DeVorkin:Right. ďA Diagnostic for the Structure of Meteoritic Material.Ē So, youíre continuing to be very active in all of this work. Iím just wondering did you feel part of the Smithsonian doing all of this, or CFA, or did it make no difference?
McCrosky:It made no difference to me. I didnít really have any feelings on that.
DeVorkin:Have you been asked to talk at any meetings about this?
DeVorkin:Or, be involved in it?
DeVorkin:So, then what do you think about the whole effort?
McCrosky:I guess Iíve said what I think. That kind of problem is just not number one on my list.
DeVorkin:Marsden has given a good number of talks about them, and it was my feeling that he was, he was at least at that time — this is back in the mid Ď90s — very concerned about that. And, there are other people, like Neil Tyson who is the director at the Hayden Planetarium who feels itís very important. People have written popularly on this a lot. And, one would expect, letís say, if you were trying to find a post-Cold War reason to support deep photographic reconnaissance you would be very, very interested in this. But, maybe thatís not the way you work or operate? Is that a fair statement?
DeVorkin:Thereís a number of these reports that Iíve seen from Space Guard, always refer back to you.
McCrosky:[Laugh] about things like the recovery of various asteroids. Like the 1973 recovery of 1862 Apollo. Thatís right. What can you tell me about that effort?
McCrosky:[Laugh] Was that serendipity?
McCrosky:Well, stubbornness. Serendipity. Brian had looked at the best observations and reanalyzed the old observations of Apollo, and came to the conclusion that it might very well lie, at any given time, in a sixty-degree arc in the sky.
DeVorkin:[Laugh] Oh boy. He couldnít narrow those down any better?
McCrosky:No. That was good. I mean, no one else had any idea, really.
DeVorkin:Oh, I see. Sixty degrees as it would be seen by your camera? So, he got it to within the field of your patrol cameras?
McCrosky:Maybe. Well, I had a half-degree field. The Wyeth. The Wyeth has a half degree field. So, Iím not the one thatís trying to do this. But, I often had time at the end of an observing night to try. Why not try? So, Jerome Shao and I took a plate one night and developed it, and we found this big bright spot. Weíre tracking at the right rate. ďWell, thatís interesting. Letís do it again. See if that flaw goes away.Ē And, we took another plate and itís still there, and itís moving in the right direction. And itís Apollo.Ē We found it on the first attempt. Thatís why people who have five-degree Schmidts get so angry at us. [Laugh] They should have found it.
McCrosky:And, they donít get angry at us. Thatís not true, of course.
DeVorkin:No. But, I think youíll find this very humorous. This is from another website and this fellow writes, ďA program that was carried out by Richard McCrosky for very nearly a quarter of a century, and one of the earliest successes of which was the 1973 recovery of 1862 Apollo itself, after it had been lost since its discovery at opposition forty-one years earlier.Ē So, it implies here that this was a highly systematic program that yielded this success?
McCrosky:No. We had lots of successes. We got lots of positions for Brian, but not that success.
DeVorkin:Not that one? Okay. Thereís another episode . . .
McCrosky:Iím sure it didnít go over twenty-five years. Is that what heís saying?
DeVorkin:Thatís what he thinks. I think what these people tend to do is see that youíve been working in the Prairie Network, youíve been doing various other things and they sort of lumped it all together. So, what Iíve been trying to do is a little bit of corrective history.
McCrosky:It was probably five years at that time.
DeVorkin:There was another episode which got into the news, and that was a July 1974 daylight fireball.
DeVorkin:Now, apparently Jacchia actually saw it at Jackson Lake. But he gave you all the data, apparently.
McCrosky:Well, Iím not sure who gave me the data. I think I got it from lots of places.
DeVorkin:And, youíre the one who computed the initial orbit.
McCrosky:I got an orbit, did I?
DeVorkin:From time to time youíve been cited, at least, as the authority on being able to assess or determine an orbit from meteor data.
McCrosky:Well, Iíve certainly done a lot of it. And, so had Luigi and Fred.
DeVorkin:Do you remember Zdenek Sekannia?
McCrosky:Oh, Sekanina? Oh yes. Yes. Heís a very clever guy.
DeVorkin:Did he have a theory about the Tunguska?
McCrosky:Yes. I canít tell you what it was. I think maybe he thinks itís part of the comet, but Iíve forgotten that.
DeVorkin:Thatís what it was about.3 About its origins. I think a lot of this was related, and this is the one thing I wanted to ask you about. Youíve already given me a pretty clear idea of how you regard this concern about asteroidal impact and that sort of thing, that we have bigger problems.
McCrosky:Itís real, but itís not urgent. I may be wrong, but I think right now we may spend as much as a million dollars a year per astronomer. I have no way of demonstrating this.
DeVorkin:You mean federal support for astronomy?
McCrosky:Yes. And, if thatís true, itís too much.
DeVorkin:Well, Iím very interested in your opinion.
McCrosky:Iíve always been on the wrong side of that argument, from my astronomer friends.
DeVorkin:Too much in what way?
McCrosky:There is more important things to do.
DeVorkin:Okay, like what?
DeVorkin:Well, if youíve had these ideas or these feelings throughout your life how has it influenced your career?
McCrosky:I guess in part because Iíve done things cheaper than anyone else. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Even though while you were trained during a period of relative austerity, but certainly in the post-Sputnik years, as you said there was this theory of Dubinís, that it was a bucket of money.
McCrosky:If it was Dubin. I donít know that it was Dubin. Somebody told me this.
DeVorkin:Yes. Did Whipple?
McCrosky:No. It was not Whipple.
DeVorkin:What was Whippleís attitude, do you think?
McCrosky:Well, Whipple wouldnít agree with me.
DeVorkin:His general feeling was that all research is of military importance.
McCrosky:Well, Yes. I guess I would agree with that.
DeVorkin:So, clearly he saw, or at least he was showing that there was a national security need.
McCrosky:Well, Fred was raising money from the military.
DeVorkin:So, are you saying then that there are bigger needs than national security that we should be attending to?
McCrosky:Well, since we truly donít know how to do that one, letís do something else. [Laugh] I mean, you know, David, donít get me started. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Well, to the extent that it influences your astronomy, Iíd be interested.
McCrosky:I donít think it does. There were people who wanted me to continue the Prairie Network. I asked for ten years when I started, and thatís what I got. But, George Weatherall — you know him?
McCrosky:Heís a very good friend of mine. I admired him immensely, said my trouble was that ďI didnít get a body of people behind me, then I would have had no trouble supporting the Prairie Network. Well, he may be right, but that wasnít what — that was not my thinking. That was not how I did it.
DeVorkin:Well, did the first ten years satisfy your needs?
McCrosky:Yes. I didnít want to do anything that took that much effort and have it last for less than ten years. That was the reason for ten years.
DeVorkin:But, it satisfied what your scientific goals were, and then you figured it was time to move on?
DeVorkin:Because you did the astrometry after that? There was a need as Brian said. Weíve gone through a good bit of time, and a good chunk of your life, is there any aspect of it that we have not covered sufficiently or that you would like to comment on, or general views about astronomy, or about Whipple, or the Smithsonian?
McCrosky:Whipple. Well, I ought to be able to say something about Whipple. I knew him longer than anyone except Babbie. [Pause] He was a good friend, tolerant. Like most people of his capacity he had a very large ego and he deserved it.
DeVorkin:He certainly garnered enough medals and prizes?
DeVorkin:Do you know if he ever campaigned for those? I mean, itís just so amazing.
McCrosky:Oh no. I canít believe it.
DeVorkin:You donít think he did?
McCrosky:No. Itís not his nature. I suppose he might be disappointed if he didnít get one, but I donít think he would campaign.
DeVorkin:Nothing you ever saw, anyway?
McCrosky:Iíve never had an opportunity. Has anyone talked to you about his family, about his parents?
DeVorkin:Well, Iíve talked to him. Iíve asked him about his parents. And, I have those in interviews. One thing he didnít want to talk about to a great extent was his first marriage. And, some of his medical conditions in the Ď40s, but that would have been before you knew him?
DeVorkin:Yes. When did he marry Babby?
McCrosky:Well, probably a year or two before I met him. Thatíd be my guess. I donít know exactly.
DeVorkin:I hope to meet her while Iím here.
McCrosky:Oh. Sheís fun.
DeVorkin:Well, let me ask you about a few other people. Tomorrow Iíll be interviewing Owen McGrath.
McCrosky:Donít know him.
DeVorkin:Okay. He was a Baker-Nunn observer and on that team.
McCrosky:Well, maybe I knew him. Where was he?
DeVorkin:Mainly out in New Mexico. So, I was wondering if there was any overlap there?
McCrosky:Oh yes. The Super Schmidts and the Baker-Nunn were both at the same site for a while.
DeVorkin:Oh. But you didnít know him?
DeVorkin:What about Bob Davis?
McCrosky:I know him well. Yes. We were graduate students together.
DeVorkin:Iíll be going up to Maine next Saturday to see him.
McCrosky:I donít know if heís still at the observatory.
DeVorkin:No. He said he would drive in, but I thought it was the least I could do was go up there. Which Iím willing to do.
McCrosky:Well, youíll get there at the right time of year. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Yes. Exactly. But, is there anything about Bob Davis that you think would be helpful for me to know before I interview him?
McCrosky:Well, I donít know. He spent, after the war on an ice breaker. Heíll tell you that. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:He was writing papers by the mid Ď50s on the ultraviolet sky. And, Iím wondering if you recall that he had any particular interest in that, or that was just another Whipple idea.
McCrosky:That was Celescope.
DeVorkin:Oh yes. But, this is way before Celescope.
DeVorkin:Itís before Sputnik.
McCrosky:No, I didnít know that.
DeVorkin:Yes. Whipple was always a member of the V-2 panel, the rocket panel. The Upper Air Rocket Research Panel.
McCrosky:Yes. And he sent me once.
DeVorkin:Oh. What was that all about?
McCrosky:I donít know.
DeVorkin:When was that?
McCrosky:It was in Canada. I donít know why he sent me, and I donít remember anything about it except I donít think I added much to it.
DeVorkin:[Laugh] Do you remember meeting Van Allen or any of those people?
McCrosky:I knew Van Allen, yes. Not well, but enough to know that he was a peach of a guy. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Oh yes. Definitely. Iíll also be interviewing Brian Marsden, Gene Averitt.
McCrosky:Ah. One of our favorite people.
DeVorkin:And, of course, she said she canít imagine what I would ask her about. [Laugh] But, Iíll be asking her about Celescope and things like that, as well as about her family, of course.
McCrosky:I didnít know she was part of Celescope.
DeVorkin:Yes. She did some data reduction. She worked on that. In fact, her mother did too, to a certain extent.
McCrosky:I was trying to think how many times during that period that I sat down in Whippleís office and talked with him. It cannot be anymore than a dozen.
DeVorkin:Really? In that entire time?
McCrosky:Yes. He occasionally came to my office and had a word or two. [Laugh] I remember once he came to my office and threw his hat in first, because he had just stolen Chuck Tugas from me. [Laugh]
McCrosky:For Mount Hopkins. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Aha. Was this some sort of gesture of submission, or of contrition?
DeVorkin:Ah. Would you say he had a dry humor, kind of a dry wit?
McCrosky:No. I wouldnít say that. He had a good humor. He could be funny. DEVORKIN: In what way?
McCrosky:He could tell jokes. Heíd make puns.
DeVorkin:Were his jokes political or social, or just silly, or not classifiable?
McCrosky:I wouldnít classify them. No. They were menís jokes, often. I mean he was no prude.
DeVorkin:Did you ever have a feeling that Whipple was watching over all [your work]? Because, you were carrying out what were still his earliest interests, his earliest scientific projects?Iím just trying to get a sense of Whippleís leadership. Did you know you were doing his work in a way?
McCrosky:Oh yes. I surely felt that, but Fred didnít lead. You may not get it from everyone.
DeVorkin:Did he have to have a certain level of confidence, though, in you?.
McCrosky:Well, Iím sure he did. Where he got it I donít know.
DeVorkin:Before heíd leave somebody alone? So, youíve never seen how he would react to somebody he wasnít sure about?
McCrosky:No, I wouldnít. My view is too narrow. I didnít see him interact with other people much. He said his greatest mistake was Gerry Hawkins. Now, of course, Gerry sued the Smithsonian.
DeVorkin:Oh, I didnít know that.
McCrosky:Unsuccessfully. But, I know it disappointed Fred.
DeVorkin:What can you tell me about Fredís opinion or views of Bob Davis?
McCrosky:I donít remember. He certainly trusted him enough for Celescope, which was a big project.
DeVorkin:Did you have any experience watching Fred interact with NASA? Did he ever talk to you about what it was like dealing with NASA as opposed to the military funding agencies?
McCrosky:I almost surely did, but I canít think of an instance that would be useful. [Laugh] This wasnít Fred, but Fredís associate director most recently, was [Charles Lundquist]. I think this was when I was trying to raise money for Prairie Net. Anyway, this guy said, ďLook, let me make an arrangement to have you meet with someone from NASA,Ē whose name I have truly forgotten and it will remain forgotten. ďHave a meeting with him and Mike Collins, and weíll have dinner together at the Cosmos Club.Ē
DeVorkin:Mike Collins the astronaut?
McCrosky:Yes. ďAnd, this will influence this guy a lot. Itíll make him know something about the Smithsonian.Ē And, I said to Lundquist, ďWhoís Mike Collins?Ē [Laughter] And, he said, ďWell, you may not know him, but your friend from NASA will.Ē [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Oh, Yes. So, this must have been after the moon?
DeVorkin:Okay. So, weíre talking the 1970s?
McCrosky:I guess. So, we all met at the Cosmos Club in a nice room all by ourselves, and the man from NASA started talking and making it very clear that he had no idea who Mike Collins was.
McCrosky:Yes. [Laughter] And, it became more and more embarrassing for the rest of us, because one of the things I remember him saying was that he was just dumbfounded that this guy sitting at the head of the table knew who Dr. Berry was, the astronautís physician. ďOh, you know him too?Ē [Laugh] Yes. Berry, is that the right name? It was someone whose name we all knew. [Laugh] And, we didnít know how to get out of it.
McCrosky:Someone was giving a speech at the Smithsonian and we all drove over to the auditorium in Mikeís VW. I donít know how we all got in it, but we did. And, I think Mike then introduced the speaker. I think thatís what happened, and you could just see this poor NASA guy almost fall through the floor. He finally caught on who his host had been. [Laugh]
DeVorkin:Oh, my gosh. I wonder who that could be.
McCrosky:I donít remember his name.
DeVorkin:Did you have any contact with Nancy Roman at NASA?
DeVorkin:So, Durbin was your primary manager, program manager, or contact?
McCrosky:Yes. I think. And probably almost always.
DeVorkin:I can find out.
McCrosky:I know I had something to do with Nancy Roman once but I have no idea and it wasnít significant.
DeVorkin:Okay. Any other thoughts? Anything else?
DeVorkin:I want to thank you very much for your time. [Pause ] Thiese are some additional comments. I was asking Dr. McCrosky about Whipple as a manager, indicating that at one pointthe Smithsonian insisted that Whipple get a business manager. And, what was your reaction to that?
McCrosky:I thought that anyone who treated me the way Fred treated me certainly needed a business manager.
DeVorkin:[Laugh] Tillinghast was his name?
McCrosky:Tillinghast was his original associate director, or whatever they called. And he was really good. He died very young of cancer. And, the sixty-inch at Mount Hopkins is the Tillinghast Reflector.
DeVorkin:So, thatís where the name comes from?
DeVorkin:So, obviously they thought very highly of him to name the telescope after him?
McCrosky:We all did.
DeVorkin:Did things improve? I mean, did the management actually approve? Did procurement improve?
McCrosky:Well, I donít know. That may have been at the very beginning. Iím really not sure. They didnít need improvement for me. I was doing just fine as it was.
DeVorkin:So, you were pretty independent of all this?
DeVorkin:Well, who in the infrastructure should we remember? Who, wouldnít be, letís say, a publisher of papers and that sort of thing, but who was very important, the person who could make things happen, or get people out of trouble, or provide something. Who was the glue?
McCrosky:Jim Cornell was one. You knew him, Iím sure?
McCrosky:And, there were people in personnel whose names I donít remember. I know they were very competent. And, there must have been people who ran the computing center too. I mean, these were big jobs.
DeVorkin:So, generally it was a good organization?
Okay. Well many thanks once again.
See James Douglas, ďHarlan J. SmithĒ BAAS 24 #4 1992, 1332-1334.
1 Smith, Harlan J.; McCrosky, Richard E. ďWeather conditions in southwestern U. S. A.: Cloud coverage,Ē Astronomical Journal, Vol. 57, p. 166 (1952); Smith, Harlan J.; McCrosky, Richard E. ď Night cloud coverage in the southwest with reference to astronomical observing conditions,Ē Astronomical Journal, Vol. 59, p. 156 (1954)
 Carroll, Philip; McCrosky, Richard; Wells, Robert; Whipple, Fred L. ďFilm molding for the Baker super-Schmidt meteor cameras,Ē Astronomical Journal, Vol. 56, p. 122-123 (1951)
 McCrosky, Richard Eugene ďSome Physical and Statistical Studies of Meteor Fragmentation,Ē Thesis (PH.D.) — HARVARD UNIVERSITY, 1956. American Doctoral Dissertations, Source code: X1956
 McCrosky, R. E., ďVariations from a Poisson Distribution of Meteors Recorded by Radar Techniques,Ē Bulletin of the Astronomical Institutes of Czechoslovakia, vol. 8, p.1
 Davis, R. J.; McCrosky, R. E.; Whipple, F. L.; Whitney, C. A., "A plan for operating an astronomical telescope in an earth satellite,Ē Astronomical Journal, Vol. 64, p 50 (1959)
 McCrosky, R. E., "A Suggested Rocket Experiment for Determination of Atmospheric Densities and Winds at Extreme Heights," SAO Special Report #20, part 4 (1959)
 Cook, A. F.; Jacchia, L. G.; McCrosky, R. E., "Luminous efficiency of iron and stone asteroidal meteors," Smithsonian Contributions to Astrophysics, Vol. 7, p. 209 (1963)
 McCrosky, R. E.; Boeschenstein, H., Jr., "The Prairie Meteorite Network," SAO Special Report #173 (1965)
 Ceplecha, Z., "Multiple fall of P?ibram meteorites photographed. 1. Double-station photographs of the fireball and their relations to the found meteorites,Ē Bulletin of the Astronomical Institute of Czechoslovakia, vol 12, p.21 (1961)
 McCrosky and Posen SAO special Report #273 (1968)
 McCrosky, R. E.; Ceplecha, Z., "Fireballs and the physical theory of meteors," Bulletin of the Astronomical Institute of Czechoslovakia, vol. 21, p.271 (1970)
 McCrosky, R. E.; Ceplecha, Z., "Fireballs and the physical theory of meteors," Bulletin of the Astronomical Institute of Czechoslovakia, vol. 21, p.271 (1970)
 Plotkin, Howard, "The Henderson Network Versus the Prairie Network: The Dispute Between the Smithsonian's National Museum and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory over the Acquisition and Control of Meteorites, 1960-1970," Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 91, p.32 (1997)
 McCrosky, Posen, Schwartz, Shao, SAO Special Report #336 (1971); J. Geophys. Res. 76 (1971), Yo90