Dave and Sue Ann Do Not Hit it Off

Some of you may remember David Heeschen. He was the first astronomer to be hired by the brand-new National Radio Astronomy Observatory, in about 1956. He was NRAO director 1962-1978. He facilitated the building of the VLA and is sometimes called the “father of the VLA”, which was completed in 1980. But before that, in about 1962 he was interested in finding if the radio sources that were known at the time varied in brightness. So he had the observatory buy a small off-the-shelf radio dish and had it automated to observe a list of sources every day. After a few years, apparently none of those sources were varying appreciably in brightness, and the project was abandoned and the 40-Foot was idle for many years.

In about 1987 a later Green Bank director, George Seielstad, developed an education program for high school teachers, using open-ended research on the 40-Foot, which was refurbished for use. One of the teachers in the first institute was Sue Ann Heatherly, who was hired in 1989 to head the program. She has trained thousands of high-school and middle school teachers and students to use the 40-Foot and to carry out research projects since then.

About 2011 or 2012, Dave Heeschen paid what was probably a last visit to Green Bank shortly before his death. He had lunch in the NRAO cafeteria and was sitting at a table with Sue Ann (and me as well). The topic of the 40-Foot came up, and Sue Ann referred to it as “my telescope.”

Dave replied immediately, “No, it’s my telescope!”

That’s about all I remember about that historic meeting! Somehow, I doubt that Dave ever learned anything much about all the educational projects done with “his” telescope.

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A 40-Foot Telescope Story, by Dr. Frank Ghigo