Economic Impact of Large Public Programs: The NASA Experience

By Eli Ginzberg; James W. Kuhn et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter Three
Transformation of a Science: NASA's Impact on Astronomy

In the years since the end of World War II, astronomy has experienced a period of discovery unmatched since Galileo first turned his simple astronomical telescope toward the sky. During its short lifetime, NASA has contributed the means by which astronomers have made some notable discoveries, and the agency's continuing contribution promises more advances for astronomy in the future. Equally as meaningful as its contributions to the development of the science have been NASA's effects upon the structure and organization of the astronomical community.

In the 1950s, radio astronomers began to reveal a startling new and different universe from the one seen by visible light. With their new ground-based instruments, they discovered radio galaxies more than a million times brighter than our own; they found the faint, attenuated radiation of the great fireball from which the universe was born; they traced the grand spiral pattern of the Milky Way, obscured to optical telescopes by dust; they identified clouds of complex interstellar molecules. To their amazement, they found mysterious quasars (celestial bodies) that may be far enough away to be galaxies but behave like stars -- and the strangeness of quasars is matched by pulsars, believed to be small, super-dense concentrations of matter, as massive as the sun but only miles in diameter, spinning from one to thirty times a second.

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