As NASA expanded its
space exploration and satellite program a network to track satellites and the
data they collected also developed.
There were Minitrack Stations in the U.S., England, South Africa, South
America, and Australia but in 1963 the only data-acquisition facility was in
Fairbanks, Alaska. The purpose was to
gather data from satellites and space craft.
This required a location
with quiet surroundings—minimal outside noise, air traffic, radio interference
and no nearby high-voltage electrical lines.
The 70 acre site near Balsam Grove provided this, plus was located in a
secluded valley on national forest land.
The Rosman Satellite
Tracking and Data Acquisition Facility, locally known as The Tracking Station, was
constructed in 1963 and formally dedicated on October 26, 1963. The enormous “dish” or ears picked up and tracked
data from satellite locations to an astronaut’s blood pressure, as well as
“other sounds” from outer space. The
tracking system could also send commands to satellites and space craft. The staff of approximately 100 was mainly
scientists, engineers, and technicians.
As technology developed
and NASA’s communication needs evolved tracking stations were phased out in the
early 1980s. In 1981, the Rosman facility was
transferred to the Department of Defense.
At its peak there were
approximately 250 employees. The work
was highly secretive and employees were not allowed to talk about their jobs, even
with family or friends.
In 1995, the Department of Defense closed the
facility and returned the site to the U.S. Forest Service.
In 1999, the site was purchased from the U.S.
Forest Service and gifted to PARI for use as an astronomical research and
educational facility. Today PARI is
known as a world-class research center, offering STEM educational opportunities
from elementary school through post-doctoral.
PARI is open to the public for self-guided tours and offers scheduled
guided tours. Visit their website at www.pari.edu.
Photographs and information for this column are provided
by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. Visit the NC Room during regular library
hours (Monday-Friday) to learn more about our history and see additional
photographs. For more information, comments
or suggestions contact Marcy at [email protected]
or 828-884-3151 X242.