National Geographic : 1960 Jun
NATIONALGEOGRAPHICPHOTOGRAPHERSWILLIS D. VAUGHN AND DEANCONGER (LEFT, LOWER) sonian, who has done so much to advance understanding of the sun and its influence on the weather and on plants. All these are projects of the Smithsonian's rapidly growing Astrophysical Observatory, headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. All seek to expand the frontiers of man's knowledge about space. Since the first Sputnik startled the world in October, 1957, Smithsonian teams of volun teer Moonwatchers at nearly 200 spots on the globe and a dozen far-flung Smithsonian cam era stations have carried the responsibility for optical tracking of Russian and American satellites (page 828). Their findings are cabled to a communi cations center in Cambridge. There other Smithsonian scientists analyze the satellite orbits and glean enormously important new 844 And these are the visitors, who are as much a part of the Smithsonian as the exhibits or scien tists in the laboratories: a piggyback rider; a yawner feeling museum fatigue (it happens in the best of galleries); a photographer listening to an art lecture on a tiny rented radio; and a wonderful child who dances in empathy with a bronze witch doctor. information about the shape and size of the earth, the measurements of transoceanic dis tances, the density of the atmosphere, the effects of sunspots and solar flares on com munications, and the actions of satellites them selves. Joseph Henry, in one of his annual reports, wrote: "All knowledge is useful ... The dis covery of today, which appears unconnected with any useful process, may, in the course of a few years, become the fruitful source of a thousand inventions...." How right Henry was. James Smithson used to say, "No igno rance is without loss to man, no error with out evil." If James Smithson came back today and saw the Institution he founded, I think he would feel that his motto had been well served.