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May 25, 2010 | In celebration of the 50th anniversary, we asked all current staff who were hired in the 1960s to comment on what has—or hasn’t—changed at UCAR/NCAR over the decades, and to share some memories and stories about the organization’s early days. Here are their recollections.
Ben Domenico (Unidata)
"My earliest image of NCAR was a view from the top of the Third Flatiron, looking down into the basement, which was being excavated at the time—June of 1965—just after I had graduated from college. From that distance, it wasn't obvious how large the structure would be. My climbing friend and I concluded that some rich Boulderite had found the ideal location for a new house. I didn't realize what I had seen until I came to HAO a year later as a graduate student assistant and learned about the new Mesa Lab construction. Little did I know how many years I'd be spending in an office in the basement I had first seen from high above.
I had just gotten my undergraduate degree and was headed for a summer institute at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia and then to Yale for graduate school.
That era ranks among the best ever for students in the sciences. The government was pouring money into science, technology, and education to achieve President Kennedy's goal of "landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth before this decade is out." That summer, we got tours of several other major science and technology centers under construction: the "Mission Control" space center in Houston, the Marshall center in Huntsville, where one could listen to one of the many German-language radio stations while watching the enormous sheet of flame shooting from a massive Saturn V engine test ignition, and Cape Canaveral, where they were installing huge fans in the top of the new Vertical Assembly Building to prevent precipitation from occurring inside the building.
Of course the ominous presence of the military draft was another other attractive aspect of being a science student at that time. In fact, the friend who accompanied ("dragged" is probably a more accurate term) me up the Flatiron that day had just finished his training as a "Green Beret" in the Special Forces.
Ben Domenico climbing the Third Flatiron on June 21, 1965.
After getting my M.S. at Yale the next year, I learned that Ludvig Oster, the professor I wanted to work with, was taking a position at the University of Colorado. I needed little convincing to make the move from New Haven to Boulder. Professor Oster put me in touch with Andy Skumanich, who set up a student assistant position for me that summer at HAO to help with his computer models for radiative transfer in stellar atmospheres. I enjoyed the numerical modeling computer work and ended up doing my thesis work with Andy as my advisor. In fact, two-thirds of my thesis committee are in a40th anniversary photo of the 1971 HAO radiative transfer group. The other two were Jeff Linsky of JILA and John Taylor, who became locally famous as the original "Mr. Wizard" at CU.
The 1970s, however, were not such a good decade for finishing one's education in a scientific field. The space program was in the doldrums and there was a glut of young scientists entering (or attempting to enter) the research and education field at a time when government and academia were retrenching. As luck would have it, though, the computing field was beginning to blossom and NCAR was again in the forefront. So, after a post-doc at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), I took a programming position offered by Jeanne Adams in what was then the Computing Facility of the Atmospheric Technology Division. My only frustration was that my office in that basement of the Mesa Lab didn't look much bigger up close than it did from the top of the Flatirons.”