AAS 207th Meeting, 8-12 January 2006
Session 2 History of Space Science
HAD Special Session, Sunday, 2:00-5:00pm, January 8, 2006, Maryland C

Previous   |   Session 2   |   Next  |   Author Index   |   Block Schedule

[2.03] The Wisconsin Experiment Package (WEP) aboard the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory (OAO-2)

J. D. Marche (Kutztown University)

On 7 December 1968, NASA's Orbiting Astronomical Observatory (OAO-2) was launched into space. Roughly ten years in development, the OAO carried two sets of experiments, each designed to conduct the first extended observations of the sky at ultraviolet wavelengths. One experiment package was designed by the University of Wisconsin; the other by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Remote operation of the OAO, especially the WEP's narrow-field photometric instruments, demanded a "complex stabilization and control system" that could point the spacecraft towards any desired object with an accuracy of better than one arc-minute. A host of other calculations were routinely performed to insure that the instruments were never pointed toward (or within) a fixed number of degrees of the Sun, Moon, or even the Earth. During its 50 months of operation, WEP successfully observed more than a thousand celestial objects. It was the first true stellar space observatory, whose operating system represented a greater technological leap forward in its day than the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), launched in 1990. At the same time, OAO-2 marked a significant turning point in the way astrophysical research was conducted. OAO scientists' dependence upon high-speed, digital techniques of data acquisition, storage, transmission, and reduction, not only presaged but also influenced the universal adoption of such techniques throughout the astronomical community. The OAO spacecraft was a significant bellwether of the transition to an era of digital data manipulation that occurred well before the impact of the personal computer and the charge-coupled device (CCD).

Previous   |   Session 2   |   Next

Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 37 #4
© 2005. The American Astronomical Soceity.