Roy Anderson Interview
Bethlehem Central High School-Mr. Reed’s AP Chemistry Class
Roy Anderson: Would you like me to say something?
Jacob Abolafia: Sure, please. [Laughter] Okay, there we go. Alright, I’m Jacob Abolafia. Mr. Anderson?
Roy: I am Roy Anderson.
Liz Casline: I’m Liz Casline.
Roy: Hello Liz.
Rob Hoffman: Robert Hoffman.
Emily Caricandas: Emily Caricandas.
Matt Baboulis: Matt Baboulis.
Becky Colicoski: Becky Colicoski.
Denise Fierson: …and Denise Fierson.
Jacob: …and we’re here to interview Mr. Anderson about his life in science. So, is that what we have to get before the interview or is there something else?
Matt: I have no idea. Don’t look at me.
Janie: Also present are Mary Kosky and Janie Schwab.
Jacob: Okay [laughter], so I guess we can get to the interview then? Alright, first of all I’d like to thank you for talking with us and for, for agreeing to do this. It’s fantastic.
Roy: I’m pleased to be here.
Jacob: So let’s start at the beginning. Can you tell us a little bit about your childhood, where you grew up, kind of your early life?
Roy: Yes. I have had the privilege of spending eighty seven years in a period where great advances have been made in science and technology, and these have affected the lives of all people, and it’s been a privilege not only to see these and enjoy these advances, but to have had some close up participation and view of how they came about.
I was born and grew up in Batavia, Illinois. It is a suburb of Chicago. I attended Augustana College, a liberal arts college in Rock Island Illinois, where I majored in math and physics. World War Two was started about that time, and I was in college when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. But luckily I had a draft number high enough so that I could finish college before I had to go into military service. At the end of my, when I graduated, I stayed on at the college for a year teaching physics in the Army Air Core College Training Program that on the campus. Then I joined the navy, and the navy sent me to Boden College, and the Masterson Institute of Technology to learn about radar, which was new at that time. After my radar training, I served some time on a navy ship. After I left the navy I went back to Augustana to teach physics for a year. And then I joined General Electric in Schenectady, New York in the general engineering and consulting laboratory which was later combined with a research laboratory to form Corporate Research and Development Center.
Jacob: Could you kind of, before we move on to your later life, say what in your early life kind of led you to an interest in science?
Roy: Well I was an amateur radio operator, and got interested in radio, and built a M Station and communicated with people all over.
Jacob: And so you went to a liberal arts college, yet majored in science. Can you say how, well first of all, did you value the fact that you were at the liberal arts college instead of maybe a tech school or a different kind of education, and how did it affect your approach later in science?
Roy: I’m real pleased that I went to a liberal arts college. The reason that in those days engineers studied all about the engineering status of the time, but in a liberal arts college you learn to speak and to write and to do things which, it gives you a kind of an idea, creativity, rather than just working with formulas and straight forward. And so I think that the liberal arts education was a valuable start.
Jacob: Yea. And you were lucky that got to finish it during the war. So, I guess how you got involved with the military we’ve answered. Was it your choice of their choice to place you in this special educational programs and not in the infantry?
Roy: I don’t understand…
Jacob: Like I mean when you, when you joined the military, how did you get a place in the radar core, instead of say, ya know, the infantry or the…
Roy: That was not my choice. I guess they looked at my background and decided that that’s where I should go. I had no choice in the matter.
Jacob: I guess that was your first experience with science and the military. Can you talk a little bit about what it was like, kind of to be engineering in the military as opposed to just pure engineering?
Roy: Well the engineering in the military, the training that I had was really basic engineering and then learning the technology of radar and loran, and other military features.
Jacob: And so, how did you make that jump from the military then back to kind of academia when you taught in college, taught back in your alma mater?
Roy: Well this college wanted me back so… [Laughter from students and Roy]
Jacob: Did you enjoy that? Did you enjoy teaching?
Roy: Yes I did. Mm hm.
Roy: But I thought I’d like to try industry and see what I could do there.
Jacob: Great. So I guess tell us, tell us about after you left Augustana. Your early career.
Roy: I joined the General Engineering and Consulting Laboratory, which was a leading laboratory in this country at the time, and these were Cold War years. And the Cold War was largely a technical development contest between the two sides, each one trying to develop better military capability than the other one. In the laboratory I had the opportunity to work with many industrial electronics ideas, because industrial electronics and industry was a new idea. I also worked on radar developments and missile tracking developments. And one of these developments that I had was a new type of radio direction finder. When the-an occurrence happened in October of 1957.
Roy: The Russians put up the Sputnik Satellite. This amazed the world and shocked the United States and the schools went for science teaching and on the early morning after the launch of Sputnik, you know America tried to put up a Vanguard Satellite about the size of a grapefruit, and the rockets kept falling over and going astray, and so it was a real shock when the Russians put up this great big beach balled sized [laughter] and we went out one morning and a number of engineers from the laboratory before daylight and watched Sputnik go over. I came back to the office and lab and told my boss you know, this the opening of a space agent laboratory ought to have something to do with that. So, we decided to do something. We set up some of the direction finding equipment that was left over from a project in my family camping tent out in a field where a direction finder were, and we tracked the satellite as it went over and determined what direction the signals were coming from. And the air force came to do a search laboratory in the North American Defense Agency, NORAD.
Jacob: NORAD okay.
Roy: NORAD learned of our interest and asked us to track every new satellite that went up through the first forty-eight hours, and so we started that.
Jacob: So wow, that I mean, that really seems to be kind of like a complete C change in your career. So were you thinking about doing things with satellites before Sputnik? Or did your research stem entirely from that one kind of realization.
Roy: Well these things sometimes come on you rather fast, and I really had in the naval reserve and so on thought about satellites and so on, and followed the progress or the developments, but I hadn’t thought of it as making it a career at the time no.
Jacob: Wow, so was the atmosphere at GE—well I mean in the country obviously there was really a shift after Sputnik. Could you feel that change in the atmosphere in GE as well? Like was there this kind of new push everywhere towards science and technology education and research?
Roy: Well yes, GE of course was a leader in uh, aristic missiles, and in this started an open department in main satellites. We entered the business in a big way.
Roy: From the point of view of the company as a whole, yes.
Jacob: Yea. So-
Roy: I’ll maybe I’ll tell you a little bit about the excitement of Sputnik.
Roy: It was a big thing. Everybody thought they were affected in some way by Sputnik. And for example, in Schenectady there was a dentist who claimed that every time Sputnik went over, his garage door opened [laughter]. So newspapers thought that was interesting and asked us to go over by his garage and see what happened when Sputnik went over. So we were there with the news cameras and a receiver and when Sputnik went over the garage door didn’t do anything. The dentist didn’t happen to be there. But he went on a nationwide TV program called I’ve Got a Secret, and his secret was that his garage door opened when Sputnik went over. [Laughter]
Jacob: Wow. I could, I could probably still see someone doing that today. So ther was—I think I guess the next logical step after this Sputnik and pioneer—was to pioneer and the probes or the ranger probes. Can you tell us how, how the research kind of led you there and what you did and what the GE lab was doing with the probes?
Roy: Well, we had to train a lot in the field to do the tracking for NORAD and AFCRO and when America put up deep space probes we tracked them, listened in to them. And one of these was Pioneer Four. It was about the size of a rolling pin. Imagine a radio transmitting power about equal to a flashlight bulb. And it was sent up with the intension of crashing on the moon. Well, we decided to go a little farther with the tracking of that than we had been with just the satellites so we used an eighteen foot diameter antennae on the top of the research laboratory and we had a very state of the art sensitive radio receiver developed at GE, and a carrier phase lock feature that enabled us to listen to very very weak signals. So we started to track this space probe, as it went. It was supposed to crash on the moon but it missed, and went on in to outer space. It was officially being tracked by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California where they had a big eighty five foot diameter antenna, and they were the official trackers of this probe. Well, we listened to it as it went on beyond the moon, and it was very hard to pick up this weak signal. But there was a great deal of excitement worldwide about this, and so I was on the phone almost twenty four hours a day with people calling up to see what was going on. And after a few days when the satellite or the probe was out about eight hundred thousand miles from here, we were listening and the signal was very weak, and we could hear it early in the morning before it got much activity at the research lab, which would make noise in our receiver, but then we’d tend to lose the signal. In the middle of the morning I got a phone call from a reporter and he said that JPL said they lost the signal, do you still have it? And I said no we don’t. He says when did you lose it? And I said we have to go back and look in our data and see when we last had a lock on it; I don’t know. He said can I say that at ten twenty five you said you had lost the signal? Well stupid me I said yes [laughter]. Within two minutes, the whole world knew that we had tracked the satellite farther than JPL, which didn’t sit well with JPL. I tried to get a retraction but nobody would retract it.
Jacob: No (laughter). That’s pretty funny. I mean can you talk a little bit about these specific technologies that you were using and any that you kind of pioneered to do this tracking?
Roy: Well, we tried to use best that we could get, and I began to think what is going to be done with these satellites? One of the things obviously was the people would communicate through them and would use them for locating. So I thought up the best way of using satellites for navigation and surveillance was by reeve’s measurements from the satellites. So I proposed to NASA we do a study of how you would range—make new satellites ranging from them to locate aircraft and ships.
Jacob: Can we get some water?
Janie: Um where can you get it?
Jacob: There’s, a water fountain right outside the library to the left.
Janie: But is there like a cafeteria…
Jacob: Oh is there a cup? Yea they should be open. You should be able to get some water.
Roy: So I got a contract from NASA uh, to investigate this range measurement technique, and we made a very detailed study of General Electric, going upon other parts of the company other than the laboratory, and performed a study that showed that we could put up satellites, and we proposed a particular orbit constellation, and a way of obtaining the range measurements from the satellites, so that you could do two things. One was surveillance, by a ground station like air traffic control, would interrogate a distant airplane out over the ocean and automatically return its position; it would communicate through the satellite with it. That’s surveillance by the air traffic control. The other method was whereby you just receive satellites signals from the satellites and determine your own position. We call that passive navigation. We came up with an orbit plan and this technology proposed in the early nineteen sixties. We got a patent on the system. And later on, when GPS was developed, they had a plan very much like ours, using the same technology. That was decades later.
But in order to test this out, NASA put up two geostationary satellites. A geostationary satellite goes around the world in twenty four hours, the time it takes the world to turn around. It’s moving east around the world over the equator, so it appears to stay stationary in the sky. We put up two sub satellites that were in view of the facility that we had. We tested our ideas out with airplanes and ships and automobiles and we had a worldwide ground station network to do this work. One in Gander, Newfoundland, around by the Canadian department that tracks aircraft, controls aircraft, one at [inaudible] Iceland for the Icelandic control, Southern Ireland, for the Irish controllers. Buenos Aires, Argentina for the Argentine air force, and one in Melbourne, Australia run by the people in Australia who controlled aircraft in that area, and one at Boeing aircraft in Seattle. We used these ground stations to make range measurements to the satellites in real time so we could tell just where the satellites were and then we did the interrogation through the satellite to the vehicle and every two seconds we could locate a vehicle and tell it where it was. That worked very well with ships, aircraft, automobiles, trucks over a period of years.
The other idea, you know the passive one, which seemed not of much interest at the time wasn’t the basis of GPS—that was developed later—and that kind of made the surveillance obsolete because now the airplane would have a little thing where you could locate the airplane and send them information back automatically. But, you know, these advances don’t suddenly burst on the scene. Many ideas and things must be tried before uh, they come about. So, one of the things that’s at the forefront at any one time is construed by the technology of the time. And the idea of talking, you know, through satellites was a difficult one because the satellites were small; you didn’t have transistors and all that sort of thing to make the electronics small and convenient. And we did have transistors pretty well early, but were still using radio tubes and [inaudible].
Jacob: Yea, yea.
Roy: And so the ground technology had to be the one. So the men tried many things. One of the ideas was to put up satellites that would just be reflectors of radio satellites. You send a beam, your signal up on a beam to the satellite, and the satellite would reflect it back to earth. And then you hear the reflective signal. One of the experiments was the echo satellite. You know you have a plastic balloon for your birthday? Well they made a big one, a hundred feet in diameter, and sent it up in to orbit and inflated it in orbit so they had this big plastic ball going around the world. It was a beautiful sight; everybody was excited by seeing this echo satellite cross the sky when the conditions were right. And so the signals from the ground were set up to the satellite, bounced off the satellite and then heard in the ground. We participated in that, but then the moon, you know is a satellite of the earth. It’s up there you know two hundred and thirty five thousand miles high and uh, air force came with research lab, and their labs, and we did experiments bouncing radio signals off the moon. And the moon is big and it’s all pot marked with craters, and when you bounce a signal off the moon it comes back all mish mashed up because it’s reflected through many different points on the moon. Well, through their laboratories we got a call from Senator Magnerson and Jackson in Washington, who wanted to break ground for the space NATO out there when the Seattle was gonna have a world’s fair. And as a feature of this groundbreaking they wanted to send a voice up, have Magnerson send his voice up to the moon and have it come back down and, and be heard of by the people there. Well, Bell laboratories had been working with JPL on moon bounce work and we’d been working with them and with AFCRL. And JPL couldn’t take on the job so they asked us if we could try it. So, we listened to the signal and it was found all mix matched. You couldn’t understand it. And so we tried, as soon as I said I thought the signal was strong enough and we can figure out how to modulate, that is put the voice signal on the radio signal, maybe we could do it. So as soon as I said that, AT & T suddenly appeared up at our place and we had a special facility you know up on the top of a high hill. And they put in a special line up out to Seattle and around back to hometown New Jersey and then back to us, and dedicated that for just this experiment and made a uh, link directly from me to Bill Jakes at Bell labs, and so we could talk to each other without calling each other, we just talked. And so we tried different things and finally I suggested we try a particular technology called Single Side Bran Suppress Carrier, because I thought maybe that would work. Well on the day that this speech was supposed to go on, the big powerful radio tube in their transmitter at Bell labs burned out. [Laughter] And it took all day long for them to get it, a new one put in, and just about ten minutes before the senator Magnerson was supposed to speak, we began to get this back from the mover, which clearly you could understand it, because it worked. So Magnerson came on, gave his talk, and uh it was the first big telephone call by way of the moon and cost AT & T a heck of a lot of money. So that was one place where we lucked out. And so many, many different things like that were tried until the other technologies made it possible so that now you can have all kinds of television signals and data and everything going over satellites all the time.
Jacob: Wow. That must have been something for you to see. Kind of a progression.
Roy: That’s been the interesting part yea, and I have some little part in it.
Jacob: Yea, yea. So, can you tell us a little bit about satellite transmission? The basic technology behind it, you know the problems with the ionosphere atmospheric interference and how you overcame those?
Roy: Well the communications across the ocean before satellites was by cable with usually Morse code, and for voice transmissions over long distances depended upon some radio frequencies, what we used to call the short wave band, whereby you would transmit a signal and it goes up, and the atmosphere is a layer of ionized gas, a few hundred miles—about fifty two few hundred miles above the earth. And it reflect the radio signal, brings it back down. Other frequencies go right on through; ion frequencies go through the ionosphere. So that was the way communication was across the ocean, and that was the kind of communication they depended on for air traffic control across the ocean and why satellites would’ve been a lot better. Well the satellite communications used frequencies that go through the ionosphere up to the satellite and are either reflected off of it as it was, or relayed back by radio receiver and transmitter within the satellite. And so you have to have a beam that goes up to the satellite and right now there are many, many satellites in orbit. And…
[Change side of tape]
…and they’re just a couple of degrees apart in the geostationary orbit. So you have to have a beam that aims up at your satellite—an arrow beam, and it reflects the signal back down and you receive it on the earth. Am I wandering off or?
Jacob: No, no this is good. We heard about something called the Tone Code Ranging Technique. Can you explain that and what’s the science behind it? Importance?
Roy: Yes, the communication, aircraft communication over land was in what we call the VHF Band. This is a band right close to the UHF Television Band and it’s divided up in to many channels and aircraft are assigned to a channel for a particular air traffic control. And so this system was in use over land for controlling aircraft. You’d locate them by radar and then you’d talk to them in this UHF band, by the channels. Well the airplanes needed something over the ocean. They wanted the same surveillance over the ocean, so that you know when it’s out of range of radar and VHF communication. So satellites are the way to do it. That’s why NASA put up the two application technology satellites when they sent some other later ones and they operated in this aircraft van. The expectation was that they would be able to add some equipment in an airplane and then be located and controlled by voice, using the equipment already in the airplane, because anything you add to an airplane adds weight, cost and trouble. So I thought up this idea of being able to make range measurements using the same narrow bandwidth that you use for the voice communication. And this seems a little bit out of hand because you need to have very short signals in order to make an accurate range measurement, and a signal that would have a wide bandwidth. Uh, maybe I’m getting too deep in to it.
Roy: Well it would have a wide band width. But so, this tone code ranging would work within the voice band width by integrating over a little period of time, a quarter of a second, instead of sending one sharp signal, and averaging the time measurements of each cycle in the uh, tone that you transmitted. So this then was a digital method that worked in the narrow band width. And it worked out well. I mean, you get about a quarter mile accuracy. Much better time resolution than that, but…
Jacob: When you got over the ocean that’s about all you need.
Roy: Yea, yea.
Jacob: So is that or kind of any of the technology that you developed with these satellites, or maybe the basic principles behind them, are they still in use today?
Roy: Well the surveillance technique that we came up with really wasn’t needed once the global positioning system became as accurate. GPS came along and developed over periods of time, and no one envisioned that you’d be able to do what you can with a little hand held device, but were thinking of it as a large thing you could put in a missile for honing in on a target, and thinking a hundred thousand dollars for a GPS receiver and so on. And so it was kind of slow getting started. And technology advances so fast. Related technologies and the thing you want to do advance so fast that they can be adopted in to what your objectives are, and much improvement. So now the global positioning system’s extremely accurate, and one of the features of GPS that we didn’t that anticipate is the navigation system; we wanted these two different satellites to transmit a signal in exactly the same time. And so we thought of doing this by sending the signal up from the ground—the two satellites—in such a way that we would be arriving at the satellite at the same time and retransmit it. So that’s the way I described the system. I didn’t believe that you could put an accurate enough clock in a satellite to get the accuracy you needed. You have to have oscillators that you could put in the satellite that would give you a drift rate of one part in ten million so that we were…
Jacob: However many years, yea ten million years.
Roy: Yea, it but it uh isn’t nearly accurate enough. You need something that’s accurate to about one in fifteen, well ten to the fifteenth.
Jacob: Wow [laughter].
Roy: Or something, rather than on part in ten to the seventh. Well I didn’t envision putting those accurate clocks in the satellite, because you know the technology wasn’t there. But it came along, so that they could put the accurate clocks in the satellites and that has been a very good thing.
Jacob: Let’s see what we’ve got. Wow, so I guess that about answers—well actually did you, even once the technology came along that led to GPS, did you imagine that it would be as pervasive in everyday life as…
Roy: No one did. No one did, in those early days. But it just develops on and new technologies for making uh, electronic circuits. Cellular telephone is an example. The mobile telephone was something you could have in your automobile and transmit with your powerful radio transmitter in your car to a tower and then it go in to the phone system. That was the way it was done. And then the idea of doing it with many small cells instead of one big tower that covers a whole area came up that would handle a lot more people.
But at the time that I quit working, retired from GE, in nineteen eighty three, we started the Mobile Satellite Corporation after a study for NASA that showed that at that time, putting up a cell for a cellular phone cost about a hundred thousand dollars and the only range was just a few miles, so you couldn’t envision covering the whole country with cell phone towers, so with like satellites we did a study for NASA that showed that cellular phone when it came in to being, would serve about ninety percent of the population in the cities, but only about ten percent of the country’s land area, and that the other ten percent of the people would be better served by satellite. And so we started the company, the mobile satellite organizations and fought threw the FCC and everything, and 1995 launched the satellite to do that. And in the meantime, cell phones went in to commercial service in 1983, same year that we started our company really. And at that time, the cellular phone cell phone cost about three hundred, three thousand five hundred dollars, and people thought that it was pretty limited use, even the people who were in cellular were ones who invested in our company, because they thought ours was the way to go. But cellular telephones soon got so that instead of having to pay thirty five hundred dollars you got one free is you signed up for the service! [Laughter]
That developed very fast. And the company that we started, put up a satellite in 1995 and a Canadian company that also worked with our company but is a competitor, they both put up identical satellites, and those satellites went in to use for communications. And so then the Motorola put up the iridium system on other things to do the same kind of thing. Well uh, cellular phone uh, grew so rapidly that the amount of service by satellite didn’t develop as fast as much as we did. But those two satellites are still in orbit and in service, and they have combined the Canadian and the satellite part of the company that grew out of ours, and that company is now preparing to put up a huge broadband satellite so that it will augment, provide broadband, all kinds of, your iPod and everything else through the satellite. So that has grown out of the work we did. And I will mention that GPS—I was the first to publish a description of the basics in that. Then the company that we formed—there was a lot of regulatory rigmarole over years to get that going—that company is now a network carrying Blackberry stuff, but it also started XM radio, paid eighty million dollars for the license to do XM radio and its been maybe a billion dollars putting up the two satellites for XM radio. So, out of my work, none of it, none of the technology is directly applied, but we planted the wrong test, and out of that has come GPS, mobile satellite ventures—which is going to be providing s a big service—Motion Corporation, which is providing terrestrial Blackberry service, and XM radio.
Jacob: Wow, that’s, that’s really interesting.
Roy: Nobody who uses these things remembers that that’s what started them, but I know it and a few people know it.
Jacob: So we have GPS, we have cell phones. Also, there’s the technology of satellite phones. Were you involved in the development of satellite phones at all?
Roy: Well yes. The mobile satellite corporation, that was its objective. And it’s still in use.
Jacob: And the satellite how’s the satellite so different from a regular cell phone? Is it just the fact that it’s in a satellite versus a tower?
Roy: Well the advantage of the satellites is that it works everywhere that you can receive the signal. And so it covers areas that it is not convenient to provide cellular service in. Remote areas like the Mohave Reservation or Northern Canada. Places like that. Adalbo where the oceans too. And so it has a role and the iridium system, of Motorola is providing that service. That flew out of Motorola, I shouldn’t say its no longer Motorola, they lost five billion dollar on that.
Jacob: Yea that’ll be a hit to any corporation. Um, so now, I’m gonna ask a what if question. Now if you had known the commercial applications, or what would become the commercial applications of the satellite technologies, um, would that have changed your approach or the way you did your research at GE in any way?
Roy: No I don’t think so because each advance that we made, we thought we were at the forefront of the technology. But you see, the technology that grows up in developing computers has a [tape is cut off]
Jacob: Alright there we are. Now I don’t remember where we were. Um, okay. So I guess at the time you’re always at the forefront of where you are and you can’t again, predict.
Roy: You use what technology is available at the time. We could never imagine the rate at which science and technology have advanced over these years.
Jacob: So yea, what specifically led you to leave GE and start your own company?
Roy: I retired from GE in 1965
Jacob: Wow. That’s a good breather. But you were not done.
Roy: Well that’s right. I started a new career. The fact is, GE supported my work over all those years. You know they rebuilt facility which was very expensive up on top of the hill of Western Schenectady, and did all of these experiments, and many of them, much of it done under government contract, but with GE support, and developed one thing after the other. But GE was not interested in pursuing the business that I was interested in because they didn’t want to go through the regulatory rigmarole and all of all that. And so I got permission from GE to go ahead with this new project.
Jacob: So your career is kind of an interesting question. Do you see any difference or did you experience any difference in doing work for commercial interests or military interests or more pure research? Do you see any differences in those? Or did you experience any difference?
Roy: I mean as far as the technology is concerned I would say no. Differences in a way to get funding to do it.
Jacob: Yea okay.
Roy: Quite different. You know getting people interested in supporting the work.
Jacob: I guess that’s what military and commercial are there for. Okay so now let’s kind of talk about the Dudley Observatory. Can you describe your relationship to the Dudley Observatory?
Roy: What I didn’t mention was that on the facility that we had on this hill west of Schenectady was an obstacle facility. The idea was to track satellites by photographing them against a star field. Now GE had developed what was at that time a very new sensitive television camera. And we had an astronomer up there who installed the telescope—which by the way now is at RPI their polytechnic institute—to photograph using this highly sensitive camera, and photograph the satellites as they passed over. And we were successful in that but the telescope field of view was too small to catch the satellites most of the time, but the idea was to photograph them. The astronomer who worked there was very interested in Dudley Observatory and got me interested in it and so I joined and they, Dudley wanted to go in to radio astronomy. So I joined uh, the board of Dudley in nineteen seventy something or other, and Dudley built a hundred foot diameter antenna you know with Bolton lining, so I got on the board then and [inaudible].
Jacob: So how was your experience being on the board of Dudley Observatory?
Roy: Well, turbulent. The big telescope at Bolton Landing uh—I dunno if I should tell you all the stories there are to tell.
Jacob: No please, that’s what this is for. You can always say that whatever you say here is closed and not to be released.
Roy: No I don’t see any harm in releasing it but [laughter] we’ll have to be careful. The telescope at Bolton landing, that was aimed at radio measurements and looking at things in space, and quite good for its time, but it really is superseded by government agencies; you know the big facilities in Virginia and so on. Well Dudley had a research program at that time, very active in uh, the uh, Curt Hemenway, who was the head of the uh, Dudley at the time, had massive programs in which they gathered dust from high altitude space flights, and looked for particles from outer space. And so this research was going on with a sizeable staff, in the facility owned by Dudley on Fuller Road in Albany. And much of the, the contracts that we had with NASA to do the work that Dudley had were augmented by the fact that the people who minded doing the work were on the staff of the University of Albany. And so you could do this in a favorable offering to NASA; so the program was an active research program.
Well, the University at Albany decided to end its astronomy department, which meant then that we no longer could support, get enough money, contract money, to support the work, essentially. So it was necessary to close down this research and cut back, and it fell on my lap to be chairman of the board during part of this time, and so it was very difficult letting some of these good people go. The facility up at Bolton Landing, one of the things they tried was a CEDA program in which the observatory got some funds from the government to essentially train people of the area, local people, to upgrade them to some kind of better jobs. So a number of people in the Bolton Landing area were employed by Dudley at this facility and assigned work, but they were not well qualified for that kind of stuff and I dunno if I should tell this story or not but…
Jacob: Please do.
Roy: One of the people that worked there was a young lady who had a boyfriend and the boyfriend took issue with Dudley, because he thought she was flirting with some other guy that worked there. And so he came over there with an ax or something, and chopped up the trailer and ripped some equipment and stuff, and then felt better of it, and got his lawyer to come quiet this thing down because he was a pilot for U.S. Air. Well, so when I say this, well what happened with Dudley then, we had to close out the research activity. We still owned the building on Fuller Road and leased that to the University of Albany for their atmospheric sciences research and that gave us money to carry on the Dudley programs so that we had some financial support. But then the atmospheric sciences research laboratory built that big new building that they have and were not longer our tenants. So Dudley sold the facility there and moved to first to a place on route seven, and then to a facility at a building at Union College, but Union wanted that building for something else I guess, so Dudley has moved to its present location. So it’s been an ongoing changes in Dudley from a research institute to a foundation primarily.
Jacob: Can you tell us about some of the work the foundation does? I know some of us have heard star watch, which is, which has a grant in you name.
Roy: Oh well, there’s a grant in my name. It’s just to recognize I was once the chairman of the board I guess. Dudley looked for different ways of recognition, so they named some of their foundation funds after other members of the board and have this grant to do that broadcast and mention my name in connection with it just because I was on the board.
Jacob: Did you ever have, you know working so much with space, and in your work at GE, and then as chairman of the board at Dudley, did you develop or did you have an interest in astronomy? Amateur or otherwise?
Roy: Well, I’ve not been as interested in observational astronomy as most people are. I’m always interested in what is being learned in astrophysics and so on, the origin of the universe and its structure and all of the new things that have been. By chance, my son-in-law is Dr. Robert Walt, who is now a chairman of the physics department at the University of Chicago, and is a worldly renowned person in astrophysics, and an authority on space-time and gravity and relativity.
Jacob: So I guess you get to have some pretty interesting conversations with him.
Roy: No because he’s way beyond me [laughter]! Once in a while I, he’ll try to put me straight a little bit on my tentative faults [laughter].
Jacob: So are there any other [murmur]? Oh okay. We feel obligated to ask about the Dudley curse. I was not … [end of tape].
Jacob: We feel obligated to ask. I was not there. Liz do you…? What is the Dudley curse? Did it affect you?
Liz: Our understanding of it is that—something about a director being kicked out in to the snow and being arrested by the police. And somewhere alcohol is involved? And it just set a standard for people leaving the observatory in a huff.
Roy: Well, I guess I don’t remember that incident [laughter].
Janie: Gould, Gould was the first of the people who…
Roy: Ohh [laughter], I’m not an authority on Dudley but contention between board and staff on one thing and another has been a curse [laughter]. An excellent book on this is George Wise’s new book on civic astronomy. Dudley started as you may well know better than I do, way back in 1852 I think it was. When Albany was an important city [laughter]. Well I mean [laughter] relative to New York and more so than it is now perhaps. And business people and others wanted to go in to civic, that is private support of new research and bring scientific research to the country. This was a very good gruel, so they started Dudley Observatory and right away there was contention. There’s a book, Elites in Conflict, that describes these early days too, that you can borrow from Dudley I’m sure, and it describes the contention between the board and the scientific staff. Well then, Dudley went in to a period of providing time services, and setting up an important facility for making a star catalog, and working over the years. And so it was a pretty important role in astronomy. But you see, heritage of that was the research that was going on at Dudley, and becomes too small compared to the huge facilities that can be put up by the big universities and the government and so on. So, its role as a scientific institution has passed, and it’s tried to find its proper role, first as a foundation, and then as providing educational services. Janie knows all about it, what’s going on.
Janie: Well do you have other instances where people left disgruntled?
Roy: Oh, this has been a thing that has really bothered me. I have seen so much contention. People who have come to Dudley and devoted their career or their wholehearted support to Dudley and then some issue would come up and would really hurt them. Uh, one example for example is Curt Hemenway, who was top man at the observatory and devoted his career whole-heartedly to it. And when, they had to close the research down, and he left the observatory, and he would’ve liked to have had a pension or some kind of a grant, but our finances were so limited that we couldn’t do it. So here’s a guy who devoted his life and his heart, you know, things like that, at the radio telescope, the two people that were the head of that found it difficult—it’s always difficult. You might say that uh, in my uh, work at GE I worked a lot with the maritime people. And on of the things they were saying was that technology is such that you could run a ship across the ocean with only two people on board, and that would be cost effective. But psychologists say no, no you can’t have two people together in such an environment over periods of time, and I saw that [laughter]! Um, but there have been so many other examples of people who have done that, and it’s one of the things that worries me about any plans for future. Why keep this up?
Robert Hoffman: You told us a lot about the technical side of your work at GE. I was just wondering perhaps if you could tell us a little bit more about what it was actually like, like working there, what the atmosphere was like, what the people were like working there at such a time of scientific discovery.
Roy: I’ll have to tell you. I came to GE in 1947, and was assigned to work with Harry Summerhayes, who was son in law of Dr. Irvin [inaudible] the famous known be laureate and scientist. And uh, so I worked for Harry and Harry in turn worked for Dr. Cook, who was a tall, stern sort of man. But Harry was a kind of uh, free spirit. And, one day when we were all together, the guys I worked with, Harry, it was a winter, a beautiful winter day, and we looked out and the snow was on the ground, and Harry said I know of a hill out in Pattersonville where we could go skiing during lunch hour tomorrow. And so why don’t you bring your skis in? Well I said I don’t ski and he said bring a sled. So I put my kids sled in the car, and came to work the next day and all of us went out to Pattersonville, and there’s a beautiful hill out there, and the snow, and the guys all skied down and I belly flopped down on my kid’s sled that I had on the hill, better than anything I ever had when I was a kid in Illinois; we didn’t have hills like that. And so some time maybe after mid-afternoon we came sneaking back in to the laboratory one at a time, and when I came in to my desk, Doc Cook was sitting on my chair. He says where ya been? And I said I was out in Pattersonville sliding down a hill on a sled. He says what’s worse than going to the movies on company time [laughter]? And I said, uh. Who was with ya? And I suddenly remembered a very urgent telephone call so I raced for the telephone and he got up and walked out [laughter]. Actually of course it was fun; we had a lot of fun working together, and there were also many interesting projects in those early days. As I said, we were at the forefront of introducing electronics to industrial processes. And in this GE went out to sell motors and big stuff you know. We’re uh, bringing back these industrial problems. One I worked on developed, was a wood’s cage for measuring the width of a steel as it comes out of the rolling bell that’s a big eighty inches wide and red hot, moving thirty miles an hour coming out of there. And they want to measure it’s width, even though it’s moving side to side, they want to measure it’s width to an eighth of an inch. And so I thought up the idea of putting a scanner over each side of it. You know how far apart the scanners are and then the scanners can measure the fine changes, and get, so that was one. But there were lots of others, like the, the book shot in the corned beef. A company that canned corn beef sometimes well, like I shouldn’t mention it, but Cheney you know had a little trouble with his shot gun [laughter]. Well sometimes people mistake a cow for a rabbit or something and meat sometimes get buck shot in it [laughter]. And uh, so the company that was making corned beef wanted a way of finding buck shot in the corned beef. All kinds of interesting things you’d never think of!
Jacob: Wow. So you really got to be a problem solver.
Roy: You know one of the most successful engineering projects in, [inaudible]. There was a company, worked in Schenectady, making insulating products, uh, insulation. Uh, they had some big plates of about four by eight sheets of insulating materials about this thick. And they had embedded square foot copper plates in these for whatever purpose it was. They were embedded inside you know. And they now had the problem of where are we gonna to cut these sheets so we don’t cut through the plates? We gotta cut between them. So they brought that to us and it happened that all the other guys were having a meeting with those people. And I looked at that stuff and I thought you know that stuff looks like it may be translucent. So I got out a photo flood lamp, darkened the office, turned the photo flood lamp on and by gosh you could see the plates in there instead of coming up with some big electronic system, and so I thought that was a good way to solve an engineering problem.
Roy: Another one was mica tape; we wrap many layers of mica tape on a big conductors of huge—I don’t know if you ever, can’t imagine the size of the generators and turbines that GE is building, but they have these huge conductors and they wrap this tape insulation on the conductor, and they get to the end of the thing and they keep winding on. You know exactly where this big conductor ends, where they have to cut the insulation off at the end. So I was down there and they were looking to see how we could figure out where that is. And so I suggested that they go up to [inaudible] Armor and buy a stud finder and put a nail in there when they do this thing, and they’d use a stud finder. So sometimes you can solve an engineering problem in an easy way. And that’s the best way.
Jacob: Yea. Do you have any more stories you feel, you could share?
Roy: Well probably but ha, well, remember when, when we were doing our work with the coast guard and so on. We had a, uh, one of our units on a Coast Guard ship up in the Bering sea, and you asked about the ionosphere. The only way that uh, Coast Guard people could communicate with ships out on the Bering Sea is by short wave radio. That’s all they were set up to do. And so there’s a ground station in Anchorage Alaska, talking with their coast guard ships out in the uh, Bering Sea. And we rigged it up so that the Coast Guard ground station could talk through the satellite to the ship. It was interesting. The ionosphere messes up signals, or it doesn’t work a lot of the time because of solar flares, and we could listen in on a fellow in Anchorage talking to a fellow on the ship, through the satellite, as clearly as I’m talking to you. And they’re trying and trying to get their HF wing to work, trying different frequencies and things. And here are these two guys puzzling over how can we talk to each other when they are talking to each other when they are talking to each other as clearly as you and I are talking.
Jacob: That’s pretty funny. I guess some people aren’t ready to adapt…[laughter]
Roy: Well of course they had that problem permanently when they didn’t have the satellite all the time, but it just shows how much the satellite can mean.
Liz: Liz Casline. I guess, um, we actually had another question. We read somewhere that you were an ion fellow and we weren’t really sure what that meant. So we were wondering if you could…
Roy: Oh well when you already belong to an organization like the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, they have a special member grade that you can’t apply for, you have to be—people or peers have to nominate you and justify that you are an outstanding member of that organization, and have accomplished certain things. And so I am a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, and a fellow in the Institute of Navigation, and a fellow of the Radio Club of America and a few things like that. These are sort of honorary recognitions. And also I, at GE, I was chosen to be a Coolidge fellow. That was the highest award given to people in the Corporate Research and Development Center. And one of the advantages of that is that you get a year off to do whatever you wanted, and since I was doing what I wanted to do anyway, I took advantage of that to travel around the world and visit my different ground stations. Which I think was interesting! There were other stations you know, not just those, they were all, we’d install them, but they were operated voluntarily by the people at those locations, all very eager to cooperate with us and many tests.
Liz: Well I sort of have a personal question, because I chose to go to a liberal arts college like you did for very similar reasons. But part of my fear was that that sort of education won’t be as respected in the job world, and stuff like that. So I was wondering if you ever felt any stigmatism against that education, or how you used it to…
Roy: In a liberal arts college? No I certainly would encourage you to go to a liberal arts college unless you have a particular career that you want to pursue. If you wanted to be an engineer it’d be a good idea to go to RPI or someplace like that. But if you want, unless you have a clear understanding of what you want your career to be, I’d suggest that you go to a liberal arts college because you can sample, different categories of work, and it gives you a broad education, and if you then decide to go in to professional, go on to graduate school in the field that you’re interested in. But the liberal arts education, I certainly encourage you to do that.
Liz: Thank you.
Jacob: Does anyone else?
Robert: Um, It’s Robert Hoffman again. I was just thinking there’s only five minutes left and I just figured, is there anything in your career that you feel like we haven’t touched on enough that you would like to talk about anymore?
Roy: Oh I think I’ve gone on quite a bit.
Jacob: Not at all. Okay, well I’d like to thank you again on behalf of everyone for doing this interview. It means a lot to us and our class.
Roy: Uh huh.