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My Decision to Leave KU

During the early sixties the number of astronomy students at K.U., both undergraduate and graduate, increased greatly, and by 1965 our elementary class amounted to nearly two-hundred, and the M.A. candidates to about six. Also, the campus had become rather bright at night due to the increasing number of light sources, and it seemed worthwhile to consider moving the observatory. Furthermore, the Physics Department was due for a new department chairman, and I remember sitting in on interviews of some of the outside candidates (none of the regular staff members were interested); eventually in 1966 Dr.David Beard was chosen to replace Dr.Stranathan.

During the summer of 1966 I worked at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Boston, where Dr.Charles Lundquist had become the assistant director, and he headed a project to investigate the utilization of the data obtained by tracking artificial earth satellites. Of special interest was the proposed use of LIDAR (optical radar), which had the potential for making very precise range measurements to such a satellite. It was assumed that at least one corner cube retroreflector was attached to the satellite in order to enhance the return signal strength. My job consisted in determining the accuracy of such LIDAR-determined ranges, the errors being due primarily to the effects of atmospheric refraction. I wrote a short paper about this in which I showed that the probable error of one measurement of the range could be expected to be around 10 to 25 cm for average conditions, and the experience served me well as an introduction to LIDAR and some of its possibilities.

Meanwhile at K.U. it appeared (at least to me) that some new kind of management structure had been adopted and was diluting the authority of the university. It manifested itself by proliferating deans, making it difficult to find someone in authority who was willing to make decisions. Storer and I consulted with various and sundry individuals who might help with our problems, such as Dean of the College Waggoner, but talk is cheap. Eventually I reached the conclusion that I should go elsewhere. This was a difficult decision to make, because I would be leaving Dr. Storer in a very uncomfortable position with no assistance, especially with regard to the M.A. students who would be left in "limbo." There were also other more personal considerations, such as salary, retirement, the situation of my parents, etc.

I interviewed at the Smithsonian for a possible management position, but that clearly wasn't for me. After a few attempts at a couple of universities, Livermore, and McDonnell-Douglas (I actually got offers from the two latter places), I phoned Bob Brownlee who was in the Atmospheric Testing (J-Division) Office at Los Alamos. He suggested that I contact Dr.Herman Hoerlin, the Group Leader of J-10, who, it turned out, needed someone to work on radiative transfer problems. I was hired as a visiting staff member which gave me the opportunity to find out whether I was suited to the type of work that was required, and likewise it gave Dr. Hoerlin the opportunity to evaluate my work.

A certain amount of confusion then resulted back at K.U. A letter from Dr. Storer (February 9, 1968) said that the word had got around that there was even the possibility of terminating the Astronomy major and master's programs. The negative reaction from students, both past and present, was considerable, and a number of letters of protest were received by the University. Also, Beard once visited me at Los Alamos, and my impression was that we "soliloquized" alternatively rather than carried out a conversation. My Czech stubborn streak had been activated, and after about six months working at Los Alamos I went to Dr.Hoerlin and requested a permanent position at LASL; he in turn went to the J-Division Leader, Dr. Ogle, and my request was approved. I sent my letter of resignation to Dr. Beard on March 29, 1968 (I was then 49 years old). I certainly didn't have a mid-life crisis because I was kept continuously busy trying to solve "impossible" problems; I even mentioned this to Bob Brownlee one day, and he laughed and said: "Well, I see you've joined the club, because all our problems are impossible!" My first two years were rather difficult, but my family and I survived and we learned to love our mountainous surroundings and the people who inhabit this remarkable place.


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