September 8, 2013 @ 10:30 pm – September 9, 2013 @ 12:30 am
Main Yurt
David DeVorkin

David DeVorkin, Senior Curator, history of astronomy and the space sciences at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution

Sunday, September 8, 2013, 6:30 pm in the Yurt

History of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory under Fred Whipple

Astronomers remember the Harvard astronomer Fred Whipple as the creator of the “dirty snowball” model for comets, and as a leading student of meteor trails.  The world remembers Whipple for his promotion of Project Moonwatch, tracking the world’s first artificial satellites, and attracting the energies and passions of thousands of amateur astronomers in one of the largest “citizen science” projects of all time.  Tonight we’ll explore these worlds Whipple inhabited and helped to populate, and how he did it by transforming the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory into the largest astronomical institution on our home world.


David DeVorkin is senior curator, history of astronomy and the space sciences at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution. He has been a curator since January 1981. From 1987 through 1991 he held the concurrent position of chair of the Advisory Committee to the Smithsonian Videohistory Program, and spent the summer and fall of 1991 as a visiting member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Major research interests are in the origins and development of modern astrophysics during the 20th Century; and the origins of the space sciences. He specializes in the history of space astronomy and in the government and military patronage of science in the post-WWII era. He has published a major biography of the Princeton astronomer Henry Norris Russell that has been critically acclaimed, and has curated two major exhibitions at the NASM as well as several smaller ones. He is responsible for collecting astronomical, solar, geophysical and related instrumentation for the Smithsonian, concentrating on the 20th Century.