ABSTRACT:

The history of big science, especially physics, informs historians that the instrument is at the heart of Cold War science. This article presents the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which was consciously modeled on the Brookhaven National Laboratory and where the choice of instrument was of only secondary importance. During the planning for the NRAO, which took place from 1954 until 1956, mostly in offices in Washington, D.C. and New York, an extended debate emerged over the place of ““national”” facilities in science, and their relationship to established university programs, particularly those concerned with graduate student instruction. The case of the NRAO reveals the resilience of notions of dispersed scientific community, emphasizing smaller programs in many universities, as well as the perceived necessity of continued participation from a wide disciplinary array of practitioners who, cooperatively, forged radio astronomy. This essay illustrates substantial resistance to the model of scientific practice advocated by the national laboratories when applied to radio astronomy. Critics of a national facility for radio astronomy charged that the substantial funds could be better utilized within existing university-based programs, which would need to be expanded in any event to provide the researchers for the national facility. The senior researchers in radio astronomy were not American, highlighting the fallacy of the notion of national science.

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