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SIRTF Profiles: Richard S. Taylor

SIRTF Infrared Array Camera Project Manager

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The first Russian satellite flights were riveting to me. Seeing come true what I'd read about in futuristic articles in Collier's magazine and pictured in the space paintings of Chesley Bonestell made me realize that the space age had dawned and I could actually be part of it. The hints of this new age had been everywhere when I was younger. Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury were popularizing science fiction. Werner von Braun was often quoted in the papers and seen on television talking about the coming age of space travel. "Destination Moon" fascinated me as a teen. Later, "2001" left me awestruck. I'd have gone to the Moon in a second if someone had offered me the ride.

My route into the space business was circuitous. I had intended to be a broadcast engineer and began my career in 1960 with ABC Television in New York. Working behind the scenes in the last days of the Golden Age of live television was exciting stuff for a 20-year-old guy, but eventually the desire to leave New York City overcame my desire to remain in broadcasting. After a brief stint with Autonetics in LA, I moved to the Boston area, worked for a short time at Sylvania on the Minuteman weapons system, then moved to M.I.T. when the opportunity arose to work on satellite hardware there. At M.I.T. I worked on mission studies and two x-ray astronomy satellites. I still remember both launches vividly and look forward today to the SIRTF launch with the same kind of anticipation I felt then.

Awe visited me often on my travels while I was at M.I.T. The vast, football-field-sized machine shops at Marshall Space Flight Center made my jaw drop. Who knew you could build a lathe three stories high? Taking part in a meeting in von Braun's office (he was on travel) was another big event. His office was lined with memorabilia and I had a hard time focusing on the topic at hand. The fact that one of the engineers in the meeting had come over from Peenemunde with von Braun just added to the sense I had of being part of history in the making and to my own distraction.

I moved to the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) in 1974 as a Project Manager. At SAO, I handled management assignments at the Multiple Mirror Telescope Observatory in Tucson, on the early development of the Tethered Satellite System (which ultimately flew on a Shuttle mission in 1988) and on the Spacelab 2 Infrared Telescope. I then joined the team that wrote the proposal for the SIRTF Infrared Array Camera in 1983 and have been with SIRTF ever since.

Twenty years is an unusually long time to work on a single project. Most of the early years were devoted to optimizing the design of the instrument and developing its infrared array detectors. This was time well spent. Today's IRAC is but a distant cousin of the one proposed. It's much smaller and simpler and uses detectors at least 100 times more sensitive than those available in 1983.

In building astronomical instrumentation we are always trying to do what's barely possible. Otherwise, why do it? This is both the challenge of the work and the source of the satisfaction when we are done. I'm pleased to be part of it all.

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