Updated: 06.04.2015

Returning the “Silent Sentinel” to Active Duty

The TIROS Dish and the Moon at Dusk

The TIROS Dish in Wall, NJ, Points to the Moon at Dusk. The Dish has Been Called “The Silent Sentinel.” [photo: Nancy J. Graziano]

Situated on the south shore of New Jersey’s Shark River lies 37 acres of land known as Camp Evans. On April 1, 2015, I was priviledged to attend the dedication ceremony celebrating Camp Evans’ becoming one of only 2532 locations in the United States designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Plaque Commemorating the Designation of Camp Evans as a National Historic Landmark. April 2, 2015. [photo: Robert Raia Photography]

Plaque Commemorating the Designation of Camp Evans as a National Historic Landmark. April 1, 2015. [photo: Robert Raia Photography]

Camp Evans, originally known as the Belmar Receiving Station, is rich in history:

  • In 1912, Gugliemlo Marconi and his company, the American Marconi Company, constructed the Belmar Receiving Station which became part of the wireless girdle of the earth.
  • In 1917, the site was acquired as part of the Navy’s World War I “Trans-Atlantic Communication System.”
  • In 1941, the Army Signal Corps purchased the property to construct a top-secret research facility, and it was renamed Evans Signal Laboratory which later became Camp Evans Signal Laboratory.
  • Following a visit in late October, 1953, Senator Joseph McCarthy described Camp Evans as a “house of spies.” Following an investigation that spanned 1953-1954, not one single employee was prosecuted.

But perhaps Camp Evans’ most interesting – and surprising – place in history begins with a small, informal research project taking place on a parcel of land in the Camp’s northeast corner. The ramifications of this project would ultimately give birth the to Space Age, lead to the development of the US Space Program, and start the Cold War.

Following the end of WWII, American scientists at Camp Evans continued their investigation into whether the earth’s ionosphere could be penetrated using radio waves – a feat that had been studied prior to the end of the War but had long been believed impossible. Project Diana, led by Lt. Col. John H. DeWitt, Jr., aimed to prove that it could indeed be penetrated. A group of radar scientists awaiting their discharge from the Army modified a radar antenna – including significantly boosting its output power – and placed it in the northeast corner of Camp Evans.

RADAR Dish at Camp Evans Circa 1946

Location of the Radar Antenna on the Northeast Corner of Camp Evans Circa 1946. [photo: InfoAge website]

On the morning of January 10, 1946, with the dish pointed at the rising moon, a series of radar signals was broadcast. Exactly 2.5 seconds after each signal’s broadcast, its corresponding echo was detected. This was significant because 2.5 seconds is precisely the time required for light to travel the round trip distance between the earth and the moon. Project Diana – and her scientists – had successfully demonstrated that the ionosphere was, in fact, penetrable, and communication beyond our planet was possible. And thus was born the Space Age – as well as the field of Radar Astronomy.

SCR-271 Bedspring RADAR Antenna Pointing at the Moon [photo: David Mofenson; InfoAge website]

SCR-271 Bedspring RADAR Antenna Pointing at the Moon [photo: David Mofenson; InfoAge website]

By mid-1958 the United States had launched the Television InfraRed Observation Satellite (TIROS) program designed to study the viability of using satellite imagery and observations as a means of studying the Earth and improving weather forecasting. As part of this effort, the original “Moonbounce” antenna was replaced with a 60-foot parabolic radio antenna dish which would serve as the project’s downlink Ground Communication Station.

60-Meter Parabolic Dish Being Constructed on Project Diana Site [photo: Frank Vosk; InfoAge website]

60-Meter Parabolic Dish Being Constructed on Project Diana Site [photo: Frank Vosk; InfoAge website]

On April 1, 1960, NASA successfully launched its TIROS I satellite and the “Silent Sentinel Radio Dish” at Camp Evans began receiving its data being sent down to earth.

TIROS I Satellite

TIROS I Satellite [photo: NASA; National Space Science Data Center]

The resulting images were so astonishing and groundbreaking that the first photos received from TIROS I were immediately printed and flown to Washington where they were presented to President Eisenhower by NASA Administrator T. Keith Glennan.

President Eisenhower and NASA Administrator Glennan Viewing the First Satellite Images from TIROS I. [photo: wikimedia commons]

President Eisenhower and NASA Administrator Glennan Viewing the First Satellite Images from TIROS I. [photo: wikimedia commons]

The TIROS program would go on to be instrumental in meteorological applications not only because it provided the first accurate weather forecasts and hurricane tracking based on satellite information, but also because it began providing continuous coverage of the earth’s weather in 1962, and ultimately lead to the development of more sophisticated observational satellites. [1]

In addition to serving as the downlink Ground Communications Center for the TIROS I and TIROS II satellites, this same dish has also tracked:

Sadly, by the mid-1970s, the technology within the TIROS dish had become obsolete, and it was retired. Camp Evans was decommissioned and closed in 1993 and its land was transferred to the National Park Service. But in 2012, Camp Evans was designated a National Historic Landmark, and thus began a new, revitalized era for this immensely significant site. In addition to the TIROS Dish and the InfoAge Science History Learning Center and Museum, Camp Evans is also home to:

Apollo Guidance Computer

The Apollo Guidance Computer, Just One of the Many Historical Exhibits on Display at the InfoAge Science History Learning Center and Museum at Historic Camp Evans [photo: Robert Raia Photography]


In 2001, InfoAge stepped in and began preserving and restoring the mechanical systems of the TIROS dish. In 2006, a donation from Harris Corporation allowed the dish to be completely repainted and preserved.

Norman Jarosik, Senior Research Physicist at Princeton University and Daniel Marlow, PhD. and Evans Crawford 1911 Professor of Physics at Princeton, as well as countless volunteers from the University, InfoAge, Wall Township (NJ), and the Ocean-Monmouth Amateur Radio Club, Inc. (OMARC) have provided the engineering/scientific knowledge and sweat-equity required to refurbish and update the inoperative radio dish. The original vacuum-tube technology has been replaced with smaller electronic counterparts. Rusty equipment has been replaced. Seized/inoperative motors have been reconditioned and rebuilt. And system-level software controls have been added. The TIROS dish has been transformed into a truly modern, state-of-the-art Radio Astronomy Satellite Dish and Control Center.

The TIROS Dish as it Appears Today [photo: Nancy J. Graziano]

The TIROS Dish as it Appears Today [photo: Nancy J. Graziano]

On January 19, 2015, scientists from Princeton University pointed the dish skyward toward the center of our galaxy and detected a clear peak at 1420.4 MHz, the well-known 21 cm emission line originating from the deepest recesses of the Milky Way – the dish was working!

The Control Console Today. [photo: Nancy J. Graziano]

The Control Console Today. [photo: Nancy J. Graziano]


After almost 15 years of restoration and nearly 40 years since it last listened to the sky, the TIROS dish is once again operational, is detecting radio signals from the universe, and is well on its way to be used for science education.

Work continues on renovating Building 9162, the original TIROS Control Building, to convert it into the InfoAge Visitor Center. Plans include a NASA-style control room with theater seating for 20-30 students, a full-scale model of the original TIROS I satellite, and other exhibits dedicated to the history of Project Diana, the TIROS program, and the scientific impact these projects have had on our daily lives.

Visitor Center Floorplan [credit: InfoAge]

Artist’s Conception: Visitor Center Floorplan [credit: InfoAge]

Future activities being planned using the dish include a Moonbounce experiment, communicating with NOAA weather satellites, performing real-time satellite imaging, viewing the Milky Way in the radio spectrum, and tracking deep space pulsars.

If you are interested in visiting the InfoAge Science History Learning Center and Museum at Historic Camp Evans, they are open to the public on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, from 1-5pm.

To learn more about Camp Evans, Project Diana, the TIROS Satellite project, and InfoAge, tune into this week’s Weekly Space Hangout. This week’s special guest is Stephen Fowler, the Creative Director at InfoAge. He will be chatting with Fraser about the history and plans for Camp Evans and the TIROS dish.

Still want to learn more? Click on any of the links provided in this article, or visit the following sites:






Updated: 02.22.2014

Can You Understand Me Now?

As hands-free devices have become the norm in today’s world, I think we have all experienced the frustration felt by Howard in the following clip from The Big Bang Theory:

Although we have not yet achieved the level of sophistication anywhere near that portrayed by the Enterprise’s computer, voice recognition technology has certainly come a long way since its was first developed in the early 1950s.

The first voice recognition system, named Audrey, was developed by Bell Laboratories in 1952, and could only understand numerical digits spoken by a single voice.  By the mid-70s, Carnegie Mellon’s “Harpy” system had expanded voice recognition abilities to the point where it could understand 1011 words, which is approximately the vocabulary of a three-year-old. Advancements in both the hardware and software algorithms used for speech recognition helped to expand this vocabulary over the next several decades, but it wasn’t until Google introduced its cloud-based Voice Search application for the iPhone that voice recognition truly became a commercially viable product. Today, Google’s English Voice Search system uses a cloud-based database of approximately 230 billion words that have been extracted from actual user queries.

Although we no longer need to speak V-E-R-Y   S-L-O-W-L-Y for modern speech recognition systems to understand us, I know there are times when my phone totally misunderstands my verbal command and has me shaking my head as I wonder how “Call Home” could be interpreted as “Order Pizza.” Honestly, poor voice recognition/translation is nothing more than a humorous annoyance for those of us trying to place a phone call to our homes and instead end up being connected to the local pizza joint.

But speech recognition technology is now being incorporated into far more critical applications than just our being able to phone home, such as in airplane cockpits.

Traditionally, general aviation pilots have had to manually enter their flightplans into onboard GPS systems, waypoint by waypoint, using a knob to scroll through each letter of the alphabet to spell out the aviation call sign for each waypoint. The longer a flight is, the more waypoints are required. For example, when flying from Albany, NY, to Florence, SC, sixteen different waypoints are required – the first three of which are AGNEZ, SAGES, and LHY. Entering each of these into the GPS is a tedious, time consuming activity at BEST, but easily becomes a safety hazard when mid-flight changes to a flightplan are required due to changing weather conditions or some other unforeseen situation. Manually modifying GPS data diverts a pilot’s attention away from flight-critical activities such as scanning gauges and/or avoiding other aircraft.

Engineers at NASA have long recognized the importance of flight safety not only for their high-profile manned-space missions, but also as it applies to general aviation and increasing safety for the flying public. For over 50 years, NASA’s Vehicle Systems Safety Technology (VSST) program has studied ways in which cockpit safety can be improved for all aircraft. Randy Bailey, one of VSST’s lead aerospace engineers at Langley Research Center, recognized that one of the best ways to improve flight safety is to minimize pilot distraction.

“GPS navigation systems are wonderful as far as improving a pilot’s ability to navigate, but if you can find ways to reduce the draw of the pilot’s attention into the cockpit while using the GPS, it could potentially improve safety.”

— Randy Bailey, Langly Research Center
“Speech Recognition Interfaces Improve Flight Safety”
NASA Spinoff 2012, p56

Meanwhile, civilian pilot J. Scott Merritt had become increasingly frustrated with the “antiquated” method of twisting knobs when entering flightplans into his GPS. Because he understood the inherent danger of this, Merritt wondered if speech recognition technology could be used for waypoint entry. He partnered with several professors at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in New York State in order to study the feasability of his idea. After developing and validating an initial design concept, a US Patent was awarded and soon thereafter Pragmasoft Inc (now VoiceFlight Systems LLC) was formed.

In 2005, Pragmasoft/VoiceFlight Systems LLC was awarded a NASA Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) contract which enabled the company to deliver a fully-functional unit to Langley Research Center where it underwent successful flight testing. In July, 2009, the system became the first voice-recognition system to receive FAA-certification for use in civilian aircraft.

Since its launch in 2001, VoiceFlight®* has become commercially available for general aviation aircraft weighing less than 6000 pounds. What does this mean for private pilots who have installed VoiceFlight? Quite simply, increased flying safety and overall ease when entering or editing flight plan details. With a simple touch of a button installed on the yolk, pilots are now able to issue voice commands to:

  • Enter a waypoint using the standard phonetic alphabet;
  • Edit a flight plan;
  • Delete/erase a flight plan;
  • Enter direct-to destinations;
  • Enter Victor airways which are then automatically expanded.

An online demonstration of the ease with which information can be verbally entered using the phonetic alphabet is available on the VoiceFlight Systems webpage

VoiceFlight is a prime example of how one man’s idea can come to commercial fruition with the help of NASA’s SBIR program – an idea that will improve the safety of the flying public.

*VoiceFlight® is a registered trademark of VoiceFlight Systems LLC.

Updated: 01.29.2014

To Boldly Go…

Each year, the last week of January marks two very somber and difficult anniversaries for manned spaceflight. Today, I simply pay tribute to all who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of man’s quest to “boldly go where no one has gone before…”

Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Edward H. White II, and Roger B. Chaffee

Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II, and Roger B. Chaffee

Photo Credit: NASA

On January 27, 1967, we lost these three TRUE (American) heroes… their tragic deaths led to better designs and practices for the command modules making space flight safer for all who followed in their proverbial footsteps. Thank you for your sacrifices…

Ellison S. Onizuka, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith A. ResnikMichael J. Smith, Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, Ronald E. McNair

Ellison S. Onizuka, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith A. Resnik
Michael J. Smith, Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, Ronald E. McNair

Photo Credit: NASA

On January 28, 1986, we lost the crew of Challenger (STS-51-L). Again, the deaths of these brave souls was not in vain – and led to increased safety standards and more stringent launch protocols.

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Updated: 11.22.2013

Embrace – Don’t Fear – Change

For the last week or so, I have been struggling with what to write about next. I don’t want to bore folks with a series of mindless ramblings that provide no more quality content than some Facebook posts. I honestly hope to publish quality posts that, when appropriate, are supported by research on my part.

On the other hand, I don’t want to wait so long between new entries that people think I have abandoned my own site…

I do have several ideas for upcoming topics that are rattling around and developing inside my brain – hopefully one of them will actually coalesce into something coherent soon. But in the meantime, here is another rambling missive…

– – – – – – – – – – –

Earlier this week (Tuesday, November 19, 2013,) a Minotaur Rocket was scheduled to be launched from Wallops Island, VA, to deploy a record 29 satellites into orbit. Thanks to clear skies, the Minotaur would be visible from our house during part of its ascent, so my husband and I agreed that we would go on our roof (we have LOTS of trees in our neighborhood) at the appropriate time to watch it.

After getting home from work, I saw that Fraser Cain had posted a link for the streaming, live coverage Ustream channel on Universe Today, which I immediately turned on so that we would know exactly when to venture outside. After a brief delay due to technical problems at a downrange tracking station in NC, the liftoff was finally scheduled for 8:15pm.

About 8:10pm I grabbed my Blackberry Z10 smartphone and brought up the Ustream channel so that I could monitor the launch real time from the roof. My hubby and I each grabbed a flashlight, climbed out one of the bedroom windows, and ascended to the peak where we waited for, and then watched, the Minotaur launch on my phone. Several seconds after liftoff, we stood and turned our attention skyward – we were once again treated to an amazing display of rocket-powered technology beautifully streaking across our nighttime sky.

About a minute after the red/orange trail completely disappeared from view, we climbed back inside and made ourselves some hot chocolate to warm up (it wasn’t exactly August temps out there!) At this point, I held up my Blackberry and jokingly said, “It’s amazing how we EVER MANAGED without THESE!!!!” This led to our discussing the advances in technology that we have witnessed since graduating from high school in the late 1970s, and how so many people we know – peers, elders, and “young’uns” alike – really do fear technology and change. We both agree that we handle new technology far better than a lot of folks do because we EMBRACE it, and don’t fear it.

I jokingly call myself a Geek… but the truth of the matter is that I have always embraced new and emerging technology, and I get excited about the prospect of adding new gadgets to my collection. I have always welcomed the challenges that learning something new presents, and I am proud to say that, with very few exceptions, I have taught myself virtually all of the software and other skills I have used for the last 23+ years as a Technical Writer. And as I look back, it seems I may have always had this desire to teach myself new things – I remember my mom once telling me that she was amazed at my ability to look at something and then figure out how to recreate it just by looking at it and trying different things. And this was WELL before the advent of the internet, let alone Google!

So why is my perspective different from so many of my peers? Did my parents do something specific to encourage this? Honestly, I don’t know the answer, but I suspect they did. When I look at who I am and how I have approached new things, several things jump out at me that I believe have contributed to my acceptance of, and passion for, new technology. I have listed some of these items here:

  • No matter your age, as long as you are breathing, it is never too late to learn something new.
  • Embrace change, don’t fear it.
  • Knowledge is NEVER useless.
  • Believe in your abilities. Never let anyone – especially not YOU – tell you that you can’t learn something. If they do, prove them wrong and get out there and do it.
  • Make it personal. I believe that the best way to learn something is to find a way to use that new knowledge in your everyday life. Anytime there is a new software package I need or want to learn, I devise a project that requires my using that software, and then forge ahead. This approach can be applied to any new skill in life, not just technology. But when motivated by a personal goal, learning is no longer a daunting chore – but something enjoyable, particularly as your project progresses and is ultimately completed.
  • Don’t be afraid to screw up and/or start over. Odds are, it will take several attempts to “get it right.” Try to figure out what didn’t go quite right, and the next time you will improve. One of my favorite quotes comes from the movie National Treasure, and paraphrases Thomas Edison: “I didn’t fail, I found 2,000 ways how not to make a light bulb; I only need to find one way to make it work.”
  • Ask for help when you need it. If you don’t know who to ask, use your favorite search engine to find a Wiki page, or a forum. I think you would be surprised just how much help is available “in the cloud” for virtually any subject.
  • Be stubborn – don’t give in when things get tough. Don’t let “the evil technology” get the best of you. Dig in your heels and forge on.
  • Don’t be afraid to temporarily step away when you are seemingly at a brick wall. Sometimes, all it takes is giving your brain a break from trying to solve the problem. You would be surprised how many times, while doing something TOTALLY unrelated, my “lightbulb” goes on, and I have figured out a solution to a problem.
  • Learn how to learn. To me, this is the important lesson that can be learned through formal education. It should never be about passing standardized tests, or making sure that students make a teach look good so they get tenure or a raise. It should be about each child figuring out how to learn – and once that lesson has been learned, it is a skill that will help them get through each and every challenge that will face them throughout their life.

The reality is that ever-advancing technology is a fact of life, and is here to stay. Fearing new technology, or avoiding it by burying one’s head in the sand, is not the answer. So why not embrace all that comes your way, and have fun with it? You might just surprise yourself.

And lest we forget…

President KennedyToday marks the 50th Anniversary of one of the darkest days in our nation’s history – the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. And on this day, we should remember that President Kennedy understood the value of laying down difficult, seemingly impossible goals and challenges designed to shatter the technological status quo. Although I was only four years old when President Kennedy died, his words continue to inspire me:

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

I hope that President Kennedy’s words will continue to inspire many future generations of young people to pursue their own difficult goals, not because they are easy, but because they ARE difficult…



Updated: 11.04.2013

NASA and Innovation

If I were to ask you what NASA has contributed to the world over the last 50+ years, what is the first thing that would come to mind?

The Space Shuttle? The Hubble Space Telescope? Cool photographs of deep space objects millions of light years away? Tang?

Would it surprise you to know that technology […]

Updated: 10.28.2013

Science is COOL!

This past weekend (October 18-21, 2013,) I attended my first-ever GeekGirlCon in Seattle, Washington. As someone with a deeply rooted love of all things science, this seemed like a great fit for me. And I was NOT disappointed.

I first learned of GGC this past summer from CosmoQuest’s Dr. Nicole Gugliucci (aka, The Noisy Astronomer,) […]