January 10, 1946: Project Diana

Tuesday, January 10, AD 2017

Scientific advances from World War II revolutionized our world and beyond.  Sixty-one years ago the experiment of the United States Army Signal Corps, called Project Diana, in bouncing radar signals off the moon bore fruit.  Radar took 2.5 seconds to make the round trip of almost half a million miles.  Thus radar astronomy, along with the United States space program, was born.  Careful calculations had to be made each day to account for the Doppler effect.  Moonbounce radio communication is still used by some amateur radio operators.

E. King Stodola, the scientist who served as the technical director for the project, recalled it in 1979 during an interview conducted by his daughter, Cindy Stodola Pomerleau:

We eventually did the moon radar project, and I guess my function in it was really Technical Director. In connection with this, I met Jack DeWitt, who was the Director of the Laboratory, He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army but he really was a reserve officer – I don’t know whether he was a reserve officer or whether he had simply taken the appointment because they needed people. But in any event, he was the Lab Director, and he had been much involved with – in fact, I guess he had been one of the founders of radio station WSN in Nashville, which is still around, and he had quite a lot to do with the Old Opry and the like. I still keep in touch with Jack and we sometimes trade services with each other.

In any event, he had thought for a long time about the possibility of getting enough energy onto the moon to be detectable back on the earth, and with this cadre of people that I was heading and the various pieces of apparatus that were around, we did some thinking about it and decided we had the resources to do the trick, so pretty much on a slave labor basis, we started to work on this moon radar project, and a lot of other people got “scrounged” into it.

And to make a long story short, the thing came off successfully. Then we let our bosses know what was going on – and they didn’t believe it! They didn’t believe we’d really done it. So they called in a number of outside experts, and one of them was a fellow named Waldemar Kaempffert, who was then Science Editor of the New York Times.He was a pompous fellow. He came down and we talked with him and very quickly convinced him that we were really getting echoes from the moon. And then another man that also I kept quite friendly with, Donald Fink – he was then Editor of Electronics; ater he got involved with the IEEE and he is now editor of some electrical engineers’ handbook that’s quite useful. But in any event, Don came down, and he was smart, he knew right away that there was no question about what we were doing.

So we decided that we would announce this publicly at the annual dinner of the IRE, the Institute of Radio Engineers, which we did. It created headlines which were of the same order of magnitude as the atomic bomb did, although it was not – at least from the intricacy viewpoint, there was no comparison; really we were just applying technology that was available. But it was a very significant…

7 Responses to January 10, 1946: Project Diana

  • “But it was a very significant…”
    Ideed it was. Our understanding of the size of the universe is a series of calculations of multiple steps, the first step being the size of the earth’s orbit around the sun. Thanks to the observations of the transits of Mercury and Venus across the face of the sun we had some idea of the true value of our orbit’s size. This radar technology was soon extended beyond the moon to the planets and near-earth asteroids of the inner solar system, and so we ended with a much better value to use. Observations such as those of the Hubble Space Telescope are valuable but would be less so without this technology.

  • If they could muster up enough power to send a signal all the way to our NEAREST star, Alpha Proxima,, it would be a round trip of EIGHT AND ONE HALF YEARS !
    Timothy R.

  • Yes, Timothy, which is why radar observations beyond the inner solar system will likely never happen, let alone outside the solar system. Inverse square law of radiation.
    But, since we know the size of the earth’s orbit, parallax observations of Alpha and Proxima Centauri give us their distance well enough.

  • I calculated once how long it would take our fastest spacecraft to reach Alpha or Proxima. It involves so many thousands of years, one way, that, unless wormholes do exist, and we find a way to use them, we
    ain’t going nowhere !
    Timothy R.

  • We actually have an idea of how to make wormholes (as in, we had an idea of how to split atoms in 1920). What we haven’t figured out yet is how to move the other end of the wormhole to where you want it. As it stands right now this ‘idea’ would only get us to the other side of the room. But hey, it’s a start.

    Actually, we can with nearly current technology reach about 1/3 or the speed of light, so the nearest stars are ‘only’ two centuries away at the most. This is true even if the EM drive being tested now doesn’t work; if it does then future ships won’t need fuel other than than for electricity. The real problem is we can’t build this stuff economically without better robotic technology, and that technology just might get us killed.

  • I’m still fascinated with the idea of using a gigantic SAIL ! Think of it ! Sailing ships would be back in vogue !
    Timothy R.

  • And besides, TomD, I would risk my life for a chance to see a faraway World, a place that hasn’t been spoiled by man.
    Timothy R.