January 10, 1946: Project Diana

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…