As NASA expanded its space exploration and satellite program a network to track satellites and the data they collected also developed. There were Minitrack Stations in the U.S., England, South Africa, South America, and Australia but in 1963 the only data-acquisition facility was in Fairbanks, Alaska. The purpose was to gather data from satellites and space craft.
This required a location with quiet surroundings—minimal outside noise, air traffic, radio interference and no nearby high-voltage electrical lines. The 70 acre site near Balsam Grove provided this, plus was located in a secluded valley on national forest land.
The Rosman Satellite Tracking and Data Acquisition Facility, locally known as The Tracking Station, was constructed in 1963 and formally dedicated on October 26, 1963. The enormous “dish” or ears picked up and tracked data from satellite locations to an astronaut’s blood pressure, as well as “other sounds” from outer space. The tracking system could also send commands to satellites and space craft. The staff of approximately 100 was mainly scientists, engineers, and technicians.
As technology developed and NASA’s communication needs evolved tracking stations were phased out in the early 1980s. In 1981, the Rosman facility was transferred to the Department of Defense. At its peak there were approximately 250 employees. The work was highly secretive and employees were not allowed to talk about their jobs, even with family or friends.
In 1995, the Department of Defense closed the facility and returned the site to the U.S. Forest Service.
In 1999, the site was purchased from the U.S. Forest Service and gifted to PARI for use as an astronomical research and educational facility. Today PARI is known as a world-class research center, offering STEM educational opportunities from elementary school through post-doctoral. PARI is open to the public for self-guided tours and offers scheduled guided tours. Visit their website at www.pari.edu.
Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. Visit the NC Room during regular library hours (Monday-Friday) to learn more about our history and see additional photographs. For more information, comments or suggestions contact Marcy at email@example.com or 828-884-3151 X242.