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The Digital Compute at K.U.: Gale, Ganousek, Steve Little

In the 1950's another revolution began that was essential to the success of the space age, not to mention almost everything else in the world, viz., the development of the digital computer. One of the first commercially available was sold by IBM (International Business Machines), and labelled the IBM-650. K.U. obtained one of these in the late 1950's. It was placed in one of the basement rooms of Strong Hall, and so much heat was generated by the numerous vacuum tube components that air conditioners occupied every available window. Program instructions and data were fed into the computer via punched cards, and the results also came out as punched cards. I fully expected all the professors to be lined up competing, if not fighting, for the opportunity to use the computer, but that didn't happen. But some of us were delighted to have the new machine, such as the Petroleum Engineering Department (which was primarily responsible for persuading the University into obtaining it), an entomologist, a botanist, and a handful of others including an astronomer (me!). Even most of the members of the Mathematics Department seemed to ignore the machine, probably because they primarily did research in ``pure'' mathematics. Of course the students loved it, and we faculty members who wanted to compute had to compete with them !

One of the graduate students, named Gale, was getting his Ph.D. in math but minoring in astronomy; at the time (spring 1960) he was taking orbit computation. So he taught me to program in SOAP, which is the acronym for symbolic-operator-assembly-program; then we programmed the so-called Gaussian orbit method and punched out the appropriate cards. I also had available a hand calculation of an asteroid orbit that I had done in my record time of about 6-hours, and we punched up the appropriate input data cards for this case. There was a certain amount of "debugging" that we had to do, and I only remember the final computer run when things worked out properly. We placed all of the cards in the hopper of the computer, pressed the appropriate button and waited. The computer "read" the input-cards; almost immediately the punched output-cards started coming out of the exit hopper. We placed them in the printer and looked at the print-out of results. The numerical values compared favorably with my hand-computed results, but the CPU time listed was only 40.0 secs!! I haven't been the same since. Two decades later while at Los Alamos I had to obtain a set of results using essentially the same program, but for a variety of initial conditions. The Cray computer did 250 orbits in 0.15 secs.!

Progress was rapid in this field of computation, and within a year the newly developed FORTRAN language made programming much easier. So I started to program some of the radiative transfer problems in this new language. This was going to take quite awhile, and fortunately I got much assistance from graduate students via NSF grants. In 1961 I had finished my only joint paper with Chandrasekhar giving the solution of a rather difficult scattering problem, and in the summer of 1963 I got assistance from A.Janousek of the K.U. Computation Center to compute the necessary functions. The main purpose of tabulating such solutions was to obtain a set of exact results to serve as a "standard of comparison" for other methods, such as the Monte Carlo.

We were unable to complete the work that summer, and Steven Little, an astronomy major who just entered the graduate school, helped prepare the tables for publication in the Ap.J. Supplement Series . He then went on to write his M.A. thesis (1963) about planetary reflection, making use of the new computing technology. It would have been very nice to have held him in slavery at least a couple more years, because we had some thoughts on some new aspects of single scattering and various applications of the invariance principles, but Steve went to U.C.L.A. for his Ph.D., which he obtained in 1971. His doctor's thesis was directed by Dr.L.H.Aller (A Fine Analysis of the Ap Star HD-168733).

He later pursued research on the following subjects: absolute verification of the presence of water vapor in the atmosphere of Mars, survey of long-period variables for the presence of technetium, study of the X-ray bright points on the sun from Skylab X-ray pictures, classification of the emission features of M, S, and C long-period variables using IRAS low-resolution spectra, construction of models of the sky at many wavelengths for simulations of spacecraft encounters. He also did much teaching, and especially enjoyed teaching honors astronomy at Colorado University.

Steve married Irene Marenin in 1973, who obtained her astronomy Ph.D. from Indiana University. They now live in Glen Haven, CO, and are presently (1998) phasing into retirement from CASA (Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy, Boulder, CO). They would like to continue their studies of the archaeoastronomy of the Anasazi indians.