Oral history of British science
Rapley, Chris (Part 4 of 7)
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Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, University College London
Rapley, Chris, 1947- (speaker, male)
Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)
Part 4 [1:08:42] [Session four: 22nd June 2011] Detailed description of operation of particular types of PSLEPC, developed by self at MSSL, including capacity to scan continuous spectrum of radiation. [3:38] Story of joint proposal (self, MSSL/Alan Gabriel, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory [RAL]/Loren Acton, PARL) for inclusion of X Ray Polychrometer [XRP] on NASA SMM. Comments on aims of SMM; success of own bent crystal spectrometer [BCS] in studying solar flares. Mentions sequence of work on BCS: with MSSL designers; integration with XRP at PARL, 1978; incorporation into SMM payload, NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre [NGSPC], 1979; launch February 1980. Comments on year-long cooperation in directing payload of SMM, NGSFC, including role of ‘observing Tzar’, malfunction after nine months. [6:34] Comments on enjoyment/influence of SMM, including skills observed in Peter Burr, SMM project manager; experience of scientific internationalism; valuing of holistic approach of SMM. [8:47] Comments on thin plastic film windows, pioneered by self, used on SMM. [10:20] Comments on social/academic context of California, 1970s. Detailed description of atmosphere of work/styles of engineering at PARL, contrasted with MSSL/RAL. [14:44] Comments on tensions in relations between UK/US styles of engineering. Mentions international relations in International Geosphere Biosphere Programme [IGBP]. [17:25] Story of move of self and family (wife; two daughters, aged 7) to US. Mentions use of microprocessors, XRP, SMM. [20:33] Mentions wife’s focus on childcare, US. Story of wife learning to drive; car bought in US. Mentions Los Angeles, early fast-food chains, visit from parents. [22:42] Comments on reasons for returning to UK. Story of swimming pool business offer. [27:29] Comments on significance of family in decision to return to UK; perception of SMM work as personal indulgence; tendency to experience work related anxiety; valuing of scientific career as unconventional. [31:18] Comments on level/extent of interest in politics, 1970s. [33:37] Story of origin of move from solar physics to Earth Observation [EO] work, including role of John Vesecky, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California in sharing SEASAT images/data, conversation with RB concerning planned EO section at MSSL, awareness of contemporary climate change [CC] concerns. [39:04] Detailed comments on cooperation of MSSL with RAL, National Physical Laboratory regarding black body calibration sources [BBCS] for infrared [IR]. Mentions JH; David T Llewellyn-Jones, RAL. Description of IR BBCS produced by Ian Mason, Peter Sheather, Jim Bowles, MSSL; measurement of sea surface temperature by Along Track Scanning Radiometer [ATSR]; role of onboard BBCSs as reference temperatures. [44:26] Story of1981 invitation from John Powell, RAL, to lead investigation of satellite radar altimetry [SRA] of polar ice for ESA (European Space Agency). Mentions collaborators including Scott Polar Research Institute [SPRI], British Antarctic Survey [BAS], Institute of Oceanographic Sciences [IOS]; published report: ‘A study of satellite radar altimeter operation over ice covered surfaces’ (1983). Mentions subsequent reports for ESA on SRA of other surfaces; assistance of Jay Zwally NGSFC. Comments on outcomes of ESA SRA work, including current CryoSat. [48:29] Comments on expansion of EO group, MSSL, including contracts with RAE, NERC grants; Wednesday afternoon seminars/brainstorming. Story illustrating status of MSSL SRA reports. [51:50] Comments on role of EO group in specifying design criteria for ESA satellite instruments. [53:14] Comments on significance of CC in work of EO group; suitability of poles as focus for satellite remote sensing. [55:24] Comments on competition for satellite time/choice of observing modes. [57:16] Mentions abandonment of solar physics, early 1980s. Comments on funding for EA, given NERC/SERC overlap. Story of development of EO group using ESA/RAE contract overheads. Mentions ERS-1 launch, 1990s; end to involvement in EO group, 1994. [1:02:04] Story of origin of involvement in work on design of Cassini Titan Radar, Jet Propulsion Laboratory [JPL], NGSFC 1994. Mentions advertisement for Directorship, IGBP. [1:04:50] Description of teaching duties in Department of Physics and Astronomy [DPA], UCL while running EO group, MSSL; tensions between MSSL/DPA.
Interview with physicist, Chris Rapley