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Black History Month


Camera brought stars down to earth

Astrophysicist George Carruthers has always been fascinated by the mysteries of the universe, having built his first telescope when he was just 10 years old.

While working as an engineer at the Naval Research Laboratory, he was asked to build a special camera.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration wanted the camera for the Apollo 16 mission to the moon in the spring of 1972 to help scientists conduct a number of experiments.

Called the Far-Ultraviolet Camera/Spectograph, it was designed to tell the difference between the full spectrum of color and the wavelengths just at the far-ultraviolet end, and to measure and record data from each.

This camera earned Carruthers NASA's Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal that year.

This special camera took photographs of distant stars and galaxy clusters, looking for evidence of hydrogen, the most simple element in the universe.

It also photographed atomic bands of oxygen thought to be girdling the Earth's equator so that scientists could learn more about our upper atmosphere.

In addition to all of that, Carruthers' camera took pictures to allow scientists to measure the solar wind emanating from our star, the Sun, and look for traces of gases in our moon's nearly-nonexistent atmosphere.

When Apollo 16 returned to Earth with a film cartridge containing 178 images, NASA pronounced the Far Ultraviolet Camera/Spectrograph and the mission a complete success.

Carruthers earned his doctorate degree in aeronautical and astronomical engineering from the University of Illinois. For 18 years he was a rocket astronomy research physicist for the U.S. Navy before becoming the head of the Ultraviolet Measurements Branch at the Naval Research Laboratory.

-- By Emily Bell

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