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The Great War, V

May 13, 2016

[MUSIC: Over there, over there, send the word, send the word over there,
that the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming,
the drums rum-tumming everywhere.

A hundred years ago, World War I was raging across Europe. And less than a year later, the Yanks headed into the fray, as the United States joined the war.

American astronomers contributed to the war effort. Some provided their technical expertise, while others served as soldiers or sailors. And others tried to get into the fighting, but couldn’t.

That list included Edwin Hubble, of Hubble Space Telescope fame. He’d just been offered a job at Mount Wilson Observatory in California, home of a brand-new 100-inch telescope — the world’s largest. But Hubble decided to join the army instead. He quickly finished his Ph.D., then enlisted in mid-1917. He was made a major and given command of a battalion. But he didn’t make it to France until shortly before the war’s end, so he didn’t see combat.

Back at home, there wouldn’t have been much for him to do, anyway. The optical shop for Mount Wilson was converted to military work, and made lenses and prisms.

Other astronomers designed new optics for aerial cameras. Others devised ways to test thousands of clocks and watches for military use, while some who were skilled at tracking meteors helped plot trajectories of artillery shells.

Their work helped assure victory for the allies — over there — in World War I.


Script by Damond Benningfield

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