Tuesday, June 12, 2007

1951 - 1960

The First Ten Years of ASTRA's history has been divided into a number of web pages - as detailed below - mainly to save the user from having to continuously scroll down what would be a very long web page.

The 'down side' of this approach means that the user may have to move between pages. It is hoped that this 'navigation' will be made as 'friendly' as possible.

To view any period of ASTRA's history simply click on the year or years required below. You will also be able to move between the years 1951 through 1960 directly once you have selected one of the years below.


March 31. BIS Chairman Arthur C. Clarke announces an increase in membership fees (e.g. ordinary membership rose to £1 11s 6d, then equivalent to £4.50!). This was with a view to acquiring premises and clerical staff.

Sept. 3-8. BIS holds Second International Congress on Astronautics in London. Topics included 'Meteor Hazards to Space Stations', by M.W. Ovenden, and 'Descent from Satellite Orbits Using Aerodynamic Braking', by T.R. Nonweiler. Both speakers were to be prominent in Scottish activities.

The Congress was attended by Prof. Hermann Oberth, one of the three scientists who independently worked out and published the basic theories of astronautics (the others being Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, in Russia in the 1890's but not published till the 1920's, and Robert Goddard in the USA, who published just after Oberth). The appearance of Oberth's "Die Rakete" in 1924 led to the formation in Germany of the VfR, the first spaceflight society, and so to the German rocket programme which was taken over by the USA after World War II.

At the Congress Prof. Oberth had a reunion with Oscar Schwiglhofer, who had studied physics under Oberth in Transylvania before the War. Oscar had dreamed of founding a spaceflight society himself, and now he was settled in Scotland he decided to set about it.


Aug.8th. Oscar Schwiglhofer joins the BIS, after paying the 1952 subscription increase of 5s 9d. Oscar begins correspondence with BIS Secretary Len Carter about founding a spaceflight society in Scotland.

Sept.18th. Oscar writes to Post Office Supplies Dept., hoping to buy old wooden telephone kiosks to build a meeting hut. Had this been successful, we might have been able to say that the society began its meetings in a phone box.


Oscar begins recruitment drive, putting cards into scientific books in local libraries, obtaining the BIS membership list and writing on Oct.12th to members in Scotland, proposing a meeting on the 21st, when Arthur .C. Clarke was to give the David Elder Lecture at the Royal Technical College, Glasgow (now Strathclyde University). 24 replies were received, all favourable. At the same time, Oscar was pursuing his own astronomical research at Airdrie Public Observatory - his notes were rediscovered 25 years later during the renovation (see 1978).

Nov.25th. Oscar issues invitations to meeting on Dec. 13th.

Dec.13th. Meeting of twelve BIS Scottish members at Glasgow Art Gallery & Museum, by courtesy of Dr. Henderson and P.H. Tanner, who was appointed Secretary. A committee was set up and Oscar was appointed Convener. From the meeting notes:

"It was suggested that we try to get Mr. Ovenden on the Committee and also Mr. Roy. Are we going to restrict members to people interested in astronomy or should anyone be allowed to join? Should astronomy be the main factor, as some members are more interested in the engineering aspect of the Society? Mr. Schwiglhofer has suggested that we have an experimental station at Forestfield and try to get help to build this from the British Radio Assoc." 40 years later, we are still trying to get into that area of research - see later!

The December issue of the BIS 'Information Bulletin' credits the attempt to form the branch to Philip Tanner.

Dec.28. Philip Tanner issues first Branch circular.


Jan.17. Len Carter flies from London to address business meeting of 'Informal Scottish Branch' at Glasgow Art Gallery & Museum, gives lecture on the BIS history and aims. The decision to go ahead was made formal (but see 1957). Committee: Phil Tanner, Michael Ovenden, Mr. Burton, Oscar.

Jan.29. Monthly meetings began, at Glasgow Museum, after contact had been made with Michael Ovenden and Archie Roy, who was Secretary of the (then) Scottish Branch of the British Astronomical Association, and is now Professor of Astronomy at Glasgow University.

Feb.6. Len Carter reports to BIS Council on "the formation of a provisional Scottish Branch and it was resolved that a grant of £5 for incidental expenses be given."

Feb.23. First lecture to Branch by Archie Roy, on 'Das Mars-project', Wernher von Braun's proposal for the exploration of Mars. 31 people were present. The lecture was to be repeated on March 19 at the City Observatory, Edinburgh, but was replaced by a film show - see below.

Mar.18. First public film show (films had already been shown at committee meetings). The films were 'The German A-4 Rocket', 'Rocket Instrumentation' and 'High Altitude Research', repeated in Edinburgh the following night.

Mar.30. Scheduled date of first Branch AGM at Glasgow Museum, after 'Brains Trust' chaired by Mr. Ovenden; postponed to April 27, with 'Trust' chaired by Mr. J.R.R. Burton. Mr. Ovenden elected Branch Chairman.

May 8. Scottish Branch of BAA becomes the Astronomical Society of Glasgow.

May 14. Visit to A.V. Cleaver lecture at Royal Aeronautical Society.

Oct.26. Film show, 'The Viking Rocket', 'High Altitude Research' and 'Rocket Assembling and Launching', followed by a talk from Mr. Ovenden.

Oct. 29. Oct. 26 programme repeated at 25 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh. Meetings there continued on the last Friday of each month, generally paralleling the Glasgow programme, but turnout was low: Archie Roy recalls one attended only by a journalist who was Mahatma Gandhi's nephew. Our attempts in the capital have generally been like that - see 1978 & 1989.

Nov.30. Michael Ovenden, 'The Rocket as a Scientific Instrument'.


Jan.25. Brains Trust, chaired by J.R.R. Burton, repeated in Edinburgh Feb.25, chaired by P.S. Reid.

Jan.28. (Edinburgh) J.C. Guignard, 'Astronautical Medicine'.

Feb.5th. Michael Ovenden and Philip Tanner give a report on the Branch to the BIS Council in London. Financial difficulties and isolation from London were the key points. The same Bulletin carries a report on a North-West Branch Technical Meeting, at which it was noted that "Mr. Clark has begun work on the lunar surface".

Feb.22. J. Lindsay, 'Some Physical Effects of Space Travel'.

Mar.29. P. Tanner, 'Pilotage and Navigation of Interplanetary Vehicles'.

Apr.26. Film 'Faster than Sound', followed by talk on super sonic flight by P. Tanner, followed by 'Branch Business Meeting. (Open to members of the Society only.'

May-June. JBIS announces the winning design for the BIS Badge, after a competition in which a design submitted by Oscar was shortlisted.

Oct.27. Film, 'Destination Moon'. Glasgow meetings now at the Institution of Engineers & Shipbuilders, 39 Elmbank Crescent.

Nov.25. The scheduled lecture by A.V. Cleaver, 'The Rocket Engine and its Problems', was replaced by A.E. Roy, 'The Necessity of Interplanetary Travel', and M.W. Ovenden, 'The Topography of the Solar System', originally scheduled for March 2nd (repeated in Edinburgh Feb.29 1956).

Nov. 30. (Edinburgh) A.E. Roy, 'The Artificial Satellite'.


Jan. 27. 'DISPUTATION. A number of reasoned objections to the present ideas on space flight will be put forward and will be countered by members of the Branch in the form of a debate.'

Mar. 2. A.E. Roy, 'Moons of the Solar System'.

Mar. 23. P.H. Tanner, 'Spaceship Engineering' (originally scheduled for March 30).

June 22. Branch Business Meeting, postponed from Apr. 27.

Later in 1956. Andrew Nimmo of the First Glasgow Scout Troop contacts Philip Tanner about having a space exhibit at Glasgow Boy Scouts' exhibition in 1957.

After this there are no records of Scottish Branch meetings until Oct. 1957, but Archie Roy recalls that they were hosted by a Professor Alexander Stewart, of the then Royal College of Science & Technology (now Strathclyde University), at his home in Queen Margaret Drive. Prof. Stewart afterwards retired and moved to Lesmahagow.

Nov. Oscar visits Largs to research the life of 19th century astronomer Sir Thomas Brisbane. After the founding of ASTRA's Ayrshire Branch in Largs in 1981, John Bonsor and Ron Williams pursued the same enquiry as a private project; the Ayrshire branch held a very successful meteor watch in the walled garden of Brisbane's estate, and had 'the Three Sisters', the sighting pillars for Brisbane's telescopes, photographed from the air during an archeoastronomy flight for which I was organiser.


April. Boy Scouts' exhibition at Kelvin Hall including space-ship stand by Andy Nimmo. First meeting of Andy and Oscar.

July 18-20. BIS holds joint 3-day symposium with Cranfield College of Aeronautics, first proposed by T.R. Nonweiler of Cranfield (see below). The symposium was followed by a cricket match between the BIS XI and the local football club.

A joint Scottish Branch meeting was held with Astronomical Society of Glasgow, a talk by the Astronomer Royal, Prof. Richard van de Riet Woolley. In an interview at the airport, and in questions afterwards, Prof. Woolley repeated his famous utterance "Space travel is utter bilge", only weeks before the launch of Sputnik I.

Donald Malcolm became Branch Secretary, and from here on records are more comprehensive. Things were going well: 36 people attended the October 25th meeting on 'The Possibility of Extraterrestrial Life' and 82 the 13th December lecture by L.R. Shepherd on 'Artificial Satellites', at the Glasgow University Botany Theatre. Dr. Roy was now Chairman, and the Committee were John W. Macvey, of whom more later, also A. Stewart, J. Burton and P. Connelly. However the Scottish Branch was still officially described as 'Provisional'.


Feb.17. Dr. P.H. Vince of IBM, 'Electronic Computers and Their Uses which may be illustrated by means of films or slides, if this can be arranged.' Meetings were being held at the Royal College of Science and Technology (now Strathclyde University).

Apr.1. Archie Roy becomes Lecturer in Astronomy at Glasgow University.

T.R. Nonweiler moves to Queen's University, Belfast, from Cranfield; approached by Dr. Bill Hilton of Armstrong-Whitworth, to study the behaviour of hypersonic shockwaves on the under-side of the 'Pyramid Wing', proposed as a man-carrying vehicle for Britain's Blue Streak booster. This led him to the Waverider concept, later to become ASTRA's 'flagship'. After he published the theory in 1959, he was awarded a Gold Medal by the Royal Aeronautical Society the following year.

Aug.8. Archie Roy calls second meeting of Glasgow Moonwatch Team, using equipment built by Oscar. Meetings continued through to 1961, and observations totalled over 100.

Sept.3-6. Branch participates in British Association Exhibition at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.


Apr.24. AGM with additional programme; before it J.R.R. Burton was Chairman, Committee otherwise as above.

Oct.30. 104 people attend film show, 'Mirror in the Sky' and 'The Inquisitive Giant' (on Jodrell Bank).

Nov.27. Michael Ovenden lectures on 'Crisis in Astronautics'. Plus ca change.


Oct.8. Len Carter lecture 'Are There Limits to Space Exploration?'

After Oct. meeting Andy Nimmo joins Branch Committee, which included John Carnegie - who subsequently left and came back as Treasurer.

Nov.25. Dr. Roy, 'Instrumentation of Artificial Satellites', jointly with the society of Instrument technology, New Engineering Block (James Watt Building) Lecture Theatre, Glasgow University. During 1960, Moonwatch team submits 44 observations.

Ann Yearsley


One man safari



December 1998 is the 45th anniversary of space flight society meetings in Scotland, starting as the Scottish branch of the British Interplanetary Society, and the 35th anniversary of ASTRA as an independent society. (The BIS itself was founded in 1933, and is 65 this year.) It is also just two months over twenty years since the reopening of Airdrie Observatory, run by ASTRA's Astronomy Section for Monklands District Council, now North Lanarkshire. For the 30th anniversary of the society I completed the archiving of the records then available, and for the 35th I produced a Chronology, with an appeal for help in closing the gaps, especially those in the earliest years. A great deal of fresh material has come to light since, particularly a full record of the society's first 20 years, so for the 45/35th anniversary the version which follows has been extensively revised and enlarged.

Even so, it's impossible to include everything. Even in its early years the society was meeting twice a month, in Edinburgh and Glasgow; it's met at least weekly since 1970, and when it had six branches in the late 1980's three of them met monthly, two twice monthly and one weekly, in addition to exhibition lectures and other one-off events. At a conservative estimate, there have been at least 3,250 public meetings. But many of the entries are repeated at other branches, and many are recurring; e.g. Airdrie's weekly meetings currently include a monthly 'Night Sky' meeting and a monthly video night, as well as frequent astronomy and rocketry events at Drumpellier Country Centre. My aim has been to list all the major events and a representative selection of the rest. It should be enough to show just how much has been done in the last 45 years.

At this point I will interrupt Duncan's history to comment on a point of administration. In an attempt to make the history of the society more 'web friendly' I have broken the history into a number of web pages - it would have been too large to include into a single web page. Below you will see a table which has been used to divide the history into a number of sections, which have been further divided into periods of 10 ten years. Each of these ten year periods have again been divided into the individual years - although the size of the actual pages varies depending on the number of events and the amount of records for each year within the section.

To visit a particular period of the ASTRA history simply click on the desired period within the table below. When you have finished with that particular period there are a number of access points within each page which will take you to various points within the ASTRA history.

Alternately, if you simply wish to read the ASTRA history from start to finish simply click on the first entry in the table below. Once you have finished reading the first section simply click on the "Read Next Page' option at the bottom of the page (represented by an arrow head). Repeat this instruction every time you come to the end of a section and you will be moved to the next period/section in ASTRA's history.