The 18-inch telescope was originally stationed on the island Eniwetok Atoll which is part of the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific. It was used by NASA for lunar studies prior to the Apollo program and has been in operation at SFA since 1976. It was converted to computer control in 1979, making it one of the first computer assisted telescopes at a campus-based observatory. The 18-inch is now equipped with a CCD photometer and imaging system.

In 1968 an astronomy course, Physics 301, was introduced to provide background for teachers of Earth Science. The course was taught annually to about 50 students. The students in general were those with an interest in astronomy apart from their degree programs. The laboratory was taught by Dr. Gruebel with the assistance of amateur astronomers from the Nacogdoches area. A 6-inch Criterion reflector and a 3-inch refractor were the primary instruments and they were supplemented by the instruments of interested amateurs.

The Physics Department received an NSF COSIP Grant which included funds for a 10-inch reflector. President Steen authorized the department to commence a site search on university property. The Excess Property provisions of the COSIP Grant allowed us to obtain approximately $1.2 million worth of scientfic equipment in 1971. Astronomical instruments included in this acquisition were:

  1. an 18-inch Ritchey Chretien telescope
  2. a 12-foot Observadome
  3. four 6-inch refractors capable of solar photography
  4. six 8-9 inch Cassegrain reflectors
  5. two 6-inch reflectors
  6. sixty 3-inch, 30X spotting scopes
  7. an assortment of filter boxes, adaptors, etc.

NSF approved transfer of equipment funds to purchase a 30-inch mirror blank in lieu of the 10-inch relector and other equipment.

Harlan Smith, Chairman of the Department of Astronomy at UT and Director of the McDonald Observatory, visited the department in 1972 to aid in site selection for an observatory to house the 18-inch Ritchey Chretien and the proposed 30-inch Coudé/Cassegrain. The original site selection on the University farm located the observatory at the site of the proposed animal barn. President Steen told us that the site would be dedicated to the observatory if absolutely necessary, but asked us to search for an alternate site. A search produced an alternate site on the farm which had no significant access problems.

The Physics Department introduced Physics 105 (Introductory Astronomy) in 1973. The University provided $25,000 for observatory construction. Drs. Gruebel and Callaway surveyed the site and located polar north for both domes. The student viewing facility was constructed and the 18-inch telescope was installed in the small dome. A 24-foot Ash Dome was purchased for the 30-inch telescope. Construction of the large dome was delayed until 1977 by the default of the original construction firm.