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The first picture of the surface of the Moon


The fairytale end of our debt
Bernard Lovell Astronomer
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The Americans then announced that they were to send a new series of Pioneer. They were going to send a probe into deep space and originally, a probe to reach Venus. Now, the... that was of extreme interest. The launch was to take place in May of 1960 and everything went perfectly. The important point was that we had reached... we... we had the task, a few moments after the launch from Cape Canaveral, of sending out the signal through the telescope, to fire the bolts holding the space load to the rocket. And all this worked perfectly. From the American trailer; the button was pressed at precisely the right moment and we... we were told after launch and the payload was released form the carrier rocket. The... we then tracked that rocket for many, many tens of thousands of miles into space.

Now, of course the... the press went mad over this and the front page of every newspaper in the world continued this... contained this story pretty well the next day. I had nobody to deal with the press in those days and my telephone was ringing continuously and on... on one of these rings, I wearily picked up the telephone again. 'Is that Professor Lovell?' 'Yes'. 'My name is Klingerlee. I'm Lord Nuffield's private secretary. His Lordship wishes to speak to you'. Lord Nuffield came on to the telephone. 'Is that Lovell?' 'Yes, my lord'. 'How much money is owing on that telescope of yours?' And I said, 'Oh my... oh my lord, I think... I think we still owe fifty or sixty thousand pounds'. 'Is that all? I'll send you a cheque'. So I tried to thank him. He said, 'That's all right, my boy. You haven't done too badly'. End of conversation; end of debt. Fairytale ending.

Now, so that released us from all debt in that fairytale ending. Unknown to me, my wife, who had of course suffered as I had throughout all those years, she wrote to Lord Nuffield to thank him, and she had a reply from Lord Nuffield. When I told Rainford, the bursar, of this episode, he said, 'That's absolutely astonishing. Lord Nuffield has never been known to write a private letter to anyone'. That correspondence is in... in the bookshelf there. Anyhow, that is the story of the end of our debt.

Bernard Lovell (1913-2012), British radio astronomer and founder of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, received an OBE in 1946 for his work on radar, and was knighted in 1961 for his contribution to the development of radio astronomy. He obtained a PhD in 1936 at the University of Bristol. His steerable radio telescope, which tracked Sputnik across the sky, is now named the Lovell telescope.

Listeners: Alastair Gunn Megan Argo

Alastair Gunn is an astrophysicist at Jodrell Bank Observatory, University of Manchester. He is responsible for the coordination and execution of international radio astronomical observations at the institute and his professional research concerns the extended atmospheres of highly active binary stars. Alastair has a deep interest and knowledge of the history of radio astronomy in general and of Jodrell Bank in particular. He has written extensively about Jodrell Bank's history.

Megan Argo is an astronomer at the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory researching supernovae and star formation in nearby starburst galaxies. As well as research, she is involved with events in the Observatory's Visitor Centre explaining both astronomy and the history of the Observatory to the public.

Tags: Venus, Cape Canaveral, William Morris, Lord Nuffield

Duration: 3 minutes, 27 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2007

Date story went live: 05 September 2008