The original tracking telescope, T-1 or Little Bright Eyes, on its original mobile carriage mount in 1946. Dr. James Edson moved the telescope frequently during its first year of use in an attempt to find the most optimal viewing location.
T-1 shown installed at a semi-permanent instrumentation site.
T-4, or "Popeye," in action at Mule Peak, east of Alamogordo, early 1950s. The largest of the tracking telescopes, Clyde Tombaugh sometimes borrowed T-4 for astronomical observations.
T-4 in use before the protective shelter was constructed.
Designed specifically for missile tracking by Clyde Tombaugh, IGOR ("eye-gore", Intercept Ground Optical Recorder) was used from the early 1950s through the end of the Cold War. An IGOR in action, circa 1952. The silver paint helped reflect heat and keep the instrument cool under the hot desert sun.
The Recording Optical Tracking Instrument (ROTI) Mk I, an advanced tracking telescope that integrated some functions of a cinetheodolite. It was used to help measure miss distances for high altitude test vehicles, and used a very fast (100 frames per second) camera to record the action. Here, a ROTI is shown housed in a large astrodome in this undated promotional photo.
The Small Missile Telecamera Mk II, circa 1965, a direct descendant of IGOR and ROTI. It was mainly used to record small, high-speed missiles, and was the first tracking telescope to have its own custom designed mount rather than a repurposed surplus gun mount.
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Researchers wanted to know how high and how far a test vehicle went after launch. But a few scientists, notably Dr. James Edson and his brother-in-law, Dr. Clyde Tombaugh, felt it was just as important to observe the missile in flight to see what it was doing. To that end, they helped design the first tracking telescopes at WSMR to produce a zoomed-in, cinematic record of a missile’s flight for later analysis. Tracking telescopes also recorded intercepts between missiles and targets, providing researchers with early “miss distance” data - the distance between a missile and its intended target in case of a failed intercept.
Developed first here at WSMR, by the 1950s tracking telescopes were considered vital data collection tools and were stationed across the range often at high elevation to maximize visibility and reduce the effects of atmospheric turbulence.
At their core, tracking telescopes are simple instruments that combine a powerful optical telescope with a cinematic high speed camera, and place them on a rotating mount. Tracking telescopes used the same timing system as cinetheodolites in order to correlate the film records of both instruments.