VBAS Calendar

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Monte Sano State Park


VBAS History

Von Braun Astronomical Society Historical Information

In this section you will find information about the history of the Von Braun Astronomical Society starting with its beginnings as the Rocket City Astronomical Association (RCAA) in 1954.

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Here are some images from the early days of RCAA, including several images about construction of the Swanson observatory.

Can you identify any of the people in the picture? If you can, please let us know! We will add the names to our records. Thank You!

Below you can read first hand account of what happened

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Please enjoy and let us know your thoughts!


Dr. Stuhlinger and Dr. Von Braun


RCAA/VBAS Presidents

RCAA/VBAS Presidents

The following information is taken from Rocket City Astronomical Association and Von Braun Astronomical Society brochures, archives, and the memories of some longstanding members. If you notice any errors, please let us know.

1955 - 1968          Dr. Wernher von Braun
1968 - 1970          Milton Cummings
1970 - 1976          Ronald Ferdie
1976       Donald Parker
1977       William Henry
1978       Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger
1979       Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger
1980       Larry Tarr
1981       Larry Tarr
1982       Dr. Oskar Essenwanger
1983       Dr. Oskar Essenwanger
1984       Dr. Charles “Chip” Meegan
1985       Dr. Charles “Chip” Meegan
1986       Dr. John Piccirillo
1987       John Davis
1988       John Davis
1989       Sandy Sherman
1990       Charles Boley
1991       Charles Boley
1992       Sandy Sherman
1993       Steve Sauerwein
1994       Steve Sauerwein
1995       Bob Wooley
1996       Tim Perry
1997       Tim Perry
1998       Charles O’Donnell
1999       Charles O’Donnell
2000       Tim Perry
2001       Tim Perry
2002       Sandy Sherman
2003       Gerald Conrad
2004       Ken Farnell
2005       Ken Farnell
2006       Jeff Delmas
2007       Michael Cowger
2008       John Young
2009       Michael Cowger
2010       Al Reisz
2011       Tom Burleson, Jr.
2012       Don Martin
2013       Dr. John Johnson
2014       Dr. Naveen Vetcha
2015       Jared Cassidy


How It All Began

The following was taken from a VBAS brochure published in 1979 to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of its formation:

IN THE FALL of 1954, 16-year-old Sammy Pruitt sold several Huntsville high school classmates on the idea of forming a club to study astronomy. Failing in their initial try to interest more boys of their own age, the group turned their efforts toward soliciting the help of a few scientists at nearby Redstone Arsenal. Among the early responders from the Army’s famous missile team were Dr. Wernher von Braun and Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger.

The society had its beginnings in a series of informal meetings at the home of Dr. Martin Schilling, another Redstone Arsenal rocketeer, during the winter of 1954 and early spring of 1955. It was at one of these early meetings that a decision was made to form an association and buy a large telescope. While Dr. von Braun went shopping for a suitable scope, plans were made to build an observatory. Wilhelm Angele, another Army missile expert, volunteered to design the observatory building.

The first temporary officers and directors were elected April 4, 1955. They were as follows:

President……..…Dr. Wernher von Braun
Vice-President………...B. Spencer Isbell
Secretary……………….. Samuel F. Pruitt
Treasurer………….........Erwin W. Priddy
Directors..……….... Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger
Charles T. Paludin
Gerd Schilling
Conrad D. Swanson
Dean Breasseale

After aerial reconnaissance to pick the best location, Paludin and Stuhlinger were successful in obtaining from the State of Alabama a 13.5-acre tract of land in Monte Sano State Park. State officials agreed to a nominal rental of $1 for a 25-year lease, renewable at the group’s option.

As soon as the land was theirs, members eagerly began to prepare the site for construction. Among the most active workers were Dr. von Braun, Dr. Stuhlinger, Priddy, Swanson, Isbell, Gerhard Heller, Eugene Mechtly and George Ferrell.



Charter Members

Below are the Charter Members of the Rocket City Astronomical Association, which later changed its name to the Von Braun Astronomical Society: 

  • Wilhelm Angele
  • Thomas Beckert
  • Robert Brandon
  • Dean Breasseale
  • William D. Escher
  • George A. Ferrell
  • Thomas Gunter
  • Gerhard Heller
  • Eike Hueter
  • Uwe Hueter
  • B. Spencer Isbell
  • J. Rob Maulsby
  • Eugene A. Mechtly
  • James Norman, Jr.
  • Charles T. Paludin
  • Franz Pauli
  • Juergen Patt
  • E. Wayne Priddy
  • Samuel F. Prultt
  • Dr. Martin Schilling
  • Gerd Schilling
  • Hartmut Schilling
  • Roif Sieber
  • Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger
  • Conrad D. Swanson
  • Gerald Swanson
  • Ronald Warner
  • Dr. Wernher von Braun
  • William W. Varnedoe
  • Helmut Zoike

Dr. Stuhlinger Commentary - 1979

ASTRONOMY HAS ALWAYS occupied a place of distinction among the intellectual pursuits of man. Not only is it the oldest and purest of all sciences; it is also that science which is able, more than any other science, to give its followers a realistic feeling for man’s place in the universe. Its objects, visible and present in spite of their remoteness and mystery, have fascinated mankind for thousands of years. Although professional astronomy requires highly specialized knowledge as well as very complex and costly instrumentation, the beauty and excitement of astronomical observations can be enjoyed by amateurs of very diverse backgrounds. Indeed, hardly any other science has as many dedicated active and knowledgeable amateur followers as the science of astronomy. Many of the great astronomical discoveries of the past were made by amateurs. Even today, most new comets are first found by amateurs, and those projects which require careful, patient observations over long periods of time, such as variable star studies, often receive substantial support from amateur astronomers. Even though many of the amateurs do not engage in systematic observations of specific objects, they still build or at least modify their own instruments, and they spend many enjoyable hours looking at the craters of the moon, the rings of Saturn, the pale crescent of Venus, the satellites of Jupiter, the great nebula in Orion, the Andromeda galaxy, the sparkling clusters in Perseus, the ring nebula in Lyra, or just the myriads of stars in the Milky Way.



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