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The Long Space AgeThe Economic Origins of Space Exploration from Colonial America to the Cold War$
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Alexander MacDonald

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780300219326

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300219326.001.0001

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Piety, Pioneers, and Patriots: The First American Observatories

Piety, Pioneers, and Patriots: The First American Observatories

(p.12) 1 Piety, Pioneers, and Patriots: The First American Observatories
The Long Space Age

Alexander MacDonald

Yale University Press

In the earliest period of American history, astronomy and the exploration of the heavens was considered a hallmark of intellectual development and a noble endeavor for the colonial elite. In the wake of the American Revolution, the desire to signal a robust and independent national presence intensified in all areas, including astronomy. Major efforts in this regard were led by John Quincy Adams. From the mid-1830s, and for the next four decades, the construction of observatories accelerated rapidly as part of what has been referred to as “the American Observatory Movement” starting with university and college observatories and progressing to observatories with broader social contexts. An observatory located on top of a Philadelphia high school was an unlikely inflexion point in the history of American space exploration. The motivations of religious belief also played a significant role in the funding of early American observatories. The Georgetown Observatory was a point of contention between American Jesuits and the Superior General in Rome, and politics and ambition elevated the Navy’s Depot for Charts and Instruments to America’s first National Observatory.

Keywords:   Colonial America, Early American Science, Astronomy, Astronomical Observatories, Science and Religion, John Quincy Adams

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