White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) recently gained a significant piece of history. After 71 years in the Lincoln National Forest at Mule Peak Instrumentation Site, an unusual tracking telescope has found a new home.
In August 1947, the U.S. Forest Service granted a special-use-permit to White Sands Providing Ground. The permit authorized the Army to use Mule Peak at Lincoln National Forest for installing experimental instruments, as well as installing shelters and constructing an access road in support of obtaining ballistic measurements on guided missile testing.
In 1948, Telescope IV, commonly referred to as T-4, was shipped from the Ballistic Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md., to Mule Peak located at about 7,000 feet and not too far from Alamogordo. T-4 was one of five newly developed tracking telescopes belonging to astronomer Clyde Tombaugh's Optical Measurements Branch at WSMR.
The T-4 was used to track most missile tests fired from WSMR, beginning with the V-2 rocket. The T-1 through T-4 telescopes were built upon air defense anti-aircraft gun mounts. The T-4 telescope uses a 90mm M2 gun mount, with the barrel of the gun still present, although capped. Only one of its kind was ever built.
The T-4 telescope has not been used since the 1960s, although the crew shelter and other structures were utilized into the 1980s. Bill Godby, archaeologist with the Garrison Cultural Resources Program, spearheaded efforts to have the telescope removed and brought back to the White Sands Missile Range.
Museum as an outdoor display to be created recognizing Clyde Tombaugh and his efforts. Tombaugh worked at WSMR from 1946 to 1955, and also taught astronomy at New Mexico State University from 1955 until his retirement in 1973. He discovered Pluto in 1930, the first object to be discovered in what would later be identified as the Kuiper belt. In 1980 he was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame.
"Removing the T-4 and getting it back to the WSMR Museum has been on the top of my wish list for more than five years, after I learned of its historical importance," said Godby.
The Mule Peak Instrumentation Site was identified as a National Register of Historic Places eligible Historic District in 2015. The removal of the telescope for preservation is part of an agreement between the U.S. Army Garrison at WSMR and the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division to offset the upcoming demolition of the remaining structures at Mule Peak.
The project had serious challenges to bring it to fruition, including an extremely rough access road and having to use a large crane and a flatbed with adequate ground clearance.
"Initially we thought our biggest problem in getting the telescope would be road access, but we found out that wasn't the case," said Godby.
An in-house effort to remove the T-4 in August 2018 proved unsuccessful when it was discovered that the telescope weighed 10,000 pounds more than anticipated, requiring a larger crane and specialized rigging.
Greene Crane and Rigging from Alamogordo was contracted for the job, and John Greene and his experienced crew successfully extracted the T-4 on June 7, 2019, with a 75-ton crane. The T-4 was delivered to WSMR six days later.
Fortunately, WSMR Museum Archives volunteers were on-site, including Joe Marlin who recalled working at Mule Peak back in the 1950s. He had not seen T-4 since those days, and the pleasant reunion brought a big smile to his face.
The future home of the T-4 will be the WSMR Museum Missile Park where it will reside as a permanent display. Godby will be coordinating a refurbishment of the T-4 to include minor surface repairs, repainting, and designing interpretive signage to include historic photos and descriptions of Tombaugh's efforts in developing tracking telescopes. Godby estimates a completion date of about one year.
The effort will be one of several that have involved cooperation between the WSMR Museum and the Environmental Division's Cultural Resources Program.