Reunion in the land of the sky spies

Few places are as packed with secrecy and discovery as “Rosman station,” as it was long called. Now the people who have worked at this remarkable facility are holding their first reunion, and everyone’s invited.

The biggest ears in WNC: At PARI’s 200-acre campus, giant radio antennae and other advanced instruments take students to the stars. A reunion of current and former staffers at the facility — along with a tour of its rarely seen corners — takes place this Friday night. courtesy PARI

The Friday, June 15, gathering (see details below) could prove to be a remarkable assemblage of people who pursued such intriguing endeavors as space travel, international espionage and advanced astronomical research.

Rosman, a small town in the mountains near Brevard, landed a huge federal boon in 1963 when NASA established a tracking station there to help get the country’s space-flight program off the ground. The facility assisted with lunar missions and other astronomical adventures until the late 1970s, when satellite technology made it obsolete.

Enter the National Security Agency, the deeply secretive outfit that conducts the nation’s eavesdropping operations by listening to and intercepting all manner of international communications. The NSA ran Rosman station (under Department of Defense cover) from 1981 to 1995, when the facility was again shuttered.

The next, and current, incarnation of the place became as public-spirited as the NSA was hush-hush about its doings. The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, or PARI, acquired the site and today runs it as a research and educational center that hosts top astrology students from throughout the University of North Carolina system and, indeed, from around the world. For the full history of the facility, including its top-secret phase, see the 2004 Xpress article “Land of the Sky Spies” (online at www.mountainx.com/news/2004/0609spy.php).

Now PARI wants to bring those who worked at Rosman station through the years together to share memories. “Everyone is invited to attend this event,” PARI founder Don Cline said in a press release, “but we especially encourage people who have worked at the site to visit and make this a true ‘reunion.’ If you worked here at any time during the site’s history, or if you were involved in any aspect of the site’s operation, we hope you will come and share your experiences with us.”

The event will feature a historical presentation and a space-observation session, among other activities, says PARI spokesperson John Avant. “We’re doing an extended campus tour, which means we’re going to go into some places we don’t normally open to the public,” he says. “So anyone who wants a really behind-the-scenes look at the facility, this is the night for them to visit.”

The reunion—which has an entrance fee of $20 per adult, $15 for seniors/military and $10 for children under 14—starts at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 15. Pre-registration, which will be accepted until 3 p.m. the day of the event, is required. To register, contact PARI Science Educator Beth Harris at to bharris@pari.edu or (828) 862-5554. Visit www.pari.edu for more details and directions.

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About Jon Elliston
An Asheville-based mountain journalist: Former Mountain Xpress managing editor. Investigations and open government editor at Carolina Public Press. Senior contributing editor at WNC magazine.

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