The Carnegie Image Tube Committee and the Development of Electronic Imaging Devices in Astronomy, 1953-1976
This dissertation examines the efforts of the Carnegie Image Tube Committee (CITC), a group created by Vannevar Bush and composed of astronomers and physicists, who sought to develop a photoelectric imaging device, generally called an image tube, to aid astronomical observations. The Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism coordinated the CITC, but the committee included members from observatories and laboratories across the United States. The CITC, which operated from 1954 to 1976, sought to replace direct photography as the primary means of astronomical imaging.
Physicists, who gained training in electronics during World War II, led the early push for the development of image tubes in astronomy. Vannevar Bush’s concern for scientific prestige led him to form a committee to investigate image tube technology, and postwar federal funding for the sciences helped the CITC sustain development efforts for a decade. During those development years, the CITC acted as a mediator between the astronomical community and the image tube producers but failed to engage astronomers concerning various development paths, resulting in a user group without real buy-in on the final product.
After a decade of development efforts, the CITC designed an image tube, which Radio Corporation of American manufactured, and, with additional funding from the National Science Foundation, the committee distributed to observatories around the world. While excited about the potential of electronic imaging, few astronomers used the Carnegie-developed device regularly. Although the CITC’s efforts did not result in an overwhelming adoption of image tubes by the astronomical community, examining the design, funding, production, and marketing of the Carnegie image tube shows the many and varied processes through which astronomers have acquired new tools. Astronomers’ use of the Carnegie image tube to acquire useful scientific data illustrates factors that contribute to astronomers’ adoption or non-adoption of those new tools.