RCA Astro-Electronics Division records1910-1993
The RCA Astro-Electronics Division (AED) led RCA’s research and development efforts in space technology from the beginning of the space race to the acquisition of RCA by GE in 1986. The records consist primarily of the papers of scientists Bert Sheffield, Max Mesner, and Charles Vose documenting RCA’s pioneering research. In addition, the Art Gompper Astro Print Shop collection provides insight into the administrative and promotional side of AED.
- RCA Corporation. Astro-Electronics Division (Organization)
4.25 Linear Feet
General Physical Description (AVD portion only)
(AVD portion only) 32 photographic prints : color ; 8 x 10 in and larger. 50 photographic prints : b&w ; 8 x 10 in. 1 photographic print : b&w ; 5 x 7 in. 6 photographic prints : color ; 8 x 8 in. 13 photographic prints : b&w ; 4 x 5 in. and smaller. 234 photographic slides : color ; 35 mm.
The RCA Astro-Electronics Division (AED) led RCA’s research and development efforts in space technology from the beginning of the space race to the acquisition of RCA by GE in 1986.
Public dismay over the Soviet launch of Sputnik in October 1957 and the embarrassing failure of America’s first satellite launch in December prompted the federal government to pour funding into spacecraft development. In April 1958, President Eisenhower proposed the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which became operational in October.
By this time RCA was already deeply involved in space research. Its first ad hoc space research team was formed in 1957 out of scientists and engineers from the Advanced Technology Laboratories in Camden and RCA Laboratories. In March 1958, RCA established Astro Electronic Products (AEP) as a division of RCA Defense Electronic Products.
AEP, which was soon renamed the Astro-Electronics Division (AED), was initially housed at the David Sarnoff Research Center, but moved to new facilities nearby later in the year. The facility was also referred to as the RCA Space Center.
On December 18, 1958, RCA’s first satellite was successfully launched from Cape Canaveral. Called SCORE (Signal Communications by Orbiting Relay Equipment), it was the world’s first communications satellite. In line with RCA’s expertise in communications, AED designed and built dozens of communications satellites over the next few decades.
AED was best known for its pioneering and highly successful series of weather satellites, beginning with TIROS I in April 1960. Nine more followed within the next five years, with a total of twenty-seven reached in July 1976. The TIROS program, by then run by Lockheed Martin, ended with the launch of the 43rd satellite (NOAA-19) in 2009.
RCA was also an important subcontractor on larger projects, including the cameras for the Ranger lunar probes, communications equipment for the Viking Mars probes, and various subsystems for the Space Shuttle program. However, the proudest achievement for many RCA scientists was their participation in developing cameras and other equipment for the Apollo program, especially the lunar module.
After GE acquired RCA in 1986, it combined AED with the Spacecraft Operations of its Space Systems Division to form the GE Astro Space Division. The entire division was sold to Martin Marietta in 1993, which in turn merged with Lockheed to form Lockheed Martin in 1995. Soon after the merger, Lockheed Martin announced that they would be closing the former AED facility. In 1998, forty years after its establishment, the RCA Space Center shut down for good.
The RCA Astro-Electronics Division records are arranged in five series:
I. Art Gompper Astro Print Shop collection
II. Max H. Mesner papers
III. Bert Sheffield papers
IV. Charles H. Vose papers
Files are arranged alphabetically.
Scope and Content
The RCA Astro-Electronics Division (AED) records consist primarily of the papers of scientists Bert Sheffield, Max Mesner, and Charles Vose documenting RCA’s pioneering space research. In addition, the Art Gompper Astro Print Shop collection provides insight into the administrative and promotional side of AED.
The RCA Astro-Electronics Division records are arranged in five series: Art Gompper Astro Print Shop collection; Max H. Mesner papers; Bert Sheffield papers; Charles H. Vose papers; and General. Files are arranged alphabetically.
Art Gompper Astro Print Shop collection files contain print samples of newsletters, employee stationary, company forms, award certificates, packaging and promotional materials, as well as RCA Family, an employee magazine. Thank you letters compliment numerous printing jobs. Mr. Gompper received several awards during his employment with RCA, including assisting man to walk on the moon.
The Mesner papers include publications by Mesner, clippings, photographs, and ephemera relating to his time at RCA Astro-Electronics.
The papers of Bert Sheffield document his life and work to advance the science of electronics, specifically relating to computer engineering and telecommunications. It includes internal correspondence, performance data and notes, journal articles and reprints, meeting notes, product catalogs and RCA employee benefits policies.
The Charles Vose papers consist mostly of publications, reports, and photographs relating to the TIROS satellites.
The General series consists of photographs, a report, and a certificate relating to RCA Astro-Electronics Division projects.
This collection is open for research.
This collection contains material from the Manuscripts and Archives Department (M&A) and the Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department (AVD). Box prefixes indicate which department holds an individual file or item.
Language of Materials
In 2009, along with the rest of the archival collections of the David Sarnoff Library, the RCA Astro-Electronics Division records were donated to the Hagley Museum and Library.
- RCA Corporation. Astro-Electronics Division (Organization)
Finding Aid & Administrative Information
- RCA Astro-Electronics Division records
- Daniel Michelson and Kenneth Cleary
- Description rules:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description:
- Script of description:
- The collection was processed with support from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant.