H a r v e y  T a n a n b a u m
Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Chandra X-ray Center

Dr. Harvey Tananbaum is director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Chandra X-ray Center (CXC). In this capacity he is responsible for overseeing the operation of the Chandra X-ray Observatory and providing support to the scientific users of the observatory. Tananbaum graduated from Yale University in 1964. After receiving his Ph.D. in physics from MIT in 1968, he joined American Science & Engineering where he became project scientist for NASA's Uhuru X-ray Satellite.

What got you started on a career in X-ray astronomy?

"When I was a graduate student in the 1960s the field of X-ray astronomy had just begun: the first discoveries were made by Riccardo Giacconi in 1962. So one of the things which was exciting was the opportunity to get into a field where not all that much was known! We did not really know exactly what directions the field (of X-ray astronomy) might go. We just knew there were these tremendous sources of energy out there in space--they might be stars, they might be galaxies--but there was something out there that was generating a tremendous amount of energy in the form of X-rays which theory did not predict, and we did not have much understanding for what it was.

In the beginning, in the first decade, a lot of the attention was just going to look with rockets and balloons and discover a few more x-ray sources and refine understanding of where they were on the sky so we could see what star or what galaxy might correspond to that X-ray source and begin to use information from X-ray and radio and optical to try to understand what was powering the sources.

In the beginning it was the opportunity to get involved in something that was essentially brand new, about which nobody knew a heck of a lot, and so it was sort of even footing (for all of us), we could all get out there and play in the X-ray field and make discoveries and try and understand Nature was trying to tell us."

In 1973 he moved to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The launch and operation of the Chandra Observatory was the culmination of a 23 year journey for Tananbaum, who has been involved with the Chandra project from the beginning. In 1976, he and Riccardo Giacconi submitted a proposal letter to NASA to initiate the study and design of a large X-ray telescope. In 1977, work was begun on the project, which was then known as the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF). In 1998, AXAF was renamed the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

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