Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute: An Untold History of Spacemen & Spies

The History Press
How a small community in the mountains of North Carolina helped to win the space race, the Cold War and became a model for science education.
For decades, Western North Carolinians have asked the question, “What are those big satellite dishes doing behind that chain link fence?” In the early years of the site near Rosman, NASA gave public tours of the antennas it used to track space satellites. When the defense department took over, the tours stopped. Signs were posted that read, “Unauthorized Entry Prohibited,” and armed guards patrolled the site. Wild myths took root. Underground tunnels held nuclear missiles. The site was a submarine base. A city built underground held captive space aliens. Then suddenly the DoD departed. New owners dusted off the satellite dishes and pointed them into deepest space. Public tours at the new Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute were reestablished, and programs were created for a brand new mission: science education. Now the full truth of PARI’s history can be told.

"From pioneering the space age to maintaining national security, the story of PARI is one that needs to be told as the next generation of students, engineers and scientists now carry the torch. In this well-researched, well-written book, Craig Gralley brings PARI's story to life. Whether you are a technically-minded reader or a casual space buff, you will find the story fascinating, revealing and at times, quite humorous.”

— Sunny Tsiao author of Read You Loud and Clear! March 11, 2023

"A compelling portrait of an important organization. Rich in detail and strong in human stories, Gralley’s work is a significant addition to an understudied part of America’s space history."

— Roger Launius former Chief Historian, NASA and Associate Director, Smithsonian Air and Space Museum March 11, 2023

“Gralley’s work recovering PARI’s proud past gives us a firm foundation on which to build our future. It’s humbling to think of all the people over the past six decades who passed through PARI’s gates. Their personal stories come alive in this book and the achievements of NASA, DoD and PARI finally are recognized. This official history of PARI is authentic, authoritative and amazing.”

— Don Cline President PARI March 11, 2023

An Excerpt from the Book

The Day the Russians Came to PARI

During Rosman’s DoD years, the site was off-limits to Soviet, then Russian diplomats and military officials. But after PARI took over in 1998, the facility was opened up once again for domestic and foreign visitors. A former PARI employee offered the following story:

One day in 2003, I got a call from a professor from Brevard College. Some Russian scientists were coming through town on a tour arranged by the Library of Congress, and he asked, “Would you mind if they came to visit PARI?” I said, “Sure, bring them in.”

There were about thirty Russians and two interpreters. We showed them around, gave them an overview of our STEM education program and played our PARI video. When we finished, I asked if they had any questions.

One man stood up and began speaking Russian. Now, I don’t speak Russian, but it was clear that the longer he went on, the more agitated he became. After he stopped, the interpreter put her head down and shook it from side to side. In a low voice she said, “I’m sorry to say this but this man claims what you’re saying is all a big lie and that you are still spying on Russia from this location.”

“Well,” I said, “there’s nothing I can say to convince him otherwise, so I won’t even try.”

PARI satellite meteor showerPARI Lourdes centralRosman Research Station sign