This Observatory was the brain child of Professor William E. Gordon, who envisaged building an observatory which would enable scientists to study the ionosphere, and to study the changes that occur in this layer of the atmosphere.
In order to do this, a fixed parabolic reflector telescope antenna was sufficient, but as the scope of operations was extended at the Observatory, so new equipment was required, which would enable scientists to carry out research into the further reaches of space. For some years after its inception the Arecibo Observatory was under the control of the US Department of Defense, but after the Cold War fears of the 1960s reduced, the Observatory was handed over to the National Science Foundation in 1969. It is now operated jointly by the private universities of Cornell, New York and Ithaca, in cooperation with the National Science Foundation, and is a subsidiary of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center. NASA also aids research work there.
As science pushed forward the frontiers of space exploration and investigations, so it became apparent that the observatory needed to have new, more advanced equipment which could assist scientists in their quest to better understand the universe. The fixed parabolic reflector telescope antenna limited the scope of research that could be conducted and there was a perceived need for this to be replaced. The fixed antenna had limited scope, so a new rotary antenna was designed, which could point to any location in space. Scientists wanted to investigate in detail the structure of planets and other celestial bodies.
The Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory both contributed to the design and the construction and installation of the new rotary antenna, but there were problems with the reflector design. To solve these, the expertise of the two brothers, George and Helias Doundoulakis was required and they succeeded in producing reflectors that could do the job the scientist required of them. Over the years there have been other modifications and updates so that today the Observatory has state of the art equipment and is a much sought-after venues for the world’s most eminent astronomers and astro-physicists who wish to conduct research.
The Observatory can be utilized by scientists from across the world, and demand to use these facilities is obviously high. Because of this, scientists wishing to use the Observatory have to submit details of their research proposals to a panel of experts to be considered for inclusion in the use of the facilities. The panel scrutinizes the proposals and chooses the most important to the scientific world as they have to prioritize them because at any one time the facility can accommodate 140 people employed in research work. The Observatory is in operation around the clock, every day of the year in order to maximize the amount of research that can be conducted there. It is proud of the fact that there has not been any down time in its history thanks to the efforts of its maintenance engineers and telescope operators.