Asbury and the Space Program – Asbury University
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Asbury and the Space Program

December 13, 2023

Carol Sue Ray ’67 stands on the Asbury University soccer field, where she helped her father gather data in the 1950s.

Before NASA existed, Carol Sue Ray ’67 helped her father Dr. J. Paul Ray ’39 gather data on what is now the Asbury University soccer field (formerly the baseball field) for the Naval Research Laboratory’s “Operation Moonwatch” program.

“In the 1950s, the United States certainly wanted to go to space, but before you shoot a rocket up there, it’s important to know precisely where to point it and exactly where things are once you get into space,” Ms. Ray said. “Without that detailed information, we couldn’t point a rocket and be certain it would reach its target or establish a satellite in a precise orbit.”

Serving on the Asbury science faculty for four decades, Ms. Ray’s father was one of only 12 star-gazing “trackers” in the U.S.  

“In 1956, the U.S. Geological Survey came to Wilmore and planted a marker on what is now the soccer field,” Ray said. “They gave my dad a sextant to measure the angles of his targets and a watch to record precisely when the data were taken.”

Every two weeks, the lab officials sent Dr. Ray instructions about which stars, planets, and spots on the moon to record and which second of which minute to do it. For two to three evenings each week, Dr. Ray hauled a tripod and other equipment to the ball field, using Asbury’s short-wave radio to verify the exact time. As her father’s young assistant, Ray called out the items on the list as her father locked the sextant (an instrument used for measuring distances between objects) and recorded the readings before mailing them back to the lab.

In a race to reach space before the Soviet Union, the U.S. Moonwatch observers became personally invested in America’s launching the first satellite into space. 

“The crushing news on October 4, 1957, that Sputnik was in orbit spread around Asbury’s campus like wildfire,” Ray said. “America was so close. The data were almost complete, and my father only received a few more weeks of assignments. We were ready to head to space.”

Erected in 1963, the Hamann-Ray building stands to honor Dr. Ray’s legacy. Asburians continue to make a difference in the arenas of science and space.

After receiving her master’s degree in counseling psychology from the University of Kentucky, Ms. Ray spent her career at Delta Air Lines working in reservations, consumer affairs, and emergency management.

Jeremy Reivitt ’98

The legacy has continued through the generations.

After graduating from Asbury with a bachelor’s degree in Christian Ministries, Jeremy Reivitt ’98 worked as a research intern at NASA while getting his Master of Public Administration degree from Syracuse University.

“During my internship, I researched the history of the International Space Station, including how it was conceived, the timeline, the parts, and how other countries got involved in the process,” Reivitt said. “I also went to different agencies (like NASDA) to do research for NASA.”

Reivitt’s internship prepared him to work in human resources across aerospace divisions for Parker Hannifin, Eaton, Applied Materials, and Pure Storage, where he works now.

Rebekah Bogle ’24

Over the summer, Chemistry major Rebekah Bogle ’24 worked with NASA samples as a senior research aide at the Argonne National Laboratory.

“I analyzed silicate melts which can interfere with ceramic coatings and jet engines,” said Bogle, who plans to earn her Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from Purdue University and to work with instrumentation design in environmental chemistry. “NASA wanted to know what their reactivity was like, so they could redesign the ceramic coatings.”

Ms. Ray remembers her father in the Hamann-Ray building.

Ms. Ray smiles as she checks her NASA Spot the Station app, which gives a 15-minute notice of when the station will fly over Wilmore.  

“It’s almost time to go outside,” the Delta Air Lines veteran said. “Whenever I see them up in the sky, I always wave.”

The Shaw School of Sciences offers 14 majors and six minors, including biology, chemistry, and physics: The Shaw Collaborative Learning Center (CLC) offers eleven laboratories, with spaces dedicated to eDNA research, cell and molecular biochemistry, ecology and environmental science, physics, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, instrumentation, biology preparation, chemistry preparation, and collaborative innovation.