Then and Now

If a picture is worth a thousand words, nothing shows how UCAR/NCAR has and hasn’t changed over the years like a glimpse at a half-century's worth of photos. To see additional historical photos, as well as modern ones, visit the Digital Image Library and the official website of the 50th Anniversary.


Two planes side-by-side.Left: NCAR’s King Air over the Colorado Rockies in 1984. Right: HIAPER (the High-performance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research) over the Colorado Rockies in the mid-2000s.


Two side-by-side radar sites.Left: NCAR managed its first major field program in 1967, the Line Islands Experiment. Surface, airborne, and satellite data were gathered from the central equatorial Pacific to study the region’s role in global circulation. This photo is from Palmyra Island. Right: The S-Pol radar site on Barbuda during the 2005 RICO (Rain in Cumulus over the Ocean) experiment.


John Firor at blackboard and Boon Chye Low at whiteboard.Left: Former HAO and NCAR director John Firor at the blackboard in 1968. John studied cosmic rays, radio sources in the universe, the Sun’s atmosphere, and solar flares. Right: HAO senior scientist Boon Chye Low at the whiteboard. Boon studies the solar atmosphere, with particular interests in the theory of basic physical processes and in the solar corona as an integral natural system.


Two balloon launch systems side by side.Left: Researchers launch a balloon for measuring atmospheric gases at UCAR’s National Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, in the early 1980s. Right: A giant launch vehicle dubbed Hercules maneuvers the Sunrise gondola into position at Esrange Space Center in Kiruna, Sweden, in June 2009. The balloon-borne gondola contained a 1-meter solar telescope as well as other instruments for investigating the structure and dynamics of the Sun’s magnetic fields.


Old and new supercomputers side by side.Left: NCAR’s Cray 1-A supercomputer, installed in 1977. It was the first production model of the Cray 1-A. NCAR used the machine, which is now on display at the Mesa Lab, from 1977 to 1986. Right: NCAR’s bluefire supercomputer, installed in 2008, is over a million times more powerful than the Cray 1-A, with a peak speed of more than 76 teraflops (76 trillion floating-point operations per second).


Two weathercasters side by side, one with wall maps and the other with a color display.Left: A 1965 weather briefing at NCAR. Right: Morris Weisman (NESL/MMM) delivers a daily weather briefing during BAMEX (the Bow Echo and MCV Experiment), held during the spring of 2003 across the Midwest.


Pilot getting ready to get into tiny sailplane next to modern pilot in modern plane.Left: Sailplane pilot Vim Tootenhoofd prepares for a research flight in 1972. This Schweizer 2-32 sailplane operated by NCAR flew missions in the early storm experiment phase of the Cooperative Convective Precipitation Experiment (CCOPE) near Miles City, Montana. The sailplane was towed by a Cessna 180 to an altitude of about 3.7 miles (6 kilometers). Upon release, the plane could make measurements during a total flight time of approximately five hours. Right: NCAR pilot Ed Ringleman guides the C-130 aircraft on a research flight over Colorado and northern New Mexico during the IDEAS project (Instrument Development and Education in Airborne Science) in 2002.


The interiors of both hangars.Left: NCAR’s Buffalo (top) and Queen Air (bottom) aircraft in RAF’s hangar in 1971 at what was then called Jeffco Airport. Right: HIAPER in RAF’s new hangar, built in 2004, at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport. At 35,000 square feet, the hangar houses both HIAPER and the C-130.


A black and white photo of Mesa Lab tours next to a more modern one.Left: Visitors tour the Mesa Lab in 1970. Right: Visitors at the Mesa Lab today, browsing the Climate Discovery display. The display, which was added to the second floor in 2005, focuses on Earth’s future climate.