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Built in the mid-1960s, NCAR’s Mesa Laboratory was designed by architect I.M. Pei to harmonize with its mountainous backdrop.
NCAR and UCAR sprang into existence from a burst of creativity, enthusiasm, and optimism. After being hampered for years by a lack of resources and coordination, university faculty engaged in weather and climate research banded together in the late 1950s. With support from the National Science Foundation that continues today, the new consortium—incorporated as UCAR in 1959 with 14 institutions as founding members—set out to build a new kind of center that would serve the discipline and the nation as a whole. It was an innovative concept well matched to the times. The Cold War had fueled interest in science. University enrollments were soaring. Computer models were set to transform day-to-day forecasting, and the first U.S. weather satellite took to the skies in early 1960. By the end of that year, NCAR was a reality, with a home in Boulder, Colorado, and a leader in place. As the first UCAR president and NCAR director, Walter Orr Roberts steered the consortium and the center through a series of temporary buildings, uncertain budgets, and delicate politics, including the quest to support university research while building a vital core of staff scientists. The spectacular Mesa Laboratory, which opened in 1967, gave NCAR an instantly iconic home and bolstered the international profile of the young—but already influential—center.