An Astronomer-Climber

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rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Topic Author's Original Post - Aug 31, 2011 - 10:15pm PT
I opened an email today with this link in it, http://www.flixxy.com/hubble-ultra-deep-field-3d.htm, and I found myself thinking of Lyman Spitzer.

When I was a grad student, I discovered that guiding was more lucrative and usually more fun than teaching low-level math classes to poorly-prepared students who often saw mathematics as a sinister device concocted by the intellectual establishment to keep them from getting a degree.

One of my regular climbing clients was Lyman Spitzer, among the most distinguished astrophysicists of the 20th century. Lyman was a one-man student-body upgrade of, if you'll allow me, astronomical magnitude.

In 1946, Lyman wrote a paper, Astronomical Advantages of an Extra-Terrestrial Observatory, that described in detail the advantages of having a telescope in space, outside the Earth's atmosphere. This was twelve years before NASA, and he spent the next fifty years of his life working to bring this idea to fruition and studying the results.

In 1962, he led a program that culminated in NASA's Copernicus satellite, launched in 1972 and operational for nine years, which studied the ultraviolet spectrum from space, wavelengths blocked by the Earth's atmosphere.

In 1965, Lyman was appointed to head a National Academy of Sciences committee to define appropriate objectives for a space telescope. It took ten years of lobbying congress and fighting with recalcitrant scientists before NASA and the European Space Agency finally began to develop the Hubble telescope, the source of the photos linked above. The development process itself took fifteen years; Hubble wasn't launched until 1990.

Anyone who has ever worked a proj has got to appreciate the passion, dedication, and commitment, the refusal to give up, that Lyman exhibited for the 44 years it took for his idea to become a reality. And he remained intimately involved in the issues the Hubble had and their resolution, as well as in studying the astonishing wealth of information it returned, right up to the moment of his sudden and unexpected death, at the age of 82, in 1997.

I haven't even touched on Lyman's revolutionary research accomplishments and his many awards. He was truly a giant of 20th century science.

We spoke of these things during our climbs, since I was, after all a mathematics graduate student. Normally, we climbed on a weekday, and Lyman, the distinguished Princeton professor, rolled up in a junker station wagon that would have been the pride of any dirtbag climber. My grad-student-mobile was several cuts above his ride. As a person, he was totally unpretentious and unfailingly cheerful. His enthusiasm for climbing was nearly boundless, and could be problematic for me as the guide.

One day, it was absolutely pouring. Not just drizzling---pouring. There wasn't a shred of doubt in my mind that there would be no climbing that day, Lyman bounded out of his junker with his usual big grin and said, "Looks like we'll be getting a bit wet today!" I couldn't believe it---he wanted to climb in this torrent!

And so off we went to Shockley's Ceiling, which had a curtain of water running over it that made it difficult to even look up for the holds. Even with rain jackets and pants, the water got in everywhere and totally soaked us, and we were both shivering by the time we finally made it to the top. I was terrified that, in spite of the fact that we were now getting hypothermic, Lyman would still want to do another route or two, but thankfully he decided to call it a day, although not without an enthusiastic recounting of just how wonderful everything had been.

I felt like a drowned rat, but there wasn't even a hint of grimness in Lyman's celebrations, no macho we-did-Shockley's-in-full-conditions bravado, just an almost childlike delight in having spent a day on the rocks. What a man.

Lyman's will contained a bequest to the American Alpine Club, to which he belonged, to establish the Lyman Spitzer Cutting-Edge Grant for "state-of-the-art, cutting-edge climbing through financial support of small, lightweight climbing teams attempting bold first ascents or difficult repeats of the most challenging routes in the world's great mountain ranges." http://www.americanalpineclub.org/grants/g/7/Lyman-Spitzer-Cutting-Edge-Award. You can read about this year's recipients at http://www.americanalpineclub.org/p/2011-lyman-spitzer-winners.

In 2003, NASA launched a new cutting-edge astronomical laboratory, far more capable than the Hubble or anything else before. It is more than fitting that this leap forward in deep space exploration is named the Spitzer Space Telescope.

A toast to Lyman Spitzer, scientist extraordinaire, lover of rocks and mountains, and a man of uncommon accomplishments, eclipsed only by the cheefulness, modesty, and decency of his demeanor.


Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
Aug 31, 2011 - 10:20pm PT
Here's to Lyman Spitzer!
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Aug 31, 2011 - 10:20pm PT
not just an astronomer, but also founded the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab (PPPL)

http://www.nytimes.com/1997/04/02/nyregion/lyman-spitzer-jr-dies-at-82-inspired-hubble-telescope.html

Mungeclimber

Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Aug 31, 2011 - 10:43pm PT
Thx i'm always amazed at various work that our climbing brethen do.
jogill

climber
Colorado
Aug 31, 2011 - 10:46pm PT
Wow . . . A great BIG toast to this gentleman!
Mighty Hiker

climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Aug 31, 2011 - 11:07pm PT
There do seem to have been a fair number of mathemagicians, fizzicists and the like who gravitated (pun intended) toward mountains and climbing, especially from the 1930s to 1970s. Maybe the clear atmosphere is conducive to thoughts of star gazing.

Speaking of space-related things, the rocket that the Russians launched recently, to supply the International Space Station, crashed in Siberia due to a third stage failure. They're looking at the causes, and the next time they can launch. The problem being that the two Soyuz craft currently attached to the ISS will exceed the 200 day lifespan on their hydrogen peroxide powered thrusters in the next month or so. If one or both can't be replaced, the station may have to go on skeleton crew (3), or even temporarily be decrewed.

Today's trivia: A SuperTopian who need not be named is married to a daughter of James van Allen. (Not me, but someone from this area.)
drljefe

climber
El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson
Aug 31, 2011 - 11:09pm PT
Thanks for posting this!

I am apprenticing with a few master Opticians- learning the art/science of optical glass fabrication.

My colleagues made the corrective optics that helped Hubble reach its potential.

We are currently starting work on the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope primary mirror, which will become the lagest solar telescope on the world. It will be the most challenging optic ever- an off axis parabola 4+ meters in diameter.

What a man!
Thanks again rgold.
Brokedownclimber

Trad climber
Douglas, WY
Aug 31, 2011 - 11:27pm PT
You must be at the University of Arizona mirror lab with Dr. Angel.
drljefe

climber
El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson
Aug 31, 2011 - 11:29pm PT
Close. Real close.
drljefe

climber
El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson
Aug 31, 2011 - 11:38pm PT
What happened when the optician fell into the polishing machine?































He made a spectacle of himself!

Sorry, optician humor.
Spider Savage

Mountain climber
SoCal
Sep 1, 2011 - 12:34am PT
Smart people rock climb for fun.

They also know the sky.
Darwin

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Sep 1, 2011 - 12:44am PT
What happened when the optician fell into the polishing machine?


He reflected on his life?


Mike Bolte

Trad climber
Planet Earth
Sep 1, 2011 - 12:52am PT
Thanks Rich! A wonderful man. I gave a colloquium at Princeton not too much before Lyman passed away. One of my research areas is stellar dynamics and he and I had lunch on one of the days I was there. It was a rare treat to be able to chat with one of the great minds of the field and hear about how his thinking had evolved in the development of the field. A very gracious gentleman.

A toast!

EDIT: hold it Mighty Hiker. My father's PhD advisor was Van Allen at the University of Iowa! He probably knows van Allen's daughter (who would be about my age I guess)
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Sep 1, 2011 - 12:55am PT
Many a young climber has had their climbing dreams realized because they were recipients of the American Alpine Club's Lyman Spitzer Grant.
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 1, 2011 - 12:54pm PT
Posts like this have a half-life of maybe twelve hours on Super Topo, so I'm gonna give it a bump in honor of Lyman.
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Sep 1, 2011 - 01:24pm PT
Of course this will get limited play on ST, it's about someone who actually accomplished something during his lifetime.
klk

Trad climber
cali
Sep 1, 2011 - 01:32pm PT
nothing worse than a rainstorm and an enthusiastic client, heh.
scuffy b

climber
dissected alluvial deposits, late Pleistocene
Sep 1, 2011 - 01:39pm PT
Great story, Rich.
I remember that at one time I thought climbing in the rain was a good
thing. What happened to me?
jstan

climber
Sep 1, 2011 - 02:01pm PT
Rich, when we lowered Lester off the climb on which he died, being there to see the end of a magnificent story was very hard to bear. Lester and Lyman both wrote inspiring history we would all wish to have go on and on. I think the only thing that helps is the realization that youngsters all around are writing inspiring stories, now. Just being here to see it all happening is enough.
PhilG

Trad climber
The Circuit, Tonasket WA
Sep 1, 2011 - 04:59pm PT
Great story, Rich.
Thanks for the post.
cowpoke

climber
Sep 1, 2011 - 05:13pm PT
Very cool OP.

A lovely story.

Thanks for sharing it.

Among the ST posters who have won the Lyman Spitzer Cutting Edge Award is JFrimer.

I suspect that Spitzer would have been quite proud of (soon-to-be Dr.) Frimer, who embodies Spitzer's legacy of passions for both cutting-edge climbing and cutting-edge scientific inquiry.
Mighty Hiker

climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Sep 1, 2011 - 09:19pm PT
Doesn't "spitz" mean something like "peak" or "pinnacle" in German? If so, it makes even more sense.
guido

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Sep 1, 2011 - 09:32pm PT
Thanks Rgold for this most uplifting post.
SteveW

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Sep 1, 2011 - 10:54pm PT

Rich, I was waiting to see if you guys did Shockley's Waterfall ala
Dick Williams. Glad to hear it wasn't so. . .
wayne burleson

climber
Amherst, MA
Sep 1, 2011 - 11:05pm PT
Great story RGold! I swam up Three Pines a few days ago in the aftermath of Irene. Gunks in the wet can be fun, but for me, the grade must be low...
The connection between math/science and climbing has been explored in
many previous threads but still surprises me. I think it is a unique
aspect of our sport/lifestyle. I hope it continues, but worry it won't as climbing becomes more mainstream and sterilized... But math/science has also changed..
Brilliant that Lyman saw fit to endow the AAC award in his name...
Crimpergirl

Sport climber
Boulder, Colorado!
Sep 1, 2011 - 11:10pm PT
Really excellent photo of him. Seems to capture a cool essence.
The Lisa

Trad climber
Da Bronx, NY
Sep 1, 2011 - 11:53pm PT
Stellar post, Rich. He sounds like a great man. He wanted to climb despite the rain and you did not disappoint him so kudos to you too.

It does seem that physicist/math/engineer types are drawn to climbing. Thankfully that is not a prerequisite as I am TERRIBLE at anything math- and physics-related. I do not quite suck aS much at climbing. I grasp the basics for anchor building to avoid the death triangle, etc. so perhaps there is a certain basic level of physics and trigonometry that folks need to know in order to climb safely.
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Sep 2, 2011 - 12:06am PT
You can be terrible at math/physics but still very cleverly avoid the death triangle by always building one piece anchors.
Bobert

Trad climber
boulder, Colorado
Sep 2, 2011 - 12:11am PT
Lyman was a real gentleman. George Hurley brought him and his companion, Bunnie, to Boulder years ago. We all had dinner at my house and George and Bunnie filled me in on his accomplishments, much to his embarrassment. He really only wanted to talk about climbing. George and Lyman left for the Needles shortly thereafter and I missed my chance to climb with him. He spoke about climbing with you, Rich. It was one of the high points of his life.
Darwin

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Sep 2, 2011 - 12:14am PT
Good one Jim.
Klimmer

Mountain climber
San Diego
Sep 2, 2011 - 12:57am PT
Inspirational.

Thanks.
steveA

Trad climber
bedford,massachusetts
Sep 2, 2011 - 07:23am PT
Rgold,

What a great story and tribute to a unique individual. The man left quite a legacy.
GLee

Social climber
MT
Sep 2, 2011 - 10:45am PT
Thanks you Richard Goldstone for a your post about a brilliant human! It makes my day!







The Lisa

Trad climber
Da Bronx, NY
Sep 4, 2011 - 09:52am PT
Jim, I never thought of that! Thanks for the tip ;)
Brokedownclimber

Trad climber
Douglas, WY
Sep 4, 2011 - 12:06pm PT
And, Gasp!, it's actually about Climbing!! Yay! :D
Mighty Hiker

climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Sep 4, 2011 - 08:52pm PT
I'm curious - was Spitzer yet another of those scientist-climbers with a fondness with excruciatingly bad puns, and plays on words? (I should know, of course.) There seems to be some sort of genetic relationship.
MH2

climber
Sep 4, 2011 - 09:11pm PT
A toast to Lyman Spitzer

Hear, hear!
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Sep 4, 2011 - 09:32pm PT
This thread of Richie's is yet another glaring example of how tremendously cool RG really is. I am endlessly proud of having known RG during his white painter's pants and white turtlenecks period. "At some point Cleanliness must ensue" was one of his operating principles in the Camp Four dirt since he was always in impeccable whites. And he was a wonderful partner on the rock too as well as in our nylon ghetto. I can still hear his voice forty years later. He knew Bev Johnson too and they would exchange friendly barbs passing by each other's sites. So much fun and so damn witty
Gunks Guy

Trad climber
Woodstock, NY
Sep 5, 2011 - 12:49am PT
Wow. Great story. I am going to show this one to my kids tomorrow. Thanks Rich.
tom Carter

Social climber
Sep 5, 2011 - 01:43am PT
Thank you for telling this story. What an honor to climb with such a remarkable man.
crunch

Social climber
CO
Sep 8, 2011 - 02:01pm PT
A toast to Lyman Spitzer

Perhaps with one of these:


Indeed. Thanks for a great story.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Jul 23, 2014 - 11:48pm PT
A little late, but thanks for the bio and cool climbing story, Rich!
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
Jul 24, 2014 - 05:36am PT
Missed this the first time around, thanks for the bump.

I sure have enjoyed the company of many scientists/professors and engineers in the mountains over the years. One of the rich attributes of our activity is the fine company we find along the way. Richard, I'm convinced you were the young gentlemen that fed me more than one dinner in the Valley in 1969, you and your buddies from the Gunks! Thanks for being who you are, a giver for sure.......berg heil.

Charlie D.
Bad Climber

climber
Jul 24, 2014 - 05:56am PT
Thank you! This kind of post makes logging one worthwhile. What a great man.

BAd
HighDesertDJ

Trad climber
Jul 24, 2014 - 07:30am PT
Great story. I missed this the first time around. Thanks rgold.
Gregory Crouch

Social climber
Walnut Creek, California
Jul 24, 2014 - 07:52am PT
Love it, RG.

In Scott Ransom, we've got another stud-ass astronomer in the climbing tribe. (Does he post or lurk here?)
DesertRatExpeditions

Trad climber
Flagstaff, Arizona
Jul 24, 2014 - 08:00am PT
Outstanding! Glad for the bump, would have missed this otherwise.
kaholatingtong

Trad climber
Nevada City
Jul 24, 2014 - 08:05am PT
it was very interesting for me to read this, some fascinating characters congregate around this activity we all share. thanks for the share
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Jul 24, 2014 - 08:57am PT
Thanks for sharing that slice of life with us and giving us a glimpse of understated greatness.

Crusher Bartlett's partner Fran Bagenal is another stellar space scientist with an unpretentious love of climbing and a clear hand in many successful deep space missions. Unbridled scientific curiosity coupled with unclouded intellect makes for an inspiring and meaningful life.

Shining a light on your luminary friend, mentor and client warms my heart on this dreary Seattle morning.
Jim McCarthy

Mountain climber
Ridgway, CO
Jul 24, 2014 - 09:29am PT
Rich,,,,,,Just a couple of comments on your great post. Lyman's wonderfully generous bequest to the American Alpine Club fortunately came during the Presidency of Alison Osius.
Lyman's will contained no specific requirements. It was just a general bequest. Alison immediately convened group to decide what to do with it. This group was comprised of several people you know very well. It was this group that decided his bequest should fund what later became what is now the Cutting Edge.....not paper clips for the office.
I should also add that I have always suspected that Lyman generosity was due in large part to his association with you. Many young climbers who have benefited over the years owe you.
Gregory Crouch

Social climber
Walnut Creek, California
Jul 24, 2014 - 01:06pm PT
Well said, Jim. And well done, Rich. :-)
looking sketchy there...

Social climber
Lassitude 33
Jul 24, 2014 - 02:49pm PT
Wow, I certainly missed this excellent post the first time around -- thanks for the revival.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, as a recent college graduate and not yet keen on going to grad school, I spent several years climbing and guiding in Southern California. Like Rich, I was fortunate to regularly climb with Lyman for many years (even after giving up the climbing life style and beginning law school).

I remember him mentioning Rich (whom I didn't know except by reputation) on several occasions.

Like Rich, Lyman would want to get his full day of climbing, no matter the conditions. Cold, heat or wet were no deterrent. At an area like Joshua Tree, we would regularly climb 9, 10 or even more routes in a day. At Tahquitz, several multi-pitch routes were routine.

Sometimes he looked to be tired or at his limit with a route, but when we would top out, he had that smile and would ask "What's next?" I'm not embarrassed to say that I was often worn out at the end of the day.

Though he was interesting conversationalist and obviously an incredibly accomplished scientist, he would always steer the discussion back to climbing. He really loved to climb and his enthusiasm was infectious.

One of my most cherished FA's is the Josh route "An Eye to the West" on Hound Rocks, which Lyman and I did on a cold November day in 1979 -- and, of course, just one of many routes we ticked that day.

Proudly hanging in my office is a framed 19th century engraved print of climbers on Mt. Blanc, a gift from Lyman. He was a truly great man, climbing partner and inspirational figure.

klk

Trad climber
cali
Jul 24, 2014 - 05:31pm PT
jim mccarthy in the house!

nice bump, jim
Brokedownclimber

Trad climber
Douglas, WY
Jul 24, 2014 - 09:04pm PT
It's always nice to have this thread bumped!
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 2, 2014 - 07:52pm PT
Gagner's post about the approaching Lyman Spitzer Cutting Edge Climbing Award, http://www.supertopo.com/climbers-forum/2521525/AAC-Spitzer-Grant-Deadline-12-1, made me think it might be nice to again bump this tribute to a great man.
Lorenzo

Trad climber
Oregon
Nov 2, 2014 - 08:36pm PT

Sep 1, 2011 - 09:19pm PT
Doesn't "spitz" mean something like "peak" or "pinnacle" in German? If so, it makes even more sense.

Close.

Pointed, sharp, acute and peaked. are all translations.
yanqui

climber
Balcarce, Argentina
Nov 3, 2014 - 05:42am PT
Glad this got bumped and I got a chance to read it. Better late than never.
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 14, 2014 - 09:40pm PT
This has been sleepin' in the back pages for a while.
ms55401

Trad climber
minneapolis, mn
Dec 14, 2014 - 09:48pm PT
nice bio. I recognized the name vaguely from AAC grants but until now knew nothing about his back-story. Clearly an individual with far-ranging skills and interests. In particular, I liked the grants criteria (paraphrase: small teams undertaking bold projects in good style)
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 24, 2015 - 06:38pm PT
As the 25th anniversary of the Hubble telescope arrives, (see http://www.supertopo.com/climbers-forum/2614609/Congratulations-to-NASA-for-25-years-of-Hubble-Enlightenment); it seems appropriate to again bump this thread about the man who made it happen.
Brokedownclimber

Trad climber
Douglas, WY
Apr 25, 2015 - 07:25am PT
I'm bumping this 'cause...it needs to be bumped.

Astronomy was my first career choice but was talked out of it by a High School counsellor. I had several unhappy years at the start in Aerospace Engineering, and switched to Chemistry after 3 years in the military.
pyro

Big Wall climber
Calabasas
Aug 23, 2015 - 09:38pm PT
Stardust
pyro

Big Wall climber
Calabasas
Aug 23, 2015 - 09:40pm PT

The best of all astronomy pics!
ms55401

Trad climber
minneapolis, mn
Aug 23, 2015 - 11:17pm PT
those pics ^^^ f'real?
Nick Danger

Ice climber
Arvada, CO
May 8, 2017 - 12:58pm PT
What a wonderful thread about an amazing scientist, climber, and all around gentleman. Thank you, Lyman Spitzer, for all you gave to the world. And a special thanks to Rich for originally posting his story here. Existence is such a gas I can hardly stand it sometimes. Every time I see a Hubble photo I am reminded of just what wonderful things we humans are actually capable. Thanks again.
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Topic Author's Reply - May 8, 2017 - 01:07pm PT
Glad to see this bubble up from the depths. Lyman surely deserves the attention.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
May 8, 2017 - 08:40pm PT
already referenced is the wikipedia entry:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyman_Spitzer

but see also:

http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/postsecondary/features/F_Lyman_Spitzer.html

http://www.nap.edu/read/12562/chapter/17#364

I refer to his 1956 book Physics of Fully Ionized Gases frequently these days as I learn about that physics, which concerns my current research. I'm sure there are more modern books, but there is an elegant simplicity (though dense) in Spitzer's treatise, and some of it is still used, amazingly, after 60 years.

I never got to meet him as my youth had me in some other domains of physics.
clifff

Mountain climber
golden, rollin hills of California
May 8, 2017 - 09:35pm PT

http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap141103.html

http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.php?topic_id=2521891&msg=2521987#msg2521987

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Max-Rive-Photography/182378168614600
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Jul 23, 2017 - 09:51am PT
Bump for a great and inspiring thread.
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