WHO WAS CHARLES F. ("CHICK") CAPEN, JR.?
Charles F. Capen
(1926-1986) was an internationally known scientist and
lecturer. Members of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers (ALPO) especially knew
him well. He was one of the few
professional astronomers who contributed to the organization
and served as Mars Section Recorder for 17 years. Chick, as we
all knew Charles F. Capen, was a pioneer in the study of the Solar
System. He helped to establish or construct four major
astronomical observatories and was responsible for planning
their observational programs and training their personnel.
Capen was well known for his vast collection of scientific
literature, especially astronomical books and papers.
He was born at Gilman, Illinois on January 1, 1926. During high school, he began to study the Red Planet Mars with a port-able telescope. After high school, Capen went on to earn two diplomas from Spartan College of Aeronautics in 1945-1949 and was a tactical squadron flight instructor with the Army Air Force during the Korean War. He later gave up his love of aviation for astronomy and acquired five years of geophysical and astrophysical education from New Mexico State University, University of Illinois, and Indiana University.
Capen learned the fine art of planetary observing and scientific research under the guidance of Dr. Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of the planet Pluto, at New Mexico State and the late Dr. Earl C. Slipher, world renown authority on Mars, at Lowell Observatory. A few of his professional accomplishments over the years include the photographic patrols for possible small satellites of the Earth, site testing for the U.S. Air Force facility near Cloudcroft, New Mexico, and the Director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Station at Shiraz, Iran in 1957-1960.
In 1962 Capen was appointed Resident Astronomer of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Table Mountain Observatory in Southern California where his research helped to support the Mariner space missions to Mars, and as advisor to the Viking space missions to Mars. From 1969 through 1983 he was employed at the Lowell Observatory’s Planetary Research Center at Flagstaff, Arizona. He retired from his formal astronomical observatory duties in 1983, moving to Cuba, Missouri to complete his life long work on Mars and comets.
Charles Capen received numerous awards for his achievements, including the Space Science Division Award by the California Institute of Technology - Jet Propulsion Laboratory for his outstanding services during the Mariner IV, VI, and VII space missions as a Mars Team Member, the Institute of Environmental Sciences Award of the Year (1969), the Dr. G. Bruce Blair Gold Medal for outstanding contributions to astronomy (1960), and the Institute of Navigation Award for contributions to astronautics and the conquest of space (1984). In 1969 Thomas Paine, Director of NASA, presented Chick with the Apollo Achievement Award in Washington D.C., in appreciation of his dedicated service to the nation as a member of the Apollo Team whose work resulted in Man’s first landing on the Moon. In 1985 Chick was the first recipient of the A.L.P.O. Walter H. Haas Award for his outstanding observational work that has increased our understanding of the planet Mars.
Charles F. Capen was well known for his early work with color filters, psychophysical observational studies, colorimetry of the planets, and a pioneer in color astrophotography since 1954. Examples of his innumerable astronomical and nature photographs and science texts are found in prime TV specials, magazines, encyclopedias, and astronomical books and journals of many nations. He published over 150 research papers dealing with astronomy and geophysics, 100 popular natural science articles, and three books.
For more than 26 years he lectured at universities, public schools, and astronomical societies around the world. For several years he had the honor of being an Alexander F. Morrison Science Lecturer while at California Institute of Technology-JPL. In 1983, Capen presented results of his research to the august body of the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union meeting in Greece.
C.F. Capen biographical sketches can be found in Marquis "Who’s Who, Frontier Science & Technology, American Biographical Institute, Community Leaders and Noteworthy Americans," and "Personalities of the West and Midwest." Capen was a member of the International Astronomical Union, American Astronomical Society (AAS), American Geophysical Union, Division of Planetary Sciences of the AAS and Director of Mars Section of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers.
At the time of his death, Chick Capen was completing his work as co-author of the well-known book, Introduction to Observing and Photographing the Solar System, co-authored by Thomas A. Dobbins and Donald C. Parker. Soon after Capen passed away, Jeff Beish completed the book Mars Observer’s Handbook they had worked on for several years and was published by the Planetary Society and second and subsequent printing by the Astronomical League.
The Charles F. Capen Memorial Library and Achieves consists of
500 miscellaneous planetary and astronomical books, 210 rare
and technical Mars books, 10,000 photographs of the Solar
System taken by himself, his wife Virginia Watkins Capen, and
many of the world’s leading planetary astrophotographers.
The library also contains many of the books and papers authored
by him along with much of the memorabilia that covered his
50-year astronomical career. Besides the publications mentioned
above, the library contains thousands of scientific papers and
articles covering several hundred years of telescopic
observation of the Solar System.
After a four-year search for an appropriate location for this prized collection, we elected in January 1990 to sell it to the Roper Mountain Science Center in Greenville, South Carolina. The dedication for the library took place on May 12, 1990, adjacent to the 7th largest refracting telescope in the United States, indeed a most appropriate location for Chick Capen’s library. After all, he spent 26 years observing with Lowell Observatory’s 24-inch Clark refractor.
LEFT: Virginia Capen standing next to Capen Library Plaque. RIGHT: The 23-inch Clark Refractor telescope in the Charles F. Daniel Observatory.