Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy
The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) is a consortium of universities and other institutions that operates astronomical observatories and telescopes. AURA recognizes its mission statement as "To promote excellence in astronomical research by providing access to state-of-the-art facilities."
Founded October 10, 1957 with the encouragement of the National Science Foundation (NSF), AURA was incorporated by a group of seven U.S. universities: California, Chicago, Harvard, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin. The first meeting of the Board of Directors took place in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Today, AURA has 39 member institutions in the United States and seven international affiliate members.
AURA began as a small organization dedicated to ground-based optical astronomy, managing a range of 1- to 4-meter telescopes and providing community advocacy for optical/infrared astronomy. Over the years, AURA expanded its focus to include Solar Astronomy and the Gemini 8-meter telescopes, going on to partner with other consortia such as WIYN (Wisconsin Indiana Yale & NOAO) and SOAR (Southern Astrophysical Research). In the 1980s, AURA took on the management of the Space Telescope Science Institute, opening up the ultraviolet, optical, and infrared wavelength bands in space with the Hubble Space Telescope. AURA is furthering its aims in infrared space astronomy through the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).
The organization is responsible for the operation of several important observatories, known as "AURA centers": the Gemini Observatory; the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST); the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO); the National Solar Observatory (NSO); and the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI).
- Gemini Observatory managed by AURA for an international partnership to operate twin telescopes, one on Mauna Kea in Hawaii and the other on Cerro Pachon in Chile.
- Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) - The LSST is a public-private partnership to operate an 8.4-meter telescope on Chile’s Cerro Pachon. AURA operates LSST for the NSF.
- National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) - AURA operates NOAO telescopes at Kitt Peak in Arizona and Cerro Tololo in Chile.
- National Solar Observatory (NSO) - AURA operates NSO conducting research at Sacramento Peak in New Mexico and at Kitt Peak in Arizona.
- Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) - AURA manages STScI for NASA to carry out the scientific mission of the Hubble Space Telescope and to develop the operations of the James Webb Space Telescope.
President: Dr. William S. Smith, Jr
Dr. Smith was appointed President of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) in February 2000. The President, as the chief executive officer, serves as the primary representative or spokesperson for AURA. The President is a member of the Board of Directors and implements policy decisions of the Board. The President serves the Board of Directors as its principal executive officer, providing leadership and guidance on policy matters, coordinating the activities of the Board and its various committees. The President is also responsible for maintaining effective working relationships with AURA Member Universities.
Prior to his appointment with AURA, Dr. Smith served 14 years as a professional staff member in various capacities on the House Committee on Science. He acted as Science Advisor from 1985 to 1988 and was then appointed Staff Director, Subcommittee on Space.
AURA Board of Directors
The Board, which meets quarterly, establishes the policies of AURA, approves its budget, elects members of the Management Councils, and appoints the President, the Center Directors, and other principal officers. The Board of Directors is responsible to the Member Representatives for the effective management of AURA and the achievement of its purposes.
Today, there are 39 U.S. Member Institutions and 7 International Affiliate Members which comprise the Member Institutions of AURA. The President of each Member Institution designates a Member Representative who has a voice in AURA matters. Together, the Member Representatives act upon membership applications.