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He was an astronomer at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, becoming the director of the Lunar Section of the British Astronomical Association. He then emigrated to the United States and joined the staff of the Yerkes Observatory. In 1960 he left Yerkes, along with Gerard P. Kuiper, helping found the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, eventually becoming research scientist emeritus.
He worked on several NASA missions, and was successful in locating the landing site of the Surveyor 3. (This was used to determine the landing site for the Apollo 12 mission.) He has been considered by some to be the world's leading expert on mapping the Moon and lunar nomenclature. He was a member of the IAU's Task Group for Lunar Nomenclature. In 1999 he published a book on the history of lunar mapping and nomenclature, titled "Mapping and Naming the Moon"
This has been completely re-written by Mister Ewen A. Whitaker himself and typed in by a friend and temporary house guest of the Whitakers on 29 May 2010. Ewen A. Whitaker is a British-born (22 June 1922) astronomer who has specialized in lunar studies since 1951. During WW2 he was engaged in quality control—by UV spectrographic analysis—of the lead sheathing of hollow cables strung under the English Channel (secret Project PLUTO—Pipe Line Under The Ocean) to supply gasoline to Allied vehicles in France. He obtained a position at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, engaged in UV spectra of stars, but became interested in lunar studies as a sideline, and drew and published in 1954 the first ever accurate chart of the South Polar area of the moon. After meeting Dr Gerard P. Kuiper, Director of Yerkes Observatory, Wisconsin, USA, at an International Astronomical Union congress in Dublin in 1955, he was invited to join Kuiper's fledgling Lunar Project at Yerkes, to work on producing the best photographic atlas of the moon available. Russian Sputniks heralded the dawn of the Space Age in 1957, and the Lunar Project was soon in NASA's limelight. The Photographic Lunar Atlas, Orthographic Atlas of the Moon (giving accurate positions on the lunar surface), and rectified Lunar Atlas (giving astronauts-eye views of the whole lunar nearside) proved to be invaluable for the planning and operational stages of later spacecraft missions to the moon. The small Lunar Project moved to the University of Arizona in 1960 and became the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, now numbering over 300 scientists, technicians, and supporting staff. Ewen Whitaker retired from the LPL in 1978, but is still a member of the Task Group for Lunar Nomenclature of the IAU. He, his wife Beryl, and their family, live in Tucson, Arizona.
- Co-investigator with G. P. Kuiper, H. Urey, G. Shoemaker, and R. Heacock, on Lunar Ranger Project; Whitaker chose impact points for Rangers 6 and 7, the latter being the first spacecraft to obtain closeups of the moon's surface.
- Member of Lunar Surveyor TV Investigator Team. Located landed positions of four Surveyors, including Surveyor 3, which was chosen as the landing site for the Apollo 12 astronauts.
- Member of Lunar Orbiter 5 Scientific Site Selection Team; he chose four of the sall list of sites.
- Member of Apollo Orbital Science Photo Team. He briefed orbiting astronauts and their backups for Missions 13, 15, and 16.
First to apply the Zwicky technique of differential UV/Red photography to the Moon, which maps areas of differing chemical composition of the lunar surface. Results used in Apollo site choices.
Discovery and approximate determination of the orbital eccentricity and inclination of Miranda, Uranus's 5th satellite, made possible by a simple plate-measuring method that he devised, which gave a tenfold increase in precision (from plates taken decades earlier).
With colleague D. W. Arthur. ad about 60 new names to anonymous craters near the edge of the moon that had been brought into prominence in the Rectified Atlas. The names were adopted internationally. More recently, he chose 14 favorably located farside craters to commemorate the Challenger and Columbia astronauts who lost their lives in the two disasters. These were also adopted internationally over competing suggestions.
Whitaker determined, with considerable confidence, the dates on which Galileo made his drawings of the Moon and composed the various relevant sections of his "Sidereus Nuncius."
He devised a logical lettering system for designating unnamed craters on the Moon's farside. This was adopted unanimously for universal use by the IAU in 2006, as was the corrected list of letters for nearside craters which L. E. Anderson and he compiled in 1982.
Over 130 atlases, reports, papers, articles, reviews, chapters for books, letters, etc. A selection of the more important given below.
- Photographic Lunar Atlas, ed. G. P. Kuiper, with 3 others (1960)
- Orthographic Atlas of the Moon, ed. G. P. Kuiper with 1 other (1960/61)
- Rectified Lunar Atlas, with 3 others (1963)
- Consolidated Lunar Atlas, with 4 others (1967)
- Location of the Surveyor Spacecraft (1968)
- An Investigation of the Lunar Heiligenschein (1969)
- Mare Imbrium Lava Flows and their Relationship to Color Boundaries (1972)
- Artificial Lunar Impact Craters; 4 New Identifications (1972)
- Eccentricity and Inclination of Miranda's orbit, with 1 other (1973)
- Populations of Impacting Bodies in the Inner Solar System, with 1 other (1976)
- Galileo's Lunar Observations and the dating of the composition of "Siderius Nuncius" (1978)
- The Lunar Procellarum Basin (1981)
- NASA Catalogue of Lunar Nomenclature, with 1 other (1982)
- The University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory; its Founding and Early Years (1986)
- Selenography in the 17th Century (1989)
- Mapping and Naming the Moon (242 page book) (1999)
- Mare Orientale; The Eastern Sea in the West (2007)
- The Digges-Bourne Telescope Revisited (2007)
- Representations and Maps of the Moon—The First Two Centuries (2009)
- 1969 Personal letter of commendation from President Nixon for finding landed position of Surveyor 3, enabling the Apollo 12 astronauts to land nearby and retrieve parts for laboratory examination.
- 1982 Walter Goodacre Medal and Prize from British Atronomical Association for contributions to knowledge of the Moon.
- 2000 Asteroid 7948 (1992HY) named "Whitaker" for same reason.
- 2008 Asked by Director of Instituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza in Florence to write a 4,500 word illustrated article on the history of Moon observation and mapping from Leonardo da Vinci to 1800, together with an update on his 1978 paper on dating Galileo's Moon drawings, to accompany those original drawings from 1609! All of this for a major exhibition planned for March - September 2009 in the Palazzo Strozzi there.
Sources of above information:-
- Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona (Curriculum Vitae and Publications list for E. A. Whitaker)
- Who's Who in America" 2010 Edition
- The biography himself
- Melosh, H.J., and Whitaker, E.A.; "Lunar Crater Chains," Nature, 369: 713, 1994.)
- Ewen A. Whitaker, "Mapping and Naming the Moon", Cambridge University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-521-62248-4.
- G.L. Gutschewski, D.C. Kinsler & E.A. Whitaker, "Atlas and Gazetteer of the Near Side of the Moon", NASA SP-241.
- Gerald P Kuiper, Ewen A Whitaker, Robert G Strom, John W Fountain, and Stephen M Larson, "Consolidated Lunar Atlas", Lunar and Planetary Institute, 2005.
- David Clow & Ewen A. Whitaker, "A Pinpoint on the Ocean of Storms: Finding the Target for Apollo 12." QUEST - The History of Spaceflight Quarterly. Vol. 10 No. 4, Fall 2003.