Following a high-level meeting he convened in Green Bank last month, Senator Jay Rockefeller today announced new developments in the near-term future of the Green Bank Telescope.

West Virginia University has signed an agreement with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory – which currently manages the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope on behalf of the National Science Foundation (NSF) — to pay a portion of the costs for personnel and operations associated with the telescope.

Under the agreement, West Virginia University is investing $1 million in financial support for the facility over the next two years. The agreement comes a month after Rockefeller, along with Congressman Nick Rahall, gathered high-level officials from West Virginia University, NSF, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory to discuss future operations of the facility. West Virginia University faculty and students will receive 500 additional hours of research time on the telescope as a result of the agreement.

“Last month, I made it clear to all involved just how enormously important the Green Bank Observatory is to me personally, but more so for the people of West Virginia,” said Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. “The observatory is vital to scientific research, exploration and discovery and its presence in our mountains creates a pride that all West Virginians hold close to their hearts. I’ve promised to fight ceaselessly to keep it open and thriving.”

“WVU has a long-standing and thriving partnership with the Green Bank Observatory,” said Dr. Fred King, Vice President for Research at WVU. “Our investment will provide guaranteed access for WVU astronomers to the world’s premier single dish radio telescope. We see this two-year agreement with NRAO as key to building our international leadership in radio astronomy and increasing the profile of WVU as a center for research in astronomy. We also see it as an investment in the future of Pocahontas County and the surrounding area.”

“After months of discussions, I am so pleased that an agreement has been reached with West Virginia University and NRAO to help support the daily operations of the Observatory,” Senator Manchin said. “We have one of the best telescopes in the world right here on our soil, and we should do everything we can to make sure this state-of-the-art facility remains open and operational. Making smart investments that will increase scientific research and education opportunities in West Virginia is worth the value it will bring for the future of our great state.”

“WVU’s commitment is a significant step in the right direction. Students and scholars alike will be well served by an extended partnership with Green Bank,” said Rahall. “I was pleased to meet at Green Bank last month with Senator Rockefeller and stakeholders to find budget solutions that spare vital programs like our state-of-the-art Observatory. I have said since the beginning, we are not going to give up on a world-class facility that aids our State and serves this Nation without a fight”

“This agreement represents not only a significant first step toward securing the future of the Green Bank Telescope, it also strengthens our ties within the state of West Virginia,” said Dr. Karen O’Neill, director of the facility. “I am extremely pleased to welcome our WVU colleagues as our partner and I look forward to working with them more closely in the future.”

Last year, NSF’s Astronomy Portfolio Review Committee recommended that the NSF divest from the Green Bank Observatory over the next five years. The NSF said it will not make a decision on that recommendation until the end of 2013.

Since then, Rockefeller, Senator Joe Manchin and Rahall have led efforts to investigate all possible options to maintain the Green Bank’s operations well into the future.

Rockefeller, Manchin and Rahall wrote a letter to NSF Director Subra Suresh last September asking for more clarification on the NSF’s plans for Green Bank. Following that letter, Rockefeller and Rahall met with Dr. Suresh privately. Today’s announcement has its roots in a meeting Rockefeller convened in Washington in April with officials from West Virginia University, AUI and NSF.

The delegation has been actively engaged with NSF officials and other key decision makers within the Administration and Congress. Their goal is to emphasize the importance of Green Bank to West Virginia and in advancing the nation’s science and STEM education objectives.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope is the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope. It has been in full-scale scientific operation since 2002.


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