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From X-rays to Diatoms

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the Sun in X-rays

From X-ray astronomy to diatoms

a diatom

March 5, 1998: Richard Hoover's formal training is in optics and advanced mathematics, with a minor in chemistry, first at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Ark., then at Duke University, where he did advanced work in mathematics, then at the University of California at Los Angeles and UAH for additional graduate work. He joined NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center where he has worked on X-ray telescopes for the Skylab space station, suborbital rockets, and other missions.

developers of MSSTARichard Hoover (right picture, on the far left) played an important role in the development of the Multispectral Solar Telescope Array (MMTA) (picture below, right). In a single payload, the MMTA carried several X-ray telescopes which produced images of the sun, like the one at top, in several X-ray "colors" at once.

MSSTA"I have been in training ever since I came to NASA in 1966," Hoover said. "I've been reading everything I could get my hands on."

When dating his future wife, Miriam Jackson, she let him photograph her great-grandfather's collection of diatoms. Hoover was captivated by the creatures and his interest and reputation grew until, in 1973, he was invited to Antwerp, Belgium, to inventory the collection of Henri Van Heurck, the 19th century's version of Jacques Cousteau.

Diatom collection
A tiny portion of Hoover's collection.

"This was the most important diatom collection made in the last century," Hoover said. "It's one of the most precious in the world." Over the next several years he spent his vacation time cataloging and photographing microorganisms gathered from the ends of the world.

"That's where I learned diatoms, plus a whole array of other microfossils that were not diatoms," he said, "so I got a good appreciation for micropaleontology research." That included reading extensively on the subject, and a scientific collaboration with the world renowned British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle, concerning terrestrial diatoms and the possibility that they might find live in the icy crust of Europa or in comets. After all, the most abundant form of plant life in the Arctic and Antarctic ice are the diatoms.

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Author: Dave Dooling
Curator: Bryan Walls
NASA Official: John M. Horack