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[Aslakson, Carl I. [1980] Earth Measurer. Excerpt from unpublished manuscript.]

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Library Introduction

Carl Ingman Aslakson served in the Coast and Geodetic Survey for thirty-two years, from 1923 until 1955. His career encompassed the transition from manual methods of surveying through new electronic methods in both hydrography and geodesy. He was a pioneer in the use of electronic instruments for measuring distances. Because of his experiences with electronic distance measuring devices, he determined that the accepted value of the velocity of light in the late 1940's was too slow by approximately 17 kilometers per second. He published his derived value of 299,792.4 kilometers per second and became a recognized authority on the velocity of light and the propagation of electromagnetic radiation. The value that he observed was within 1 kilometer per second of today's accepted value for the velocity of light.

Carl Aslakson entered the Coast and Geodetic Survey at the age of twenty-seven. He was born April 23, 1896 and had already lived an adventurous life having been raised in the farm country of the Dakotas and Alberta, Canada. He served eight months on the Texas-Mexico border as part of a National Guard unit mobilized to protect against the incursions of Pancho Villa in 1915. This was followed by duty with the United States Marine Corps during World War I. He had enlisted in the Marines to assure that he saw action , but ironically was sent as part of a detachment to Cuba for most of the duration of the war. In his words, he was making the world "safe for bananas". In early 1919, he was sent to Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia, and graduated as a second lieutenant 10 days prior to his unit being deactivated.

Following the war, Aslakson entered the University of Minnesota from which he graduated with a degree in civil engineering in 1923. He immediately entered the Coast and Geodetic Survey. The following writings are those of Carl Aslakson as he looked back over the years of his career as a Coast and Geodetic Survey officer and recalled many of his experiences. Captain Aslakson wrote these remarkable memoirs in 1979 at the age of 83 for his family members. It is through the gracious consent of his son, Mr. Corbin Aslakson, that NOAA has been permitted access to these memoirs.

One final note: Captain Aslakson did not choose the title for this work as he was an unpretentious man, who although proud of his work, only thought of himself as an individual doing his job. But it is obvious that he was an extraordinary man and an extraordinary geodesist who devoted his life to ever more precise measurements of the Earth. During his lifetime he measured more geodetic baselines by classical manual means than anyone before or after. He was the pioneer in the United States in precise electronic distance measurement for geodetic purposes and helped lead the Coast and Geodetic Survey into the modern world. If any title fit Carl Aslakson, it was Earth Measurer.

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