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 Excerpt from unpublished manuscript.]

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by Captain Albert E. Theberge, NOAA

Carl Ingman Aslakson retired from the Coast and Geodetic Survey on May 1, 1955. In typical Aslakson fashion, he drove directly from Patrick Air Force Base to Philadelphia, where he had accepted employment with Aero Service working for Virgil Kaufmann. There was no fanfare, no retirement banquet, and not even a stop in Washington, D.C. For Captain Aslakson, the job at hand was always what was important. For the next fifteen years he remained affiliated with Aero Service working in many parts of the world. His knowledge helped survey the Saudi Arabia - Bahrain boundary, and provided such diverse countries as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Angola, and Guatemala with base maps. He was instrumental in establishing the geodetic control for tracking stations for both John Glenn's orbit of the Earth and for the Project Gemini launches. In 1969 he retired for good, although this did not stop his restless nature. He and his wife Marian continued traveling the world, spending considerable time overseas. On all of these trips he continued his interest in malachology and always had time for his beloved shell collecting. If not on the coast, he would look for land species. The only continent which seems to have escaped his footprints is Antarctica, perhaps because of the poor shelling.

There is no doubt that Carl Aslakson loved his chosen career as an officer in the Coast and Geodetic Survey and the opportunities that it afforded him. He loved the precision of the work, particularly the satisfaction of making measurements of the Earth to a higher level of accuracy than had ever been attained. He was a pioneer in the truest sense of the word, always pushing back the frontier of measurement technology from the time that he invented the sextometer as a junior officer in the Philippines, through the development of Shoran as a geodetic instrument, to the installation of satellite and rocket tracking stations as part of the United States space effort of the 1960's.

Carl Aslakson provided his view of his career within the Coast and Geodetic Survey as follows:

"Had I chosen a different career I might have ended up with more of the worldly goods but I never have regretted remaining with the Coast and Geodetic Survey. As a farm boy in South Dakota, working in the fields with barley beards inside my clothing and dust and perspiration covering my face and hands I often dreamed of acquiring an education, getting away from that type of work and accomplishing something original which would make my name known. All this had been accomplished in a modest way.

"My engineering studies at South Dakota State College and the University of Minnesota provided the fundamental basis for my career but actually my entire career in the Service required continual study. I am grateful to the Coast and Geodetic Survey for their leniency in permitting me to pursue my own lines of investigation in many projects from time to time.

"The precision required to accomplish the work of the Survey and the techniques involved fascinated me. Gravity observations required the measurement of relative time accuracy to 1/10,000,000 second. The measurement of first order bases required a relative comparison of measurements of one kilometer by two different standardized tapes of invar metal to within 0.5 millimeter or .0196 inch. In first order triangulation we computed our angle measurements to 0.01 seconds of arc or 1/129,600,000 part of a circle. The results obtained proved that those precision standards were justified.

"I was forced into continual study simply to keep up with my work. It became necessary to acquire additional knowledge in the fields of electronics, physics, meteorology, physics of the air, acoustics in sea water, gravity measurements and the earth's gravity field, magnetism, seismology, the phenomenon affecting the earth's size and shape, and a host of similar subjects. I was fascinated by the methods of observation to reduce systematic errors and by the use of the principles of least squares in a mathematical process to reduce the random errors. That knowledge was put to good use in my studies of the many types of error in the Electronic Position Indicator when I was stationed on the USC&GSS HYDROGRAPHER in the Gulf of Mexico, in the studies of geoidal undulations in the Bahama Islands and in all my research in Shoran and my studies of the velocity of propagation of radio waves.

"At the conclusion of one's professional career it is a source of satisfaction to be able to say that even if the opportunity presented itself that career would not be changed."

Carl Aslakson's work was recognized in a modest way. Although his name is not a household word, he was recognized by the Department of Commerce with an Exceptional Service Award and by the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia. In 1960, the Franklin Institute awarded him the Boyden Premium, which had been set up by a physicist in the 1800's who was concerned with studies of the velocity of light. The citation read: "In consideration of the measurement of the speed of radiation in space through the use of Shoran techniques and thereby as the first American to aid in establishing a new and significantly more nearly accurate value of 16kms./sec. higher than the long accepted value."

Carl Aslakson wrote his autobiography when 83 years old. It is remarkable for its clarity and what seems to be total recall of events and people. Although not stated specifically, some of the credit for this document must be shared with his wife Marian, who was credited with keeping copious notes of their life together. Carl Aslakson passed away on March 11, 1982. The Earth had lost its Measurer.

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