This poster is part of Preserving U.S. Military Heritage: WWII to the Cold War, Fredericksburg, Texas, June 4-6, 2019.
by Mason Miller and Kurt Korfmacher
In 2016, AmaTerra Environmental, Inc. (AmaTerra) prepared mitigative documentation for the loss of the Red Butte Instrumentation Site, a Cold War-era instrumentation site on the northern boundary of the 3200 sq. mi. White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) in New Mexico. Dotting the desert throughout WSMR, instrumentation sites like Red Butte housed a range of systems used to track missile test flights through high-magnification telescopes, radio antennas, and other instruments. Cinetheodolites were telescopes that acted like survey theodolites, recording their specific azimuth and elevation on motion picture film. Through triangulation with other instruments, this data allowed researchers to calculate a missile’s flight path with great precision, particularly in the days before GPS.
Cultural Resource coordinators at the WSMR Directorate of Public Works negotiated with the New Mexico State Historic Preservation Office (NMSHPO) to develop a permanent, self-contained interpretive exhibit at WSMR’s history museum focused on Cold War-era optical instrumentation systems at WSMR. The exhibit includes three display quality static panels that address topics such as the Red Butte site, early pioneers in instrumentation development at WSMR, and basic concepts of cinetheodolites and tracking telescopes.
To tackle the notable challenge of translating for a layperson audience such an abstract and technically-complicated topic as flight tracking optics at a facility literally 100 miles away from the exhibit site, AmaTerra looked to electronic interactive media. The team developed a touch panel interactive module entitled “Optical Instrumentation at White Sands Missile Range” that used newsreel footage, audio from oral history interviews, and slideshows to help explain the complex topic to visitors. An interactive tour of the Red Butte site transported the museum visitor to the site with more images, while an interactive cinetheodolite tracking simulation allows the user to better understand triangulation and the importance of these instruments by allowing them to virtually ’track’ a missile flight.
AmaTerra consulted with WSMR Museum staff and determined that a 42-inch panel was the best size for the interactive display. AmaTerra loaded the interactive module in HTML format on a solid-state micro PC that will operate for a long time with nominal power use and no moving parts to wear down. The exhibit is active at the Museum now with visitors regularly responding positively to it.
This poster will show how the Red Butte development team approached the technical and interpretive challenges for this project, the topical and interpretive research conducted to optimize the engagement in a museum setting, and the equipment and software used to design and deliver the exhibit largely in-house using primarily cultural resource staff with limited technical experience. This is followed by a discussion of the lessons learned from the process and ideas for future efforts.
Mason D. Miller, M.A. is a land and marine archaeologist with AmaTerra Environmental, Inc. Mr. Miller’s experience with military resources includes the design of interpretative displays, educational brochures, posters, signage, and the design of a family friendly missile park. Mason’s work has also developed his strong reputation in the archaeology community by introducing new and unique technologies for outreach, some of which have earned him state and national awards. An example of his outreach work is “Peering Through the Sands of Time,” an interactive digital publication available for free download through the iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/peering-through-the-sands-of-time/id953606073?mt=11) and Google Play (https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Mason_D_Miller_M_A_Peering_Through_the_Sands_of_Ti?id=AFQFBgAAQBAJ) stores.
Kurt Korfmacher, M.S., is a Senior Architectural Historian with AmaTerra Environmental, Inc. Mr. Korfmacher has extensive experience in the history and documentation of Cold War era military resources such as instrumentation shelters, technical buildings, specialized test structures, launch complexes, airfields, and BASEOPS facilities located at both New Mexico and Texas military installations. Mr. Korfmacher earned a 2018 Historic Preservation Award – Heritage Organization, from the State of New Mexico, for his work in developing historic contexts of the scientific contributions to the Cold War and manned space flight at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.