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Steve Criswell (1941-2021)

Steve Criswell was a key staff member of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory and the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System.

Published onMar 07, 2023
Steve Criswell (1941-2021)

Photo credit: VERITAS Collaboration

Steve Criswell died on Sunday January 3, 2021 in Tucson, Arizona. He was 79.

Steve was a Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) employee for 53 years (1962-2016), during which he served many roles including Facility Manager at Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory (FLWO) and Project Manager for the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System (VERITAS) Collaboration during its critical planning, construction and commissioning phases.

He joined SAO in 1962 as a fresh Physics graduate from Union College. He began as an observer in the Baker-Nunn satellite tracking network in Florida, Spain, and Greece. In 1973 he became station manager for the satellite laser tracking program at Mt. Hopkins, transitioning to facilities manager in 1978. As facilities manager, he oversaw the 24- and 60-inch telescopes, trained observers, supervised the support staff, and managed the extensive observatory infrastructure. He guided the transformation of the Mt. Hopkins infrastructure through major construction projects including the Bowl Dorm, the MMT Common Building, the Ridge Dorm, the current Basecamp, the Visitor Center, and the VERITAS Control Building. He also managed the 48-inch telescope project and the construction of the 11-m gamma ray telescope. In 1987, he became project manager for the 6.5-m MMT Conversion Project and in 1998, program manager for VERITAS. He was a dominant force at FLWO until his retirement in 2016.

Steve was a skilled pilot of private planes and gliders and an accomplished aerial photographer, producing many classic views of Mt. Hopkins from the air. He loved sailing, skiing, and woodworking.

Steve was a most talented person who never courted the limelight, preferring always to work away quietly and efficiently in the background on the myriad of SAO/FLWO projects. His outstanding organizational and management skills played a vital role in the successful development of the field of TeV gamma-ray astronomy at the Whipple Observatory. Steve was also wonderfully supportive of the many visiting researchers and students to FLWO, and provided a welcoming environment with advice and mentorship.

Steve had an enormously positive impact on the facilities at Mt. Hopkins, on the local staff, and on a large number of visiting scientists, engineers, and administrators. He will be remembered fondly and with deep appreciation.

Adapted and reproduced with permission from Criswell’s VERITAS obituary

Additional material provided by Charles Alcock, Wystan Benbow, Pat Brennan, Nelson Caldwell, Dan Fabricant, and Amy Furniss

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