Tucked into the mountains near Brevard is one of the most scenic spots in Pisgah National Forest, and it comes with an intriguing history.
The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) occupies one of the first facilities NASA constructed during the infancy of the U.S. space program.
It is now a nonprofit science education and research facility, open to the public and about a 45-minute drive from downtown Brevard. The 200-acre PARI campus bristles with telescopes and other scientific instruments, including two massive 85-foot radio telescopes.
Visitors are welcome 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday, for self-guided tours, or call ahead for a docent-led tour that features a running commentary on the historic site and glimpses at some of the behind-the-scenes activity. Docent tours are scheduled each Wednesday at 2 p.m. and each Saturday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. General admission is $6 per person ($18 max per family), children 10 and under are admitted free. Pre-arranged tours for groups can be scheduled during normal operating hours by calling visitor services at (828) 862-5554. Special rates apply.
High atop the PARI optical ridge is an observation deck with some of the best views you’ll find anywhere in the area. The site also features hiking trails that originate at Jo’s Cove, a scenic small park that serves as a quiet resting place with an excellent view of the PARI site.
While on campus, visitors are welcome to browse the Exhibit Gallery in the Cline Administration Building. The Exhibit Gallery is home to a collection of gems, minerals and rare meteorites, including pieces of Mars and the Moon. The PARI Exhibit Gallery is also one of the few sites in the United States chosen to display NASA Space Shuttle artifacts, many of which have flown in space.
Recently added exhibits include satellites and models, some donated to PARI and some on loan from the Smithsonian Institution. Visitors are also welcome the second Friday of each month for the Evening at PARI series.
Evening at PARI features a different presentation on an astronomical or scientific topic, suitable for all ages. The evening also includes a tour of the PARI campus and observations of the night sky using some of the PARI telescopes. Reservations are required and can be made via telephone or through the PARI web site.
At the current PARI site in 1962, NASA built the Rosman Research Station to be the nation’s primary East Coast satellite-tracking facility. During the NASA era, the facility also was instrumental in the development of modern conveniences taken for granted today, such as weather satellites, GPS systems and coast-to-coast transmission of color TV signals.
In 1981, the Rosman Research Station was transferred to the Department of Defense (DOD) and used for satellite data collection. In 1995, the facility was closed and DOD operations were consolidated elsewhere. After several years of inactivity, the site came to the attention of Don and Jo Cline, who were active for many years in supporting astronomy and science programs at several colleges, universities and museums.
In September 1998, the Clines acquired the site and transferred it to the not-for-profit foundation that manages PARI today.
PARI now hosts a number of research initiatives with area colleges and universities, and provides educational opportunities for all levels of students: K-12, undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral. The site is also home to the Astronomical Photographic Data Archive (APDA), the North American repository for historic astronomical photographic images.
For more information, go to www.pari.edu, call (828) 862-5554 or email email@example.com. Driving from Brevard, go west on U.S. 64 about nine miles, turn right on N.C. 215 (at Headwaters Outfitters), travel six miles and turn left on Macedonia Church Road, proceed about 1.6 miles and turn left into PARI, proceed to the Cline Administration Building (near the flagpole).