The “smiley” face on PARI’s 4.6m radio telescope was painted as a joke during the height of the Cold War. The Soviet Union was intensely interested in the Department of Defense base and often sent satellites to photograph the campus. Each Soviet photo contained a “smiley face” as a friendly wave. Today “Smiley” is a student favorite and is used remotely via the internet by middle and high school students and teachers to study radio astronomy.”

PARI website --

Leap Frog Tours Partners with PARI

The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute

If you’re like most people who live in Western North Carolina, you may be scratching your head wondering, “What the heck is PARI?” That was our reaction too. We had no idea that the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute was right here in our proverbial backyard! 

This hidden gem has a storied history dating back to the 60’s space race through the Cold War and the 90’s-era national defense program. Now, PARI’s mission is to provide hands-on educational and world-class research opportunities for scientists and students of all ages.

Here’s a quick recap of PARI’s history —

  • On Oct. 26, 1963, the five-year-old NASA organization dedicated this new facility, called the Rosman Tracking Station, in the Pisgah National Forest southwest of Asheville, NC. The site played a critical role in the pioneering days of the U.S. space program, communicating with satellites and manned space flights as they passed over the East Coast. 
  • In 1981, the Rosman Tracking Station was transferred to the Department of Defense (DOD) and used for satellite data collection. At its peak during this era, the facility employed about 350 people, and it’s estimated that the government invested several hundred million dollars in the site.
  • In 1995, the facility was closed and DOD operations were consolidated elsewhere. Much of the satellite antennae, instrumentation, and electronics were dismantled or moved to other locations. However, the bulk of the infrastructure remained, including PARI’s two signature 26 meter (85 ft.) dish antennas. During this time, the facility was maintained by the USDA Forest Service.
  • After several years of inactivity, the government decided to dismantle the facility and let it return to the forest. However in 1999 after recognizing the tremendous value and potential for the site, Don and Jo Cline, science and astronomy enthusiasts from Greensboro, NC, rescued the 200-acre facility and re-imagined it as a learning lab to help educate future generations of young scientists.  With a not-for-profit foundation established, the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) was born.

Leap Frog Tours is thrilled to partner with PARI to showcase this fascinating place to both locals and visitors alike.  We will provide transportation to PARI’s out-of-the-way location–literally hidden in the Pisgah National Forest near Brevard about 35 miles from Asheville–so guests can enjoy the many activities that PARI offers including:

  • Sky Trek Observing Sessions–On many Friday and Saturday nights throughout the year, join PARI astronomers to use telescopes to scan the night sky for planets, nebulae, colored stars, and other objects in our fascinating solar system. Sessions usually last two hours.
  • Evening at PARI–During this once a month event series, guests will enjoy a short presentation, followed by a campus tour and a trip to the exhibit gallery. If the weather permits, the evening will also include a trip to the Nature Center where PARI astronomers and volunteers will use PARI’s telescopes to view Messier objects and other phenomena in the night sky. This event usually lasts about 2.5 hours.
  • Guided Tours–On this must-see tour, you’ll learn about PARI’s fascinating history as a pivotal part of the pioneering days of our nation’s space program. Tours typically last 1.5 hours, are on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and are available on other days by special request.

In early 2018, we’ll announce details about a special, exclusive PARI excursion activity that will only be available through Leap Frog Tours. It will likely include some star-gazing and a special dinner or appetizers at the PARI’s new restaurant.

In the meantime, please call Leap Frog Tours at 828-246-6777 if you’d like to visit PARI and leave the driving to us!

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