By Nathaniel H. Axtell
HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. (AP) – Located on a secluded 200-acre tract near Balsam Grove sits the former Rosman Tracking Station. In the 1960s, NASA used the station’s giant radio antennas to track early satellites and to assist in America’s first manned space flights, including the Apollo mission.
After newer satellite systems forced NASA to mothball the tracking station, the U.S. Department of Defense took over the site in 1981. Declassified documents show the station’s real tenant was the National Security Agency, a government intelligence agency then devoted to eavesdropping on the Soviet Union.
According to NBC news reporter Robert Windrem, whose 1986 series “The Eavesdropping War” looked into the facility, the NSA used the renamed Rosman Research Station to intercept communications being relayed by Soviet satellites.
“After the DoD takeover, the work at Rosman, even the number of employees, was a closely guarded secret,” wrote an unnamed NSA official in a declassified document from the agency’s Center for Cryptologic History.
“Budget cuts and the removal of the station’s primary function forced the Agency to cease operations on 31 March 1995.”
Today the facility is owned by the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, a nonprofit group dedicated to scientific education and research. PARI runs tours of its campus every Wednesday at 2 p.m., offering the public a rare glimpse into the cloak-and-dagger world of Cold War espionage.
The facility’s formerly clandestine operations become clear the moment tourists enter Building One on PARI’s campus. Bulletproof glass surrounds the reception area, which has a wall switch that triggers a revolving red light in a nearby corridor.
“If people who entered this building didn’t have the proper (security) clearances, he or she would be escorted,” said Dr. Joe Phillips, PARI’s director of public outreach. “The light would alert all the people working to protect their materials, so as not to reveal anything of a classified nature.”
In the building’s basement, PARI tour guide Alex Alexander pointed out another sign of the facility’s past: a triple lock on a steel door.1 2 next >>