Summer at Herstmonceux Castle

I spent a summer in a castle. I was 19 years old and one of 12 chosen to spend 6 weeks of work and study as a trainee Astronomer at Herstmonceux Castle in Surrey. It was then the site of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, and had several major telescopes on site, including a 30-inch refractor, a large Schmidt-Cassegrain, and the 100-inch Newton telescope. It was a fascinating and fun experience. To take long exposure photos at night the domes could not be heated without causing air turbulence, so we had to wear electrically heated suits that plugged in. We would ride in the moving seats located at the principal focus of the telescopes. To correct drifting by the equatorial mounts that followed the Earth's rotation, we had to manually move target stars back to the sight's crosshairs for hours at a time. 

We bonded socially, being the castle's only residents, apart from the Astronomer Royal, Sir Richard van der Riet Woolley. We played Wagner loudly at night, and picked the succulent peaches that grew on the castle's walls. We held a party for the astronomers and set a puzzle for them to solve by deciphering slogans posted along the walls. They read "Tug it rebel," "Bitter glue," "Gutter bile," amongst others, all anagrams of "Utter bilge," which is how the Astronomer Royal had described space travel before Sputnik 1 was launched. Sir Richard taught me to play croquet, which we played every day,

We successfully overturned data that suggested a pair of stars was a double system, and we were the first group to photograph and calculate the orbit of Echo 1, the US balloon satellite from which radio and TV signals could briefly be bounced. It was one of the most fun and worthwhile summers I had ever spent.