Multimedia celebrates 50 years of visual science at SSEC

This year, the Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison celebrates its 50th Anniversary: a living legacy of research, discovery, and innovation.

The center was founded during the pivotal scientific era of the 1960s. The first satellite had been launched less than a decade earlier. UW-Madison professors Verner Suomi and Robert Parent, experts in meteorology and electrical engineering, respectively, had invented a radiometer that demonstrated the capability of transmitting Earth radiation information from space – a novel concept.

The radiometer flew onboard one of NASA’s Explorer missions: missions that encompassed a wide range of scientific experiments designed to gather data from Earth as well as planetary atmospheres. There were 89 successful Explorer missions in all, and the Suomi-Parent radiometer would be carried on the seventh in 1959.

Not long after, they would prove, with the spin-scan cloud camera, that weather in motion and across time, could be viewed from a satellite in geostationary orbit. The world of weather forecasting would be changed forever with the emergence of this new era of satellite meteorology.

Recognizing the societal benefits of this young area of science, the university and the state of Wisconsin would partner with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund the construction of a building to house Suomi’s burgeoning research programs and the Department of Meteorology.

SSEC was founded in 1965, with Suomi as its first director.

We invite you to visually explore and experience our past, present, and forward-looking milestones, through:

  • A special anniversary issue of Through the Atmosphere, SSEC’s biannual print magazine, providing a tangible chronology of the organization, decade by decade.
  • An interactive timeline commemorating landmark achievements in instrument development at SSEC.
  • A second timeline bringing viewers through the history of satellite meteorology, a field that was pioneered here.
  • Sky’s the Limit,” an engaging video all about the science that goes on within these four walls, professionally produced for the Big Ten Network.
  • Earth in Motion,” an animated composite of geostationary and polar-orbiting satellite data from the SSEC Data Center.
  • A gallery of photos showing SSEC’s permanent home, the UW-Madison Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences building, from its construction up until present-day.

  • Slide 0


  • Slide 1

    Approved model of Earth and Space Science Building. Construction to begin by November 1966 and completed by November 1968.

  • Slide 2

    View of building from Dayton Street facing east. Orchard Street intersection visible, 1967.

  • Slide 3

    View from Dayton Street facing east, 1967.

  • Slide 4

    Building view from Dayton Street facing west with Camp Randall arch visible at end of street, 1967.

  • Slide 5

    View from Dayton Street facing east, 1967.

  • Slide 6

    Completed Meteorology and Space Science Building, Fall 1968.

  • Slide 7

    View of completed building from the east. Occupants moved in October 1968.

  • Slide 8

    View from the west, overlooking the Shell.

  • Slide 9

    Photograph of west campus taken before the Geology Building and Union South were built.

  • Slide 10

    Building view from the west.

  • Slide 11

    View of building from the west with Camp Randall Arch in the foreground.

  • Slide 12

    The Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences Building rooftop, December 2010.

These modules will be featured in an interactive exhibit at SSEC’s 50th Anniversary event September 10 at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. The program will include an impressive slate of speakers from the university, state legislature, NOAA, NASA, international agencies, and many more who have longstanding connections to SSEC. Attendees will also have the opportunity to share their own memories of SSEC.

“I think our 2015 celebrations of the last 50 years will be inspirational,” writes SSEC Director Hank Revercomb in Through the Atmosphere, “and help remind us that tackling the challenges facing us in the next half-century will be equally as exciting and very rewarding.”