New global realities brought about by World War II and the Cold War drastically changed the field of science, including astronomy. Steward Observatory would play a prominent role in the changes to come. The National Science Foundation was started in 1950, which essentially became the main research arm of the U.S. The federal government tasked astronomer Aden Meinel to build a national observatory. Meinel chose Kitt Peak to build the National Observatory, and this new observatory quickly became world-class. In the 1960’s and 70’s, there was a telescope boom in the Sonoran Desert.
In 1963, Meinel became the director of Steward Observatory, and under his leadership, Steward began a decade of remarkable growth. Meinel relocated Douglass’ 36 inch telescope to a new facility on Kitt Peak, and through a proposal with the NSF and the state legislature, was able to install a 2.3 meter, 90 inch telescope on Kitt Peak. Meinel’s next contribution was to help develop a telescope utilizing several mirrors in unison, which was considered a breakthrough concept at that time. That method became the way all modern telescopes from the 1970’s have been built, and will continue to be built.
As modern telescopes populated the peaks surrounding Tucson, a fundamental shift occurred in how they were used. With the advent of infrared technology, astronomers can now view parts of space which are otherwise invisible to the naked eye. Astronomer Gerard Kuiper and astronomer Frank Low pioneered infrared astronomy, and new discoveries came quickly as a result of their work.