Fort Myers Florida NASA  STADAN Station 

(Satellite Tracking and Data Acquisition.) 

History. c1958 - 1972

(Above) 

You wouldn't know it unless you'd been standing there, taking the picture like I was, in the early 80’s...  The back of the Bell Tower area can be see just behind that shed pictured up above.. but wait, that is not just a shed.. it was originally, in it's glory days a part of the NASA Satellite Tracking and Data Acquisition Network (STADAN.) However when I first saw it as pictured above, it was a hull of its former self, sitting in an area as devoid of life as the Moon. The large, heavy 12" telescope that it originally housed was donated to the (then) Edison Community College Observatory, who then in later years, donated it to the Calusa Nature Center Planetarium (It remains there, it's the big light blue telescope) When I worked in the Astronomy Department of Edison Community College we routinely rolled out that large telescope to view the night sky with. The mounting has a large sector gear in it that allows it to track satellites as they pass quickly overhead. Which was it's original use by NASA.

The Astronomy Club I was very involved with at the time, The South West Florida Astronomical Society, was given the old NASA STADAN building above in the early 1980's which was located on the then sold property, located to the East of the Bell Tower property off of what is now Daniels Road.  (now the Bell Tower Shops)  That's right, this lunar looking wasteland that you see in the image above, is what that area off of Daniels, and behind the Bell Tower once looked like. Much like early Cape Coral after they cut down all the trees.  (Would you believe that Cape Coral was once a lush hunting preserve with bobcat, bear and herds of deer??) 

Our Club was given the above building with the stipulation that we find a way to move it.  So a truck was hired, as you can see, and we began the moving process. Boy that building was built like a tank. It was stripped out inside. The club at the time had mixed feelings on the building, when we all got out there, we were torn between nixing the idea or moving it. I can still hear Dave Brown yelling "Just Drop it!" Several times, and someone else saying no we can move it - that would be Brian. 

There were wide eyes all about that day as the crane strained against the weight. Yes it was moved, and it went out to the unofficial club property, and we worked on it. A few hardy souls set up on the inside of it with scopes vis using the familiar roadway in Lehigh Acres, off of a street called Columbus.  (which had a history all Its own back in those days of being a bale drop for planes)  

We had never thought about it at the time, but we were all like Columbus, (but not as lost) out exploring the universe once a month or more, under the dark skies of Lehigh off of Columbus Blvd. The Ft. Myers station was created when Fidel Castro gained control over Cuba about 1958 or 1959. It became an unofficial training center before NTFF (Network Test and Training Facility) for several people including the (see images below) deputy station directors. 

When the Orbiting Solar Observatory (OSO) program started, the station was prime for that particular spacecraft. Tests were conducted using an OSO simulator spacecraft with all the on board telemetry systems to check for interference problems. The spacecraft simulator was flown over the station with a helicopter to simulate an actual pass. 

The station also had a SATAN (Satellite Automatic Tracking Antenna) Yagi type tracking antenna and a fixed antenna system called a MINITRACK.  It also had an optical tracking system called MOTS which the Nature Center and Planetarium currently has in its lobby.  This is the big blue, massive telescope with the sector gear drive for fast slewing.  This telescope was originally donated to our then ECC (now Edison State College) Astronomy Dept., and we later gave it over to the Planetarium.  MOTS tracked satellites which were bright e.g. Echo-1 and Echo-2.   We used the scope at ECC, I hope the Planetarium uses it and keeps it working.  It’s a piece of mostly forgotten local history.  In 1972 the Fort Myers Florida Space Tracking and Data Acquisition Network (STADAN) station was closed, and its systems relocated to the MILA station to enhance support to unmanned scientific satellites using Very High Frequency (VHF) signals. Around this same time, the Manned Space Flight Network became the Ground Spaceflight Tracking and Data Network (GSTDN)  

A huge thank you goes to Gary Schulz aka Webtec at BFEC.us for assisting me with reconstructing this stations history. If you have any information or photos concerning this station, please send it to me for inclusion.  I know there is a First Day Cover out there honoring it for Fort Myers Florida.  Do you have it?  I'd like a scan of it.