Stanford's Big Dish
Just 2000 paces up from where Alpine Road meets Piers Lane, right off the Portola Road exit on Interstate 280, is a moderately steep trail paved in broken asphalt. Many locals walk or jog here, ignored by jays, coveys of doves and the odd woodpecker. A cyclone fence with three strands of barbed wire surrounds a square of scotch broom and wild oats. There's one other thing in the yard. You can't miss it. It's seven stories tall.
For all of its presence, the Parabolic Reflector Antenna doesn't have a proper name. So the mark on the wooden sign at the base of the trail, indicating the location of "Big Dish" names the Dish as well as showing where it is. Big Dish is 300,000 pounds, 150 feet in diameter, and was commissioned by the Department of Defense in the early 1960s under the specs of the think tank SRI. It is still U.S. government property, though "under the custodianship" of SRI and Stanford.
"The safest way to express what Big Dish is for," says SRI's Alice Galloway, "is that it's for propagation and phenomenology research."
From SRI's description, you can guess that the Big Dish is our Peace Dividend--an old Cold-War-era DOD sword knocked back into a plowshare. The Big Dish emerges out of the bald brown hills on one of the two main roads into the Santa Clara Valley, almost right on the Santa Clara County line, an enormous, mystifying net, a signpost to a valley full of other half-inexplicable technology.
—Stanford's Big Dish writeup by Richard von Busack
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