Created in 1956 as part of the International Geophysical Year, the Satellite Tracking Program (STP) of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) was a world-wide network of stations responsible for the optical tracking of satellites. From 1956 until June 1959, the program was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. In July 1959, funding was assumed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The goal of STP was to obtain photographs of satellites in sufficient number and accuracy to allow the determination of highly precise orbits. Data derived from the orbits provided information concerning variations in the density and temperature of the upper atmosphere and helped construct new representations of the earth's gravitational potential and geometrical figure. Twelve camera stations were established around the world between 36 degrees north and 36 degrees south of the equator. Stations were located at Jupiter, Florida (closed in 1967); Organ Pass, New Mexico (moved to Mt. Hopkins, Arizona in 1968); Maui, Hawaii; Curacao, Netherlands Antilles, West Indies (moved to Natal, Brazil, in 1966); Arequipa, Peru; Villa Dolores, Argentina (moved to Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina, in 1966); Shiraz, Iran (moved to Debre Zeit, Ethiopia, in 1966); Olifantsfontein, South Africa; Naini Tal, India; San Fernando, Spain; Tokyo, Japan (closed in 1968); and Woomera, Australia (moved to the Space Research Site at Island Lagoon, Australia, in 1964). Cooperative programs enabled STP to track satellites at United States Air Force stations at Oslo, Norway, and Johnston and Kwajalein Islands in the Pacific Ocean; the Royal Canadian Air Force station at Cold Lake, Alberta; Harvard University's Agassiz Station; and the geodetic station at the National Technical University of Athens, Greece. A special satellite tracking camera, designed by James C. Baker and Joseph Nunn, was installed in each station.
When it was created in 1956, STP was a part of SAO's Upper Atmosphere Studies Division. The 12 satellite tracking camera stations were administered by the Photographic Observation Section, under the direction of Karl G. Henize. In 1961, STP became a separate Department of SAO. At that time the Station Operations Division (SOD) was created within STP for the administrative direction and logistical support of all satellite tracking camera stations, for maintenance of equipment and development of new equipment and techniques, and for technical support in observing procedures. SOD was organized into three sections: Administrative, Operations, and Engineering. Richard C. Brock became the first chief of the Station Operations Division in June 1961. Other incumbents included Jan Rolff, 1962-1964, and Carl W. Hagge, acting chief, 1964-1965. In 1965, SOD was abolished and replaced by the Satellite Tracking and Data Acquisition Department (STADAD). STADAD assumed the duties of its predecessor and was also responsible for administering SAO's Meteor Simulation Project station at Wallops Island, Virginia. STADAD was comprised of five divisions: Optical Tracking Division, Moonwatch Division, Wallops Island Division, Engineering Division, and Administrative Support Division. John I. Hsia was appointed the first manager of STADAD in 1965. Other incumbents included Jack A. Coffey, 1966-1968, and Harry Albers, 1968- .