David Challinor served as Assistant Secretary for Science from 1971 until 1988. In 1985 the name of the position was changed to Assistant Secretary for Research. Ross B. Simons served as Program Manager, 1976-. The period documented in these records was one of expansion of facilities and extensive participation by the Smithsonian in local, national, and international environmental activities. Smithsonian scientists played an active part in the environmental movement through such projects as the study of the Rhode River ecosystem in Maryland, the coral reefs of Albadra in the Indian Ocean, and the soils of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. At the same time, many of the science bureaus embarked on or completed ambitious projects in the museums.
The National Zoo completed the modernization of many of its animal quarters during this time, including the Great Ape House, the Lion-Tiger House, and the Monkey House. Important expansion included the acquisition of land at Front Royal, Virginia, in 1975, which culminated in the completion of the Conservation Research Center in 1983, where the Zoo can conserve and propagate exotic wildlife.
The National Museum of Natural History began the period with the establishment of a twenty-year plan for exhibitions. Projects completed included the Naturalist Center in 1976, the exhibition of a living coral reef in 1980, the Evans Gallery in 1981, and Magnificent Voyagers, concerning the Wilkes Expedition of 1838, in 1985. An on-line inventory of sixty million items in collections was completed in 1983 in connection with the opening of the Museum Support Center in Maryland. Other events included the initiation of the Handbook of North American Indians in 1975, the establishment of the National Anthropological Film Center in 1976, and the 75th anniversary of the museum in 1985.
The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory participated in such joint ventures as the building of the infra-red telescope, and the study of the 6,000 pound Old Woman Meteorite. The Multiple Mirror Telescope was built at Mt. Hopkins, Arizona.
The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) enjoyed a period of modernization of facilities and intense use by scientists under the Environmental Sciences Program to measure climatic and biological changes on Barro Colorado Island and obtain baseline data for future studies. The signing of the Panama Canal Treaties in 1977 solidified the position of the Institute.
The National Air and Space Museum (NASM) opened in 1976 and quickly became the most visited museum in the world. By 1984, the 75th millionth visitor had arrived. Projects undertaken by NASM's scientists and historians included the Quetzalcoatlus Project, the Space Telescope History Project, Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, and a series on the history of aviation. The annual Frisbee Festival began in 1977 and millions of visitors viewed the popular IMAX movies in the museum.
Other environmental activities included the Nepal Tiger Ecology Project, the Smithsonian Institution Peace Corps Environmental Program, the Coral Reef Symposium, and the Brazil and Amazon Ecosystems Project.