Staffing the Lunar Receiving Laboratory

While most of the early planning for the lunar receiving laboratory necessarily concentrated on the building and its equipment, the scientists who were drawing up its functions continually pondered the problem of providing a competent staff to operate it. The Space Science Board's ad hoc committee (Harry Hess's group) saw merit in establishing a "small but competent [scientific] staff headed by a scientist of recognized stature" to maintain a modest research program, but felt that "the problem of attracting a highly competent small staff is serious,"67 presumably because the environment at MSC did not appeal to scientists. The Houston center had only a few scientists, most of them younger professionals who had yet to establish their reputations and had little chance to do so in the roles they were assigned.68 OSSA's ad hoc committee proposed a permanent staff to sustain the laboratory, supplemented by visiting scientists who would do much of the experimental work On the lunar samples.69

As plans matured, however, and particularly as the requirement for quarantine developed in 1965, the question of an organization and staff for the laboratory became increasingly pressing. In early September, James McLane, MSC's engineer in charge of the early planning, outlined the peculiar requirements of the new laboratory in a five-page memorandum. McLane noted that preliminary studies had pointed up the need for a minimum of three persons to serve as an administrative staff: a director, a technical director (chief scientist), and an assistant technical director (sample curator), all of whom should be MSC civil service employees. Major questions concerning the roles of these staff members needed resolution. Where would they fit in the MSC organization? What responsibility would they have in managing and distributing the lunar samples? Should they be eminent scientists to satisfy the scientific community? (At one time McLane had heard that a Nobel laureate was being suggested.) How would differences between visiting scientists and MSC's operations be settled? McLane urged that MSC and Headquarters work out these details, define the positions, and start recruiting. "It would be highly desirable," he said, "to have at least one of these. . . positions filled reasonably early in the final design phase (late 1965)." Concerning quarantine, McLane felt that this might be better left to the Public Health Service; but whatever was decided, definite responsibility should be assigned as soon as possible.70

But while design studies went on under the pressure of the early-1969 schedule for beginning operations, laboratory organization and staffing languished. Discussions with the Public Health Service and definition of the PHS's role in quarantine took up most of the last half of 1965. MSC and the Headquarters standing committee for the sample receiving laboratory spent much of the first half of 1966 working over the lab design. And when Congress balked at Houston's plan for the receiving lab, considerable effort had to be given to justifying its existence and its location. All in all, the lunar receiving laboratory created a knotty management problem, which was probably complicated by the lack of a focal point for science at MSC.

Early in 1966 the Planetology Subcommittee of OSSA's Space Science Steering Committee,* worried by the lack of progress in defining the scientific role of the receiving laboratory, recommended that the standing committee monitor that aspect of the planning and report periodically to the Steering Committee.71 After some discussion within OSSA, the standing committee was replaced by a Lunar Receiving Laboratory Working Group chaired by Dr. Clark Goodman of the physics faculty at the University of Houston, a member of the Planetology Subcommittee. At its first meeting on May 5, 1966, the group reviewed progress on laboratory design and studied MSC's schedule for construction and activation of the lab. MSC's presentation made no mention of staffing, and when the question was raised it developed that no job descriptions were available and no recruiting was under way for key positions. While members of the working group were impressed by MSC's concept of the laboratory, they were concerned about the lack of definition of its organization. Their concern took the form of a resolution, in which they also recommended that at least 12 civil-service positions be made available for scientists in the LRL and stated the group's willingness to suggest candidates.72 Later in the month MSC prepared an estimate of staffing requirements that showed 33 resident scientists (Ph.D. or equivalent) and provision to accommodate 15 visiting scientists working On grants from Headquarters.73

Houston's freedom to staff the receiving laboratory was restricted by the budget cuts imposed by Congress, which ultimately reduced the number of civil-service positions at the center by 84 in fiscal 1967.74 The LRL Working Group continued to press for action while MSC struggled with the problem of fitting the laboratory into its organization.75 A possible alternative came to light in midsummer when the University of Houston approached officials at MSC about managing the laboratory under contract.76 The idea of using an outside management contractor had been considered by MSC, and Houston officials gave this initiative considerable thought. Early in September a plan was drafted for consideration by Headquarters, calling for the University of Houston, through its Houston Research Institute, to head a consortium of regional universities to provide professional staff and technical support for operations in the receiving lab.77 In further discussions with Headquarters MSC stressed the value of a connection with the academic world and the difficulty of staffing the laboratory under existing civil-service restrictions.78

Headquarters wanted to look more closely at the situation, however, and discussions continued through the rest of the year. NASA's top managers evidently had visions that the lunar receiving laboratory would become a national laboratory for lunar studies, in which case participation by the academic community on a nationwide scale would be desirable.79 Meanwhile, MSC was directed to create a task force to take care of the receiving laboratory's basic needs, extend existing support contracts to meet immediate requirements, and await developments.80 If additional scientific talent was needed, other NASA centers could be called on to provide it.81

During all these discussions, pressure from concerned groups mounted. The LRL Working Group especially emphasized the need to name a director for the laboratory. The Public Health Service felt that matters had reached a point where an organization and staff were critical to further progress, and suggested that the laboratory chief should be someone thoroughly familiar with biomedical science generally and quarantine in particular.82

In fact, MSC officials had finally come to recognize the need for more than just a staff and organization for the receiving laboratory. By mid-December the Houston center had decided to create a Science and Applications Directorate, organizationally on a par with Max Faget's Engineering and Development Directorate, in which all the center's scientific activity would be centralized. [see Chapter 6)] It would take over the activities of the Experiments Program Office and the Space Sciences Division as well as a number of other scientific functions scattered around the center. Robert O. Piland, chief of the Experiments Program Office, would act as director while a search was instituted for an established scientist to fill the position.83 No director was named for the lunar receiving laboratory; pending a permanent appointment, Joseph V. Piland, project manager for LRL construction, was named acting manager.

To provide the laboratory technicians who would prepare the lunar receiving laboratory for operation, MSC turned to its support contractors. In mid-January 1967 Gilruth notified Headquarters that he intended to extend an existing contract with Brown & Root-Northrop, which would furnish technicians for the receiving laboratory under the direction of the project manager.84 Between completion of the laboratory and the first lunar mission, Brown & Root-Northrop would train its employees in laboratory operations and maintenance and prepare for an operational readiness inspection and a rehearsal of a complete cycle of laboratory operation.

The Manned Spacecraft Center had recognized the need for a lunar sample receiving laboratory and was willing to support it, but many MSC engineers - and a few scientists as well - felt that the quarantine facility and its elaborate precautions were unnecessary impediments to Apollo operations. But however insignificant manned space flight officials believed the risk of back-contamination to be, it was a risk NASA could not afford to take. If they were wrong, the consequences would be, as the scientists said, disastrous.

* The Space Sciences Steering Committee, composed entirely of NASA employees, was responsible for recommending science programs and projects to the Associate Administrator for Space Science and Applications. Seven subcommittees, each having about half its members from the outside scientific community, advised the main committee on specific areas of space science.

67. Space Science Board, "Report of Ad Hoc Committee on Lunar Sample Handling Facility," Feb. 2, 1965.

68. King interview.

69. OSSA Ad Hoc Committee on the Lunar Sample Receiving Laboratory, "Concepts . . . for the Lunar Sample Receiving Laboratory," Mar. 15, 1965, p. 80.

70. McLane to Mgr., Systems Tests and Evaluation, "Staffing for the Lunar Sample Receiving Laboratory," Sept. 2, 1965.

71. Urner Liddell to Chmn., Space Science Steering Committee, "Recommendations of Planetology Subcommittee, Meeting 3-66, February 23-25, 1966," no date.

72. "Summary Minutes, Lunar Receiving Laboratory Working Group of the Planetology Subcommittee, Space Sciences Steering Committee (Meeting No. 1-66)," May 5, 1966.

73. McLane to Dir., Engineering and Development, "Estimate of scientist staffing requirements for the Lunar Receiving Laboratory," May 25, 1966.

74. House Committee on Science and Astronautics, 1968 NASA Authorization, hearings before the Subcommittee on Manned Space Flight, 90/1, pt. 2, p. 599.

75. "Summary Minutes, Lunar Receiving Laboratory Working Group of the Planetology Subcommittee, Space Sciences Steering Committee (Meeting No. 1-67)," July 11, 1966.

76. Joseph R. Crump to Purser, with encl., "Concerning a Contract for Lunar Receiving Laboratory," July 27, 1966.

77. Draft memo, Gilruth to Mueller, "Procurement Plan for Operational Support Services Contract for the Manned Spacecraft Center Lunar Receiving Laboratory," with encl., procurement plan, no date [c. Sept. 5, 1966].

78. Gilruth to Lt. Gen. Frank A. Bogart, Oct. 12, 1966.

79. J. E. Riley to Mr. Cariski, "MSC Procurement Plan for Operational Support of Lunar Receiving Laboratory," Oct. 18, 1966; Bogart to Mr. Webb, "Meeting with Dr. Seitz on the Lunar Receiving Laboratory," Nov. 7 , 1966; Purser, "Lunar Receiving Laboratory Operations Planning," memo for the record, Nov. 7, 1966; Robert O. Piland to Deputy Dir., "Lunar Receiving Laboratory," Nov. 8, 1966; Wesley L. Hjornevik, TWX to Bogart, Dec. 15, 1966; Francis B. Smith to Webb and Seamans, "December 1966 meeting to discuss plans for the Lunar Receiving Laboratory," Dec. 19, 1966.

80. Smith to Webb and Seamans, "December 1966 meeting . . . ," Dec. 19, 1966.

81. Willis M. Shapley to Mueller and Newell, "Lunar Receiving Laboratory," Dec. 21, 1966.

82. "Summary Minutes, Lunar Receiving Laboratory Working Group of the Planetology Subcommittee, Space Science Steering Committee (Meeting No. 2-67)," Sept. 26-27, 1966; Lunar Receiving Laboratory Working Group to Newell through Planetology Subcommittee, Sept. 29, 1966; Bogart to Low, Sept. 22, 1966; "Minutes, Interagency Committee on Back Contamination," Oct. 3, 1966; David J. Sencer to Seamans, Nov. 14, 1966; G. Briggs Phillips to Bogart, with encl., "Status Report on the Lunar Receiving Laboratory," Dec. 13, 1966; Melvin Calvin to Newell, Dec. 29, 1966; Richard J. Allenby to Assoc. Adm. for Space Science and Applications, "Lunar Receiving Laboratory Problems," Dec. 29, 1966.

83. Hjornevik to Bogart, TWX, Dec. 15, 1966; MSC Announcement 67-7, "Organization and Personnel Assignments for the Science and Applications Directorate," Jan. 10, 1967.

84. Low to Bogart, Jan. 13, 1967, with encls.: Gilruth to Chief, Procurement and Contracts Div., "Justification (under NPC 401) for nonpersonal service contract for operation of the Manned Spacecraft Center Lunar Receiving Laboratory," Jan. 13, 1967; Piland to Chief, Procurement and Contracts Div., "Justification for noncompetitive procurement for operational support of the Lunar Receiving Laboratory," Jan. 13, 1967.

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