SETBACK AND RECOVERY: 1967

Lunar Receiving Laboratory:

At the end of 1966 construction of the Lunar Receiving Laboratory (LRL ) at MSC was well under way. On January 11, 1967, Gilruth advised Homer Newell that the laboratory's design was essentially fixed and that any new requirements arising out of proposals by scientific investigators could only be accommodated by design changes, which would cost money and time.46 Construction proceeded without significant delay throughout the spring, and in mid-April program manager Joseph V. Piland reported to Gilruth that he expected to close down his office by June 30 and turn the laboratory over to its operating staff.47

The principal unsettled question in early 1967 was that of a laboratory staff. For several months the LRL Working Group, appointed by the Planetology Subcommittee of OSSA's Space Sciences Steering Committee, had insisted that the laboratory must be a permanent scientific research organization headed by a nationally respected scientist who would report to the director of MSC. [see Chapter 4] MSC's announcement creating the new Science and Applications Directorate did not mention the Lunar Receiving Laboratory, confirming the "worst fears" (as the group's chairman, Clark Goodman, put it) of the working group, which was informed of the action only after the fact. Headquarters and MSC officials spent considerable time convincing Goodman that those fears were groundless: the laboratory would be a part of MSC's science directorate and MSC was working closely with OSSA in selecting an outstanding scientist to direct it; the director would be appointed only with the concurrence of the associate administrator for space science and applications; and he would be given a free hand in revising the organization of the laboratory and selecting its staff.48 Three days after announcing the new science directorate, MSC issued an interim plan for the management and operation of the Lunar Receiving Laboratory, placing it in the Lunar and Earth Sciences Division, whose head would report to the Director of Science and Applications.49

In the weeks following the establishment of the science directorate at MSC, it seemed that every group having a claim on the functions of the receiving laboratory wanted immediate action on its primary problems. After the LRL Working Group it was the Planetary Biology Subcommittee of the Space Sciences Steering Committee, which met in Houston in mid-January to look after the life sciences' interests in lunar samples and the biological training of astronauts. Some investigators suspected that MSC intended to enlarge the receiving laboratory's activities to the point of usurping some of the responsibilities of outside scientists; but Houston's presentation to the subcommittee evidently laid that fear to rest.50 The following week it was the Public Health Service, which was concerned with back-contamination and quarantine. MSC Deputy Director George Low and PHS officials met at Atlanta and agreed that the chief of the Biomedical Branch, one of five branches under the Lunar and Earth Sciences Division of the receiving laboratory, would oversee quarantine. When the lab was completed and a formal organization was in place, MSC would recommend appointment of Dr. G. Briggs Phillips, the PHS's liaison officer at MSC since mid-1965, to that post.51

Scientific activity in the receiving laboratory came to the fore in the spring of 1967 when the scientists who would investigate the first material returned to earth from the moon were named. On March 16, Headquarters announced that 110 scientists, including 27 working in laboratories outside the United States, had been selected to receive lunar samples.52 The Manned Spacecraft Center then faced the task of allocating the lunar material to these investigators, considering the type and quantity of sample each one wanted. Before the selection was announced, MSC had asked Headquarters for a list of each experimenter's special requirements. OSSA returned the question to Houston to be settled in face-to- face discussions between MSC and the scientists. Newell suggested that the principal investigators be called together to consider these problems and that they themselves should take much of the responsibility for allocating samples. Headquarters would cooperate in every possible way, but basically it was leaving the management of the lunar investigations to MSC.53

In September MSC convened a three-day meeting of the investigators to allow them to update their proposals, revise their budget estimates, and devise an equitable plan for sample allocation. Wilmot Hess and his staff briefed the scientists on the general guidelines expected to govern the distribution of samples and the publication of results, and reviewed the general requirements for managing contracts and grants. In revising their proposals and funding requests, the scientists were not allowed to make any major changes in experiment plans but were encouraged to make small ones if that would significantly improve their investigations. In November MSC forwarded to Headquarters its revised budget estimates for support of lunar investigations: $3.556 million for fiscal 1968, down from the previously estimated $4.135 million, and $3.759 million for fiscal 1969, reduced from $4.592 million.54

From the scientists' point of view an equally important result of the September conference was the creation of two teams of scientists to participate in the early phases of sample examination. With the help of the investigators, Hess organized a lunar sample analysis planning team* to assist him in formulating detailed guidelines for the selection and allocation of samples and the necessary scientific functions in the receiving laboratory. A second group, the lunar sample preliminary examination team,** would participate in the initial examination of samples in the LRL. Besides investigators approved to perform experiments in the laboratory during quarantine, the latter group included a mineralogy-petrology team who would help obtain information that would be used in allocating samples to other investigators. These appointments did much to increase the confidence of the scientists in MSC's plans for management of the samples.55

The last gap in LRL management was closed with the appointment of a director for the laboratory. On August 1, 1967, P. R. Bell, senior physicist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, assumed duties as Chief of MSC's Lunar and Earth Sciences Division and director of the LRL. Bell's career extended from pre-World War II work with the National Defense Research Committee at the University of Chicago through wartime research at MIT's Radiation Laboratory to postwar work at Oak Ridge. An expert in instrumentation, he had conceived the vacuum system that was being built by Union Carbide at Oak Ridge to be installed in the receiving laboratory.56


* Members initially appointed were Wilmot N. Hess, MSC, chairman; Elbert A. King, MSC, secretary; Edward Anders, Univ. of Chicago; James R. Arnold, Univ. of California, San Diego; P. R. Bell, LRL manager, MSC; Clifford Frondel, Harvard Univ.; Paul W. Gast, Lamont Geol. Observatory, Columbia Univ.; Harry H. Hess, Princeton Univ.; J. Hoover Mackin, Univ. of Texas; Eugene M. Shoemaker, U.S. Geological Survey; M. Gene Simmons, Mass. Inst. of Technology; Brian J. Skinner, Yale Univ.; Wolf Vishniac, Univ. of Rochester; and Gerald J. Wasserburg, Calif. Inst. of Technology.

** Members initially appointed were Wilmot N. Hess, MSC, chairman; Klaus Biemann, Mass. Inst. of Technology; Almo L. Burlingame, Univ. of California, Berkeley; Edward C. T. Chao, U.S. Geological Survey; Clifford Frondel, Harvard Univ.; Elbert A. King, MSC; J. Hoover Mackin, Univ. of Texas; G. Davis O'Kelley, Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Oliver A. Schaeffer, State Univ. of New York, Stony Brook; and M. Gene Simmons, Mass. Inst. of Technology.


46. Gilruth to Newell, "Principal Investigator requirements for the Lunar Receiving Laboratory (LRL)," Jan. 11, 1967.

47. Joseph V. Piland, "Lunar Receiving Laboratory Bi-weekly Status Reports," Jan. 9, Jan. 23, Feb. 6, Feb. 20, Mar. 6, Mar. 20, Apr. 3, Apr. 17, 1967; Piland to Dir., MSC, "Phase-out of Lunar Receiving Laboratory Program Office," Apr. 14, 1967.

48. Clark Goodman to members of LRL Working Group, "Science and Applications Directorate at MSC," no date [c. Jan. 14, 1967].

49. MSC Announcements no. 67-7, "Organization and Personnel Assignments for the Science and Applications Directorate," Jan. 10, 1967, and 67-4, "Interim Plan for the Management and Operation of the Lunar Receiving Laboratory," Jan. 13, 1967.

50. Melvin Calvin to Newell, Dec. 29, 1966; Paul E. Purser to Deputy Dir., MSC, "Planetary Biology Subcommittee Meeting at MSC on January 10-11, 1967," Jan. 17, 1967.

51. George M. Low, "Resume of Meeting of January 16, 1967, at the Communicable Disease Center, Atlanta, Georgia," Jan. 16, 1967.

52. "First Lunar Samples Set for Experiment by 110 Scientists," Hqs. Release 67-55, Mar. 16, 1967.

53. Low to John E. Naugle, Mar. 9, 1967; Newell to MSC, "Lunar Sample Analysis Planning," June 16, 1967.

54. Gilruth to John E. Naugle, "Lunar Sample Analysis Planning," Nov. 15, 1967.

55. Ibid.

56. MSC Announcement 67-140, "Designation of Chief, Lunar and Earth Sciences Division," Oct. 11, 1967.


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