FIRST AMONG EQUALS : THE ORIGINS OF THE SELECTION PROCESS

 
Early Traditions
 
 
The Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel
 
Near the end of World War II, Germany began firing V-2 rockets into London. Although these rockets neither flattened London nor halted the Allied drive through France, it was V-2s that carried the first scientific experiments into apace. In late 1945, the American Army Ordnance Department decided to test fire the remaining V-2 rockets they had captured at the end of the war. The Army offered scientists the opportunity to place their instruments in the nose of the rocket, in the location originally designed to carry explosives.
 
When he learned of this opportunity early in 1946, Dr. Ernst H. Krause, head of a newly formed Rocket Sonde Research Section at the Naval Research Laboratory near Washington. D.C., called together a group of scientists, described the rockets, and queried the group. Who was interested and had an experiment that might use the V-2s? On February 27, 1946, 11 of the group met at Princeton University, formed a "V-2 Upper Atmosphere Panel," and elected Krause to serve as chairman. The Panel, an informal self-constituted body, had no official status or authority. Four scientists came from military laboratories, three from universities and one from the National Bureau of Standards. Three engineers came from General Electric, the contractor the Army used to launch the V-2s. The Panel established its own objectives: to develop a scientific program, assign priorities for experiments to fly on the V-2s, and advise the Army Ordnance Department on matters essential to the success of the program. These scientists built the first crude instruments to fly above the atmosphere. From this small group of scientists using captured V-2 rockets came much * of today's complex and costly effort known as "space science." 1, 2, 3
 
In 1947, Krause resigned; the members elected another member, Dr. James A. Van Allen, chairman, and changed the name to the "Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel," Dr Homer E. Newell, Jr., took over Krause's position at the Naval Research Laboratory and became a member of the Panel. Dr. William H. Pickering, Professor of Electrical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology, also joined the group in 1947. These three men, Van Allen, Newell, and Pickering, worked with each other in a variety of roles for the next three decades.
 
Van Allen, a nuclear physicist, headed a high-altitude research group at the Applied Physics Laboratory ** that conducted investigations in cosmic rays, high-altitude photography, atmospheric ozone, and geo magnetism. During the early part of World War II, he helped develop the rugged vacuum tubes and circuitry that the Navy used in fuses to detonate projectiles in the vicinity of attacking aircraft or just prior to impact with a sea or land surface. This equipment, which was tightly packed into a Navy projectile and survived firing, was just the kind that scientists needed to build instruments to fly on a rocket. Raised in a small town in Iowa, educated at Iowa Wesleyan College and the State University of Iowa. Van Allen would return to the State University of Iowa in 1951 and continue to do research on cosmic rays, magnetic fields, and the aurora by using rockets launched from balloons. Whether chairman or member, he was a conscientious, hard-working member of any committee. A happy, loquacious man, always well satisfied with himself and his work, Van Allen was destined to play a major role in space science. 4
 
Newell, a self-styled mathematician-turned-physicist from Holyoke, Mass., was 29 years old when he joined the Naval Research Laboratory in 1944. He had received both a bachelor's and a master's degree in mathematics from Harvard University, a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin, and had taught mathematics at the University of Maryland until he joined the Naval Research Laboratory. At NRL he worked as a theoretical physicist and led a group of scientists who used sounding rockets to study the upper atmosphere. Newell practiced Christian Science, wrote children's books, played bridge, and in college enjoyed the sport of fencing. He was an extremely hard-working, well-organized individual, but very touchy about his personal turf. Like Van Allen, Newell was a good committee man. He was, however, frequently frustrated with himself and his subordinates because of his inability to cope instantly and perfectly with the requests and complaints of his superiors and his scientific peers.
 
Dr. William H. Pickering, a tall, laconic, strong-minded ex-New Zealander, received his Ph.D. in physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1936. A cosmic-ray physicist. Pickering had gone on cosmic ray expeditions to India in 1939 and Mexico in 1941. He was to become director of the let Propulsion Laboratory in 1954, oversee the development of the payload for the first American satellite, and play a major role in the development of lunar and planetary unmanned spacecraft.
 
Van Allen chaired the Panel from 1947 to 1958. Throughout that period, the Panel operated with no formal charter, no sponsoring institution, and no source of funds; nevertheless, it became the focus of the U.S. sounding rocket program. It met regularly, four or five times a year. The Panel's membership always included at least one person from each of the institutions doing sounding rocket research. According to Van Allen, the meetings of the Panel "were a mixture of shared experiences, plans, and results and a continuous updating of schedules and assignments of payload space." 5 Although the Panel had no charter and no official status, government officials followed its recommendations just as if it were an official group charged with setting schedules and assigning payload space.
 
Under Van Allen's chairmanship, the Panel established a tradition of direct, candid communication among the scientists and engineers who were involved in space research. Scientists presented their proposed experiments directly to the Panel. The Panel members evaluated all experiments, including their own, criticized sloppy designs, applauded clever innovations, and, when the Panel felt an experiment was ready for flight, assigned a place for it on the launch schedule. According to Newell, "whatever control [the Panel] might bring to bear on the program was exerted purely through the scientific process of open discussion and mutual criticism." 6
 
Although several members of the Panel were from Department of Defense laboratories and all used rockets developed by the military, the Panel fought, and won, a battle with DOD to keep the results of upper-atmosphere research unclassified. 7
 
Through its work with rockets and meetings, this small, determined group of scientists transformed the sounding rocket into a useful research tool and learned how to allocate, on an equitable basis, the limited number of rockets available for research. The scientists who conducted the research and the agencies that provided funds for the research accepted the Panel's decisions.
 
During this period, the Panel established the tradition of using the most senior and most experienced scientists to plan the program, evaluate proposed experiments, and assign a priority for flight, even though this procedure meant that occasionally they evaluated their own or a competitor's proposal.
 
The International Geophysical Year
 
Unintentionally, Lloyd V. Berkner set off a chain of events that helped to create NASA and to shape NASA's space science program. In April 1950, at a dinner party hosted by Van Allen and his wife, Abbie Berkner suggested that the world's scientists organize a third international polar year to take place during the period of maximum solar activity expected during 1957 and 1958. During the previous Polar Year (1932-1933), Berkner had served as a member of Admiral Byrd's first Antarctic Expedition. In 1950, Berkner worked for the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, where he conducted research in ionospheric physics. He also had an international reputation for building scientific institutions and organizations. 8 The dinner guests enthusiastically endorsed Berkner's idea and he and Dr. Sidney Chapman, another guest, promptly set out to make it happen. 9
 
As a result of Berkner's and Chapman's efforts, in October 1952, the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) established the Comité Spécial de l'Année Geophysique Internationale, promptly nicknamed "CSAGI," to plan an International Geophysical Year (IGY). The members of CSAGI elected Chapman president and Berkner vice president.
 
The National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council, as the U.S. representative to ICSU, organized the U.S. participation in the IGY. On February 10, 1953, the president of the Academy, Dr. Detlev W. Bronk, formed a United States National Committee for the IGY (USNC-IGY) and appointed Dr. Joseph Kaplan, a distinguished geophysicist, chairman.
 
SCIGY
 
Even before the formation of CSAGI, the members of the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel had recognized that sounding rockets could play an important role in the IGY. Earlier, in 1952, the members of the Panel were already considering Fort Churchill, on Hudson Bay in Canada, as a likely place to launch sounding rockets to study the polar atmosphere, aurora, and low-energy cosmic rays. In January 1953, Newell proposed to the Panel that rockets be launched at northern latitudes as a part of the IGY. In October 1953, the USNC-IGY and CSAGI approved an IGY Sounding Rocket Program and established a separate Technical Panel on Rocketry to oversee the activity. Early in 1954, Van Allen, chairman of the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel, created a Special Committee for the IGY (SCIGY) to coordinate rocket firings in Fort Churchill. According to Newell, about a year later, "hearing of the Research Council's technical Panel on Rocketry, the panel transferred SCIGY to the Academy's technical group." After the transfer, the membership of SCIGY consisted of 10
 
H E. Newell, Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), chairman
J. W. Townsend, NRL, executive secretary
John Hanessian, Jr., National Academy of Sciences, recording secretary
K. A. Anderson, State University of Iowa
L. M. Jones, University of Michigan
Warren Berning, Ballistic Research Laboratories
R. M. Slavin, Air Force Cambridge Research Center
N. W. Spencer, University of Michigan
W. G. Stroud, Signal Corps Engineering Laboratory
 
Newell, Townsend, Anderson, Jones, Spencer, and Stroud all played major roles in space science, either in research or administration. According to Townsend, "It was at the SCIGY table that much of the Goddard Space Flight Center's `culture' came into being." 11 (This Goddard culture is discussed in chapter 5.) SCIGY, with two secretaries, one working for Newell at the NRL and the other for Odishaw at the Academy, demonstrates the tension that, even at this early date, existed between Newell and Odishaw. As discussed in chapter 4, the tension would surface later in another forum, with Newell in charge of NASA's space science program and Odishaw as the executive director of the Academy's Space Science Board.
 
IRBMs and ICBMs
 
At about the same time that the ICSU decided to organize the IGY, the United States and the Soviet Union decided to build intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to carry atomic bombs. These two quite disparate decisions ultimately opened the space age.
 
The development of the long-range ballistic missile created the technology, hardware, and tracking facilities needed to launch and operate scientific satellites. Even with 40 years of hindsight, it is impossible to guess when mankind, in the absence of the Cold War, would have spent the billions of dollars required to develop rockets to place spacecraft in orbit or send them to other planets.
 
In the mid-1950s, the United States and the Soviets raced neck-and-neck to launch the first operational ballistic missile. In addition, the Air Force, Army, and Navy competed with each other to develop their own ballistic missiles. The Air Force developed the Thor, an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), and the Atlas and the Titan, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The Army developed the Jupiter IRBM, and the Navy, the Polaris IRBM.
 
 
Vanguard
 
During 1954, the members of CSAGI recognized the possibility of using the U.S. and USSR ballistic missiles to place satellites in orbit. On October 4, 1954, CSAGI challenged the countries participating in the IGY to place small scientific spacecraft in orbit to measure solar radiation and its effect on the upper atmosphere.
 
The United States accepted the challenge first. On July 29, 1955, President Eisenhower announced that the United States would launch several small scientific satellites during the IGY. The Soviets waited another year before accepting the challenge. In September 1956, at a meeting of CSAGI in Barcelona, Spain, they announced that they too would launch scientific satellites during the IGY. Unlike the United States, the Soviets refused to publicly provide formal descriptions of their planned satellites, their orbits, their instruments, or their launch dates-all information essential to scientists preparing to use satellites in global research programs. They did, however, privately inform some scientists of their plans. According to Dr. John A. Simpson, who was responsible to CSAGI for coordinating measurements of cosmic rays during the IGY, Soviet scientists approached him during the same CSAGI meeting and told him the frequencies and the orbit they planned to use and estimated that they would launch in the fall of 1957. 12
 
In July 1955, faced with the need to launch scientific satellites, concerned about the ICBM race with the USSR, and wanting to reduce the tensions between the United States and the USSR, President Eisenhower authorized development of a new experimental rocket, the Vanguard. He specified that the project must not use classified systems or slow the development of the military's ballistic missiles. Eisenhower's decision to build a separate rocket would delay the launch of U.S. scientific satellites and result in the Soviets being the first to launch an Earth satellite. 13, 14, 15 This unexpected launch of the first satellite by the "technologically backward" Soviets would generate enormous public concern and ultimately lead to the creation of NASA and to an annual budget of more than $1 billion for space science. All that, however, lay far in the future; for the moment a scientific program had to be planned and the scientists selected to carry it out.
 
 
The Technical Panel on the Earth Satellite Program
 
With the Vanguard Program under way, two natural questions arose: what kinds of scientific experiments could be done using the satellites, and who should do them?
 
Dr. Joseph Kaplan, the chairman of the USNC-IGY, chose not to use either the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel (UARRP) or the SCIGY to plan the scientific program or select the scientists for Vanguard. Instead, he created a new group, the Technical Panel on the Earth Satellite Program (TPESP), with the following members:
 
Dr. R. W. Porter, chairman, General Electric Company
Dr. Hugh Odishaw, secretary, National Academy of Sciences
Dr. Joseph Kaplan, chairman, USNC-IGY
Dr. Homer E. Newell, Jr., chairman, SCIGY, NRL
Dr. William H. Pickering, director, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Dr. A. F. Spilhaus, University of Minnesota
Dr. Lyman Spitzer, Princeton University
Dr. James A. Van Allen, chairman. UARRP, State University of Iowa
Dr. F. L. Whipple, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
 
Newell, Pickering, and Whipple were members of the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel, chaired by Van Allen, Newell, now superintendent of the Astronomy and Atmospheric Physics Division at NRL, was coordinator of the Vanguard Science Program, as well as chairman of SCIGY.
 
An examination of the role of the Technical Panel, its members, and its mode of operation is needed in order to understand some of the conflicting forces and people that later shaped the NASA process for selecting space scientists. Such an examination will also illuminate the milieu in which these people operated.
 
Kaplan assigned a major role to the technical panel. According to the minutes of the first meeting, 16 it was to
 
a) formulate the scientific program. . . .
b) delegate and direct the executions of this program.
c) establish policies and formulate procedures related to the program in the fields of budget, information policy and institutional relationships.
 
The Technical Panel directed work to be paid for, and conducted by, a civilian agency, the National Science Foundation, and three branches of the armed forces: the Navy, the Army, and the Air Force. Three years later, the Space Science Board would attempt to play a somewhat similar role for NASA's Space Science Program but would be displaced by NASA Headquarters.
 
At the first meeting of the Technical Panel, Van Allen presented a plan for the choice of scientific experiments for Vanguard. He proposed a four-step process: a scientific symposium, an invitation for proposals, a review of the proposals, and an allocation of funds and assignment to vehicles. Van Allen noted that "in view of the small number of persons engaged in this type of research and in view of the close mutual familiarity, a considerable telescoping of the above [four steps] may be possible." 17
 
Although the members of the Technical Panel discussed the possibility of a formal solicitation of proposals for Vanguard at its next several meetings, no such solicitation was ever made. For instance, Dr. John A. Simpson, who was active in the IGY, did not receive an invitation to propose experiments for Vanguard and apparently was unaware of the existence of the Technical Panel until its last meeting in May 1958, when it approved his proposal to fly a cosmic ray detector on a Pioneer II. 18 Although there was no formal solicitation of proposals, in January 1957, the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel sponsored a symposium to study the usefulness of the satellite for scientific research. Papers describing the satellite, proposed experiments, and the process for submitting proposals were presented at this symposium. 19
 
On November 21, 1955, at the second meeting of the Technical Panel, Newell presented a set of scientific experiments proposed by Project Vanguard for the first Vanguard satellite. After some discussion, the Panel decided to accept Newell's proposals with the understanding that, while work would proceed on them, if better proposals were received they might be substituted for the Newell proposals. According to the minutes, the Panel also "resolved to defer discussion and action on Cosmic Ray instrumentation proposals received by Dr Van Allen . . . and Dr. Singer of the University of Maryland until its next meeting." 20
 
On January 23, 1956, at its third meeting, the members of the Technical Panel unanimously approved a motion to form a Working Group on Internal Instrumentation (WGII). The charter for the Working Group directed it to review proposed experiments and recommend their relative priority to the Technical Panel. Porter appointed Van Allen as chairman of this group and asked him to select the members. 21, 22
 
The Selection of the Vanguard Experiments
 
On March 2, 1956, Van Allen assembled the Working Group for the first time. The members were
 
Dr. J. A. Van Allen, chairman
Dr. L. R. Alldredge, ORO
Dr M. Ference. Jr., Ford Research Laboratory
Dr. H. Friedman, Naval Research Laboratory
Dr. W. W. Kellogg, Rand Corporation
Dr. Hugh Odishaw, secretary of the Technical Panel
Dr. R. W. Porter, chairman of the Technical Panel
Dr. L. Spitzer, Princeton University
 
At that meeting, the members formulated the following criteria to be used to evaluate proposals: scientific importance, contribution to the knowledge of the environment in space, technical feasibility, competence of the proposer, and the need to fly in a satellite to accomplish the proposed research. Using these criteria, the Working Group evaluated fifteen proposals, arranged them in the order in which they thought they should fly and submitted their recommendation to the Technical Panel. The first four experiments on their list of priorities are of interest because they were the ones ultimately chosen by the Panel to fly on the Vanguard satellites. These four experiments were 23
 
ESP-8 Satellite Environmental Measurement, H. E. LaGow, Naval Research Laboratory (NRL)
ESP-9 Solar Lyman-Alpha Intensity, H. Friedman, NRL
ESP-11 Proposal for Cosmic Ray Observations in Earth Satellites, J. A. Van Allen, State University of Iowa
ESP-4 Proposal for the Measurement of Interplanetary Matter from the Earth Satellite, M. Dubin, Air Force Cambridge Research Center.
 
On March 8, at the fourth meeting of the Technical Panel, Newell introduced a motion to approve the Working Group's report. This motion also directed Van Allen to inform those who had submitted proposals where they stood on the Flight Priority Listing and requested that the Working Group consider any additional proposals received. The motion was unanimously approved. Although it established the priorities of these four experiments, it did not assign them to a specific flight.
 
Newell, as Vanguard Science Program coordinator and undoubtedly under pressure from the Vanguard project manager to provide a firm payload for the first satellite, then introduced the following motion: 24
 
The Technical Panel of the Earth Satellite Program authorize the Naval Research Laboratory to firm up proposed experiments ESP-8 and ESP-9 with the understanding that these experiments will be carried on the first flight.
 
After some discussion, during which Chairman Porter first stressed the importance of making a firm decision on the experiments for the first satellite at this time and then reconsidered and decided that it would be better to reserve some freedom of action regarding such decisions, the Panel rejected this motion. A weaker motion, stating that "it is the intent of the Panel at the present time that ESP-8 and ESP-9 be mounted on the first flight," was also voted down. The Technical Panel then resolved to have Van Allen write letters to the chairmen of all the technical panels of the United States National Committee for the IGY asking them to suggest other experiments.
 
Additional proposals continued to come in until by the end of May there were twenty-five. On June 1, 1956, Van Allen reconvened the Working Group. He invited the leaders of the groups preparing instruments to join the first half of the meeting to discuss "common technical problems" and problems with experiments or with the Vanguard project. After this joint discussion with the proposers, the Working Group finished its evaluation of the proposals and recommended that four of the twenty-five proposals be placed in Flight Priority A and six be placed in Flight Priority B, with the understanding that the first "few" Vanguard vehicles would be assigned to those in flight priority A. The four experiments in Flight Priority A were the first four experiments on the priority list developed by the Working Group at its first meeting and were later approved by the Technical Panel for flight. 25, 26
 
Several things are significant about the operation of the Technical Panel and its Working Group. The Technical Panel, a group established by the National Academy of Sciences, selected the scientists for the Vanguard Program. Even though NRL was responsible for the Vanguard Program, it could not proceed with the integration of instruments until those instruments had been approved by the Technical Panel. Money could not be released from IGY funds to the scientists until the Technical Panel had approved their proposals.
 
The Technical Panel and the Working Group followed the pattern established by the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel. There was open discussion of the merits of the proposals. Those who had prepared proposals came before the Working Group to discuss their proposals. Van Allen and Friedman each had proposals under consideration. Both were members of the Working Group. Newell, a member of the Technical Panel and the Vanguard Science Program coordinator, was also the supervisor of the NRL scientists, LaGow and Friedman, who had proposed the first two experiments on the Technical Panel's priority list. Clearly, Newell, Van Allen, and Friedman all had a vested interest in the decisions of the Technical Panel, yet there was no concern about a conflict of interest. They were evaluating proposals and assigning them a flight priority in the same way they had started doing it in the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel back in 1947. The few Vanguard satellites needed to be assigned to the groups who, in their collective judgment, had the best scientific experiments and were most likely to be able to produce a workable instrument in time for launch. Later, when there were many more space scientists competing for the opportunity to fly their instruments in space-many of them young scientists desperately trying to break into space science-the idea of scientists evaluating their own and their competitors' proposals would loom as a major conflict of interest.
 
In the spring of 1956, however, conflict of interest was not an issue, and neither was time. The Technical panel could leisurely debate who should be invited to submit proposals, consider motions and postpone decisions for a month or two. The Technical Panel was under no strong pressure to complete its work. As long as the Vanguard satellites were launched before the IGY ended in December 1958 all would be well. The Soviets had not yet committed to launch a satellite as a part of the IGY.
 
Although Vanguard was supposed to be a scientific, not a military, program, scientists from military laboratories proposed three of the four top-priority experiments. A military laboratory, the Naval Research Laboratory, managed all other aspects of the program, the satellites, the launch vehicles and the tracking stations. The Department of Defense funded all experiments except Van Allen's, the lone university experiment, which was funded by the National Science Foundation. 27
 
At their June 1956 meeting, the members of the Working Group and those proposing experiments shared one common technical concern: how realistic was the launch schedule? Could the Vanguard rocket place a satellite in orbit before the end of the IGY in December 1958? It was a natural technical concern in June; three months later it would become a crucial issue when the USSR announced that it intended to launch scientific satellites during the IGY. A year later the Soviets launched Sputnik and brought to an end the leisurely, close-knit world of the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel, SCIGY, and the Working Group on Internal Instrumentation.
 
The work of these groups, UARRP, SCIGY, TPESP and WGII-conducted prior to 1958 at a time when money was tight, rockets were small and unreliable, their work largely ignored by the press and the public, and all the space scientists in the United States could gather in one small room-provided a solid, essential background for the halcyon years immediately after Sputnik. Following Sputnik, money poured in, satellites grew enormous and complex, rockets became large but still unreliable, and the launch sites were overrun by congressmen and TV reporters. Suddenly, a multitude of scientists who had never laid a hand on a rocket began to elbow their way through the corridors of Washington hunting for a rocket to shoot their pet experiment into space.
 
Sputnik!!
 
The National Academy of Sciences hosted a meeting of CSAGI in Washington the first week in October 1957. American scientists attending the meetings were irritated by the Soviets' continued refusal to divulge any information about their satellite and became apprehensive. Rumors had it that a Soviet launch was imminent whereas the launch of the first Vanguard scientific satellite was still nearly six months away. However, despite the urging of their CSAGI colleagues throughout the week of the meeting, the Soviet scientists remained steadfast in their refusal to disclose any information on the instrumentation or the launch date.

At the end of the week, on Friday night, October 4, 1957, Berkner, now president of the International Council of Scientific Unions, attended another dinner party, this one hosted by the Soviet Embassy in Washington for the members of CSAGI. During the course of the evening, a reporter from the New York Times spoke briefly to Berkner, who then rapped his glass for attention and began to speak. "I wish to make an announcement, I am informed by the New York Times that a satellite is in orbit at an elevation of 900 kilometers. I wish to congratulate our Soviet colleagues on their achievement." 28


* The SKYHOOK Balloon Progrm, started by the Office of Naval Research shortly after the war, also produced many of today's space scientists and many of the instruments used in space science.

** A laboratory operated by The Johns Hopkins University for the Navy.


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