FIRST AMONG EQUALS : THE ORIGINS OF THE SELECTION PROCESS

 
Stress on the Selection Process
 
In early 1958, the burgeoning interest of scientists, the effort to protect the security of classified launch vehicles, and the pressure to get something into orbit brought some new and unhealthy criteria into what rapidly became a confused and confusing selection process.
 
Selection of the Scientists for the Explorers
 
The Technical Panel on the Earth Satellite Program (TPESP) and its Working Group on Internal Instrumentation (WGII) selected the scientists for Explorer I. Dr. William H. Pickering played a major role in selecting them. Pickering, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, under an extremely tight deadline to deliver the payload for the Army launch in January, badly needed instruments that would produce useful data, were compatible with the Jupiter C, and could meet a January launch schedule. Consequently, he took the lead role in reviewing the status of the instruments under development for Vanguard. The Technical Panel selected Dr. James A. Van Allen to furnish an instrument to measure cosmic rays. Maurice Dubin of the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory to furnish a meteoritic dust detector, and JPL to furnish temperature sensors. Both Van Allen's and Dubin's instruments had already been proposed for the Vanguard Program, evaluated by the Working Group, and placed in Category A by the Technical Panel. Other scientists had no time or opportunity to propose experiments for the Army's Explorer Program.
 
Actually, Pickering and the Panel had little or no choice. Back in November, when Neil McElroy, Secretary of Defense, directed the Army to launch Explorer I, he had also promised the President that Major General John Bruce Medaris * and Wernher von Braun ** would launch their satellite within 90 days-leaving no time to solicit proposals or develop new instruments. Van Allen's cosmic ray instrument existed and had been designed to operate either on a Vanguard or a Jupiter C rocket. A year earlier, Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger, chief scientist for the Redstone Arsenal, who served on the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel, informed Van Allen of the successful flight of a three-stage version of the Jupiter C rocket Van Allen then decided to cover both possibilities by designing his experiment to fly on either the Vanguard or the Jupiter C rocket. Now, faced with an opportunity to fly on the Jupiter C, Van Allen had a difficult choice; he could stay with the Vanguard program or give up his place in that program and gamble on Von Braun and the Jupiter C. He chose, rightly to go with the Jupiter C. 34, 35, 36
 
Von Braun's group launched Explorer I January 31, 1958. On March 5, they attempted to launch Explorer II, but failed. On March 26, Explorer III, containing a tape recorder, reached orbit. Using the tape recorder to record radiation data over the entire orbit, instead of just over the trucking stations, Van Allen established the existence of radiation belts, a doughnut- shaped region of very intense nuclear radiation around the equator of the Earth. On May 1, 1958, Van Allen announced the existence of these belts at a meeting at the National Academy of Sciences. These "Van Allen Belts," a new, unexpected, and exciting scientific phenomenon, posed a hazard to the flight of humans and civil and military spacecraft, caught the media's attention, and demanded further investigation.
 
Shortly after Van Allen's discovery of the belts, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) approved two more satellites, Explorers IV and V, to study the radiation that would result from a series of classified high-altitude nuclear explosions planned for July-August 1958. Based on the success of Explorers I and III, ARPA and the Atomic Energy Commission selected Van Allen to build the instruments for IV and V. The success of Explorer I and Van Allen's unexpected discovery of the radiation belts, combined with the failure of the Soviet scientists to announce any significant results from Sputniks I and II, restored some of the wavering self-confidence of American scientists. They now began to look for other phenomena that might be awaiting discovery out in space.
 
In addition to the discovery of the radiation belts, Van Allen, and his hard-working graduate students at the State University of Iowa, made another valuable contribution to space science. They demonstrated, clearly and unequivocally, that a university physics department could design and build instruments that would operate in space and produce significant scientific results. University scientists who contemplated a career in space science realized that they would not have to go to a federal laboratory or have their instruments built by an aerospace contractor.
 
Selection of the Scientists for the Pioneers
 
Meanwhile, the race with the Russians took a new turn. The leaders of ARPA, in an effort to recapture the lead in space exploration, decided to try to beat the Soviets to the Moon. Early in 1958, they approved work on five "Pioneer" missions. The Pioneers, spacecraft designed to fly by, or crash into the surface of, the Moon, were originally designed to carry small television cameras to transmit back pictures of the surface of the Moon. The difficulty, however, of building a camera that would be small enough to fit in the payload space of a Pioneer and ready in time for a launch in the fall of 1958, led to a change in plan. Instead, because of the acute interest in the recently discovered Van Allen belts, ARPA decided to select experiments for the Pioneers that would determine the outer boundaries of the belts and measure the radiation levels in the region between the Earth and the Moon. 37
 
ARPA assigned responsibility for two of the five Pioneer missions to the Army and three to the Air Force. The Army naturally turned to the Explorer team, Von Braun's group, for the Jupiter C, JPL for the spacecraft, and Van Allen for the instruments. The Air Force turned to its Space Technology Laboratory *** (STL) in Los Angeles, California to develop and launch its three Pioneers. Although the Air Force asked Dr. Hugh Odishaw **** to suggest scientists who might want to fly experiments on the STL Pioneers, there is no record of any formal solicitation by the Academy's Panel, or by ARPA, the Air Force, or STL.
 
An experiment by Dr. John A. Simpson, cosmic ray physicist from the University of Chicago, was reviewed and approved by the Academy's Technical Panel on the Earth Satellite Program (TPESP). Simpson's own words provides vivid picture of the hectic situation and the speed with which decisions were made, money found, and instruments prepared in the spring of 1958. 38
 
By early 1958, I had a design, some prototype instrumentation and, in May 1958, visited Washington. DC., where I talked with Hugh Odishaw. He pointed out that a meeting was being held the next day (an Academy panel), Ý which I learned was a mixture of personnel including people from ARPA.
 
That night at the Cosmos Club I immediately prepared a draft proposal in the form of a series of sheets using the back side of the Cosmos Club correspondence paper and brought it with me to the meeting. I showed the Review Committee what I wanted to do in the way of an experiment which would decide the heliocentric character of solar modulation and confirm our early work on the discovery of the heliosphere. This led to our being given about 50% of the space of the payload capabilities for Pioneer-2 and went home that night elated that we were now at last getting into business.
 
To finance the experiment, I had a budget proposal submitted to Homer Newell's ÝÝ office. By 16 June 1958, I had the confirmation of funding for the experiment and by the end of June I had hired C. Y. Fan who, along with Peter Meyer, worked with me throughout the summer to prepare the experiment integrated by STL and launched in November on Pioneer-2.
 
Simpson presented his proposal to the Working Group at its tenth and last meeting. The minutes in the Academy Archives consist of only two handwritten pages. The final entry reads "Endorses Simpson Exp I for moon shots," 39 The next day, May 27, 1958, Porter held the eighteenth, and final, meeting of the Technical Panel and approved Simpson's experiment.
 
At this same meeting, the members of the Technical Panel discussed future space science programs. Porter reported that only $4000 remained in the satellite budget. Someone reported that the president of the Academy intended to do something about the continuing space science program. The Technical Panel's IGY mandate and its funding had run out, Congress was busily passing legislation to create a new space agency. A month later the newly formed Space Science Board would take over the work of the Technical Panel and its Working Group on Internal Instrumentation. 40
 
ARPA also chose Dr. John Winckler from the University of Minnesota, to prepare another radiation experiment. There is no record that Winckler's experiment was reviewed by the Working Group. Winckler, however, was an experienced cosmic ray physicist. ARPA chose two STL scientists, Dr. Charles P. Sonett and Paul Coleman, to fly a magnetometer to measure the magnetic fields in space. Neither Sonett nor Coleman were, at that time, established scientists working in space science. There is no record that their proposal was reviewed by the Working Group. There ware groups at the Naval Research Laboratory and in Van Allen's group at the State University of Iowa who had used rockets to carry magnetometers to study the Earth's magnetic field. The major reason for choosing Sonett and Coleman over these established groups seems to have been their proximity to the spacecraft project at STL.
 
According to the minutes of the Space Science Board, STL treated Simpson and Winckler as if they were ordinary industrial contractors, which irritated them. In addition, STL's treatment of the scientists jeopardized the quality of their research. ÝÝÝ STL engineers argued that they, rather than the scientists, should build the flight instruments. Simpson, however, insisted that he build and test his own instruments. After his interaction with STL, Simpson decided that in the future he would design the circuits and build all of his instruments in the Fermi Laboratory at the University of Chicago. He organized his laboratory so that he controlled the integration of his instruments into spacecraft. Thus, he could be sure that they worked properly in space. 41
 
ARPA's haphazard selection of the Pioneer experimenters and STL's treatment of the two university scientists helped convince many scientists that the selection process and the management of space science missions must be held firmly in the hands of civilian scientists and not delegated to industrial contractors or aerospace engineers.

In summary, the selection process used by the Academy to select the experimenters for the Vanguard mission began to break down during the Pioneer missions under the mounting pressure to get something to the Moon ahead of the Soviets. The process whereby the Working Group solicited proposals, albeit informally from a small select group of scientists, and then evaluated those proposals against specific criteria, was replaced by a process in which personal acquaintance, experience with rockets, the ability to get clearance to work with classified launch vehicles, and proximity to the manufacturer of the spacecraft, as wall as the scientific merit of the proposed experiment, began to influence the selection of space scientists. In the spring of 1958, a scientist coming to Washington to get an experiment flown found a very confusing situation. Where did one go to find a place to fly one's instrument-ARPA, the National Academy of Sciences, STL, one of the Military services, or the embryonic NASA?


* Commander of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency located at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama.

** Leader of the team of German engineers who developed the original V-2 rockets and now leader of the German scientists and engineers responsible for developing the Jupiter IRBM and the Jupiter C at the Arsenal.

*** The Air Force had established the Space Technology Laboratories to provide technical help in the development of ballistic missiles.

**** Odishaw at this time was the executive secretary of the United States National Committee for the IGY (USNC-IGY) and a member of its Technical Panel on the Earth Satellite Program (TPSEP).

Ý The Working Group on Internal Instrumentation.

ÝÝ Dr. Homer E. Newell at this time was superintendent of the Atmosphere and Astrophysics Division at the Naval Research Laboratory, a member of TPSEP and chairman of its budget committee.

ÝÝÝ See discussion of the third meeting of the Space Science Board, page 93.


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