FIRST AMONG EQUALS : THE ORIGINS OF NASA

 
 
Meanwhile, during the early part of 1958, as the Explorers flew and ARPA struggled to beat the Soviets to the Moon, powerful forces in Washington vied for control of the burgeoning space program. 42
 
A National Space Establishment
 
One of the more powerful and better organized of these forces was the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research panel. In April 1957, the members had changed the name of their panel to the "Rocket and Satellite Research panel." By December 1957, they had doubled their membership and begun to promote a concept they called a "National Space Establishment." On December 27, 1957, the Panel issued a report, National Space Establishment, A Proposal of the Rocket and Satellite Research Panel. The proposal called for the United States to create a "National Space Establishment for the purpose of carrying out scientific exploration and eventual habitation of space." The Panel proposed that this Establishment be an independent agency, unless that would take too long. If so, the Panel recommended that the Secretary of Defense be in charge, rather than one of the three services. Although there were many other powerful forces in Washington struggling to shape the nature of the burgeoning space program, the Panel's report and the concerted lobbying of its members undoubtedly played a key role in shaping NASA. 43
 
The NACA Becomes the Space Establishment
 
Early in 1958, the Executive Branch and the Congress began to organize to reclaim American leadership in space. In February, the Senate crested a Special Committee on Space and Astronautics, chaired by Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, and the House created the Select Committee on Aeronautics and Space Exploration, chaired by House Majority Leader John W. McCormack. 44 Several organizations began to lobby these committees and the Administration to win control of the space program. Senator Clinton Anderson, chairman of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, proposed amending the Atomic Energy Act in order to give the Atomic Energy Commission a major role in space. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which was building Explorers I, II, and III, lobbied to became the national space laboratory.
 
On January 14, 1958, a small, well-known (in aeronautical circles), and highly respected aeronautical research organization, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, better known as the "NACA," issued a carefully crafted plan for its participation in the space program entitled "A National Research Program for Space Technology." The nature of the NACA and the work that underlay this report are discussed below.)
 
On February 4, 1958, the President asked his new special assistant for Science and Technology, Dr. Killian, for a plan for space exploration. On March 5, Killian, Nelson Rockefeller, chairman of the President's Advisory Committee on Government operations, and Percival Brundage, director of the Bureau of the Budget, delivered a memorandum to the President recommending that "leadership of the civil space effort be lodged in a strengthened and redesignated National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics."
 
President Eisenhower accepted the recommendation and ended the rampaging competition when he announced that the NACA would lead the Nation's space program. 45, 46 He also announced his intention to submit the necessary legislation to Congress to convert the NACA into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He submitted this legislation to an eager Congress on April 2, 1958. 47
 
Both houses of Congress promptly began hearings on the proposed legislation, and on June 2, 1958, early on a Tuesday morning, John W. McCormack, House Majority Leader and chairman of the House Select Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration, charged onto the floor of the House with his version of the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. The Senate acted with equal speed and on July 29, the President signed into law the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958.
 
The Space Act of 1958 bore little resemblance to the limited, carefully crafted plan that the NACA had issued on January 14, 1958; and even the preparation of that limited plan had caused considerable controversy within the NACA, the "good grey" aeronautical research organization, created during World War I.
 
The Legacy of the NACA
 
In March 1915, the NACA consisted of a committee with twelve unpaid members and one full-time clerk, John F. Victory. In the fall of 1957, forty-two years later, the NACA still had its unpaid committee and John F. Victory. But now it employed 8000 people, operated three research laboratories and two field stations, * and was a highly respected aeronautical research organization. The "Main Committee" elected its own chairman, who then appointed three permanent civil service employees, the "big three" of the NACA: the director, the executive secretary, and the associate director for research. Famed Air Force General James Doolittle chaired the Main Committee. John F. Victory, the original clerk now with forty-two years of service, served as executive secretary. Dr. Hugh L. Dryden, an outsider and relative newcomer with only ten years of service, was director. Dryden, a physicist with a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins, came to the NACA from the National Bureau of Standards and spent several of his early years fighting Victory for control of the organization. 48 In the fall of 1957, with this battle behind him, Dryden firmly controlled the NACA. The military, the aerospace industry, and Congress respected Dryden as an able, tight-fisted administrator, one who usually returned a little of the NACA's annual appropriation to the Treasury. Equally well respected by the Washington scientific establishment, he was a member, and served as home secretary, of the National Academy of Sciences.
 
At this time, the NACA and its Main Committee functioned as a largely self-sufficient organization. The Main Committee dealt with the external world, handled political and industrial pressures, appointed the "big three," and approved the research program. The "big three" dealt with the internal world of research, administration, budget, and facilities. The NACA trained its people, operated its research facilities with civil servants, and published the results of its research in the NACA's own yellow-covered research journals. Only 35 percent of the NACA program supported the development of space technology; the rest supported aeronautical research.
 
The launch of Sputnik I irrevocably changed the "good, grey," practical, aeronautical research world of the NACA. A year later, its successor, NASA, would be planning to orbit giant telescopes, send spacecraft to the planets, and land men on the Moon.
 
The NACA Approach to Space
 
The public clamor to catch up with the Soviets, which began in earnest after the launch of Sputnik II, created a dilemma for Doolittle and Dryden. If they competed for and won the space program, they knew they would have to substantially change the character of the NACA, and a number of its senior people did not want to change the character of the NACA. If the NACA remained an aeronautical research agency, it could lose substantial numbers of people, possibly a laboratory, and certainly its flight test facilities would go to the agency that captured the space program. If it took over the space program, aeronautical research would take a back seat to space research, the agency would have to take on the burden of administering large industrial contracts, and it might find itself competing with, rather than cooperating with, its old partner the Air Force.
 
Early in December, in order to resolve this dilemma, Dryden invited the directors and associate directors of the three NACA laboratories to come to Washington to discuss the NACA's approach to space. Smith DeFrance, director of the Ames Laboratory, opposed any move into space activities, arguing that it would destroy the whole concept on which the NACA was based. Henry J. E. Reid, director, and Floyd Thompson, associate director of Langley, although not enthusiastic about space research, did not oppose it. Abe Silverstein, associate director of Lewis, enthusiastically argued that the NACA should take a major role in the space program.
 
After this meeting, Dryden turned to the young people in the NACA to get their view. On December 18, 1957, immediately after the meeting with the senior managers, Doolittle hosted a dinner in Washington for the younger people in junior levels of management who were most likely to become the leaders of the agency in the decades ahead. Doolittle and Dryden deliberately excluded their supervisors from the dinner in order to get the authentic, unvarnished opinions of these young people. Dryden presented the options facing the agency and asked them whether the NACA should remain as it was or pursue the space program. The young people responded overwhelmingly in favor of strong NACA participation in space. The NACA could, they said, contribute to the national space effort and would benefit from its participation in terms of challenge, and additional people, facilities and funds. 49, 50
 
After all these deliberations were over the NACA issued its January 1958 report: "National Research Program for Space Technology," Dryden supervised the preparation of the plan and it reflected his approach to space. It did not call for a new agency. Instead, it proposed a cooperative space program to be conducted by several existing agencies. Under the plan, the NACA would double its staff, create a new space research laboratory, accelerate its flight program, and increase the amount of research that it supported at other institutions. The DOD would handle large flight projects, and the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Foundation would be responsible for planning and funding the space science program, most of which would be conducted by academic scientists. Dryden's plan preserved the NACA's role as a developer of technology, while it expanded that role to include space as well as aeronautical technology. It kept the NACA in its traditional role as DOD's partner in the development of space technology. It kept the NACA out of the development and procurement of major spacecraft, out of operations, and out of space science. Dryden's plan had something for everybody-except for those people who felt that the only way to catch up with the Soviets was to give one agency the authority, responsibility, and all the facilities, people and resources needed to overtake them-and those were the people who shaped the Space Act.
 
Few of the NACA recommendations for the organization of the space program were incorporated into the Space Act passed by the Congress in 1958. 51
 

* Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, Hampton, Virginia; Ames Aeronautical Laboratory. Moffett Field, California; Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory, Cleveland, Ohio; Pilotless Aircraft Research Station, Wallops Island, Virginia; and High Speed Flight Station, Edwards Air Force Base, California.

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