FIRST AMONG EQUALS : THE SPACE SCIENCE BOARD

The Committees of the Board

 
Berkner accepted Porter's recommendation that committees of the Board examine the proposals in greater detail, and on August 12, he established twelve committees, each chaired by a member of the Board. Seven of the committees consisted of scientists from the same or similar scientific disciplines. These discipline committees were expected to review proposals for experiments in their discipline and to recommend a scientific program. The work of the Optical and Radio Astronomy Committee and the Physics of Fields and particles in Space Committee are typical of the work of the committees of the Board. Each contributed to the nation's space science program. Each influenced NASA's process for selecting space scientists. Their activities are also of interest because of a major difference in the background of their members. Three members of the Fields and Particles Committee were preparing experiments to fly on satellites, whereas none of the members of the Astronomy Committee had any experience with rockets or satellites. In addition to evaluating research proposals, the Fields and Particles Committee recommended policies and procedures for the administration of the space science program. The Astronomy Committee spent its time evaluating proposals and preparing a program.
 
Physics of Fields and Particles in Space
 
Berkner designated a chairman, Dr. John A. Simpson, and a co-chairman, Dr. James A. Van Allen, to head the Physics of Fields and Particles in Space Committee. For all other committees he designated only a chairman. Undoubtedly, Berkner knew that Simpson and Van Allen were working against tight deadlines to get their instruments ready for the Pioneer missions scheduled for later in 1958 and this was his method of ensuring that one or the other would be available to represent the Committee. Because it was the eighth committee on the list, Simpson's committee became known as "Committee 8" and is often referred to by this title in the files of the Space Science Board.
 
Immediately after the first meeting of the Board, and before his committee was established, Simpson contacted other scientists in the field. By July 10, 1958, he had assembled a list of experiments, descriptions of their scientific importance, and names of organizations that might conduct them. 70
 
On October 14, 1958, Simpson convened the six-man Fields and Particles group at the University of Chicago. 71 He defined the task of the Committee as follows: 72
 
. . . because the government agencies are not yet prepared to evaluate basic research proposals in this field, we have been asked to evaluate the first group of proposals which have been presented to these agencies for our critical comment. We are further asked to indicate where support should be given, both with respect to the kinds of experiments and the groups which could most likely carry out the tasks.
 
According to the minutes, the members of Simpson's committee first made a list of the kind of experiments they thought were important to do. This list did not contain names of scientists or institutions. They next evaluated the twenty-five specific proposals that the Board had assigned to Simpson's committee. Of these, fourteen were endorsed as worthy of support. Simpson's committee was very precise about the proposals it recommended for support. It named the investigator and described the objectives of the experiment. In some cases it approved only a portion of the objectives of an experiment.
 
After evaluating the twenty-five proposals, the Committee then went back to its list of experiments that should be done and found no proposals for three kinds of experiments. Nobody had proposed studying gamma rays, plasmas, or the aurora. The Board, said the Committee, should invite Dr. Herbert Friedman of the Naval Research Laboratory to propose gamma-ray experiments and the Naval Research Laboratory and the Air Force Geophysical Research Directorate to propose plasma experiments. The Committee did not recommend taking action to generate aurora experiments.
 
The Committee endorsed theoretical research, improved telemetry, polar orbiting satellites, and the use of rockets with recoverable nose cones to carry film (nuclear emulsions) into and back from the magnetosphere.
 
On October 24, Simpson's committee submitted to the Space Science Board an Interim Report that summarized its recommendations. An examination of Section II, "Long Range Plans," provides some insight into the scientific thinking and the aspirations of the members of Simpson's committee. They proposed a lunar satellite and a station on the Moon for the study of particles and fields; a solar probe to pass inside the orbit of Mercury to study the particles and fields in the vicinity of the Sun; probes to the planets to study their magnetospheres; two kinds of Earth satellites, one in a highly eccentric orbit ranging from a perigee of a few hundred kilometers out to an apogee of a 100,000 kilometers and the other in a geostationary orbit. Both Earth satellites would be used to study the particles and fields in the Earth's magnetosphere as well as in interplanetary space outside the magnetosphere. In addition, the Committee endorsed plans to detonate atomic bombs in space to study their effects on the magnetosphere of the Earth.
 
Simpson's committee examined how one designed, built, and integrated a scientific instrument into a spacecraft. At the time of the meeting, two members of the Committee, Simpson and Winckler, had just completed preparing instruments for flight on a Pioneer spacecraft. The mission was under the management of the Air Force's Space Technology Laboratories (STL) and scheduled for launch in November 1958. They had encountered problems with the STL engineers over the design, testing, and integration of their experiments. They wanted to make sure that NASA, when it came into being, handled scientific experiments better than STL.
 
The Committee's report described five phases for a space science experiment: feasibility study, bench model, flight prototype, checkout and launch, and data reduction and analysis. The report did not explicitly specify who should be in charge of each phase; it read: "The above categories should lead to a clear definition of the responsibilities of the scientific investigator undertaking instrumentation design." It specified the obligations that the government agencies should undertake if they expected university scientists to participate enthusiastically in the program. These obligations included development of a launch vehicle and sufficient backup vehicles to ensure flight of the experiment; provision of a proper network of tracking stations; computer support; priority in the aerospace industry to acquire the components required to build an experiment; and the availability of a well informed and trained person to provide liaison between the experimenter and the group that integrated the experimenter's instrument into the spacecraft.
 
In the first report of Simpson's committee October 1958, are several of the policies and procedures that NASA later used to select space scientists and to define their role during a scientific mission. Some of these policies originated in the Committee; some, such as the importance of scientists' control over their instruments, were only restatements of policies developed by the institutions that had been flying sounding rockets and balloons for the past decade.
 
The Committee recognized the problems inherent in using satellites for research and began the process of finding solutions. The Committee assumed that most of the research would be conducted in universities. It assumed that NASA engineers would provide technical support to university scientists. At the time of this first meeting of the Committee, NASA did not yet have a space science organization or any space scientists. Later, the "well informed and trained person(s) to provide liaison between the experimenter and the group preparing the final package," which Simpson's committee wanted, turned out to be space scientists at NASA centers. These people were in direct competition with the members of the Committee for use of NASA's scientific satellites. These NASA space scientists also began soliciting proposals, selecting space scientists, and managing scientific missions-a situation that the members of the Committee had not foreseen and that led to much controversy between the Space Science Board and NASA during the next two years.
 
Simpson's committee did not, at least in the minutes of their meeting and their subsequent October 24, 1958, report, discuss the criteria or procedures they used to evaluate proposals and assign priorities. Following the tradition established by the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel and the Working Group on Internal Instrumentation, the Committee members evaluated their own and their competitors' proposals. They recommended for flight proposals by three members: Simpson, Van Allen, and Winckler. There is no question that in making these selections the Committee chose experiments proposed by competent scientists. Unfortunately, the procedure raised questions in the minds of scientists who were not members of the Committee and whose experiments were not chosen. They were not sure such a process could be fair. In the summer of 1958, when there were not many scientists competing, this issue was not so serious, but a year later as the competition became intense, it became a major issue in the NASA selection process. NASA initially allowed some space scientists at its centers to evaluate and select their own proposals. This practice, however, was soon eliminated with the emergence of strong scientific leadership at NASA Headquarters.
 
Committee on Optical and Radio Astronomy
 
Dr. Leo Goldberg, chairman of the Optical and Radio Astronomy Committee, stated that the function of the Committee was 73
 
...to encourage the participation of as many astronomers as possible in the new field of space science and to provide guidance to them in the formulation and execution of their research programs and to provide advice, guidance, and assistance to all government space agencies to aid in the development of effective space science programs and experiments in the area of astronomy.
 
On October 6, 1958, he convened seven of the eight members of the astronomy group at Inglis House, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Before them to consider were the twenty proposals in physics, relativity, and optical and radio astronomy that the Board had assigned to the Committee. Unlike the Physics of Fields and Particles Committee, the Astronomy Committee did not create its own list of important experiments. Instead, its members took the existing proposals and divided them into two categories: those whose instruments should be prepared for flight and those whose instruments needed more work before they would be ready for flight.
 
Midway through their work, Dr. Martin Schwarzschild became concerned about a proposal from a large organization "which does not contain a commitment stating which person will be the principal investigator and the amount of time he will devote to the project." The Committee paused, considered the situation, and then developed a set criteria to evaluate proposals: 74
 
 
From this discussion comes the concept of a "principal investigator": that scientist in charge of a space science experiment, committed to the experiment from the time he, or she, conceives it until he, or she, has published the final results. In this concept, the principal investigator designs, builds, tests, and delivers the flight instrument to NASA. That scientist is part of the team that integrates the flight instrument into the spacecraft and makes sure that it will operate in space as planned.
 
After considerable debate between the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA Headquarters, NASA adopted this definition of the role of the principal investigator. JPL's management argued that the Laboratory had to build and test the flight instruments in order to ensure the integrity of the instrument and the planetary spacecraft. The converse of this issue developed between NASA Headquarters and some academic scientists who were accustomed to purchasing their instruments from commercial firms. These scientists wanted NASA to build or purchase instruments to their specifications, operate them, and then send the data to the scientist for analysis. NASA rejected these requests and insisted that a scientist-the principal investigator-be in charge of each experiment. This principal investigator was expected to understand the objectives of the experiment and all the quirks and limitations of the instrument and be prepared to stake his or her scientific reputation on the results of the experiment.
 
The Astronomy Committee reviewed its twenty proposals. It recommended flight for some and rejected others for technical reasons (one otherwise excellent proposal involved the use of radio signals from a lunar probe to measure electron density but neglected to consider the effect of the radio-noise background). The Committee considered and rejected a proposal to explode an atom bomb in space to measure more accurately the velocity of light. It decided such an explosion would needlessly contaminate interplanetary space and that the experiment could be conducted as well on the ground by using eclipsing binaries.*
 
Leo Goldberg focused his committee's work on basic scientific questions. The first experiments the Committee evaluated were those designed to test the theory of general relativity. The Committee worked on scientific issues and did not consider broad policy or management problems.
 
Goldberg's committee also succeeded in its primary goal of stimulating interest in space astronomy. In 1957, only three institutions conducted experiments in space astronomy: the Naval Research Laboratory, the University of Colorado, and the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories. When the Committee completed its work two years later, Dr. Arthur Code, from the University of Wisconsin, and Dr. Fred Whipple, from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, were preparing experiments for the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory. In addition, groups at the University of New Mexico, University of California at Berkeley, University of Michigan, Princeton, Yale, and the California Institute of Technology had begun research in space astronomy.
 
The other five discipline committees also met in October 1958, considered the proposals in their areas, and sent recommendations to the Space Science Board in time for its third meeting on October 24, 1958. At this meeting the Board reviewed and approved the recommendations and sent them to NASA on November 4, 1958. 75
 
The Board's Impact on NASA'S Selection Process
 
On October 24, 1958, the Board met for the third time in New York City, where it reviewed the recommendations of its committees and reconsidered its role in relation to a NASA that had formally opened its doors on October 1, 1958. At this meeting, the Board began its long, generally productive but frequently acrimonious, association with NASA. One of the principal NASA participants in this relationship, Dr. Homer E. Newell, characterized it as a "love-hate" relationship. The NASA that the Board began to work with on October 24 was not exactly the NASA envisioned by those who had created the Board back in June. This third meeting of the Board will be considered in detail below after the early NASA organization and its approach to space science has been examined.
 
The efforts of Lloyd Berkner and the members of the Space Science Board galvanized many young academic scientists into proposing experiments and becoming space scientists. Thus, academic scientists became major participants in the nation's space science program. The board helped NASA define the role and responsibility of a space scientist during a NASA space science mission. In the four months between its first meeting on June 27 and the time NASA opened its doors on October 1, 1958, the Board solicited and evaluated over 200 proposals and recommended to NASA those it thought worthy of flight. It outlined a space science program containing over thirty missions that would take NASA the better part of the next decade to accomplish. The Board continued the practice of using senior scientists to evaluate scientific proposals-and of allowing these scientists to evaluate their own and their competitors' proposals.
 
The Board generated a momentum and interest in space science among academic scientists that ensured strong academic participation in the NASA space science program. This participation of academic scientists would ensure a continuing source of young space scientists, new ideas, and rapid incorporation of the knowledge and technology developed in the program into the national technical capability. In addition, academic participation would provide an external group of scientists with a vested interest in funding for NASA's space science programs. In the future, when the United States had established its leadership in space science and the leaders of Congress were no longer interested in chairing the space committees and pressuring the Administration to catch up with the Soviets, these academic scientists could, and would, lobby the Congress for support of the NASA Space Science Program.


* A pair of stars orbiting around their common center of mass.

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