FIRST AMONG EQUALS : NASA ORGANIZES

Silverstein's Team

 
In December 1957, Abe Silverstein, associate director of the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory, enthusiastically supported the NACA's bid for the space program. When he came to Washington in the spring of 1958, Silverstein was fifty years old, at the peak of his career, a hard-driving, decisive, and talented engineer, a perfectionist, and an excellent judge and developer of people. He soon assembled a young aggressive team of NACA engineers to help him plan and execute the space program. Many of the people in that team went on to become NASA center directors and presidents of aerospace companies and universities. 81, 82, 83
 
Silverstein brought together the people, selected the launch vehicles and spacecraft, and made the early decisions that led to NASA's successful scientific missions during the 1960s. From October 1, 1958, through November 1, 1961, all space science missions and their payloads had to be approved by Silverstein.
 
In the fall of 1958, Abe Silverstein and his team of young research engineers spent long, but exciting, days in the Dolley Madison House. They had to start a manned space flight program and find the facilities, launch vehicles, and spacecraft needed to fly the experiments recommended by Lloyd Berkner and the Space Science Board. They had to get new rockets and new spacecraft under development. They needed a staff for the new space flight center * in Beltsville, Maryland, and they were negotiating with the Army to transfer the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, to NASA. Although Silverstein had begun negotiations with Dr. Homer E. Newell to join NASA, Silverstein's team still did not contain any scientists when NASA opened its doors.
 
NASA Gets Its First Space Scientists
 
Busy as he was, Silverstein knew that he needed experienced space scientists on his team. He needed answers to such questions as: How do you formulate a scientific program and select the scientists to conduct the research? Can I package many experiments on one large spacecraft or must I furnish a specialized spacecraft for each discipline? How many commands are needed to control a scientific experiment? How much and what kind of data must be returned from a spacecraft? What kind of a tracking and data acquisition system will I need?
 
Neither he nor his staff knew the answers to these questions, yet he needed the answers before he could make decisions. He could go to the Space Science Board and its committees for help-he was a member of the Board's Committee on Future Development-but he needed the answers immediately; he could not wait for the passage of motions at the monthly meetings of the Board to get the information that he needed. He needed someone down the hall and in his Friday afternoon staff meetings who knew the answers or knew where to get them.
 
Sometime in late August, shortly after he was appointed director of the Space Flight Program, Silverstein discussed with Dr. Homer E. Newell the transfer of some scientists from the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) to Silverstein's new Beltsville Space Flight Center. Newell had exactly the opposite of Silverstein's problem. He was in charge of a group of space scientists who were worried about their future now that space science was becoming a civilian, rather than a military activity. 84
 
Later, not hearing further from Silverstein, Newell went to see him to find out what he planned to do about space science. Newell brought with him two colleagues from NRL, John W. Townsend, Jr., head of the Rocket Sonde Branch, and Dr. John F. Clark, head of the Atmospheric Electricity Branch, Newell and his scientific colleagues offered their services to Silverstein because they believed in a civilian apace program and because they wanted to help shape and participate in NASA's space science program. They also wanted access to NASA's launch vehicles. spacecraft, and the facilities of the new space flight center in Beltsville. They knew that NASA would control most, if not all, of the money allocated for scientific research in apace and they were afraid that NASA might follow the NACA's pattern of conducting all space science with in-house scientists. If NASA followed this course, and the military dropped its support of space research, then the NRL scientists would be left without resources for their research programs.
 
Newell's discussions with Silverstein were not sanctioned by his superiors at NRL. Earlier, they had readily agreed to transfer to NASA the troublesome Vanguard Program and the NRL technical people associated with it. The management of NRL, however, opposed the transfer of NRL scientists to NASA. 85
 
Newell's visit with Silverstein went well. Silverstein drove out to Newell's laboratory at NRL, liked what he saw, and decided that he could use a number of the NRL scientists. He invited Newell to become his assistant director for Space Science, Newell accepted, and along with Townsend and Clark, he officially joined Silverstein's staff at NASA Headquarters on October 20, 1958.
 
In spite of the opposition of the NRL management, about fifty NRL scientists and engineers decided to join NASA. On December 28, 1958, they were formally transferred from NRL to the new Beltsville Space Flight Center. While waiting for the construction of their new laboratory, these people moved into a refurbished warehouse on the grounds of the Naval Research Laboratory. Some of the senior people began spending much of their time at the Dolley Madison House helping Silverstein and Newell organize NASA and plan a space science program.
 
On October 24, 1958, NASA issued another interim organization chart that had names as well as functions on it. Silverstein is shown as the director of the Office of Space Flight Development, one of three offices that reported directly to Glennan. Newell is shown as the assistant director of the Office of Space Sciences. Under Newell are three chiefs of programs: Dr. John F. Clark for the Ionospheres, Morton Stoller** for Space Sciences, and John W. Townsend, Jr., for Space Sciences. On this chart, there is no reference to any use of the services of the scientific community or even a liaison with the Space Science Board.
 
The team of NACA research engineers and NRL scientists that Silverstein assembled at the Dolley Madison House shared many traits. They were mostly between thirty-five and forty-five years old. Most had served in World War II as enlisted personnel or junior officers. Many went to school on the GI Bill. Both groups were civil service employees who conducted research in government laboratories, were good in their respective research areas, and were proud of their heritage. Both groups were young, aggressive, ambitious, committed to a civil space program, and driven to explore space and reclaim American leadership in space science and technology.
 
The similarities ended there. The natures of their research, professional culture, and the things they thought important were quite different, and these differences led to sharp clashes between the two groups over issues ranging from the objectives of space science missions to where to publish the results.
 
The NACA Heritage
 
John F. Victory's forty-three-year tenure (from the creation of the NACA in 1915 to the formation of NASA in 1958) was typical of NACA people. The NACA hired bright young engineers fresh out of college and trained them in its laboratories to do applied science and engineering research, and expected them to remain with the agency for the rest of their professional careers, which many did. A new young NACA engineer worked as an apprentice to a senior NACA research engineer who taught him how to conduct research on aircraft models in the NACA's wind tunnels and on rocket-propelled models in the atmosphere. After this early training, an NACA engineer conducted research to understand and to improve the behavior of man-made objects-airplanes and rockets-in flight through the atmosphere and space. These NASA engineers developed theories of flight, invented new airfoils or control systems, and continuously sought to make their machines fly higher, faster, farther, cheaper, fight better, and carry ever heavier payloads. They conducted their research in laboratories or used their own or DOD-furnished airplanes and rockets. They published their research results in the NACA's own journals, which were edited by senior NACA engineers and published at the Langley Laboratory. They worked closely with the aviation industry and the Air Force and Navy's flight programs.
 
As members of a government research organization. the NACA's research engineers were accustomed to working quietly out of the glare of publicity except for an occasional acknowledgment when someone with the "right stuff" set a new speed or altitude record in a machine designed according to NACA theories or tested by its engineers. Their rewards included the recognition of their contributions by their peers in the NACA and the aerospace industry and watching the results of their research become a part of a modern aircraft and rocket systems. Many aspired to become NACA center directors, a position generally considered the most rewarding and prestigious in the agency. Interested in practical results, they had little time for esoteric scientific research producing findings that might sit on a shelf for twenty years before somebody came up with a use for them.
 
Design engineers from aerospace companies and the Air Force and the Navy respected the work of the NACA laboratories, eagerly followed their research, and maintained libraries of the yellow NACA technical reports.
 
There were no "space science" committees among the NACA advisory committees. The NACA was not a scientific research organization, nor did the people in the NACA consider themselves scientists. However, some of the results of scientific research using rockets interested the NACA research engineers. They needed better information about the atmosphere to help predict the flying qualities of airplanes and rockets. Accordingly, they worked with the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel, using the Panel's sounding rocket data on the pressure, composition, temperature, and winds in the upper atmosphere, to create a "United States Standard Atmosphere." As professional NACA engineers, however, they were not interested in understanding why the atmosphere had these particular properties. Van Allen's results interested them because they sharply changed the radiation environment in space and showed that future spacecraft must be designed to operate in that environment. The origin, source of energy, or the lifetimes of the particles in the belts, however, were not of professional interest.
 
The NACA members of Silverstein's team were research engineers rather than scientists. They were proud of the NACA and proud of the work they did. They tended to look at the scientists as impractical dreamers, incapable of producing any hardware or knowledge of useful value.
 
The NRL Heritage
 
The scientists who came to NASA from NRL brought a different professional perspective. They came from a different professional culture and judged their own work according to criteria quite different from those used by the NACA engineers. Although they came from a military laboratory and worked in fields of long-term interest to the Navy they conducted research to understand natural phenomena in the atmosphere and space. They sought to discover new phenomena and acquire a better understanding of, or a new insights into, existing phenomena. They flew instruments on balloons, sounding rockets, and satellites, publishing the results of their research in professional scientific journals, such as the Physical Review and the Journal of Geophysical Research. They aspired to membership in the National Academy of Sciences. With the goal of advancing human understanding of the physical world, they engaged in basic rather than applied science.
 
They also studied and developed rockets and spacecraft, not as intrinsically interesting objects in themselves, as did their counterparts from the NACA, but as vehicles to transport their instruments through the atmosphere to the ionosphere where they wanted to take measurements.
 
Most of these scientists came to NRL as trained researchers, after spending five to seven years in university laboratories doing research for their theses. Although the NRL scientists conducted their research in federal laboratories (as did the NACA research engineers), they maintained stronger ties with the academic community. The NRL scientists considered themselves as scientists doing basic research, not as applied scientists or engineers solving problems or improving machines. They too were proud of their heritage and tended to consider the engineers from the NACA as individuals who were not interested in or capable of understanding the challenge and importance of basic research.
 
The NACA engineers' understanding of, and proficiency with, machines in space enabled NASA to produce useful and highly reliable hardware for space science missions. Space scientists used that hardware to establish American leadership in space science. Although they sometimes squabbled over whether to measure the success of a mission in terms of the successful operation of a spacecraft or of the significance of the scientific results, they rapidly learned to respect one another's capabilities and working together the two groups became a formidable team.
 
A Love-Hate Relationship with the Space Science Board
 
On October 25, 1958, five days after he was sworn in as Silverstein's assistant director for the Office of Space Science, Dr. Homer E. Newell flew to New York to attend the third meeting of the Space Science Board. At that meeting, Newell began what he characterized in his book as a "love-hate relationship" with the Board. 86
 
Unlike the first two meetings that Dryden had attended, this meeting began with no NASA representative present. At some point during the discussion, Dr. James A. Van Allen suggested, and the Board unanimously agreed, that the Board should have "formal NASA representation at a high level," Lloyd V. Berkner, chairman of the Board, called someone in NASA, presumably Dryden. As a result, Newell flew up from Washington to attend the remainder of the meeting. 87 Although he was unknown to most of the members of the Board, Newell was well known to four members. Most recently, he, Odishaw, and Van Allen had served together on the Technical Panel on the Earth Satellite Program, chaired by Dr. Richard W. Porter, and for the past decade porter and Newell had served together on the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel, chaired by Van Allen.
 
Prior to the meeting, someone, probably Odishaw, in his role as executive director of the Board, drafted a document that described the roles that the Board expected the government agencies involved in space science to play in the nation's space science program. 88 This document proposed a major operational role for the Board, a role similar to that the Technical Panel for the Earth Satellite Program (TPESP) played in the Vanguard Program. According to this document, the Board would plan scientific missions and solicit and evaluate proposals for research on those missions; the National Science Foundation would pay for the instruments and the research of academic scientists; and NASA, or ARPA, would provide the rockets and spacecraft. NASA's centers were expected to furnish any engineering or operational support that university scientists might require.
 
During the meeting, Dr. O. G. Villard introduced this document and proposed that the Board approve it so that it could be published as a booklet. The official minutes report only that the Board did not approve the document and that Berkner requested time for the Board to review and comment on the final draft prior to publication. After the meeting, Newell returned to Washington and wrote a four-page "Memo to the File" that described the meeting in detail. 89 In his memo, Newell characterized this part of the meeting as a "lively" discussion of the Board's charter and purpose: 90
 
Porter strongly recommended that the Board be careful to act only in an advisory capacity, and be very careful to make plain it is not entering into or attempting to enter into the decision making that belong to NASA, NSF, and ARPA. Otherwise, those with vested interests sitting on the Board could be subject to severe and bitter criticism. Berkner agreed to the principle involved and stated by Porter, but felt that the Board must make recommendations Porter cautioned that recommendations from the Board are in the nature of decisions by the Board, even though it is understood that future decisions must still be made by NASA, NSF, and ARPA.
 
Porter's remark about "those with vested interests sitting on the Board" is one of the first recorded acknowledgments of the conflict of interest that existed when scientists evaluated and established flight priorities for their own experiments. It may have reflected the growing concern among some young scientists that the only way to get an experiment flown in space was to get appointed to the group that selected experiments to fly.
 
Later in the meeting, the Board discussed whether or not it should recommend a specific package of instruments for a specific satellite or space probe or approve individual proposals for flight whenever the opportunity arose. According to the official minutes, Dr. Richard Porter, chairman of the Board's Committee on Immediate Problems, proposed that his committee be recast as a programming committee with Horning, Villard, Van Allen, Newell, and Canright *** as members. The Board unanimously approved Porter's suggestion, Newell's memo recorded the discussion as follows: 91
 
Porter stated that he felt that if the Board were going to make such recommendations that these recommendations should then be participated in by the Board itself, and not left up to its committees. He recommended further that the Board set up a group containing members of the Board, and members of ARPA and NASA, ex officio.
 
Finally, the Board discussed the supervision of contractors. The official minutes record: 92
 
The Board noted with alarm some discussions of the failures of some recent experiments because of inexperience and ineptness on the part of the prime contractor. It was agreed that the need for close supervision and a clear definition of responsibility in this sensitive area should be brought to the attention of NASA. Concern was also expressed for a clear definition of the prime authority of the scientific role in the conduct of experiment.
 
Newell's version of the same discussion identifies the prime contractor and the scientists: 93
 
During the discussion of the space probes, several members of the Board referred to STL's performance on the recent Pioneer operation as very poor. Horning described the science work as shockingly careless in its approach. Van Allen was less severe in his criticism but concurred that the performance was poor-"greenhorn" as he called it. Simpson was strong in his feeling that the STL work on the science package was poor. Specific complaints were that the checkouts of equipment such as the ionization chamber were incomplete and inadequate; not enough care was given to calibrations; not enough care was given to total systems integration and testing.
 
Newell's memo implies that he was a passive observer at this meeting, but he was not permitted to remain so passive. Before another year was out, the Board criticized NASA's handling of space science missions in equally blunt terms, and Newell struggled to solve the problem.
 
NASA Plans Its Own Space Science Program
 
After listening to the members of the Space Science Board discuss the role some of them planned for NASA's new Beltsville Space Flight Center, Newell spent October 29, 1958, in a meeting with his boss, Abe Silverstein, John W. Townsend, Jr., and Dr. John P. Hagen, discussing NASA's plans for that name Center. Hagen headed the Center's Vanguard Division, which had been transferred en masse to NASA on October 1, 1958. Townsend was organizing the fifty NRL scientists who were to transfer to the Space Flight Center into a newly created Space Science Division. At issue was the role of these two divisions in payload systems work.
 
Two things were settled at the meeting. The Space Science Division would conduct a broad program of basic research in the space sciences and would "prepare scientific experiments and payload systems for sounding rockets, and scientific experiments for earth satellites and space probes." The Vanguard Division would undertake the "responsibility for the integration of scientific experiments from the Space Science Division as well as from outside groups into payload systems for satellites and space probes." 94
 
These were two significant decisions. The Center's engineers would integrate experiments prepared by university scientists into NASA's spacecraft. The Space Science Board and academic scientists would be happy; they wanted NASA to provide that kind of support. The NRL scientists transferring to the Center would conduct their own experiments on NASA spacecraft. The Board and academic scientists would not like that decision; it placed the Center's space scientists in direct competition with university scientists for the limited space on NASA's spacecraft. Several years' experience and considerable acrimonious debate were required before the Board and academic scientists would understand the value of having space scientists at the NASA centers to help plan missions and design spacecraft. At this meeting, NASA took its first step to help academic scientists participate in a broad-based national space science program.
 
On November 25, 1958, NASA took another major step, Newell asked Dr. John F. Clark to draft a "Proposed NASA Policy and Procedures on Space Flight Experiments." Silverstein sent a slightly revised version of the policy to Glennan, who approved it on December 15, 1958. This policy firmly started NASA on the road toward a broad-based space science program, but a program that would be planned and executed by NASA, not by the Space Science Board.
 
According to this policy, NASA would formulate a national program of space research "from recommendations of the National Academy of Science's Space Science Board, from proposals and suggestions of educational and research institutions, industry, and other contractors and from internally generated ideas." NASA would conduct the program "on the broadest possible base by enlisting and supporting the participation of educational and research institutions, industry, and government activities, along with an adequate internal effort." And "NASA will establish relative priorities for experiments and projects, and will fix schedules, taking into account recommendations of the Space Science Board and the scientific and industrial community, with due heed to the engineering, logistic, operational, and budgetary factors involved." 95, 96
 
In short, NASA planned to use the proposals and recommendations of other institutions and its own space scientists, as well as those of the Space Science Board, to formulate a broad-based space science program. NASA, not the Board, would decide the priorities, set the schedules, and select the scientists.
 
The policy also created the all-powerful NASA project manager. It states that "a member of the NASA staff will be assigned as project manager for each flight program. He will represent NASA and be generally responsible for the overall coordination of the activities of the various participants. . . . .and will have responsibility and authority for resolution of any disagreements between and among various participants."
 
The policy specified that NASA would assign responsibility for each phase of a mission and that experimenters would provide the research instruments to be integrated into the payload. It also described how NASA planned to distribute the data from a scientific mission: the "required distribution of raw data to program participants will be controlled by the NASA project manager. In general each investigator will receive the raw data from his experiment, and such other data as are needed to complete the interpretation of his results. After NASA approval, publication of scientific results in NASA publications or in the open scientific literature will be in accordance with accepted scientific practice." 97
 
This two-page policy, approved by Glennan in December 1958, outlined the essence of the NASA policy for the planning and execution of space science missions. This statement of policy is silent as to how NASA planned to evaluate proposals and to establish priorities for experiments. Scientists at universities and NASA centers took exception to the idea that they could not publish their scientific results until after approval by NASA Headquarters. Buried under a blizzard of scientific papers requiring approval. NASA Headquarters soon delegated the approval of scientific papers to the principal investigators themselves. It took NASA another year of internal wrangling to turn this broad policy into specific procedures and another two years before the policy and procedures would be understood and accepted by space scientists.
 
On December 23, 1958, after issuing thin policy Glennan sent a carefully worded letter to Dr. Hugh Odishaw, executive director of the Space Science Board, thanked him for the Board's help, to date, and stated that "we are in the process of making final decisions on the experiments to be made in the near future. When we have formulated our program I think it would be desirable for Dr. Dryden and Dr. Newell to meet with the Board to discuss the program which has then been approved." 98 As far as NASA was concerned, the Board's short-lived effort to formulate and control the national space science program, as it had for Vanguard, was over. NASA would consider the Board's recommendations along with any others that it received, and NASA Headquarters would make the decisions. The Board, however, largely ignored Glennan's letter and continued with its self-assigned tasks for another year.
 
This policy left Newell with two nagging problems: who in NASA was to make the decisions, and who was to help Newell and his three-man staff evaluate all the proposals and assign them their proper priorities? In December 1958, Silverstein exacerbated Newell's manpower problems. He appointed John W. Townsend, Jr., one of Newell's three staff members, as director of the Space Science Division at the Beltsville Center. This left Newell with only one space scientist, Clark, and one ex-NACA engineer, Morton J. Stoller, to plan and execute the space science program.
 
JPL Transferred to NASA
 
Newell's job became even more complex at the end of the year. In addition to working with the Space Science Board, academic scientists, and his former NRL colleagues at the new space flight center, he found that he had to conduct a major portion of the space science program at another laboratory that was directed by an old colleague from the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel. Dr. William H. Pickering, who had his own strong ideas as to who should plan the space science program and select space scientists.
 
On December 3, 1958, the Army transferred the Jet Propulsion Laboratory **** to NASA. The California Institute of Technology had established the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1944 to conduct rocket research. Except for a brief period during 1945 and 1946 when the Laboratory conducted studies of hydrogen-oxygen propulsion systems for the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics, JPL had developed and tested missiles for the Army. In October 1957, after Eisenhower gave the go-ahead to the Army to launch a satellite, Pickering campaigned for, and received, the assignment to build the satellite. This assignment gave JPL much favorable publicity and led Pickering, and Dr. Lee DuBridge,***** to lobby in Congress in late 1957 and early 1958 to have JPL designated as the Nation's space laboratory. 99 They failed, and late in 1958 found themselves working for Abe Silverstein. By mutual agreement with Pickering, Silverstein assigned to the Laboratory the responsibility to plan and execute lunar and planetary missions, as well as to develop the rocket upper stages that were needed to launch spacecraft to the Moon and the planets.
 
JPL was a propulsion laboratory and, although operated by the California Institute of Technology, it had not engaged in scientific research. Like the NACA laboratories, JPL conducted its propulsion research and development in its own laboratories. The staff of JPL was accustomed to a great deal of independence in its work for the Army and deeply resented the strong technical direction that began to come from Silverstein and his staff.
 
NASA's First Official Organization
 
The transfer of JPL at the end of 1958 completed the initial buildup of NASA. Starting on October 1, 1958, with the original NACA organization, the Vanguard Project, and the ARPA Pioneer and Explorer Programs, NASA had acquired the NRL scientists and JPL and created the Beltsville Space Flight Center. The NASA organization was complete. Although NASA needed many additional people, it planned no more mass transfers of personnel or laboratories.
 
On January 27, 1959, Glennan approved the first official NASA organization chart, which was quite similar to the tentative chart issued on October 24, 1958. 100 Three levels of activity were listed on the chart: at the top was "Executive Direction," which consisted of the Office of the Administrator, the deputy administrator, an associate administrator, and their staffs. The next level was "Programming Operations," which consisted of three major offices: the Office of Business Administration, the Office of Aeronautical and Space Research, and the Office of Space Flight Development. The third level, labeled "Field Activities," broke NASA field centers into two kinds: research centers-the old NACA laboratories, reporting to the Office of Aeronautical and Space Research, and space project centers, reporting to the Office of Space Flight Development. There were two space flight project centers: the Beltsville Space Flight Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
 
Silverstein's team was complete. It included engineers, scientists, managers, and accountants at Headquarters to handle programming operations and the two field centers to execute the flight projects.
 
Early Launch Failures
 
NASA did not do much in 1958 to leapfrog the Soviets. Four launch attempts failed: three Pioneer space probes and one satellite. Pioneer I, prepared by Space Technology Laboratories for ARPA, and taken over by NASA on October 1, 1958, was launched October 11, 1958. It reached 114,000 kilometers and provided information on the extent of the radiation belts, but failed to reach the Moon and thus was counted as a failure by the media. NASA launched Pioneer II, also prepared by STL, a month later. It reached only about 1500 kilometers because of the failure of the third stage. Pioneer II provided some limited scientific data, Dr. John A. Simpson, for instance, showed that there were more than 75 MEV (million electron volt) protons in the inner radiation belt. 101 Pioneer III, prepared by the Von Braun group, wan launched on December 6, 1958, and also failed to reach the Moon.
 
Scientists, NASA, and the public looked to 1959 to be a better year and to provide another chance to overtake the Soviets. Unfortunately, 1959 brought more trouble for Newell and his beleaguered staff and more humiliation for Americans.
 

* On August 1, 1958, even before Eisenhower had appointed an administrator of NASA. Senator J. Glenn Beall called a press conference and announced that NASA intended to build a new laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland.
 
** An ex-NACA engineer from the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory. In 1961, Stoller became the first director of NASA'S Office of Applications.
 
*** Mr. R. B. Canright, ARPA representative at the meeting.
 
**** A government-owned laboratory in Pasadena, California, staffed and operated by the California Institute of Technology.
 
***** President of the California Institute of Technology land Pickering's immediate supervisor.

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