FIRST AMONG EQUALS : 1959 A YEAR OF TROUBLE AND CONFLICT

 
Newell's Hybrid Space Science Organization
 
By January 1959, Dr. Homer E. Newell already had his hands full. He had to plan a national space science program even as he worked to organize the scientists from academia and NASA into a coherent force to carry out the program. To help him with this formidable task, he had only two people on his staff at NASA Headquarters. Although Newell needed the help of scientists, scientists did not want to give up their research work to come to Headquarters to push paper, even for a program as exciting as space science.
 
Newell thought he had a solution. He would augment his staff with senior scientists from the Goddard Space Flight Center.* When they were needed, these Goddard scientists would work part time at Headquarters. If there was a proposal that needed reviewing or if the Bureau of the Budget or Congress requested a technical briefing, then a Goddard scientist could drive into Washington and do the work. These people could use the rest of their time to conduct their own research at the Center. Such an arrangement gave Newell access to the scientists he sorely needed and required a smaller number of scientists to give up their research careers to work full time at Headquarters.
 
Before the year was out, Newell encountered such serious problems with his hybrid organization that he was forced to eliminate it. In January 1959, however, he did not foresee what would happen and he proceeded with his plan. He turned to his old friend and former colleague from NRL, John W. Townsend, Jr., the newly appointed director of the Space Science Division at the Goddard Space Flight Center, and asked for help. Early in February, Townsend wrote a long, careful letter to Newell to confirm the arrangements. Townsend outlined two missions for his division. The primary mission was 102
 
to plan, organize, and conduct a broad program of basic research in space science through the use of experiments flown in sounding rockets, Earth satellites, and space probes. The program is to be pursued vigorously with all available assets and is to be forward looking in its objectives. This broad based program will be a part of the NASA national program in space science formulated by the Office of the Assistant Director for Space Sciences.
 
Townsend's use of the phrase "formulated" by the Office of the Assistant Director" rather than "approved by" specified a role for NASA Headquarters quite different from the role that the old NACA Headquarters had played for forty years. This new role for Headquarters would lead to considerable friction between Newell and powerful center directors accustomed to the role of NACA Headquarters. In the NACA, center directors planned programs and sought funding from a technically weak headquarters staff. Townsend's letter was prescient, and after some bruising battles, NASA Headquarters began to formulate and control NASA's programs.
 
In the meantime, who would help Newell formulate the national program in space science? Townsend's letter listed a secondary mission for the Space Science Division: 103
 
to provide the Assistant Director for Space Sciences with support, in the form of staff consultants, project managers. working group members, and contract monitors, is the formation and conduct of the NASA national program in the space science area.
 
Townsend's letter carefully distinguished between "staff consultants" and "project managers, working group members, and contract monitors." Staff consultants would report to Newell or a member of his staff at Headquarters; the others would report to Townsend at Goddard. According to Townsend's letter, Newell's staff would select scientists on a competitive basis from all proposals submitted.
 
Despite Townsend's careful specification of the secondary mission for the Space Science Division, it placed the senior Goddard scientists, who worked part time at Headquarters, in a conflict of interest-a scientific, rather than a legal conflict of interest. At the Center, they wore "Center research hats" and conducted their own research projects; at Headquarters they wore "Headquarter's scientific-statesmen hats" and helped Newell formulate the national space science program. At the Center they worked on their own, or managed their subordinates' research projects, yet at Headquarters they were expected to make objective decisions about the research programs of other scientists-who were in direct competition for the same resources in NASA's national space science program. In addition to placing these Center scientists in a scientific conflict of interest, this arrangement also made them vulnerable to charges that, in their review of proposals at Headquarters, they could steal a competitor's ideas and incorporate them into their own research projects.
 
Despite the scientific conflict of interest, Newell's and Townsend's arrangement might have worked if space scientists had continued to be in short supply. Then the Goddard scientists would have spent their time trying to persuade scientists to undertake space experiments. Unfortunately for the success of Newell's plans, by the fall of 1959, he had far more space scientists than he had spacecraft to carry instruments. He needed scientists free of any scientific or legal conflict of interest to evaluate proposals and set priorities.
 
Newell could have turned to the Space Science Board for help but it is clear from his book that he did not want the Board to be involved in the day-to-day operation of the program. According to Newell, Dr. Hugh Odishaw, executive director of the Board, urged NASA to use the Board to plan the space science program and to use academic scientists rather than hiring more NASA scientists. Newell resisted, arguing that NASA needed to have increased scientific competence in order to work with the outside scientific community. 104
 
In order to control the program and carry out the wishes of Congress and the Administration, Newell had to be in charge-something he could not accomplish if the Space Science Board planned the program and selected the scientists. The Board deliberated, made motions and consumed valuable time, while the Russians sprinted further ahead and Congress berated NASA for its failure to catch up.
 
The Unmanned Race to the Moon
 
During 1959, the United States and the Soviet Union raced to send unmanned spacecraft to the Moon. The United States kicked off the race in the fall of 1958 with three unsuccessful attempts to fly a spacecraft past the Moon. On January 2, 1959, the Soviets responded to the American challenge. On their first attempt, the USSR launched Luna I. It flew out of the Earth's gravitational field, sailed past the Moon and drifted into orbit around the Sun. Two months later, on March 3, 1959, NASA's Pioneer IV followed Luna past the Moon and on into a solar orbit. Although Pioneer IV provided valuable information on the radiation belts, it gathered no information about the Moon and did little to restore American confidence in its space technology.
 
In January 1959, embarrassed by the failure of the first three Pioneers to fly by the Moon and startled by the Soviets' success on their first attempt, Dr. T. Keith Glennan, NASA administrator, approved the first NASA lunar project. ** This was to be a crash project to capture the lead in the race to the Moon by launching a spacecraft into lunar orbit by the fall of 1959. Glennan approved a proposal by the Space Technology Laboratories (STL) to use a new launch vehicle, the Atlas-Able, to place a 120-kilogram spin-stabilized, solar-powered spacecraft in orbit about the Moon.
 
NASA wasted no time soliciting proposals from scientists for these four lunar missions; STL proposed the scientists and NASA accepted them.
 
The Soviets, the fates, the media, and the Congress all lashed NASA in 1959. Even as NASA and STL struggled to prepare the lunar orbiter for launch, the Soviets extended their lead in lunar exploration. On September 14, 1959, they scored another first when Luna II struck the surface of the Moon. Two days later, the New York Times carried three stories on space. One quoted Nikita Khrushchev, who spoke at the Press Club in Washington, and hailed "the victorious USSR rockets." Another described an explosion at Cape Canaveral of a Jupiter rocket carrying 14 pregnant mice and two frogs. A third quoted President Eisenhower telling 600 foreign exchange teachers that it was more important to orbit ideas than satellites. 105 On September 20, the New York Times carried the headline, "Russia's Moon Shot again demonstrates its lead in space race." 106
 
A month later, on the second anniversary of Sputnik I, the USSR launched Luna III. Three days later, they scored again when Luna III photographed the back face of the Moon, the face that is invisible from the Earth. On October 10, the New York Times carried another article on space with the headline "US Space Program Far Behind Soviets." 107
 
Two months later, almost exactly two years after the first disastrous Vanguard launch, the international media once more assembled at Cape Canaveral to watch the Americans humble the Soviets. Once more America took a mighty swing and fanned out. At 1:32 a.m. Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1959, the first Atlas-Able carrying a lunar orbiter roared ponderously off the pad. Forty-five seconds later, the fiberglass shroud covering the spacecraft blew off and the rocket broke up, dumping the lunar orbiter into the Atlantic.
 
Again Americans had a long weekend to worry about their position in the space race. The media made sure they understood their position. On November 29, the Washington Star proclaimed, "U.S. Out of Space Race for at Least 2 Years," 108
 
This crash project to beat the Soviets irritated the scientists involved. The Scientists had wasted their time; they had developed their instruments, battled the STL engineers for the right to build and test them, and now the instruments lay on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. The frustrated scientists complained to Lloyd V. Berkner, chairman of the Space Science Board. Their complaints helped precipitate the major review of NASA's policies that is discussed in chapter 6. 109
 
With a presidential election approaching, the Democrats took off in full cry after an elderly ailing President and his party. On October 28, 1959, Congressmen Overton Brooks, chairman of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, announced his intention to hold hearings on why the United States was lagging behind the USSR in space. On December 17, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, Senate Majority Leader, made a speech blasting the Administration for America's lack of progress in space. He said, "We cannot concede outer space to communism and hold leadership on Earth." 110, 111
 
Not all U.S. launches failed in 1959. Out of the glare of publicity over the race to the Moon, Silverstein and his team quietly moved ahead in several areas. On February 17, Vanguard II carried a camera into orbit so photograph clouds. Although the satellite did not operate properly, and was unable to transmit daily pictures of the clouds, it was the interest in the Vanguard II photographs of the Earth that led to the daily cloud cover maps shown on today's TV news. On August 7, a Thor-Able rocket placed a 64-kilogram spin-stabilized, solar-powered satellite, Explorer VI, in an eccentric orbit around the Earth. Although the power supply for this satellite failed two months after launch, scientists obtained excellent data on the properties of the radiation belts and the effect of solar activity on cosmic rays.
 
In 1959, NASA succeeded in eight of its fourteen launch attempts. Of the ten space science launches, however, only four were successful Space science lagged behind badly in 1959. The other four successful launches tested the Mercury capsule, the spacecraft destined to carry the first American astronaut into orbit.
 
Scientists Recognize the Potential of Space Research
 
Meanwhile, during NASA's first troubled year, many scientists came to recognize the potential and understand some of the problems of space science. Scientists left their quiet laboratories in increasing numbers during 1959 to seek the opportunities and brave the uncertainties of research using instruments launched atop a roaring rocket.
 
Physicists and astronomers wanted to station their detectors and telescopes outside the Earth, beyond its atmosphere and its magnetic field. Planetologists, geologists, and atmospheric physicists wanted to fly their instruments to the vicinity of, or place them on the surface of, the Moon and the planets.
 
Physicists also wanted to answer questions about cosmic rays, the energetic electrons and atomic nuclei that continuously rain down on the Earth. Where did they come from? How did they get their enormous energies? What caused the variations in their flux? What could they tell us about the origin of the Earth, the solar system, and the universe?
 
During the decade prior to Sputnik, these cosmic ray physicists, sponsored by the Office of Naval Research, used balloons and aircraft to carry their instruments as close to the top of the atmosphere as possible and to the poles and the Equator. They pushed an unreliable balloon technology, through the use of ever thinner materials and ever larger balloons, to reach higher and higher altitudes. They needed the higher altitudes and longer exposure times to study lower energy and more pristine cosmic rays whose properties had not been changed by passage through the Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field. Accustomed to an studying results from eight-hour flights using unreliable balloons once or twice a year, these physicists desperately wanted to put their detectors on a spacecraft that would fly for months or years in interplanetary space and be completely free of any disturbance from the Earth.
 
Van Allen's discovery of the radiation belts in 1958 and his instant global acclaim further whetted their appetites. Already experienced in designing and building their own instruments to work unattended on a balloon, they flocked to NASA. They were accustomed to spending a year or more preparing an experiment and conducting joint balloon-flying expeditions with their colleagues. Some believed that a satellite would be like using a larger more reliable balloon-they sometimes forgot that whereas a balloon rises slowly and majestically from the ground, gently floating its payload into the sky a rocket blasts its payload into the sky and tries to shake it to pieces.
 
Astronomers wanted to put their telescopes into orbit. Throughout the centuries they had climbed the highest mountains and scanned the darkest skies to make their observations. To an astronomer, a satellite provided the ultimate mountaintop. After World War II, a small group of astronomers at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) began to use Sounding rockets to carry their instruments above the atmosphere for a momentary glimpse of the solar or stellar radiation absorbed by the atmosphere. Another group at Princeton used balloons to carry telescopes into orbit. Some of the NRL astronomers moved to the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in late 1958. The rest stayed at NRL, continued their work using Navy-supplied rockets, and sought opportunities to fly their instruments on NASA satellites. During 1959, because of the interest generated by the Space Science Board and by astronomers at Goddard, many astronomers switched from ground-to space-based astronomy. A few joined the space science divisions at Goddard or JPL, but most stayed at their original observatory.
 
Space flight created a new discipline, planetology, and revived a moribund branch of astronomy: planetary astronomy. At the turn of the century, astronomers lost interest in the planets when they realized that no matter what they did with telescopes, their ability to view objects on the surfaces of planets was limited by the distortion of the image as it came through the Earth's atmosphere. Space flight offered the opportunity to physically send instruments to orbit the planets or land on their surfaces. Planetologists wanted to study the planets to answer such questions as, What was their present state and how had they evolved? What could they tell about the origin, evolution, and future course of the Earth? Where did they come from? What kind of atmospheres did they have? In 1959, one of the most exciting questions was whether life existed on the other planets. Were the "canals" on Mars from an ancient civilization? Did an exotic civilization exist under the clouds of Venus? Planetology, as a scientific discipline, did not exist prior to space flight. Geologists, physicists, astronomers, and biologists all became planetologists.
 
Unlike the physicists and astronomers, planetologists had no cadre of experienced scientists to show them the way. They found powerful allies, however, among the media and aerospace engineers, particularly those at JPL. In 1959, designing a spacecraft to fly to a planet was a formidable engineering challenge. To arrive there would demonstrate exquisitely honed engineering and management skills. The first photographs taken at close range of the Moon's surface or of a new planet dominated the front pages of newspapers and flashed on the evening television news programs. The question of the existence of life on other planets fascinated scientists, the media, religious leaders and philosophers alike. The public too, could comprehend and identify with a picture-taking mission to Mars or Venus but had little interest in a graph that showed the flux of cosmic rays as a function of the distance from the Sun.
 
Scientists Discover the Problems in Space Research
 
Scientists entering the field of space science soon learned what the pioneering members of the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel had learned during the preceding quarter century-research using rockets was a hazardous and uncertain profession. To scientists who worked in the quiet of their laboratories, research was a continuous process. One made measurements, analyzed the data, published the results. Out of that work one gained new insights, asked new questions, modified the existing experimental apparatus, and started the whole process over again. The process continued from month to month and year to year. Scientists who moved from the laboratory into space science found their research work broken into discrete missions and the weight of their instruments severely restricted by the launch vehicle's limited weight-lifting capability. They learned that a mission, after a year or more of preparation, inundated them with an ocean of data that NASA and the media wanted analyzed and interpreted immediately. They also learned that the rocket might explode, or NASA might cancel the mission and leave them with nothing to show for a year's work.
 
The nature of space science required scientists to plan their experiments in great detail. Scientists had to design rugged instruments that would fit within the confines of the rocket and endure the shock and vibration of a launch. In addition to the flight instrument itself, a NASA project manager might require an "engineering model" of an instrument so his engineering team could figure out how to fit it on the spacecraft, a "thermal model" so they could check for hot spots, a "breadboard model" so they could eliminate any electrical interference with other experiments or the spacecraft itself, and finally a "brassboard model" to check the fittings on the spacecraft prior to integrating the actual flight instrument. Scientists found that they needed a small engineering staff or a contractor to build all of these models and work with the project manager's staff.
 
If it survived the shock and vibration of launch, then an instrument had to operate unattended for months, in the heat of the Sun and the cold and vacuum of space. The radio signals from the spacecraft had to be collected by ground stations scattered around the world and then converted back into physical measurements. After this if the instrument operated properly, the scientist began to analyze the data and, finally, published some results.
 
A scientist from a university accustomed to having his or her instruments built in his or her laboratory, and a project manager from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, accustomed to the schedules and constraints of a military aerospace project, each was appalled by the work habits of the other. A harassed project manager hated to depend on an eccentric scientist soldering away in the basement of a physics department to produce reliable space hardware and meet tight schedules. Scientists were loath to turn their precious instruments over to engineers who were interested in whether the instruments could pass their environmental tests rather than whether the instruments could measure the phenomena. Some hard-nosed project managers, primarily from JPL and aerospace contractors, directed scientists to give designs of their instruments over to contractors who could "build space-qualified hardware" but who, in fact, might build instruments that worked in space but produced useless data.
 
Academic scientists who worked with the Goddard Space Flight Center in 1959 were more fortunate. Most of the Goddard project managers were ex-NRL scientists who had built instruments to fly on rockets or satellites. They understood and were sympathetic to the objectives of the academic scientists. They demanded as little paperwork as possible.
 
Elsewhere, particularly at JPL, scientists and project managers quarreled over the purpose of a mission. Was it to return scientific data to scientists or demonstrate to the world that NASA could design, build, and send a spacecraft to the Moon or one of the planets? In the first year of NASA's existence, the NACA engineers, who had spent their careers studying and improving the behavior of machines in the atmosphere and space, focused their attention on the hardware, not space science. Aerospace engineers, accustomed to building and making missiles work, and operating under the glare of the media, focused their attention on the spacecraft and resented the interference of scientists with experiments that might delay the launch schedule and cause the United States to lag further behind the Russians. 112
 
In 1959, in spite of mounds of paper, acrimonious debates, delays, exploding rockets, and NASA cancellations, scientists continued to flock to space science. Scientific discoveries, a place in history, prestige, power, membership in the National Academy of Sciences, ample funds, and enthusiastic graduate students all drove scientists to fight to find a place for their experiments on NASA missions.
 

* Although from its creation in 1958 through May 1960, it was the Beltsvillle Space Flight Center, hereafter lit will be referred to as the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC).
 
** The first four Pinoneers were started by DOD's Advanced Research Projects Agency prior to the formation of NASA.


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