FIRST AMONG EQUALS : THE NASA PROCESS FOR SELECTING SCIENTISTS

 
 
Some Preliminaries
 
Another Ad Hoc Arrangement with JPL
 
Upon returning to work in January 1960 Newell attempted to proceed as he and Pickering had agreed at their December 28, 1959, meeting. On January 26, 1960, a letter went from Silverstein to Pickering stating that he had "tentatively decided on the following course of action." 138 Even though NASA never proceeded on the course of action outlined in this letter, it is worth a brief consideration because it illustrates some of the problems Newell faced as he tried to design the NASA process for selecting space scientists. It also pinpoints exactly when Newell finally settled on the process for selecting space scientists.
 
The letter was obviously a trial balloon. It closed with a statement that nothing would be done until JPL responded. Edgar M. Cortright prepared the letter. Its content shows him as a young ex-NACA engineer, well on his way at NASA Headquarters, to becoming a master organizer of complex space activities. Cortright tried to abide by Newell and Pickering's agreement and struggled to resolve the conflicts inherent in accomplishing the best possible science on a mission while keeping the mission on schedule and within predicted costs.
 
Instead of proposing a single committee, as Newell and Pickering had agreed on December 28, Cortright proposed two groups: a "steering group" and a "science committee." A "NASA Steering Group on Lunar, Planetary, and Interplanetary Exploration" would consist entirely of NASA and JPL engineers and scientists: four from JPL, one from Goddard, and five from NASA Headquarters. A "NASA Committee on Lunar, Planetary, and Interplanetary Science" would consist of about twenty scientists: three from NASA Headquarters, one from JPL, two from Goddard, and the rest from universities. Newell was to chair both groups.
 
The science committee would define the scientific objectives of the program, advise NASA as to the relative priorities of the proposed scientific experiments, and then specify the scientists and the instruments to be assigned to specific flights. The steering group would review the recommendations of the science committee, consider the technical, management, and budget problems of the lunar and planetary program, and develop an integrated lunar and planetary program. Cortright then recommended an alternate chairman for each group: himself, for the steering group, and Dr. Gerhardt F. Schilling, an astronomer who had joined NASA Headquarters, for the science committee. Cortright wrestled with the need to assign appropriate and complementary roles for the Space Science Board and the NASA science committee (almost all of the non-NASA scientists proposed were either members of the Space Science Board or one of its committees by noting that the NASA scientific committee will "be more of a working group in direct support of NASA programs.
 
In hindsight, this proposed arrangement was unworkable. It was another scheme that mixed up the people and the roles of NASA Headquarters, Goddard and JPL. Since JPL was legally a contractor to NASA, JPL people could not legally participate in such discussions; they would be in a conflict of interest. In addition, this arrangement singled out the lunar and planetary program for special attention by NASA Headquarters. The instant that the physicists and the astronomers found out about such an arrangement they would have demanded a similar arrangement for their discipline. There was a limit to the number of committees even a hard-working chairman such as Newell could handle.
On the positive side, the arrangement recognized the need for a forum to balance the scientific objectives against the technical constraints imposed by the launch vehicle and the spacecraft and the limits imposed by the funds and personnel available to NASA. It recognized the need to describe and differentiate the roles of the NASA space science organization from those of the Space Science Board and its committees.
 
The arrangement also lacked a policy and set of procedures that specified how NASA would formulate its scientific program and select the scientists. Such a policy could not be written until there was a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of Silverstein's office and the two space flight centers, Goddard and JPL. NASA records show no response from JPL to the Silverstein letter. Other events eliminated the need for a response.
 
Silverstein Reorganizes the Office of Space Flight
 
Silverstein needed to reorganize his staff and provide a better understanding of the roles of Headquarters and the field centers before Newell and his staff could design a suitable process for selecting space scientists. On February 7, 1960, Silverstein reorganized the Office of Space Flight Programs. 139 He made Newell his deputy, abolished Newell's Office of Space Sciences, and replaced it with two program offices: Lunar and Planetary Programs and Satellite and Sounding Rocket Programs. He appointed Cortright assistant director for Lunar and Planetary Programs and Schilling his Deputy. He appointed Stoller, director for Satellites and Sounding Rocket Programs and Clark, his deputy.
 
Silverstein's new organization paired a scientist and an engineer at each management level: Silverstein and Newell in Silverstein's office, Cortright and Shilling in the Lunar and Planetary Program Office, and Stoller and Clark in the Satellite and Sounding Rocket Program office. By pairing engineers and scientists at each management level, Silverstein assured himself that the scientific objectives and the engineering requirements received attention in all program decisions.
 
Silverstein's basic organization persisted for the next two decades in space science. The NASA selection process was designed around it. From the viewpoint of the scientists, however, Silverstein's organization had one major flaw: engineers, rather than scientists, were in charge at each management level. Engineers would remain in charge until a new administrator reorganized NASA in 1961.
 
Headquarters Becomes "HEADQUARTERS"
 
Silverstein's new organization eliminated the senior Goddard scientists and JPL personnel from decision-making positions at NASA Headquarters. Center people continued to have a strong influence on NASA decisions but they exerted that influence in recommendations transmitted through their center management to Headquarters, not as center people with "a Headquarter's hat" who worked in Headquarters. With center people no longer in decision-making positions at Headquarters, the roles and responsibilities of Headquarters and the two space flight centers could now be clearly delineated.
 
After the decision to eliminate the use of Goddard scientists at Headquarters, a predictable phenomenon took place. The people at NASA Headquarters, the "old NACA crowd," the "old NRL crowd," the scientists and the engineers, and the occasional stray scientist or engineer from industry or academia with no connections to either crowd, began to work together. They recognized that Headquarters must play a powerful role if the complex space science enterprise was to succeed. They gradually adopted the values and outlook necessary to work in Headquarters and separated themselves professionally from their roots in the field. Otherwise they retained the mores of their early training and remained "NACA" or "NRL" or "academic" and scientist or engineer.


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