FIRST AMONG EQUALS : THE NASA PROCESS FOR SELECTING SCIENTISTS

 
Technical Management Instruction 37-1-1
 
Sometime in late January or early February 1960, Newell gave up trying to use ad hoc arrangements to solve his space science issues with JPL. 140, 141 Instead, he asked Clark to convert the existing NASA Policies and Procedures on Space Flight Experiments * into a formal NASA Technical Management Instruction, TMI 37-1-1, that would specify the process by which NASA would select space scientists and identify the roles and responsibilities of Headquarters and the centers in that process. Clark designed the process so that it could be applied to the selection of scientists for Goddard as well as JPL missions. Stoller helped Clark draft the document to include the selection of space application as well as space science experiments. 142
 
With the lengthy title Establishment and Conduct of Space Sciences Program - Selection of Scientific Experiments, TMI 37-1-1 became the equivalent of the Ten Commandments for space science. After a thorough review the Administrator of NASA approved it on April 15, 1960. 143 It clearly built on, but substantially modified, the original policies and procedures approved by Glennan in December 1958 and Silverstein's letter to JPL of January 26, 1960. It entered NASA jargon as "37-1-1," pronounced "thirty-seven-one-one." Every one at Headquarters soon learned that if you didn't do it according to old thirty-seven-one-one, you didn't do it right.
 
TMI 37-1-1 specified that the director of space flight programs retained final approval of experiments, experimenters, and specific flight missions. He was to appoint the members of a Space Sciences Steering Committee and its six scientific subcommittees. The assistant director of a program office managed the selection process for the missions in his program. Scientists were to send their proposals to participate in a mission to the program office responsible for that mission. After receiving the proposals, the assistant director was to send copies of each proposal, simultaneously, to the appropriate scientific subcommittees and to the field center responsible for the mission. The subcommittees would evaluate the relative scientific merits of the proposals while the field center evaluated the technical feasibility and compatibility of the proposed instruments with the spacecraft. The program office would then use the recommendations of the subcommittees and the center to formulate a tentative payload for the mission. The assistant director and his chief scientist then presented, and defended, the proposed scientists and their experiments before the Space Science Steering Committee.
 
The Space Science Steering Committee, although similar to the steering group proposed in Silverstein's letter of January 26, differed from it in several ways. Newell remained chairman but the committee would consist of only four members, all from Headquarters: the assistant director and the chief scientist for Lunar and Planetary Programs and the assistant director and the chief scientist for the Satellite and Sounding Rocket Programs. Under 37-1-1, the Steering Committee became the focus of all space science and space applications activities. It reviewed and recommended to the director of Space Flight Programs all space science programs, missions, experiments, and experimenters. As engineers and program directors. Cortright and Stoller reviewed and resolved the technical and programmatic issues. As scientists, Schilling and Clark reviewed and resolved the scientific issues. The Steering Committee was to be a permanent organization that met weekly. It has functioned continuously since its inception.
 
Six scientific subcommittees replaced the single "NASA Committee on Lunar Planetary and Interplanetary Science," referred to in Silverstein's letter. These subcommittees made their recommendations directly, and at the same time, to the Steering Committee and to the program directors. The subcommittees formulated long-range plans for their disciplines, evaluated proposals, and recommended space scientists for specific missions. The TMI did not specify the membership of the subcommittees, only that the director of the Space Flight Program was to appoint the members. In practice, a scientist from NASA Headquarters would chair each subcommittee and each subcommittee would have three kinds of members: space scientists from JPL and GSFC; consultants, who were space scientists from universities; and liaison members, who came from the other NASA centers that were not involved directly in space science flight projects. Newell and his staff selected the scientists and consultants on the basis of their scientific competence and recommended their appointment to Silverstein. The subcommittees met four to six times a year and members served two-year terms.
 
There were to be four "discipline" subcommittees: Aeronomy. Astronomy and Solar Physics, Ionospheric Physics, and Energetic Particles: and two "Scientific Program" committees: Lunar Sciences and Planetary and Interplanetary Sciences. Each discipline subcommittee was to plan its own scientific program, evaluate the scientific proposals in its discipline, and recommend the space scientists to be selected. They were to evaluate proposals for planetary probes as well as for earth satellites. The two "program" committees were to establish scientific objectives for, and evaluate proposals for, only missions of the Lunar and Planetary Program. This arbitrary distinction between discipline and program subcommittees was deliberate. In February 1960, it was impossible to decide which would work better without trying them both; in addition, Cortright, the assistant director for Lunar and Planetary Programs, preferred to work with program committees, whereas Stoller and Clark preferred to work with discipline committees. Two years later, when he became associate administrator of space science, Newell reorganized the subcommittees and eliminated the program committees in favor of additional discipline committees.
 
Initially, only two field centers, GSFC and JPL, were to be involved in the space science program. Over the next two decades, however, NASA would assign space science missions to all of the centers except the Kennedy Space Center and the Lewis Research Center. At the centers, a project team was to review each proposal to determine if the instrument was compatible with the spacecraft and if the scientist and his or her team were capable of producing the instrument. After the scientists were selected, the project manager was to establish the schedules for scientists to deliver prototype models of their experiments. This first version of TMI 37-1-1 gave field centers two options for handling the fabrication of the flight models: they could either fabricate the instruments for their mission or they could ask each scientist to fabricate his or her instrument and deliver a flight-ready model to the center. Allowing these two options represented a compromise between JPL and GSFC project-management philosophy. JPL insisted on the right to determine who fabricated the instruments flown on their spacecraft. GSFC insisted that experimenters fabricate their own instruments. With the assistance of the experimenters, each center's project team was to test the flight instruments and integrate them into the spacecraft.
 
Any scientist, except a scientist working at NASA Headquarters, could propose an experiment for a NASA scientific mission. After the selection process was completed, NASA Headquarters would send a letter to all scientists who had submitted proposals that told them of the results of the process. The letter that went to those who had been selected informed them of their selection, specified the conditions under which their experiment had been selected, told them that the field center responsible for the mission would contact them to arrange a contract for their work. The letter also specifically invited them to bring any unresolved issues they had with the center directly to Headquarters. At the same time, Headquarters sent a letter, via the center director, to the project manager that informed him of the results of the selection process and directed him to negotiate contracts with the scientists to build their instruments. As a result, experimenters on a NASA space science mission always had two contracts: one with NASA Headquarters based on their original proposal and the NASA letter of acceptance, to accomplish the scientific objectives of their experiments, and one with the field center to produce the instrument, analyze the data, and publish the results. After receiving their contract from the center, the scientists built prototype models of their instruments and either built or cooperated in the fabrication of the actual flight instruments, analyzed the data, and published the results.
 
TMI 37-1-1 proved to be an exceedingly important document for NASA and for space scientists. For the first time, it specified the process NASA would use to select space scientists for its scientific missions and delineated a scientist's rights and responsibilities during those missions. It covered the entire life of a mission, from the time scientists submitted their proposals through the time they published their final results.
 
The first version of TMI 37-1-1 did not require experimenters to produce the flight model of their experiment, nor did it make any provision for informing academic scientists of opportunities to propose experiments for NASA missions. These two provisions were added later. The lack of information about NASA's plans and procedures seriously hampered academic scientists. In addition to all the uncertainty associated with the selection process itself, academic scientists had to live with the uncertainty as to what missions NASA was planning and when it would make its next selection of space scientists. A NASA scientist could easily obtain a year's head start over an academic scientist in a competition because he or she participated in planning the mission. As these flaws and omissions became apparent, NASA modified TMI 37-1-1.
 
Although TMI 37-1-1 appeared long, cumbersome, and unlikely to work, it was necessary because performing a scientific experiment in space was a long, complex, difficult, and costly process. Unlike some of their colleagues, space scientists could not conceive of experiments on Sunday afternoon as they sat on their patios sipping a scotch and soda, go into their laboratories on Monday, build the apparatus, take data a month later, and send off a paper to the Physical Review before the year was out. If they pondered a question on their patio, they had to figure out how to build an apparatus that could survive the stress of a rocket launch, operate unattended for months or years, and accurately transmit the data necessary to answer the original scientific question. In the early 1960s, it could easily take two to five years from the concept of an experiment to a published paper. In 1960, two years seemed an eternity to restless scientists. By the late 1970s, the same process would take one to two decades!
 
Viewed after several decades of experience, this first version of TMI 37-1-1 had some flaws, mostly in the form of omissions, but it was basically a sound document. It laid a heavy burden of paperwork on the scientists and the field centers. However, it gave everyone, NASA Headquarters, the scientists, JPL and Goddard, and the contractors a road map to follow into an uncertain future. It was a documented process. Omissions or faulty portions could be recognized and corrected.

In February of 1960, Newell had no particular reason to assume that his new organization and his new process for selecting scientists would work any better than his previous arrangement. In order to make it work he still had to recruit and retain competent scientists at Headquarters. He had no reason to assume that competent outside scientists would serve on the subcommittees to evaluate proposals or that scientists would accept the evaluation of their proposals by the subcommittees. He could not be certain that it would be accepted by his NASA colleagues at NASA Headquarters; many former NACA engineers resisted involving academic scientists in any way in the making of NASA decisions.


* Originally prepared by Clark and approved by T. Keith Glennan on December 15, 1958.

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