FIRST AMONG EQUALS : THE NASA PROCESS FOR SELECTING SCIENTISTS

 
The Space Science Steering Committee
 
The SSSC in Action
 
Newell called the first meeting of the Space Sciences Steering Committee on February 16, 1960, two months before Glennan would approve TMI 37-1-1. 144 The Committee reviewed and unanimously recommended approval of seven experiments to be flown on emission to test a Ranger spacecraft on a flight past the Moon. Three of the proposed experiments came from universities: a "Photoconductive Particle Detector" from the State University of Iowa, a "Coincidence Detector" from the University of Chicago, and an "Ion Chamber" from the California Institute of Technology. Three came from government laboratories: a "Magnetometer" and a "Micrometeorite Detector" from Goddard and a "Lyman Alpha Scanner" from the Naval Research Laboratory. One, a "Solar Corpuscular Detector," was proposed by a scientist from JPL.
 
The Committee considered this action a preliminary determination of the payload and recommended that Silverstein authorize JPL to select a final payload from this list after JPL had completed the design of the spacecraft and the scientists had completed the design of their instruments. It is not surprising that the JPL engineers needed additional time to design the spacecraft. They had not commenced their work on this spacecraft until after Newell's December 28 meeting.
 
The minutes of this first meeting of the Steering Committee illuminate the thinking of Newell and his staff in February 1960. According to the minutes, the Steering Committee recommended the solar corpuscular detector proposed by JPL over two similar experiments, one proposed by the Ames Research Center and one by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, because these two institutions already had instruments scheduled for flight on Goddard missions. The minutes read: "Scientific data analysis is preferably done by various scientists to improve quality of effort and to avoid saturation of any one group." No mention is made of the scientist for this experiment.
 
According to the minutes, the Iowa experiment was selected because (1) it had no permanent magnet to interfere with the magnetometer: (2) a year earlier, Schilling had encouraged Van Allen to fly an experiment on one of the ill-fated Vega test missions; and (3) because Van Allen was "an experimenter with internationally proven competence and ability with regard to instrumentation as well as creative ability for imaginative data interpretation." Apparently, the Committee members were concerned about the ability of the Goddard scientist to build his magnetometer experiment in time. They requested that "GSFC management provide formal assurance to JPL that the magnetometer would be delivered on time."
 
The Committee chose an experiment proposed by Dr. John A. Simpson of the University of Chicago over a similar experiment proposed by Dr. Frank B. McDonald from Goddard, because it complemented the rest of the instrumentation, covered a broader range of particle energies, and provided specific overlap with Van Allen's experiment. In addition, Simpson, under a $300,280 contract with NASA for the past year, was not yet scheduled for a flight on any NASA missions. Schilling had also encouraged Simpson to propose an experiment for the Vega test missions.
 
The rationale used for the selection of these seven experiments, as recorded by the secretary of the Steering Committee and approved by Newell, was a curious mixture of technical, scientific, financial, and political considerations.
 
From this rather shaky and uncertain beginning, the Committee proceeded to a second meeting on March 4, 1960. 145 In the interim, Cortright visited JPL and reported that the payload recommended at the previous meeting "appeared to be stabilizing." The Goddard magnetometer experiment and a micrometeorite experiment would be included, and an electric field experiment excluded. The Committee agreed to meet weekly at 9:00 a.m. on Thursdays.
 
Dr. Pickering, director of JPL, joined the Committee at its fourth meeting on March 16 to discuss the Committee and its subcommittees. He had not yet read TMI 37-1-1 and asked to be excused from comment until later. He questioned the relationship between the Steering Committee and the Space Science Board and was told by Newell that the two were complementary; the Board
 
must paint the picture of the science with broad brush strokes. The Steering Committee, which is concerned with the overall view, must concern itself also with the problems involved in actual scientific flights, such as availability and use of vehicles, payloads, balance between the several scientific disciplines in the scientific program and similar, what may be called "practical problems" of carrying out scientific research. 146
 
Pickering inquired about the subcommittees and Dr. Newell 147 emphasized that
 
NASA desires to use its space vehicles as a national resource, and not to discriminate against any portion of the scientific community in their use. Consequently all decisions for use of the vehicles must be made at the Headquarters of NASA. However, the initiative for scientific experiments must come from the scientific community at large, whether from the research centers or elsewhere, and the initiative for proper packaging of experiments must come from the research centers. The subcommittees can be expected to be continuously in touch with the respective scientific fields of their interest. Their function will be advisory, to inform the Steering committee of their findings and opinions.
 
Pickering returned to JPL, read 37-1-1, and wrote Newell on March 22. In his letter, he agreed that the duties of the Steering Committee seem to us to be characteristic of a reasonable and necessary Headquarter's role in this area." He pointed out that the individuals involved in the Steering Committee already reported to Newell and questioned the need to complicate the situation by forming the Committee. Pickering opposed the formation of the subcommittees, stating 148
 
We do not feel that such subcommittees would effectively serve the purpose for which they are intended. We feel that committees organized in this manner that report directly to NASA Headquarters are in danger of losing contact with many problems of the program. As a result, the recommendations of such subcommittees acquire the label "impractical," and become easy targets for those who feel that the scientific objectives of the space program should take on a secondary or tertiary priority position.
 
Pickering proposed that
 
instead of using the subcommittees, the Committee obtain the information necessary for its functions from the JPL and GSFC. authorizing these Centers to organize their own scientific groups to the extent that they find necessary to assist them in preparing reports and study documents for their own use and for forwarding to the Steering Committee.
 
Pickering endorsed most of the remainder of TMI 37-1-1 except for the section on contracting with universities. Here he felt that no distinction should be made between NASA contracts with universities and those with industry.
 
Harry Goett, director of Goddard, met with the Steering Committee at its next meeting. Goett thought the Steering Committee was a good idea but he had some reservations. He opposed the use of consultants on the subcommittees. If they were used, he insisted that they not make decisions. Goett wanted preferential treatment for NASA scientists. Many of the NASA scientists, he said, "were working at lower salaries than could be obtained outside of government employment." These people needed extra incentive and inducement to keep them happy and in government employment. The best way to do this was to encourage them in their work and facilitate in every way possible their frequent participation in space experimentation. 149
 
Neither Dr. Pickering's letter nor Harry Goett's appearance before the Steering Committee changed Headquarter's views or altered the draft version of TMI 37-1-1. On April 4, at the eighth meeting of the Steering Committee, Newell announced that Silverstein and Dryden had approved the document. 150 Subsequently, Dr. Glennan approved it and on April 15, 1960, NASA officially issued TMI 37-1-1.
 
As in most situations where strong-minded people with common objectives use different approaches to reach those objectives, the problems between NASA Headquarters and JPL and between NASA and the academic scientists were resolved by negotiation and compromise. No one got everything he wanted out of the negotiations but each achieved at least the minimum he felt he needed to proceed. At JPL, Pickering and his staff did not get the right to select the scientists for their missions but retained most of their control over flight instruments. This control, they felt, was needed in order to ensure success of the lunar missions. Academic scientists did not retain the right to have their own mechanism, the Space Science Board, evaluate their proposals, but the selection was taken out of the hands of their competitors at Goddard. The scientists at Goddard did not retain the right to choose scientists or even to have a privileged position in the selection process, but they got firm recognition of their right to compete on equal terms with academic scientists and were not required to support the work of their academic colleagues, as had been proposed by the Space Science Board. Headquarters took upon itself the right and the responsibility for selecting the scientists for NASA's space science missions.
 
A Conflict of Interest in the SSSC
 
One of the principal reasons that NASA Headquarters assumed the responsibility for selecting space scientists was that the scientists at Headquarters who reviewed proposals were expected to be scientific administrators, free of any direct scientific or financial interest in the fate of any proposals they reviewed. As permanent members of the Headquarter's staff, they were no longer to be involved in their own research.
 
In December 1960, a controversy arose in the Steering Committee when one of the members reviewed and recommended approval of his own experiment. 151 This incensed other scientists at NASA Headquarters, particularly Dr. John F. Clark, who had given up research in order to help administer the national program. Here was a clear case of someone violating the whole idea of maintaining a scientific staff at Headquarters free of any scientific conflict of interest. Not only was this person engaged in research in direct competition with other scientists, but he had satin judgment of, and been party to, the selection of his own experiment.
 
The issue was raised at the next meeting of the Committee. Although the Steering Committee did not reverse its recommendation, the incident further clarified the role of scientists at Headquarters, the minutes read 152
 
While it was generally agreed that it is desirable for Headquarters personnel to keep abreast of science, the question of the outset and character of the participation is not as clear-cut. The discussion can be summarized by stating that it was the consensus of the Committee that Headquarter's personnel must not get into the position of being a competitor with scientific investigators supported by NASA.
 
As a result of this squabble, NASA, in effect, added a new principle to the selection process: Scientists at NASA Headquarters, whose responsibilities included the recommendation of scientists for scientific missions, must not conduct research programs that competed with those of the scientists whose proposals they were evaluating.
 
This was the last time a member of the Steering Committee sat in judgment on his own experiment. It also marked the end of a long tradition in which chairmen and committee members reviewed and recommended acceptance of their own proposals. This tradition was established by the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel, continued by the group that selected the experiments for the IGY satellites, and the committees of the Space Science Board, and followed by Goddard project scientists until NASA enacted 37-1-1.
 
Summary of the Early Work of the SSSC
 
The Steering Committee met forty-six times in 1960 and at almost every meeting it reviewed and recommended the space scientists for a NASA scientific mission or else established substantial policy guidelines. The Committee created policies and procedures that are still being followed today. There is no record that Silverstein rejected any recommendations of the Steering Committee, so the Committee rapidly became the final step in the process of selecting space scientists. Early in 1960, the Committee reviewed and recommended approval of many missions already underway, providing an after-the-fact blessing and legitimacy to the scientists who had been selected before formation of the Steering Committee.
 
The Subcommittee of the SSSC
 
It rapidly became apparent that technical subcommittees were needed to advise the Committee. The minutes of the ninth meeting of the Steering Committee record a discussion of a letter from Dr. Rossi of MIT 153 Dr. Rossi wrote that research in plasmas was inadequate and that he was having trouble finding missions on which to fly the MIT plasma probes. The Committee decided that Rossi should be invited to the second meeting of the Particles and Fields Subcommittee which was not yet formed and discuss his problems.
 
Goddard management requested permission to establish representative payloads for the first Eccentric Orbiting and Polar Orbiting Geophysical Observatories (EGO and POGO). After discussion in the Steering Committee, Newell requested that four of the subcommittees (Aeronomy, Ionospheric Physics, Particles and Fields, and Astronomy and Solar Physics) recommend experiments for these missions.
 
At the thirteenth meeting of the Committee, a Goddard memorandum raised two questions. One was related to the relative merits of an alkali vapor magnetometer, a complex, costly, but very sensitive instrument, and a spinning coil magnetometer, a simple, less costly, and less sensitive instrument. The other question related to the use of magnetometers on lunar missions. Newell referred the question of the merits of the two magnetometers to the Particles and Fields Subcommittee and the value of magnetometers on lunar missions to the Lunar Science Subcommittee.
 
It was obvious that the Steering Committee needed a technical arm to help with its work and the subcommittees would have to fulfill that function.
 
Once Glennan approved 37-1-1, Newell moved briskly to bring these subcommittees into being. 154 He established six subcommittees and appointed their chairpersons:
 
Aeronomy, Dr. Morris Tepper
Astronomy and Solar Physics, Dr. Nancy Roman
Ionospheric Physics, Dr. John F. Clark
Lunar Sciences, Dr Robert Jastrow
Particles and Fields, Dr. John E. Naugle
Planetary and Interplanetary Science, Dr. Homer E. Newell
 
As yet, Newell did not have enough scientists at Headquarters to go around so he chaired one committee himself and despite the objections of Pickering and the agreements reached at the December 28 meeting at JPL, he retained Jastrow as the temporary chairman of the Lunar Sciences Committee.
 
On April 12, 1960, Newell met with the chairpersons, described their responsibilities, and urged them to promptly schedule a meeting with NASA members only, no consultants. He asked the chairpersons to prepare material appropriate to their disciplines for the NASA ten-year plan, to bring the existing short-range plan up to date, and to develop good communications with the scientists in their disciplines. Newell did not discuss the role of the subcommittees in the selection of space scientists.
 
He requested that each subcommittee recommend four or five consultants, who would be reviewed by the Steering Committee and approved by Silverstein. They could be members of the Space Science Board and its committees. They needed security clearances because NASA launch-related information and dates were classified.
 
Newell wanted free and full communication between the members of the Steering Committee and the subcommittees; he made all members of the Steering Committee ex-officio members of all subcommittees; and all reports and minutes of the subcommittees were automatically sent to all members of the Steering Committee and to all members of all the other subcommittees. In turn, the minutes of the Steering Committee were sent to the chairpersons of the subcommittees Newell insisted on a free flow of information between the scientific community and NASA Headquarters. Later, by personally responding in writing to each subcommittees recommendation and by attending subcommittee meetings. Newell got the message across that NASA took the work of the subcommittees very seriously.
 
As requested, the subcommittees first met with only the NASA members present. Newell joined each subcommittee, described the role of the Steering Committee, and reiterated the requests he made earlier to the chairpersons. From this time on, a large measure of the success of Newell's new process depended upon the subcommittees and their chairpersons. If they performed well and gained the confidence of the scientific community and their NASA critics, the process would work, if they did not, or if scientists or persons in NASA's legal or procurement departments complained and overturned Steering Committee recommendations, the whole process might collapse.


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