FIRST AMONG EQUALS : PREFACE

 
In the fall of 1957, with the launch of Sputnik I, scientists began to explore a new universe outside the Earth's atmosphere, a universe previously invisible to astronomers and beyond the reach of physicists. Scientists and the media promptly nicknamed this universe "space" and began to call the people who explored it "space scientists." In the spring of 1958, the United States created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and directed it to maintain U.S. leadership in space science and technology. At the same time, the National Academy of Sciences created a Space Science Board to interest scientists in space research and to advise NASA and the other federal agencies the Academy expected to be engaged in space research.
 
As scientists recognized the potential for major scientific discoveries in space, they began to fight for the limited opportunities to place their instruments on board NASA spacecraft. As a result of this intense competition, a quiet but equally intense struggle developed between NASA Headquarters and the Space Science Board. Each wanted to control the process to select space scientists. Inside NASA, a similar struggle evolved between NASA Headquarters and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It took NASA three hectic years to hammer out a selection process that was acceptable to the scientists, administrators, lawyers, procurement specialists, and the institutions involved.
 
Three decades later, NASA continues to use that same basic process: the associate administrator for the NASA Office of Space Science and Applications selects the space scientists for all NASA's missions. It is not a trivial responsibility. A major space science mission, such as Viking or the Space Telescope, may involve 100 scientists, require twenty years to complete, and cost more than a billion dollars. The current associate administrator recently (1989) selected the space scientists for what may become one of the most complex and costly of all NASA's scientific missions. In January 1988, he issued an Announcement of Opportunity inviting scientists to propose investigations for an Earth Observing System (EOS) to be launched in the mid 1990s. NASA plans to operate two of these systems for the next two decades. A year later, in NASA Press Release 89-15, he announced his selections. The opening paragraph of the "fact sheet" that accompanied the press release illustrates the magnitude, complexity, and nature of the NASA process for selecting space scientists:
 
NASA received 455 proposals in response to the Announcement of Opportunity. Each was evaluated by scientific peers including representatives from government, academia, industry and the international Earth observation community. NASA management then selected from the ones viewed as acceptable by the peer evaluators those needed to accomplish the EOS objectives. The selection breakdown is as follows: 24 instrument investigations; 6 research facility instrument investigation team leaders and 87 team members; and 28 interdisciplinary investigators (20 U.S., 8 foreign).* The various teams selected comprise 551 different individuals from 168 different institutions, universities or laboratories in 32 different states and 13 different countries (NASA Press Release 89-15)
 
Although not mentioned in the press release, it may cost over $30 billion to build and operate the two EOS platforms for two decades and to support the research of the 551 EOS space scientists. Not only is the selection of space scientists for such a mission a formidable technical and management challenge but it commits a substantial amount of government funds to a scientific mission.
 
In this book I describe the origin and evolution of the NASA selection process. Where necessary, I touch on the concurrent political and technical forces that helped shape the process. I have not attempted to write a comprehensive history of space science. I have not attempted to describe the process that NASA uses to formulate its scientific program, nor have I attempted to critique the qualifications of the scientists selected or the value of the research they conducted.
 
On March 21, 1960, at the invitation of Dr. John F. Clark, (deputy to the assistant director for Satellite and Sounding Rocket Programs) I permanently transferred from the Space Science Division of the Goddard Space Flight Center to work for him at NASA Headquarters. Initially, I was expected to work half-time for Clark and spend the other half of my time working at Goddard to finish a research project I had underway. Clark placed me in charge of NASA's Fields and Particles Program. One of my first jobs at Headquarters was to organize and chair the Fields and Particles Subcommittee of the Space Sciences Steering Committee. I chaired the Subcommittee for the first two years of its existence (1960-1962); therefore the section of this book dealing with its activities is more a personal memoir than an impersonal history. Although I came to Headquarters expecting to stay at most two years. I remained there until I retired in July 1980.
 
In NASA jargon, the selection process has a variety of names. The lawyers responsible for NASA's procurement system sometimes refer to it as the "principal-investigator" selection process because, once selected, the scientist, or his or her institution, is awarded a contract and he or she is designated a principal investigator. NASA project managers usually call it the "payload" selection process because the suite of instruments that the scientist(s) proposed becomes the payload. Despite the different names, they all refer to the same process: the selection of the scientists to conduct experiments on a specific NASA mission.
 
In the spring of 1986, Dr. Sylvia D. Fries, NASA's chief historian, suggested that I write a short historical essay on the NASA selection process. I found its origins in the period immediately after World War II in the work of a small group of scientists who used captured German V-2 rockets to conduct research above the atmosphere. They created an ad hoc panel to review one another's experiments and establish the order in which they would be flown. Many of the traditions they established were later incorporated into the NASA process. Three people from this group played key roles in the formulation of the NASA selection process.
 
In the first five chapters, I trace the origins of space science, the Space Science Board, and NASA, and show how people, events, conflicts, forces, and decisions coalesced and led NASA to formulate its particular process in the spring of 1960. Those readers who are interested only in the details of the NASA process and the immediate circumstances surrounding its creation will find that story begins with chapter 6. I finish the story in the spring of 1962 with the NASA selection process firmly in place and the United States beginning to establish leadership in space science and technology.
 
NASA slightly modified the selection process between 1960 and 1962 as the leaders of the agency and space scientists gained experience. In the spring of 1961, James E. Webb became the NASA administrator. In November 1961, he reorganized the agency, created the Office of Space Science at NASA Headquarters, and placed a scientist, Dr. Homer E. Newell, in charge of NASA's space science program. Today, the NASA space science organization is much the same as the one Newell created in late 1961.
 
I used most of the books in the NASA History Series to help me place events in their proper chronology and context. Dr. Homer E. Newell's book, Beyond the Atmosphere (NASA SP-4211, 1980) covers the entire period. Newell wrote from the viewpoint of a civil servant who spent most of his professional career planning and administering space science programs. Newell was a member of the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel and later directed NASA's space science program during its first crucial years. Dr. James A. Van Allen's book, Origins of Magnetospheric Physics, also covers the same period. Van Allen wrote from the perspective of an academic scientist who conducted cosmic ray and magnetospheric research. He used rockets and satellites to carry his instruments above the atmosphere. Van Allen chaired the Research Panel and the Working Group on Internal Instrumentation, the group that selected the scientists for the Vanguard and the early Explorer and Pioneer missions. Dr. Robert L. Rosholt's An Administrative History of NASA, 1958-1963 NASA SP-4101, 1966) provided a chronology and useful insights into the events that took place before I came to NASA Headquarters. I used all three of these books extensively.
 
Wherever possible, however, I read the original letters, minutes of meetings, and newspaper articles to refresh my memory and to help me better recall the tenor of the time. Excellent minutes of the various International Geophysical Year (IGY) panels and working groups and of the Space Science Board, covering the period 1955 through 1962 **, were available in the Archives and Records Office of the National Academy of Sciences. Valuable historical records of NASA's Space Science Steering Committee and its subcommittees and official NASA correspondence were available through the NASA History Office.
 
The following people were kind enough to review a draft of the manuscript and provide me with their additions, corrections, and comments: Kinsey Anderson, John F. Clark, Edgar M. Cortright, Riccardo Giacconi, Janice F. Goldblum, Frank B. McDonald, Allan A. Needell, Norman F. Ness, Marcia Neugebauer, John A. Simpson, John W. Townsend, Jr., and James A. Van Allen. Anderson, Giacconi, McDonald, Ness, and Neugebauer were young scientists in 1960, either subjected to the NASA selection process or involved in conducting the process. Clark and Cortright came to NASA Headquarters in the fall of 1958 and helped formulate the process and then used it to select space scientists for NASA's early missions. Townsend formed the Space Science Division at the Goddard Space Flight Center, helped design the process and then implemented it at that center. Simpson and Van Allen were established scientists in 1960 and members of the Space Science Board. They helped formulate the basic policies that underlay the process and were subject to the process once NASA began using it, Needell is a professional historian who writes about space science, Goldblum, deputy archivist at the National Academy of Sciences, checked the accuracy and format of my references to material from the Archives of the National Academy of sciences. Each read the document through and provided substantial corrections and additional material, which I have incorporated into the final version. As a result of their contributions, the document is more complete and more accurate, l am deeply grateful for the considerable time and effort these people put into their reviews. I am, however, solely responsible for the final product.
 
In addition to suggesting the project, Dr. Sylvia Fries edited two drafts and helped sort out those events that were of historical significance from those that were of interest to me as a participant. Lee D. Saegesser, archivist of the NASA History Office, was most patient and helpful with my requests for NASA material, Mary Ann Gaskins provided access to the minutes of the Space Science Steering Committee and its subcommittees. David Saumweber, archivist, and Janice Goldblum, deputy archivist, of the National Academy of Sciences, were most helpful, making extensive files of the International Geophysical Year and Space Science Board available and helping me find the material I wanted. Ethel Naugle edited several versions of the manuscript and helped to convert my text into readable English.
 

* In 1989 NASA jargon, a space scientist could be, among other things, a principal investigator, co-investigator, a team leader, an interdisciplinary investigator, or a team member, depending upon the role he or she plays in the mission.

** The Academy does not release material in its archives until twenty-five years after the events.


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