Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science

[221] By virtue of science's being very much what scientists do, the space science program, if it was to be a good one, had to be what space scientists made of it. Recognizing this, NASA built its space science program on advice from the best scientific minds it could get to think about the program. Over the years June Merker, assistant to the author, kept a running record of recommendations made to NASA by the many advisory bodies with which the space science office had to deal. For each recommendation she put down what NASA's response had been. A simple perusal is enough to convince one that NASA did pay careful attention to what the scientists were telling the agency.36
This accommodation to the scientific community did not come about without much stress and strain. Scientists are a contentious lot, habituated to open debate and free expression of views, and the tremendous opportunities of the space program inspired them to more intense dispute than usual. One reviewer of this manuscript raised the question of why so much attention should be paid to the quarrelsomeness of the space scientists.37 Others expressed the view that even more attention should be given the subject. In view of their special role and position in the program, a certain noblesse oblige fell on the space scientists.38 Nevertheless, much of the tension in the program stemmed from the scientists' presumption of special privilege, which at times Congress found irritating. Many scientists [222] however-like Harry Hess, Charles Townes, John Simpson, Eugene Parker, Fred Seitz, John Findlay, and Gerard Kuiper-were invariably courteous and helpful.
But it should not be supposed that all the stresses and strains were between NASA and those outside. There were plenty of internal problems, and the space science program had its share, some of which are discussed in chapters 14-16.