Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science

[104] NASA's task of assembling a team for the space program was helped immeasurably by being able to build on the NACA team. Abe Silverstein, brought to Washington by Hugh Dryden, played a key role in the pre-NASA planning and in getting the space program under way. His imprint was to be found on most aspects of the program, including space science.
Abe Silverstein was a hard-nosed, highly practical, boldly innovative engineer, with a solid conviction-consistent with NACA tradition-that all research had to have a firm justification in practical applications to which it would ultimately contribute. Abe had come from the position of associate director of the Lewis Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland to NACA Headquarters to help plan the new NASA. He remained a few years to head NASA's Office of Space Flight Development and later the Office of Space Flight Programs, in which NASA's space science division was then located. With him from Lewis he brought a number of persons who were to play key roles in NASA's management structure: Edgar M. Cortright, for many years deputy in the Office of Space Science and Applications and later director of the Langley Research Center; DeMarquis D. Wyatt, a leading figure in programming and budgeting for the agency; and George M. Low, who took over the Apollo Project Office at the Manned Spacecraft Center after the tragic Apollo fire at Cape Kennedy. Still later, Low became deputy administrator of NASA. Abe also drew upon other centers in NACA, selecting Robert Gilruth of Langley to manage a manned flight Space Task Group, which evolved into the Manned Spacecraft Center, subsequently renamed the Johnson Space Center. From the Ames Research Center he chose Harry Goett to take over the directorship of the Goddard Space Flight Center after John Townsend had that enterprise well under way.
The space science team grew largely from researchers who flocked to NASA from other agencies. The author's upper-air-research colleagues at the Naval Research Laboratory comprised an appreciable number of these. Soon after transferring to NASA, John Townsend, who had been head of rocket sonde research at NRL, was given the task of bringing the Beltsville Space Center into being. Negotiating with the director of the Naval Research Laboratory, Townsend worked out the details of the transfer of additional scientists and engineers from his former branch, 46 of whom [105] were placed on the NASA rolls on 28 December 1959.19 From NRL Townsend also secured temporary housing for the new NASA group. With the members of Project Vanguard who were transferred en masse by President Eisenhower on 1 October 1958, these employees accounted for most of the original staffing of the center. The manned flight Space Task Group at Langley was administratively assigned to the Goddard Space Flight Center for a while, but before any physical transfer took place the group was sent to Houston in 1961 as the nucleus of the Manned Spacecraft Center.
When Robert Jastrow, a physicist interested in properties of the upper atmosphere, transferred from the Naval Research Laboratory on 10 November 1958, he immediately set to work helping to plan the future space science program. An attractive, able scientist, Jastrow quickly earned the support of the administrator's office. He took the lead in developing for NASA a theoretical space sciences group, from which eventually came both the Theoretical Division and the Institute for Space Studies of the Goddard Center. Through both of these activities Jastrow was instrumental in drawing a high level of scientific talent into the agency, either onto NASA rolls or as visiting scientists.
Remaining at headquarters, John Clark and the author worked with Morton Stoller, Edgar Cortright, and other NACA people to build up a space sciences staff. Nancy Roman was enticed to leave the Naval Research Laboratory radio astronomy group to put her hand to developing an astronomy program for NASA. To help plan lunar and planetary programs, Gerhardt Schilling shifted over from the Academy of Sciences, where he had been associated with the International Geophysical Year and Space Science Board staffs. Robert Fellows, a chemist, came from Sprague Electric Company to join in planning and directing the upper-atmosphere research program.
Such was the pattern, but by no means the full accounting, of the early space science staffing of NASA. Those who had been pioneering in space research and development swelled the rolls of workers in the space program, both within and outside of NASA. And a great many of these were scientists interested in taking part in the space science program.