Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science

[126] Important to the scientific community was the question of where scientific results from the space program would be published. Publication in the open literature is, of course, a fundamental aspect of the scientific process. Both the outside scientists and those who had joined the agency were dedicated by training and habit to open publication. In this they ran head on into NACA tradition and practice of issuing research results in series such as NACA Reports, Technical Notes, and Technical Memoranda.31
[127] NACA papers were highly respected in the field of aeronautics and aerodynamics. They were carefully critiqued and severely edited within the agency before being widely distributed to aeronautical centers, appropriate military offices in the United States and elsewhere, and industrial and academic libraries around the world. It was NACA's position that the procedure ensured both high quality in its publications and provided for getting them to those who needed them in their work. Moreover, the existence of such series of NACA publications was the best possible advertising for the agency.
NACA was not alone in this practice. Both the Bureau of Standards and the Bell Laboratories put out journals of their own; and, during the Rocket and Satellite Panel days, the Naval Research Laboratory had issued much of its rocket-research results in NRL reports.32 In the space science field, the jet Propulsion Laboratory began putting out a Technical Report Series under the imprimatur of JPL and the California Institute of Technology.33 In academic circles Gerard P. Kuiper, noted astronomer of unbounded energy and wide-ranging interests and head of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, put out a series entitled Communications of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, listing the University of Arizona as publisher.34 In the Communications Kuiper and his colleagues published a great deal of excellent material, much of it from research supported by NASA. But Kuiper was severely criticized by his scientific colleagues for using this means of bringing his work to the community. Their reasons for criticizing were fundamental, deeply rooted in the scientific process. First, it was pointed out, the usual scientific journal accepted an article for publication only after it had been given a careful review by one or more impartial experts in the field addressed in the article, whereas a scientist publishing in what amounted to his own journal could hardly subject his own work to the same kind of review. Secondly, the limited distribution of a publication to a selected list of recipients was bound to miss persons who had not only a legitimate, but often a significant, interest in the material, for how could one individual or a small group hope to be aware of all such interests? This point was particularly pertinent in a rapidly growing field with imprecise and fluctuating boundaries. In contrast, regularly published journals, open by subscription to all who were interested, were widely known in the scientific community; a scientist from another discipline could quickly find his way to material of importance to his work. Although the NACA had had a very large organization to draw upon for reviewing papers before publication, the same sort of criticism had been leveled at the NACA publication policy.
For NASA's first year, the question of publication remained in the background, with the NASA scientists assuming that the policy was to publish the results in the open literature, and former NACA people tending to expect a collection of NASA publications to evolve. Harry Goett, [128] director of the Goddard Space Flight Center, precipitated a confrontation when in May of 1960 he proposed to issue NASA papers that had been given at a meeting of the international Committee on Space Research in a NASA series.35 When the proposal reached Thomas Neill, an employee in the Office of Advanced Research and Technology who had carried over from the NACA the responsibility for overseeing the publication of in-house reports, Neill refused to permit the COSPAR papers to go out as NASA technical reports. Neill's position was that the papers had already been published in the COSPAR sphere and to put them out now in a NASA series would be wasteful duplication. It was an understandable position, but it stood squarely in the way of those who wanted to build up NASA's own fine "fourteen foot shelf" of space science literature, as Abe Silverstein described it.
There was a great deal of discussion of this issue during the spring and summer of 1960. The scientists, recognizing the intense desire of the NACA people to build up a library of NASA publications along the NACA lines, favored dual publication. A check with a number of scientific societies revealed they would be willing to accept papers for publication that had previously been put out under a NASA cover, since they did not regard the latter as genuine publication. This was the view of Lloyd Berkner, president of the American Geophysical Union, when the author called him on 19 May 1960. For AGU's own publication, the Journal of Geophysical Research, Berkner was sure there would be no problem, and he thought there should not be any difficulty for the Physical Review -which was later confirmed by the editors.36 Several other journals took the same position; of those queried only the American Chemical Society expressed disapproval. Taking smug satisfaction in the considerable evidence they had gathered that NACA or NASA reporting was not generally viewed as genuine publication, the NASA scientists persevered in urging a policy that space science results would be published in the open literature, but that where desired duplicate NASA publication would be permitted. Dryden approved the idea and asked that an appropriate paper be drawn up articulating the policy, which led to more discussions but no clear statement of policy that could be given formal approval.
Instead the policy was established by practice. Space science rests were published in the open literature, and management issuances pertaining to the program presumed such a policy. In international, cooperative space science projects, implementing agreements called for publication of results in the open literature.37 Simultaneously in-house publications toot a variety of forms. The jet Propulsion Laboratory report series has beer mentioned. From time to time the Goddard Space Flight Center issued bound collections of reprints of published papers by Goddard authors.38 In September 1959 Abe Silverstein was considering establishing a NASA journal, much like that of the Bureau of Standards which as cited as an [129] example.39 But such a NASA journal did not materialize. Instead there evolved the NASA Special Publications, an a periodic series, generally book length, devoted to the whole spectrum of NASA's activities. The Special Publications were an excellent means of publishing under the NASA imprimatur integrated reviews of a topic or field, but were not usually suitable as an outlet for original scientific research. They were in fact accorded the same sort of mild disdain the academic community reserves, not always with justification, for most government publications.