MSC Increases Emphasis on Science in Apollo

Early in 1970 MSC set about to improve its relations with the lunar science community. As the first lunar science conference was meeting in Houston, Jim McDivitt, manager of MSC's Apollo spacecraft program office, took note of scientists' frequent complaints that MSC was unable or unwilling to accommodate changes in the experiment program. "I would like to take steps to change this impression and to attempt to generate a 'can-do' attitude toward science changes consistent with operational and other constraints," McDivitt said. He intended to establish a schedule for each mission, "to provide information to the science world which will discipline their inputs to our schedule needs," and to establish an Experiments Review Group, which was to consider new or late experiments for the missions to recommend MSC policy on experiment changes. McDivitt himself would chair the group, which included Anthony J. Calio, director of science and applications, Deke Slayton, director of flight crew operations, and Richard S. Johnston, former special assistant to the center director now assigned to McDivitt's office.58

The first lunar science conference apparently brought the question of MSC's handling of science to a head, for Director Robert R. Gilruth moved to change his center's antiscientific image at the same time. On February 5, 1970, he and 11 of MSC's highest-ranking managers met with 9 prominent scientists involved in the Apollo program to discuss issues between the two groups.* Several specific problems were discussed and resolved. One major flaw the scientists found in the conduct of Apollo science involved contact between astronauts, principal investigators, and operations planners. Since there was not time to make nonscientists astronauts over into scientists, the investigators insisted on giving experimenters more time to discuss the objectives of the experiment with the astronauts, thus improving the astronauts' understanding of what they could do to enhance the results. Geologists had enjoyed an advantage in this respect, but the experimenters pointed out that other disciplines were involved in lunar investigations and should get more attention in training. Another point involved communication between scientists on the ground and astronauts on the moon; this ought to be made easier, the scientists said, so that surprises could be dealt with when encountered and procedures altered in real time if necessary. When it was pointed out that this would require the principal investigators to learn how to use the existing systems to best advantage, including participation in simulations, the scientists agreed to take on that responsibility.59

Finally, participants agreed to clarify relations between outside scientists and MSC offices. In general experimenters should be more forthcoming with explanations of the scientific rationale for experiments and MSC should simplify and expedite reviews of proposed experiments and changes in existing plans. A general improvement in communication between MSC, the scientists, and Headquarters was necessary.60

Associate Administrator Homer E. Newell, who attended the meeting, later commented approvingly to Gilruth that "the entire discussion was in a constructive vein," and that "some very complimentary remarks were made . . . about MSC's current approach to handling science." As associate administrator for science and applications, Newell had for years tried to mediate between the scientists and manned space flight officials, and he found the new attitudes gratifying on both sides.61

MSC immediately followed up on the February meeting by establishing a Science Working Panel to be the single forum in which science requirements and operational restrictions would be reconciled and adjusted. The working panel would be advised by principal investigators and scientists representing the entire spectrum of science. A science mission manager and a mission scientist (usually a scientist-astronaut) would be assigned for each flight.62 When scientists briefed astronauts on the conduct of their experiments, a representative of MSC's Flight Control Division would sit in as well, to ensure complete understanding all around.63

The February meeting and its consequences were a considerable relief to scientists involved in Apollo. Newell later commented that "the experimenters' feeling of effectiveness increased steadily with each new Apollo mission until with Apollo 17 . . . the scientists were positively ecstatic."64

* MSC was represented by Gilruth; Deputy Director Christopher C. Kraft, Jr.; George Abbey, technical assistant to Gilruth; Anthony J. Calio, director of Science and Applications; M. Gene Simmons, chief scientist; Donald K. Slayton, director of Flight Crew Operations; Thomas P. Stafford, chief of the Astronaut Office; Harrison H. Schmitt, astronaut; John Zarcaro, chief of the Lunar Missions Office; Ted H. Foss, Geology and Geochemistry Branch; Glynn S. Lunney, Flight Control Division; and Richard S. Johnston, Apollo Spacecraft Program Office. Scientists attending - most of them principal investigators on Apollo were James R. Arnold, Univ. of California at San Diego; Paul W. Gast, Columbia Univ.; Marcus G. Langseth, Jr., Lamont-Doherty Geophysical Observatory; Frank Press, Mass. Inst. of Technology; Robert Rex, Univ. of California at Riverside; Gordon A. Swann, U.S. Geological Survey; Robert Walker, Washington Univ., St. Louis; and Gerald J. Wasserburg, Calif. Inst. of Technology. Homer E. Newell, NASA Associate Administrator, attended as an observer.

58. James A. McDivitt to multiple addressees, "Apollo Experiments Review Group," Jan. 6, 1970.

59. Homer E. Newell, "Conference Report, February 5, 1970, Lunar Science Institute, Houston, Texas, Subject: Critique of Apollo Lunar Missions and the Maximization of Scientific Returns for the Remaining Apollo Flights," Feb. 6, 1970.

60. Ibid.

61. Newell to Gilruth, Feb. 6, 1970.

62. Calio to PA/Mgr., Apollo Spacecraft Program, "Lunar Surface Science Requirements," Mar. 27, 1970; Calio to multiple addressees, "Science Mission Manager and Mission Scientist Assignments for Apollo 13 and 14," Apr. 6, 1970; Calio to TJ/James H. Sasser [and others], "Science Working Panel," June 4, 1970.

63. Eugene F. Kranz to TM/Acting Mgr., Lunar Missions Office, "Science Briefings for Flight Crews," Apr. 23, 1970.

64. Newell, Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science, NASA SP-4211 (Washington, 1980), p. 293.

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