Coordinating Science and Apollo

The question of science on Apollo was far down the list of priorities in the Office of Manned Space Flight during 1961, behind such overriding questions as the choice of mission mode and the configuration of the launch vehicle. Elsewhere, however, stirrings of scientists' interest in the lunar mission began to appear. The director of MIT's Instrumentation Laboratory, which was designing the navigation system for Apollo, proposed that at least one Apollo crewman should be a scientist, since the major interest in the moon would be scientific. Furthermore, he said, it would be easier to train a scientist to pilot the spacecraft than to make a scientist out of a test-pilot astronaut.19 A similar suggestion was made by a group of scientists working with the Lunar Exploration Committee of OSS, who asserted that the scientist should be a geologist, or at least a scientist well versed in geology and geophysics. They further proposed that NASA begin to recruit astronaut trainees from the ranks of professional scientists.20

That the Office of Manned Space Flight and the Office of Space Sciences would have to coordinate their efforts became evident early in 1962. When Homer Newell appeared before the Space Sciences Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics to defend NASA's authorization request, he was pointedly questioned about the support his office was providing for Apollo.21 This line of questioning evidently perturbed Newell, for he subsequently wrote a personal letter to the subcommittee chairman explaining that the specific information needed by Apollo would become available through the normal course of lunar scientific investigations. Newell acknowledged the importance of the lunar landing, but could not agree that concentrating on the immediate needs of Apollo's engineers would best serve the overall space program. Newell's attitude gave rise to a feeling, even within OSS, that "space sciences was rather unbending in not getting scientific data which would assist the manned program," in the words of a Langley official. Langley had proposed that future Ranger missions should carry an experiment to measure the load-bearing capacity of lunar soil intended to assist in the design of the Apollo lunar landing craft, but the proposal had been rejected in favor of a purely scientific exercise in lunar seismometry.22

Newell, far from being indifferent to the needs of Apollo or unconscious of its importance, was simply trying to conduct his programs in the best interests of space science. Mindful of space scientists' increasing discontent over Apollo and its effect on NASA's budgets, he was trying to avoid alienating his major constituency. As nearly as Newell could make it, the Office of Space Sciences was run along lines that suited the scientific community. Advice on policy - the general fines that OSS programs should follow - was provided by the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences and reflected the best consensus the space science community could reach. The content of space science projects was determined (within rather broad limits) by the interests of individual investigators, evaluated and endorsed by the Space Sciences Steering Committee and conducted under the direction of the investigator who proposed it. No one in OSS would have dreamed of telling scientists what experiments they should conduct with the expectation of having their instructions followed or their advice appreciated. Indeed, had anyone in OSS attempted to direct the course of a scientist's experiment, he would have brought down the wrath of the entire scientific community on the space science program. The prerogative of individual scientists to explore problems of their choice, with the endorsement of their scientific peers, is one of the hallmarks of basic research, and probably the most jealously guarded.23 While Newell might have been able to find a way to supply the data Apollo needed, he risked losing the confidence of the scientists in doing it. At a meeting of OSS field directors in June 1962, Newell's director of Lunar and Planetary Projects reiterated that "pure science experiments will provide the engineering answers for Apollo."24

The issue was focused more sharply in mid-June, when Brainerd Holmes issued a document specifying the information Apollo required: the radiation environment in cislunar space, the physical properties of lunar soil, and the topography of the moon, including photos and maps to permit selection of a landing site. All groups conducting lunar investigations were asked to give top priority to obtaining the specified data.25 The curt wording of the document and its assumption of overriding importance for the lunar landing project were not calculated to win friends in the space science programs, where managers had been struggling with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory over the same issue on Ranger and Surveyor. As events developed, it was JPL's director, William C. Pickering, who forced the issue later in the summer by urging Associate Administrator Robert C. Seamans, Jr., to seek an agreement between the Office of Space Sciences and the Office of Manned Space Flight that would allow JPL to define Ranger's objectives more clearly. Pickering's inclination was to support Holmes, because the science experiments were among Ranger's prime sources of difficulty.26

While unintentionally stirring up resentment on one front, the Office of Manned Space Flight was more cooperatively seeking assistance on another. In March 1962 the Space Sciences Steering Committee, at OMSF's request, established an ad hoc working group to recommend scientific tasks to be performed on the moon by the Apollo crews. Not less important, the group would recommend a course of scientific instruction for astronauts in training. Chaired by Charles P. Sonett of the Lunar and Planetary Programs Office, the working group initially included five members from the Office of Space Sciences and one from the Office of Manned Space Flight; membership was later expanded to thirteen and a roster of some dozen consultants was added.27 The Sonett committee first met on March 27, 1962, to hear William A. Lee, assistant director for systems in OMSF, explain what his office wanted it to do. As the minutes of the meeting recorded it, Lee's approach was far from peremptory and demanding; rather, he explained,

the Office of Manned Space Flight now wants very much to have on Apollo moon flights experiments which are of fundamental significance scientifically. They would like the Working Group to consider these experiments without constraints set in advance by OMSF. OMSF will attempt to tailor flights and flight equipment to meet these needs. As examples, it is expected that the duration of stay on the moon may be largely determined by space science requirements and that if necessary, one or more members of the crew could be professional scientists trained as test pilots. . . . They welcome suggestions from the Group as to astronaut selection procedure with respect to scientific background; OMSF will handle physiological and psychological factors in astronaut selection. . . . Unmanned and earth-based scientific experiments which tie in with or prepare for manned experiments will be undertaken by OMSF as part of Apollo; suggestions by the Group are desired.28
At the committee's third meeting on April 17, Lee presented the engineering guidelines to be considered by the group in proposing experiments. OMSF expected to fly the first mission "before 1970" and subsequent missions at intervals of about six months. The mission mode, not yet selected, was not to be considered by the committee, nor were engineering and operational details of the flights. Landing sites would be chosen by manned space flight officials, but the Sonett committee was encouraged to indicate the desirability of particular areas. OMSF considered it "possible that one of the flight crew might be a professional scientist trained to perform flight operations. . . . [But this] would significantly complicate our selection and training program, and should not be done unnecessarily." Lee urged the committee to assume no additional constraints. Even if some experiments required difficult engineering development, OMSF wanted the committee to list them so that the requirements could be considered in designing the Apollo spacecraft.29

The guidelines Lee provided stated that the Office of Manned Space Flight would consider the committee's report "a major factor" in determining some characteristics of the proposed missions. For example, the planned number of missions ("more than one but less than ten") and time to be spent on the lunar surface ("between 4 and 24 hours") might be strongly influenced by scientific considerations. If enough worthwhile scientific work could be done, "stays up to 7 days are not impossible." Similarly the planned payload (100 to 200 pounds, 45 to 90 kilograms) might be increased and the mobility of the astronauts on the surface might be extended, for example by providing a motorized vehicle and tailoring the space suit for increased ease of manipulation, if the increased scientific return justified the added expense. A soft-landing unmanned supply vehicle carrying up to 30,000 pounds (13,600 kilograms) of support equipment and supplies was under active consideration; this vehicle might carry additional heavy or bulky scientific equipment.30

Lee's presentation indicated that the Office of Manned Space Flight was willing to be as accommodating as possible in providing for scientific exploration of the lunar surface. But the qualifiers in Lee's guidelines suggest that OMSF left itself many escape clauses that could have important effects on the scientific program.

With these guidelines in mind, the Sonett committee began to collect suggestions for lunar surface experiments. Their criteria, established early, were simple: experiments must be scientifically feasible and important, capable of being performed only on the moon, significantly improved by having a human aboard, and likely to lead to additional scientific and technological progress. Three basic types of experiments were suggested: measurements and qualitative observations to be made by the astronauts on the lunar surface; experiments to be performed on samples selected and brought back by the crews; and instruments to be emplaced by the astronauts and left on the moon to transmit data to earth.31

A point that seriously concerned the Sonett committee was the background and training of the lunar explorers. As a basic requirement, the group suggested sufficient scientific judgment and maturity to recognize and act appropriately upon unexpected phenomena. They noted that scientist-astronauts might be caught in a serious conflict between acquiring proficiency in spacecraft operation and maintaining their skills in research32 - a question that was to complicate relations between the science community and NASA's operations experts for the next 10 years.

Sonett's committee submitted a draft report in early July 1962; its recommendations, considered in the following weeks by the first of NASA's Summer Studies and endorsed by the external scientific community, would form the basis for the initial planning of Apollo's lunar exploration program. Meanwhile, the committee's work, together with the controversy over the content of the Ranger missions, emphasized the desirability of continuous contact between the offices of Space Sciences and Manned Space Flight on scientific matters. The experience in developing the scientific exercises carried out by the Mercury astronauts showed that overlapping responsibilities requiring close supervision would develop when science went aboard manned spacecraft, and some kind of formal liaison needed to be established.

Homer Newell moved to provide coordination in September 1962 when he proposed to establish a Joint Working Group to replace the ad hoc arrangements that were proving cumbersome. The basic tasks of this group would be to recommend to manned space flight planners a detailed program of scientific exploration, and to suggest to the Office of Space Sciences a program of data acquisition to ensure that Apollo's needs were met. It would also keep the field centers and outside scientists informed of the science programs planned for manned space flight. In carrying out its functions, the group would have the implicit responsibility of assuring that NASA's interface with the scientific community remained where it belonged - within the Office of Space Sciences - and to assure that each program office's projects were maximally responsive to the interests of the other. The group's chairman was to be assigned to OSS for administrative purposes but functionally would be a member of both offices, reporting to the Lunar and Planetary Programs Office in OSS and the Office of Systems Studies in OMSF.33 Newell would later remark that this official "had two bosses to try to satisfy, which is universally recognized as unsatisfactory"34; but no better alternative seemed available.

To chair this Working Group, Newell appointed Eugene M. Shoemaker, a geologist from the U.S. Geological Survey who had recently been assigned for a one-year stint to NASA from the Survey's Astrogeology Branch. Shoemaker had received his doctorate from Princeton under Harry H. Hess, chairman of the Space Science Board from 1962 to 1968 and an enthusiastic promoter of space science.35 Since October 1961 Shoemaker had been a co-investigator for the television experiment on Ranger.36 Having been a space enthusiast since pre-Sputnik days, he had consciously fashioned his professional career with an eye to becoming a scientist-astronaut.37 Although he never realized that ambition, for seven years starting in 1962 he would contribute to the design of Apollo's lunar surface activities and help to train the men who would be his surrogates on the moon.

For the first several months Shoemaker's new job took him into a tangle of uncharted responsibilities and unclear jurisdictions. At Headquarters, Newell's Office of Space Sciences had asserted its responsibility for all of NASA's science, manned or unmanned; in the opinion of many scientists in OSS, neither the Office of Manned Space Flight nor the Manned Spacecraft Center had a staff qualified to manage scientific experiments, but both were considering adding their own science people.38 Newell and his staff expected to plan and develop the manned science program and to help select and train the astronauts. The Office of Manned Space Flight, foreseeing the many complex interactions that such divided responsibility would require, felt that it was simply not feasible to allow anything - even the science - to be managed by another office.39 When scientists showed interest in the Mercury project, the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) had quickly moved to establish a Mercury Scientific Experiments Panel to screen proposed scientific observations and prevent any interference with the program's primary purposes.40

Shoemaker spent much of 1962 devising a structure for the working group and soliciting support from the centers.41 Toward the end of the year he recommended to Newell that the group should comprise an executive board and two panels: one on data requirements generated by OMSF, the other on scientific missions recommended by OSS for manned space flight. The executive board would recommend projects to the respective directors (Holmes and Newell).42 It would, however, neither initiate nor manage specific scientific projects.43

In the first months of 1963 Homer Newell moved steadily to bring manned space science under his office's direction. He also began a campaign to persuade the Manned Spacecraft Center that science was something more than a means of acquiring the data required to design their spacecraft.44 Shoemaker, who had been urging MSC to start training astronauts in geology, had found a few receptive minds at the Houston center - among them Max Faget, director of engineering and development - who understood that "it wouldn't look very good if we went to the moon and didn't have something to do when we got there."45 In late March, Faget drafted a letter for MSC Director Robert R. Gilruth's signature, formally requesting the U.S. Geological Survey to assign six of its scientists to the Houston center. Newell had paved the way for this cooperation in informal discussions with the Survey's director, who agreed to Gilruth's request.46 Newell saw no need to establish a geological competence in NASA, and both he and Shoemaker preferred to have the Geological Survey staff the Apollo science program rather than geologists hired by MSC.

Meanwhile Newell and Holmes, anticipating a need for increased cooperation as Project Gemini progressed, were negotiating a formal division of responsibility for manned science projects between their offices. Newell insisted that the Office of Space Sciences had the responsibility to solicit, select, and approve all of NASA's scientific experiments; Holmes similarly asserted the Office of Manned Space Flight's responsibility to approve any hardware that went into a manned spacecraft and any procedure that affected the flight plan. Between the selection of an experiment and its execution on a flight was a large area where responsibility for funding and management of design, fabrication, and integration into the spacecraft of the scientific instruments had to be worked out.

After considerable negotiation, deputies for Newell and Holmes signed a memorandum of agreement on July 25, 1963, spelling out the responsibilities of their two offices. Planning and development of all manned space science projects was assigned to the Office of Space Sciences, as well as any research and development necessary to support them. This meant that OSS would select the experiments and principal investigators and undertake preliminary development of the necessary instruments, in consultation with the Office of Manned Space Flight and the appropriate field center. OMSF agreed to develop and integrate flight hardware and work the scientific objectives into mission plans, usually acting through the Manned Spacecraft Center. OSS took on the job of formulating a science training program for the astronauts, which OMSF would conduct. Newell's office would also establish the scientific qualifications for scientist-astronauts (though none had yet been selected) and would participate in selection of scientists for astronaut training. Each office would budget the funds for its part of experiment development. Fabrication, testing, and installation of the flight instruments would be supervised by the same team that monitored its design and early development.47 This agreement proved to be about as workable an arrangement as possible, given the division of responsibility inherent in the Headquarters organization. With minor changes, it governed OSS-OMSF relations in manned space science throughout the Apollo program.

While the new agreement was being worked out, Newell reorganized Shoemaker's working group as the Manned Space Science Division on July 30, 1963. The new division reported to both program offices as before, but at a higher level, and it would be the focus of OSS's management of manned science experiments. Shoemaker, however, did not stay to direct the lunar science program from this position. When his tour of duty with NASA ended in November 1963 he returned to the Geological Survey to continue his work with Ranger and Surveyor. He was succeeded by Willis B. Foster, who had served in the Pentagon as Deputy Assistant Director for Research in the Directorate of Defense Research and Engineering.48

19. Ivan D. Ertel and Mary Louise Morse, The Apollo Spacecraft: A Chronology, vol. I, NASA SP-4009 (Washington, 1969), p. 108.

20. "Draft Statement on Scientific Training of the Astronaut for Consideration of the Lunar Exploration Committee," signed by G. McDonald, M. Ewing, T. Gold, E. Stuhlinger, H. Hess, H. Brown, and R. Jastrow (members or consultants of the Lunar Sciences Subcommittee of the Space Sciences Steering Committee), no date [ca. Sept. 1961].

21. House Committee on Science and Astronautics, Subcommittee on Space Sciences and Applications, 1963 NASA Authorization, Hearings on H.R. 10100, 87/2, pt. 4, pp. 1783-88, 1879-80, 1928-31.

22. Hall, Lunar Impact, p. 157.

23. Newell, Beyond the Atmosphere, chap. 12, discusses the relations of OSS to the external scientific community, including the scientists' insistence on noninterference. For additional examples, see Daniel S. Greenberg, The Politics of Pure Science (New York: The New American Library, 1967), pp. 85, 112, 114, 132, 135, 137.

24. Hall, Lunar Impact, p. 162.

25. OMSF, "Requirements for Data in Support of Project Apollo," issue no. 1, June 15, 1962.

26. Hall, Lunar Impact, p. 162; Koppes, JPL and the American Space Program, p. 116.

27. Shea, "Selection and Training of Apollo Crew Members," Mar. 29, 1962; W. A. Lee to Dr. J. F. Shea, "Ad Hoc Working Group on Apollo Scientific Experiments and Training (sic)," Apr. 13, 1962.

28. L. D. Jaffe, "Minutes: Ad Hoc Working Group on Apollo Scientific Experiments and Training, 27 March 1962," Mar. 30, 1962.

29. Jaffe, "Minutes: Ad Hoc Working Group on Apollo Scientific Experiments and Training, 17 April 1962," Apr. 20, 1962, with attachment: Lee, "Guidelines from the Office of Manned Space Flight."

30. Lee, "Guidelines From the Office of Manned Space Flight."

31. Jaffe, "Minutes: Ad Hoc Working Group on Apollo Scientific Experiments and Training, 23 April 1962," no date.

32. Ibid.

33. Homer E. Newell and D. Brainerd Holmes, memo for the Assoc. Adm., "Establishment of a Joint OSS/ OMSF Working Group," Oct. 22, 1962.

34. Newell, Beyond the Atmosphere, p. 401.

35. NASA Hq., News Release 62-251, "Unit to Coordinate Manned and Unmanned Space Flight," Nov.27, 1962.

36. Hall, Lunar Impact, p. 79.

37. Shoemaker interview, Houston, Mar. 17, 1984.

38. Shoemaker interview; Shoemaker, "Report for week of November 12," Dec. 13, 1962.

39. Lee to Shea, "OSS Participation in Apollo," Sept. 22, 1962.

40. Swenson, Grimwood, and Alexander, This New Ocean, pp. 414, 419, 443-44; W. David Compton and Charles D. Benson, Living and Working in Space: A History of Skylab, NASA SP-4208 (Washington, 1983), pp. 59-60.

41. Shoemaker to Dir, Lunar and Planetary Programs and Dir., Systems Studies, "Report for Week of November 12," "Report for Week of November 19," and "Report for Week of November 26," all dated Dec. 13, 1962.

42. Shoemaker to Dir., Office of Space Sciences, "Recommended Structure for Manned Space Science Planning Group," Dec. 13, 1962; Shoemaker to Dir., OMSF and Dir., OSS, "Panel Chairmen and Members Recommended for the Manned Space Science Planning Group," Dec. 26, 1962.

43. Shoemaker to Dir., Office of Space Sciences, "Recommended Structure. . . ," Dec. 13, 1962; Shoemaker interview; Shoemaker, "Report for Week of November 19," Dec. 13, 1962.

44. Newell to Robert Gilruth, Feb. 15, 1963; Newell, "Memorandum to A/Mr. Webb," Mar. 26, 1963.

45. Shoemaker interview.

46. Newell, Beyond the Atmosphere, p. 292; Nolan to Gilruth, Apr. 24, 1963.

47. "Memorandum of Agreement between Office of Manned Space Flight [and] Office of Space Sciences, Scientific Interfaces," no date; signed by E. M. Cortright July 25, 1963, and J. F. Shea July 26, 1963.

48. NASA Release 63-242, "NASA Office of Space Science and Applications Organization Detailed," Nov. 18, 1963; Newell, Beyond the Atmosphere, p. 284.

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