MSC Develops a Science Organization

Mercury project engineers at MSC had reluctantly allowed a few scientific exercises to ride their spacecraft, but this patched-on effort was of small importance. To pave the way for worthwhile experiments in manned space flight, Homer Newell persisted in urging scientists to devise experiments that would take advantage of man's presence. By the time Gemini was fully operational in early 1965 a fair number of scientific exercises had been proposed and accepted for flight.47 After Mercury, the Manned Spacecraft Center established an Experiments Coordinating Office to ensure that science plans were compatible with the spacecraft and the operational constraints of the mission.48 Within the Gemini Program Office a Gemini Experiments Office supervised the science exercises undertaken in Gemini.

As the Apollo science program evolved in 1964-65, the horizon of manned space science expanded to include lunar surface experiments as well as in-flight (earth-and lunar-orbital) science. In view of its new responsibility to oversee the development and integration of the Apollo experiments as well as integrating the Gemini science, the Houston center decided to centralize the management of all manned space flight experiments in a single office. In June 1965 MSC Director Robert R. Gilruth appointed Robert O. Piland to head a new Experiments Program Office within the Engineering and Development Directorate.49 Piland, formerly a research scientist at Langley, had served briefly on the staff of James R. Killian, President Eisenhower's science advisor, before joining the Manned Spacecraft Center in 1959. After contributing to the early planning and study efforts that led to the Apollo spacecraft program, he was appointed deputy manager of MSC's Apollo Spacecraft Program Office in 1962. His new office absorbed the staff and functions of both the Gemini Experiments Office and the Experiments Coordination Office and immediately took over work on the ALSEP contracts.

Piland's job was to keep track of the complex requirements of the Apollo spacecraft and mission plans and see that the experimenters understood those requirements and adhered to them. His responsibilities extended from the conception of the experiment to the management and distribution of data. The Experiments Program Office worked with spacecraft engineers, flight planners, scientific investigators, and contractors in developing, testing, and integrating the experiments into the missions.50

The in-flight experiments were an important part of Apollo lunar science, but MSC's involvement with science was growing in other phases of the program as well. During 1965 the Houston center was developing the concept of the lunar receiving laboratory, which went into NASA's budget proposal for fiscal 1966. [see Chapter 4] When Apollo began to return samples of lunar material to the earth, MSC's relations with the outside scientific community would expand considerably. Those samples were of incalculable scientific value, and scientists would assuredly demand a say in how they were handled from the time they were collected on the moon to the time they were parceled out to investigators. Apollo was about to create a relationship between MSC and the scientific world that was new to both groups and would require careful handling.

There is not much room for doubt that MSC considered itself perfectly competent to manage the lunar samples with minimal help from the outside; the science community could simply lay out its requirements and MSC, if it concurred, would do the rest. Scientists, however, would never agree to stand in line at MSC's dispensing window to receive their designated allotments of lunar material. The deliberations of the various advisory groups and ad hoc committees convened to define the lunar receiving laboratory make it plain that scientists saw the proper staffing of the LRL as one of the most important questions of the entire project. At the very least they would insist that a scientist of considerable repute be appointed to head the laboratory and take charge of the sample analysis program, with the advice and consent of the scientific community.

Besides the anticipated lunar science program, MSC had to recognize George Mueller's increasing interest in a science-oriented post-Apollo program. Having established an Apollo Applications Program (AAP) office in August 1965, Mueller went to Congress the following spring to seek funding for it.51 If he should get what he was asking for, AAP would bring science to the forefront of manned space flight; although MSC lacked the staff to support it (concurrently with its Gemini and Apollo commitments) at the time, science clearly had to have a place in Houston - otherwise MSC might find itself playing a support role to some other center. At the end of March Faget announced the establishment of a Space Science Office within his Engineering and Development Directorate, described as an "interim arrangement pending development of a permanent scientific organization." For this purpose MSC regrouped a number of scattered center activities around Piland's Experiments Program Office and under his direction. While most of those activities were conducted in support of manned space flight operations and lunar exploration, the Space Science Office was also charged with developing, monitoring, and coordinating experiments for all manned space missions involving science.52

The following week Gilruth sent MSC's plan for a more extensive reorganization to George Mueller. A new Space Medicine Directorate would consolidate all center medical activities in a single organization. For science, a new Space Science Division was to be established - not a science directorate on the same level as Space Medicine or Engineering and Development, but an upgraded version of the Space Science Office just established, still under Faget's jurisdiction. The proposal more specifically included management of the lunar receiving laboratory, providing MSC's point of contact with the external scientific community, and giving MSC scientists the opportunity to generate their own experiments. Some 76 people from other offices would comprise the new division, and a scientist would be recruited to head it as soon as possible. Agreeing with Newell's view that the division should concentrate primarily on one scientific field, Gilruth suggested that lunar and earth sciences would be its most appropriate disciplines.53 For the next several months Headquarters and MSC discussed the proposed reorganization and the question of a director for science at MSC.54

While those discussions were going on, Headquarters was working to clarify agency-wide management responsibilities for future manned flight activities. Apollo Applications, emerging as the most likely successor to Apollo, embraced a much greater variety of scientific projects than Apollo and appeared to require more interlocking of effort among the field centers (chiefly MSC and Marshall Space Flight Center) as well as Headquarters program offices. Accordingly, on July 26 Deputy Administrator Robert C. Seamans divided responsibility for prospective programs among the various entities - in effect ratifying the arrangement Homer Newell and George Mueller had been working under since 1963. [see Chapter 3] Mueller's Office of Manned Space Flight was to be responsible for the conduct of Apollo and AAP missions, developing and funding the experiments that were selected by Newell's Office of Space Science and Applications. Seamans went one step further, assigning to each center primary responsibility for specific areas: Marshall to develop the Apollo telescope mount (a major component of Apollo Applications), Goddard to handle atmospheric science, meteorology, and astronomical experiments, and MSC to manage the Apollo lunar surface experiments package, lunar science, earth resources, and life-support systems. Future assignments would depend on center capabilities and NASA's long-range plans.55

In November, "in response to the growing significance and responsibilities of the Center in the area of science and applications," Houston informed Headquarters that it proposed to create a Science and Applications Directorate, on the same organizational level as those for Engineering and Development and Medical Research and Operations. (At long last Homer Newell's view of the importance of science at MSC prevailed.) It would subsume the functions of Space Science Division and would collect all space- and lunar-science-related functions of the center, along with the many people scattered throughout the center who were then engaged in scientific work in support of Apollo. The directorate would be responsible for planning and conducting all MSC programs in space science and applications and would be the center's point of contact with the scientific world outside. Pending appointment of a permanent director, Bob Piland, named as deputy director, would run the operation.56 Administrator James Webb approved the new MSC organization on December 23, 1966.57

After several months of searching, Gilruth announced on February 17, 1967, selection of a director of science and applications: Wilmot N. Hess, chief of the Laboratory for Theoretical Studies at Goddard Space Flight Center. Hess was a nationally recognized scientist whose major scientific interest was high-energy nuclear physics and space radiation studies.58 A space physicist seemed a curious choice in view of the scientific responsibilities foreseen for the center, but Hess was considered to be a competent administrator, and he had the scientific stature to give credibility to Houston's scientific efforts.

47. Barton C. Hacker and James M. Grimwood, On The Shoulders of Titans: A History of Project Gemini, NASA SP-4203 (Washington, 1977), pp. 229-31; see Gemini Midprogram Conference Including Experimental Results, NASA SP-121 (Washington, 1966), pp.305-436, and Gemini Summary Conference, NASA SP-138 (Washington, 1967), pp. 221-317, for summaries of the Gemini experiments program and its results.

48. See W. David Compton and Charles D. Benson, Living and Working in Space: A History of Skylab, NASA SP-4208 (Washington, 1983), pp. 59-63, for pre-Apollo experience with scientific experiments.

49. MSC Announcement 65-81, "Designation of Manager, Experiments, in E&D, and Establishment of the Experiments Program Office," June 21, 1965.

50. Ibid.

51. Compton and Benson, Living and Working in Space, pp. 40-52.

52. Maxime A. Faget to multiple addressees, "Establishment of a Space Science Office within E&D," Mar. 31, 1966.

53. Gilruth to Mueller, "Change in the basic MSC organization," Apr. 4, 1966.

54. D. M. Allison, "Summary Minutes: Planetology Subcommittee of the Space Science Steering Committee (Meeting No. 1-67), 26, 27, 28 July 1966," no date.

55. Robert C. Seamans to Hqs. Assoc. Administrators, "Management Responsibilities for Future Manned Flight Activities," July 26, 1966; see also Compton and Benson, Living and Working in Space, pp. 48-52.

56. George M. Low to multiple addressees, "Pending MSC Organizational Change," Nov. 17, 1966.

57. Mueller to Gilruth, Jan. 17, 1967, with encls., MSC Organization Chart approved by Webb and functional statement for MSC Director of Science and Applications.

58. MSC Announcement 67-27, "Director, Science and Applications Directorate," Feb. 17, 1967.

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