Category The Secret of Apollo

Systems Management and Its Promoters

Four social groups developed and spread systems management: military offi­cers, scientists, engineers, and managers. All the groups promoted aspects of systems management that were congenial to their objectives and fought those that were not. For example, the military’s conception of ‘‘concurrency’’ ran counter in a number of ways to the managerial idea of ‘‘phased plan­ning,’’ while the scientific conception of ‘‘systems analysis’’ differed from the engineering notion of ‘‘systems engineering.’’ Academic working groups pro­moted by scientists and engineers conflicted with hierarchical structures found in the military and industry, and the working groups’ informal meth­ods frustrated attempts at hierarchical control through formal processes. The winners of these bureaucratic fights imposed new structures and processes that promoted their conceptions and power within and across organizations.

In the early 1950s, the prestige of scientists and the exigencies of the Cold War gave scientists and military officers the advantage in bureaucratic com­petition. Military leaders successfully harnessed scientific expertise through their lavish support of scientists, including the development of new labora­tories and research institutions. Scientists in turn provided the military with technical and political support to develop new weapons.18 The alliance of these two groups led to the dominance of the policy of concurrency in the 1950s.19

To the air force, concurrency meant conducting research and development in parallel with the manufacturing, testing, and production of a weapon. More generally, it referred to any parallel process or approach. Concurrency met the needs of military officers because of their tendency to emphasize external threats, which in turn required them to respond to those threats. Put differ­ently, for military officers to acquire significant power in a civilian society, the society must believe in a credible threat that must be countered by mili­tary force. If the threat is credible, then military leaders must quickly develop countermeasures. If they do not, outsiders could conclude that a threat does not exist and could reduce the military’s resources. For the armed forces, ex­ternal threats, rapid technological development, and their own power and re­sources went hand in hand.

Scientists also liked concurrency, because they specialized in the rapid cre­ation of novel ‘‘wonder weapons’’ such as radar and nuclear weapons. Even when scientists had little to do with major technological advances, as in the case of jet and rocket propulsion, society often deemed the engineers ‘‘rocket scientists.’’ Scientists did little to discourage this misconception. They gained prestige from technical expertise and acquired power when others deemed technical expertise critical. Scientists predicted and fostered novelty because discovery of new natural laws and behaviors was their business. Novelty re­quired scientific expertise, whereas ‘‘mundane’’ developments could be left to engineers.

While the Cold War was tangibly hot in the late 1940s and 1950s, American leaders supported the search for wonder weapons to counter the Communist threat. Although very expensive, nuclear weapons were far less expensive than maintaining millions of troops in Europe, and they typified American prefer­ences for technological solutions.20 Military officers allied with scientists used this climate to rapidly drive technological development.

By 1959, however, Congress began to question the military’s methods be­cause these weapons cost far more than predicted and did not seem to work.21 Embarrassing rocket explosions and air-defense system failures spurred criti­cal scrutiny. Although Sputnik and the Cuban Missile Crisis dampened criti­cism somewhat, military officers had a difficult time explaining the apparent ineffectiveness of the new systems. Missiles that failed more than half the time were neither efficient military deterrents nor effective deterrents of congres­sional investigations. The military needed better cost control and technical reliability in its missile programs. Military officers and scientists were not par­ticularly adept in these matters. However, managers and engineers were.

Engineers can be divided into two types: researchers and designers. Engi­neering researchers are similar to scientists, except that their quest involves technological novelty instead of ‘‘natural’’ novelty. They work in academia, government, and industrial laboratories and have norms involving the pub­lication of papers, the development of new technologies and processes, and the diffusion of knowledge. By contrast, engineering designers spend most of their time designing, building, and testing artifacts. Depending upon the product, the success criteria involve cost, reliability, and performance. Design engineers have little time for publication and claim expertise through product success.

Even more than design engineers, managers pay explicit heed to cost con­siderations. They are experts in the effective use of human and material resources to accomplish organizational objectives. Managers measure their power from the size and funding of their organizations, so they have conflict­ing desires to use resources efficiently, which decreases organizational size, and to make their organizations grow so as to acquire more power. Ideally, managers efficiently achieve objectives, then gain more power by acquiring other organizations or tasks. Managers, like engineers, lose credibility if their end products fail.

As ballistic missiles and air-defense systems failed in the late 1950s, mili­tary officers and aerospace industry leaders had to heed congressional calls for greater reliability and more predictable cost. In consequence, managerial and engineering design considerations came to have relatively more weight in technology development than military and scientific considerations. Man­agers responded by applying extensive cost-accounting practices, while engi­neers performed more rigorous testing and analysis. The result was not a ‘‘low cost’’ design but a more reliable product whose cost was high but pre­dictable. Engineers gained credibility through successful missile performance, and managers gained credibility through successful prediction of cost. Be­cause of the high priority given to and the visibility of space programs, con­gressional leaders in the 1960s did not mind high costs, but they would not tolerate unpredictable costs or spectacular failures.

Systems management was the result of these conflicting interests and ob­jectives. It was (and is) a melange of techniques representing the interests of each contributing group. We can define systems management as a set of orga­nizational structures and processes to rapidly produce a novel but dependable technological artifact within a predictable budget. In this definition, each group appears. Military officers demanded rapid progress. Scientists desired novelty. Engineers wanted a dependable product. Managers sought predictable costs. Only through successful collaboration could these goals be attained. To suc­ceed in the Cold War missile and space race, systems management would also have to encompass techniques that could meet the extreme requirements of rocketry and space flight.

From Student Rocketry to Weapons Research

In 1936, Caltech graduate student Frank Malina learned of Austrian engineer Eugen Sanger’s proposed rocket plane. This stimulated Malina’s interest in rocketry, and aeronautics professor Theodore von Karman agreed to serve as his thesis adviser. Learning little from a visit to secretive rocket pioneer Robert Goddard, Malina and his assistants began rocket motor tests in an isolated area near Pasadena. After several failures, they succeeded in running a forty – four-second test firing. In May 1938, a new heat-resistant design operated for more than a minute.2

In 1938, Army Air Corps commander H. H. ‘‘Hap’’ Arnold made a sur­prise visit to Caltech and took interest in the project. He asked the National Academy of Sciences to fund research on rocket-assisted aircraft takeoff. Von Karman got the job, with Malina doing most of the work. Money soon began to flow, and by July 1940 the group moved permanently from the Caltech cam­pus to the test site.3

Malina’s growing team used theoretical analysis and practical experimen­tation to create a series of technical breakthroughs that became the founda­tion of solid-propellant rocketry. The army and navy wanted rockets to assist aircraft takeoff from short airfields and aircraft carriers, leading Malina’s team to consider mass production of the rockets. Malina unsuccessfully tried to interest aircraft companies. Failing in this, he, von Karman, and others started the Aerojet Company, which by 1943 had large navy orders. Although JPL de­veloped the initial designs, it never had to deal with manufacturing problems, passing these to Aerojet.4

After the military discovered German preparations to launch V-2 rockets,

some army officers paid greater attention to rocketry. The Army Air Forces was not interested because long-range rockets did not promise an immedi­ate payoff and because it had a vested interest in manned bombers. By con­trast, Army Ordnance officers saw rockets as long-range artillery and hence as a means to extend the range of their artillery and political aspirations. They urged Caltech to propose a comprehensive program, which led to the offi­cial founding of JPL in June 1944 with an Army Ordnance contract for $1.6 million. Despite Caltech leaders’ initial view that JPL would aid the army dur­ing only wartime, they quickly became addicted to the contract’s overhead money. JPL became a permanent operation.5

JPL proposed to build a series of progressively larger and more sophisti­cated rockets, named in rank order Private, Corporal, Sergeant, and Colonel. Private, developed in 1944 and early 1945, proved successful when designed as a simple rocket but inaccurate when modified to include wings. Private’s performance proved not only that JPL could design a simple rocket without attitude control or guidance but also that long-range rockets were imprac­tical until JPL developed an automatic control system. The Corporal series began with an unguided sounding rocket known as the WAC Corporal, in­tended to achieve the highest possible altitude. It reached altitudes of forty miles in October 1945 and was the immediate progenitor of Aerojet’s Aero- bee sounding rocket, used for years after as a scientific research vehicle. Rela­tions between JPL and Aerojet were good, as JPL researchers passed research innovations to Aerojet, which developed them for production. With financial interests in Aerojet, JPL researchers benefited handily.6

The organization of JPL’s early rocketry was simple. It began as a stu­dent research project, with Malina, John Parsons, and Edward Forman con­structing test stands, motors, and fuels. The group added a Research Analysis section, which performed parametric analyses of aircraft takeoff with rocket assistance and developed design objectives. Homer Stewart and Hsue-shen Tsien did many of these tasks, which Stewart later recalled as being the sys­tems engineering for the group.7

As the program grew, Malina directed JPL while Army Ordnance handled the coordination among JPL, White Sands Missile Range, the Signal Corps, and the Ballistic Research Laboratory of Aberdeen Proving Ground. The lat­ter two organizations assisted with flight test data acquisition. Malina di­vided JPL’s twenty-two personnel into seven small groups: Booster, Missile, Launcher and Nose, Missile Firing, External Ballistics, Photo and Material, and Transportation and Labor. The army’s contingent totaled thirteen. Prior to each test round, Malina held a conference where each group discussed prior results and checked weather and preparations. Douglas Aircraft manufactured the rocket, but the team often performed last-minute modifications at White Sands.8

WAC Corporal paved the way for JPL’s first true surface-to-surface missile, the larger and more complex liquid-fueled Corporal E. JPL engineers devel­oped a comprehensive test program to ensure that the components and the integrated vehicle functioned correctly. They developed static structural tests, hydraulic tests for all fluid flow components, and rocket motor tests. Engi­neers also created a full-scale model used to check pressure and temperature characteristics under firing conditions on a static test stand at Muroc, Cali­fornia. The test stand held the vehicle on the ground as the engine fired, while electrical instrumentation measured structural loads, pressures, and tempera­tures. Douglas Aircraft manufactured the flight test vehicles, which the army transported to its new assembly and launch facilities at White Sands, where engineers performed final leak and electrical tests. Technicians then moved the rocket seven miles to the launch site, where the crew simulated a firing for training purposes and as a final telemetry check. They then fueled and launched the vehicle.9

JPL engineers fired the first Corporal E in May 1947. The first round was a success, but round two produced insufficient thrust. Round three failed when the rocket motor throat burned out and the control system failed. Engineers went back to the drawing boards. Only in June 1949 did the next Corporal E fly, with a new design using axial-flow motors.10

After the Soviets exploded their first atomic bomb in August 1949, Army Ordnance officers asked JPL Director Louis Dunn11 and Electronics Depart­ment head William Pickering whether Corporal could be converted into an operational missile. Dunn stated that JPL could handle this conversion if it developed a guidance and control system from existing technologies. In March 1950, Army Ordnance decided to make Corporal into a weapon.

When the Korean War broke out in the summer of 1950, the Truman ad­ministration gave Chrysler executive K. T. Keller the charter to develop mis­siles as quickly as possible. Rejecting a Manhattan Project-style program, Keller decided instead to exploit existing missile programs that held prom­ise. Corporal was the army’s best-developed missile, so Army Ordnance com­mitted it to rapid development. With this decision, JPL embarked upon a ven­ture that changed it from a research institution into the equivalent of an army arsenal.12

The American Challenge

The European fear of gaps between themselves and the superpowers derived from changed political, military, and economic realities after World War II. Germany was devastated, occupied, and dismembered. Italy was torn between its Fascist past, the resistance movement led by the Communists, and the Catholic Church. France had been defeated by Nazi Germany, then riven by hostilities between the Vichy regime, Charles de Gaulle’s Free French, and the Communist Party. Britain was victorious, but the war depleted its treasury and exhausted its people. By contrast, the Soviet Union’s armies advanced into and remained in Central Europe. The United States emerged from the war with sole possession of the atomic bomb, a booming economy, and growing resources. The Soviet Union and the United States became the superpowers, relegating Western Europe to second-tier status.

Many American diplomats believed a strong, united Europe was the best means to defend against Soviet military expansion or internal chaos that might lead to Communist takeover. To strengthen the German economy without antagonizing France, American diplomats in 1947 offered the Mar­shall Plan to European countries on the condition that they work together to allocate funds. This led to the creation of the Organization for European Economic Cooperation, which later became the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The Communist coup in Czechoslo­vakia and the Berlin blockade inaugurated negotiations that led to military cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949.1

European leaders also sought to cooperate with each other, apart from the United States. France decided to control German ambitions by forming a strong alliance with its historic enemy. The Low Countries, which needed a strong European economy with which to trade, and the Italians, who needed an outlet for unemployed workers and access to technology and natural re­sources, combined with France and West Germany to form the European Coal and Steel Community in 1950. The same countries agreed to the Common Market in 1957, which lowered mutual tariff barriers and created the large market they believed critical for economic growth.

Nuclear technology development also benefited from European integra­tion. Physicists Pierre Auger of France and Edoardo Amaldi of Italy led efforts to create a European laboratory for high-energy physics research to com­pete with U. S. physics researchers. European research leaders agreed to create CERN in February 1952 to develop a large particle accelerator and support­ing facilities. The need to distribute and control uranium for nuclear reactors led to the creation of EURATOM in the 1957 Treaty of Rome that created the Common Market. Despite these European efforts to enlarge their market and pool resources for nuclear technology, American developments in electronics and computers, and the American and Soviet development of rocketry and missiles, appeared to keep the superpowers several steps ahead.2

In 1964, French journalist Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber wrote a book that served as a manifesto to European governments and industry: The American Challenge. He described the penetration of American industry into Europe and argued that the cause was not ‘‘a question of money.’’ Rather, the United States had developed better and more widespread education, leading to more flexible policies and management. As he put it, ‘‘Europe’s lag seems to concern methods of organization above all. The Americans know how to work in our countries better than we do ourselves. This is not a matter of ‘brain power’ in the traditional sense of the term, but of organization, education, and train­ing.’’3 Significantly, he illustrated American dominance by using the examples of the computer and aerospace industries.

Servan-Schreiber had influential readers on both sides of the Atlantic. U. S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara thought ‘‘the technological gap was misnamed,’’ believing it to be a managerial gap. Europeans needed to develop their educational systems. McNamara noted, ‘‘Modern managerial education — the level of competence, say, of the Harvard Business School—is practically unknown in industrialized Europe.’’4 West Germany’s defense minister, Franz Josef Strauss, also agreed with the French journalist, believing the technology gap was due to advances in space technology, computers, and aircraft con­struction, three areas he thought decisive for the future. Because large corpo­rations performed the majority of research and because of the large domestic market, American companies had the advantage of scale over their European competitors. Strauss’s solution was to create an integrated European com­munity with common laws and regulations and to pool European resources. European countries needed to launch large, multinational high-technology projects to provide opportunities for European corporations to work on big research and development endeavors.5

Both Servan-Schreiber and McNamara believed that their societies needed more and better management. According to McNamara, ‘‘Some critics today worry that our democratic, free societies are becoming overmanaged. I would argue that the opposite is true. As paradoxical as it may sound, the real threat to democracy comes not from overmanagement, but from undermanage­ment. To undermanage reality is not to keep it free. It is simply to let some force other than reason shape reality.’’6

Servan-Schreiber’s views were similar: ‘‘Only a deliberate policy of reinforc­ing our strong points — what demagogues condemn under the vague term of ‘monopolies’ — will allow us to escape relative underdevelopment.’’ But he did make one allowance: ‘‘This strategy will rightly seem debatable to those who mistrust the influence and political power of big business. This fear is justi­fied. But the remedy lies in the power of government, not in the weakening of industry.’’7 Given the economic and military importance of technology devel­opment, Servan-Schreiber and others accepted the risks of government and business power.

Academic analysts of the technology gap used more sophisticated means to reach similar conclusions. Analyses by the OECD generally recommended increases in the number and scale of integrated European high-technology projects. The technology gap ‘‘is not so much the result of differences in tech­nological prowess, except in some special research-intensive sectors,’’ said economist Antonie Knoppers, ‘‘as of differences in management and market­ing approaches and—possibly above all-in attitudes.’’8 He believed the dis­parities were in ‘‘middle or lower levels’’ of management. Economist Daniel Spencer believed that a ‘‘more fruitful way of assessing the technological gap’’ was ‘‘to define it as a management gap’’ because American managers were ‘‘alert to opportunities created by the research of a military or nuclear or space type.’’9

Officials debated about the existence of the gap, its causes, and solutions. British leaders worried about an American “technological empire’’ and a ‘‘brain drain’’ of technical experts to the United States. The French feared the loss of economic and cultural independence. German leaders worried that the gap exposed flaws in German education and management. American poli­ticians minimized the significance or existence of a technological gap, shift­ing the argument to differences in culture and management. In 1967, Presi­dent Lyndon B. Johnson sent Science Advisor Donald Hornig to Europe with a team of experts to study the problem and asked the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to explore new cooperative ventures with the Europeans to ease their fears. All agreed that European countries needed educational reforms to bridge the various gaps. This would take a while to ac­complish, so in the meantime, the most obvious idea was to mimic American management methods on large-scale technology programs.10

In the early 1960s, space launchers beckoned as a particularly fruitful field for integrated efforts. Developing space launchers would eliminate European dependence on the United States to launch spacecraft and also aid national efforts to develop ballistic missiles. A multinational launcher program would teach European companies to manage large programs and spur Europe’s edu­cational system to become more responsive to advanced technology and man­agement. Many advantages would accrue, if Europeans could overcome their differences.

The Technical Gains of Systems Management

Technical failures of aerospace projects are hard to hide. Rockets and missiles explode. Satellites stop sending signals back to Earth. Pilots and astronauts die. To the extent that systems management helped prevent these events, it must be deemed a technical success. Systems management methods such as quality assurance, configuration control, and systems integration testing were among the primary factors in the improved dependability of ballistic missiles and spacecraft. Missile reliability in air force and JPL missile programs in­creased from the 50% range up to the 80% to 95% range, where it remains to this day. JPL’s spacecraft programs suffered numerous failures from 1958 to 1963, but after that JPL’s record dramatically improved, with a nearly perfect record of success for the next three decades. The manned programs suffered a number of testing failures at the start but had an enviable flight record with astronauts, with the one glaring exception of the Apollo 204 fire. A strong cor­relation exists between systems management and reliability improvements.

The nature of reliability argues for the positive influence of systems meth­ods. For aerospace projects to succeed, there must be high-quality compo­nents, proper integration of these components, and designed-in backups in case failures occur. Only the last of these is a technology issue in the design sense. The selection and proper integration of components has more to do with rigorous compliance with design and manufacturing standards than it does with new technology. High component quality comes through unflag­ging attention to manufacturing processes, backed by testing and selection of the best parts. In a nutshell, it is easy to solder a joint or crimp a connec­tor pin but extremely difficult to ensure that workers perform thousands or millions of solders and crimps correctly. Even a worker with the best skills and motivation will make occasional mistakes. In systems management, so­cial processes to rigorously inspect and verify all manufacturing operations ensure high quality across the thousands of workers involved in the process.

Similarly, ensuring proper integration is a matter of making sure that each and every joint is properly soldered, every pin and connector properly crimped, every structure properly handled at all times, and all of these opera­tions rigorously tested. On top of this, ‘‘systems testing’’ checks for design flaws and unexpected interactions among components. In all of these issues, procedures and processes—not new technology—are the keys to success. Sys­tems management provided these rigorous processes and tests.

Once organizations dealt with component problems, they ran into the next most likely cause of failure: interface problems caused by mismatches between designs. By the mid-1960s, both the air force and NASA obsessively concen­trated on interface problems, which resulted ultimately from poor communi­cation, poor organization, or both. Engineers and managers recognized that differences in organizational cultures and methods made communication be­tween organizations more difficult than communication within an organiza­tion. Miscommunication led to incompatibilities between components and subsystems — incompatibilities often found when components were first con­nected and tested. More technology was not the solution. Instead, engineers needed improved communication through social processes.

Engineers enforced better communication by creating standard documents and processes. They required that one organization be responsible for ana­lyzing both sides of an interface and that the specifications and analyses be documented in a formal Interface Control Document. Many interface prob­lems were subtler than simple mismatches between physical or electrical com­ponents.

For example, engineers at Marshall Space Flight Center found that a ‘‘non­liftoff’’ of a Mercury-Redstone test vehicle occurred because the Mercury cap­sule had a different weight than the Redstone’s normal warhead, changing the time it took for the launch vehicle to separate from the launch tower. Because the combined launch complex-launch vehicle electronics required that the ve­hicle lift off at a certain rate, the changed rate led to a shutdown of the launch vehicle as emergency electronics kicked in to abort the launch.

Problems such as these were solvable not through technology but through better engineering communication and better design analysis. Once engineers understood all of the factors, the design solution was usually simple. The problem was making sure the right people had the right information and that someone had responsibility for investigating the entire situation. As ELDO’s history shows, getting an organization to pay for a change in an interface was often more difficult than formulating a technical solution. Authority and communication matter most in interface problems and solutions. Better orga­nization and better systems, not better technology, made for reliability in large aerospace projects by standardizing the processes and providing pro­cedures to cross-check and verify each item, from solder joints to astronaut flight procedures. These methods essentially provided insurance for technical success.

How much did this insurance cost? Did systems management lower costs or speed development compared to earlier processes and methods? Concurrency in the 1950s was widely believed to shorten development times, but at enor­mous cost. The secretary of the air force admitted that the air force could af­ford only one or two such programs. Schriever contended that concurrency saved money because it shortened development time. Because R&D costs are spent mostly on engineering labor, Schriever argued, shortening development time would reduce labor hours and hence cost. Most other experts then and later disagreed with him. Political scientist Michael Brown contends that con­currency actually led to further schedule slips because problems in one part of the system led to redesigns of other parts, often several times over.3

On any given design, having systems management undoubtedly costs more than not having systems management, just as buying insurance costs more than not buying insurance. The real question is whether systems management reduced the number of failures sufficiently, so that it counterbalanced the re­placement cost. For example, a 50% rate of reliability for a missile system such as Atlas in the late 1950s meant that every other missile failed. With this failure rate, the air force and its contractors could afford to spend up to the cost of an entire second missile in improvements to management processes, ifthese pro­cesses could guarantee success. In other words, at a 50% reliability rate and a cost of $10 million per missile, each successful launch costs $20 million. Thus, if process improvements can guarantee success, then spending $10 million or less per missile in management process improvements is cost-effective.

In fact, the early Atlas, Titan, and Corporal projects achieved roughly 40­60% reliability. Reliability improvement programs — that is, systems manage­ment processes — improved reliability into the 60-80% range during the 1950s and early 1960s and into the 85-95% range thereafter.4 The reliability im­provement meant that roughly nine out of ten launches succeeded, instead of one out of two. Therefore, systems management could easily have added more than 50% to each missile’s cost and still been cost-effective. NASA’s efforts to ‘‘man-rate’’ Atlas and Titan could have added 100% to costs for Atlas and Titan and still been cost-effective, because success had to be guaranteed. In fact, considering the potential loss of not only the launchers but also the manned capsules and astronauts, NASA could likely spend 200-500% on launcher im­provements and still be cost-effective, considering the low reliability of these vehicles at that time. Pending detailed cost analysis, systems management was probably cost-effective if costs were measured for each successful launch.

Another way to assess systems management is to compare missile and space programs that implemented systems management methods with programs that did not. ELDO provides the most extreme example of little or no systems management. None of its rockets ever succeeded, despite piecemeal intro­duction of some systems management methods. Comparison of JPL’s Ranger program with the contemporary Mariner program provides another example, because the Mariner design was a modification of the Ranger spacecraft. With less systems management, Ranger’s first six flights failed, whereas Mariner achieved a 50% success rate, with later Mariner spacecraft performing al­most perfectly. After strengthening systems management, Ranger’s record was three successes out of four launches.5 Assuming Ranger and Mariner costs per spacecraft were roughly equal, Mariner cost less per successful flight than early Ranger.

Aside from pure cost considerations, failures hurt an organization’s credi­bility. In the rush to beat the Soviets, early space programs lived the old adage ‘‘There is never time to do it right, but there is always time to do it over.’’ They had many failures, but in the early days executive managers were not terribly concerned. By the early 1960s, however, failures mattered; they led to con­gressional investigations and ruined careers. Systems management responded to the need for better reliability by trying to make sure that engineers ‘‘did it right’’ so they would not have to ‘‘do it over.’’

It is no coincidence that engineers developed systems management for mis­siles and spacecraft that generally cannot be recovered. When each flight test and each failure means the irretrievable loss of the entire vehicle, thorough planning is much more cost-effective than it is for other technologies that can be tested and returned to the designers. This helps to explain why the bu­reaucratic methods of systems management work well for space systems but seem too expensive for many Earth-bound technologies. For most technolo­gies, building a few prototypes and performing detailed tests with them be­fore manufacturing is feasible and sensible. Lack of coordination and plan­ning (each of which costs a great deal) can be overcome through prototype testing and redesign of the prototype. This option is not available for most space systems, because they never return.

The evidence suggests that systems management was successful in improv­ing reliability sufficiently to cover the cost per successful vehicle. Although systems management methods were not the only factor involved in these im­provements, from the standpoint of reliability, they were critical. Process im­provements, not technology improvements, ensured the proper connection and integration of thousands of components. Systems management increased vehicle costs on a per vehicle basis compared to previous methods but re­duced costs when reliability is factored in.


Social and technical concerns drove the development of systems manage­ment. The dangers of the Cold War fed American fears of Communist domi­nation, leading to the American response to ensure technological superiority in the face of the quantitative superiority of Soviet and Chinese military forces. Military officers and scientists responded to the initial call by creating nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles as rapidly as possible.

Technical issues then reared their ugly heads, as the early missile systems exploded and failed frequently. Investigation of the technical issues led to the creation of stringent organizational methods such as system integration and testing, change control, quality inspections and documentation, and configu­ration management. Engineers led the development of these new technical coordination methods, while managers intervened to require cost and sched­ule information along with technical data with each engineering change.

The result of these changes was systems management, a mix of techniques that balanced the needs and issues of scientists, engineers, military officers, and industrial managers. While meeting these social needs, systems manage­ment also addressed the extreme environments, danger, and automation of missile and space flight technologies. By meeting these social and technical needs, systems management would become the standard for large-scale tech­nical development in the aerospace industry and beyond.


From Weapons Research to Weapons Development

Corporal’s acceleration shifted JPL’s emphasis from engineering research to large-scale development. Fundamental research continued, but at only a frac­tion of JPL’s budget, as engineering and production budgets for the Corporal project climbed dramatically.

Dunn and Pickering led the Corporal project. Dunn came to Pasadena in 1926 from South Africa to study aeronautical engineering under von Kar – man, completing his doctorate in six years. Associates characterized him as a decisive, orderly executive who organized JPL on a project-oriented model. Pickering came to Caltech from New Zealand, taking a Ph. D. in physics in 1936, then joining the electrical engineering faculty. He worked on electron­ics for cosmic ray studies and expanded into telemetry and guidance design in 1944 at JPL. In 1950, Pickering was head of JPL’s Electronics Department, along with being the Corporal project’s director. Pickering preferred an aca­demic orientation, emphasizing technical excellence organized through work­ing groups.13

In October 1951, JPL froze Corporal’s aerodynamic configuration, and Army Ordnance committed Corporal to limited production, selecting Fire­stone Tire and Rubber Company to manufacture the missile. JPL expanded its staff and used the production missiles for test firings.14 Test firings were disap­pointing, as electronic components frequently failed. Although JPL engineers realized that rocket engine vibrations were a factor, they had seriously under­estimated the magnitude of the problem. As failures mounted, they began recording failure statistics. By summer 1953, with more than forty firings com­pleted, JPL calculated missile reliability at only 48%, even with the electronics wired into two strings of components such that if a failure occurred in one set, the other would continue to operate.15 Reliability problems threatened to

undermine the project and with it the credibility of Army Ordnance officers and JPL engineers.

The majority of early Corporal failures were in electrical systems such as power, guidance, radar, and telemetry. According to JPL engineers, ‘‘Neither the reason for the failure nor the specific part failing is known in most in­stances; failures are commonly attributed to vibration.’’ Consequently, they tested components with a sine-wave vibration generator and at high and low temperatures. They found that some components had resonant frequencies that could lead to physical breakage. Engineers developed a program to test all electronic parts and changed both vendors and parts. They developed a rule of thumb to repair failures on the spot but redesign a component if it failed three times.16

Whereas aircraft structural vibrations typically occurred at predictable fre­quencies matching the rotation rate of propellers or jet engine rotors, rocket engines produced vibrations at near-random frequencies. In addition, high speeds and changing altitudes placed strong, highly variable aerodynamic forces and vibrations on the missile’s structure. These shook loose or severed wires, connectors, and soldered components, causing electrical short circuits and intermittent connections. The failures raised havoc with the electrical sys­tems such as radio guidance, attitude control, and telemetry subsystems.17

One response was to acquire better flight data. Engineers placed acceler­ometers and strain gauges on the missile, and they sent the data through the radio system to be recorded on the ground. Because the speed of data collec­tion and radio transmission was too slow to capture the full profile of high – frequency vibrations, engineers constructed algorithms to calculate vibration frequencies and amplitudes from the infrequent data samples. These algo­rithms were sufficiently complex and data-intensive to require the use of an IBM programmable computer. After much work on these data transmission, storage, and processing problems, engineers found vibrations to be highly un­predictable.18

Because of the expense and inconclusive flight test results, engineers con­structed a vibration simulator to test individual components and component packages. They expanded component and package testing, and they formu­lated guidelines and standards.19 Vibration testing henceforth became a stan­dard element of component qualification and missile development.

JPL engineers also theoretically analyzed missile reliability. Assuming that each component had a measurable failure rate, engineers estimated missile re­liability simply by multiplying component reliability estimates. For example, for a missile with only two electronic components, where these components both had to operate and each had a 90% probability for successful opera­tion, multiplying their reliability estimates together gave a combined reli­ability estimate of 0.9 X 0.9 = .81, or 81%. In this way, engineers estimated the decrease in reliability as they added electrical components. With calculations such as these, engineers determined that adding a second parallel “string” of components significantly improved missile reliability.20

In light of the Korean War and the tense situation in Europe, the army de­cided to deploy Corporal despite its severe reliability problems. Both JPL and the army soon realized that Corporal was not designed for operations. JPL engineers had initially designed Corporal purely as a research vehicle using World War II vintage hardware, much of it out of production. When failures occurred, researchers investigated and fixed them on the spot. The army sent military crews to White Sands to learn how to prepare and fire the missiles, but they did not have the expertise of professional engineers. JPL’s lack of operations experience showed in its poor documentation and frequent de­sign changes. Poor training led to more failures and lower reliability, because operational reliability depended upon enlisted personnel to maintain and fire the missile.

Pushing Corporal into crash production aggravated the situation because the army had to use JPL’s sensitive laboratory equipment in the field. Many missiles failed tests because ground equipment had shifted out of tolerance. Even after relaxing tolerances, experience showed that on average, in the four hours necessary to prepare and fire a missile, one electronic component failed. The awkward, bulky equipment was extremely cumbersome. When a Corporal battalion moved, its convoy stretched sixteen miles!21

Flight instrumentation was another major problem. JPL engineers initially believed they needed little instrumentation for the tactical missile. This was a mistake. Jack James, an engineer assigned to this problem, reported that throughout a program of 111 development firings and 150 training rounds through June 1957, engineers and technicians modified every missile to in­stall instrumentation. With thirty tactical ground systems capable of firing

Corporal but only eleven telemetering stations and two telemetry processing facilities (one at JPL and one at White Sands), telemetering stations had to be shipped to the firing site and all data sent to JPL or White Sands for analy­sis. Because JPL had few personnel trained to analyze test data, substantial delays ensued. These experiences taught James that good vehicle design re­quired up-front consideration of testing and operational factors, with a design that incorporated sufficient instrumentation.22

As problems mounted, in November 1953 the army proposed to assign a commanding officer to JPL, a significant step toward turning it into a govern­ment arsenal. If the army wanted to control JPL, the trial balloon was ill-timed because it had little choice but to rely upon JPL to rapidly deploy Corporal. Although technical problems reduced JPL’s credibility, the urgency of speedy deployment weakened the army’s position even more. Army Ordnance back­tracked and in 1954 gave JPL even more responsibility for Corporal. Because JPL was the only organization capable of making the missile work, army offi­cers had little choice.23

The best efforts of JPL and the army improved Corporal’s reliability to an estimated 60%, the best achievable with its inherent design deficiencies. This left serious doubts as to its utility.24 Corporal’s real value was that it trained the army and JPL how to, and more importantly, how not to develop a missile. From this experience, JPL’s leaders recognized that academic, ad hoc design methods and loose organization were not sufficient to create an operational weapon. They vowed that on the next project, they would not repeat these mistakes.

European Rocketry and the Creation of ELDO

Development of rockets began before World War II in a number of Euro­pean countries. Most important was the German program leading to the A-4 ballistic missile, better known as the V-2. Like other early rocket projects, it originated with amateurs in the late 1920s. Just prior to Hitler’s ascension to power in January 1933, Army Ordnance coaxed young engineering student Wernher von Braun to be the technical director of its rocketry program. Army Ordnance drew a veil of secrecy over the project, and the Nazi regime soon began to pour large sums into it. Von Braun’s team successfully developed the A-4 rocket, which terrorized the populations of Antwerp and London in 1944 and 1945. Although its military impact was limited, it caught the attention of military technologists around the world.11

After the war, each Allied power acquired German rocket technology and experts. The United States acquired the lion’s share of both, with rocket parts for more than sixty A-4s and program leaders including von Braun and Arthur Rudolf. The Soviet Union acquired a large number of technicians, a few of the leaders, and parts for some twenty A-4s. With German assistance, Brit­ain launched three A-4s in October 1945 from a site near Cuxhaven. The French acquired a small group of experienced Germans from Peenemunde, who began working at Vernon on an A-4 derivative vehicle and a new rocket engine.12

In March 1949, the French Directorate for Armament Studies and Fabrica­tion decided to build Veronique, a single-stage, liquid-fueled sounding rocket. From 1951 to 1964, French engineers extended the design, improving altitude performance from 2 to 315 kilometers. They initially tested this unguided rocket in southern France, later testing it at Hammaguir in the Algerian desert under the direction of Col. Robert Aubiniere.13

After the 1956 decision to build an indigenous nuclear force, missile de­velopment expanded rapidly. French engineers began development of larger rockets capable of placing a small satellite in orbit. In 1960 the French state rocket consortium, Societe pour l’Etude et la Realisation d’Engins Balistiques (SEREB [Society for Study and Development of Ballistic Engines]), concluded that it was possible to build such a rocket, eventually known as the Diamant. The French created their own space agency to fund the launcher project, while SEREB developed the stages and the military tested them. With some assis­tance from Col. Edward Hall, the U. S. Air Force officer who initially devel­oped the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile, these efforts came to fruition with France’s launch of a small test satellite in November 1965 from Hammaguir, making it the third country to launch a satellite.14

The British were also active in rocket design and in the development of nuclear weapons to place on rockets. They tested their first fission bomb in 1952 off the coast of Australia and their first fusion weapon in May 1957 over Christmas Island. From the late 1940s on, they developed a number of missiles, including air-to-surface, surface-to-air, air-to-air, and ship-to-air weapons. When in 1954, U. S. Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson offered to collaborate with the British on a ballistic missile, the British expressed interest and began their own studies. The Americans allowed the formation of agree­ments between the British company DeHavillands and Convair on the missile structure, and between Rolls Royce and North American Aviation for the en­gines. Based on these agreements, the British developed a large liquid-fueled rocket known as Blue Streak.15

It soon became apparent to the British, as it had to the Americans, that liquid-fueled rockets were poor weapons because of their immobility, cum­bersome logistics, and long preparation time to launch, which made them vulnerable to a Soviet first strike. American missile efforts quickly surpassed those of the British, and in 1956 the United States offered to place Thor missiles in Britain five years sooner than Blue Streak would be available. British offi­cials accepted the offer in 1958, and to avoid duplicating Thor’s capabilities, increased Blue Streak’s required range to 2,500 miles. In April 1960, British military leaders canceled Blue Streak in favor of purchasing American air – launched Skybolt missiles and sea-launched Polaris missiles.16

Blue Streak’s cancellation as a weapon led British officials to consider its potential as a satellite launcher. Technically this was feasible. The key ques­tions were political and economic. First, the British had sunk £60 million into the project, which needed £240 million more. Such large expenditures would divert scarce funds and technologists from other scientific and technological endeavors. Second, the technology could be obsolete by the time it was com­pleted. On the other hand, Britain would no longer depend on the United States to launch satellites, an important advantage if communication satellites became commercially viable. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan wanted to use Blue Streak to forge closer relationships with France. Needing French support to join the Common Market, Macmillan calculated that a joint launcher pro­gram with France would smooth Britain’s application process. Supported by the American leaders, who continued to favor European integration, he de­cided to approach the French in late I960.17

The French reaction was cautiously optimistic. French military leaders ex­pressed keen interest in gaining access to inertial guidance technology and nose cone reentry technologies. Because the United States prohibited the ex­port of these technologies to France, this could have been a fatal objection. In other words, if the French insisted on acquiring inertial guidance and re­entry technologies as part of the deal, there would be no deal. Unexpectedly, French President Charles de Gaulle threw himself behind the project, even without the military technologies. De Gaulle saw the project as a means to fulfill French technological ambitions, using space and nuclear programs to create a permanent “technological revolution’’ to support a strong and inde­pendent France. Because the project supported this goal, he supported the project. In a meeting with Macmillan in January 1961, he agreed to join the project and to jointly approach other European governments, under the con­dition that the launcher’s second stage be French. Macmillan and de Gaulle scheduled a conference the next month in Strasbourg to broach the subject with other governments.18

The Germans accepted an offer to build the launcher’s third stage. This gave them the opening to rocketry that they would not undertake alone be­cause of the Nazi V-2 heritage. That left the question of the Italians, who were already building sounding rockets under American license and had just begun their own launch program with a sea-based launching platform in collabora­tion with the United States. The British, who were by fall 1961 desperate for an agreement because of their financial problems, put substantial diplomatic pressure on Italy to join. Negotiations produced the convention for ELDO in March 1962, with Italy to build the satellite test vehicle.

Britain paid a heavy price for its desperation, stuck with 38.79% of con-

tributions to the £70 million Initial Programme, scheduled for completion by the end of 1965. France, Germany, and Italy paid 23.93%, 18.92%, and 9.78%, respectively, and Belgium and the Netherlands paid 2.85% and 2.64% to build the ground and telemetry equipment. The convention came into force in Feb­ruary 1964 after Britain, France, and West Germany ratified it.19

ELDO’s structure emphasized national interests. Because ELDO based con­tributions on existing programs, Britain and France insisted upon managing their stages through their national government organizations, according to their own procedures. ELDO provided but did not control the funding. Be­cause member states contributed funding in fixed proportions but spent it according to costs, each country had a built-in incentive to increase costs to recoup its investment. For example, if Belgium overran its budget by 50%, it would contribute only its 2.85% share to that overrun.20 Member states severely circumscribed ELDO’s authority, rendering cooperation difficult at best. The job of the Secretariat required delicate negotiation skills, a fact rec­ognized in the appointment of Italian ambassador R. Carrobio di Carrobio to the post. When ELDO came into official existence in February 1964, Carrobio would need all of his diplomatic talents.

Codified Knowledge

In bureaucracies, procedures define the functions of every job and who re­ports to whom. Procedures specify the communication channels, the data to be communicated, who analyzes data to create information, and who makes decisions based on that information. Systems management defined such pro­cedures for the organization of R&D.

Failure spurred the development of systems management. In the first mis­sile and space projects, few procedures or standards existed, for the simple reason that no one had built space vehicles before. Individuals used methods with which they were familiar, until they found them ineffective. As is typi­cal in pioneering work, individuals made mistakes and did not want to repeat them or have others make the same errors. They developed and documented new processes that avoided their initial errors. Later projects used these meth­ods, sometimes modifying them in accordance with new circumstances.

Procedures served two purposes: to pass on good scientific, engineering, or managerial practices; and to protect the organization and its individu­als from external criticism. Organizational and process changes typically fol­lowed technical problems rather than preceding them. Documenting the les­sons learned from success and failure, and standardizing successful practices, created consistency across the organization. To distinguish this kind of knowl­edge from other, more familiar forms such as mathematical, scientific, or tacit knowledge, we may call this codified knowledge.6

Codified knowledge is knowledge put into verbal or “algorithmic” form, typically documented in explicit written instructions. For example, the mili­tary relies upon regulations and procedures because officers frequently rotate to new tasks and positions. The military would degenerate to chaos if it did not have explicit written procedures to document the functions of each posi­tion and its processes. Small organizations where each individual understands all tasks need few procedures. However, beyond a certain organizational size, no individual can understand all tasks or processes, and written procedures become more important.

Individuals write procedures to accomplish a specific function. This helps to explain why systems engineers had such a difficult time explaining them­selves to their academic colleagues. Engineering researchers in academia de­fined themselves through a body of theoretical or empirical knowledge. More importantly, they prized the creative process, which cannot follow set rules or strict procedures. Although academic engineers performed specific tasks, such as writing proposals, performing research, and teaching, procedures had little meaning to them, because their research created new knowledge for which no procedures existed. By contrast, systems engineers performed a specific function, and their unique knowledge consisted of algorithm-like processes and procedures to analyze and coordinate the designs of other engi­neers. Systems engineers needed creativity to solve problems, but the pro­cesses that led them to the problems and the methods to coordinate the solu­tions could be standardized. Hendrick Bode, a systems engineer with Bell Laboratories, compared systems engineers to architects, acting as the bridge between builders and users, designing the overall system, and coordinating the entire effort.7

Contrary to the observations of some management theorists, bureaucracy is not inherently antithetical to creativity or to R&D in general. In fact, the his­tory of systems management shows that bureaucracy can be useful to ensure that all parties involved with R&D—the funders, the managers, and the tech­nical experts—have a part in the process. Systems management provides a framework in which R&D flourishes as a stable part of organizations. Further­more, elements of systems management, such as change control for design coordination, are essential elements of the technical processes in technology creation.

Systematic, Scientific, and Systems Management

Systems engineers and operations researchers often traced the lineage of their techniques to Frederick Taylor’s scientific management movement in the early twentieth century. To these mid-twentieth-century spokespeople, Taylor’s in­novation was the application of scientific methods to the analysis of processes. So too, systems engineering and operations research applied rational thinking to the processes of R&D. Just as systematic management standardized corpo­rate planning and communications at the end of the nineteenth century and scientific management rationalized manufacturing processes in the first de­cades of the twentieth century, systems management bureaucratized the R&D process in the middle of the twentieth century.8

One way to view these three management movements is to identify each with the group over which managers gained authority. In systematic man­agement, executive managers developed methods to coordinate and control lower-level managers and office workers. Scientific management extended their authority over industrial workers. Systems management expanded man­agerial authority over scientists and engineers. In systematic and scientific management, upper-level managers typically appropriated skills and knowl­edge from lower-level workers. Systems management did not appropriate skills but rather developed proxy measures to assess R&D workers.

Without the ability to develop technologies themselves, managers and mil­itary officers developed schedule and cost measurements to assess progress against a plan. The Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) and the critical path method became popular in management precisely because they gave managers for the first time methods to assess technical work prog­ress without having to rely completely on the technical workers. Configura­tion management forced technical experts to give the cost and schedule in­formation necessary for managers to develop reasonable plans. Armed with relatively accurate schedule and cost data, managers could then monitor these factors as a proxy for technical progress. Because funding was the primary resource they controlled, managers finally had the means to monitor and con­trol the scientific and engineering teams.

Managers did not eliminate working groups or appropriate the technical knowledge of scientists and engineers. Instead, management superimposed hierarchy over technical teams through the imposition of project manage­ment and configuration control. Project management gave one manager con­trol over project funds. Working teams designed the system and periodi­cally reported their progress through design reviews. The products approved in design reviews became baselines, changeable only through management approval tied to cost and schedule. “Management by the numbers’’ became popular at this time in part because these numbers served as proxies for tech­nical knowledge. In earlier times, managers could directly understand and control their workers. With knowledge workers, this was no longer possible, and ‘‘the numbers’’ became the substitute of choice.

Through systems management, government officials could assess future technologies with systems analysis and control current projects through proj­ect management and systems engineering. On highly technical projects such as the military’s weapons programs or NASA’s space projects, the govern­ment’s ability to command industry became powerful indeed. Systems analy­sis, project management, and systems engineering have become standard techniques throughout the government and indeed throughout much of American industry.

People today often criticize NASA for its bureaucratic ways, yet when NASA has relaxed its grip, it has endured failures such as the Challenger accident or the Hubble telescope’s embarrassing optical problems.9 The ‘‘faster, better, cheaper’’ mantra of the 1990s is of questionable value for space programs. How many of the bureaucratic methods of systems management can be eliminated before there are large-scale failures? Recent events, such as the loss of recent Mars probes, show that NASA cannot eliminate many systems management methods. It is folly to think that it could be otherwise for space projects.

Proponents of the ‘‘faster, better, cheaper’’ approach want to return NASA

to the days of frequent, relatively inexpensive spacecraft and launchers built by small, informal teams. As we have seen, however, the ‘‘good old days’’ were also times of frequent failures, huge cost overruns, and common sched­ule slips. NASA managers and engineers created the formal mechanisms of systems management explicitly in response to the problems of ‘‘ad-hocracy.’’ Systems management, as recent spacecraft failures once again prove, is cost- effective on a per-successful-flight basis for space projects.

Another criticism comes by comparison with Japan. The Japanese devel­oped a managerial system based on quality. This system, according to pro­moters of methods such as total quality management (TQM), is superior to the American system because it focuses on the ‘‘voice of the customer’’ and because workers on the factory floor have a voice in improving the manufac­turing process. The Japanese method is a direct outgrowth of American-style Taylorism and has often been roundly criticized in Japan as being too rigid and controlling. The quality methods developed in Japan stem from the same concerns with reliability that the American aerospace industry had. Whereas Japanese managers and engineers focused on the reliability of mass produc­tion processes, their American counterparts concentrated on the reliability of R&D. Both approaches used inputs from the working teams, in the United States with R&D scientists and engineers, and in Japan with the manufactur­ing engineers and production line workers. The TQM promoters believe that paying more attention to ‘‘the customer’’ and to quality will solve American ills.10

The Japanese approach, bred in the ‘‘stable-tech’’ automotive and similar mass production industries, may well be suitable for American mass produc­tion industries but is not well suited to R&D. Japanese industry has been quite successful at copying American innovations and mass-producing them but far less successful at producing its own innovations. The Japanese are far more likely to gain from American systems management for their R&D than Ameri­cans are to gain from applying manufacturing-based TQM to R&D, for the simple reason that systems management developed as an R&D process and TQM did not.

One last consideration points to the broader importance of systems management. Systems management methods have spread far beyond aero­space. As early as 1972, Ida Hoos described numerous government organiza­tions that adopted systems analysis and probably other elements of systems management as well. She decried this as the unwarranted spread of techno­cratic methods to areas in which they were inappropriate. That is undoubtedly true.11

One significant place where systems management spread is the computer software industry. The information industry is now the current exemplar for American industrial dominance. Computer software has supplanted hard­ware as the glamour product. Yet software development is exactly where sys­tems management methods developed in the computer industry. In the late 1950s, the largest software company was the System Development Corpora­tion (SDC), which spun out of the RAND Corporation to develop software and training programs for air force air-defense systems. Programmers trained in systems methodology at SDC on air force programs diffused throughout the United States, spreading the systems approach for programming far and wide.12

More than with any hardware artifact, software development is a pure pro­cess, and the final product is itself a process. Current methodologies in soft­ware development, such as structured or object-oriented programming, are variations on systems themes: simplifying interfaces, enhancing communi­cations, considering the entire product, and dividing tasks into simple work packages. Whatever might be said about software, the industry is rarely deemed overconservative or lacking in innovation. Perhaps systems ap­proaches prevent computer programmers and computer scientists from find­ing a radically better way of developing software. Or perhaps they are the only thing preventing software from sinking into total chaos.

The officers, managers, engineers, and scientists who created systems man­agement in the first two decades of the Cold War did so because they believed in the efficacy of technology to protect and promote the values of the United States. After this time, the apparent effectiveness of these methods in creating missile, space, and computing technologies led technologists and managers in other nations to mimic Americans. Through the combined efforts of these groups of people, technological innovation has become a standardized com­modity throughout the Western world. Systems management has tamed R&D.

Political, military, and business leaders now plan for new technologies years in advance, using the services of scientists and engineers to promote their visions of the future. Systems management has become one of the primary tools of our technological civilization. Change is now the norm, a standard­ized product of systems management.

Creating Concurrency

We are in a technological race with the enemy. The time scale is incredibly compressed. The outcome may decide whether our form of government will survive. Therefore, it is impor­tant for us to explore whether it is possible to speed up our technology. Can we for example plan and actually schedule inventions? I believe this can be done in most instances, provided we are willing to pay the price and make no mistake about it, the price is high.

— Colonel Norair M. Lulejian, 1962

The complex weapon systems of World War II and the Cold War involved enormous technical difficulties. Scale was not the problem, for large-scale systems such as the telephone network, electrical power systems, and sky­scrapers had existed before. Rather, the difficulty lay in the heterogeneity of the components, their novelty, and their underlying complexity. Military per­sonnel were unfamiliar with the new technologies of rocket engines, nuclear weapons, and guidance and control systems.

New technology provided opportunities for military officers with a techni­cal bent. Allied with scientists and research engineers, these officers promoted the ‘‘air force of the future’’ over the traditional ‘‘air force of the present.’’ Through wide-ranging research and fast-paced development, the air force would maintain a technological edge over its Communist adversaries. Sepa­rating research and development (R&D) from current operations, these offi­cers created new methods to integrate technologies into novel ‘‘weapon sys­tems.’’ In so doing, they brought into being new organizations and niches for technical officers, scientists, and engineers.

Of the new technologies developed during World War II, ballistic missiles were among the most promising. The marriage of ballistic missiles with fusion

warheads promised an invulnerable delivery system for the ultimate explo­sive. At the push of a button, an entire city could be obliterated within thirty minutes. While the bomber pilots who dominated the air force’s leadership vacillated, technical officers and their scientific allies pressed ahead and past air force skeptics, winning top-priority status for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Led by Brig. Gen. Bernard Schriever, their success was the apex of scientific influence in the military and laid the foundation for a new way of organizing R&D. Combining scientific novelty with the military’s need for rapid development, this new approach became known as concurrency.1

Concurrency replaced the air force’s prior management methods for large – scale technology development. If the technology of ICBMs had been less com­plex, or if their development had occurred at a more relaxed pace, then the air force’s existing management techniques might have sufficed. Facing the combined impact of technical difficulty and rapid tempo, however, the loosely organized technical divisions of the air force’s development groups could not cope. Equally important, the scientists who advised the air force’s leaders did not believe that traditional methods and organizations would succeed. Based on their recommendations, Schriever created a centralized, tightly planned management scheme to implement the air force’s complex new weapon sys­tem as quickly as possible. To understand the changes that Schriever and his allies wrought, we must turn to the air force’s methods prior to the develop­ment of ICBMs.

Applying the Systems Approach

By mid-1953, JPL’s continuing research in solid-propellant rocketry led to the conclusion that solid propellants could equal or exceed liquid propellants in performance as well as eliminate the cumbersome logistics of liquid-propelled missiles. Following up on this conclusion, Army Ordnance funded several studies, from which it selected JPL’s Sergeant. JPL managers and engineers stressed their recent recognition that missiles had to be viewed ‘‘as true sys­tem problems’’ that considered ground-handling equipment, operations, and training as well as technical improvements such as an improved guidance sys­tem and solid-propellant propulsion. Warning Army Ordnance about the dire consequences of making Sergeant a crash program, JPL Director Louis Dunn stated that ‘‘a properly planned development program’’ would ‘‘pay for itself many times over’’ by avoiding changes to production and operations.

Shortly after the army accepted JPL’s proposal, Dunn left to head Ramo – Wooldridge’s Atlas project. Corporal project manager William Pickering be­came JPL’s new director in August 1954. Pickering reorganized the laboratory to mirror academic disciplines on the Caltech campus.25

Even though he structured JPL on an academic model, Pickering recog­nized some of its limitations. Noting, ‘‘R&D engineers may not necessarily fully appreciate military field conditions,’’ Pickering assigned ‘‘certain person­nel a particular system responsibility as a sole task.’’ They performed studies of training, logistics, organization, and other factors to determine the ‘‘in­strumentation, training and schooling requirements, the caliber ofpersonnel requirements, and a typical Table of Organization for the missile battalion.’’26 Pickering assigned Robert Parks as project manager and Jack James as Parks’s deputy. James soon developed processes that would significantly change JPL’s management practices.

Jack James graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1942 and began his career at General Electric (GE) in Schenectady, New York. Starting by working on turbine engines, he soon transferred into the Test Engineering program, where he rotated through a number of laboratories and projects to gain experience. During World War II, he served as a navy radar officer on the battleship South Dakota. After the war, he returned to GE.

At GE, James worked for Richard Porter on the Hermes project to test-fire modified V-2 rockets. At the end of World War II, Porter had worked on the Paperclip project, which brought German rocket engineers and technicians to the United States, and Porter brought a number of the Germans with him to GE. GE developed the radar guidance system, and James worked with SCR – 584 radar systems, on which he ‘‘had the chance to make many mistakes.’’ In 1949, after the Research and Development Board picked JPL to manage the Corporal project, James moved to Pasadena. He had a ‘‘nightmare job’’ get­ting GE to deliver the guidance system, because GE had hoped to manage the project and had ‘‘lost heart in the job.’’ After Dunn left JPL, James helped complete Corporal.27

One of Corporal’s irritants was its lack of instrumentation for telemetry data. James, who was the project manager for the first two Sergeant flights, designed instrumentation into the new missile for testing and troop training, even though this added extra weight. Engineers could reconfigure telemetry equipment and measurements, depending upon the missile’s use for engineer­ing development, testing, or training — or for its final military purpose.28

Another of Corporal’s faults was horrendous reliability and maintenance. Sergeant incorporated the vibration testing established on Corporal for com­ponents. James also investigated the maintenance problem theoretically, to determine the best design, procedures, and supply inventories. He noted that some branches of the army recommended that suppliers create test equipment to isolate faulty components down to the piece-part level. In contrast, his analysis showed that small numbers of larger replaceable packages were more cost-effective. Because the army levied stringent reliability requirements, Ser­geant engineers developed a strict failure reporting system that required docu­mentation about how engineers would permanently repair each failure.29

To Pickering, Parks, and James, the systems approach meant including re­liability, testing, and maintenance early in the design process. Sperry Rand Corporation, which the army selected to manufacture Sergeant, created a sys­tems engineering program for test equipment. It consisted of formal and in­formal meetings and conferences, coordination of engineering changes, and the development of consistent testing, reliability, and maintenance methods at JPL and Sperry and in the army. Sergeant managers and engineers standard­ized environmental testing standards, safety procedures, component mount­ing practices, and maintenance procedures. They also separated testing into five major phases: feasibility flights, guidance system development, system development and integration, engineering model flights, and system proof tests.30

JPL used old and developed new organizational structures and procedures in its relationship with Sperry. Army Ordnance defined institutional arrange­ments, using JPL as the contractor responsible for technical research, devel­opment, and cognizance. Sperry was to manufacture the missile as the prime contractor, but not until it learned how to build the system as co-contractor with JPL. JPL engineers issued Technical Guidance Directions, and Sperry next provided cost estimates. With JPL’s approval, Army Ordnance officers then funded Sperry on a cost-plus-fixed-fee basis. The army required two re­views, a Design Release Inspection and a Design Release Review, both held early in 1959.31

Because of the planned transition from JPL to Sperry, James required that JPL engineers describe their designs in a series of documents that James sent to Sperry. This forced JPL engineers to synchronize design work to a fixed schedule and to produce consistent documentation. If an engineer was un­sure about how a design interacted or connected to a neighboring subsystem, that engineer would simply check the design document’s latest release. James also instituted a system of document change control so that engineers could not arbitrarily change their designs. Modifications would pass through James, who would ensure design and documentation consistency through a Research Change Order.32 This progressive design freeze, augmented with change con­trol, turned out to be one of the most significant organizational elements in the success of Sergeant.

Engineering changes were a prominent source of conflict between JPL and Sperry. Coordination between the two started in 1956, with Sperry assigning a number of engineers to work with JPL in Pasadena. In 1957, monthly co­ordination meetings that alternated between Pasadena and Sperry’s new Utah facility began. After negotiations with Sperry, JPL managers extended their Research Change Order system so that it governed engineering and produc­tion changes at JPL and Sperry. That same year, the two organizations cre­ated a biweekly Operational Scheduling Committee that initially governed the scheduling and preparations of test rounds but soon included broader coordi­nation and contractual issues. Continuing problems led to a project-based re­organization at Sperry, and both organizations established Resident Offices at each other’s facilities. The Sergeant Action Review Committee, formed in December 1959, reviewed all design changes, allowing only those that were mandatory.33

On Sergeant, JPL proved its capability as an army arsenal, with full capa­bility to design, develop, and oversee a missile from inception to operational deployment. JPL engineers developed the procedural expertise necessary to convert research technology into operational weapons, including reliability and maintenance, systems analysis, project scheduling and coordination, and phased planning. JPL Director William Pickering supported these systems methods, although he clung to an academic-style organization. Contractual relationships between the army, JPL, and Sperry led to the development of formal systems to report and respond to failures, and to progressively freeze and document the engineering design as it progressed. Jack James recognized their utility to coordinate diverse design activities and would apply them again on spacecraft projects, as JPL underwent its second major transforma­tion from an army arsenal to a National Aeronautics and Space Administra­tion (NASA) field center.