From the Jungle to Washington
In February 1962 John Glenn was at Cape Canaveral preparing for his attempt to become the first American to orbit the Earth during the Mercury program. I was working for the Mobil Oil Corporation as an exploration geologist supervising a small field party in the rain forest of northern Colombia. Even in this remote area I could pick up Armed Forces Radio and the Voice of America on my battery-operated Zenith Transoceanic radio and stay up to date on the major events of the day. We had been closely following the launches of the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and along with everyone back in the United States, we were disappointed at the failures and delays as we tried to catch up with the Soviet Union’s aggressive space program.
After each of the several launch delays for Glenn’s flight, NASA would project a new liftoff time, and based on these projections we would try to complete our daily fieldwork and get back to camp to hear the launch broadcast. Far from home, with our immediate world bounded by a small rain forest camp and how far we could ride each day on the back of a mule, it was easy to become absorbed in the drama at Cape Canaveral. One day, during one of the several holds before Glenn’s launch, the announcer filled some airtime by interviewing someone from NASA’s Public Affairs Office. During the interview Project Apollo was discussed (what little was known of it at the time), and it was mentioned that for the Moon landings NASA would need to hire geologists to help plan the missions. He gave an address where those interested could apply. My curiosity was piqued. I copied down the address, pulled out the rusty typewriter we used to write our monthly reports, and composed a letter to
NASA. I explained that I was not only a geologist but a former navy jet pilot and said I thought I would fit right in with NASA and all the astronauts.
Eventually John Glenn was launched successfully. When I next went to Bogota I mailed my letter, convinced that NASA could not turn down such outstanding qualifications. In my naivete I thought I might even have a chance to become an astronaut. Who had a better combination of experience to go to the Moon, I reasoned, than a geologist-jet pilot, especially one accustomed to working in strange places under difficult conditions (coexisting with army ants, vampire bats, and jaguars)? With some modesty, my letter implied this interest. It was several months before I had a reply from NASA—a polite letter thanking me for my interest. To be considered, I must fill out the enclosed forms and submit my application to the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. I did so, and the wait began—with some anticipation, given NASA’s encouraging reply.
With the start of the rainy season I was back in Bogota when another envelope arrived telling me I had qualified as a GS-13, aerospace technologist- lunar and planetary studies, and that my application was being circulated within NASA to determine if a position was available. I wasn’t sure what an aerospace technologist was, but it sounded impressive. I had visions of being asked to do exciting things at this new agency with the improbable task of sending men to the Moon. Then began a longer wait. In December I received another letter saying that no positions were open but that they would keep my application on record in case one turned up. Rejection! That didn’t fit in with my plans, and I resolved to pursue my quest the next time I was in the United States.
My next leave came in June 1963, and I decided to go to Washington to talk directly to someone at NASA. I bought an aerospace trade journal listing the latest NASA organization, complete with names. In it I found an office at NASA headquarters that sounded as if my background and interests would fit—Lunar and Planetary Programs in the Office of Space Science, headed by Urner Liddell. From my family’s home in New Jersey I drove to Washington and, without an appointment, went to Liddell’s office. He was traveling that day, but his deputy, Richard Allenby, was in. This was great good fortune, since Liddell turned out to be a rather formal bureaucrat who probably would not have seen me without an appointment. Dick Allenby was just the opposite and agreed to interview me. After briefly introducing myself, I learned he was an old oil field hand (geophysicist) who had worked in Colombia just a few years earlier, and we had several friends in common. We hit it off at once, marking the beginning of a long professional and personal relationship. Dick liked my background but had no openings. He then set up a meeting with navy captain Lee Scherer (another former pilot), who had just been hired to manage the Lunar Orbiter program (satellites that would orbit the Moon to photograph potential Apollo landing sites). He also was not hiring at the time, but he thought someone in the Office of Manned Space Flight needed a person with my experience. I was beginning to question my timing: lots was going on at NASA, with new offices being set up all over town, but just as the last NASA letter stated, no one had an opening. Lee, who would become my boss six years later, set up a meeting with another military man newly detailed to NASA, Maj. Thomas C. Evans, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Tom Evans was an impressive officer, later to become a congressman from Iowa. Tom had been the officer in charge of establishing Camp Century in Greenland, the first successful adaptation of nuclear power for a military ground base. His background was ideal for his job at NASA-designing a future lunar base. After Lee Scherer’s introduction got me in the door, he spent the next hour or so telling me about his new office’s responsibility—planning a lunar program to follow a successful Apollo program. He was enthusiastic and brimming with ideas, the kind of leader everyone looks forward to working for. Best of all, he thought I could help the team he was putting together. Since it was getting late in the day, Tom asked me to return the next morning to talk to his deputy, Capt. Edward P. Andrews, U. S. Army, and determine how we could proceed.
My discussion with Ed Andrews went well, and since I had already received a civil service job rating, he proposed starting the paperwork to hire me. Two days in Washington and I was being offered a job as a lunar aerospace technologist at what I considered the most exciting place in town! It would mean a pay cut from my Mobil salary (I would receive the princely sum of $11,150 a year), but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Ed took my paperwork and told me he would call me in Colombia when everything was final; he didn’t see any reason the position would not be approved and said I should plan on moving my family to Washington.
Returning to Colombia in July, I took Ed at his word and began to close out my work. My supervisor knew about my plans, of course, since I had listed him as a reference. My coworkers all thought I was crazy to take on such a job; most thought trying to get a man to the Moon was quixotic at best and probably impossible. Planning what to do after we landed on the Moon was real science fiction. I thought they were all being short-sighted and that they would be missing out on the beginning of a real adventure. In August I got the phone call I was waiting for. Ed Andrews said all was in order and they were waiting for me to arrive. With a smug smile I filed away my NASA correspondence, including the rejection letter, and at the end of August my family and I left Colombia to begin a new calling-one that never lost its thrill and satisfaction over the next ten eventful years.
And so I began my career at NASA; a GS-13 aerospace technologist in the Office of Manned Space Flight, Manned Lunar Missions Studies. When I arrived in Washington, NASA offices were spread all over town awaiting the construction of a new government building dedicated to NASA, in southwest Washington. In September 1963 our offices were at 1815 H Street NW, just a few blocks from the White House. We shared the building with other organizations and other NASA offices, including program offices for manned planetary missions, systems engineering, launch vehicle studies, and other advanced studies.
I was assigned an office with another recent hire, Thomas Albert, a mechanical and nuclear engineer who was determining how to modify the planned Apollo systems to enable longer staytimes and lunar base missions. Since I came from a work environment where we primarily wrote reports based on work we had accomplished in the field or laboratory, Tom really impressed me. He would spend hours on the phone talking to NASA and private company engineers, taking a few notes and going on to his next call, all the while speaking a language I didn’t understand, in which every third word seemed to be an acronym. I thought I’d never understand NASA-speak, in which acronyms were the order of the day. It was annoying at first, but soon I started to catch on and quickly moved to the next level where I invented my own program acronyms. This new skill brought a real sense of control. I am convinced that NASA could not have functioned without these shortcuts, and it became an unspecified requirement that new programs come up with catchy acronyms, most pronounced like real words, that would appeal to the ears and eyes of management, Congress, and the media. (You’ll soon become accustomed to them as well and will have less need to consult the list of abbreviations in the front of the book.)
Our office at this time consisted of eight engineers with diverse backgrounds plus two secretaries. Except for Tom and Ed, we all shared the services of one secretary. Two or three engineers occupied each office space: new arrivals were assigned interior offices; offices with windows were for senior staff. Accommodations were spartan, but there were few complaints since we would soon be moving to a new building. There was one empty desk in the office I shared with Tom; it had been occupied part time by Eugene Shoemaker, detailed from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), who was on his way to Flagstaff, Arizona, to start a new USGS office. I missed meeting him by a few days, but our paths would soon cross, and we would work closely together until the end of Apollo.
My first days at NASA involved the usual getting acquainted. Although during my navy service I had been a part of another government bureaucracy, NASA functioned quite differently. Owing in part to Tom Evans’s style and NASA’s being a new agency with an unprecedented mission, multitudinous rules and procedures had not yet been instituted, and the staff was given great freedom of action. Since for the past six years I had usually made my own daily schedule, this was an ideal situation for me. With Ed Andrews’s guidance I immediately began to define my role and make the contacts at NASA and in the scientific community that would make my job easier.
I soon learned that Gene Shoemaker had come to NASA to help bridge the wide gap between the science side of NASA, represented by the Office of Space Science (OSS), where I had made my first NASA contact, and the Office of Manned Space Flight (OMSF). Major differences had surfaced between OSS and OMSF over how to apportion NASA’s overall budget. The debate on how to accomplish science on Apollo still lay ahead. OMSF was already receiving the major portion of NASA’s budget, and OSS staff, as well as scientists outside NASA who looked to OSS to fund their pet projects, were constantly fighting to persuade top management to change NASA’s funding priorities. These efforts were led by such luminaries as James Van Allen, who had made one of the first space-based science discoveries—the radiation belts surrounding Earth that were later named after him. The complaints were reinforced by the National Academy of Sciences and its Space Science Board, which provided advice to Homer Newell, the OSS administrator. I was told that Shoemaker, during his brief stay at NASA, had begun to reduce some of the distrust that had developed but had only scratched the surface. Apparently it would take more than his talents to resolve these differences. Despite many compromises and much cooperation, forty years later this power struggle still rages inside and outside NASA.
Into this controversial arena I ventured and, with Tom Evans’s blessing, was given an unofficial second hat to work with both OSS and OMSF on matters dealing with lunar exploration. When Shoemaker left, Verne C. Fryklund, who had been working on Newell’s staff, took his place. Fryklund was definitely from the old school. Gruff, with a bushy mustache and a half-smoked but unlit cigar perpetually in his mouth, he usually looked professorial in a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches. Being detailed from USGS, he was given the title of acting director, Manned Space Sciences Division, Office of Space Science. His primary duty was the same as Shoemaker’s—to be the go-between for the Office of Space Science and the Office of Manned Space Flight. During his shuttle diplomacy, he was to present the interests of the science community to NASA’s manned space side, which was not viewed as friendly to science. Fryklund became my unofficial second boss. By Washington standards his title was not imposing, especially with the ‘‘acting’’ designation. His staff was appropriately small, consisting of several headquarters staffers and a number of detailees, including geologist Paul Lowman from the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) and several others from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Thus he was receptive to having me join his office.
Fryklund, an experienced bureaucrat, approached his new job cautiously. The complicated politics were self-evident to someone with his background, and he was fully aware of the gulf between the two organizations. Until this time nothing had been officially decided about what science projects would be carried out on the Apollo missions. This became his first priority. Shuttling back and forth between high-level meetings at OSS and OMSF, Fryklund relied on a draft report on the scientific aspects of the Apollo program (commonly referred to as the Sonett Report after its chairman, Charles P. Sonett of the NASA Ames Research Center).1 It served as his guide and point of departure to lend weight to his arguments on what needed to be done for Apollo science.
Sonett’s ad hoc working group had convened at Iowa State University in the spring of 1962 at the request of the Office of Manned Space Flight to recommend what scientific activities should be included on the Apollo missions. The group had twenty members and consultants with diverse scientific backgrounds, including strong representation from USGS led by Gene Shoemaker.
Paul Lowman served on the geophysics (solid body) subgroup and also helped compile the final report, while Fryklund worked with the geology and geochemistry subgroup during their meetings.
William Lee, assistant director for human factors in the Office of Manned Space Flight, provided guidelines at the start of the working group’s deliberations. These guidelines defined the parameters within which the working group would operate. They were relatively short and simple (two and a half pages), since at that time little was known about the constraints the astronauts would be operating under and since all the Apollo hardware was in an early design phase.
The working group was asked to consider experiments and tasks that could be accomplished on the Moon in periods of one hour, eight hours, twenty-four hours, and seven days. Because NASA still was not sure what the flight profiles would be, no guidance was given for any operations on the way to the Moon or in lunar orbit. Choosing landing site(s) was also not part of the working group’s charter, although its recommendations could influence site selection. Advice on power and communication capabilities for transmitting scientific data was very general, and the committee members were told that this should not restrict them. They were to plan for more than one but fewer than ten missions with the possibility of carrying one hundred to two hundred pounds of scientific payload. Life-support supplies would limit the crew’s operations to a radius of approximately half a mile. They were cautioned that the astronauts’ space suits might hinder their ability to perform ‘‘precise manipulations.” And finally, they were told that it might be possible to include a ‘‘professional scientist’’ in the crew, but that this would ‘‘significantly complicate our selection and training program, and [such a recommendation] should not be made unnecessarily.”
Today, reading between the lines and looking at the numbers the committee was given to work with, it seems clear that these guidelines sent a message to the members that scientific ventures during the Apollo missions might be tolerated but that they should not have high expectations. This message was repeated in the years ahead, much to the dismay of the scientific community.
Despite the restrictions, the draft report contained wide-ranging recommendations that included geological and geophysical experiments to be done on the Moon as well as experiments in surface physics, atmospheric measurements, and particles and fields. Bill Lee’s guidelines were to some degree ignored; the assembled scientists could not resist telling NASA what needed to be done. What they recommended could not be carried out with only one to two hundred pounds of payload, and they described geology traverses up to fifty miles from the landing site. They also detailed sample collection, including drill or punch core samples, and potential landing sites were suggested by Shoemaker and by Richard E. Eggleton of USGS and Duane W. Dugan of the Ames Research Center. The report went so far as to describe what type of astronaut should be on the flights and the criteria for finding such recruits.
Since the report had been requested by OMSF and not by the science side of NASA, its recommendations carried some weight in OMSF offices. The draft had been circulated to participants at the National Academy of Sciences 1962 Iowa Summer Study, who had met at the same time as Sonett’s working group.2 Thus the Sonett Report would include the endorsement of the other side of NASA’s house (the scientists) when it was officially released. Although the Iowa Summer Study group agreed with the general conclusions of the Sonett Report, it recommended that the scope of the proposed investigations be more restricted than those spelled out in the report, a rather surprising recommendation in light of later criticisms from the scientific community.
Based on these recommendations, and with his bosses in both OSS (Homer Newell) and OMSF (Joseph Shea) concurring, in early October 1963, one month after my arrival, Fryklund sent a memo to Robert R. Gilruth, director of the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) in Houston, containing the first official scientific guidelines for Project Apollo. As is the nature of guidelines, they established a broad framework for planning, but they provided no specifics on how long the astronauts would be on the Moon or how much payload weight should be allocated for science. These numbers were to come later. The eight guidelines included a listing of three functional scientific activities in decreasing order of importance: ‘‘a. Comprehensive observation of lunar phenomena; b. Collection of representative samples; and c. Emplacement of monitoring equip – ment.’’3 Assigning sample collection a number two priority is interesting since, as we will see, in later planning it became the astronauts’ first task once they were on the lunar surface. Back in Washington we began trying to flesh out the guidelines by reading between the lines of the Sonett Report and translating the recommendations to some hard numbers.
From the information we could collect, it was evident that the range of measurements and activities the Sonett committee had listed, even if reduced to follow the National Academy of Science’s recommendations, would require a science payload far exceeding the target of one to two hundred pounds. One month before Fryklund issued the guidelines, and unknown to headquarters, MSC jumped the gun and hired a contractor, Texas Instruments, to spell out Apollo experiments and measurements to be made on the lunar surface based on MSC guidelines. The report, when it was eventually issued in 1964, was dismissed as amateurish by headquarters and by members of the scientific community who had begun to focus on Apollo science. This difference of perspective signaled a clash between headquarters and the small MSC science staff over who would define Apollo science.
Adding to this mix of ideas on what science to carry out on the Moon, in early 1963 Bellcomm engineers had provided some analyses of potential Apollo and post-Apollo scientific operations. Bellcomm had been created in March 1962 by AT&T at the request of NASA administrator James Webb to provide technical support to NASA headquarters. By the time I arrived Bellcomm had grown to over 150 engineers and support staff and had already run afoul of MSC engineers, who accused the company of being a meddling tool of headquarters-some at MSC went so far as to call the staff headquarters spies. MSC tried to exclude them from some meetings by keeping the schedules quiet so that when the meetings were announced it would be too late for the Bellcom – mers to make the trip from Washington to Houston. Another aspect of the visits that MSC found annoying was that Bellcomm required trip reports, so everyone who read them knew about what went on and about any disagreements with MSC’s proposals. Disagreements were frequent, and the second – guessing by Bellcomm continued throughout the program, often leading to positive changes, especially concerning the science payload. Eventually a small group of Bellcomm scientists and engineers were assigned to support Evans’s office, and they became important adjuncts to our small staff. Their support and numbers grew as Apollo science evolved.
At the end of January 1963 two Bellcomm staffers, Cabel A. Pearse and Harley W. Radin, presented a study examining the scientific advantages of having an unmanned logistic system deliver a fifteen-hundred-pound payload to the lunar surface. They concluded that the best use of such a system would be to provide ‘‘a fixed scientific laboratory equipped with a wide variety of scientific instrumentation.’’4 Two months later, under the leadership of Brian Howard, one of England’s ‘‘brain drain’’ expatriates, with Robert F. Fudali, Cabel A. Pearse, and Thomas Powers, Bellcomm issued a second report, The
Scientific Exploitation of the Moon.5 It provided a preliminary analysis of the type of science that might be conducted utilizing Apollo hardware to deliver a logistics payload of seven to ten thousand pounds to the lunar surface, the payload sizes being studied by Evans’s office. Although the second report does not cite the draft Sonett Report by name, the authors were surely aware of its existence because they include most of the experiments it described and it is cited in the January report. In addition, they recommended carrying out a variety of other operations and experiments including the use of roving vehicles and deep drilling. To my knowledge the Bellcomm reports and Lunar Logistic System, a ten-volume report issued by the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) at the same time as the Bellcomm report, represent the first attempts to document the feasibility of using Apollo hardware for extended exploration on the lunar surface.6 These reports were my first exposure to such thinking and were among the early references on my NASA office bookshelves.
In late October 1963, returning from one of these frequent meetings, Fryk – lund rushed into the office we shared and announced, “They’ve just agreed; we have 250 pounds for science!’’ ‘‘They’’ being NASA Manned Space Flight senior management. Having been on the job only a few weeks and a latecomer to what had been a major struggle, I showed only muted enthusiasm. Based on my limited experience and initial looks at what a good science payload like that recommended in the Sonett Report would weigh, 250 pounds seemed a minor victory. A thousand pounds or more would have been better. But a victory it really was, certainly better than the one to two hundred pounds given to the Sonett working group. Once our foot was in the door, we quickly capitalized on the opportunity to define a complete payload based on this ‘‘official’’ number.
Other major changes had also been taking place in NASA. Headquarters was swiftly evolving. New organizations were being created almost weekly, and the staff was expanding rapidly. During 1963, the year I came, NASA headquarters almost doubled in size. With all these changes the headquarters phone directory was always out of date, and addenda were published every month. Brainerd Holmes, who until September had been in charge of manned space flight operations as director of the Office of Manned Space Flight, resigned and was replaced by George Mueller from Space Technology Laboratories. Mueller was given the new title of associate administrator, Office of Manned Space Flight, a third tier of top management just below administrator James Webb and his deputy, Hugh Dryden and associate administrator Robert Seamans. Homer
Newell was elevated at the same time to a similar position with the title associate administrator, Office of Space Science and Applications (OSSA). With his appointment Mueller introduced a different management style to Manned Space Flight, one that would have a profound effect on Project Apollo’s future.
Toward the end of the year our office was merged with several others, and the new organization was called Advanced Manned Missions Programs. Edward Z. ‘‘E. Z.’’ Gray was hired from the Boeing Company to be our leader, and we soon moved to our new offices at 600 Independence Avenue SW. In January 1964 Maj. Gen. Samuel C. Phillips was detailed from the Air Force Ballistic Systems Division to become Mueller’s deputy director for the Apollo program. Later in the year his title was upgraded to director.
In the wave of reorganization, Fryklund’s tenure as acting director was short lived. Homer Newell, in agreement with Mueller, formally established the Office of Manned Space Science, reporting to both his office and Mueller’s. Willis Foster was brought in from the Department of Defense as the new full-time director, and Fryklund became Foster’s chief of lunar and planetary sciences. After some eight months working for Foster, he transferred back to Newell’s staff, and a short time later he returned to USGS to work in its military geology branch. Foster’s office, starting with an original staff of eight, grew rapidly (and now included Peter Badgley, my former thesis adviser at the Colorado School of Mines). Dick Allenby was transferred from the OSSA Lunar and Planetary Programs Office to become Foster’s deputy. Anthony Calio was brought in from the newly formed Electronics Research Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to provide some engineering muscle, and along with Jacob ‘‘Jack’’ Trombka he began to coordinate the planning for scientific instrumentation. Edward Chao, another USGS detailee, became the office expert on how to handle the anticipated scientific treasure—the samples collected. Edward M. Davin, an acquaintance of Allenby’s, was hired from Esso Research (now Exxon) in Houston in the summer of 1964 to join Allenby as the resident geophysicists, representing a scientific discipline that would increase in importance as the Apollo experiments were selected.
Will Foster now became my unofficial second boss, and I continued to work on developing the science payloads for Apollo flights as well as later undertakings. How we accomplished this for Apollo, and eventually went far beyond the initial 250-pound allocation, follows in the next chapters. But first, from a scientific perspective, why fight to get a science payload on Apollo in the first place?