Oral History Transcript — Dr. Thomas Gold
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Interview with Dr. Thomas Gold
Thomas Gold; September 30, 1983
ABSTRACT: This interview examines Gold's career in astronomy while he held positions at Harvard as professor of astronomy (1957-9), and at Cornell as professor and as Director of the Center of Radiophysics and Space Research (1959-71). The interview deals with Gold's involvement as an 'outsider' with NASA during the development and execution of the first lunar and planetary missions, especially Apollo. Gold's views on the composition of the lunar surface, on instrumentation, on the development of photographic equipment for the Apollo missions, and on the Apollo missions in general are contrasted with those of NASA. Other affiliations discussed include: George Mueller, John Naugle, Homer Newell, Edward Purcell, and Martin Schwarzchild.
DeVorkin:This is an exploratory interview to complete your interview with Spencer Weart. Could you give me an overview of your major NASA involvement that we will talk about in greater detail later?
Gold:Yes. I suppose my NASA involvement started shortly after the formation of NASA. when Robert Jastrow was, I suppose. chief scientist of the NASA organization. Jastrow tried to involve me in giving advice to NASA about the scientific programs that they should go in for. I recall that we had several meetings about a future lunar program that should be attempted with Harold Urey, with Kuiper, and with a few other people, but not many. We were, I believe. at that time a sort of inner group to advise NASA on those aspects of scientific programs. I also had a bit to do with the particles and fields program of NASA. For a while I was on one of the committees for particles and fields with James van Allen and many other particles and fields people.
DeVorkin:Does that mean that you were involved in the Explorer series and the Pioneer series?
Gold:I was never involved in any direct experimental work with NASA. other than what I will come to later, other than the camera. But I was on the committee that specified what kind of exploration should be attempted. where vehicles should go. what kind of instrumentation they should carry, and so on.
DeVorkin:Specifically which committees? The Lunar and Planetary Committee?
Gold:At that time, in the early days — missions boards were set up later — four or five committees of external people were set up under the Space Science auspices of NASA. And I was on some of those at various times. I can’t remember.exactly which ones.
DeVorkin:But they were distinct from the Astronomy Missions Board?
DeVorkin:What interaction did you have, or sense of competition did you have for funding or for support with the Astronomy Missions Board? Was it apparent?
Gold:When the missions boards were set up I was on the Lunar and Planetary Missions Board. And yes, there was a certain amount of competition then with the Astronomy Missions Board, and sometimes a conflict, in the sense that strangely enough, the Astronomy Missions Board was less antagonistic to the manned space flight program than many of us on Lunar and Planetary Missions Board were. That may seem the reverse way round but it just so happens that that was the outlook of many of the people.
DeVorkin:So it was a number of people, not just one particular person, setting the philosophy?
Yes. On the Lunar and Planetary Missions Board, there were a number of us. Gordon MacDonald, myself, van Allen, and a few others who basically regarded NASA's constant pressure to have more manned space flight, and thereby unfortunately pressure to have less instrumented flight, as a mistake in the long run. The attitude was that one would tolerate the Apollo program. It was perhaps somewhat frivolous, but one saw from the beginning of the Apollo program that it would have a big impact psychologically in the world, and one saw that men on the moon would at least experience a dramatic new world, that they would interact with it, that they could do something.
On the other hand, we all realized that there was no hope of planning any manned mission to another planet, and anything other than the moon, we all insisted could be done by instruments at least as well. Maybe the moon could also be done by instruments as well. If you're not even on another body, if you're only floating around in a capsule in empty space. then there's no question in my mind, now or then, that anything that a man can do — which is only switching switches or moving levers in the capsule, seeing things through his eyes — can be done from the ground by remote control over a radio channel, that can transmit the details that a man could see up there, and that could give the instructions to move any switch or move any gadget.
So we could not see, and we still cannot see. that there is any point in having a man inside of a vehicle. The moment you have a man there it makes the enterprise enormously more expensive, because of the safety problem, because of the life support system, because of the need to return him. There's just no question that instrumentation could do everything by remote control just exactly as well as the man could — not by robot that has to think up there, but by somebody on the ground controlling it all — could be done more cheaply and better. And I still insist that that is so.
DeVorkin:Did you convey this feeling through your participation on the panels to people in NASA?
DeVorkin:I'd be interested to know who you talked to, what their reactions were, who was fighting for the manned missions.
Gold:I can tell you some of that in detail. I was not only on the Lunar and Planetary Missions Board. but also on the President's Science Advisory Committee Space Panel, and was even for a while its chairman. Ed Purcell was also on that body and very strongly supported the same viewpoint that I just expressed now about the manned space flight, and he used to say. "Send a man's eyes and hand up into space, but leave his stomach at home." Meaning that remote control eye and hands should be up there, but the man should actually be on the ground.
DeVorkin:Who did he say that to? Who did you say it to?
Gold:We said it, of course, to the other members of PSAC, and we said it to many people in NASA. They all knew our viewpoint very well — Homer Newell. of course. but also Webb and Tom Paine. I spoke to Tom Paine recently and he still remembers very well struggling with me about that. He's very friendly to me personally. but he knew that I was the antagonist of the manned space flight program at the time. I was fairly vocal and it was reported in the press and so on.
DeVorkin:In urging Newell to support your views, which I assume is what you did, do you feel that he reiterated your views adequately and conveyed them in the NASA hierarchy?
Gold:I think he regarded me as too much of a rebel to want to attach himself too closely to me in any way on that. So he kept his distance from me in many respects, in some respects that I wasn't so fond of. For example, in another area — we'll return to the manned problem — he knew full well that I'd been grossly misrepresented on the question of the lunar dust. that I had always stressed, in my official reports to NASA, that the moon would have a lot of dust on it, but that it would be crunchy. compacted, and not very soft. That's in my report, published in SCIENCE. and all the official documents that I gave NASA, and I have many letters on that. However. the press had always represented my view as only a lot of dust, and whatever I said a lot of dust meant that you would sink out of sight.
DeVorkin:That's the prevailing joke, of course. Even the astronauts used that kind of thing at times.
Gold:I know. constantly. And then when they didn't sink out of sight. I was ridiculed by everybody, as if I had said that they would sink out of sight. That's absolutely untrue. Homer Newell knew that and said. "Yes. you have been crucified. "I said. "Why don't you go and publish this fact?" No response. He would have been the person to straighten this out. He knew it. He had reports. I pointed them out to him again. He said. "Yes. I know them. "but he did nothing about it, he never mentioned anything about that.
DeVorkin:Was it just a misrepresentation by the press?
Gold:Yes. It was the press, It was Arthur Clarke's book on the fall of moondust. Arthur Clarke commented to me that I made him a lot of money. because it was a very successful book, but of course I was quite annoyed. Arthur Clarke is not to blame, but his concept of a lot of dust on the moon was taken up by him as meaning that you'd sink out of sight, and in fact in this book. that's what he has. But the reporters always read science fiction and they read each other's reports and they don't listen to what they are told by the originators.
DeVorkin:Did you call the reporters, such as Walter Sullivan of the TIMES, and try to straighten it out?
DeVorkin:Did you get any result?
Gold:No. When it's not a news item, they don't do anything. They don't write anything just to straighten something out, and when it was a new item. I remember. at news conferences, absolutely saying "I am NOT telling you that they will sink out of sight. This is what I wrote in SCIENCE. It's going to be crunchy, fairly firm. There can be vertical walls on the moon which are made of dust,and it will stand up as a vertical wall if somehow it was constructed that way." I said all these things. but they were not reported or not adequately reported, and so many reporters just kept saying "Gold says they'd sink out of sight."
DeVorkin:Do you think there was a desire in their part to find fault?
Gold:No. They said that before we went to the moon, when nobody knew the answer. And then when we did go to the moon, they didn't inquire any more. They said, "Well, Gold said we'd sink out of sight and we didn't sink out of sight, so ha ha."
DeVorkin:This was a longstanding misconception before the landing.
Gold:Yes. Long before we got there, I already stressed that it would be crunchy stuff, and that it could hold vertical surfaces and that you would probably not sink in very far. I did say. to NASA and many people in public also, that if I were going to the moon, I would prefer to be on a line, like you would be walking on a glacier, because I said that just like a glacier with fresh snow on it. the moon has never had weather to test the strength of any particular piece of surface. There could be loose fluffy bridges of dust or dust, analogous to snow, which could have accumulated in curious ways somewhere, and you might fall into something. It might be disastrous. And that's probably still true now, because we haven't walked all that much on the moon. I would still prefer to be on a line if I were to walk on the moon for fear that untested ground may be treacherous. That's all I said. The actual ground would be fairly firm, crunchy was the word, like a cake, I said, but it would be composed to great depth out of material with small grains, and I believe that that is true.
DeVorkin:So Newell did not set the record straight.
DeVorkin:Did he ever explain to you why, or did you ever find out why?
Gold:I discussed it with him and urged him to set it straight. and he said, "Well. you're the same kind of case as John Hagan [the radio man who was in charge of the misfired first satellite attempt]: you've just been crucified like that." And so he said, "Yes. I know exactly what you said." but he didn't respond in any other way. He was the one person who could have set it straight.
DeVorkin:Could his superiors have been telling him not to do it?
Gold:No. I don't think he ever discussed it with them. It was just not important enough for him to extend himself in anyway.
DeVorkin:That's peculiar. We want to get back to the manned, unmanned issue. I know that in the very first years of NASA, before the mission boards were really developed, there were a number of people sitting on panels, trying to define an astronomy platform in space, that at first was going to be, as NASA wanted it, a combined platform for both solar and stellar studies. and the astronomers objected to that. Were you a part of that early discussion?
Gold:No, not really.
DeVorkin:So you were not a part of the early definitions of the OAO and OSO mission and things like that.
Gold:No. although I probably had something to do with it through PSAC, because it always started out there.
DeVorkin:Right. But there were recollections by, as I mentioned to you yesterday. Martin Schwarzschild and Goldberg, who sat on committees with Newell and with George Mueller, where it was evident to the astronomers that there was a great wall between Newell and Mueller.
DeVorkin:You were in those types of meetings too?
DeVorkin:What is your recollection of the wall as Schwarzschild described it: "There's an invisible wall between you two." he said at one time. Or can you give me anecdotal recollections that help to illuminate what their relationship was like or the dynamics of that kind of a group meeting.
Gold:I often saw the two together, but I don't think I ever saw Newell and Mueller talk to each other. Newell was generally very quiet, spoke very little, so it may just be that all the times that I saw them together, Newell wasn't urged to speak anyway, but certainly they were not on the terms that one might have expected two associate administrators to be on.
DeVorkin:What was Mueller like in the meetings, what did he advocate, and how did he take your criticisms?
Genial. He was very friendly and very genial. He sometimes tried to joke about the criticisms or belittle them in some way. or to steer away from too serious a discussion of criticism of the manned space program. But I'll tell you more about the relations with the NASA administrators in this respect. I had written some notes to NASA, and urged NASA to start a serious remote control enterprise for detailed eye-hand coordination remote control.
Telefactor is the name that we gave it at the time, meaning a remote operator that is slaved in detail to the eyes and the hands of a man on the ground. We tried to urge NASA to really start a serious research development program to make such a gadget for all kinds of purposes. and wrote that such a gadget would have all kinds of other valuable applications. You could use the same kind of thing, hardened for underwater use, on the ocean floor in mine shafts or in nuclear reactors. How marvelous it would have been if we'd had such a gadget when the Three Mile Island reactor went wrong.
We could have walked a man into it, so to speak, a remote man. and fixed things that weren't provided for. in the reactor. So all these things were mentioned, and James Pletcher. who was the administrator at that time, agreed to organize a meeting with the senior people, which at that time were von Braun and George Low. We were organized a considerable time ahead. I suppose three months or so ahead. A date was fixed that I was to come to Washington and discuss with Fletcher, von Braun and George Low and a few other senior people there, the pros and cons of manned space flight against remote control telefactor.
DeVorkin:This is already in the post-Apollo period. was it not, when they were looking to see what they would do beyond Apollo?
Yes. We can find what the date was because Fletcher was not administrator for all that long a time. I talked to Fletcher on the phone about organizing such a meeting, and yes, he was going to do it. Then, I believe, a week or so before that date came due — I was in Aspen at the time — an article of mine appeared in the Sunday supplement of the NEW YORK TIMES (August 22, 1971), sort of the main article of the Sunday magazine section, and it had the title. "Machines, Not Men, In Space." It was essentially a discussion of the telefactors, what they could do as compared to men. I think it was a good article and many people thought very well of it and told me so.
It was very widely read. That appeared just about a week or ten days before this meeting was to take place. In Aspen I received a phone call from Mr. Fletcher. He was furious. He absolutely exploded on the phone, and said. "The meeting is off." He called me Tommy. "Tommy, the meeting is off. The lines are drawn." The lines are drawn, were his words. I said, "What do you mean? Am I not allowed to publish my viewpoint?" "Not in the NEW YORK TIMES." It was offensive to him.
DeVorkin:What do you think he had in mind for the meeting? Maybe he felt nothing would be done it would just die.
Gold:I suppose. Otherwise a discussion like that in public would be helpful and not a hindrance.
DeVorkin:I would think so.
Gold:"The lines are drawn." So it was clear that he was not going to that meeting with an open mind. It was clear that if he was intending to go to that meeting to hear the pros and cons of the two sides, then he would not regard it as "the lines are drawn" It was a question of deciding it, it wasn't a question of being in the opposition.
DeVorkin:Yes. What other kinds of people were planning to be at the meeting? You said von Braun, George Low?
Gold:I don't know who they were intending to bring in.
DeVorkin:Let me ask about some of the people on the science side in the early years. You already mentioned Newell and his reaction, but there were others — John Naugle. Nancy Roman, Bill Brunk, and other scientists, like Gerry Wasserburg. What were your early contacts with them? Did they support and understand your position vis-a-vis the moon dust, and did they do anything to help you out?
Gold:No. None of them concerned themselves very much with it.
DeVorkin:What of the manned-unmanned issue? To what degree did Gerry Wasserburg align himself with you?
Gold:I didn't have all that much to do with Gerry at that time.
DeVorkin:Nancy Roman or John Naugle?
Nancy Roman didn't concern herself with that issue at all. John Naugle was basically favorable to my viewpoint. but I had to toe the line at NASA. This was so much the case that with Naugle we had a very awkward situation at one time. Naugle was a personal friend of mine and I knew him from earlier days before he joined NASA, when he was still working with van Allen out at Minnesota. What happened was that when the serious Shuttle discussions were going on, Naugle was still the associate administrator for Space Science, and I was asked by a Senate committee headed by Mondale to testify about the Shuttle, pros and cons.
It was known in NASA of course that I would testify against the Shuttle. First I got a phone call from the person who was my Cornell contract person at NASA, who very sheepishly said that people were annoyed at NASA about my speaking out against the Shuttle, which was nothing new to me, but coming from my contract administrator it was a bit of a threat. But then the day before I was to appear at a scheduled hearing at 1 o'clock in the Senate. John Naugle phones me at 3 o'clock. and talks to me first at some length about other things in a remarkably leisurely and friendly way. And I was beginning to smell a rat, because normally an associate administrator didn't have time for a 20 minute leisurely phone conversation.
Then he finally gets around to it and says, "I hear you're going to testify before a Senate committee tomorrow. I would advise you to cancel that." I said. "John, what do you mean? I should now pick up .the phone and phone Walter Mondale and say. the arrangement we made six weeks ago for me to testify is going to be cancelled? What do I tell him, why?" "Well, you can find some way of saying you're not coming." So I said, "Well. why do you want me to cancel it?" He said, "Well, Tommy. you must understand that while I, of course, would not take any such steps, I'm running a big organization. and I can't promise that people won't take it amiss, and that your Cornell contracts with NASA might be in jeopardy if NASA feels that you are" — well. he put it all on the lower echelons — "that would be offended by this, and there's nothing I could do about it." I said. "John, I understand full well what you're saying. I will write you a letter and say what our conversation now was. and I will assume that if I don't have a denial back from you, that that statement in that letter is correct, and that I regard this clearly as a threat that if I testify, my Cornell contracts are in jeopardy." And he just protested that, no, no, he would not do any such thing, of course, but still, he has to be realistic, that was what might happen. I wrote that letter. I had no response to it.
DeVorkin:You did write the letter?
Gold:Yes. I had no response to it. So, after recording a phone call, the second best way to protect yourself is to say "This is what I'm writing you in registered mail." And that's what I did. I. in fact, mentioned this privately to Mondale the next day, that this had happened. and Mondale of course was furious and said. "Allow me to do something about that and blow up NASA, it's a shocking way to go about it." And I said, "No. Fritz. I have to live with this situation. If we blow up NASA, it will make any relationship even harder for me. but in principle it is of course a shocking thing for this to have happened." And so the matter was left. and this is exactly how it happened and documentation is still in existence. I still have that letter.
DeVorkin:Can you say briefly if your contracts were affected after your testimony?
Gold:I had a very hard time with NASA, year after year. I got some more money, but eventually it fizzled out, after three years or so after this event. My applications, which previously each year had always gone through very smoothly, were turned down. I would then have to go to Washington, discuss it with them. and I then would get a certain fraction of it resurrected. For several years running this happened, and then eventually it fizzled permanently, and I've not tried to get any money out of NASA since.
DeVorkin:These were your own personal contracts?
Gold:Yes, but in many cases. although I was the principal investigator, it involved a number of other people here.
DeVorkin:I understand that, but what about general NASA funding for projects here for other PIs at Cornell?
Gold:No. I don't think they were affected. But I was certainly regarded as persona non grata with NASA after that. I had a very hard time. Shortly after that Noel Hinners became the Space Science administrator, and he used to joke about it and say, "Oh. Tommy's got to come to his annual pilgrimage to Washington," and regarded it as very funny, but then he'd always give me some money. But always clearly as a persona non grata.
DeVorkin:That's certainly a very remarkable thing to have happen. It implies just how strongly wedded they were to the Shuttle concept. Did you have other experiences like that?
Gold:I was, I suppose, the most vocal on the Lunar and Planetary Missions Board against the Shuttle at that time. But, on the whole there was a lot of opposition other than mine on that board to the Shuttle program. And then, abruptly, the missions boards were dismissed, and the whole thing was stopped. So it was clearly a case that the advisory bodies that were not strongly favorable towards the program that NASA wanted were not going to be kept. The missions board was dismissed on the grounds that NASA no longer had the money to pay our travel expenses. We didn't get any honoraria or anything, but just the travel expenses, and they no longer could afford those. That was the story.
DeVorkin:Curious. Let's move back and talk about how you became involved in the Apollo program. Were you involved in the manned program to design experiments for Gemini, for Mercury, at all?
Gold:I was involved in some of the Apollo planning, but the only instrument that I was in detail involved with was the camera. But I was involved in the decision making as to which set of instruments should be carried by the Apollo program to the moon. I insisted that one of the things none of the other researches would do would be to show us what the virgin soil on the moon looked like: because, you could shovel it in and bring it back, but you wouldn't know how it got deposited finally. I was very keen to know what the mechanism was that finally deposited material on the surface, because it's a great enigma, in fact. After Apollo we know much more about how difficult it is to understand it than we did before.
DeVorkin:Could you give me the approximate year when you started writing proposals for the camera and for this experiment?
Yes. I wrote an article about the need for the camera in a study that was called Tycho, published in August, 1965. The article is titled "Recommendation for Photography on the Moon's Surface." ... "more than likely to see a great variety of phenomena.." "design of the camera is a major problem" — "convenient to use, extremely reliable ...." "very high definition pictures of small objects, perhaps a one to one object to image ratio, high definition….” The recommendation here is just in general for photography, including very close up, of the surface. And then a little later — I suppose it must have been in '66 or so — I started to press for a stereo camera, and PSAC took this up. In quite an unusual departure from the normal operation PSAC asked me to set up a committee and advise NASA, sort of over the head of NASA, so to speak.
I was to advise NASA on the close-up stereo camera to be taken to the moon. I chose the members of this committee, and they agreed to serve on it. It included Edwin Land, Ed Purcell, Roderic Scott, and James Baker. I think those were the people. We laid down the major specifications of the camera. NASA accepted this advice and selected Kodak to be the maker of the instrument. Kodak had a very efficient man who was dedicated to do this. He then worked with me and with some of the other members of the committee to design the camera. which then became a successful instrument.
DeVorkin:There was no resistance on NASA's part, no problem with contracts, this was all very smooth?
Gold:It was remarkably smooth, yes. But then by the time. that we got such a powerful body to advise, I think NASA wasn't willing to make any trouble.
DeVorkin:So you wre on a sub-panel of PSAC.
DeVorkin:PSAC really did have quite a bit of influence.
DeVorkin:Now. you gave me a very interesting story about your contact with the astronaut Allan Shepard. Can you recount that now, in such a way that we can understand what involvement you had in training?
Well, not very much, unfortunately, in the training, but in each of the first three missions that carried this camera, I had one or two sessions with the astronauts before they went, and would just discuss with them how to handle the camera. They had practiced the mechanics of the camera all right. how to extend the thing and so on, how to get the film out of it, because only the film came back and the camera stayed there.
So they were quite familiar with that. But I discussed with them what to photograph and how to use the camera in detail, and. as you know, the camera was absolutely easy to use, in the sense that it was a walking stick. On the moon it didn't weigh very much — though weight is no problem on the moon — so one would just walk around with it on the moon, and only had to press a trigger on the handle to take a close-up picture of the surface. There were 110 stereo frames available, in the film in each case. It was vacuum film and made specially thin so as to get a large number of frames into the camera. We'd gone to great trouble in the design to make sure that there was absolutely nothing that stood in the way of pressing the button. No adjustments of any kind to be made, nothing had to be watched.
So we thought that we would get back a substantial fraction of the 110 or all 110, why not? There was not much work, while you're walking around, to press the button 110 times. The three missions only brought back 18, 15, 16 pictures each. And even among those, there were brilliant pictures. There are some displayed in this building here. When you came in you may have seen them. They show remarkable things. Namely they show the surface having fine features in it that one still has no understanding of — parallel lines, curious details. It showed also some glazing phenomena. Some glass. in curious ways, is seen dribbling down from little lumps, frozen of course, but looks as if it had dribbled down, see, sort of like icicles hanging down from little ledges. Very curious, and very hard to explain what the processes were that produced this.
DeVorkin:You had predicted a major, heat flash when the sun was in a T Tauri phase.
Gold:I had said that heat flash from the sun would be registered on the surface of the moon more than it would be registered on the earth, because the atmosphere would easily absorb that sudden heat flash, and there wouldn't be all that much to show on the ground. But in the absence of an atmosphere. a thin layer of surface material would be heated very violently, of course. Well in fact the astronauts, despite my discussion with them each time, just did not press the button, or only so few times. I don't understand to this day what the reason for that was.
DeVorkin:How did they accept you when you met with them and showed them how to use the camera and talked to them about it? Were they receptive, friendly?
Gold:Most of them weren't all that friendly. They always conveyed the attitude, "Well, we'll do what we want to do, we'll listen to you, but — ". They kept you at bay, mostly.
DeVorkin:Now, before the first flight, before, I assume, you had any inkling that they wouldn't cooperate, you talked directly with Allan Shepard and people like that.
I talked to the first crew, with Neil Armstrong and. the other men, very little. The scientists who did the training program with the astronauts were, I think, exclusively geologists. I remember very well the words of the astronauts afterwards stating that they trained them in the sharp angular rocks of Flagstaff, volcanic hard rock, and taught them how to trace layers from one place to another, stratigraphy. The astronauts when they came back they said that on the moon they didn't see any of the features that they'd been taught to identify, that the whole instruction that they'd received meant absolutely nothing to them on the moon. and they didn't see anything that allowed itself to be traced in this way. They didn't see any of the sharp angular rocks.
The geologists who trained them thought, up to the very day that the first Apollo mission went, that the main hazard would be sharp rocks that would erode the surface of the space suit, that they had to be careful in that respect. The moon room at Houston in which the astronauts trained in the space suits was a room of volcanic pieces. There's no good debating now that it was otherwise. It clearly was the opinion of the geologists who did the training program that this was the best simulation of the lunar surface.
DeVorkin:Was it people such as Eugene Shoemaker?
Gold:It was, yes. They thought this up to the day they went, despite the fact that we'd already seen otherwise in the Surveyor shots. They still insisted that it was volcanic rock that was going to be the material that the astronauts would walk on. And of course I kept saying, "No. it's going to be powder. and what you have to worry about is that the powder will make everything dirty and the camera will get dirty and with big gloves they won't be able to adjust the lenses on the camera and the life plugs might get dirty and so on. "I made a lot of fuss about the possibility of dust getting into everything. And indeed the first mission did have trouble, when they wanted to change the life plugs over from the back pack to the vehicle, when they went back into the vehicle, they wouldn't go in, and they were quite terrified for a moment that there was a problem there. The did go in, in the end, but then the second mission already had the clearances increased so that a little dust wouldn't hurt that much.
DeVorkin:Now. apparently then the astronauts were correct in coming back and saying that there was no relation to what they'd learned on earth.
Gold:Yes, that's right.
DeVorkin:But did they follow the directions of the geologists?
Gold:The training program continued as if it didn't matter.
DeVorkin:Even after the first mission?
Gold:Yes. Exactly like that. After we already knew the dusty nature of the surface, I offered to build a correct experiment with rock dust of various kinds with the proper mechanical properties, vacuum properties and so on. and so I said. "If you want me, I will go to Houston and set up a moon room which is as realistic as we can make it, with dust." No.
DeVorkin:Who said no?
Gold:Gilruth and the people in Houston. The furthest I got there was that I had one meeting with the senior people in Houston on what might be the dust hazards. But that's all. There was never any attempt to set up a room in which to practice with the dust, and astronauts also continued to be trained on the rocks of Flagstaff. Crazy, but that's how it was. They thought each time that they would go to another site on the moon and there would be hard rock. They weren't persuaded that this dust stuff was all over the moon.
DeVorkin:That it pervaded the entire moon, even the highlands. Now. after the first flight, and they brought back the camera and only a few frames were exposed, and of those none were of virgin ground.
Gold:Oh yes, there were some photographs of virgin ground. But let me tell a curious story regarding, I think, the second mission. In each case I was allowed to be present at the debriefing when the astronauts returned. They would sit in their cages behind glass, because of this ridiculous story that they'd bring back the lunar plague or something.
DeVorkin:Wasn't that Carl Sagan's idea?
Gold:I don't know. It may have been. Absolute rubbish of course, but still they were segregated from the rest of humanity. and so one talked to them through microphones in glass cages. So I was always allowed a certain amount of the time to question them, and I remember that I complained that we had very few photographs of the virgin surface — they clearly knew I was interested in the virgin surface — and could you please tell me whether in addition to what I can see in the photographs. do you have any descriptions of your visual impressions that you would like to make? And the first response was. "Well, it looked sort of ordinary." I said, "There's nothing ordinary about the moon. We just want to know really what it looked like." "Well. now that you ask yes, there were some features that we could describe. There were three types of surface texture that we could see. One was just lumpy, just little lumps, like broken up lumps, of dirt. soft lumps, arbitrary shaped lumps."
DeVorkin:Not a pumice but a dirt?
Gold:Dirt. yes, soft, so that you'd squash the lumps completely when you walked around on them. The other type of surface, well it was rather regular. It looked, they said "like a beach sand. as if it had been washed." — very well. expressed — as "smooth by the tide, by the receding tide, and then there had been a heavy rain on it, so that it was all dimply, with rather equally sized dimples densely packed." A very good description. I've never seen that ground, but at least it was a description that provided one with a good image.
DeVorkin:Who provided that description, Armstrong or the other one?
Gold:I think it was the second mission and I don't remember.
Gold:No. Shepard was the third. I don't remember now. And I said, "And the third type of ground?" "The third type of ground, well, it had parallel lines on it, like the marks of a garden rake, maybe a little closer." "And how far did such a pattern extend?" "Well. it seemed to be sharply distinguished from the other types of surface, had a definite edge, and some of those marks, some of those parallel lines would go down and up over the shallow little craters, undisturbed by it, and stretch as far as you could see."
Gold:So I was absolutely flabbergasted. I couldn't say anything rude in that circumstance, but I was absolutely flabbergasted that I had to draw such a fantastic story out of them! That they would not have come back and volunteered that. They would not have said any of that if I hadn't fished for it. "Did you photograph any of that?" "No."
DeVorkin:Did they say why not or did you ask why not?
Gold:Yes. I said. "Well, we don't seem to have that on the photographs." "Well, "they said, "we didn't get to do that."
DeVorkin:Have you compared your experiences with other principal investigators who tried to get the astronauts to do experiments? What about the ultraviolet camera that was sent up by NRL that was to find the earth's geocorona or other far ultraviolet things? Did you ever talk with them and find out what their experience was?
DeVorkin:Did you know whether there was the same degree of non-cooperation with the other experiments?
Gold:Most of the other experiments were essentially just setting up the apparatus, and there was a hard and fast rule what they had to do. They had to plug this into that, and set this here and set this there, and they did that all right, except for one little accident.
DeVorkin:Yes, the accident, John Young tripping over the wire.
Yes, the seismograph was ruined. But one can't blame them for accidents of that kind. They practiced ahead of time and they did all right. But there wasn't all that much other than the Hasselblad photography and my photography where their choice was involved. The Hasselblad photography was handled, I think, extremely badly. At the same time I set up this committee for the design of this camera, I'd proposed. and written several letters to George Mueller and others in NASA, that there should be a high level committee instructing the astronauts in photography, that they should each be given a Hasselblad camera with which to practice, just so that they were really familiar with high quality photography.
There wasn't the money to buy each of them a Hasselblad! I had said that they each should have a Hasselblad, that they should take a lot of photographs and that those photographs should then be looked over by this small committee. This committee was to include people like Land but also the chief photographer of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC and people like that who really knew photography. The committee should criticize the snapshots that these astronauts took at home, whatever. That was one thing that was not accepted.
There was no high level committee to organize the photography. There was one young man in Houston who was not a known figure in photography, and who was responsible for all the photography, and that's all there was to it. No training program. nothing. I mean they taught me how to twiddle the knobs on the Hasselblad but that's all. And then they had the absolute madness of insisting on having to use a separate hand held light meter, that cost them a few million dollars to space harden — literally a few million dollars.
DeVorkin:A few million dollars? What we call a Luna-Pro light meter?
Gold:Yes, a hand held light meter. I think the Japanese made one and space hardened it and it cost a huge sum of money. And of course it was another thing that they had to handle and look at and so on. It was absolute nonsense to do that, because we know exactly for what time of the lunar day the sun will be shining, and, with a precision of a fraction of a percent, its intensity. We know exactly what the reflectivity of the lunar surface is. There's just no question that we have to make any unpredictable adjustment. Every adjustment is fully predictable. The sun doesn't change all that quickly on the moon.
DeVorkin:Not in the one or two days they were there.
Gold:All that would be necessary would be to have had a little sun dial on the top of the camera, just a stick sticking up about that high, and about three or four sectors, so you could adjust, depending on the direction relative to the sun you're standing, the exposure differently. But that's all that would have been needed. An absolutely hard and fast rule, which you could have written on that quadrant. If the shadow's in this quadrant, adjust to number 1; if it's in this quadrant adjust to number 2. That's all that would have been required. They didn't have the sense to do that. Instead they had those complicated extra instruments which had to be read.
DeVorkin:The light meter is not easy to read and they probably didn't use it right.
Gold:Of course, quite a lot of things went wrong.
DeVorkin:Too bad. We don't have much time left, so let me ask you a few general things to get an overview of what we'll talk about in the future, when hopefully you would be visiting Washington for some reason and we can spend a few hours together. You were involved in the Apollo program. You were also involved in the particles and fields program.
Gold:In earlier days only.
DeVorkin:Were you involved later on in Skylab at all?
DeVorkin:What then was the ultimate extent of your work in NASA, and what we should cover other than NASA?
Gold:My last work in NASA was investigating lunar materials, chiefly the electrical properties and the size distribution. Electrical properties were studied from point of view of understanding the radar data, which would give one an idea of deeper levels than you could probe. My viewpoint on this was always that so far as we could see. the radar had never seen anything other than a gradually densifying dust as you went down. There's no indication of any discontinuity to a solid surface, either in the seismic or in the radar. I'm still battling that battle, because they still keep saying, "Well, it's just one centimeter of dust," then when one dug a little bit down it was maybe a foot, then they dug down I think three meters of dust." But in fact it's about two kilometers of dust. The radar can see down to such depths as that on the moon and doesn't see any surface. But on a very long wave radar that JPL flew, we do see a discontinuity, which is probably a more solid material, at a depth of more than two kilometers.
DeVorkin:JPL flew this on what mission?
Gold:They had this satellite that was chucked out from the orbiter. On a later mission.
DeVorkin:That little satellite?
Gold:On a late mission, yes. It had a long wave radar on it.
DeVorkin:All right, in addition to NASA, then, what should we cover?
Gold:Well, I think that one of the best feathers in my cap was the pulsar story, and there, I would be very happy to discuss the opposition to my pulsar story and so on, and then how it got very quickly accepted. Another thing is what I'm working on now, the outgassing of the earth.
DeVorkin:OK, great. Were you involved at all through your pulsar work with X-ray astronomy, work on Uhuru?
Gold:I had very close contact with those people at that time, and had many discussions as to how neutron stars would relate to the early X-ray observations. But then of course the experts moved in, and they soon took the discussion far beyond what I had done.
DeVorkin:Have you had any policy roles to play in various parts of the Space Telescope history, either the institute or telescope itself?
So we won't cover that. but we certainly have plenty to cover in the future, and I look forward to it. Thank you.