Oral History Transcript — Dr. William E. Brunk
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Interview with Dr. William E. Brunk
William Brunk; July 21, 1983
ABSTRACT: This interview traces Brunk's career in engineering with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), Lewis Research Center (formerly Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory), NASA and NASA Headquarters. The discussion begins with an overview of his family background and his education at Case Institute of Technology, followed by his work in supersonic aerodynamics for NACA. The interview primarily examines Brunk's role in and perceptions of the development of planetary ground-based astronomy during his tenure at NASA Headquarters, as Program Chief of Planetary Astronomy. Topics discussed include: telescope innovations at different observatories; problems and techniques in ground-based observation; exploration of Mars; the Planetary Patrol program at Lowell Observatory; his membership to the American Astronomical Society; and general perceptions of NASA's role in ground-based astronomy. Other affiliations and contacts discussed include: Jason Nassau, Nancy Roman, Urner Liddel, and Gerard Kuiper.
Session I | Session II
Tatarewicz:This is an oral history interview with Dr. Brunk session two, interviewer Joe Tatarewicz, August 9, 1983, at the National Air and Space Museum. Last time we got you more or less to NASA Headquarters, and I did ask you some things about the astronomy subcommittee, and I was wondering if, in the intervening days since the last interview, you might have recalled anything of the discussion of what was later to become your specialty in the subcommittee.
Brunk:No. the subcommittee basically discussed flight missions, not the ground based work, which was my specialty.
Tatarewicz:I think it's safe to say that you came to planetary astronomy more or less fresh, from the professional point of view.
Tatarewicz:It wasn't a topic that you had actively worked in prior to coming to headquarters, and I was wondering if you recalled anything special about the learning process in the first few months?
Brunk:Yes, the learning process was rather unique, because at the time that I came to headquarters, we were getting involved in the construction of telescopes. In fact, the contract for the 107-inch, which was originally an 84-inch telescope, for the University of Texas, was signed in something like September of 1964, immediately after I came on board, so I got completely immersed in telescope construction. Kuiper's 60-inch telescope (which later became the 61-inch), was coming to completion just about the same time. The 40-inch telescope that had been purchased for Yale University was being installed just about that time. And so we were heavily involved in telescope design, construction and operation. So I was immediately thrust into a field in which there was a serious problem, the availability of observing time on existing telescopes, and that took a great deal of the initial effort. The second general area that was of importance at that time was to get some idea of phenomena on the planet Mars, because of the Mars missions coming up and the preliminary study for the "Viking" mission. Which had a different name, of course.
Brunk:It was Voyager.
Tatarewicz:So you had a number of instruments that work had already started on, which were either under contract or getting ready to be put under contract.
Tatarewicz:And you had to more-or-less learn the in's and out's of telescope construction.
Brunk:Construction — right. Right.
Tatarewicz:So, were you also trying to find observing time in the meantime for your investigators?
Brunk:Yes. Because we were getting something on the order of 10 percent or less of the time that was available on other telescopes, and we had very little success in getting any significant amount of time on the major telescopes. For example, the 84-inch telescope at Kitt Peak or the 100-inch telescope at Mt. Wilson, 120-inch at Lick or the 200-inch telescope, it was just about impossible. With time, and I'd have to look in the records to find out exactly when it was, we sort of worked our way into getting time on these. As an example, it was arranged that we would put some money into upgrading the 60-inch telescope at Mt. Wilson, which was done, and that got our foot in the door, for using the 60-inch and the 100-inch telescope. We never really did get any time, any significant amount of time, on the 120-inch Lick telescope. I should go back a bit. We, NASA, did not ask for time on the telescopes. The concern was getting the time for the appropriate people in the community to use on the telescopes. In no way did we ever go to the directors of the observatories and say "We, NASA, need so much time on your telescope for these particular problems that are going to be done by somebody in the community." We attempted working with the individuals in the community who then had to seek out the telescope time.
Tatarewicz:How would you work with an individual, in trying to get telescope time, if you didn't want to approach Whitford or other observatory directors?
Brunk:Well, our most positive way of getting results would be to work with somebody who was on the staff of the telescope, who had an opportunity to get telescope time. For example, people like Guido Munch at Cal Tech could get time on the 200-inch telescope. He could get time on the Mt. Wilson telescopes, also. Hyron Spinrad at University of California could get time on the Lick telescope. We had a problem in some of the areas where individuals, such as the astronomers at JPL, who were not connected with any particular institute and did not have sufficient reputation of their own to be welcomed with open arms at existing observatories — to try to get them some time on telescopes. What resulted out of that was the desire on their part to have their own instrument. And of course this led to the construction of, originally a 16-inch telescope at Table Mountain, then a 24-inch telescope at Table Mountain. But we had to have additional justifications of it, other than just saying we want a telescope because somebody wants to use it there. Of course, this was the justification for trying to build a telescope at Cal Tech, the 60-inch.
Tatarewicz:The Cal Tech 60-inch was under way. Had that been started by Schorn?
Brunk:Well, the discussions I guess had either been started by Schorn or Roger Moore before even Schorn had got there. But by the time I got there, they had basically terminated.
Tatarewicz:Yes, the records look like they were approaching a standstill in September, along about September, something like that.
Brunk:Yes, '64. Right.
Tatarewicz:And the problem, as I understand it, was that Cal Tech wanted NASA to fund the whole installation.
Brunk:Yes. This is a problem we had throughout. NASA could use one of two approaches in supporting the construction of a telescope. It could either consider the telescope as a facility, in which case NASA would build the entire telescope and the associated buildings, or it could build the entire telescope and the associated buildings, or it could build the telescope itself as an observing instrument, and not go through the facility routing, but in that case, it required outside funds of some sort to build the building.
Tatarewicz:Facilities were funded through the university affairs office or from a separate university program account.
Tatarewicz:And instruments were funded —
Brunk:— from the research and development account. Now, in the case of Cal Tech, my memory indicates that they were told, "You can either apply for a building on campus, a facility, or the telescope," and my understanding is that they chose the building on campus, but a decision was made in the agency not to provide more than one facility to an institution, until at least most of the original requests had been finished.
Tatarewicz:From some of the things I've seen, it looks as though Spinrad had some problems getting scope time. He went to a whole number of universities looking for telescope time.
Tatarewicz:Did you ever get involved in that at all?
Brunk:Not with Hy, no. Although that was quite typical. It was still the general belief among most of the members of the astronomical community that planetary studies were still something in the realm of the amateur, and no serious professional would give much of his time and effort to solar system studies. And so we rant into that problem in trying to get telescope time. It wasn't until considerably later, in fact after we had developed our own telescopes, that it became easier to get telescope time on major instruments, because, with the success of the spacecraft in the planetary program, more and more people got interested in planetary observations. But there were two things really to begin with. One of them was the lack of availability of telescope time. The other was the very serious lack of interested members of the community.
Tatarewicz:That is, people interested in actually undertaking a program of observations and analysis of those observations.
Brunk:Yes, astronomers interested in that. There were other people, there were geologists interested in it and other people, but they had not astronomical training, and they found it very difficult to convince the director of an observatory to let them use this expensive telescope to make observations, where they had no basic credentials.
Tatarewicz:And the observations, I would assume that initially the geologists would want to make visual or photographic observations. Were they going after spectroscopy, anything like that?
Brunk:No. Their original observations were primarily lunar, and they were photographic or visual. They were trying to do a lot of lunar geology. Because we did not have the lunar program under way, they were wanting to do a lot of lunar geology. They were wanting to study some mineralogy, but at first that was minimal. It was basically lunar geology that they were studying. And one of the places they did work was at Lowell Observatory. And the Air Force made many observations there at Lowell Observatory, using the smaller telescopes. Now, on the lunar work, you can use very effectively a smaller telescope. In fact a large telescope is no real advantage. You usually get a much clearer image visually with a smaller telescope. Tatarweicz: Fewer turbulence cells.
Brunk:Fewer turbulence cells, right.
Tatarewicz:The lunar support was very prominent. You also mentioned in addition to the instrument development that was in work and the attempts to get observing time on existing telescopes, and people qualified to actually propose, get time and carry out a program, that Mars was especially prominent in the needs at that time.
Brunk:Yes. Extremely. Let me go back and say one thing. I think it's indicative of the general attitude of that particular time. When I came on board, in the summer of 1964, I was brought on to the job and asked to pull together the planetary observations from the ground, but also informed at that time, by the non-astronomers with whom I was working, people like Oran Nicks who was the division director, that the general feeling was that everything that could be learned from the ground was pretty well known, and although they were bringing somebody on board in that program are, that they did not anticipate a major program in ground-based planetary astronomy, that they would continue getting some work out, but they anticipated that the program would come to an end in the matter of a few years. And this was also the attitude of a number of people in the community. Now, there were some others, Kuiper among them, who felt that there was a lot of work that could be done, that had not been done. But using the instrumentation that was known to be available at that time, and using the techniques that were in common practice for non-solar system astronomy, it was felt that there really wasn't that much more that could be learned about the planet. The most interesting thing throughout the program has been that, in parallel to our learning more about the planets from the space program, we have also developed instrumentation and techniques to learn much more about the planets from the ground, so that even now, we're more dollar limited in what we can learn abut the objects in the solar system than we are instrument or personnel limited. If we had more money —
Tatarewicz:— no shortage of program ideas —
Brunk:That's right. We could do much more per year, in the way of planetary astronomy, from the earth, and I'm talking about productive planetary astronomy, from the earth if we had the capability of funding the individuals to do it. We are limited by the amount of resources we can put into it, and that is primarily because of the improvements in instrumentation and in techniques. What we discovered in the program as a whole was that once faced with a problem, somebody could figure out how to solve it, but until that time, just looking at the general problems, everybody said, "Well, there's no way of solving this particular question, answering the question, solving the particular problem." An excellent example there was the matter of the Martian surface pressure, which became a very critical problem in the early design days of a mission to land something on the surface of Mars, because the surface pressure was THE problem. How much atmosphere do you have there? Can you use atmospheric braking? Can you use a parachute? Do you have to use retro-thrusters like you did on the moon? In this particular case, we put together a meeting, I can hardly call it a conference, it was more or less a workshop, on the problem of determining the surface pressure of the Martian atmosphere.
Tatarewicz:When was this?
Brunk:This was very early. This was in the '64,'65 time period. To the best of my memory. And most of the people who were invited to that workshop had never looked at Mars. In fact, many of them had never looked at a planet. But at that workshop we introduced the problem, brought people up to speed on what had been done, what the range of results had been to that time. Now you must realize that prior to that time there was not major need to determine that pressure. It was an interesting scientific result. It would be very interesting to know what the surface pressure was on Mars, and it would answer a lot of questions about the atmosphere of Mars, and some of the features we'd seen in the Martian atmosphere. Therefore one or two people did spend some time looking at Mars and working on the problem. But there was no driver. See, what NASA did was introduce the fervor.
Tatarewicz:A particular urgency in solving —
Brunk:Yes, the particular need to solve a specific problem. There's a lot of difference between solving a problem simply because it's a lot of difference between solving a problem simply because it's scientifically interesting, and the need to solve a problem because the only way that you can do a cost efficient mission is to solve that problem. And that was the case we were faced with for the surface pressure of Mars. We had to be able to design a spacecraft that could land on the surface of Mars, and do it reasonably efficiently. Now, we could have always said "well, we don't care what the surface pressure of Mars is," and then gone in, used a retro-thrust vehicle, and landed there. But it would not be the necessarily most efficient way of getting in. It would probably have been far more expensive if we had tried to use the Surveyor type lander on Mars, and not only that, but a Surveyor type lander does a great deal of damage to the surface.
Tatarewicz:There was concern about using retro-thrusters on a Mars lander at all because of the sampling in the vicinity of the lander.
Yes. Right. And if you used thrusting only as your device to land, then you really modify the surface for quite a wide distance around the landing spot. See, you'd have to have a very long arm to go out, and you can't be sure even then that what you picked off the surface wasn't blown out from the crater the thrusters produced. So this was a very major problem, and as I remember it, it was probably the first of a number of major problems that we had. Now, there are different approaches you can use in this. One of the approaches suggested by the non-scientist was, we will simply put out a request for proposals and say we want the Mars surface pressure accurate to 10 percent and let people bid on it and come in and do the job — which is, in a way, the engineering approach. But it makes absolutely no sense in some of the classical sciences, where you have no ideal how to approach the problem.
So it's a matter not only of somebody going and doing it — somebody has to figure out how to do it. Now, we had used various spectroscopic techniques, and they'd come up with different answers. When you look closely at the techniques that had been used, and our knowledge of that type of spectroscopy at that time, it turned out that the range of answers were quite realistic. By that I mean, you were trying to measure something that was very difficult to measure, in which you could have a large amount of error and if you used just the standard techniques, you didn't improve your information terribly. You got a pressure, you got a range of errors, you know, on that pressure, and this was typically, the results that you got had the errors in it that the people were used to working with in spectroscopy at that time. You had an added difficulty in the case of Mars. All the plants reflect the solar spectrum.
The solar spectrum is fill of lines. You've got to figure out a technique to use so you can eliminate the effect of the solar lines, and also eliminate the effect of the terrestrial atmospheric lines. So you're working in a very crowded region, and yet you want to get accurate lines produced by the planet's atmosphere, where because the pressure is low, the lines are very, very shallow. So we brought the group of people together. We told them what the problem was, why we needed the solution for it, what had been done thus far by people who were not trying to solve this particular problem for a practical reason but had simply tried to come up with the surface pressure on Mars, and then said to them, "Could you do any better?" Let them go away and think about it, think of different approaches to use, and it turned out that we got the information that we needed in time to be of assistance in the program. But there were several new techniques that were developed completely just to solve that problem.
Tatarewicz:After this conference?
Brunk:Oh, yes. Now, before the conference, the situation basically was that there was a measurement that said about a hundred millibars for the surface pressure of Mars, and that had been accepted for a long long time, until Munch and Spinrad and Kaplan, had looked again at it and had come out with a much lower surface pressure, which really upset the apple cart. Had they not made that measure, we would have probably gone with the larger estimate, and crashed into the surface.
Tatarewicz:They did their observations in something like January or February of '63. The paper came out in January '64 but I think the results were being talked about around summer, '63, something like that, and there was the business of the pressure sensitive and the pressure sensitive CO2 lines being used.2This is a new technique.
Brunk:This is a brand new technique, yes. But they did come up with a solution for the pressure which disagreed tremendously with what had been done in the past. And so it opened the whole game of surface pressure on Mars. So we had this meeting, and at this meeting several people who were interested in planetary studies, people from Kitt Peak, I remember Mike Belton gave a presentation, I think Guido gave a presentation — I'd have to check the records to see who all were on the list of speakers.
Tatarewicz:Where was this held?
Brunk:This was held, I believe it was back here. I can probably find some information on it.
Tatarewicz:I think I've got a report if it's the one I'm thinking of. Aha, see if that looks familiar.3
Brunk:Well, the name looks familiar, SL acting chief planetary astronomy, I wrote it. OK.
Tatarewicz:Yes, '66, so you see it was considerably after that time. One of the things that is a problem, in the program, and this has been the case ever since I was on the job, there is so much going on simultaneously that it's almost impossible to put things in perspective, because you're putting out fires all the time. And you know, dates seem to fade into the background and you don't remember exactly when something happened or who was there because too many things were going on simultaneously. It's never been a dull job. 2Lewis K. Kaplan, Guido Munch, and Hyron Spinrad, "An Analysis of the Spectrum of Mars," Astrophysical Journal 139 (1 Jan. 1964): 1-15. 3Homer Newell to Distribution (Drafted by William E. Brunk), 9 December 1966, transmitting report on “Space Science Board Conference on the Martian Atmosphere,” (October 6-7, 1966), in office files of William E. Brunk, NASA.
Tatarewicz:What I was interested in finding out in pursuing the Mars atmosphere point is, your sense of how dominant the Mars problem was, at the time that you arrived. They were of course interested in lunar mapping and some of the lunar infra-red work, and in other kinds of planetary astronomy, but how much did the Mars atmosphere problem drive the ground-based planetary astronomy program at the time?
Brunk:At the time I arrived at NASA headquarters, it was not the dominant program. At the time I arrived, lunar work was dominant. Now, when I arrived there, let me tell you the general areas that we were supporting. These were the programs that were under way when I got there. And this is not complete, because I don't remember them all at the moment, but we were supporting Rupert Wildt to do some work on the interiors of the outer planets, theoretical work. We were supporting Dirk Brouwer, I think, we were supporting work on astrometry at Yale, and for that reason, we had just paid for the 40-inch telescope that was put up there, and I guess that was Brouwer at that time.
Tatarewicz:He was the PI on the 40-inch.
Yes, he was the PI. We were supporting Gerard Kuiper and the 60-inch, what was called the 60-inch telescope was just coming to completion. Gerard was being supported to do just general planetary observations, but his prime interest was in high resolution photography as possible, and the 60-inch telescope was optimized for planetary photography. He was primarily interested, at that time, in lunar photography. He was preparing for the lunar atlas, the Air Force atlas, which you've seen, and he wanted to get high quality imaging of Mars and of Jupiter. But his interest was photography, not spectroscopy.
We were supporting Harlan Smith at that time. Harlan Smith was doing some spectroscopy. General planetary spectroscopy with the 82-inch telescope at University of Texas, — no in fact he wasn't even there at the University of Texas because my first encounter with Harlan Smith, he was at Yale. So he had not yet come down. Let's see — now I'm confused. No, he was at Texas. Because my encounter with him at Yale had been some time before that. He was working on the Jupiter radio astronomy at Yale. At that time he was at Texas, because they had begun to negotiate on the 84-inch telescope for the University of Texas. We were doing some work on celestial mechanics, of the satellites of the planets. That work was later basically dropped.
We were negotiating a grant to build a telescope down at Mt. John in New Zealand. But the work was quite general in nature, and the approach that had been used up until that time was, let's find the people who have some interest in planetary studies, and see if we can not get them to increase their level of effort, by providing them with some support. There was a group at JPL already. In fact Ray Newburn was there, and there were some other people there, but they were doing sort of general planetary observations. They were doing imaging as much as anything else. There was great emphasis on imaging at that time.
Tatarewicz:I wonder how you go about setting the priorities? Here you have a field that is almost wide open, in the sense that there are lots of problems to be solved and lots of work to be done. How do you go about setting the relative priorities of instrument development, PI support, which problems, which planets, other facilities development in addition to telescopes and so on?
OK, well, first of all, I have to back off a little from that and repeat what I've mentioned before, that at that time it was felt that we were pretty well constrained to using techniques that were already established, and there were known limits on things. Now, in the case of spectroscopy, the type of resolution we're talking about at that time was the resolution we're talking about at that time was the resolution that was available with the existing Coud( spectrographs. And were well aware of what the problems were in trying to get more detailed information about planetary atmospheres, with that type of resolution. We were aware that not all of the planets had been looked at with that resolution, so what we were interested in doing was supporting people to look at those objects that had not been studied as yet, with the capability that we had at that time.
We knew, for example, that the positions of the satellites of the planets were poorly known, and so we supported work on that. We realized that the interiors of the outer planets were poorly known, and there was an individual, Rupert Wildt, who was very interested in studying these things, and so we supported him to do this. Basically, the approach of the program at that time was to say to the people in the field, who had some interest in planetary studies, "What are you interested in studying, and what can we do to help you?" Now the point that kept coming up again and again and again was, and this was especially true of the spectroscopists, they said, "We think we can do better but we can't get our hands on the instruments that are available to do better. There are Coud spectrographs on the large telescopes, but we can't get any time on these telescopes." "And to get the really maximum resolution over the spectrum, we need a fair amount of time on these instruments. We'd like to use the 200-inch telescope with the instrumentation that's available, to look at the other planets, because they're relatively faint."
With my funding records back in '64, I could probably tell you what was in each one of the grants, but I can't remember all the names at the moment. There had been some advisory groups at NASA involving a number of people in the community. These were called the lunar and planetary conference or something.4I used to have the whole file. They were started back at the time in 1958 or so when NASA was starting, and they got people like Kuiper and others together to examine the state of the art, and make recommendations as to what NASA should do. In fact I think in some of the cases they came in with recommendations maybe NASA didn't want. And I know for one thing that at one time Gerard Kuiper offered to come to headquarters and send several of his people to headquarters on a rotating basis, to run a planetary astronomy program. The offer was never taken up. I was felt to be not appropriate, at least not appropriate at that time.
Tatarewicz:He made that offer when you were there?
Brunk:No, this offer had been made before I was there. In other words, they said, "Look, I'll come in for six months, then my associate can come in for six months, somebody else can come in for six.." —I don't remember the exact time. Maybe it was a year a person. But "we will rotate and we will tell you what should be done and we will tell you who should be supported and this type of thing." But at that time, the main thing was to use existing telescopes and existing instrumentation to complete the survey of the solar system, and when Oran Nicks talked to me about the fact that the planetary astronomy program was not expected to last much longer, it was simply that all we anticipated that could be done was to complete what was already taking place, except just do it for all the rest of the bodies in the solar system
Tatarewicz:And then spacecraft and more or less geophysical remote sensing techniques and landers would take it from there. 4Proceedings of the Lunar and Planetary Exploration Colloquium. Downey CA: North American Aviation, nd. Vol. 1, No. 1, 5/13/53-5/63.
Brunk:Would take it from there.
Tatarewicz:—would complete supercede —
— that's right, yes. You know, we had stretched to the limit what we could do from the ground. And the only reason there was any program was because there was a lack of coverage. We didn't have equally high spectra of all the planetary atmospheres. Because there were relatively few people interested in the field, and they couldn't get the time on telescopes. There was not all that much that could be done. And that's why, when I came on board, the emphasis was in a few areas.
There was additional work that could be done in astrometry, the positions of the satellites of the planets, and that's the justification for the 40-inch telescope at Yale. At the same time, because we wanted to do spectroscopy, Harlan Smith, who had an innate interest in planetary studies, said, "I've got the 82-inch telescope here, but I really need a better Coud( spectrograph," so we gave him a contract to upgrade the Coud( spectrograph. In fact, he built a new one for the 82-inch telescope. Then he came along and said, "Well, I could really do a much better job with a whole new telescope." Kuiper came in and argued effectively that one of the most important things, and he was interested in the Jovian atmosphere, was high resolution photography of planetary atmospheres for planetary atmospheric dynamics.
So he was supported to build the 60-inch telescope, which as I say was optimized for imaging. He wanted to pursue that area. The telescope in New Zealand I think was also to be used for imaging. It was to be located very high to get very good seeing, and the reason for going down there was that the planets, being in the plane of the ecliptic or very near the ecliptic, are observable in the Southern Hemisphere — and in fact, when Mars is closest to the earth, it's much more easily observable in the Southern Hemisphere than it is in the Northern Hemisphere. This involved a problem with putting a US telescope on foreign soil. That program was finally cancelled. But anyway, this was the approach. JPL had a bunch of planetary astronomers. One of the first things that they were involved with was lunar transient phenomena. In fact, when I came on board, one of the things that they were working on in JPL was to design and build an automatic system for detecting lunar transient phenomena. We were also supporting a fellow by the name of Hynek at Northwestern, Hynek of the flying saucer fame now. He convinced NASA to build him a 24-inch telescope down in New Mexico for the study of lunar transient phenomena.
Tatarewicz:This was the one near Las Cruces, with an image orthicon system on it?
Brunk:Yes, right. I was in the system before that telescope was finished, but lunar transient phenomena was a very major area at that time. Now, that was not necessarily my approach. It was an approach that was being driven by the spacecraft. And one of the first spacecraft to drive that was the Voyager mission which later became the Viking mission and the problem was the surface pressure on Mars. That is a very good example of what happened thereafter in the program. In the case of Mars, the Space Science Board said, "We need to know what the surface pressure is, "because the NASA plans for the landing of a spacecraft on Mars were presented to them. They said, "You can't land unless you know what you're going to land on, what the surface conditions are." We brought a group together and we said, "Here is the problem, here's what's been done thus far, here are some approaches that have been suggested by various people, OK, now, you're all good thinkers, how can you help us?" And we got a number of proposals in from various people and we supported a number of groups to try to determine surface pressure on Mars, using different techniques.
Brunk:The interesting thing to me, throughout the time I've been in the program, is that the moment a problem comes up and can be defined, somebody is going to figure out how to solve it. I don't care what it is, they will figure out a way to solve it. And that's basically what happened.
Tatarewicz:The space flight programs, the planetary space craft that were being planned, sequence of targets was essentially driven by propulsion, communications, power source, engineering constraints. In a certain sense, helped to give some direction to the program by focussing on certain plans for certain classes of problems.
Brunk:It didn't give direction — it gave the complete direction to the program. But that direction was expanded because what we do now is not only take a look at what missions we've got on the boards, but what information do we have to gather now so that ten years from now, or 15 years from now, we can have a good mission. An example of this type of thing is that for the last several years, we've put a great deal of emphasis on asteroids and comets, even thought there is no mission to either one of them on the books now, but it is planned. But we knew so little about these objects that we had to start studying them long in advance, to really understand them well enough to consider designing a mission to them.
Tatarewicz:That's one of the things that often becomes an issue between NASA and the scientific community generally. It's been played out over and over again in other sciences: the problem between mission-oriented research, and what some segments of the scientific community see as basic research.
Brunk:That's a major problem.
Tatarewicz:I'm wondering, how did you confront that in the concrete?
It's a continual problem. In fact, we get criticized at times for supporting things we should not be supporting. We are criticized by OMB. We are criticized by Congress. They feel frequently that much of the work we're supporting, it should be supported by the NSF. That we should only be supportive of those programs that have direct connections to an existing or planned mission. In other works we should be completely mission-oriented. Now, personally I don't agree with this, and therefore to the extent I have been able, I have run a much more general program than that. The argument that I use is that even though what we might be looking at today might not be directly applicable to a mission that's on the books, looking forward to a continued program of planetary exploration, you will find a mission ten years from now that needs this data, and if we don't get the data now, we're not going to have it when we do need it.
Let me give you an example. This is getting a little away from your time period, but and example of something along this line. For a long time in my own program, I supported no asteroid studies at all. Or very minimal asteroid studies. We were just interested in the asteroids. There were a lot of people in the community that wanted to study asteroids, but we were not interested so we didn't support them. However, about five or six years ago, it was realized that the asteroids were really going to give us a great deal of information about the early solar system, and that we should consider seriously an asteroid mission, and at that time, I picked up a fair amount of asteroid research. Now, asteroid studies probably take 20 or 25 percent of my observational research budget today.
Another area very similar to this is the astrometry of planetary satellites. When I first started in this program, we had a lot of requests to support astrometry, and most of this work, we did not support. We rejected the proposals. But before we launched the Voyager mission, it became apparent that we did not know the positions of the satellites of the outer planets accurately enough to be able to program our scanning sequences to look at them. We were going to have to waste a lot of our scan time just looking into space, trying to find the satellites. It was necessary to improve the knowledge of their positions by a factor of about 10, so we started a program — oh, this was maybe six years before Voyager was launched or three years before — to determine more accurate positions for satellites. Now, in that particular case, we started a program. We got a group of people together. We told them what the problem was.
We said "How can we solve the problem? What can we do to get more accurate positions?" And they went off and did it, and we supported the individuals doing it, and by the time that Voyager flew by Jupiter, they knew where the satellites were accurately enough to swing the camera around and photograph them. They might not be in the center of the frame the first time, but it's going to be in the frame. Previous to that, they would have had to scan the sky around Jupiter hoping to find the satellite. By the time they found it and got it back down here and could send a signal back up to the spacecraft as to where that satellite was, they'd wasted a lot of the image taking capability and a lot of time.
Tatarewicz:I imagine also that setting photometric levels for the imaging devices on the spacecraft, even designing the dynamic range of various detectors, and especially in the days before things were highly automated on board the spacecraft — was a considerable problem.
— right — In fact it was not only a problem then, it's a problem now. We are doing some observations of Uranus at the present time, with as great an accuracy as we can get in photometry, so that we've got the brightness calibrated when we go by the planet and image it. But going back in time, with the introduction of serious planning on missions to the planets, to going beyond the moon, there became a number of drivers. One of the drivers was that we didn't know that much about the dynamics of the atmospheres of the planets. Now, people like Kuiper were extremely interested in high resolution imaging, and had built the 60-inch telescope for that.
He wanted to get a high resolution snapshot of the planet. That is fine, gives you details, but it doesn't give you anything about dynamics, so we established a photographic planetary patrol, Rough Lowell Observatory, which gave us images of each planet every hour on the hour. In this particular program, we established six observatories around the world, with identical cameras, using identical film, which was all developed at one location. The film was sent unprocessed to one location where it was developed. We ran for a number of years. In fact, in the case of Jupiter we're still running a patrol of the various planets, when they were over a certain angular size in the sky.
We didn't do it throughout their entire orbit, but when they were favorably situated, to study the dynamics of their atmospheres. This program was very important. It turned out to be very fortunate we had done it at the time of Mariner 9, because Mariner 9 went to Mars and discovered Mars was covered with clouds. Well, that came as a shock to the people on the mission, but we knew it had been clouded in. We could have told them exactly the date it was clouded in. They were shocked. They turned on their cameras and didn't get anything. They didn't know whether the cameras were bad or what was wrong.
Tatarewicz:That's interesting because in a couple of early JPL reports, one called 30-1 "Exploration of the Moon and Planets and Interplanetary Space,"5which was the result of the very first planning study that JPL ever did for NASA, and transferred to NASA, and this came out in April of '59, there's a section in there which says that if we get to Mars and there's a dust storm we want to know it beforehand, and they talk about the need for supporting research and technology. One of the justifications for a worldwide network, a worldwide planetary patrol, that same justification was presented in the results of the Hynek Committee on planetary astronomy at JPL. Did you ever look at that report or know about the Hynek Committee at JPL? It was in March, '61.
Tatarewicz:— was when they sent their report to NASA 5Hibbs, A.R. (Ed.). Exploration of the Moon, Planets, and Interplanetary Space, JPL TR. 30-1, April 30, 1959. headquarters.
The difficulty was that I'm not even sure there was a copy of that report around. There tends to be a problem, people prepare reports and write them and they get put on a shelf some place and nobody pays that much attention to them. I think that one of the reasons for this is that there are too many other things going on simultaneously, and unless it's somebody who has a particular personal interest in the subject, they don't go back and look at them. Let me give you, not an example, but what might typically happen.
Let's suppose that we are going to fly a mission to, let's say the VRM going to Venus, going to be the Venus Radar Mapper. Nobody sits down and says, "Let's look through the literature over the past 15 years and see what we can find about information on Venus that might be pertinent to this particular mission." They start off with inviting somebody in to tell them what's available on Venus at the moment and go from there. They go forward. Now, the only opportunity they have for knowing what's happened in the past is if somebody that they invite to tell them what the scientific knowledge of Venus is today goes back themselves and comes in with some of these things. But unless that happens, they don't have any background in this area. Let me give you an example.
On the Voyager mission, that mission was started, designed, the spacecraft built and launched, really before many people became aware of all the long history we had of photographic coverage of Jupiter. It was more or less in establishing the scanning sequences that they really began to pay attention to what had happened in the past, and they brought on board some individuals who had been looking at Jupiter for years from the ground. Now, that's not really the entire story, because Brad Smith was involved with the Voyager mission, on the imaging team, in fact he headed the imaging team, and he had worked with Clyde Tombaugh on some of the early work on ground-based observations. He brought a woman by the name of Rita Beebe, who is now in New Mexico, in and she talked to the imaging team members, and gave them some of the illustrations they had taken over the last several years. Most of the people were absolutely surprised. They didn't realize that such things had gone on because they were not astronomers.
Tatarewicz:These were the photos from Tombaugh and Smith's patrol operations at New Mexico State?
Brunk:Plus the planetary patrol results.
Tatarewicz:Plus the planetary patrol results from the world network.
Brunk:Right. When she came in and described how the appearance of Jupiter had changed with time and some of the dynamical properties that they had got out of these images, the people on the imaging team were in a way flabbergasted, because their backgrounds were not in astronomy, certainly not in planetary astronomy. They were unaware of this tremendous amount of information that was available. In fact, they invited Rita Beebe to be a member of the team, because she had the vast prior knowledge. People who then have come into the program from fields other than astronomy were quite unaware of the results that had been obtained using classical astronomy. Now, that's not too unusual, when you realize that the people who came in as members of the spacecraft team generally were experts in fields completely unrelated to astronomy and in many cases unrelated to planetary exploration.
Tatarewicz:Yes, it's not surprising that they would not have been exposed to it, and of course most of the mainstream astronomers would not have the detailed knowledge of what had been done in planetary astronomy.
Brunk:Oh, the mainstream astronomers still do not know. They're completely in the dark. They don't pay any attention to the stuff that comes out in the literature on the planets.
Tatarewicz:One of the things, the Field report, in the working documents there is a report of Belton's working group on planetary topics with undergraduate astronomy courses being improved and updated.
Brunk:Yes. But there are many, many classical astronomers who still don't want to have anything to do with the planets. They don't consider that astronomy. But let's go back for a moment here to the planetary patrol, the worldwide photographic network that was set up. Actually there was a resolution passed in the IAU —
Tatarewicz:Yes, '61 I think —
Brunk:— for the establishment of a photographic planetary patrol, and the establishment of two centers. It was on the basis of that recommendation that we started to work with John Hall at Lowell about the establishment of a patrol. Now, in this particular case, I can't say we, NASA, directed it, but we, NASA, said we are interested in the establishment of such a patrol to support our planetary missions, and worked with John Hall to actually set up the patrol.
Tatarewicz:Did you supply any of the telescopes?
Oh yes. Yes. We supplied all of the instrumentation for the patrol, with some exceptions. As far as the auxiliary instrumentation was concerned, that's the cameras, and the camera systems, the equipment for processing the film, the equipment related to that for analyzing the films, that's all NASA supported. We tried to the maximum possible extent to use existing telescopes, but we wanted the telescopes to all be very similar, so we put requirements on the properties of the telescopes.
We wanted telescopes of approximately 24-inch aperture. We wanted telescopes of the proper f/ratio to give us correct scale. We wanted the same scale on all the images of the same planet. Now, we could correct for differences in the scale of the telescope by putting fore-optics in our camera, but we tried as much as possible to get similar telescopes. We also tried to get a distribution of telescopes sufficient so we could assure ourselves that each planet we were looking at was photographed at least at one site every hour on the hour around the world. Now, that meant that we could not rely only on existing telescopes. So we supported the construction of some new telescopes.
Now, Lowell Observatory at Flagstaff, which was the organization through which we worked for the entire patrol, had a telescope that was usable. But we wanted a telescope in the Southern Hemisphere, and we bought a 24-inch patrol telescope at Cerro Tololo. We bought a 24-inch telescope for Mauna Kea in Hawaii for the planetary patrol. These were standard off-the-shelf Boller and Chivens 24-inch telescopes, with a different focal length. I was going to say f/30, but I'd have to check — they're about f/20 or 24, which is not a normal focal length for those telescopes. The f/ number is usually much lower than that. In the case of India, we tried to establish a station there. It never really did work well. We supplied them with the optics. Loaned them the optics. In the case of Australia, we set up a telescope at Perth, and in that case we loaned them the telescope. So we've got one in Chile, one in Hawaii, one in Australia, optics in India, so we did three telescopes and optics for a fourth one, and that is all we did in the way of new telescopes for that patrol.
Tatarewicz:The other two stations —
Brunk:Well, we tried another station in Australia, and one in India. We tried to work with the people in — I'd have to look that up, because a couple of them dropped by the way. I do have the material on that patrol, I can give you. There's also a nice report on the patrol that gives you all the locations and the telescopes. But in every one of these cases, we gave them the camera. The camera was designed at Lowell Observatory. They were built there. They were supplied to the locations. We even, during the actual time of the patrol, paid for an observer at each of the locations, gave a small subcontract through Lowell to various locations to support an observer. Now, we didn't make observations all year round. There was a schedule, and the schedule was based on the observability of the various planets. We supplied the film from Lowell to the sites. They took the pictures at the sites. The film, which was 35 millimeter movie film, was then returned unprocessed to Lowell, where it was developed, and a densiomenter scale was put on it. It was analyzed at Lowell — In return for taking the data for us, we sent a copy of the films back to whatever location it was they came from, so they could do their own research. I don't think that any of them have actually done research with it, but it was possible for them to do that.
Tatarewicz:Then copies of all of this were deposited at Meudon?
Brunk:Yes. There was one of these stations in both hemispheres. The station that we have here at Flagstaff was for this hemisphere, and at Meudon they had the other one. Now, the other one never really progressed very far. They didn't have any money. Originally they were supposed to set up a program very similar to the one we had here, but they tried to do it all voluntarily, and we had discovered that you can't do this type of thing voluntarily. You've got to put your own money into it if it's going to work, so we had a very successful system here, they had basically a failure there. I think they were transferring films back and forth between Lowell and Meudon at a ratio of 100 to 1 or something like that between the two sites. But it was a very large ratio. Now, this patrol, although we started out by just doing the planets in general, turned out to be so important at the time of the Viking mission that we had it set up so that as soon as these photographs were taken at the remote sites, the film was taken the next day directly to the airport where it was put on an immediate flight and flown in here. We had the data coming in with a one day turnaround time.
Tatarewicz:And then the processed film was sent to JPL?
Brunk:No, it was processed at Lowell, examined at Lowell, and the information sent to JPL. Here is some mission-driving research. One of the uses made of the planetary patrol, between the time of Mariner 9 and the time of Viking, was to do a patrol of cloud coverage on Mars. They became very very concerned that we were going to launch Viking and we might end up on Mars at a time when Mars was cloud covered, and we didn't feel we could land than with the lander. Yet we had to get rid of the lander within a certain period of time. So they wanted a guarantee that there would not be clouds on Mars at the time the Viking mission got there. So there was a dive on to study Mars to the maximum possible extent in the interim, and go back historically, to try to determine the frequency of the cloud coverage on Mars, so that we could make a good estimate of what we expected to get when the Viking approached. Tatarweicz: Yes, but there was not theory at that time.
Brunk:There was no theory. No.
Tatarewicz:To the best of my knowledge, there was no notion of any correlation or any pattern.
Brunk:Well, there was some empirical results on that. Lowell Observatory undertook a major program for Viking, just doing that, just studying the cloud cover. Now, another program that was done by Lowell, using the results of the photographic patrol, and one that became very important in the Mariner 9 and Viking missions, both, was a detailed study of the polar caps. Until that time, nobody had really studied the polar caps on Mars. They knew that they grew in various seasons and they diminished. But there was some question, did they disappear completely? You know, how far did they go? Were there clouds that were putting an umbrella over the ice cover, could you actually see the boundary of it? Until Lowell really understood a very directed study of this with the patrol photographs, it had never been done. So we found that a lot of information that was thought to be well know really wasn't known at all. And it wasn't until NASA got into this business that we started doing things systematically at all.
Tatarewicz:There's another concern — it's remarkable how much of this was talked about at the Lunar and Planetary Exploration colloquium which you mentioned, was also discussed in that Hynek Committee JPL report in '61, recommendations for ground-based and balloon-borne lunar and planetary observation program.6 The committee had James Edson on it. Did you ever talk with Edson while he was at headquarters?
Tatarewicz:In what context? I know that he had worked at Lowell himself.
Brunk:He was extremely interested in the whole planetary area, and he had lots of ideas about this. He talked with us very much about setting up the patrol, I remember. He was very interested in that. He was also interested in the lunar transient phenomena. But until you mentioned his name, I had forgotten about him completely. He was also, I believe, a friend of Tombaugh's.
Tatarewicz:I wouldn't be surprised. He would have been at Lowell at the same time as Tombaugh was there. He also put forth his own proposals to the Space Science Board, even before the JPL Hynek Committee, in '58 or '59. Arguing for a ground-based lunar and planetary program, that this would logically be something that NASA should support.
Brunk:Well, let me tell you that when I arrived at NASA headquarters, I came in absolutely cold as far as planetary exploration went. I knew some of the names of the individuals because being in the astronomical community, you did know people, whether they worked in the planetary or otherwise, but when I took on this assignment, I was completely unaware of any of this previous work that had been done. 6Hibbs, Albert R., ed. A Recommendation for a Ground-Based and Balloon-Borne Lunar-Planetary Observation Program, In Support of the United States Program of Space Exploration. Pasadena, CA: JPL TM 33-37, Revised March 1, 1961. With time, I became aware of some of the earlier studies that had been made. By that time nobody from JPL or any other organization came on and said, you know, "I'll give you a copy of that report" or "Have you seen that report?" In fact, I think they had forgotten about a lot of this stuff that had taken place very early in the program.
Tatarewicz:Edson was in Office of Advanced Research and Technology?
Brunk:Yes, he was OART, right.
Tatarewicz:How did you run into him?
Brunk:Well, he had sufficient interest that he came over. Although I didn't have terribly many interactions with him, and he did not apply any pressure. He was mainly giving suggestions. But he didn't follow the program in a great deal of detail. Tatarewiz; Did you work very much with Nancy Roman or coordinate things or were your programs pretty well separated?
Brunk:Our programs were extremely divergent. I remained a member of the astronomy subcommittee. In fact, I became vice chairman of the astronomy subcommittee. But there was relatively little in the planetary astronomy area that Nancy followed in any detail. She did follow the results of the planetary missions, and what was happening on the missions, but not in the area of planetary astronomy from the ground. Of course, she got involved as she knew the people, things like this, but I would say she basically stayed out of it. She was very, very busy in the OAO and the OSO and other programs and she had her hands full. It is of interest that in the case of the 107-inch telescope at Texas, Nancy contributed $100,000 a year for four years towards the construction of that telescope. Because she wanted it to be available to be used by people at Goddard and other astronomers in the NASA program. None of these telescopes are limited to solar system work.
Tatarewicz:Yes, it's typically somewhere between 25 and 50 percent from what I've seen.
The original agreement was, at least 25 percent would be used for planetary, and that made sense. At that time we were not interested in asteroids. We were interested basically in the other planets, and the time in which they're visible in the sky in favorable positions is only a fraction of the year. So it didn't make any sense, even if you had a dedicated telescope to the planets, it would go idle much of the time. And even when they're in the night sky they're not up all night. So it doesn't make any sense to have the telescope 100 percent of the time, and since these were built as instruments where we were requiring other funds to be put into the project from the university itself or from some other organization for the building and associated things, we couldn't ask for all the time to be given.
So it was estimated that 25 percent would be more time than was presently available in existing telescopes for planetary, but not all the time. Now, there's another reason for setting that particular number, not 25 versus 20 or 30 percent, but to say, yes, we anted to assure ourselves that those telescopes would be used for planetary work, so we wanted to put some number in, to guarantee that the other party would make it available for planetary work. On the other hand, we agreed that we would pick up the support for that fraction of the time being used for planetary work, and we didn't want to box ourselves in by saying 75 percent of the time, or we would be stuck with coming up with enough money to support it for a very large fraction of time.
So 25 percent was agreed upon as being reasonable, and something that we felt we could continue to support for some period of time. Now, in the case of Texas, we're down on the order of 20, 25 percent, but they have several telescopes there. We're paying about 20 percent across the board for McDonald operating costs, which gets 82-inch time and 107-inch time and some time on the 107-inch telescope. In the case of Hawaii, we are using a much larger fraction of time, 40 percent, and we're paying for 40 percent.
But contractually we could go back down to 25 percent. In fact I think even now contractually we could get out of it completely, because I believe the arrangement was for a period of not less than ten years, and that's over with in both of these situations. In the case of the 60-inch at Arizona, it was interesting that no qualifier was ever in the contract, because Kuiper thought all he needed money for was the telescope, so he said, "I guarantee you I'll use it for planetary studies, but I don't need any operating expenses." So there was no such phraseology put into his contract. It was a telescope being built for planetary purposes, but we didn't assure him of any support. What has happened is that as funds have become tighter, Arizona has come to us and said, "You should be giving us money because you're giving money to the other people and we need money for operations." We said, "We agree, that's fine, but we have nothing in our contract that says we're required to, and we would love to, but we just don't have the money for it." But coming back to the subject we were talking about originally practically ever since I have been in the program, maybe even it should have happened before that, our mission planning was driving the areas that we would support, and many of the things that are taken as commonplace today in the area of planetary astronomy were really initiated by NASA. So I think I can rightfully say, not only have I been involved in planetary astronomy for 19 years, I'm in my 20th year now, but in a way we have driven planetary astronomy for that same period of time. It was only because of NASA that the field has really developed.
Tatarewicz:It was a delicate administrative problem. People in the scientific community react very negatively to suggestions that somebody should direct their research. The whole notion that you follow the truth wherever it leads. So you're in a delicate position. You have mission requirements and mission needs, and at the same time, that knowledge can only be provided by people whose methodology is kind of adverse to being divided and the only way to get them is to gently steer them somehow or other.
Brunk:It's a compromise, and I think your statement, "gently steer," is the correct one, and that's been my approach to the program throughout. Now, there are cases, like the International Halley Watch, for example, which is just a new program. But there were cases like the planetary patrol, the IRTF is an excellent example, the Hawaii telescope, the 88-inch, the 107-inch telescope at Texas, and many other programs, where we went out and initiated a program. And there are some interesting stories to be told, in some of those cases, because we did it, — and the community was very, very unhappy. They were bitter — not in the end, but in the beginning.
Tatarewicz:How did they communicate this, in the case of NASA facilities? This brings me to questions that I had, and maybe I can give you a preview, later on. I'm wondering about, clearly NASA decided not to build any dedicated NASA facilities —
Tatarewicz:— but primarily to work where the expertise was, and within the universities. And at about the same time, John Salisbury at Cambridge Research Lab was trying very hard to get Cloudcrofs established as a dedicated, full-time, 24-hour, nothing-but-lunar-and-planetary-observatory, so I wanted to ask you about the similarities and differences between what you were trying to do and what Salisbury was trying to do, and what ultimately happened with Cloudcraft, because it never got off the ground. At the same time, just as you were getting your program under way, the NSF was meeting to assess the implications of the Whitford Report for all agencies with an interest in astronomy, including NASA, DOD and NSF, and at the end of that year, NSF was officially designated by the White House as the lead agency in astronomy.
Brunk:— right —
Tatarewicz:I'd like to, at this point, get into these same kinds of issues, in terms both of cloudcroft and Salisbury and also the NSF and the concerns of the universities.
Brunk:Let me go back a little, and take it from the point of view of NASA, in a way my own point of view. It was obvious from the beginning, because astronomy was an ancient science, the field of classical astronomy was well established in the university community, planetary not as well as classical astronomy. There was some planetary astronomy going on at JPL when I came on board. They were really the only center — not a center but we always considered them as a center — they were really the only center that had any great interest in planetary astronomy. They were very desirous of doing the planetary astronomy in the country, which would, in effect, have made it a NASA field. We would have been setting up a NASA center, having NASA people do the planetary astronomy in the country. The early examination of the status of the subject, and the availability of people to do the work (and this is not just human beings but, who's got the expertise that would be really valuable in this area?) it became obvious that it lay in the community, not at NASA, and there was a question as to whether we should try to shift it to NASA. Frank Drake was even brought in at JPL for a year to run the astronomy program at JPL. I don't know whether you know that or not.
Tatarewicz:This would have been very close to the time?
Brunk:— this was close to the time that I came on board, because he left before I came on board. But what they really wanted to do was build up JPL as THE planetary astronomy place in the United States. From the very beginning, looking at the individuals involved, I made a conscious decision that the best approach we could use was to remain as much as possible with the outside community, to keep JPL active, but not to try to build up at JPL a national center of planetary astronomy. There were some serious involvements in developing JPL as a national astronomy center. There were also a number of political problems involved in that. Let me tell you what I mean by the political problems. We could not build for JPL a 200-inch telescope. Or even a 100-inch telescope. It just wasn't appropriate.
Tatarewicz:Why not, the community would react so strongly? Already relationships between the scientific community and NASA were not so great. TAPE 2, SIDE 1
I think the scientific community would be incensed at the fact that NASA put so much money into building a facility for a group of people who are not recognized by the rest of the community as being capable. We had relatively little difficulty building a telescope at (unable to get) a place like Texas because everyone realized that Harlan Smith and his group were doing great astronomy, that here was going to be an instrument capable of doing good astronomy. If we had built the telescope at JPL it wouldn't have been available to the community, it would have been strictly NASA.
We could have gone blindly ahead and done it, but I personally didn't have the feeling that it was going to be that worthwhile to us to do it. On the other hand, if we didn't build them a major telescope, and we depended on JPL to be the national center for planetary astronomy, then where were they going to get the observing time? The rest of the community would be very antagonistic — they were antagonistic enough as it was — but they would be even more so at NASA asking them to give large amounts of time on existing telescopes. So the problem was more one of how do you get the community interested in doing this work? How do you make use of the experts that are out there already? How do you take a man who's an expert in spectroscopy, who's not interested in the planets, and get him to pay attention to the planets? Not how do we train a new person or hire a post-doc or something like that and have him go off and work at JPL.
So the approach that we've used basically throughout is to try to make use of the capabilities that are already there, capabilities and minds that are already in the community, and just have them re-focus their attention. That's still the idea that we're using,and I think it's worked out very, very successfully. Now, the people at JPL have not been overly happy. They're still unhappy. But they are able to go to places like Kitt Peak and others, if they want to do the observations. It must be honestly stated that JPL has not appeared that attractive to the really outstanding people in the planetary astronomy community that they've wanted to go there. Now, that's not true in the radio area, as much as it is in the optical area. Now, in the radio area, JPL has some major advantages to offer.
They have the use of the Deep Space Facility and they have other facilities. They have very strong capabilities in radio instrumentation and things like this, so that we do have some people there that might have gone other places. The other thing is that the radio astronomy community in the United States is not that large. There are not that many facilities, and the NSF has been forced, because of lack of money, to eliminate support of some of the major radio astronomy facilities, simply because they're very expensive and NSF doesn't have the budget to do that. Now, from the very beginning we have always claimed, and I think it's a correct claim, that we have a programmatic responsibility only in the area of planetary astronomy. In the area of general astronomy, when the question came up as to who was responsible for support of that field in the country, we were not at all disappointed that a position was taken that the NSF is the lead center for astronomy in the United States.
The situation that I have run across many times is that people in the community say, "Gee, NASA, you should support this, this is good planetary astronomy, very good," and in many cases they're right, but it's not something that I can tie closely enough to mission needs that I feel we should be supporting it. It's low priority in our work. And therefore we don't support it, and we say to them, "Fine, see if you can get support at the NSF." The NSF does support planetary observations. I think their solar system program which included the sun was something like a half a million dollars a year, so it wasn't very large, but they did have some money to support people that we were not going to support because we did not have enough money to support the low priority programs in our area. And many programs, and they were good programs in planetary work, we did not support.
To give you an example of this, we support until recently a Brunk—74 radio astronomy program on Mercury. I wouldn't pick up another program in that area. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't pick up any program on Mercury at the moment, because we have no Mercury mission in the foreseeable future, and there's nothing really that's going to give us that much information, in my own mind, on Mercury that we can do from the ground. So if somebody came in with a proposal, they wanted to work on Mercury, I'd say, "Fine, give it to the NSF. If the NSF feels that they'll support it that's fine, I have no objections at all, but I'm not going to support it." Well, the question of facilities came up very early. Why should NASA be building these astronomical facilities? Why should they not be built by the NSF?
Tatarewicz:In what context did it come up? Congressional testimony justifying the program or providing backup for Oran Nicks?
Brunk:It came up in the OMB. It came up in Congress. (The 107-inch telescope was 4.9 million dollars. It started out to be 2 million dollars, 2.1 million, went up to 4.9 million.) I think it really came up first of all when we put in for the Hawaiin telescope, which was the '64, '65 time period, and it was asked on the Hill, it was asked by OMB, it was even asked by the administrator of the agency, because anything over a million dollars then had to be approved by the administrator. So his question was, "Why are we in this business? That's not spacecraft. Why are we building telescopes?" So we responded to him, as to why we were building telescopes. Then the question came up, and you can probably find it in other parts of the literature, or some of the correspondence that took place back then; it came up seriously as to why we were building telescopes and not the NSF.
Tatarewicz:How did you reply to Webb? Would this have gone from Nicks and then through Nicks to Newell, Newell to Webb? Would it have been in a program review? I noticed in one of your notebooks that you have an administrator's review of SL scheduled for a certain date, you had dress rehearsals of course and all that was pretty well standard. But how personally involved were you in justifying this, or was this carried on say up at the Seamans level or something like that?
Well, the latter is true. What happens is that when you go put in for a contract, and negotiate a contract, with a total estimated run-out cost above, I think a million dollars, you had to prepare a certain justification. This procurement went through a procurement cycle but eventually worked up to Seamans Brunk—75 and Webb or whoever was the administrator at the time thought Newell, the chief scientist, and everybody else. Everybody signed off on it all the way up. So what would happen as soon as it hit a level where somebody would look at it an say, "Hey, what are we in this field for? That doesn't sound like NASA," you'd start getting questions.
So my involvement in it was responding to the questions that would come from various sources. They didn't say, "Brunk, come up and talk to me about this." They would say, "Newell, what's happening here?" and he'd call Nicks in, OK, and Nicks — or let's go not by names. Let's suppose it got up to the comptroller of the agency. Then he would probably want to talk to the associate administrator for space science on it, then he would want to talk to the division director, and then the division director, and then he would come down and talk to me. So that for a long time my routing on these things would be to fill my division director in on it and then he would fill the associate administrator in on it, and he would fill in somebody else. So when I first came to the job, probably from '64 through '66 or something like that, my involvement was only with my immediate superior. Going through the chain of command.
Tatarewicz:Which would have been Fellows?
Brunk:Fellows initially, yes, because he was officially my supervisor. Now, as time went along, and I handled all the telescope work for NASA, with very small exceptions that's true; then it was getting more and more that I would be called in by Newell or Dryden. I don't remember being called in by Webb. But I would go up to the administrator's level personally, to discuss things, and get involved with policy issues. But for the first couple of years I was there, I was not at a level in which I was involved in the policy issues. But they did set up this policy, because it did come up, and I think it was Newell was there, as to why NASA should be building any ground-based telescopes. It acknowledged that NSF was the lead agency in astronomy, that NASA supported ground-based astronomy only to the extent that it was required for missions, that we would not build facilities unless they were specifically required to support the NASA program. This was agreed to by both the NSF and NASA, and we've abided by that ever since.
Tatarewicz:That basic policy was articulated by Dryden in a March 25, 1965 letter to the NSF that grew out of an inter-agency Brunk—76 committee to assess the Whitford Report7 I would imagine that the Whitford Report, coming out at the time that it did, just as you were getting the program off the ground, actually helped justify NASA's involvement in ground-based astronomy, to some extent. The Whitford Report was not enthusiastic —
Brunk:The difficulty we've had will all those reports, the Whitford Report and the follow-ups on that, the Greenstein Report,8 which is the one that I was most familiar with, and now the Field Report that's come out, are the three of them that have come out, tended to ignore planetary. This was a very much of a sore point, especially in the Field Report, that planetary astronomy falls through the crack.
Tatarewicz:I had to dig into the working documents to find it.
Brunk:Yes. It falls into a crack because there's a similar report put out for planetary exploration, which is all spacecraft, and this one is all astronomy. The spacecraft people say "We don't want to do planetary astronomy because that's astronomy, we're talking about spacecraft exploration." And the astronomers say, "We don't want to do planetary astronomy because that's really solar system exploration which is handled by this other committee." So it drops in a crack, and that is harmful, because we don't have any strong advocacy, there's no document that we can go back to as an advocacy document , and one of the things we did to get around this workshop that John Hall chaired for the National Academy on planetary astronomy.9
Tatarewicz:Yes. I definitely want to get to that. If I could just ask you about Salisbury, while we're on the topic of the difference in the way NASA chose to go about alleviating this telescope shortage.
Brunk:I personally was not involved at all with Salisbury. I was not aware of his plans. I was not aware of the politics of their establishing that work. I did support Salisbury. We did 7National Academy of Sciences, Committee on Science and Public Policy, Panel on Astronomical Facilities. Ground-Based Astronomy. A Ten Year Program. DC: NAS/NRC, 1964. 8NAS, NRC Astronomy Survey Committee. Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 1970’s. DC: NAS, 1972. Vol. 1, Report of the Astronomy Survey Committee. Vol. 2, Reports of the Panels. 9Space Science Board, Panel on Planetary Astronomy. Planetary Astronomy: An Appraisal of Ground-Based Opportunities. DC: NAS Pub. No. 1688, 1968 Brunk—77 give them a grant. He was doing some lunar materials studies. I was aware of Salisbury. They did establish a telescope over in Hawaii on tope of Mauna Kea. But I did not get involved with any of the politics of their wanting to establish an Air Force laboratory. It just never came up. I mean, at my end of it it never came up.
Tatarewicz:You were never asked "Is Cloudcrof a good idea?"
Brunk:No. I was not. And I think there was a reason for that, because NASA sort of stayed out of that political area. There may have been some discussion at the very highest levels, but you see, for the most part, NASA has always been space oriented, and we have never taken a real look at things on the ground, facilities on the ground, and the NASA telescopes have sort of come in through the back door. For example, we did not get involved at all in the transfer of Arecibo to the NSF. I knew it was going on because I was involved in the program, but NASA as an agency didn't get involved with this, but yet it was a very critical point of whether federal agencies should be building facilities and then transferring it to another federal agency to operate, and that's a very touchy point with the NSF. In fact, that's come up just in the last year or so with respect to the IRTF, because Congress wanted the IRTF transferred over to the NSF.
Tatarewicz:This is one of the things that I suppose people were afraid of, especially that once NASA finished with the need for ground-based planetary astronomy, that it would abandon the facilities.
Yes, and the NSF has been very very unhappy about this, because it's happened to them. They got Sac Peak, which they didn't want. They got Arecibo, which they didn't want. They have Haystack, also which they really didn't want. And this has happened again and again, and every time we build something they say, "But we don't want you to do it because we're afraid we're going to get it." And if fact, in the area of the InfraRed Telescope Facility, to avoid this problem, when we decided to go ahead with it, we tried to go ahead with it jointly with the NSF. We said, "To avoid this problem coming up in the future, we need an infrared telescope, we would like to go into a joint program with you to build an infrared telescope." They said, "Fine," but in their manner of operation, they said, "We will first of all have to get an inquiry from the community, a sense of desire on behalf of the community that they Brunk—78 want such a telescope. Then we will have to set up a review committee.
They respond only to the community. So there has to be a request from the community for such a telescope. Then they receive proposals from the community for such an instrument. Then they set up an evaluation committee to decide whether or not the NSF should be getting into the are of supporting a telescope in the infrared community. Then they are willing to go ahead and put it into their budget. Well, they were talking about a two or three-year lead time. And we wanted to get started. So we finally decided to go on our own, which they agreed to, and we agreed to keep them informed all the way along, which we have done.
Tatarewicz:So, as far as Salisbury's Lunar and Planetary Exploration branch of Cambridge Research Lab goes, you never really, you didn't coordinate with them the way you were coordinating with NSF?
Brunk:No. We never did. Never since I've been on the program. As I say, I knew the lab. See, we did support some work up there. We did give them some small grants, and of course we were aware of their bibliography that come out all the time. Which was the standard bibliography in the area of lunar and planetary space. And I knew Salisbury. But, you know, we were not involved any closer than that.
Tatarewicz:When were you brought in on NSF coordination, when did you first start working with them?
Brunk:First of all, I want to say one thing. I don't know what the exact dates on the Salisbury Air Force Cambridge are, but it is possible that NASA did get involved, and they may have got involved before my time. See, because I didn't start until August of '64. There may have been things going on before that time that did involved people like Urner Lidell and others, that I just didn't get involved with.
Tatarewicz:At some point, apparently, Nancy Roman was in correspondence with Salisbury. They asked NASA to take it over, take over the facility at one point. NASA decided (I think mainly Roman, I could be wrong) that the site was so bad, the seeing tests had been so bad on it, that they didn't want to do that. And as late as '65, General Ostrander called John Naugle to ask for NASA to certify the need for a lunar and planetary observatory of the type that Salisbury was trying to build at Cloudcroft. And I'll show you the letter Naugle wrote back, that NASA could not certify the need, that NASA had chosen to work Brunk—79 with the scientific community in developing the universities where the expertise lay, rather than establishing an agency facility. The problem of staffing would be critical, that they'd have a very hard time finding competent people to staff it.
That's right. I do not recall preparing that information for them, but let me mention another thing. This continues to be a bit of a problem that we have. Back in 1958, when NASA was formed, and they started bringing people on board, such as Nancy Roman and others, she had the responsibility for planetary as well as all astronomy, solar, planetary, extragalactic, everything. That was basically taken away from her, or an independent group was started up, way before '64, I don't know, '61, '62, when planetary division started to do planetary astronomy. However, for a long time, in fact even up until today, when questions come up involving NASA's role in astronomy, it goes to the astrophysics division. And frequently I find out about things only after the fact. And I am quite sure that that was especially true in the early days, that many of the questions, for example, a question like this might have gone directly to Nancy Roman, who responded to it. And never did get planetary involved in the program.
There was, not really animosity, but there was a bit of dissension between Nancy Roman's astronomy program and the planetary astronomy program. When I came on board, for example, Nancy still had solar physics, I believe, under her program. In other works we always thought that she sort of envisioned herself as the astronomer for NASA, that anything to do with astronomy in NASA really should go through her. And so when an inquiry came in, rather than saying, "This is obviously planetary, send it down to planetary to look at," she would respond to it. So many times we didn't get things at all. We are still having that problem today. When inquiries come in, from the Hill, quite often on the IRTF, they go to the astronomy division. They know in the astronomy division who's running it so that normally it comes down to us. But I've run into some responses that have been written recently, on things involving the IRTF or some other planetary facilities, that have been completed by the astrophysics division.
Tatarewicz:I see how that could present a problem. You and Nancy Roman collaborated on arguing for certain facilities?
Brunk:Oh yes. In fact, as I say, on the 107-inch telescope, Brunk—80 she even contributed a small amount of money.
Tatarewicz:There's still the ambiguity of identity, as to where planetary astronomy should fall.
Well, there still is. And in fact, if you consider observations from spacecraft as being astronomy, planetary observations from spacecraft as being planetary astronomy, there is a strong disagreement there, because Nancy always felt that the moment you got off the earth, it was her domain. So if you look at Jupiter from an earth orbiting spacecraft, that's her responsibility. If you look at it from a ground based telescope, that's my responsibility. Now I think we're getting this straightened out. I think it was a matter of personalities as much as anything else.
I think that right now, especially with the tight budgets, they're (the Astrophysics Division) perfectly willing to accept that looking at an object in the solar system, whether it's done from a spacecraft or from the ground, is generally in our (the Planetary Division). That gets confusing because, let's take the International Ultraviolet Explorer, which is a spacecraft out of the astrophysics division, there's a fair amount, 10 percent or so if its time, looking at solar system objects — well, they simply handle that. Now, I used to be heavily involved in the review of proposals for solar system observations with tat telescope. But I've become so busy that I haven't had the chance to do this. The C-141 airplane is another thing that we use to make solar system observations with. That's completely supported under the astrophysics division. It's their facility, not my facility.
Tatarewicz:So when that was set up at Ames, it was set up under—
Brunk:It's under astrophysics, yes. But on the other hand, we use the IRTF about 50 percent of the time for non-planetary observations, and yet the funding for that is completely under my program and the operations of that's completely under my program. So we support the non-planetary observations with that facility. It's just easier, for a particular facility or satellite, to handle it all out of one place, than it is to handle it part here and part there.
Tatarewicz:What about the OAO? There's not a great deal of planetary work done under the guest investigators. Brunk—81
Brunk:There are problems when you talk about astronomical spacecraft that have nothing to do with who's responsible or what their interests are. When you design an orbiting observatory, you design it with certain properties, certain pointing capabilities, certain capability. But in the early satellites like OAO, the design criteria, the specifications for that satellite, made them rather impractical for solar system studies. Now, some were done with it, probably as many as could be done with it. Now, to give you an example of the type of problem that we run into, the IUE (International Ultraviolet Explorer) was never designed with solar system studies in mind. It was designed specifically to look at ultraviolet radiation from non-solar system sources. But we use it quite heavily for solar system studies now. But one of the reasons we're able to do that is because one individual said, "These are the specifications for that spacecraft, this is what it can do and what it can't do, so why not be clever and figure out a way to use it so that I can get data that it wasn't designed to obtain?" Now, that's confusing. Let me give you an example.
Tatarewicz:Can I ask who this was?
Brunk:Yes, fellow by the name of Arthur Lane, "Lonnie" Lane. I believe that the sensors on the IUE only look at point sources. Planets aren't point sources. One of the things that's difficult with the IUE is to scan across a planet, because the IUE doesn't have a scanning sequence on it.
Tatarewicz:It's designed to lock on, hold, get the information, then go to another one, but you can't do area scanning.
Brunk:Right, you can't do area scanning, and I'm not sure that it's designed to lock onto a non-point source.
Tatarewicz:It doesn't use an offset?
Brunk:I don't think so. So his job was saying, "That's no good, I want to scan," so one of the things that he came up with is a method in which you go to the planet, you stop the drive mechanism and let it scan automatically s the spacecraft goes across, you see, not being driven. We use it all the time now in that mode. So it took somebody to sit down and look at the system and Brunk—82 say, "How can I perturb the system in such a way that it will be usable for something that it's now not presently usable for?" But we are trying, with the newer spacecraft like the Space Telescope, to make sure that we're not closing the door on certain observations by the way we design it. We hope in all future spacecraft to do that. And we work closely with the with the astrophysics office, to that end. We make sure that on some of their design working groups we have a planetary person involved, so that we don't again design ourselves out of the system. We put on some of the instrument teams people with primarily solar systems interests. Some of the independent people had solar system interests. One of the things that was done — and I don't know whether this ever came to much or not, but we actually gave Boeing a contract to do a study of solar system observations using the Space Telescope, and unfortunately my only copy of that was lost.
Tatarewicz:I think I tracked down a copy of that. In fact I think it's still here. We borrowed some files from the ST office, or the project did.
Brunk:Bob Brown at Space Telescope (Science Institute) has been doing some studies on how you would observe sources and objects using the space telescope, because he was put on their staff to represent the solar system area.
Tatarewicz:So I'll be talking with you at a later date about ST and all of that. You weren't brought in on any of the policy considerations at NSF right after the Whitford Report, that is the spring of '65, when the policy was being worked out?
Tatarewicz:Oh, you were?
Brunk:I would say this, that the NSF has always been very open on their presentations. They worked closely with Nancy Roman before I got here, and I was included after I got here, on all of their planning, their discussions and things like this. Now, when I say yes, I was involved, it was not a matter of their being a high level committee which looked at these things, but rather they had their own astronomy advisory committee meetings which we attended, and in addition, we did go over and visit with them frequently. There was a formal relationship set up between the NSF and NASA in the astronomy area, relatively early in the game, but I don't believe it was during the time that Mulders was there. Bob Fleischer had that group. And we had more — well, we did have Brunk—83 sort of a formal mechanism when Fleischer was there, and then —
Tatarewicz:Are you quite sure of the origin of the more formal mechanism? It just seem to me, looking through the chrons, that formal NSF-NASA coordinating meetings —
They started officially with Bill Howard. But the confusing thing her is that we're on several different levels. There was an inter-agency astronomy coordination committee, IACC or something like that, which was established a couple of years back and that was very high level, one representative from NASA, one representative from NSF, one from DOD, one from the Air Force, and Jeff Rosendhal was our member on that committee. I never really got involved with it in any way. I hardly even knew what they did. In fact, in most cases, we never knew what they did, because that was high level, highest level.
Then there was another coordination mechanism set up that involved people at the level of Rosendhal, Howard or Pat Bautz now, and I think it was originally planned to meet twice a year, in which they go over higher level policy decisions, general funding levels for the upcoming year, this sort of thing. It meets shortly after the President's budget has been announced, so it would probably be in mid-February. At that time, each agency, which is represented by people at that level and division director levels and down to the working level, presents its budget for the next year, the budget that's going into Congress at least, it s plans, its future plans, it s changes in staffing; a general meeting like that. Now, they had originally tried to put one together in the summer time.
hey were talking about their next year's budget. But that one never seems to come off, so there's just the one. Then there are informal meetings we used to set up on a quarterly basis. The difference between the formal one and the informal one is that in the formal one you get division directors and upwards there and they're talking about overall budgets for the year, but nothing on the level of individual grants. Now, one of the things that did come up there at that formal meeting was the problem with the IRTF. But you don't go down to the individual grants at all, anything like that. On these approximately four times a year informal meetings, it involves the people at the working level, and you try as much as possible to stay away from individual grants but to discuss general policies. They always want, for example, a review of the status of the IRTF. They want a review of the status of the IRAS spacecraft. They will discuss joint funding of individuals. Brunk—84 They would discuss subjects such as, right now we're looking to the NSF to puck up a great deal of the ground-based research on Halley's Comet for the International Halley Watch so that would come up, what they're doing in that area. Instrumentation programs come up. The NSF is at the present time planning on supporting a number of groups to develop CCD cameras.
Since they are using NASA CCDs, that would come up. But they try as much as possible to stay away from detailed discussions on individual grants. That's handled more on the basis of person to person, rather than in these sorts of meetings. We have a lot of discussion between individuals. Somebody will call up and say, "I've got a proposal from somebody I know is one of your grantees, and they sent us the proposal not to review but just to be aware of." Or they'll get a proposal and somebody will say "I'm receiving NASA money for this," and they want to find out the background, things like this. So, we have these two coordinations that are going on now, and I don't know whether that overall coordination, that inter-agency astronomy coordination, is still in effect or not. I don't get involved with it.
Tatarewicz:From program officer to program officer would be your level of involvement, then.
Brunk:No, I get involved at the division director level, at the meeting in February I'm involved. At the quarterly meetings I'm involved, and on the program director to program director, I'm involved. I'm involved in all of them with the exception of this inter-agency coordinating committee, if it still meets, and that has only one person from each agency. That's normally Jeff Rosendhal for ours. But everything else I'm heavily involved with.
Tatarewicz:Looking at the NSF's level of support of planetary research grants versus their overall program —
Brunk:— it's pretty pitiful —
Tatarewicz:It just looks like policy to me.
Brunk:NSF's basic unwritten policy is, they don't support planetary work. Now, in their '84 budget, they got about a 25 percent increase in the astronomy program. They are planning in a major increase in solar system studies. They've pulled out the solar studies from solar system studies.
Tatarewicz:Oh, they're splitting it again. Brunk—85
Brunk:Yes, they split it, and they're planning on a major increase in solar system studies. They're anticipating that most of that money will be going into studies of Comet Halley. In addition they have another program for instrumentation, and they anticipate that a sizeable fraction of that money will go into instrumentation development of Comet Halley. Now, these are all unwritten, spoken in this case but unwritten policy matters. Of course, sometimes I question what's coming out, because everyone that I know that's submitted a cometary proposal, they've rejected it.
Tatarewicz:Well, it wasn't until '71 that the NSF actually had a solar stem astronomy program director. It was Harold Lane. Until that date, the divisions weren't arranged in quite that way. Did you work with Mulders regularly in this way?
Brunk:Oh yes. Sure.
Tatarewicz:Was he generally supportive of what you were trying to do?
Brunk:Yes. There was no difficulty whatsoever. Gerry was very easy to get along with that way. The only difficulty we have had with the NSF at all was one time where there was a misunderstanding about granting. We were both supporting the same individuals but for different work. Now, that's not just me. That's Nancy Romans as well as myself. And the NSF mistakenly used some advance information we gave them to determine their own funding levels of these individuals, and we got into some difficulty, but that was straightened out.
Tatarewicz:Were relationships with Fleischer about the same as with Mulders?
Brunk:The interaction with Fleischer, as far as I was concerned, had no particular problems with it. My understanding is that, not a matter of inter-agency coordination or anything like that, but there were reasons for wanting to see a new division director there. OK, and Bill Howard was brought in. But I didn't have any difficulty in working with Fleischer.
Tatarewicz:What about Harold Lane? He had been at NSF since '62 but he was actually formally given solar system astronomy in '71.
Brunk:Yes, but he was basically handling it even before then.
Tatarewicz:Oh, he was?
Brunk:Well, he was handling optical astronomy. They broke it into radio astronomy and optical astronomy, and they didn't break it down into discipline areas like they did later, and he handled optical astronomy. Most of my work was optical astronomy, and I interacted with him on that, and I'm trying to remember who had the radio astronomy. I can remember everything except his name. And I interacted with him on the radio astronomy areas. A big guy. Loved to talk.
Tatarewicz:Hurlburt, Everett Hurlburt?
Brunk:Yes, Ev Hurlburt, yes. He would never get off the telephone.
Tatarewicz:Well, I thank you very much, again.
Session I | Session II