Oral History Transcript — Dr. Charles Robert O'Dell
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
See the catalog record for this interview and search for other interviews in our collection
Interview with Dr. Charles Robert O'Dell
C. R. O'Dell; May 22, 1985
ABSTRACT: Discussion of O'Dell's role as Project Scientist on the Space Telescope Project, including various episodes in the history of the Project: difficulty in securing funding from Congress; how astronomers lobbied for the Telescope; the development of the project between 1977 and 1983, particularly during the crisis of 1980. Also prominently mentioned are: John Bahcall, Eddie Boland, Bob Brown, Margaret Burbidge, John Caldwell, Arthur D. Code, Bob Danielson, George Brooks Field, James Fletcher, Martin Frank, Riccardo Giacconi, Leo Goldberg, Jesse Leonard Greenstein, Richard Harm, Noel Hinners, Warren Keller, George Levin, Rene Auguste Lucas, Aden Meinel, Les Meredith, John Earl Naugle, Theodore Bland Norris, Jean Oliver, Nancy Grace Roman, Alois Schardt, Fred Speer, Lyman Spitzer, Mona Tycz, Westphal; Astronomy Missions Board, Galileo (Spacecraft), Goddard Space Flight Center, International Ultraviolet Explorer Observatory, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Kitt Peak National Observatory, Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, Marshall Space Flight Center, National Science Foundation (U.S.), Orbiting Astronomical Observatory, Perkin-Elmer Corporation, Princeton University, Rice Institute, Science Institute, Sky and Telescope, Space Shuttle, United States Congress, United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration, United States Office of Management and Budget, University of Chicago, University of Wisconsin, Wide Field Planetary Camera, and Yerkes Observatory.
Smith:I wonder if I could just clear up one or two items from yesterday, and first of all, the Preston Committee. This was a group meeting in late '75, I think also '76, set up at the suggestion of John Naugle to make an examination of the ST program, and I wasn't really sure what function that was fulfilling or what its role was in the overall scheme of the ST world. I think there were members on it like George Preston, who was the chairman, Giaconni, Ostriker.
O'Dell:There was quite a group of luminaries, and they met several times, I remember, and I met with them, I recall, only once, and it was there in the Caltech board room of the Millikan Library, which is the same place that the Black Friday meeting was held. A grand location for shedding blood. It's the only place to have an execution. I have little recollection of the group. I mentioned yesterday off the tape that I'd forgotten all about the group, and probably because it was not, for us, within the project, an important group after the fact, and we really didn't have much interaction with it. Maybe if I went back to my notes from that particular period, I could recall more about it. I remem ber that there was this group of luminaries — Giacconi, Ostriker, Preston himself. And if anything, they were a bit hostile. Preston was a tradi tional astronomer. Gioacconi was still trying to kill the Space Telescope at that time, as he had for many years, because he wanted his own things to be done. And he only changed colors after it was too late to do anything about it. So I just don't remember much at all about it, which is a peculiar thing.
Smith:It seemed a kind of odd group, from my perspective, to have been set up. In that, if you've got a group of megapundits that you put together, and then they make recommendations which are favorable, it would seem that that would be the kind of ammunition that might be useful in the Congress, but I haven't found references to it, where Jim Fletcher would say "But we've had an outside group of very major astronomers looking at this, they support it too." That was the only rationale I could see for maybe establishing such a group, but that doesn't seem to have worked through.
O'Dell:I viewed it then, all this is slowly coming back .... I viewed it at the time as something that, number one, to see if we were really doing the right thing, if we really should be doing the Space Telescope. After all the costs, even then, we were getting large and it looked risky, finan cially. And so that kind of explains the composition, this star body. But then, as you say, nothing was done with it, even though it was quite a favorable report. Which is kind of characteristic of Naugle at that time. Being a chief scientist of the agency, or whatever hat he was wearing then, is something like the job that I had at Marshall, the old Stuhlinger job, associate director of science, where you try to find worthwhile things to pass away the happy hours. You don't always do productive things.
Smith:The kind of position where the administrator perhaps will wheel him out to appropriate bodies and say "Here's my Chief Scientist," that kind of —
O'Dell:So I'm just not much help on the Preston Committee.
Smith:The only other thing I could think of was, maybe there were some people who were hostile on the committee and it was perhaps an effort to capture in some sense these guys, who would put their names to a report that was favorable?
O'Dell:I didn't view it that way at the time. Although indeed they succeeded with Giacconi! I'm not sure when he opted in his mind for Space Telescope, and decided that that's where he would be able to exercise his ego, and do science the way he wanted to see it done, it was certainly later than that, but that must have been a contributing factor. Inter esting, how fleeting associations may lead to more lasting ones, like we mentioned yesterday, Bob Brown being one of the several planetary types coming in as a substitute for Goody to that one imaging planetary meeting, and he shows up later at the Science Institute, ultimately Project Scientist. Riccardo shows up at that meeting, and ends up being the Institute Director. Who knows where this session will lead us? You may be the next president of Rice 15 years from now! (laughs)
Smith:I wonder also, a general point on Phase B, and that is that some people I've spoken to have the impression that say about '70, '71, the LST was very much kind of large, enabling technology for a big imaging camera, in essence. The other instruments could fit into whatever space was avail able. Then there's a transition, so that by the end of say Phase B, the spectroscopy is extremely important, there are two spectroscopes, there are going to be a couple of cameras, a photometer, there's going to be some astrometry. I wonder if this kind of overview of the transition is correct, this switch during this period from perhaps a focus right at the start of the decade on imaging, to one in the middle seventies where there's also a very strong emphasis on spectroscopy, if that meshes?
O'Dell:That doesn't fit with my understanding. Of course, in '70 I was not directly involved with Space Telescope. Because in '70 the guidelines would have been the NAS book, the report of Spitzer's committee, but as I recall that pamphlet, it was raher evenhanded about the imaging and spectroscopic capabilities of it. And certainly when I got involved, in Phase A, of course Goddard was doing the instrumentation even then, and the design that they had was something that certainly gave as much attention to spectroscopy and photometry as it did to imaging. So I'm not aware of that transition, because Phase A was certainly a balance of techniques, and certainly Phase B was. When we set it up we really expected to have spectroscopic teams, for example.
Smith:I guess that might be a function something that is all things to all men, so different people might have put different emphases on the concepts.
O'Dell:Yes, I can certainly see that people can argue that it would have started out primarily as an imaging one. That's not the way I remember it happening.
Smith:Right. I wonder if I can just move on to some Institute things in Phase B, picking up on some of the points that were raised in your talk with David. I wonder at what stage the concept of the Science Institute began to be taken seriously? It seems, for example, there was a letter from George Field in '73 and there was a little bit of discussion on the Institute in the Science Working Group in '73.
O'Dell:Now, jog my memory. What letter in '73.
Smith:George Field talked about that attention ought to be given to thinking about ways of operating the Telescope.
O'Dell:Was that to me?
Smith:I think it was included in the enclosures with the Working Group minutes, so I think it must have been to you, which would have been seen by the other members of the Working Group, and then a little while later, there's the Un-committee formed.
O'Dell:The Code group, yes.
Smith:I wonder, for example, when you went to Marshall in '72, whether you'd even thought about ways of operating LST, whether that was a live concern when you arrived?
I had individually, I had myself, but the Phase A group, the Roman Committee, had not discussed it. But I started thinking a lot about it as soon as I got to Marshall, because I was one of those people guilty of a very real prejudice about the Goddard Institution science organization of astronomers — again, this was before the great success of IUE. And also there was a certain natural rivalry that was built into the appointment, that is between the two centers, and since I was there, and they were really not happy with that arrangement, still wanted to have the ST there [Goddard], it seemed a natural thing to take an aggressive attitude towards them. I can't remember the exact time I pitched it, but it was certainly within the first four or five months. It might have been as late as January of '73, when I gave a report to the project. I can remember, it was one of those filled room meetings of project people, and actually using viewgraphs and addressing the issue of how this ST should be actually operated, as a long term observatory, and what the possibilities were.
I very clearly came down on one of them, and recommended that we go to the Science Institute approach. That was very early. I wasn't calling it Science Institute, of course, but rather something that would be run by consortia of universities. That was very early. And I think it may have been the same time when I proposed what became the Phase B structure for the science teams and the Working Group, that we have. It may have been a month or two after that, but the whole question was, how did we manage the science of the project, looking right from the beginning at the structure we would have through the end. So to me, the idea was there very clearly, and it satisfied my own prejudice, that is, one boundary condition is that Goddard couldn't do it. They weren't capable and I thought at the time they weren't worthy. They hadn't earned the position of trust that would allow them to have free rein in operating the most important astronomy project ever built.
So I was heavily influenced by that, as a negative motivation. I had positive motivation in that I knew it worked with varying degrees of suc cess. The two other national observatories, the optical and the radio observatory, were run by non-profit consortia, and astronomers were used to this, and why not do Space Telescope the same way, especially in the light of the Goddard problem? It wasn't clear where this thing that I envisioned would be. For a long time we thought it would be at some field center, and of course Marshall made a play for it to be there in Huntsville. And the idea that it would be or should be within the fence at Goddard died hard, up there. For a long time the thinking was that it would be just outside the fence, and then it eventually evolved, by the time of the RFP, the Science Institute had great freedom on where it would be located. So the idea started quite early. And I can remember talking about it in headquarters at the level of, I guess it was [Alois] Schardt then. Schardt preceded Bland Norris.
Smith:That's right, I think Jesse Mitchell resigned in mid-'73.
Smith:And then Schardt resigned I think May '76, if my memory's correct there.
O'Dell:That's right, because Bland was very new in the job at the time of the Woods Hole study meeting on the Science Institute. And I can remember that Schardt and Nancy Roman basically didn't want to hear about the idea. It was so preposterous. I felt alienated from them on that, that I would even consider an Institute, because they had great institutional ties with Goddard, and why not just do it the way the OAOs had been done? And of course Schardt, after he was forced out of his position, went to Goddard. The Golden Parachute, I guess it's called, for those who live in the Washington area, being able to go to another institution and not have to sell their house and such. So I pushed it, and then also I talked with people like George Field, and you know, he was very receptive to it. As was Code. You have to remember that we three were, or had been, directors of AURA, and so we were familiar with that approach to operating a big facility.
Smith:I wonder if you had read the Ramsey Report that came out in '66, which in a way led on to the Astronomy Missions Board?
O'Dell:I didn't see it until after Nancy Roman told me about it, or Henry Smith, I guess it was, said, "Well, this is what," I guess it was the Ramsey Committee "said is the way it ought to be operated. They said it way back at the beginning of the agency." Finally I got hold of a copy of that, which is hard to do, and indeed that's what they said, although things were so far in the future at that point. It wasn't really usable as a guide, and certainly those of us who started the idea weren't building on that. As I say, I wasn't even aware of it until after the fact.
Smith:I wonder if there were experiences of other groups of scientists, I'm thinking particularly of high energy physicists, who were influencing your thinking about national facilities, as well as the familiarity with, say, Kitt Peak and NRAO?
O'Dell:It was strictly the national observatories. Now, when we were well along in planning for it, two of us went to Batavia to the National Accelerator Lab and talked to not the director but one of his staff people about their own experiences. It wasn't really helpful. There are such great differences between physicists and astronomers. It really didn't influence the exact shape of it. Of course, by then we already knew what we wanted to do. So it was really just the observatories, not the accel erators, that was the cause of forming the idea to do this approach.
Smith:I wonder how receptive the people were at Marshall to the idea of the Institute? Did you have to do much persuading at Marshall?
O'Dell:They were very receptive. But you have to remember that they had no experiences and therefore no biases. Also, it's something that would weaken the Goddard role, and with this rivalry that existed on the project, they were for that. They weren't giving away anything, although they for a while tried to get it for Marshall. They knew that was a long shot, but it was worth a try. But they were losing nothing by this approach, and therefore they could afford to be dispassionate and reasonable on it. Goddard did lose by this approach, and therefore was not dispassionate and was not rational on the subject. So they were always very receptive to it.
Smith:In your talk with David you discussed Noel Hinners's attitude and how in a sense he was sitting on it, waiting until the right time was there to declare himself in favor of the Institute, and you mentioned that Schardt and Roman were opposed. I wonder about other people's attitudes within headquarters? And also how long it was before Nancy Roman got behind the idea? I wonder about the kind of turning circle within head quarters on this, and did they all have to get in line once Hinners said, "You're going to have an external Institute"?
Well, Schardt went out, of course. Once he was out, he was no longer a factor on it. And Bland Norris, —Theodoric Bland Norris, I love that name — as he pointed out, it means "beloved of God," which I then learned later was not the case. Theodoric was a very famous series of German and Czechoslovakian kings, it's an old name. But Bland wasn't for it, I didn't think, at the beginning, but Bland came into the job when the winds were already blowing that way, and so it would have been hard for him to go cross current or up current. As you said earlier, he came in May of '76. The Woods Hole Study was that summer, July, the very beginning of July. I remember it because the Viking lander occurred during it. That study must have been in the works when he stepped in. And I can remember having dinner with him one night during the Woods Hole Study, and his just really having at me for espousing this idea. I still don't know if it was because that was his style and he was trying to sound me out and probe me on the subject, or if it revealed an opinion on his part that it was the wrong thing to do and I was the one that was causing the agency all this grief, by pushing for the Science Institute concept. Certainly he was the key one keeping me from speaking at the Woods Hole Study. I was under constraint to speak when spoken to.
That kind of thing. So George Piper [of Goddard] who sat in on the meeting too, but it didn't hold him back. He of course helped the Science Institute concept considerably whenever he opened his mouth. He didn't know it, but he was. That's just the way he worked. But Bland was one of the key persons keeping me a silent member of that meeting, which was a great source of frustration, because headquarters supposedly was running this liaison with NAS — that old issue — and also they knew my opinion and they didn't want it. They didn't like my opinion. And if this committee were to say it was a good idea, that was another matter, but they certainly didn't want to sell the idea at that meeting. I can understand that, but it means that the committee didn't have real interaction with the people who thought most positively and in depth about it, and so ended up with some wrinkles to it which proved to be impractical and they were never implemented by NASA. I'm still rankled over that. So, to answer your question, Bland took no public position against it, but privately he didn't like it. He reluctantly went along with it. Schardt simply went out not liking it. But Nancy, who is no dummy, politi cally, eventually saw the way the winds were blowing, and stopped making the violent statements of protest over this. She still made them, but they weren't public utterances, they were more like private, "You're really mucking things up, you know," that kind. She did have a turning radius, and she was smart enough to understand that although she might not like it, that it wasn't an irrational thing, and that at some point she had to go along with it.
So it was a very gradual thing on her part, until of course by the time she was on the Source Evaluation Board for the selection of the operator, she was very, very positive. She was a realist. How could she be negative at that point and still be an effective member of the Source Evaluation Board? She was sill at least skeptical about it even when the Hornig Committee report came through, because by then, Warren Keller was the de facto program manager. There was this long period when he had a different assignment and Mark Aucremanne was accorded the title, but Warren did the job. For example, when the Keller Committee was formed to have the agency look at the operation, this was after the Hornig Committee had met, Nancy was on it and was still a skeptical member of it at that time. And when we met over at the Joseph Henry Building with most of the members of the Hornig Committee, to give them the report on what the agency was going to do, I think Nancy was there but silent the entire time. So it was slow.
Smith:I wonder if there's also an element too of the scienists going out, bashing their heads against the wall, trying to get the ST sold. This is mode of operation that they want. If they're not going to get that mode of operation, why should they do the selling? I wonder if that was a factor that was coming into play?
O'Dell:That's a good question. It might have been with Lyman, because after all, when the proposals actually came in, they were mostly proposals for Princeton, with one of them, at least one, with him as director. But I never thought of either John or Lyman as being self serving in that way. It just never entered my mind that they were doing all those phone calls and train trips to Washington from any motivation other than the highest and most unselfish — George is a different matter. George Filed is a much more political person than either of those two. He was perfectly capable of that, to push ideas with the intent of favoring his own institution. So he might have had that motivation. But I don't know. John and Lyman, no, I think it was unrelated. At that time, the concept that we all talked about was an Institute very close to Goddard.
Smith:This was, even at that time, the talk of an Institute "within 50 miles" of Goddard?
O'Dell:Well, it ended up being, I think, more specific. It was closer than that. We were talking about, outside the fence, I think that was the term, which might have included College Park.
Smith:I wonder who you saw as the major architects of the Institute concept that emerged from the Hornig Committee, and of course there was lots of input from the Science Working Group. For example, I think Code's committee reported, I think there was a report from Bob Bless's Data and Operations team — ...
O'Dell:We had the Hornig Committee Report, but you know it was done in a hurry. And so there were — Ralph Bernstein from IBM who just wanted to do all these wonderful data processing things and that was his act. So of course that appeared in the report. A few of them had a wild hair about distributed faculty, that is, people who would come in and help. That appeared in the report. So that, otherwise, it was pretty much just what NASA has drafted, in large part me, working with the Goddard people, with people like Mona and such being basically positive about it. As we men tioned yesterday, she was not politically aware and not trying just to please the center. But except for those few wrinkles, the Hornig Committee Report was what we already had in mind in the project and had discussed within the Science Working Group and Code Group and so on. The architecture there had already been determined.
Smith:It's now much easier to take this concept, because it has the stamp of the National Academy on it, and —
O'Dell:That's right. Then it had an air of legitimacy that the agency cannot ignore. And that's not an unusual procedure, for the agency to employ, to use the Academy in that way. There seemed to be no quesion, at least in my mind, that it was going to come out that way. After all, all rational reasoning people will agree with me. That's the level of the logic. Maybe the agency really thought it was an open issue, from the time when they set that up. But I never saw it as a threat to the idea.
Smith:It seems very much as if you ask a group of scientists how an institute should be set up, almost certainly they will say, we should have a strong measure of control over it. Given the history of science since the Second World War, there's always been this great drive.
O'Dell:Yes. It was just the natural thing. Not necessarily the wisest, but the thing, as you pointed out, that we're accustomed to doing. And the Hornig Committee was not just atronomers. Hornig was not an astronomer. Bernstein wasn't. But they were people who were rational and did under stand how American science was done and managed. It was a good group. There were just a few individual ideas which I didn't like, and indeed in the end were not implemented by NASA, that survived, like the distributed faculty.
Smith:I think there was also an idea which I think was certainly in the literature before then, about having distributed centers around the country.
O'Dell:Yes, and the only difference between what NASA implemented and the recommendation on that was the question of timing. Which was simply pru dent. I opposed it, because I didn't want the additional complication at the beginning. I laugh now. I wanted to make sure that the Institute was a sufficiently strong center of activity, before they started dispersing themselves, fearing that it would simply be reduced to a switchboard. Well, that problem has not arisen. So that's a laughable concern, (as I look at it now). And also with the rapid change of the technology of data handling, it would have not made sense to tie ourselves in to one plan at a very early date, which is very, very technology-dependent. For example, right now it looks like the approach we'll use in distrib uting data will largely be video disk, because video disks have substantial amounts of data on them besides a particular person's desired data, simply because that's the cheapest way, faster and cheaper than sending it on phone lines, because it takes so much time to transmit a system like my computer here, hours to get one image. So that if you want dozens, you're better off getting something by video disk through the mail. That's some thing that's only developed in the last year or so. So clearly it would have been a mistake to [have tied ourselves in early].
Smith:There was another aspect of this discussion in the mid- seventies on the Institute, and that was the idea that seems to have been floating around about a larger type of institute, not just, say, Space Telescope, or, say, the X-ray Institute that some people were pushing at that time, but whether there would even be a Space Astronomy Institute?
O'Dell:And in connection with that, I remember the American Astronomical Society meeting where this was being discussed; I think Nancy Roman took it on. I wasn't invited, and she represented it in not the most positive terms. George Field was I think president of the AAS at that time, Riccardo [Giaconni] was a member of the Council, and what we were seeking out of the meeting was the AAS blessing on this approach, but what we got out of it [were] arguments from Riccardo that it ought to be an all encompassing institute, and therefore he objected to this narrow function. That was the most visible form that that idea of an all-encompassing science institute took. Otherwise, it was just something that was men tioned by a few. I was very much against that, because I thought Space Telescope was plenty. Also, I felt that Goddard already existed, and indeed, in many areas, even then, was already competent. So really very little was said. Goddard was quite competent in high energy astronomy, solar, so there weren't these negative perceptions. So I wasn't aware that very many people, if anyone besides Riccardo, wanted such a superinstitute.
Smith:One of the names I've come across in this connection is John Simpson. Was he to your knowledge pushing this?
O'Dell:No, not to my knowledge. It doesn't surprise me, knowing John, he's an older version of Riccardo.
Smith:I'm not sure whether he was or not, but it's just something that was in a document and that was my interpretation of what might have been going on.
O'Dell:That's correct. Where did I hear ... (inaudible...) But John made no timid plans. They were all vast plans. Also he could see that the bloom was off his field. He needed to do something. His organization at Chicago has been slowly drying up.
Smith:Was it an extra complication for you to have URA pressing for an X-ray Institute around about the same time as the Hornig Committee was meeting, discussing an Institute for Space Telescope?
O'Dell:Oh, no, it proceeded independently. It was kind of an unwelcome exploitation of our own ideas, and added complications, we felt, to things basically in the works. After all, we were ahead in the queue, and ours was a real spacecraft and they were talking AXAF.
Smith:And that was going to be well after Space Telescope?
O'Dell:That had already been decided, although Riccardo fought it to the end, the priority and the order.
Smith:I wonder about a couple of issues related to these points, and, first, that there seems to have been a lot of pressure to avoid Goddard having the contract for the Institute. Rather, the idea was to run it out of headquarteers, with the director reporting some schemes to, say, the associate administrator in OSS.
O'Dell:In fact, didn't the Hornig Committee say that?
Smith:I think that was one of the points they made.
O'Dell:And there, the concern was that you'd be entrapped by people like George Piper. That's where, you know, he came across so badly at the meeting that he was just shooting himself in the foot every time he drew his gun. So he'd stand up and say, "Oh, we're going to do this and this and this, yessir, we love this idea!" And they'd end up saying, "We don't want to run the risk of having to report through a chain that involves people like that." And indeed, I think this was part of the discussion there. They asked, well, who would the Institute director report to? And he just blew it, you know. He said they would report to Mona [Tycz] or someone like that. That's just what they didn't want to hear. And Goddard had no intent of making the director plug in at [a high] level. George was over in the science wing at Goddard, [not] the operations and development management wing, so he was operating open loop. But there was this very strong [opinion that] you couldn't run the risk of the Institute director reporting to some little men. [It was seen] as a legitimate concern.
Smith:I wonder about another area too that was referred to in Hornig, and that seems to have been an area of some dispute, and that's instrument development at the Institute.
Yes. That was one of those areas that a few individuals prevailed on. I've forgotten who they were. I think it was Steve [Strom] who was the most vocal one on this. I remember that Steve was at Kitt Peak at the time, and Kitt Peak has a great tradition of developing its own instrumen tation. So it has people like Roger [Lynds] on the staff and all he does is instrumentation. He does some science too, but he's primarily a plumber in the best sense of the word. I consider myself a plumber too. So they had a strong tradition of developing their own instruments, and innovative instruments. They saw it as part of their role as the national observatory, building new types of instruments, and Roger [Lynds] charac terized the best of this activity, when he was coming out with these new things no on else had done. The result of that was that the NSF money for new instrumentation in astronomy was largely going to Kitt Peak, rather than to individual insti tutions. When I was a director, that last year at Yerkes, a member of the board of AURA, I started to push for developing these instruments at indi vidual institutions, which would then be brought and left at Kitt Peak. Kitt Peak was very reluctant to accept that.
Later they did, at least on paper. So people like Strom and the others had seen instrument development as a responsibility of the national observatory, and that no one on that group was interested themselves in developing instrumentation for the large ground-based observatories. Likewise there wasn't representation of people like Code, Wisconsin, Colorado and Berkeley, etc., that had an institu tional interest at home in developing instruments. That is how they kept the lights turned on. That was their source of money. And in space science, I think one of the strengths of it has been this distriution of activities, so that you haven't had a concentration, which might appear to be more efficient as a management policy, certainly not as a scientific one. I was obviously against an important instrumentation role for the Science Institute, fo these several reasons: Closing out activities at individual institutions, and unfair advantage. Nonetheless, it appeared — you read the report, there it was, and I think it was just through these few voices that prevailed.
Smith:I've seen a reference in a letter I think from Bland Norris or maybe Warren Keller to what's referred to as a "Steve [Strom] Institute." That was the shorthand for some concept. I wonder if this was a part of it, an Institution very much modeled on Kitt Peak with the same kinds of functions, if that would make sense?
O'Dell:It fits in exactly with what I was saying. So he seems a very effective guy at a meeting like that, to have his way or get his stuff into the report, because you've got to get a report right away. And a lot of these people were not in astronomy, but felt they had to go along with it. I still think NASA has done the right thing in keeping [the Institute] out of that.
Smith:You end up with another mouth to feed, too, if you're at head quarters looking at funding?
O'Dell:I really think there was just no way that the Institute could fill this role of advising the agency about what future instruments should be developed [and flown] because it was in competition to do just that. Because in the operational phase, they are going to be our source of science advice, whereas right now, at least you've got the Science Working Group independently giving advice. That won't be the case later.
Smith:I wonder how closely the real 'live' Institute matches the concepts that you had in mind in the middle and late seventies?
O'Dell:: Well, there you raise the question of what is my idea, what is your idea.
Smith:Perhaps also the community's concepts.
Well, I think you have to draw a contrast between NASA's version of the Institute, as reflected in the RFP, which is really just a version of the Keller Committee, and then the other version of the Science Institute [is] in the Hornig Committee Report. I take the Keller Committee Report as the valid one because it incorpo rated almost everything in the Hornig Committee and just didn't implement a few things, for very practical reasons. We did indeed review in that Joseph Henry Building meeting with them and had no great [the Hornig Report] hue and cry over it. So if I compare it with that Institute, I think the only difference is the way it's ended up after this last round of bloody negotiations of the last autumn. I should say it was very close to the Keller Committee Report. It is more expanded. There are more people. And there are more people because Riccardo wants to have direct control of people who are working for him, by having them in his organization, and that's a valid desire. Also, it's cheaper at the time to not pay a company's overhead. The intent of the Keller Committee is that in the development, in the pre-launch period, you farm out as much as you can, even if you do pay a premium price for this labor, so that [later] you can give them a letter and wish them best luck with their new assignment in the same company. It's not a heartless procedure because the Beltway Bandits have been in business a long time and will continue to be. There's plenty of work in the area, so you exploit the capabilities of these companies while you need them, and then they go work for someone else. Riccardo, though, has the approach that, I want the lower costs now, and I want to have direct control over these people, that they are faithful to me.
And until this last comment, it was still strictly commentary on management procedure as I see it, plus or minus. The last comment is a personal observation, that loyalty of individuals is a very important thing to Riccardo, and reflects his early days of operation in a much smaller organization. So I think it differs here, and it's a significant difference, because — well, the significance of the difference will only show up over time. The approach that I understood and that NASA bought, and we all accepted, of using ouside labor, was to keep the size of the Institute down, so that it wouldn't become encumbered by its own size and prevented from growing too large. So we have this looming problem, a few years from now, after every thing's operational, where all these people working for Ethan Schrier, which is 80 percent, I think, of the manpower at the Science Institute are getting ready for launch. And what are we going to do with them? I don't think we're going to be able to fire them. I think that it's part of the conscious or subconscious long term plan of Riccardo to have that superinstitute, and that taking this approach, then he's got the people which he can then put right on to studying AXAF, etc. Now, that's a suspicion, but it certainly fits; all the pieces go together. So that is a substantial difference there, because it is what will lead to something different from the Space Telescope Science Institute, and right now it looks very benign, but I think it's the seed of a complete change of the organization.
Aside from that point, that's it. There are individual things, like we envisioned this Data Distribution Facility, which is very slow in getting implemented, but it will happen. This idea of the science money being flow-through money, which is very different from what has been done in the past, that in ground-based astronomy, when you want observing time at Cerro Tololo or Kitt Peak, you have to separately get telescope time and money. IUE finally broke that barrier. It gives money when it gives the observing time, but you're dealing with very small amounts there. But to go to an outside contractor, namely AURA and the Science Institute, to make the decisions on distributing tens of millions of dollars of research money for astronomy, has such an enormous impact, because that means that they will be controlling a substantial fraction of the research dollars in astronomy throughout the nation. NSF has a big budget too, but then a lot of it goes to the national facilities. NASA has a lot of money, but the most of it goes to Goddard. So this is a big thing, that the Institute is doing, being able to have flow through money.
Smith:Was that understood in say the mid-seventies and late seventies, just how much money was potentially going to be flowing through for funding of observers, or was it something that was slowly realized? It seems a remarkable change in the sociology of the community, by doing this.
Well, it just kind of happened. I was the one who originally pushed for it. Goddard in no way resisted it, because it was no skin off their back. It was headquarters that would lose its ability to influence events. And to be sure, I originated the idea, but no one resisted it, and even at haedquarters, there wasn't real resistance, not heavy resistance, because already they were being cut back on manpower, and hardly able to do the job that they already had. In fact, this is one of the reasons why it didn't follow the Hornig Committee recommendation on who the Institute should answer to, because Nancy didn't have time to add that function. It would have required a significant redistribution of manpower within the agency to accommodate that. And the same would be true of the grants. Processing these hundreds of grants as time has shown is very time con suming. So headquarters was not anxious to take it on, and so it just kind of happened, without an appreciation of the sociology of the situation. And it's only in this last calendar year in which we're speaking in May (1985) that they're coming to grips with the question of the sociology.
That has precipitated as an exact discussion of the budgets, for the guar anteed time observers and for the general observers. They're starting to talk big money. [And] Pat Bautz, the head of astronomy at NSF, is right there with the NASA people at the NASA meetings, because where are all these astronomers going to come from to use the Space Telescope? How are they going to be supported when they're in training? And such. We, Space Telescope, have always assumed that they would be there. Riccardo, for example, in his original models of the users of Space Telescope figured there would be a thousand users a year. And yet, when you look at the leading journal, the Astrophysical Journal, there are about a thousand names that appear on at least one paper every year, and of those, a significant fraction on the multiple papers are graduate students, assistants, things like that, undergraduates, people who will not go out and get observing time themselves. So at one point Riccardo was vastly overestimating the size of the community of users. It's actually much smaller, maybe 500 people who are actively doing optical astronomy, right now. So that when we talk about several hundred a year using the ST, we're talking about a big perturbation on the research community, and it's only this last year that the NSF, has seriously got involved with this — we've always had a liaison with varying degrees of goodness, but it's never really been a good liaison until recently.
Smith:It also seems to be the point that Mr. Lucas made at the [ST] Quarterly [Meeting] in February,  where you might think you have lots of people applying but after a while those people aren't going to get time so they'll get discouraged and they will tend to fall away. I wonder if I could turn to some general Phase B matters? First of all, I wonder how influential you thought the Science Working Group in fact was in influ encing the directions in which the project was going during Phase B? It seems that there were also lots of other advisory groups within NASA that the LST would appear before, groups like, say, the Shuttle Astronomy Working Group, the Physical Science Committee that we mentioned yesterday, Large Space Telescope appears before the Space Science Board, and so on. How much of a driving force was the Science Working Group?
O'Dell:Well, we were a Working Group, and those other groups that you mentioned were advisory bodies. So we were there dealing with design options, thing like that. That is, from within the Working Group all of the lobbying came, the lobbyists whose members are associated with it, so that meant, in practice, it really was the most important group. These advisory groups were always trying to be balanced, and they had a responsibility to be balanced. They could not therefore be biased, enthus iastic advocates of a single idea. So I think it's an apples and oranges type situation.
Smith:There do seem to be a large number of areas where the group was influential, in, say, pushing for modularity.
O'Dell:That's what I mean, we were right there dealing with design options. So the Working Group is very, very, very important, both politi cally and practically. I perhaps show my bias when I say that it was just far more important than all the other committees, who were just giving advice and being reactive to what we were doing. It would have been inap propriate for them to get into issues like that.
Smith:The reason I brought that up was, I wonder to what extent the Phase B Working Group saw itself as the outside community trying to impose as much will as possible on NASA through the mechanism of being within a Working Group, in areas where it thought it should have responsibility? Perhaps the scientific instruments and the Science Institute were the two biggest examples, whether that interpretation would mesh?
O'Dell:I think that was the primary function that we saw, collectively, for our existence. You put your finger right on it — working within the system to influence NASA, rather than advisory bodies which are reactive in large part or give policy statements, statements of policy, recommend policy generally. We were, to use a NASA term, right where the paddle hits the water.
Smith:So it would be reasonable to see the Science Institute and selec tion of instruments, in that light? I wonder, to move on to a different area, when you got down to the start of Phase C/D, what were your major concerns? You'd been working on the project full time for five years. Where did you expect your major challenges to arise during Phase C/D, if you recall that?
O'Dell:Hm. Boy, was I naive! I guess I thought it was going to go smoothly. The Fine Guidance System was the biggest technical worry, I thought. The whole Pointing Control System was so different from anything else that had been developed before. I reviewed that DOD connection article in Sky and Telescope that gives you a general appreciation, and in books you read in the seventies about reconnaissance satellites and the like — and of course, these imaging systems were nowhere near as big as Space Telescope. If they had been, it wouldn't have been so damned hard to build the thing. But still, we were drawing on a general technology of structures and optics that had been built for use in space before. But the whole need for pointing, the concept for a reconnaissance satellite is entirely different than it is for an inertially pointed Space Telescope. Our problem is to remain fixed at an infinitely distant spot. Their problem is to remain fixed and pointing at a nearby spot. And so the Pointing Control System, right through, was entirely new. And so there was no legacy of years of work and experience to draw upon. So that's what I really expected to be —
Smith:So that was kind of major technical challenge?
Smith:Can you see other ones, in terms of maybe management, still having the split centers, having the associate contractor arrangement, was that —?
O'Dell:Yes, although for me individually, I wasn't strongly affected by that. It's something that I didn't like, that didn't make a lot of sense on an absolute scale, but it made sense in the reality of the history of the project.
Smith:You didn't have any problems, say, with access to information? Say you wanted something from Perkin-Elmer, could you ring somebody at PerkinElmer, or would you have to work through the project?
O'Dell:I had the freedom to talk to them, I exercised that freedom, in that no one seemed to mind, so I wasn't affected by the tiered structure. We were all affected by the inefficiencies of having associate contractors, of having multiple centers involved. There's no doubt about it.
Smith:When you say inefficiencies, how did that manifest itself? Was it lack of communications, or people aren't working on the same wavelength?
O'Dell:Well, for example, in the Pointing Control System, that's a Lockheed responsibility, as is the entire spacecraft, but an integral part of that is of course the Fine Guidance System, and Lockheed and PerkinElmer tended not to talk about this, to one another. They tended to treat it as two different problems, and indeed there was this period where as I said Lockheed was trying to scuttle the Perkin-Elmer FGS design and come up with its own, so that they could do the entire PCS, all of it. And when you have one contractor trying to scuttle the whole contract of the other, that's not a cooperative, efficient way of doing business. And yet it was practically built into this management structure, to take a prime and associate contractor and then to split one of the systems right down the middle. Neither are bashful organizations, they were both in business to make money, and wanted to expand their responsibilities. So though those kinds of things were built into the structure of the project, and they were inefficient, there's no doubt about it — who's responsible for what —
Smith:I'd like to ask about the role of astrometry while we're talking in this area of PCS and so on. Astrometry seems to have been conceived rad ically differently from the other IDT's, for the regular instruments, if I can call them that. They report to Goddard; the astrometry team had you as a technical officer, out of Marshall.
Right. But there was a reason for that. There had been an astro metry team in Phase B, headed by Bill van Altena, and they were really looking at astrometry machines, much after the fashion of what Larry Frederick at the University of Virginia had been experimenting with, with NASA money, supported by Nancy Roman, over the years. But after a while in Phase B, it became obvious that the Fine Guidance Sensor, whatever the design, was going to be able to do astrometry and do a better job than a dedicated astrometry machine. In this case, all of [the machines] had the common feature of the moving mask, with photometers behind it, so that you would end up, from a time-dependent signal, being able, according to the nature of the mask, to determine the position of stars producing that signal.
So at the end of Phase B, when we were coming down to issues like identifying core scientific instruments, and we were prioritizing one thing versus the other, it was just very clear that an astrometry machine that would be at best equal to something that was going to be on the spacecraft anyway shouldn't be recommended. And therefore, they decided to give the go ahead with the FGS, as long as it did not significantly impact the design, and it was very clearly put as a lower science priority. That is, do whatever you can, just don't spend any money, which is a strong state ment. And so it was appropriate to set it up in the way that we did, with that team being funded through Marshall, because the system to do their science, was going to be under Marshall contract. Of course, there are some things, that they can do with the cameras, but those were incidental.
Smith:I wonder about the re-design of the FGS that I think begins, if I understand the chronology, in '79? One point I'm not sure on is, who was influencing the decision to go for that redesign, whether that was some thing where Marshall was saying "go redesign" or whether Perkin-Elmer came to Marshall saying "we think we should redesign". I wonder if it was a concern that had been brought up by the astrometry team and that you'd been concerned about?
O'Dell:In the end, they came up with the decision to redesign. They volunteered to do it. But as they were developing the original design, we gave them at least as much attention as they wanted. Bill Fastie, Dan Sc hroeder, Bill Jefferys and I would attend a lot of their routine meetings, and go in and, especially Fastie, just blow them out of the water, you know, technically. Be able to look at a design and say, "That's crazy," (I cant' speak like Bill), and then proceed to show why. This happened many times. Bill Fastie would work off line with the people there on details, just uncovering lots and lots of problems inherent to the design, besides all those reflections. And it is at that point that they started equivo cating about meeting promised specifications, and using particular wording in the actual contract, saying, "We'll just meet that," where it clearly wouldn't meet the performance goals of the observatory as a whole. So there was so much pressure that we four helped create, on them, and a general realization on their part of the inadequacy of the design, that finally they took it on their own to redesign it. It's not that Marshall said, "This will not do the job, you must redesign," but that they said it. Because, to be honest, there wasn't anyone at Marshall who was knowledge able enough to go to the project manager and say, "This won't work. They have to do something."
Smith:You mentioned that astrometry was seen as something that was fine providing you weren't spending any money on it. When did that change? It seems from, say, the last Working Group minutes that there is now a higher visibility for astrometry.
O'Dell:It never changed, because it was recognized, it was going to cost money. It's just that it was supposed to not cost much, and "not much" as never defined. Yesterday when you were looking at my individual notes you saw one conversation with Hemingway about the filters. And it was a ques tion of their not wanting to hold up things in ordcer to be involved in the decision about what the filter should be, but rather they wanted to be informed about this. This is generally the way they operated in the early days. And they got from the start a substantial amount of funding for their team activity. After all, they have a rather large team, and they do a lot of preparatory work, developing all the software for the data reduc tion, which has been delivered to the Science Institute. So we always knew it would spend money, but nothing they have done has cost a lot of money. This thing that happened last week was one where actually the other two instruments, the first two FGS' probably won't meet the FGS goal, so all the extra money that's being spent by changing that program, a small amount, is simply to preserve that which Perkin-Elmer had previously said they would deliver. So nothing in the discussion last week is incompatible with "do whatever you want, just don't spend anything to achieve it."
Smith:I would guess that the FGS would have been a running concern ever since kind of Day 1, in that even after the redesign that P-E ws putting together in '79 and '80, it still doesn't go away, and there's the alter nate Fine Guidance Sensor effort that comes in in '83. I wonder if you've ever felt confident of the FGS?
O'Dell:I feel confident now. But I don't know when that transition was made. When I reviewed the thing as part of their proposal, I thought it would work. Indeed, that was one of their strangths, one of their distin guishing characteristics in the competition. So I never doubted it would work. It was always a question of, how well. And my expectation of "how well" has gone up, the last year or so, when I see those curves of the actual results of their simulation.
Smith:I wonder why the alternate effort that went on with the CCDs got turned off? I think that got turned off, the JPL effort, some time in late '79.
O'Dell:I thought their activity was started before we entered Phase C/D during the Perkin-Elmer contract, and it was an insurance policy, which we started investing in before that contract, and even then in Congress, to continue a contract — they didn't think it was going to work. So that the question of spending insurance money wherever it's not necessary — that's why it was stopped.
Smith:So by late '79 they'd got their redesign in reasonable shape?
O'Dell:So that, then the later thing, the Lockheed-Caltech axis, if I can refer to it that way with a smile, occurred later, and this is where Lockheed was willing to take over the entire PCS problem, and it just generally looked bad, in terms of expected performance, and not yet pro ducing an S curve value that [looked good?]. The new alternative FGS happened to involve CCD's. But it was not an outgrowth of that earlier activity. It was Westphal operating as a free agent.
Smith:I think he was one of the people involved with the alternative effort in '83?
O'Dell:Which then led to this formal study with APL.
Smith:Right. In the talk you had with David, you discussed Fred Speer's style of managing. I wonder if we could maybe turn to the style that was in effect from '76 to '80 with Bill Keathley in charge of the project? Just how much of an effect does the project manager have on the particular style in which the project is performed — is it a function of the project manager, or is there a distinctive Marshall way of going about a project? O Dell: I think there certainly is a distinct Marshall style, which demands lots of visibility by the center director. Well, when I contrast the styles of Speer and Keathley, they're just entirely different. Keathley had never had to manage something on a tight budget, so while we were still in Phase B, he was very loosy goosy, promise you this and promise you that, as you can be when you're not having to write large checks. And it continued somewhat that way in the beginning parts of Phase C/D. It was often said, he got out at the right time, because he left, took this position up at Goddard, just before the first blow-up, the first schedule-cost adjustment, so that it wasn't blamed on him. He'd been gone long enough. And Speer, coming in, could not be blamed for that because he hadn't been there long enough, so there was unfortunately no scapegoat to be had, which is the usual thing in that situation. And Speer was just very, very conservative, and money was a primary thing to him, but with Keathley, doing the job seemed to be the most important thing. That's a simplification on both, but it rather sets a contrast to the two styles. Keathley was much easier to talk to than Speer, although the substantial information rate was probably higher with Speer. Keathley could use more words with less content.
Smith:How responsive was he to scientific requirements? In your talk with David you mentioned how it was a hard life working as a Project Scientist with Speer. I think the term you used was that Speer had been 'calibrated' by Giacconi to a certain extent. Whether that was very dif ferent with Keathley.
O'Dell:They'd been through some of the same experiences. That is, Keathley's experience with science had been working as manager of the Apollo Telescope Mount, which included Giacconi too, but it also included NRL and people like that, and a bunch of powerful dukes within the astron omy kingdom, the scientific kingdom, and they always just had their elbows out watching out for territorial rights and such. But I think that they showed more willingness to cooperate and com promise as necessary than what Riccardo did, in his experiences with Speer. So Keathley was not as hard-over and defensive, and you could say something to him once, and he would accept it, even if it's something that he didn't want to hear, he would accept it once the case had been made, whereas Speer didn't believe it unless you kept it up forever and ever, and that reflected his reaction to the Giacconi approach. So in that sense, Keathley was quite different.
Smith:I wonder too about the kind of overall Marshall style? You men tioned that one aspect is very much keeping the center director in contact with what's happening. I guess that manifests itself in the quarterlies, where it seems very much of a briefing for the center director. I don't know if that's a correct reading.
O'Dell:Yes. It is its intent.
Smith:As to other aspects of that style, one comment I've had on a number of occasions is, Marshall tends to study things to death on paper — now, I don't know whether that's true, and if so it's a consequence of the fact that there's no money to go out and do things, or whether that's just a reflection of an institutional style?
O'Dell:— Well, I always thought there was a certain institutional con stipation in the decision-making process. They'd just labor and labor over things and worry about every decision, in situations where often any deci sion would have done, as long as there was one. That when you have six different possible solutions, any of which would have worked, their approach was to try to identify the one that was 1 percent better. And then go with that one. Rather than say, "Well, the noise is 10 percent, and so any of them will be as good as the other". I think there was this institutional inability to go ahead and make decisions.
Smith:Where does that come from? Is it a consequence of the kind of tight line management?
O'Dell:Well, when people individually don't feel a lot of freedom to make decisions — also, the style of the center director is just that. He likes to be involved with it all and he really wants to take nothing on faith.
Smith:So he's got to have these studies justifying decisions?
O'Dell:Yes. The Program Development division was a new thing at Marshall, created at the end of the von Braun period to develop new busi ness by the center, and the very nature of that kind of enterprise is looking and looking at many different options, and the first head of Program Development was Bill Lucas, who later became the center director and is at present. So although he had a rigorous background as an engi neer, scientist-engineer, he evolved through this Program Development office, and that's something that looked at lots of options, rather than the simple facts. And then he ends up the center director. So I think that really affected it, and of course in Phase B, we were in program development, and very appropriate to Phase B we were looking at many options, continuously, not just the three aperture sizes business.
Smith:I wonder also about the manned heritage, where you had to document everything in massive detail because somebody might be killed if there was a mistake. Whether you think that was part of the institutional business?
O'Dell:No. I don't think that played a role. If anything, it was against that, because being largely in the manned business, they had lots and lots of money, so your solution was the fun alternate approaches, your backup approaches, so that was probably a bad background, because it meant that you weren't forced then into making the right decision the first time, or a decision right away and then living with it. So I think it is more likely that than the fact that it was a manned program, a thing like the Saturn.
Smith:There also seems perhaps to be an aspect of a kind of "good soldier" attitude that seems to develop, that is the line management. The decision is made and everyone gets behind it and sticks absolutely with it — the example being perhaps that comment from Kingsbury at the quarterly, when Frank Carr was being grilled. I don't know if that would be a correct reading.
O'Dell:Yes, I think you're right. You're expected to get in line. And I don't think a lot of independence was encouraged at Marshall. So when we saw Frank Carrr stand up and identify a problem, and then be accused of disloyalty, and wanting to strike it from the record, it was typical. And certainly that's the way Lucas wanted it or he wouldn't have let Kingsbury and Bill Sneed say what they did, out there in front of everyone. Lucas believed the same thing. And when you have that kind of attitude, you see how you can get into big problems — you have people being unwilling to surface problems. You can see how there would be an isolation from head quarters, a lack of information at headquarters, unless the headquarters people were very competent and had sufficient time to look into things and detect them. I think it really fits that. I think Goddard did not suffer from that same institutional problem.
Smith:Very much the Goddard program managers have their own kind of fiefdoms, and they're a king within their own area?