Oral History Transcript — Dr. Charles Robert O'Dell
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Interview with Dr. Charles Robert O'Dell
C. R. O'Dell; May 23, 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 we could start by talking about the context of some of the events that were occurring in July, 1980? I'd like to start off by asking at what point in the development stage you began to be seriously concerned about the funding.
O'Dell:Let's see — could you give me the date of Black Saturday?
Smith:That was the 26th of July, 1980.
Of course, the cost of ST had always been hokey, depending on the situation and the individuals. Throughout Phase B, I felt that the con tractors and NASA at the working level, were all working to produce artificial numbers. All honest people involved, but the system was such that it led to generating false numbers. John Naugle was continuously cutting the goal figure, the choke limit figure, and very naturally, the project and contract managers were coming back and saying, "yes, we can do it, we can shave this off but we can still do it". Shaving this off didn't mean a performance reduction, rather, "Well, we'll use this approach instead of that approach, after all, we can accept 80 percent probability of success because we've always got the Shuttle there to take care of it". And that really didn't change when the contracts were let, because the contractors were in this very competitive position.
They knew what the allocated money was. And although corporate-wise they were honest too, there also is this game that is played. Well, we agree to a contract to do a certain limited job. And everyone knows that the money is made off of the changes in the contract. So I think that the contractors were knowledgeable, or had insight about, the fact that ST was going to cost a lot more money. Their con tracts went on to be much bigger than the initial ones. I think Marshall, and also the people at headquarters, were much more naive about what it was going to end up costing. After all, they didn't have the experience that the contractors had. So I think that both headquarters and Marshall were honestly surprised by the events that then occurred, so it wasn't a case of duplicity, but rather of genuine igno rance, incompetence is too harsh a word, but failings. So when we got into that spring, and after all, that wasn't too long into the contract, two and a half years, and started getting these unpleas ant surprises, and the work just hadn't been done. The optics, to be sure, were off and running at that point, although it was going quite slowly. And it was just very clear that we had money problems.
So we collectively were surprised, there at Marshall, at the events as they were occurring, the cost problems and such. And I was as naive, perhaps more naive, as any of them. I hadn't done this before. Maybe I should have been able to recognize the situation, but I didn't. And I had been through so many life and death crises on Space Telescope that when it was presented to me that we had a genuine life or death crisis, I believed it. Now, I was being told that by my center, by Lucas, by Speer. Keathley departed November or so the preceding year, or was it early in 1980?
Smith:I think it was early in '80. Then I think Fred Speer started February or March '80.
So Lucas really took this position, because he dug in and said, well, he gave his word. He [Lucas] saw this thing in very simple terms. He gave his word that he could do it for this particular price. And we were just going to do it. So his reaction was to adjust the program to the costs, genuinely thinking it was a life and death situation, but also this personal aspect of, well, if I blow this, I've violated my word, and also incidentally they won't give me more money, any more projects like this at the center. So he had these multiple reasons for taking that position. But Speer was, in this sense, the worst of all people to be told this, because he had gotten his enormous bonus in that brief period when there were meaningful bonuses for the SES members, on the basis of cost control of the [HEAO] program. Not that it was a tremendous scientific success, but rather that he had controlled the costs of it, and indeed, they had really seriously compromised the science of the HEAO program.
So his natural inclination was to hold costs, rather than identify a money problem to headquarters and work it, so that was a terrible, terrible combination to have, Bill Lucas trying to do his job as he understood it, and Fred Speer trying to do his job, neither of whom wanted to have to consider the science as the dominant thing, rather that the cost was the dominant thing. And I bought it. In the light of the people I was working with saying this, really presenting it to me as life and death, I bought it. And therefore, when I initiated the idea that would have saved signifi cant amounts of figures, it was on my own initiative, but in the context of that crisis, as I understood it. And of course, they'd gone through all these things where they had tried to save money by deleting this test, using this approach, and nothing saved very much money, on paper. And my idea, which was to reduce the number of instruments at the initial launch, would have saved a lot of money.
That is, there was just a fallout throughout the program from this approach, and therefore the project just seized on it immediately, so that most of the cost savings that were identified on Black Saturday arose from this scientific instruments idea, which I then defended, and still do, as logical. The long tradition of groun-based telescopes is, you build the tele scope as best you can. You start out with a limited body of scientific instruments to use it, usually in the old days a film holder for imaging and a photometer, and then you start adding the other exotic instruments like the spectrographs. And since we were going to have access to the Shuttle and a long life for the observatory, it made perfectly good sense to me to do it the same way here. The important thing to observe is that it would not have affected the amount of science done with the Space Telescope, only the type, if in the first few years we'd only had cameras and photometers. It would still have been turned on 100 percent of the available time, just like it will be with the full complement of instruments we had planned then, and ended up with. And with the wisdom of hindsight, you can see that's certainly true.
There are vast numbers of problems, far more than can be addressed with the cameras, for several years, so that it was a defendable position. Personally, the mistake I made was working in isolation. I did not call the Principal Investigators for the two spectrographs, the ones that I was proposing to delay, which was a tactical error of the highest order. I can only describe it that way. It was inexcusable that I should have made such a mistake, because they deserved better, to be advised of this risk, and also it produced a certain alienation with them, that once the idea failed, to varying degrees it took years to really re-establish good rap port with them. So that was the mistake on my part, on that. Not the idea, but the method by which I carried it out. And of course, this advice fell on very receptive ears there at Marshall. Speer, this is just what he wanted to hear. Speer came in, with this attitude, perhaps an appropriate one for someone in that situation, of "I don't know what's violate and inviolate in this program, what is a frill and what is not". And his style, as we discussed before, is "I don't believe you unless you scream and protest continuously about something".
For whatever reasons, that was the way he calibrated poeple. He had to hear it over and over. So he went through the program and looked at the things that were, to him, at the level of sophistication that he could exercise at that point, as really not necessary, possibly not necessary, and I can remember the sun shade being one of these, and the mirror actuators, the things for peaking up the figure of the mirror. I can understand the mirror actuators better, because after all, everyone was saying that even without them, the mirror should reach speci fications. And it took a long time to convince him to continue that. In fact, there was a certain argument that applies in many programs. After you're well into it, it doesn't save you any money to cut it out after you finish up the activities and pay off those, and dress up the scars where it would have gone, that kind of thing, that you know, you're past the point of no return, which proved to be the case there. That is, he seemed to be willing to leave it in only because the dollar impacts of stopping the work were significant, almost as great as continuing it. So, that one was ultimately decided on that basis, rather than, well, the insurance policy was worth it. The mirror cover [was considered], that is the aperture door, and I know that you personally are familiar with its function, probably enough to be a little incredulous about considering leaving the thing off — because it plays an integral role in the optical design of the whole observatory.
That is, it defines how close to the sun and therefore what part of the sky you can observe faint objects in, and that would have all disappeared, and he would argue, "Well, you know, you can look at the other parts of the sky". "But the other parts of the sky might not be interesting and might not allow you to see that supernova that's only 70 degrees from the sun", that kind of thing. And it was very very frustrating to have to defend something so funda mental, that I felt should have just been obvious to him.
Smith:And the saving was, relatively, pretty small?
Well, you've got to have a cover on it one way or the other to keep contamination out. But he wasn't even willing to allow that, at the beginning. He appeared willing to run the risk of contamination. And he'd give you arguments, "Well, it's not right up against the mirror. If you really wanted something to protect against contamination that's where you should put it". That kind of argument. And finally, he also seized on something I don't think we mentioned, but it comes right into it, which is, we had a contract for a certain quality of telescope, and basically it was an incentive contract to produce it even better. The minimum performance specification that we agreed on back in Phase B was this minimum performance, contractual specification, and we were right in the process of finishing the figure of those mirrors when he came on board. So he asked questions, "Why in hell are we con tinuing to pay these people for working on the mirror when it has already exceeded the minimum science specification?" The answer we could give is, the science return for a small amount, a few more weeks or a few more months of activity by a handful of people, was, once you were into it, each polishing cycle was a few thousands of dollars — after all we'd spent, and since it directly related, for the lifetime of the observatory, to the performance, it was just utterly false economy to even consider.
Nonetheless, he felt as a responsible money-conscious manager, that he had to look at that, and he really considered stopping the figuring of the mirrors before they were asymptotically approaching the finished state, the state of the art, as we were able to build them then. And that was demoralizing, it was educational, because that series of events really told me where Speer's heart lay. And I had feared this, because when we were talking names of people to replace Keathley and his name naturally arose because the HEAO program was just finishing, he's one of those people that, it was clearly said, was not recommended by the scientists. In the HEAO program, all who had worked with him there at Marshall were against him, saying that he was a person utterly unsympa thetic to the science parts and would be bad news for the Space Telescope project. Nonetheless, Lucas made the appointment. Interesting that the Goddard people we talked to in that process about Speer were much kinder to him, in their recommendations. But then this initial activity, the quality of the mirror, the mirror cover, just really told me that he was worried about the bucks, rather than the performance on the thing.
Smith:Looking at the documents from that period, there's one way of reading them, sometimes I feel, that there is almost a kind of moral sense about the style. If one removes some science capability, one is almost a kind of better person, in a kind of odd way.
O'Dell:I can see why you said that, because, you would have been a more responsible manager because you forced the other guy into a situation where you know this game is for real. And it establishes "the right rapport" between scientists and project person, master and slave, if you will. So I can see why you would say that.
Smith:I wonder too about the basic philosophy of the program. When you started off right at the start of Phase C/D, I think there was a lot of talk about low cost systems, success-oriented [approach.]
O'Dell:- you smile —
Smith:— and acceptance of a degree of risk because the Shuttle was available and so on. Whether in fact in a sense that the events of '80 are really tightening the screws on that approach, reducing the number of ORU's for example, that it must be becoming even more success-oriented.
What we had were two counter-streams. The initial euphoria of the height, if you will, of the Shuttle program led us to expect Shuttle costs would be low, 19 million dollars a flight, we would have access to the ST, that all Shuttle payloads would be willing to cut enormous costs in devel opment, by accepting small risks, instead of being one part in a thousand, one part in a hundred risk of failure, it might be one in twenty or one in ten. And that would be acceptable. People believed it. They didn't believe it. And we certainly did design risk and non-standard procedures into the program. For example, going to a protoflight instrument, instead of engineering models, proto types and then flight instruments.
Nothing had been done like this before in science payloads. So that broad architecture of the program was clearly tipped to the Shuttle program. The large number of ORU's we viewed as simply consistent with that, thaty in order to make the risk acceptable, you had to be able to replace these units that might fail. When Speer came in, he saw this long list of ORU's. And the list was vulnerable to change, because in each case, it was a clearly identifiable increment of costs, to make it an ORU, rather than just make it, otherwise, the very same way. They can make this power distribution box for a certain cost, and at a certain additional cost, I can make it so it can be discon nected, reconnected, unbolted and bolted by a person in a pressurized suit. So he could see those last things as things that were very easy to cut out without changing the initial function of the observatory, and he, as even now, always tended to think of success in terms of launch. I think personally that his intent at the time was to see the project through to launch and then retire, you know, a great success. Marshall knew this project would eventually go to Goddard, which as you know is now happening, so that it always had this myopia about the duration of the observatory. Success was defined as (functionally, not written) as the first few years of successful operation. So combining these factors made the ORU list, Orbital Replacement Unit list, as very vulnerable, and so he just slashed it. Now, a lot of these things, it's very hard to say how reliable they were. Batteries, obviously that's a problem. It's always been a problem with spacecraft. But few other things were so clearcut.
Smith:I think at one time even the capability of having orbital replace ment of the instruments was under threat, if my reading is correct.
That's right, and fortunately only briefly. And that's the kind of thing where I would have to wax righteously wrathful and just give such an extreme emotional response to him that he'd drop it, "This is ridicu lous! The whole concept of the observatory is being violated if you do that!" That kind of response — you know — it's an entirely different change of philosophy, and because he was trying to run the money of the program, not build an observatory. So I always felt that he forced me into a confrontational situation, which I had not had at any time before in the project. The confrontation was with the Hill. The confrontation early, very mild, was with my col leagues and self. But the project had always been pure and good and observed the faith and carried the flag. But now for the first time, the project manager didn't have the same concept about what the project should be, and that made for a very dif ficult situation, with a person whom I really liked personally with respect, that he was playing the role that he felt he must play, and of course he failed at it. He was trying to manage by money, and failed at that, which is the tragedy of the approach, because we had all these confrontations without anything to show for it.
And in the end, perhaps he got a bum rap. He was made the scapegoat. So for example, on that, almost all the things he deleted as ORU's have been added back as ORU's. That is, the ORU capability. The components were always there, but the ORU capability was renewed by the new project manager. And Speer, in his defense, tried to get us to quantify the risk associ ated with each of those units, what the probability of failure was and what happened if it did fail, the impact and to use those in shortening the list, so it was not done irresponsibly on his part. Nonetheless, it was done, and so, it ended, and the result of that is, we increased the risk of failure of the ST, at a time that the Shuttle was becoming less and less accessible to us. We always held out the hope, as things were deleted as ORU's, that the astro-persons would be able to come in and perform their magic, as they had so many times, and do in space what hadn't been planned to be done in space, and we were relying a lot on that to save our skins and make deleting these things as ORU's acceptable. But then the Shuttle became less and less accessible to us, because of costs, because of this growing queue of payloads to be flown, and the realization in the agency that it was just not going to be able to operate the Shuttle 65 times a year. All that has since come to pass.
From that original argument we talked about earlier this week, that there's no way that we can spend enough money to have payloads for all these flights, it had reversed the situation, with more payloads than flights. So the result of this was that we became more and more dependent upon earth return, as the maintenance mode for the Space Telescope, and that was going to be on someone else's watch, so that wasn't a big problem to Speer. And we argued against it, scientifically and people within the project, because of the enormous impact of that earth return — saying it's going to be returned in a year was about like saying, ST is going to cost 300 million dollars. It's somebody's number that they ginned up and didn't work from the ground up. So we realized that if it ever comes to the ground, there would be a long delay before it's re-launched.
Smith:And you also, I guess, would get into a danger where it might be viewed as competing with other new starts?
O'Dell:Exactly. Exactly. The other impact, too, would have been, here we'd created the Space Telescope Science Institute, which has this dimen sion to it that's largely ignored, and that is, although it's a long life observatory, the ST won't really be as long lived as Mt. Wilson or Palomar, because the potential of space instrumentation is so great that we can expect continued growth in capability, where ground-based telescopes live a long time because you're at the point of diminishing returns in ground based capability. Thirty years after the 200-inch was built, you can't do much better. Twenty years arter the ST is launched, we will be able to do much better. So at some point, the Space Telescope Science Institute is going to be out of business because the ST will be out of business. Well, that's a long term problem. That's like you and I dying. We're aware that we're going to, but you know, we carry on right now and live for the moment or make the moments meaningful now. And that's what the Science Institute is doing. But if you stick in every few years a two year hiatus, then it just destroys the whole operation. So we were being built into this contradiction, by a series of deci sions on ORU's. We were really getting painted into a corner in terms of our options. It was a very bleak scenario for the future, at that time.
Smith:What was it like to work during that period? I'm thinking that there's no firm decision coming out of headquarters until very much later in 1980 about what you're going to be doing, and how much money is going to be available, and I think there were very serious problems recognized well before July. I think there was even a Science Working Group in May, 1980, where there was a Booth cartoon which had been doctored, with some cave men sitting around a bunch of bones, "We're not here to fight about the meat, we're here to fight about who gets the bones."
Smith:And that was in May.
O'Dell:Yes. We really didn't know what was happening, or what was going to happen. We sure werent't getting much help from headquarters.
O'Dell:Of course, we have to realize that in headquarters, we'd had a series of program managers, and for a while in phase B, we had so many program managers, that they were not functioning at their job. And then, a series of people, some of them were good. Frank Carr was at headquarters for a while, but only temporarily, and when you have this changeover, they neither have in-depth knowledge, nor would we feel we had a champion at headquarters, and I think it really hurt us during this period.
Smith:Warren Keller I guess would leave for the solar division, in late '79?
Smith:Keathley moves just a little bit afterwards, so you've got a headquarters-Marshall link broken at that point.
O'Dell:Which was quite a close one, those two people. And Frank Martin was just not really interested in communication. You know, his style is this very gruff, "I'm the boss, you're the peasant" type approach to things. So that compounded with the professional opinions and attitudes of Lucas and Speer really made for isolation. Word comes up about costs and the response, "You've got to live with it, you're not doing your job." This is being told to people who pride themselves in adhering to that part of the job, that is, controlling costs. So you know it had all the makings of a disaster.
Smith:I wonder about a Norris cost review late '79? I think Bland Norris had retired as director of astrophysics, but stayed on or was a consultant for a few months to look into funding within the program. From the reports I've seen they expressed concern about funding, but there was a Marshall response sometime around February where they said "Everything's fine," and then shortly after there were very major funding problems and these drastic steps were being considered.
O'Dell:Well, the project simply thought somehow it was going to solve those problems, that somehow it would have to, and would.
Smith:Is this again a function of Mr. Lucas' style?
O'Dell:Yes, because he didn't want to blow the ST program and therefore lose all the futre programs like AXAF, which was going to be big business for MSFL, and not have the manpower constraint that was imposed on the center, on ST. Because there wouldn't be the sharing of technology with classified programs and the manpower ceiling was simply to control the flow of technology, knowledge of it, the way security systems work, but you know leaks always occur, it's just a question of damage control. One method of damage control is simply to minimize the number of potential leaks. And that's the approach. AXAF wouldn't have that, at least to my knowledge, and therefore you [would have] lots and lots of Marshall people employed, unlike ST. So it was very important to Lucas to control and hold costs on Space Telescope.
Smith:Just on the manpower cap, did that affect you directly? For exam ple, could you go into the science and engineering labs at Marshall and get them to do studies that you required very easily? Was it easy to get an assistant project scientist, for example?
Let me answer the second one first. I was unaffected by that. They would have given me what I wanted. The former, we were affected. There's no doubt about it that the ceiling was increasing your ability to get studies done improved dramatically. Of course, a lot of it was too late at that point. What we really needed was the manpower to look at options before deci sions were made. We got the manpower to look in depth at what's being done, which is not the way it should be done. I had trouble in hiring an assistant project scientist, because damn few people were willing to gamble. Back in Phase B, I can remember trying to hire people — there was a guy from Ohio State, who was very much inter ested in the job, in fact came down, visited Huntsville and looked over the job, and I just wasn't enthusiastic about him personally, nor was Jim Downey, the project manager, at that time. And I did basically well, with John Humphries as assistant. Then, working through the Old Boy system, I found out about a guy graduating from the University of Colorado, Charlie. Barth's organization, Ralph Bohlin by name, who ended up going to Goddard. Why should he go to a Phase B iffy project? Why would he be dumb enough to gamble on that? So that kind of stranded me. That was the problem. No one else wanted to do what I did. But once we were ready to go, then John Warner appears, who was very competent, also the way his career was evolving, he was very interested in doing something like that.
So it worked out beautifully. But then, we couldn't keep him. What he really got out of that, he got out of that appointment what he needed, namely, to open his eyes to the non-academic world, give him a certain background in hardware which he could then take to headquarters and work on planning, which is what he would rather be doing, so I lost him and couldn't replace him, because at that point, we were close enough to launch, we thought, that it looked like a short term appointment, and Marshall is not an astronomy center, so optical astron omers wouldn't be wanting to come and stay on there after the project had been moved. So that was the reason why we were always understaffed in that office, and it's being repeated right now. Bob Brown when he first came was able to attract John Clark as his assistant. But he hasn't been able to get anyone else because of this dimension of, we're getting so close, we don't want to take a temporary job in Huntsville, Alabama. That's all I have on that.
Smith:Right. Just going back to 1980, at what stage was it that you decided you were going to be coming back full time as the project scien tist, do you remember that? It's probably in your notes somewhere.
There are probably some pretty ugly words in there about Frank Martin. I mentioned in an earlier conversation this week that following Black Saturday Martin really got after me personally and accused me of losing faith, not being a captain of science. And I've already explained my views on why I did it, and why I think it was valid. And I said before, what really came home in this was that I perhaps would not have compromised without talking to headquarters, Nancy Roman I think was still program scientist then, if I hadn't been trying to do two jobs at once. And what had happened is that, when I first took that job, I had almost nothing to do. And it became a more and more legitimate job with time. I tried to make it a n integral part of the management struc ture, and did create jobs that would further science there within the center, so it became a more and more time demanding job than it had been at the beginning, and this is a bad combination, because the ST was becoming more demanding at the same time.
So I was faced with a decision since I really didn't want to be spread thin, I really felt that my commitment had been to Space Telescope, and I resigned in Chicago to gamble on ST, not to become a manager. As we discussed before, I had been lured into the power and salutes and things and the little non- monetary perks that come from that. So it demanded a personal reassessment of what am I going to do in my remaining years? And this was within the first year after I divorced, so that, you know, that's a period when you're asking yourself is this the way I want to live, induct myself, etc.? It was a continuation of this self-evaluation, what's important and not. So that I think it was all this. I actually wrote to Lucas saying that I wanted to step out, and that letter would be in my reading files at Marshall, and the dates are probably in my notes. Because I talked to him about it. And of course, Lucas acceded to that. He had to, if somebody says, "I don't want to do this job for you", you don't want that person continuing, and I think he may have had the feeling I was being a little disloyal to the parent, even though he had to say, "that's why you were right in here, ST being your major function". He had to insert that. He did not try to dissuade me. And then he left the job open for years, until indeed Speer became available for it, which is a nice way of solving the problem of what you do with a senior person like that, an SES member. There are not that many places he could fit in within his SES position there at the center.
Smith:What sort of shape did you think that the project and observatory was in after this regrouping and rephasing?
O'Dell:I really did think it was much better. I really thought it was going to work. That was naive. I regretted that those compromises remained, like the ORU's. Yet there was some relief for them, I think some were added back. The ORU capabilities were added back to some items. But we had incurred all these additional risks to the program. But we did have a new more realistic schedule and costs, so I thought it was fine. I regretted those few things, but I thought the program was going to go on from there.
Smith:I wonder how you were working with Goddard during Phase C/D, with the Goddard guys looking after instruments and having an instrument scien tist at Goddard, whether the relationship was very different to what had been the case in Phase B? Things are kind of odd when you have an instru ment scientist at Goddard, the PIs reporting to Goddard in a sense, yet they're still in the Science Working Group which is your group.
O'Dell:It worked. The general relationship with Goddard was much less adversarial at this point, because the divisions of responsibility had been clarified. The scientists [relationships] were not major political issues, so someone like D.S. Leckrone could come on into that job, and he could take parochial positions, and he felt that I was taking at least my share of them too. In fact, he's the one who coined the term "astrogeopolitics", which is a euphemism for inter-center rivalries. He furthered himself too. So having people like Al Boggess and Leckrone both as competent individuals and free of the basic struggles for politics, for turf, between the two centers was a far better relationship. The part I spent most of my time on, was starting up the Science Institute. Of course I served on the RFP and the SEB, Source Evaluation Board for that. That took me to Goddard a lot, and that would have been in the autumn of '79 and then the negotia tions were early in '80, and all of this was getting started in the spring of '80 and Art Code was the acting director. The person I was largely dealing with there was Mona Tycz. I was putting a lot of attention on that and not so much on the hardware of the spacecraft. And it was going well. Of course Mona was doing it in her own inimitabvle style which is highly aggressive, downright insulting. In fact as I remember the negotiations, AURA was taking a position officially and personally against her, saying this is not the conduct of a professional. So my main contact then was Mona. I think Jerry Burdett was there, as manager, at the time.
Smith:I guess he comes in in 1980?
O'Dell:Do you remember which month? I think it was early, because I thought he was the one who was there in the negotiations right at the beginning. So it's a difficult bunch of individuals for me to work with, but it was personality rather than political/institutional things which made it much more understandable and acceptable.
Smith:I wonder about how things were building towards what went on in early '83? When we spoke the other day you mentioned that you came to Rice in September '82. I guess at that point the launch date was still being talked of as November '84.
O'Dell:Or as late as January '85, as in, four months ago. With that schedule, I thought to myself that if I were to get out, and I was still determined to do that, I'd made the decision as part of this soul searching I'd gone through, that the next shoe, after having gotten out of the associate director of science spot, was to leave the project. If I were to remain a working scientist, I would have to leave Marshall because it would be an isolated place, and I looked into moving with the project to Goddard. And I approached George Pieper about that, and George didn't answer and didn't answer, and finally I called him again, and he said, "Bob, you're not welcome here".
Smith:That's after I think they approached you for the head of the sciences directorate, or, the job that Jack Brandt got some time in the seventies, '75?
O'Dell:Yes and no. It was only in passing. I, along with Martin Schwarzschild and Leo Goldberg, had gone in and talked with them about who they should get in that spot, and in passing they said, "Are any of you interested in it?" — half in jest.
Smith:Oh, I see, I thought that was an offer.
O'Dell:No, it was not a written offer, and it was obvious I wasn't inter ested in moving anyway. I was quite new to the Yerkes position.
Smith:Oh, so this would not have been '75?
Smith:I've seen some correspondence with George Pieper.
O'Dell:Jog my memory.
Smith:It looks to me as if he approached you for a high level science position at Goddard.
O'Dell:Oh, that's right! I had forgotten about that. It was a buyoff type of move.
Smith:Actually he was trying to get you inside the greathouse?
O'Dell:Right. My refusal to come in is probably part of his alienation. But when I — and remember, the guy who I really made mad at me, for good reason, as I've already beat my breast over, was Brandt. Well, it turns out he's an easy person to be irritated, and also carries a grudge, he can be vindictive. I like to think that time has healed those wounds and we understand and appreciate one another now, but at the time, we didn't. So my belief is that Pieper was smarting over these years of difficulty in working with me. He talked to Brandt about it, and he was quite willing to get a few cuts back on me after what he [believed he] saw I had attemped to do to him personally, to them institutionally, over the Science Institute and all. So I was told that they didn't want me there. (Noel) Hinners was not the director at that time.
Smith:He must still have been at the Air and Space Museum, I guess?
O'Dell:When Hinners was there I was talking about leaving, I was saying that part of why I'm leaving (NASA) is that I didn't have this option. He really regretted that that happened, because he would have liked to see me transfer with him. So it meant that that option for staying with the project was closed. Also, and this is all documented, with the Carter laws and then my own involvement through a sense of responsibility with the SEB for selecting the Science Institute, that meant I couldn't go with them. [So] let's face it, my options were getting narrower and narrower, and part of my bitterness over whether or not I did the right thing personally in going to the project was things like this, that I'd been excluded, through acting responsibly, from working directly in the science organization, an organization I helped found, and felt that I was the lone proponent, an unpopular proponenht within the system, and that if I hadn't done that, it might not have happened. I think it wouldn't have happened, because indeed the IUE success made Goddard later look good and it would have gone anyway. And then, excluded from a continuing role in the NASA end of the pro ject by the Goddard intransigence — and here I am. In 'Huntspatch', Alabama, with the project nearing completion and going up to Goddard where they don't want me. And I had already made the decision that I didn't want to be a manager there at Marshall. They could have continued my appointment. I could then have become director of the Space Science Laboratory, maybe even come back to the DS-30 position. But I didn't like those options. So that's when I said, launch is late in '84, when's a great time to leave? Well, a good time to go an academic position would be the preceding academic year, that is, the best time would be the autumn of '83, if I'm getting this right, and so I started looking for positions at a low level, and then eventually the Rice offer was made and I took it while I could, and here we are talking about the whole thing. But the idea being that I could do it part time from Rice. There clearly was not an ideal situation, but we really thought we could do the last parts with a part time project scientist. And if it had gone smoothly, I think that was the case.
Smith:It also seems that you've got the Institute up and running by that stage, the expectation of this November '84 launch date and so on.
But you know, part of that, and I only then came face to face with it, is the realization of how few my options were. Now, it's one of the protective things of personalities to not always realize your limitations, although we do to some degree, and I started out on the fast track and got my degree early, the best of the postdoctoral positions, Caltech, Berkeley, in the heyday for them, Chicago was still well established, a leading department, then being director and chairman there for all those years, and doing a lot of science there in that period too. But then, after having spent ten years on the project, and not having that much opportunity, and not having enough drive or energy or whatever it is to remain highly productive as a research scientist, later I had lost the momentum as a research scientist.
And also during that period, there had been an enormous number of new astronomers who viewed me as a manager rather than as a scientist. And so it was a discouraging eye opener to start pulsing the net and finding how low my market value was in academia. It was very discouraging, because I have personal goals as a scientist, like I would like to qualify for membership in the NAS, achieve that level of distinction as a scholar. I don't know that I ever shall, because of the Space Telescope. And although I like it here at Rice, it's like you and I were talking about before we went on tape, it's not a major department. It's not like the scholarly institutions I was at before. And so I'm a bit bitter, not at anyone, but I feel the events have occurred, that I spent my best years, to be sure, voluntarily, bleeding over this project and getting it started and selling it, resigning a tenured professorship at a major university, in order to give my all, symbolically, to show I was committed to this project, and to have led it all those years, created a Science Institute, and then have those options close out.
This alienation that exists between Riccardo [Giacconi] and I, that he comes in as the Institute director, and a very hostile person he would have been too, to anyone who didn't just roll over for him, so that I get no friendly treatment from up there, except for a few individuals. I just feel very, very isolated from — not isolated, I don't know that I did the right thng personally. But I guess a lot of guys in World War II got shot up and had to live the rest of their lives with that too. They didn't get much out of it personally, but the system did, the greater good did. Often that isn't much return, for either me or them, I think. They were pursuing the glorious cause too and became a casualty of it. I somewhat look at myself as a casualty of the Space Telescope, the one and only — or, one of the few. Everybody else seems to be benefiting by it. And if it hadn't been for getting that GTO time, I would have had essentially nothing except a reasonable salary during that period.
I lost a lot personally. I don't know if I would have divorced if it hadn't been all the business of living in a small town in Alabama, the problems I had with my kids which I related to that, the stress that that produced between my wife and I. I'll just never know for sure. But everybody else seems to be going quite well. The GTO time was a tremendous gesture, and I think well deserved, — somebody who's bled that much should at least get the same reward as a lot of people who didn't put much time in at all. People like Westphal worked at least as hard as I did, for a much shorter period that he was on the program, very clearly deserved it. There were a lot of individual team members though that hadn't done much at all, that get the same reward that I got. So that's the melancholy aspect of this. It sure didn't do my career any good. It was my own damned fault because I chose not to keep following the managing aspect of it. If I'd chosen that, I could have stayed there, or found other places in management, that I could have gone to. And what I found is, it's very hard to come back, especially the way it's been done, still having responsibilities towards ST, and, as we were referring to this morning before we went on tape, it seems so wonderful when I can have two weeks at home at a stretch. Life is so much more ordered and more produc tive. Like I had a period of almost a month this last winter, without a trip, and I finally got a paper drafted during that period that I've been carrying around conceptually for years, the better part of ten years. So I worked very inefficiently, in this mode of trying to be a scientist and help the project too. So it's been very hard to come back.
Smith:Are you enjoying it more than say the latter stages of being proj ect scientist at Marshall?
Now, as compared to then? I enjoyed doing the science parts. The ST involvement part is more a duty, therefore I get little reward and satisfaction out of doing that. Especially when it's compounded by a certain desire to make me look bad on the part of Bob Brown. So as I was saying, there had been a certain alienation with Bob Brown, which is a phenomenon that I've seen and been party to myself. You come into a new job, and you somehow naturally want to make your predecessor look bad, because the mistakes become obvious very quickly, in the prede cessor's job. Now, the reasons for making those mistakes or taking what appear to be those wrong positions are more difficult to learn, and it may be that those positions were the right compromises to have taken, so I've done that. I did that to [Al] Hiltner when I became director of Yerkes. Bob Brown has done it with me. But he's also I think a little insecure in the job, being ill-prepared for a senior position like that. And I could count on one hand the number of times he's called me in the year and a half that he's been project scientist. That's not very much at all. I've called him a lot more times.
But it means that there hasn't been a continuity in the science planning by the project scientist, and I think the project may in the end suffer because of that. Also, he's brought in his own biases, like his planetary moving target tracking capability. He comes to the project and sees that there is not an ability to do sophisticated tracking, that involves little detailed loops, of an object on the surface of Io, which is in turn moving around Jupiter, which is in turn moving around with the zodiacal band. Well, we knew all along it didn't have full capability. We also knew that it would be very difficult and expensive to implement, and that's the reason why [it was not], whereas by appropriate planning, you could identify the section where it was linear in motion, and do that. He comes in, he got hung up on that and spent lots and lots of time on that, to satisfy his own interest and background, whereas the project had knowingly ignored that over the years.
So he came in, wanting to make it a planetary telescope, the worst kind of planetary telescope, and since the planetary people are not, as we discussed before, really haven't been doing much for ST, and the president of the Division of Planetary Science (Joe Burns) publicly says, "ST isn't going to do much for us, we're not really interested in it." So, Bob Brown came in and ground his own axes, and I think to a very real degree that's prevented him from getting the big picture on the observatory. He's only learned slowly about the science that ST is supposed to be doing. That's revealed with incidents like, he didn't know how it was calculated how faint it could go, what determines how faint you can measure, things like that, which were the most fundamental considerations in pushing for the Space Telescope. So he had a challenge when he came in, and he hasn't made the best of it, and this made it even more difficult, the fact that he's a Science Institute person and therefore does not play an important role in control ling and monitoring the activities in Science Institute, so that Riccardo has had the chance to be free of that check, that I felt was part of my role, which put us into an adversarial position.
Smith:When you came to Rice, I know that you were still chairing the Science Working Group in June the following year. Was it understood that there would be another project scientist coming in at some stage?
Not originally, when I opted to leave. Oh, eventually, because of the move to Goddard, and thereafter the situation would take care of it self. But in that spring  when it hit the fan, and the dimensions of the crisis were revealed, Jim Welch was introduced to the program, Sam Keller, whoever he was - - all of a sudden, he'd been there all the time, but not spending any time on ST, and setting up this meeting, well, it turned out to be the BDM contract at headquarters, and headquarters was imposing all kinds of conditions on the project. One of them is that there would be a full time project scientist, and I did have the option of con tinuing, but as full time, and that would have meant going back to Huntsville, and that was unpalatable to me.
Once I had made this commit ment to return to academia and to try to get back into work as a scholar, and I would have had to give up that goal in order to go back into the crisis situation. So that I was made to feel that I couldn't go back full time, that it was not a setup situation, unlike the criticism that I received from Frank Martin during the previous brouhaha. And then the search [for a new project scientist] started, and it ended up late in the summer with Brown being selected, and so he chaired the first Science Working group after he had become the project scientist. And I worked with him in that transition, although I had started to set up the meeting and he inherited it at that point, and immediately it was clear that he wasn't going to be asking me much about anything. Also part of the problem with Brown was that he has a personal style that can be very difficult, and although qualified for the job, when he started negotiating with the Marshall people, he succeeded in alienating everyone that he was about to start working with, which is a remarkable achievement. Usually there's a certain honeymoon. But he would hang onto what were seemingly unimportant things to a civil servant.
Bob was accus tomed to traveling first class on airplanes, as befitted his station. He just is a person who deserved to travel first class so he can arrive more rested, at a designated place. He was accustomed to staying at the hotel he wanted to and then having his actual cost reimbursed, rather than, like you and I do when we travel for the government, living within constraints, traveling not only coach class, but at times of convenience determined by contracts that we have with certain carriers — if we want to stay at the L'Enfant Plaza, we can, if we're willing to pay the difference in what it costs. It was things like that, which the civil servants had no choice about. They couldn't change the regulations of travel for this guy. And the whole negotiation was hanging up over things like that. And of course you tell somebody this is important, who's had to live under these onerous rules for years and years, it's pretty damned petty. In the light of the importance of this vast project he's being asked to join, pretty petty. So finally it was so bad that nobody in a management position at Marshall wanted him. In fact, I was asked to call Brown and turn him off, rather than continue to hang up the negotiations, "They don't really want you", I couldn't say that, but to get him to withdraw from the deliber ations. I called him and told him, "It's kind of a strange situation. It would be a Pyrrhic victory even if you did win". And during that conversation he told me that he had just bought a house in Huntsville. He'd bought a house before he took the job, and at the same time that they were trying to get him to withdraw from the negotiations. That's just how far removed he was from understanding the impact he was having on people. Rather unfortunate circumstance, because he was person ally stuck at that point, and had no choice but to go through with giving the concessions that would allow consummating the negotiations. So he came in when people had already lost regard for him personally, and he did not enjoy that honeymoon with them. That was handled badly.
Smith:I wonder about some of the other events that were going on in early '83, how you saw events unfolding there, perhaps in contrast to what was going on in '80, where in '80, there's the thought that maybe the entire project would get cancelled. Was that ever present in '83?
O'Dell:It was a crisis of major dimensions, but noboby really thought that the project would be cancelled. They were just problems that were going to get solved. And the people who got the most egg on the face were at headquarters, because they were the ones that now potentially were at risk of having to go back to Congress and say a few things about threat ening to close out the ST if they weren't doing to... So it was just a different kind of situation, and of course people had to take their drubbings. Somebody had to be made the scapegoat, which turned out to be Speer. Which I'm certain was unfair, because if anyone was trying to be fiscally responsible it was Speer. It turns out he didn't suceed. And therefore he did fail. So that even though he tried to do something, he wasn't able to do it.
Smith:Also the attitudes seem to be very different in '83. In that it's seen that money is going to be needed and it's more a question of how much. And the very drastic steps that were being considered in '80, those don't ever seem to be on the table in '83. I don't know if that's a correct reading?
O'Dell:Those weren't options at that point. So from the science point of view, there was no crisis. There was only a delay. The crisis was the financial one. But we hadn't compromised anything scientifically and in fact we were in better shape, by the delay. We would have had to fly without the Faint Object Camera, if it hadn't been for that, it was in such deep trouble at the time. As it turns out, we would have had to fly without the ultraviolet flooding fix for the Wide Field Camera. True, we didn't know that at that time. It's something we would have lived with. If anything, the science is better off for it. For me individually, it would just be a year and a half less science, assuming the telescope is still operating when I die, that I will have a year and a half or two years less access to it. So it was really a management rather than a science plus management crisis.
Smith:I wonder about the root causes of the differences. Is it the fact that you were just so far down the line?
O'Dell:That is the main thing, there was no turning back, whereas in '80, a very different situation. It was just clear that we could turn back. Just cancel it! That was an option then.
Smith:I wonder about some of the new mechanisms as well that were set up as a result of '83, there's STOPAT put into place, the relationship between headquarters and the field centers is turned around substantially, how those things impacted the program.
Well, STOPAT was set up when headquarters came in with their white hats to save the project. So that came out at the same time as their requirement to have a full time project scientist. And STOPAT was to be a headquarters committee. You now note that with time it's basically become a Marshall committee. You hardly ever get anyone from headquarters to come to a meeting. The typical behavior of headquarters is coming in and working the problem intensively for a while and then not staying around to live with the structures they've created. And STOPAT is seen as a tech nical committee to just solve this lack of systems engineering which was the catch word that was used at the time, badly misused even now.
Systems engineering has been done all the time in the ST project. But people keep re-inventing the word and saying it hasn't been done. But STOPAT was created while I was still project scientist. I went along with it because there was nothing else to be done. It was the will of headquarters. But I think that it is not a success, because it does mean that half a dozen of us do get a monthly look at the project at some level, often in very great detail, but I think it's contributed to the reduction in the role of the Space Telescope Science Working Group, that now we have Brown over here, the Science Working Group that meets every four or five months, and the STOPAT meeting every month, and STOPAT was not intended to duplicate the functions of the Science Working Group, but it's predictably turning out to be that way. So now Bob [Brown] is comfortable with stretching out the intervals of the Science Working Grop meetings, and also doesn't bring the issues to the Science Working Group, because in practice this kitchen cabinet called STOPAT is working them on a monthly basis.
And this is an alteration of the science management structure of the project which I think is wrong. I would much rather see the STOPAT dissolve very quickly, and once the new project scientist is up to speed, to draw that body together frequently to do the same business, with vastly more influence, where you have a bunch of people competitively selected, good scientists, — STOPAT has people on it who weren't even competitively selected. The chairman is someone who is there because he works at the Science Institute, also very, very competent. But he's not an old hand at the project and cannot speak with lots of experience about it. So that's the way STOPAT evolved, and was created, and the impact that it's had on the overall science management, the Science Working group.
Smith:There also seems to have been a turnaround in the philosophy in '83 in that now Orbital Replacement Units were put back in, for example.
O'Dell:Right. But those were all things that would have been done because they were the logical things to do. Because he [Jim Odom] had more money, his attitude on coming in was "I want to build a good Space Telescope". Speer really didn't have that option or inclination. Jim Odom has made some nut cutting decisions, painful, but they had their effect, but in an entirely different kind of attitude that he brought to it. And this evolution which I believe is the right one, to emphasize ORUs in order to avoid the dilemma we were facing about earth return, and I think that's part of Jim's general attitude of wanting to do the ST right, and taking the bigger picture is like a breath of fresh air, life is added to it.
Smith:It seems a very different style altogether?
O'Dell:Yes, he wants to build a good Space Telescope. He also was required to control costs. This is just something we didn't have before Speer. And Keathley was so early, he didn't know how much it cost, there fore he could easily afford to want a good Space Telescope.
Smith:I just wonder about the root causes of the early '83 crisis? Is it simply the fact that Speer was keeping the balls in the air as long as he can, and suddenly the pressure just becomes too much?
O'Dell:It's very hard for me to judge, Bob. Problems just occurred bit after bit, until all of a sudden you had a big problem. So I don't really fault him that the crisis reached the proportions that it did, because it came in these bits and pieces. I just want to distinguish that crisis, that it was slow in building up. He was aware of it, but really, wanting to put off identifying it as long as he could, so the program wouldn't be killed. I never heard him say that, but every action supports it, that you see it coming, but if your strategy is, let's just keep putting it off until we have to do it only once, we get good costs and also we put it off until it's much too late to be stopped — and so that I think was a con tributing cause.
Smith:I wonder if with a very major R and D program, there's almost a kind of limited event horizon that you can have. You can only really see clearly for a few years at a time, and that there seems almost inevitably to be some readjustment that occurs every few years as you go along.
O'Dell:So, I think he was aware of the problems. Speer was trying to put them all off until it wouldn't kill the project.
Smith:I wonder about the point about communication between Marshall and headquarters, where I think somebody was quoted in I think Aviation Week or Science saying that communications were "horrible" between Marshall and headquarters, if that was accurate?
O'Dell:Yes. It's understandable in the light of this train of program managers that we had, and that Ed Weiler was stretched so many ways that he was program scientist on something like eight different projects, that he wasn't giving much attention to ST. And then it seemed they were always breaking in a new program manager, — it was horrible.
Smith:That also seems to be a break in the usual tradition of head quarters, of having a scientist and engineer paired at the top of Office of Space Science, when Edelson is there with Sam Keller, that tradition is gone, so there's no scientist at a high level in Office of Space Science keeping an eye out.
O'Dell:Rosendahl gave very, very little attention to Space Telescope, still does, for that matter, he considers his job a new business job. So, nothing was happening in headquarters. Nobody was paying attention or wanting to pay attention to it. So, to be sure, the communications were terrible, but of course in the whitewash of the situation and all the tinker toying, the senior organiza tion could point the finger and the junior organization cannot, because they just cut off your sources of power and money, so headquarters can take the cheap shots. They could say, "Oh, the communication was terrible", but not take their role in the responsibility. Some of that did surface at the time, like the series of program managers at headquarters. But it was not acknowledged by headquarters as a serious problem.
Smith:Just to go back to some of the points on 1983, I wonder about the accuracy or lack of that you saw in some of the reports that were issued in that time, in terms of the state of the program. I'm thinking of the report by Mr. Welch, the House investigations report, —
O'Dell:I think the factual parts were quite good. Judging from pre dictions, I think they were much less quantitative. I'll be kind and put it that way, namely, headquarters tends to be very protective of itself. I think that the people who receive reports and commented on them, like on the Hill, staffers, did more appropriately assess the blame and attribute it to headquarters, whereas headquarters tended to report things as being project problems. The administrator, as I remember in one statement made in testimony, did acknowledge the problems of having too many program managers.
Smith:Right. I wonder about the tone of the reports, if one read them, it would seem that nothing ever went right on the program.
O'Dell:That's to be expected.
Smith:Within the political context?
O'Dell:Yes, and indeed, the concern was not all that had been done right, the concern was what had been and was being done wrong. So sure, it's irritating, but it's part of the territory.
Smith:As I said, these questions will be in slightly random order. Just turning to European participation, on ST, one event which I still find hard to understand is the Williamsburg conference, why it was called, what its function was supposed to be.
O'Dell:That's a very good question. Exactly what was the date on that?
Smith:That was early '76, I think it was January '76.
O'Dell:And we were already functionally in bed with the Europeans at that point. But we were in bed with ESA (European Space Agency), what was by then called ESA, but there was this different body, the European Science Foundation, I think was the name of it, which was a science body cutting across national boundaries, in contrast to the alliance of countries to do space programs, ESA, and was it Nancy who was the — ?
Smith:I think Nancy Roman was one of the people.
O'Dell:Nancy was one of the keys on setting that up, and Sir Harry Massey was head of the European Science Foundation, so the nominal intent of this was to get together with the scientists, rather than the manager bureau crats of ESA, to decide about, was this scientifically the right thing and go ahead with it, and would this have acceptable impact on the rest of joint European science? So that's what I saw as the intent of the meeting. And it of course had all of the Americans involved too as counterparts, to sit down as equals, although we weren't really, in terms of the ESA proposed involvement, even then. That's what I saw as the role of that meeting.
Smith:So it wouldn't be a crucial event in bringing together say NASA and ESA?
O'Dell:No, I felt it was not climactic, because we were already betrothed at that point. And indeed, I've forgotten the date on the memorandum of understanding — I think that was before.
Smith:There were various drafts of that, I think. And the problem, the final one was signed I think October of '77.
O'Dell:It had been a long time in circulation and in the making.
O'Dell:So maybe I'm mistaken. Maybe there was not a draft before that meeting. I thought that there was. Because we clearly had the whole business of solar arrays, the Faint Object Camera, were all well resolved, had been resolved from a time before we prepared the Announcement of Opportunity which was released in the winter of '76-'77.
Smith:Just on the FOC, there was a group that went around Europe in I think June '76, with Bill Fastie on it, John Thole as chairman, looking at the ESA capability for an FOC.
O'Dell:Right. That was when?
Smith:I think that was June, July '76.
O'Dell:That's right, that was intentionally done after that. I guess I felt we were already in bed with them because Vittorio [Manno] had been attending all the Phase B meetings, and we'd done so many things together up to that point. But I guess what it was was that they had acted as a Space Agency in their own interests, and the scientists had to bless this activity.
Smith:I wonder if you ever saw the possibility of any other international involvement? I'm thinking for example (George) Shipley was certainly working hard on NASA for not getting more international participation.
Smith:George Shipley. On (Eddie) Boland's subcommittee.
O'Dell:How could I forget?
Smith:I recall at one point also, Boland in '75 with Apollo- Soyuz — that's right, I think Shipley's comment was "peanuts."
Smith:That's right; and Hinners or Fletcher responded, "Well, we need lots of peanuts to get up to the required figure." But Boland in that same set of hearings also brought up the question, "Well, it's an Appollo-Soyuz mission we're getting this year, why not participate with the Russians?"
O'Dell:Wasn't that in the '74 hearings?
Smith:I think these particular comments were coming from '75. There had also been the same sentiments expressed in '74.
O'Dell:OK, that's right, it was very specifically, "I'll vote for it OK, but, get them involved," and then the peanuts statement must have been the year after that, or even later. I'm trying to think when we first started drawing them in. I know that it started when Jean Olivier and I, and I think someone else from headquarters [G. Levin from Goddard, and M. Aucremaure from Headquarters for part of the time] went to Europe. We went to London and talked to people at the National Research Council, isn't that the science establishment?
Smith:Yes, the UK group was the Science Research Council at that stage.
O'Dell:And talked there, and they had Graham Smith, the Astronomer Royal there, and Alex Boksenberg and ...
Smith:Burton. Bill Burton.
O'Dell:Yes, he was there too, and at the time, the SRC were considering their own separate involvement, and then we went to Paris and talked to ESA people. And so it was all very loosy goosy at the time. But I don't remember the date of that meeting.
Smith:I think it's something like October '74.
O'Dell:So that would have been after this first Congressional hearing comments. I don't know if they were related to it, but by the time of that meeting, we knew we were going there. The people from the embassy, the NASA liaison in Paris, Pat Murphy I think was his name, now gone, helped set it up, and I can remember our going to the US embassy and meeting there with him and then going to ESA, that kind of thing, so it was all a blessed fact exchanging kind of thing. And I think it was as a result of that that I invited Vittorio Manno, who was the head of the science astronomy planning in ESA, to begin attending Science Working Group meetings, which he did very conscientiously from then on. So that was very key in the ESA development — the fact that he had been there and attending the meetings. That would be reflected in the minutes.
Smith:I think Boksenberg was already on one of the IDTs in Phase B. I wonder about the attraction of the Europeans, in that there is perhaps expertise on the potential photon counting detector, whether that was a plus as well as being told by Congress to pursue international partici pation?
O'Dell:Oh yes, because I think Burton was on the team too.
Smith:Right, I think it was Labeyrie, Burton, and Boksenberg.
O'Dell:So they saw something in it for them. But the Boksenberg experi ence with delivering for IUE was mixed but at least it was experience. It was a completed program, a very good performance detector of the ground based telescope came only later, and of course they have ended up using what I consider basically a Boksenberg camera, like the one they were developing for the ground-based telescope for the Faint Object Camera. The field was so narrow that that was always viewed as a serious disadvantage. So the attraction certainly was the existence of the detector, although we would never have substituted it for the SEC Orthicon, because of the narrow field of view.
Smith:By the time the FOC [Faint Object Camera, an instrument for the ST] committee is meeting, the one that goes around with Fastie and Thole as chairmen later in '76, I wonder whether the issue was really to insure that the capability was there to build the instrument. Looking at the minutes of the Science Working Group, it's clear that people felt uneasy with having an uncompleted detector, and whether it was part of the decision making, that we ought to make sure that they are capable, they can build it, and this group's visit was one of the mechanisms of doing that?
O'Dell:Well, I think there was another dimension to it too. Namely, that in Phase B, we did pile our guys' instruments in, in the sense of identi fying core instruments, and the Faint Object Camera was put in in a somewhat vague position. It was important too as long as the Europeans would provide it, but it was known to be a free. That is, that as long as it was that, then it was acceptable, but if we, NASA, had been paying for it with dollars and if it had been competing with other dollars, it prob ably wouldn't have been that high, that is, it wouldn't have made it into the core complement of the instruments, it would have been a lower pri ority, the same way that we gave astrometry a lower priority. So we were concerned with the capability of the instrument, rather than their ability to produce it, because after all, if they failed to produce something that wasn't a core instrument, machtsnicht, it was their loss. Because, in the light of the budget, it wasn't going to keep a US instrument off. So I saw the John Thole committee as a pro forma review that NASA was mostly con cerned with, but even there it was pro forma, that they learned very little. What they did was to get everything under one cover. So it was worthwhile. Besides, they all had a grand time.
Smith:I've spoken to one of the guys who showed them around. While we're on this topic, I wonder about this matter I think we talked about off tape, a couple of days ago: how open the Announcement of Opportunity [often known as the AO] would be for the instruments. I wonder about your recol lections of this because I think we were talking about it in the context of the CCD paper.
O'Dell:Well, to me the main issue on this was the question of, one of the main issues, whether or not there should be facility detectors — of course, we came down to saying there shouldn't be, keep a free market — and the other thing was whether or not there should be core instruments. And headquarters in the AO did take the recommendation of the Working Group about not having facility instruments, rather competing, but it did not take the recommendation on core instruments. And perhaps we'll never know if that was wise, because that would have allowed me to use that solution as the Black Saturday solution. That is, to use that as a guide for delay ing some of the instruments while going ahead with the others. It would have meant a different composition of instruments; it would have been the Faint Object Spectrograph plus the WF/PC [Wide Field/Planetary Camera]. But that would have been useful — but the intent of headquarters was to treat all instruments equal, in spite of the recommendation of the Phase B Working Group. So those were the two issues on the AO, the two big science issues.
Smith:And if I understand correctly, the AO is something that is produced by, or is finally the responsibility, of Nancy Roman, with agreement from you. Was she doing the drafting of that?
O'Dell:It is a headquarters document. And she drafts it and of course it is issued by the head of OSS or OSA [Office of Space Science and Applications], I don't remember at this point. So I was in a responsive mood, and just very clearly she knew what the position of the Phase B Working Group was on the business of the core instruments, and I really tried to prevail on that, but that's a head quarters document and they will do what they bloody well please, thank you very much. It came down to that. Also Goddard backed them up on that. They felt that it would be more difficult to manage a set of instruments, where one is recognized as less important than the other. Perhaps they already knew that they were going to propose for one of the instruments that was not on the core list, so they had an institutional interest in watching out for that.
Smith:I think about three Working Group meetings ago there was a mention of core instruments, and that seemed to raise the temperature level in the room a little bit.
O'Dell:Because they all sit as equals, all the PIs, yes.
Smith:With one recognized as perhaps more than the others in terms of the WF/PC?
O'Dell:That's just evolved that way. That we end up saying that that's most important, and if (Richard) Harms had been more outgoing and aggres sive, then perhaps we would have just returned de facto to the original core instrument concept.
Smith:Was that evolution to do with the fact that the WF/PC will get images back that will be shown on the 7 o'clock news, that kind of thing?
O'Dell:That was very important. Very important. And always recognized as such. You know, at the level of the administrators, that kind of thing, that's what he's interested in — very justifiable.
Smith:So that would be the message that you'd get from Fletcher and members of the project if you went to briefings and so on?
Smith:He needs something that he can go and give briefings to Congress with on that kind of data?
O'Dell:Actually, we, the various program people, were the ones that were saying that, but it didn't make sense. Can you picture in the New York Times, a spectral trace, on the front page, or even on page 17 under John Wilford Nobel's signature on the Tuesday science section. No.
Smith:That's interesting, because I think they actually put imaging capability on the JOP when they transformed it into Galileo. That made it more expensive, but having an imaging capability made it a better sell.
O'Dell:Yes, there's no doubt about it.
Smith:I wonder about a couple of people. Looking through your notes, the name Pete Simmons appears quite a bit. I wonder what you saw as his role? I know he was doing this hopping about from contractors in the '72, '74 period. He was at Grumman, Martin- Marietta, and McDonnell-Douglas.
O'Dell:Right. He started out at Grumman, and then he went to Martin, and he headed up their Phase B activity for a while until he was replaced.
O'Dell:By then Ken Simmons. Then I think he went to Johns Mansfield, which is right there in the Denver area, before going to McDonnell —
Smith:Oh, that's what I'd not understood.
O'Dell:After that I think he went back to Johns Mansfield, and then got out of the business. And then he reappeared later on the project. Of course Mac-Dac (McDonnell-Douglas) was one of the losers in the hardware phase competition. But then he reappeared at Science Institute as part of the temporary staff under Arthur Code when he was acting director. Simmons and Code had worked together back in the year when Simmons was at Grumman and they did the observatory, the SSM [Support Systems Module] portion of the OAO [Orbiting Astronomical Observatories] series, so they knew one another and respected one another, and he came in as a management type. He didn't last long, that is, Riccardo got rid of him very quickly. This broke his heart, one of these guys who just absolutely are caught up with the joy of astronomy and are true believers in the space telescope program — it just broke his heart. You know, that he no longer had a role in the project. He's just sort of moving around in jobs, just so he could be part of, preferably head of, the Space Telescope program. You know, great dedication. Perhaps to the point of eccentricity. But this great dedication was just unique within the money making end of the project.
Smith:Do you see him as influential in going to see Congressmen and so on because he seems to have done quite a bit of that, briefings to Staffers and so on?
O'Dell:He was an old hand at that, and one of those key industrial figures that I referred to earlier this week, and in the process of [my] learning how the system works, in order to get the lobby going, he figured in that.
Smith:You mentioned one of the Lockheed guys that you turned to for instruction — Max Hunter.
O'Dell:Max Hunter, yes. And Pete was the other main person. And of course Pete was the guiding light behind the AIAA topical session on the LST. That was really his baby. I wouldn't have happened without him. He had the chutzpah to go out and cause it to happen. There is a lot of credit due to the guy, but obviously the companies never held him in great regard. For example, Martin-Marietta dumping him or saying he'd resigned in order to put Simmons in because Simmons was an experienced manager.
Smith:This is Ken Simmons you're talking about?
O'Dell:Right. And I think even within NASA the opinion was that he was a much better Phase B person than a hardware manager. Which is perhaps true. But Pete didn't see it that way, he wanted to see the project through the whole completion, not just be the salesman for it or something else. His heart lay in the project rather than the process.
Smith:I wonder about John Naugle, how much you were seeing of him? You mentioned this morning that when you were getting these waves of cost cutting during Phase B that Naugle would keep coming back lowering the target funding. Did that carry on all the way through even when Naugle was not associate administrator of OSS? I was just wondering what happens when Noel Hinners comes in, if Hinners had to carry on this role of pressing the costs down?
O'Dell:Certainly his charge was to hold it down, but I'm not aware of Noel generating arbitrary numbers, are you generating a target number? I'm sure he worked out agreed upon budgets, but the contrast with Naugle who seemed to generate these very round numbers which then we would all have to adhere to —
Smith:So he wasn't expecting you to do bottoms up costing. Rather it was here's a number, keep below it?
O'Dell:That's right. Exactly, the latter.
Smith:Did he still have a position of influence over the project when he moved out of OSS? Was he still able to do those kinds of things?
O'Dell:Yes, because as you recalled better than I did earlier this week, he went to another position before becoming chief scientist and it was in that in-between position that he was still influencing ST. Once he'd gone to the chief scientist position, that was basically the retirement, the holding position. Smithy: So, the in-between position is still one of influence which I guess made it quite hard for Hinners to manage and perhaps confusing for the working troops, if they're getting different signals out of head quarters. I wonder about a general point, the aspect of having the engineer/scientist division. We've spoken about working with the project and within the project, just how different are the mentalities of engineers and scientists from your perspective, taking Fred Speer as perhaps one kind of engineering mind.
O'Dell:Remember Fred Speer's PhD was in science, he was a physicist. He was not an engineer. He was supposedly a scientist. What he actually was was a manager.
Smith:OK, spread it out to say manager, engineer, scientist divisions, would that be more appropriate?
O'Dell:I wasn't aware of the stereotyped division, where the engineer was the stereotype that I'd been fed, where the engineer says "Just give me the problem to solve and I'll call you", or "come back on Thursday, I'll have it ready." My experience was just much better than that. Perhaps, it's partly because the chief engineer was Jean Olivier, who was dumb enough, that is, ignorant enough about things astronomical and intelligent enough, curious enough to want to learn about them, that he knew he had to work with scientists in order to create an LST, and so I considered the working relationship excellent with Jean and the other Phase B people, creative, very interested in understanding the science, just a very positive thing. I can remember giving a couple of short courses in astronomy to the people at Marshall in the project office. They just loved it. They lapped it up. And it was only much later that I would run across, this would be in Phase C/D, the very narrow engineer, the ones that say, "let me solve the problems, just tell me what the numbers are and I'll match it," that kind of narrow thinking that produces inflexibility of solutions.
Smith:Was that within the contractors or within Marshall?
It was in Marshall. Because I had little contact with the engi neers within the contractors, but in areas like the FGS at Perkin-Elmer, the PCS out at Lockheed, that would have been with the working troops. It was a kind of a repeat of the Marshall experience, the closer you get to the lowest basic engineering unit, the more myopic they would become. Like at Perkin-Elmer, they had a structural engineer by name Robert Mclaughlin, and it was just obvious he really didn't care how that machine worked, he just wanted it to work, made all kinds of mistakes, just very myopic, and so blithe about the whole thing, just alienated everyone. We used to call him "laughing Bob" because you'd nail him on something and "hahahah," it was kind of like how Mozart is portrayed in "Amadeus," that kind of cackle. And we were all just getting furious every time he would do it. So he was an exception, of being a recently hired systems level engineering manager but still very myopic.
So my experience was quite good, and I guess part of my bias on this whole subject of science verification or systems engineering, is that I really think it has been going on all this time. It's just a question of, now we're getting down to the short strokes, and people who were quite relaxed with the way things were going are saying, "Hey, this is really going to happen, what have we been doing to assure this?" And since there's no simple paper trail on it, they assume nothing's been done, and yet there is this knowledge within the organization that's moved up over the years, that Lockheed knows what Space Telescope is going to mean, Lockheed is going to produce a system that works, regardless of whether or not we've imposed pieces of paper on them. It's like a Level 1 requirement that we generated very early in the project. Those Level 1 requirements won't do a bit of good because, in the end, we'll launch at a time when we can afford to launch, with the capability we can, regardless of them; the paperwork has always been an imposition.
Smith:There seem to me to be various definitions of systems engineering. I don't know whether you saw evidence of it, but I wonder if people were talking through each other because of these perhaps different definitions. I got the idea during '83 that what the scientists were talking about when they talked about systems engineering was that they just wanted someone to take an overlook at the observatory, and not have x-hundred people at Lockheed doing what Lockheed would understand as systems engineering neces sarily — whether that would be an accurate reading of what was happening?
O'Dell:Yes, and indeed, this was being done by Jean Olivier's office. He was it, the chief engineer. And yet he personally and mostly profession ally is such a great guy, that people wouldn't attack him for having failed to do a job, they would say rather, "Well, the system engineering isn't being done." (Jean) knew how to interpret that. He thought he'd been doing this all this time, and quite a satisfactory job. I thought so too. So that because of this legacy on the project and his basic confidence and his good qualities as an individual, people wouldn't attack him by name, but they attacked the job that they perceived that he had not been doing. He and I both thought that he had been doing that job. So it ends up at the dictate of headquarters that the systems engineering office ends up at Marshall, right under —
O'Dell:Wojtalik. Which is just not working at all. So, simply because all the ties to do systems engineering had been structured through Jean Olivier's office, and now Fred (Wojtalik) is playing a role vis a vis Olivier that Bob Brown plays vis a vis me, that is, people tending to make the old guy look bad. And so Fred is really one of the worst poeple who could have been picked for that job, because he really does think simply as the traditional engineer, "tell me what the requirements are and go home, I'll call you with a solution," they say. Which is just a very different operational model than Olivier's, and he's just the wrong person to have in the job. I don't know what else there is to cover. You've recalled to me a lot of things that in some cases I'd forgotten about, in most cases I remem bered after you reminded me, with varying degrees of success. Of course, it's turning out to be a different thing slightly than what I had envisioned, when I got in on it. Not a whole lot, but if I look at the program as I understood it in say '74, what I hoped it would be, it's very, very similar. Which is a certain measure of success on our parts, that we could be that close to what we wanted. I think that with being forced into a situation of the use of hyperbole — which is contrary to my own personal style, the style of the main scien tists, being penned down on things like, l0 times sharper, 7 times further into space, 49 times fainter, etc., the `biggest step since Galileo, who built the first astronomical telescope — it's not a comfortable thing for me to participate in, yet I was enthusiastic about it, and many of the things, the numbers and catchy little phrases are ones that I came up with. Back on record now, I'm concerned that we may not get right away the spectacular results that the agency was essentially forced by the system into promising.
Smith:In the very process of selling it?
O'Dell:That's right, where we had to reduce ourselves to the use of hype in order to sell, in a very superficial way, and the same audience to whom this was addressed, in order to communicate, will not be sophisticated enough to judge the real value of the results that are coming out. So, for example, if we don't find planets, if we don't immediately find new species of objects in the astronomical bestiary, they will say it's a failure, with repercussions still on science.
Smith:I wonder if this kind of political dimension was also something that explains the change of philosophy in '83? By then there's been this kind of selling and perhaps sometimes overselling, it's no longer possible to tolerate a failure, whereas before, in the older philosophy, they may have accepted risks but the Shuttle will go up and fix it, yet now we're so far and we've spent so much money and we've said all these things that we cannot really tolerate a failure any more, and we must do all these other good things.
O'Dell:And also the fact, I agree, that in addition, that in terms of actual dollars, measured by diamonds or whatever is invariant with infla tion, we have a lot less money to spend on space science now than in the past, so in this euphoric period of "catch the Russians" in the sixties, they were just dumping all kinds of money into space science, and it didn't really matter if some of it failed, though it was important that some of it succeeded. Now it has shifted, there's much less money available, the concern about the money on things that fail, rather than concerrn for money spent on things that succeed.
Smith:And perhaps managers become less prepared to take risks where they're pushing the state of the art, for that reason? I'm thinking of the OAO series which in many ways pushed the state of the art very very hard.
Smith:That seems a kind of quintessential project from the sixties in many respects, and early seventies, where people were prepared for some failures?
O'Dell:Well, they certainly had their threats and risks. In fact, I think for a while there were plans to be a fourth one, which never came into being, and I certainly know from Spitzer that there were times when they really thought that the third one was going to die, and I guess that was in connection with the shroud failure that led to the failure of the second, the Goddard payload. I think there was a time when it looked like they might refly them and push Princeton out so they had their share of crises. But nothing like we had with Space Telescope, just getting started, let alone surviving.
Smith:One theory I've heard is a kind of magnet theory, where if you have a very, very big program, like Apollo, then it's easier to put in other stuff, at the same time.
O'Dell:Yes, but if you're in the shade of one of those, you're not very visible, and one can argue, we had it for Shuttle. But ST is a significant fraction of the cost of Shuttle. Therefore the umbrella doesn't cover as much.
Smith:And the element of competition seems faded too.
O'Dell:Yes, I guess that's basically it.
Smith:What usually happens is, I'm sitting on the airplane and I think of 30 or 40 questions I should have asked.
O'Dell:I can see you again anyway. You can always call me or write.
Great. Thanks very much for this meeting.