Oral History Transcript — Dr. Gleb B. Udintsev
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Interview with Dr. Gleb B. Udintsev
Gleb Udintsev; July 31, 1997
ABSTRACT: Family background and early education; military service (1941-1945); Moscow University (1940-1941, 1946-1949); Moscow University graduate school (1949-1952); Institute of Oceanology (1946-1976); International Geophysical Year (IGY); Institute of the Physics of the Earth (1976-1986); Geological Institute (1986-1992); V. 1. Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry (1992- ); life in Soviet Russia and after perestroika; funding sources for his research; problems with development of technology in Russia; political and ideological influences on research and publication; problems with his visa and travel restrictions; interaction with foreign colleagues, including W. Maurice Ewing, Roger Revelle, John Ewing, Bruce Heezen, Marie Tharp, Russell Raitt.
Interviews conducted in Russian and translated by Dr. Lynn Visson. All text is translated from the Russian unless otherwise indicated.
Visson:(in English) This is Tape II, interview with Gleb Udintsev, July 31, 1997, by Lynn Visson. (Continues in Russian). Yesterday, when we stopped our chat, you were talking about your first visit to Lamont, but you'd also mentioned that there had been some prior events in your personal life. By that time you'd already gotten married?
Udintsev:Yes, I fell in love with my future wife when I was still a student in the last year of the university, and we got married shortly before I graduated. That was in February, 1949. Then my wife, Elena Koreneva, continued to work for a while at the university. And we had two children, Olga and Vladimir.
Visson:What kind of work did Elena do?
Udintsev:She had a very interesting field, the study of pollen and spores of plants for geological interpretation. She worked in that field in the university, and then I got her work in our institute. She started graduate studies in the institute, and starting working on spores and pollen in marine sediments. It was very fortunate for me that during the IGY she was able to participate in the same expedition I did. Before that she'd been on another expedition, in the Okhotsk Sea, without me. In 1957 she was in the same expedition with me, and we were in wonderful places in the Pacific Ocean, New Zealand, the Fiji Islands, New Caledonia.
Visson:How common was that — for spouses to go along with —
Udintsev:(interrupts): It was very rare. That was done as an exception thanks to the efforts of the chief of the expedition, my protector Professor Bogorov, and perhaps it also helped that there were a husband and wife on that expedition who were protégés of Academician Zenkevich. So they decided — well, if one couple gets permission, another can too. It was a rare case, and when I went to America the first time, my wife was not allowed to go with me, in 1962. And though that trip was mostly connected with California and the Scripps Institute, what attracted me at Lamont was my budding friendship with Bruce Heezen. My friendship was also helped by my work on translation of the book published by Maurice Ewing, Bruce Heezen and Mary Tharp on the geology of the north Atlantic. By that time I had already developed a fondness for translations of such books. And a lot of scientific literature was published in translation in Russia. There was a special publishing house, Inostrannaya Literatura (Foreign Literature: LV). I started off by editing the translation of Helen Raitt's book, then edited the translation of Ewing, Heezen and Tharp's book, and that attracted me strongly to the work at Lamont. Bruce Heezen introduced me to Maurice Ewing. I liked Maurice Ewing very much. He was very interesting.
Visson:In what way?
Udintsev:An outstanding specialist, and very evenhanded in the way he treated people. He later also played a large role in my life in inviting me to Lamont. But that was later. Before that, when I was on a trip there, Maurice Ewing invited me to participate in his trip around the US, when he was doing a lecture series to raise funds. He understood that this was interesting for me.
Visson:When was that?
Udintsev:That was later, probably at the end of the 1960s, 1968 or 1969. He invited me to come assist him — show slides and materials, and I was very glad to go. We traveled for two weeks together around the US, and he seemed to like the way I helped him, because later he strongly backed the idea of his brother, John Ewing, to invite me for a year to Lamont.
Visson:Did you and Maurice Ewing travel just the two of you?
Udintsev:Yes, just the two of us. That was very interesting.
Visson:Yes, but in 1968 that was an extremely rare case of a Soviet scholar being allowed to travel alone, like that —
Udintsev:(interrupts, laughing): You see, something else should be said. In 1965 my position in the Academy of Science changed radically for the better. After that expedition in which I had participated on the Argo, — I and Elena Lubimova — that was a very interesting expedition, and we came back with very interesting results, scientific results, in geothermy, in studying heat flow. There were three stages to the expedition: the first leg was on geothermy, and we were very active in that work. I already had experience working in geothermy in Russia, and so did Elena Lubimova. She hadn't worked previously at sea, and I had. She'd worked on land, but she was a major scholar. The chief of that stage of the work was Dick von Herzen. He's the great-grandson of our famous writer and democrat Herzen (Alexander Herzen, Russian 19th-century liberal thinker and author. L V) On his mother's side there was some kind of German aristocracy, and that's why his name was always "von" Herzen. He, Elena Lubimova, and I wrote a substantive work on the results of the geothermy studies. Bill Menard was on the second leg. I participated in the work, but not so actively. And the third leg was on study of sedimentary biostratigraphy with Bill Riedel, with whom I became very friendly. I helped him in his work. There were a lot of young people with whom I became friends, including Enrico Bonatti, who's now been my friend for many years. There was Mel Peterson, who later participated in the work on deep-water drilling in which I also participated. There was also Yves Lancelot, a Frenchman. We got quite friendly then, but later I didn't have a chance to work with him. While I was working with Bill Menard on that expedition, he tried to organize what we call a "polygon study." In the prewar years all the measurements in the ocean were by point soundings, — i.e. unidimensional, in the postwar years the practice of profile studies came into use, of two-dimensional studies. But two-dimensional studies in the ocean don't allow you to get a three-dimensional picture. Bill Menard, while the chief of the second leg of that expedition, tried to conduct studies on such polygons — 30 miles by 30 miles. But the major problem then was the determination of the positioning in the open ocean. At that time there was no satellite navigation. The methods to determine these were the conventional ones: the compass, the log, and the stars. However, dead reckoning by the compass and log is somewhat inaccurate, because of the impossibility of taking precisely into account the impact of the wind and sea current. navigation by the starts entails systematic errors on the order of 1 1/2" to 2 miles. So determination of the position and the link to the place under observation becomes very difficult. Simultaneously, in different countries, people were seeking a solution. The most realistic way was to let down an anchored buoy, and determine the positioning by them with radar. But Bill Menard used small buoys which were hard to spot by radar. There were even efforts to send up balloons over the buoys. But the wind blows them towards the surface. And I remembered when lid been working on my senior thesis during the Barents Sea expedition, lid had experience at relatively small depths — the depths of the Barents sea range from 300-400-500 meters — buoys were placed there for fishery studies. At the same time this allowed for geological surveying. They used large buoys with large antennas which allowed for radar observation. Then I got the idea of using this on the open ocean in our work. When I came back from that expedition I reported to the leadership of our institute. After Shirshov’s death, during a kind of interregnum, the directors deputies Bogorov and Sysoev for practical purposes were running the institute. But they were not officially appointed as directors of the institute. Then Professor Kort was appointed Institute director. He was a specialist in hydro physics. But he left with an expedition to the Antarctic in 1955. After he came back from it he was not all that involved in the Institute’s affairs. So Bogorov and Sysoev were in fact running the institute. When I came back from the Argo expedition I told them about all that. And Professor Sysoev said, “you should be given an expedition, so that you can implement everything and all the ideas you’ve learned. We’ll give you an expedition. “ That was a major event and a great honor for me, because prior to that the chiefs of expeditions had all been older, eminent scholars of the older generation. I was probably the first of the younger ones entrusted with an expedition. I got an expedition on the Vityaz to the Indian Ocean. And I decided to organize those polygon studies, using the methodology I had seen in the Barents Sea, setting up large buoys with large radar antennae, and to use that kind of area surveying in the open sea, using not only echo sounding but also all the other geophysical methods which I was using at the time, starting with echo sounding and taking sediment samples and dredging igneous rocks on the outcrops of the basement; from 1963 on l’d done a lot of work on using geophysical methods. The idea of using polygon surveys on that Indian Ocean expedition, the shift to three-dimensional measurements, the use of a broader range of geological-geophysical work, — that was my objective. The Indian ocean expedition was very interesting; it was an international expedition. Everyone was so pleased with the results of the IGY, it had been so successful, that there was a desire to continue with international projects. There were two projects which followed: the international Indian ocean expedition, and in parallel, the international project on the earth’s upper mantle. So our expedition was related to both projects — the program of the international Indian ocean expedition, and the upper mantle project. This was because at that time the American scientist Harry Hess, a major scientist at Princeton University, attracted attention to the mid-ocean ridges. They were rather well known, but it was only in the mid-fifties that Maurice Ewing and Bruce Heezen had shown that these were linked into a single system. Harry Hess suggested that in the mis-ocean ridges there must be a rise of a deep mantle material. That was a purely theoretical conjecture. Bruce Heezen stated that he believed this to be true, because he had been able to take a sand sample in the ridge axial ridge valley, consisting of particles of serpentinite. Serpentinite is a rock that develops on the basis of ultrabasic rock derived from the earth’s mantle material. As a result of contact with water it becomes serpentinite. And I had the idea of trying to obtain these ultrabasic rocks. For that purpose I decided to use a range of works on dredging on outcrops of the basement. On our previous expeditions there had been no use made of polygon surveying and there had been no dredging. Nor had the complex of geophysical methods been used. And the core of this expedition was polygon surveying, above all in the rift zones of the ocean, the use of that full surveying, using the results of geophysical methods to determine the sites where one could expect a rise on outcrops of earth mantle material, and do dredging there. That idea turned out to be very successful. We did sixteen polygons in the Indian Ocean, above all in the rift and fracture zones; we found a new fracture zone we named the Vitiaz fracture zone, in the middle of the Indian Ocean ridge. We did dredging, and for the first time, using geophysical methods, obtained evidence that rocks of the upper mantle come to the surface there, as determined by the speeds of seismic waves. The dredging provided us with samples of these mantle rocks. In other words, it was an unusually successful expedition, both for Russian and for international work. It was the first expedition in which samples of mantle rocks had been obtained.
Visson:Were there foreign scientists on that expedition?
Udintsev:No, not yet. Only Russians. Later, I started involving foreign scientists in our expeditions. Maybe I’m wrong… I’ll check…lt was so long ago. It was in 1965. When I returned from that expedition and reported on the results, a very important scholar, Academician Alexander Vinogradov, became interested in them. He had earlier worked on the Perseus, and published a large book, Introduction to Geochemistry of the Ocean. He was also the founder of the Institute of Geochemistry. He was a student of Academician Vernadsky, and that's why the institute was named the Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry. Vinogradov was the first director of that institute, and he became the Vice President of the Academy of Sciences — I don't remember the year. He was very interested in the results of that expedition, and made two proposals to me: one was that he become my scientific adviser, for my scientific work. That was a big honor for me. One didn't refuse proposals like that, when an Academician, a Vice-President of the Academy of Sciences, one of the most major scientists with a world reputation proposes to be your adviser. And secondly, he said, “I think you need to establish your own laboratory, and I'll try to help you do that.” And he really helped me. So there was a decision taken by the Academy of Sciences to establish a laboratory, which I headed, of geomorphology and tectonics of the ocean floor at the Institute of Oceanology.
Visson:What year was that?
Udintsev:That was in 1965. I went on the expedition in 1964 and returned in 1965. was then appointed head of that laboratory. For ten years, from 1965-1975, I worked under the direct guidance of Alexander Pavlovich Vinogradov, and under his protection, which was very important. He was a very important person because he was the Vice-President of the Academy of Sciences and one of the leaders of the atomic and outer space projects. The creation of the atom bomb required raw uranium. Vinogradov was entrusted with finding that uranium. That considerably helped him in developing our geology and geophysics, because he got support from the government in connection with that uranium project. Of course, for a number of years his support aided me because I had the opportunity to travel abroad a lot. Because he trusted me. He helped me not only with my travels to Lamont and Scripps, but also supported me in projects for Russian-American scientific cooperation, and in particular in the organization of Russian participation in the project on deep-sea drilling. Therefore in those years I was very active in Russian-American cooperation. I had had such experience in international cooperation, because after the IGY, when I worked in the Pacific Ocean, I had participated also in organizing Soviet-Japanese cooperative work. We had a lot of work on the Pacific Ocean and the Far East seas. That experience was useful for me in work on Russian-American cooperation. My partners often asked me how I was able to travel abroad so often. I said, that in Russia a great deal depends on who your protector is. And my protector for 10 years, Alexander Vinogradov, had a very important post in the Academy of Sciences — Vice President of the Academy. The President of the Academy then was Keldysh, who was on very good terms with Vinogradov. Therefore any support from Vinogradov decided everything. could travel abroad alone, and could go to all meetings, on any trips...That explains it all.
Visson:Nevertheless, you know, in America, many people considered that if Soviets at that time were traveling abroad, they were definitely carrying out some special assignments, or were pursuing some not entirely scientific goals ...
Udintsev:You see, it should be said that, of course, certain assignments regarding information — on the state of science — were always made by the Foreign Department of the Academy of Sciences. That was always the case. Everyone wrote reports on what they had seen, what new things they had learned, that could be useful for science. I don’t see anything particularly sinful in that. I think that foreign scientists who were traveling to Russia were probably writing some kind of similar reports. I thought that was useful, if we somehow informed our colleagues who traveled less abroad and wrote reports on what I saw in institutes, what kind of work was going on. — From my point of view that's not espionage, because no one was telling me any secrets, and I wasn't trying to worm my way into any secrets. I ever in conversations with anyone touched on any topics which could have been related to classified military issues. I even sometimes stressed that — I mean, I was often invited and people knew that we had certain financial problems — I was often invited to stay at someone's house. For example, when I was at Lamont I lived at Bruce Heezen's house. I never tried without his permission to rummage in his books, or look at his library. That would have been easy — I'm standing there in front of his bookshelves and they're asking to be looked at. But I never even tried to do that. You're laughing... Well, that's natural, because of course when in Moscow I go to my friend's house I stand in front of his bookshelves and I of course want to see what he's got that's interesting. That seems logical, simple to us — why not get into somebody's bookshelf and see what's of interest? But when I was abroad I never allowed myself to do that. Although I could see from the spines of the books that there were very interesting ones there. And sometimes those were books on borderline questions, borderline between non-classified and classified information. But I never did that. On my return from the US I several times did reports to the Academy of Sciences on ways of democratizing science, so that we could make use of the American experience, but this was never well received.
Visson:But did the agencies on one side — or the other — ever exert pressure on you to —
Udintsev:(interrupts): You know, of course our agencies demonstrated an interest, but I tried to somehow dodge that. And here… I don't want to... you know... this is a sticky question... Of course, that took place here, too. But I was guided by the following rule: not to do any harm to one or the other side. When I came to Lamont on the invitation of Maurice and John Ewing, John said to me: “There’ s some concern being expressed here by people with ties to...security. “I would Iike," John said — John is a very good person, l’d like to talk about him separately, a wonderful person — he may not be as known as a major scientific leader, but he’s a very important scientist - a good person - he said, "I’d like you — uh — not to spoil your reputation. I said to him, “John, I can give you my word of honor that I’ll never do anything that might be harmful to your country, just as I’ll never do anything harmful to my country. Because I love my country, I know that you love your country. I’m grateful to your country which allows me to come here, and I’ll never do anything bad to it. That I can promise you." And I think I kept my promise (laughs).
Visson:Before we go to Lamont — you were saying that in those years you still worked in the Institute of Oceanology. But then you moved to various institutes —
Udintsev:(interrupts) As I mentioned, in Russia — and probably in many countries — a strong protector is of great importance, particularly as important a scholar with an important position as Alexander Pavlovich Vinogradov. I was warned, in fact, by his secretary, who was my close friend, a middle-aged woman, who had known my grandfather. Her family is also from the Urals. She once said to me, "Your grandfather used to hold me on his lap." Therefore, since we were from the same place, she once said to me, "Gleb, Alexander Pavlovich is so positive about you — I’m even surprised at how he — well, really loves you. And trusts you. If something happens to you, people will take vengeance on you for that. He really sometimes publicly emphasized our relationship. If a decision was being taken on some question related to the oceans, the director and institute would meet ... Held say, "Well, I won’t take a decision until I’ve called in and consulted Udintsev." Well, and who’s Udintsev? Not even a Corresponding Member (of the Academy of Sciences - LV), a little doctor of sciences! Or I was on an expedition in the Sea of Okhotsk. Suddenly I’m called back — take the plane — drop the expedition — Alexander Pavlovich wants to consult me. Or once I was on an expedition in the Atlantic, and we were going back home. In a week we’d be home. We’re in Goteborg, the Swedish port, and there’s a telegram — "Udintsev urgently fly back to Moscow." Those were unusual cases, that kind of special attention to someone irritates other people. So I go back to Moscow because Alexander Pavlovich needs to consult me. (laughs). A lot depends on good relations. Soon after I started heading the laboratory, the director of the institute who replaced Professor Kort — a very good person — was an outstanding scholar, Professor Monin. On the one hand he’s an extraordinarily talented person, on the other, a person with all kinds of dictatorial manners. Before he became the Director he had worked for more than 20 years on the staff of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. He was in charge of science questions there. That seems to have instilled in him the habit of power. And he transferred that to running the institute. As I later understood, he was very irritated by the fact that I was having direct contacts with a person at a higher level than he was. That made him jealous. When inevitably — Vinogradov died, I was told, "Well, Gleb, hang on. Now you'll get it.” Because I was his favorite. And, indeed, the director, Andrei Sergeevich Monin — and I treated him with respect-
Visson:What year was this?
Udintsev:The end of 1975. No. Vinogradov died at the end of 1975, but as Pushkin said, "Again clouds are gathering over my head in the heavenly heights. And envious fate is again threatening me..." At the beginning of 1976 I had a very difficult conversation with Monin…He said to me, "Gleb, for a number of years, you were cooperating with the Vice-President of the Academy, bypassing me. This is not befitting your position within the hierarchy of the Academy of Sciences. You ignored me as the Director of the Institute. And I will now destroy you.” I was amazed, and said, "Andrei Sergeevich, how will you destroy me?" “Very simple,” he replied. "I will report that you were working for American intelligence. But I can also not destroy you. You will have to ask my forgiveness. You will have to quit as the head of the laboratory. You will have to become an ordinary staff member — as you deserve." I became indignant and said, "Andrei Sergeevich, there's no reason for me to ask your forgiveness. I don't think that I deserve to be taken down like this. He said, "Well, think about it.” That conversation lasted six hours. And it was on my wife's birthday. (Laughs). After the meeting of the Scientific Council (Uchenyi soviet: L V) I was supposed to go home, because guests were waiting, and instead of that the Director had said "Come to my office and let's talk.” And we talked for six hours until midnight. Only the fact that his driver said, "Andrei Sergeevich, I have to take the car back to the depot,” made him get up — it was Wednesday — and say, "well, think about it until Friday.” Then we’ll continue our conversation (laughter). I returned home; my wife was in tears, — I couldn't even phone her when I was with the director — she thought I was ignoring her birthday. All that is well — off the record. And on Friday I reaffirmed to him that I didn't think I was guilty of anything. He said, "OK." Further — there was an announcement made that I had wrecked the work of the department I had created — and at that time I wasn't just the head of the laboratory, I headed that department with more than 100 people.
Udintsev:The department of geophysics of the ocean floor. I was amazed — that was announced at the Scientific Council. I said, how could I have wrecked the work of a department which I myself created? If someone else had founded it and appointed me to it, I could have wrecked someone else’s work. But not my own. Nevertheless, that was announced, and I was forced to leave the institute. I understood that I wouldn’t be able to work there. I appealed to the new Vice-President, who knew me from my work.
Visson:Who was that?
Udintsev:The new Vice-President was Academician Sidorenko, the former minister of geology. He supported me and said, "Fine, we’ll transfer you to another institute, with your laboratory. See where you want to go." I’d been working for a long time with Professor Vladimir Vladimirovich Belousov, who headed a department in the Institute of the Physics of the Earth. I went to him and said, "Take me." He knew me from work during the IGY. Belousov was in charge of the Soviet Geophysical Committee, through which work was conducted on the IGY, the Indian Ocean expedition, the Upper Mantle Project and Icelandic expedition. He had a liking for me. He said, "Of course, I’ll take you." Although there were some problems after that, because Monin insisted to the director of that institute that they shouldn't take me. But Belousov was very independent, and many people caused problems for him because of that. And they tried to spoil his reputation. He insisted on taking me. Then pressure was exerted on Sidorenko. I even — it’s funny, but — this all dragged out for some two or three months, with no decision on the question of my transfer. Sidorenko was supposed to sign the order from the Presidium approving the transfer. So once I went to see him, and said, "Alexander Vasilievich, well, did you finally sign the transfer?” And he got angry, and said, "Why do you keep coming in? Go work. Why do you keep coming in about the transfer? I said, “I can't work in this situation. I'll tell you frankly. My car is down there under the window. I have a jerrican of gasoline in it. If you don't sign the transfer right now, I'll go downstairs, pour the gas over myself, and immolate myself up on the steps of the Presidium.” He looked at me. Stunned. And signed. He only said to me, “If only you knew how I'm being pressured not to sign these instructions...” I said to him, “I'm very grateful that you did that.” He asked, “Would you really have immolated yourself?” I said, “Yes, I would have." I'd been pushed to the limits, hadn't worked for three months. Then I started work in the Institute of the Physics of the Earth, and I worked there for ten years with Belousov, and I'm most grateful to him.
Visson:Did you have good relations with Belousov? GU. Yes, good relations.
Visson:When you said there were efforts made to spoil Belousov's reputation — how and in what way?
Udintsev:Belousov? He was very capable and very independent. In the Academy of Sciences — as anywhere - there are always competing groups, people meet, and a great deal of flexibility and tact is required to maintain good relations. Belousov was a very unusual person — very independent and very blunt. He didn't know how to stay on good terms with people he didn’t respect. Therefore, he had a lot of enemies. I once asked him how he managed to get so many ill-wishers. He was a very big man. He said, "You know, every time I turn around I bump into someone.” (Laughter). He had particularly many ill-wishers because held gotten on bad terms with a powerful group of geologists from the Geological Institute. Belousov himself worked in both the geological-educational institute and in the Institute of the Physics of the Earth. And he couldn't get on good terms with the group from the Geological Institute. Partially, I think it was because Belousov was so productive and focused. Every year, out came a book, and interesting articles... And he headed all the work for the IGY, headed the Geophysical Committee, he was very heavily protected by Vinogradov. He had very good relations with him. But his inflexibility and bluntness created a lot of enemies — and the conflict on plate tectonics.
Visson:When you were working with Belousov, did you still have the possibility to go on expeditions?
Udintsev:At that time my opportunities for travel were sharply limited. This is why. Monin had in fact written about me that I was working for American intelligence. That of course resulted in restrictions through the KGB. As we say, "they closed my visa." To go abroad or even on a marine expedition, I needed someone’s protection. Belousov provided that kind of backing. He went around and went to bat for me. My second protector was the person I spoke to you about at the very beginning of our talk, Ivan Dmitrievich Papanin. After a number of years of work in the Oceanology Institute, Papanin got a promotion. In the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences he was in charge of marine studies. Since he had been a rear admiral — though retired — he was very famous in Russia — the North Pole. Therefore he had great influence, and he also interceded for me with the Department of foreign Relations of the Academy of Sciences, and — now everyone knows this, then it was secret — the Travel Abroad (vyezdnaya: LV) Commission of the Central Committee of the CP. He went himself to the commission and said that he vouched for me. It was demanded of him that he give such a “guarantee,” that if I traveled I wouldn’t defect, and that nothing would happen. Papanin vouched for me, and so I started going on expeditions. And in 1979 I even went to a conference in Canada on the general bathymetric map of the oceans, in 1979 or 1980... That took an enormous amount of efforts. But all of my trips then had stopped. And l’d been active in running the international project on deep sea drilling, and I was immediately removed from that, replaced by someone else. There were very severe restrictions.
It’s too bad we have to stop now, but we’ll continue tomorrow on your trips, — we’re being interrupted now. Till tomorrow.