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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Henry Dorman by Tanya Levin on 1997 June 15,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Some of the topics discussed include: his childhood; education in geophysics at Columbia/Lamont; research in seismology; early use of computers in seismology and geophysics; influence of the International Geophysical Year on Lamont; international collaborations; Russian seismology; working with NASA and the lunar seismology experiments in the Apollo missions; move to University of Texas (Marine Biomedical Institute) at Galveston; Comparison of Lamont and Texas laboratories under Maurice Ewing; details of staff transfer, set-up of the new laboratory and acquisition of the Ida Green; factors in Lamont's success. Prominently mentioned are: Walter Bucher, Maurice Ewing, Cecil Green, Bruce Heezan, Gary Latham, John Lindberg, Jack Oliver, Walter C. Pitman, Frank Press, Marie Tharp, Joe Worzel.
Okay. It is the 15th of June, 1997, and this is a continuing interview with Jim Dorman. This is Tanya Levin. I was hoping that perhaps we could start with the International Geophysical Year which was in 1957 and talk a little bit about the impact and the influence on Lamont. I was wondering how did Lamont first become involved in the big project?
Well, I’m not too sure how it came about except that the International Geophysical Year brought us the opportunity to deploy some long period seismographs around the world. I think initially we were to build ten seismograph stations in various parts of the world based on the instrumentation that was developed in the early ‘50s at Lamont, the so-called Press-Ewing Long Period Seismograph. I remember in particular that Jack Oliver was directly involved in that project. He went to several of the locations around the world and set up the seismographs himself I remember in particular South Africa. If you talk with Jack, I’m sure he’ll tell you about his trip to South Africa. He spent some few weeks down there at least — I’m not sure how long — getting things arranged, teaching people how to tend the instruments and the recordings came back from South Africa for a number of years. The seismograph was in Peter Maritzburg, if I’m not mistaken. Other stations where the instrumentation was simply shipped out to people who presumably had the skills in running seismic observatories. This was primarily just for new long period instrumentation which did not exist around the world up till that time. So we could expect to get extremely interesting records of long period seismic waves from big earthquakes, something that no one had ever seen, especially on a worldwide basis. I remember we shipped on instrument to Suva, Fiji.
It was tended by a man there, a technician in the observatory by the name of Bob Houtz, H-O-U-T-Z, who later came to Lamont. Bob was already a seismic technician, engineering skills and so on. He set up the seismograph. He knew that the suspension was supposed to be adjusted to a 15 second free period. We began to get records back from Suva and unusually long period waves of great, you know, very high quality records. This went on for a while, seemed like Suva, Fiji was our best seismograph station in the whole world. Finally it came out that in British terminology a 15 second period means half the cycle is 15 seconds. In American terminology 15 seconds means that the full cycle is 15 seconds. So in other words, he had adjusted his suspension to what we would have called a 30 second free period. As a result, it was an even better filter and got the low frequency waves. That sort of put Bob Houtz on a pedestal. [Laughs] He later came to Lamont. He may still be there. I’m not sure if he’s at Lamont or not.
What other types of cultural miscommunications occurred in placing these instruments around the world?
Well, some of the stations were a disappointment. If I’m not mistaken it was a station in Rio De Janeiro which never produced data. I remember seeing — I’m not sure if they ever got good recordings on the long period instruments. I remember seeing records with straight lines, just drawn like a ruler where the wires were either disconnected or something was totally wrong with the whole system. The technician changed the paper every day, developed the records — you know, this was photographic recordings now, you probably can see old photo paper records at Lamont — and sent them, mailed them off to us. There was absolutely no data on any of them for a long, long time. I can’t remember whether he was — I don’t think at that time we were receiving short period output from these instruments. I think just the long period. Later in the Worldwide Standardized Seismograph Network the instrumentation was similar except that there was also a short period seismograph and a long period. So there were six sheets of paper per day. This means three components, north-south, east-west and vertical. But they had the long period and short period in the Worldwide Network. You can find this out from someone at Lamont who has all those archives there. But the IGY instruments were the first worldwide long period network. These were set up by the seismology group at Lamont.
Were there any explanations that were coming from Brazil that you heard of?
I don’t remember if we ever — the trouble seemed to be that there was no one at the observatory who was really interested or understood what long period seismograms could be used for. Of course, they can be used for studies of the continental crust and studies of large earthquakes. But there was a technician who knew how to change paper. He evidently didn’t know whether, how to tell if the instruments were working or else didn’t care. I don’t really know. There may be someone — maybe Jack Oliver would remember about that situation.
Was Jack pretty much the only one who was sent around to look at places or did others go?
I think the arrangements varied. Jack set up the instruments in South Africa personally. There was a geophysics group at Peter Maritzburg at the Bernard Price Institute. But I think — but I’m not sure if they had ever been involved in long period seismology. But in other parts of the world there were observatories, like Suva, Fiji, was a seismic observatory before our instruments were sent there. I don’t remember the exact list of stations. There were several of them in the United States, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania had a — which is a state college — had an instrument. I think Jack set that up, too. But there was a man there in the physics department who was interested in it and did a good job in tending the instruments. There was a set of instruments sent to Ottawa, Canada, and of course there was a Dominion observatory group up there that had many competent people. The data from there were excellent. Others in the United States I’d have to look and see again what all the locations were. There was a Lamont location, of course.
Although in South America a lot of the stations weren’t there. Do you remember anyone going down there?
I don’t remember anybody from Lamont traveling to South America. I don’t really remember anything of that sort. Maybe no one did. Maybe it was all done by shipping the instruments to someone who had agreed to set them up and take care of them.
Columbia, their Department of Geology, how did they react to IGY? Were they ever involved in it?
I don’t think so. The IGY, of course, was a — provided sponsorship for a good many Lamont projects. I wasn’t really directly involved in the IGY seismograph project. But I was indirectly as a member of the seismology group. But I don’t remember that much about specific projects, but there were many and they involved other groups at Lamont as well because if I point to those Lamont volumes there, those bound reprints, there’s definitely a hiatus in publication of papers in 1957. This was when people were in the field, collecting data and neglecting the writing up of previous work. Then a year or so later there is a great fattening of the volumes 1958 and 1959. It was a big transient in the output of the whole lab. A brief decrease while everybody started new projects and gathered new data, and then a big increase later while everybody got that data into print. Those volumes there were bound reprints that Dr. Ewing arranged to give to staff members. Let me just look at the years on those. Just a moment.
We were just looking at the bound reprints and noticing that there was a substantial decrease in the year 1958 when IGY was — [cross talk]
Right. A decrease in 1958 and a big rebound in 1959 when the work was over and people started to publish their results from the IGY projects. Then from there on, the output grew. Two volumes a year were published in the 1960s. My bound reprint volumes started in 1956. That’s because I was sitting at my desk one day. Someone came in and laid this on my desk and said, “It’s yours. From Doc.” So he was giving copies of bound reprints to a large number of grad students. I didn’t finish my degree for three years after that. And to staff members also. They were very handy because they contained all the Lamont papers, and you could look up anything that happened three or four years ago. I still use it today to find papers that I recall that were written by Lamont people. So it was a morale item. A big, important thing that he did just because he wanted to maintain a good staff morale and to keep all those folks working hard at Lamont.
To increase unity among the staff? To have their contributions in the journal?
Yes, everybody looked through to see what had happened during the year, how many papers had been published, who was doing what. I mean, as Lamont got bigger it was a more important way to keep up with the work other people were doing. You didn’t always hear about this. But we were very grateful. I’m still very grateful that I have them. I use them. Arch Johnston uses them. People come over from the library sometimes and ask me. So they’ve been very handy.
When IGY started were the works in progress interrupted or just diverted or did people continue to work on their own projects during the time of IGY?
Well, the IGY projects turned out to be, I suppose, the major project for a lot of people at that point. A lot of funding is short-term funding. You finish a project, and you look around for something to do. In those days, of course, money came, support came in great big contracts and renewed annually. We probably didn’t have a large number of contracts in the ‘50s, probably 2 or 3 big ones. In the ‘60s when the National Science Foundation got up more speed — you know, in the early ‘50s there was no NSF. It was the Office of Naval Research was really the predecessor of NSF. In fact, when I got to Columbia in 1951, Arthur Strahler down in Schermerhorn Hall who was a geomorphologist, he was studying land forms in Nevada. His sponsor was the U.S. Navy, Office of Naval Research. That was really the predecessor institution of National Science Foundation. Today a project like that would be sponsored by the NSF Earth Sciences Division. But the sponsoring projects of Lamont for running the vessels and doing experiments at sea, which you know even then were relatively expensive in terms of operating ships, came in big chunks. The support for seismology came in a big chunk from Air Force research money. So there weren’t a large number of projects. The IGY projects were added to those. And Lamont grew 15% a year or so throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s. That’s why we absorbed most of our own graduates. Most of the people who finished graduate work stayed at Lamont, or many of them did. A few left. Dr. Ewing didn’t want them to leave. Because he knew that we needed everybody. Work was growing. In the ‘50s Lamont was one of the very few institutions in the country that could do credible geophysical work. The money came because there weren’t, there were no, a great number of competitors. The growth, I think, was probably if you look at the number of staff members year by year or the budgets year by year, would be about 15% a year. In other words, that’s a high growth rate. A lot of companies on the New York Stock Exchange would be happy to have a 15% growth of earnings or growth of revenue. That’s about the way it was. Growth of revenue.
How well did you know people like Gordon Lill at the Office of Naval Research? Or William Benson at NSF? Did you come into contact with these people?
I did not know Gordon Lill. I remember the name very well. But this is, because the dealings with the sponsoring agencies, the Navy and the Air Force, were done by a very small number of people. I wasn’t among the ones who negotiated contracts. I knew some of these folks. Maybe I met them once or twice just incidentally. But I was not involved in the ‘50s or in the ‘60s in negotiating major contracts. You named a couple of other people there that I might not have even recognized.
William Benson of NSF.
No, I knew Bill Benson. But I don’t believe I ever submitted a proposal to him while he was at that job.
I was wondering too about the time that you spent as Assistant Director, interesting, what were your major responsibilities?
Mainly running around and putting out fires. I would see Dr. Ewing quite frequently. He would ask me to do little jobs basically. I had one or two things of continuing responsibility, but one of them was to when we organized a formal salary committee to review employees, each employee, once a year on the anniversary of employment date. So basically we had 12 meetings a year to review people who had come to work in the month of January, December, whatever, I was involved in that, and we set up a more formal system in the mid-‘60s to get formal appraisals and recommendations from supervisors of each employee and create a file of achievements and so on that could be reviewed by our salary committee and decisions were made on raises and so on and promotions and what not. Those were all sent to Dr. Ewing. The people who served on that committee were Joe Worzel, myself, Mary Burton, who was a personnel representative. She had experience working in the Personnel Office in the downtown campus, and she came to Lamont in maybe the mid ‘60s. So that put our personnel office on a more formal, businesslike basis with a person experienced in University procedures. And she was a great help. And Arnold Finck, I think, also sat on that committee. So there were four of us who met once a month and reviewed recommendations. Otherwise, the duties of the assistant director were simply to do all the things that [laughs] Dr. Ewing asked or that Dr. Worzel asked. I worked just as much with Joe Worzel as I did with Doc Ewing because I was in touch with both of them quite often. Basically doing trouble-shooting. That sort of thing. I did a lot of hand holding and soothing of ruffled feathers here and there, you know.
Do you have examples of that?
Yes, I guess, well we had a — From time to time we would have a staff member who was really upset about something or other. I can’t remember the man’s name, but he was a short-term Lamont employee in the mid-60s. I think he was a biologist or a micropaleontologist, perhaps, yes. Because I went to his office in the old core lab upper story that was built on top of the garage for the analytical lab and I don’t remember the man’s name. I spoke with him for several hours about his problem. It was just a matter of pride or a matter of some imagined insult or wasn’t accorded a high enough respect in some fashion or other. Those are the sort of things I dealt with.
By whom did he feel he wasn’t getting respect?
I don’t remember at all. There were a number of — you know, in any big organization there are always — I don’t know if it’s jealousies, if that’s the right word. Certainly, when people put personal pride ahead of the getting the job done, why things go wrong. The thing you have to do is convince the person that it’s really more important to get this job done than to get an apology from so and so. You know, because so and so is never going to issue the exact apology you want, and let’s get on with the show because your own interest means that next year nobody’s going to care whether you got an apology for this thing; they’re going to look and see what you accomplished this year. Don’t spend too much time worrying about what happened yesterday. So that happens in every organization, I’m sure. In Exxon I did not have any management role really, so I really wasn’t involved in that stuff. It was great; I spent 95% of my time on science. I certainly didn’t do that at Lamont after I became Assistant Director which I think was 1963 when I returned from Wisconsin or 1964 when I returned from Moscow. Dr. Ewing asked me to be Assistant Director; actually Dr. Worzel told me that they wanted me to take that job. I think Chuck [Charles L.] Drake had been Assistant Director and wanted to spend time on other things. I spoke to Chuck about it because I knew he was Assistant Director, and it seemed like he was stepping out of the job. He said, “Yes, I really have asked to be relieved of duty.” So I said I’d be Assistant Director. I kept my office in the seismology building. I think somebody suggested I move over to an office in oceanography, and I said, “Well, you know, I’m a seismologist.”
Do you know why they suggested you move?
I guess Dr. Worzel might have asked me about that because that way I could interact with him more closely. His office was in oceanography. But I said, “OK, it would be nice to have a representative of the lab administration in each building if you could.”
Because, of course, Ewing was still in Lamont Hall.
Ewing was in Lamont Hall. There was no suggestion that I move into Lamont Hall. I said to Joe [Worzel], “If I stay in the seismology building, at least people know that seismology is not a stepchild of the University or of the Observatory.” He was satisfied with that. We worked together on that, and the rest of the time I was at Lamont I was in that job. I had specific assignments. A lot of them were short-term. Some of them were longer term.
At times did it seem like people thought perhaps that there was the idea that seismology was the stepchild, that it was somehow —?
No, I don’t think so. I think Dr. Ewing didn’t want anybody to — he wanted all the programs to thrive. There were different degrees of thriving. There were some he didn’t understand very well because of the science involved, like geochemistry or biology and so on. Geochemistry thrived. I don’t know whether biology really thrived or not. But he was well acquainted with the issues in seismology, the technical issues, because he worked on seismology a lot in the area of Frank Press. And when Jack Oliver was doing his graduate work he devoted a lot of time. Up to the time they finished the textbook, Elastic Waves and Layered Media with Press and [Wenceslas S.] Jardetsky, he worked on seismology a lot. So he knew those issues, and he was always concerned. In fact, he was the principal investigator of the seismology program, that meant the chief representative to the Air Force, up until well into the ‘60s. I don’t know exactly what date. He just sort of stepped out of the whole thing, and Jack Oliver became the principal investigator. It was probably high time because Jack was involved in that full-time, and Doe was not even involved in it even part-time really except to hear about it. So there really was no stepchild at Lamont as far as a program was concerned. He was concerned about micropaleontology. I think the effort to bring this particular man in was to provide more firepower. You know, the one I spoke of that had a problem and left. I think he left within a year or so. And [Robert] Menzies was in that category. Bob Menzies, who we spoke about yesterday, was in that category. A marine biologist, competent in micropaleontology, I believe. David Ericson was working right on through all of this. David was not interested in directing any program, supervising a staff of junior people. He was interested in doing his own work, and he published in the field. But there were several people who were brought in to try to expand the micropaleontology because that was an important area of core analysis.
John Imbrie was there?
John Imbrie never worked at Lamont. John Imbrie I don’t believe ever had an office or a lab on the Lamont campus. I don’t think so, or did he?
He worked with Lamont.
Yes. Yes. He may have had sample material from core that was given to him at Lamont. I don’t think he ever came out and dug into cores and worked on them. He didn’t do his work at Lamont, for one thing. He did not have a lab there. He worked in Schermerhorn until he went to Brown. His office was in Schermerhorn. I don’t believe he ever had an office at Lamont. But I may be wrong about that. In the late 60s, after 1969, I spent so much time in Houston on the lunar project that I began to lose touch even with things in seismology at Lamont. That was sort of natural because we would go down to Houston for two months on each mission and a lot of trips to Houston. We just lived in motels right by the space center for two months and wrote reports on each space mission. So I lost touch with some things that were going on. That’s why I didn’t know John Armbruster as well as I would have in 1971.
John Armbruster. The man who was just here. He’s a present Lamont employee. He’s in the seismology department.
During your time, you were responsible for arbitration between employees, soothing ruffled feathers.
Yes, I remember being in several buildings, talking with people who had these problems, not grudges, but serious mental blocks about what had just happened to them or something like that.
During this period is when it truly became difficult between Ewing and Heezen and Ewing and Tharp. What exactly triggered this? What was going on?
Of all the questions that I’m ever asked as an ex-Lamonter, a Lamont administration person, never while I was at Lamont, but since I’ve left Lamont I’ve been asked this question more than any other, of what happened between Ewing and Heezen because this was well known across the country. I never discussed it with anyone unless they asked me, and I didn’t try to give them a complete answer by any means. In fact, I was very much concerned about it. I’m not sure how much it impeded the progress of Lamont. I think it probably impeded quite a bit in the area of marine geology where Bruce [Heezen] worked. I never exactly understood it. I have an explanation from Bruce. I don’t, I never — Dr. Ewing never really told me what his side of it was.
Did he ever talk about it?
Only just in passing. He did not criticize Bruce to other people. I don’t believe I ever heard him do that. There would be a reference once in a while. You couldn’t avoid the fact that they weren’t working together anymore. It was frustration on his part. I’m sure it was frustration on Bruce’s part. Neither of them liked the situation. Bruce once told me that the way it got started, and this would be his explanation, was that he and Marie Tharp had drawn the physiographic diagram of the North Atlantic. This was the first physiographic diagram of the ocean basins, and they became very famous for that one piece of work. I think it was Bruce who told me that he was getting into the car in the parking lot with the manuscript for the physiographic diagram to go down to the Geological Society. It was published by the Geological Society. He was taking the final map down there. At that point, the authorship was Heezen and Tharp. He says that Dr. Ewing came out and interrupted him, and they had words about the authorship of the map. It ended up, I believe, Heezen, Tharp and Ewing. I don’t know if that’s all there was to it. But I think it was — Did you ever hear that before?
I believe I have. Problems over authorship.
You have. Over authorship. The only thing that was ever mentioned to me was the authorship of that one map. Of course, that was an important Lamont contribution, and I don’t think Dr. Ewing’s contribution was negligible in that case. He had planned many of the cruises and had planned a lot of the work; he directed a lot of the work. So I don’t think it was an unreasonable arrangement that he should be an author of that document. Of course, he was the author of 365 papers, a lot of which he never wrote. He may have changed a few words in the final draft. But he was an important contributor to every project at Lamont. He was an important contributor to several of my projects where he did not run the computer or push the buttons. But he did look at the work. I imagine he looked at the physiographic diagram while it was being drawn.
Did you try to arbitrate between Bruce and Ewing?
I did once. In fact, this is where I met Polykarp Kusch. Polykarp Kusch was a Nobel laureate of physics. He had been lecturing in Pupin Hall when I was a student there. I never took a course from him. I knew who he was. He became vice president or provost or head of our school, graduate school of I don’t know, whatever, I can’t remember the titles at Columbia. But he was a high ranking academic officer, and his office was in Low Library. I can’t remember how I happened to — maybe he called me to come downtown. We talked about the Ewing-Heezen situation. He had become concerned about it. I think it was his suggestion; we drafted a peace treaty between Ewing and Heezen and wanted them both to sign.
What was on that treaty?
Oh, it was the basic things about — well, the issues had developed in this controversy in certain directions. Evidently, Bruce did quite a bit of work off the campus. And he took materials off the campus to, I guess, Nyack. Maybe it was Marie [Tharp]’s house. She has a house in Nyack, right? I’ve never been there. But as I understood it, a lot of the work on marine geology was being done at her house. Part of the issue was that Dr. Ewing or Dr. Worzel was upset that all of this data was unavailable or at least up in Nyack, no inventory, et cetera, et cetera. So that, at least logging that data in and out, was part of the treaty. I think probably my idea. Dr. Kusch didn’t know anything about that. That was probably one of the details in the treaty. I don’t have a copy of it, I don’t believe. I’ve never seen one in recent years in any files that I have. So I was to take that back to the campus and get both parties to sign onto this thing. I think I saw Bruce, and he was willing to — I imagine I — I don’t know if I made copies for everybody. In those days, Xerox machines were rare, you know. I don’t think we had a Xerox machine. So we might have had this thing typed with a few carbons or something. I think Heezen was willing to sign on. I don’t remember what he said about it. I think I showed it to him first. Then I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to show it to Joe Worzel, and we’ll take it to Doc [Ewing].’ And Joe didn’t want to take it to Doc. He said, “Doc will never agree with this.” So basically it stopped there.
Why did Joe think Ewing wouldn’t agree?
I don’t know. It was his view of the controversy.
And you didn’t take this treaty to —
I did not take it to Doc Ewing myself. So I guess I got in touch with Dr. Kusch a week or so later and said, “We’ve run into trouble. Maybe you ought to speak to Dr. Ewing yourself.” I don’t know that he ever did. I’m not sure that’s the way to solve a problem or not. It didn’t work. I think it was just a matter of two very proud people who felt that they hadn’t been shown enough respect and things went from bad to worse. Probably.
Did it get any better about the time that Ewing was leaving?
Not that I know of. I’m sure they both respected each other professionally. In fact, Dr. Ewing never criticized Bruce either personally or in his work. But it was a matter of kiss and make up or shake hands. This thing is ridiculous. But these things happen. There’s probably a lot of it in academia.
Were other members of the Columbia faculty perturbed by this? You say Kusch was.
Well, I don’t know. We didn’t have really a lot of contact with Columbia faculty members, except Geology Department people. Even not too much because there would be months on end when I would not be down on the Morningside Campus. I’m sure there were years on end when some of the geology faculty members were never at Lamont. When we dedicated the Oceanography Building, the day we dedicated the cornerstone, Dr. [Grayson] Kirk came out and was at that ceremony. This was the first permanent building after the temporary, the Butler Building, which is now the administration and so on building, or was the administration building. I guess the director’s office is in the new geology building, is it not? I haven’t even been in the director’s office since that building was built. What I was going to say, some deans and vice presidents came out to Lamont the day of that dedication. I took one of these men in my car and showed him around the campus and talked with him for an hour or two. I think maybe I even took him back to New York. But otherwise there was very seldom anybody from the Morningside Campus ever showing up at Lamont. This was the first time I had ever seen any University administrators there. Dr. Kirk was there. I suppose he spent quite a bit of time with Dr. Ewing that day. But it was rare. I think nowadays the University pays much more attention to Lamont. I think in the ‘60s they were glad Lamont was there, they knew they were doing great work and they were very happy. But they didn’t get involved at all. Dr. Ewing was the dean and vice president of everything at Lamont, you see. He was in charge of everything, including planning and everything else that went on. They did not take an interest; the University administration did not take a hand in any of it.
Would you consider that salutary neglect?
Yes, I think so. Benign neglect. In other words things went along quite well because that’s the way the Lamont people were successful. We didn’t have to convince a whole line of bureaucrats. Of course it isn’t like a state university; Columbia is a private university. We certainly didn’t have to convince a line of bureaucrats when we needed to put up a new storage shed or even a new science building. Probably plans like that were approved routinely, if at all, on the Morningside Campus. I don’t know. There was a Lamont advisory committee or whatever, let’s see, in 1962, administrative board. And I know some of these people. I know Wallace Eckert. I never saw him at Lamont. I knew Ralph Halford. I never saw him at Lamont. Professor Kusch, of course I knew. Again, I never did see him at Lamont. The others here are members of the Lamont faculty. I don’t know who Lester Bar [?] — Okay, you see, if this administrative board met in 1962 at all, it probably met downtown. I never, I don’t believe I ever heard about it. Dr. Ewing was not a great one for forming committees and running things in a formal committee fashion. When decisions had to be made at Lamont, he simply called in the people who were most concerned and most knowledgeable and got things done. So there wasn’t a chain of command at the University that was really effectively guiding anything. I think if this administrative board did anything, they just took Dr. Ewing’s recommendations once a year, whatever or his report.
I was wondering did you hear any sort of controversy between Bruce and Ewing at the ‘65 International Oceanography meeting in Moscow?
No, I wasn’t there, of course. I wasn’t working in oceanography at the time. I don’t believe I even heard of anything that came up at that meeting. As I say, I was with Dr. Ewing in 1960 in Helsinki. That was a totally different meeting. International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics. He brought Jim [James] Heirtzler to Helsinki with him. Jim had just joined the staff. In fact, I had not even met Jim in Palisades. I first met him in Helsinki when Dr. Ewing introduced him to me. Jim Heirtzler had been appointed as head of the geomagnetism program, and he was an experienced person in geomagnetic pulsations. He had a very important role in the early 60s, well throughout the early ‘60s in building the magnetic program at Lamont. He was the senior person.
I have here a copy of a memo that you sent to Dr. Ewing in ‘69 about the funding and about the Lamont grants. It voices concern the non-academic staff and their funding. How much of a problem was that at the time?
Well, I don’t know. I’d have to read this memo and see what I said in 1960. You want to turn that off for a moment? Let me read the rest of the memo first. Yes, well, evidently with reference to this memo I wrote on January 2, 1969 there was a letter from President [Andrew] Cordier in which President Cordier assumed that the first priority of the Lamont endowment would be to guarantee the faculty, the tenured faculty. What I said here was that the University administration did not seem to understand the Lamont phenomenon which depended a lot on a large senior staff of people who did not have faculty positions. Of course I was one of them. I think Dr. Ewing asked me at one time if I wanted to be nominated for faculty appointment. I said, “No, I think some member of the Lamont administration should be a senior staff person not a faculty person.” The faculty members were also members of the senior staff. But Dr. Ewing was very foresighted in the way he — the appointment, the formalizing of a senior staff of the Observatory including senior research associates and some faculty people was his response to the Doherty Foundation. The Doherty Foundation told him they thought there should be a senior staff of the Observatory. And he said, “Okay, we’ll appoint a senior staff. It will include a lot of faculty members, and it will include a lot of senior research associates who are running programs and carrying out important responsibilities here.” O.K. He did not assume that every tenured faculty member was a member of the senior staff. In fact, we did appoint some assistant professors to the senior staff as they came along. They weren’t automatically members of the senior staff.
The senior staff was something, of course, not really recognized by the University because the title ‘research associates’ mean different things in different departments. At Lamont it was a rank for people who were competent in their science and were doing work recognized in the field and were heading programs or projects. In some departments a research associate is a graduate student who’s really an apprentice to a faculty person. So there was no uniformity in the University. There was no job title that would recognize a non-faculty person as being a senior responsible scientist. That’s what Dr. Ewing did with the senior staff. Evidently here President Cordier didn’t get that message or didn’t understand that, didn’t probably even know a thing about it, and just assumed that the new endowment would guarantee the salaries of faculty members. Actually Dr. Ewing put the whole senior staff under the umbrella of endowment support. And it worked in several cases that senior staff members who lost funding in one thing or another received endowment support for a period of time.
Where did the idea for the senior staff come from?
From the, from the — I think originally it came out of discussions between Walter Brown and Chauncey Newlin of the Doherty Foundation with Dr. Ewing. They wanted to be sure that this gift would put the Observatory on a firm footing for a long period of time, and the best way to do it was to make sure that the senior staff was still there and did not dissipate in some downturn of funding. Of course, the endowment was not sufficient to pay everybody at the Observatory nor not even sufficient to pay the senior staff at the Observatory. Lamont is still one of the institutions that derives an incredibly high proportion of its money from contracts and grants year in and year out. It’s a hand to mouth proposition. Even though the Lamont endowment has grown a lot since it was first started in 1968 or ‘69, why it still is nowhere near enough to pay the bills, from endowment income.
So Lamont was concerned that the Observatory be more self-sufficient with funds? Or just frugal with the funds that they had just given them?
Well, the Doherty gift was for an endowment. Question is what are the priorities of this endowment. It seemed as though President Cordier assumed that it would be the faculty. My contention here was that it’s not just the faculty; it’s the senior staff. That includes faculty members, but it also includes an important contingent of non-faculty people who are, you know, an indispensable part of the Observatory. There now are a good many more faculty people at Lamont. After 1972 when we left Lamont there was a great many senior people given some kind of faculty appointments. Those were probably supported by Lamont endowment, too. I don’t know. Or the Lamont endowment is the source of last resort. I’m sure faculty people at Lamont are paid partly from contracts and grants. Maybe some of them are paid largely from contracts and grants. But it seemed at that time that the University could make additional faculty appointments, which turned out to be many of the senior staff people who formerly were working without faculty appointments. But Dr. Ewing wanted to make the senior staff a prestigious group, representing much more than just faculty people. And he knew that that was not fully recognized by the University. It was simply a Lamont phenomenon. I was concerned in that memo just about President Cordier’s letter, but I’m sure I didn’t have to give this lecture to Dr. Ewing. [Laughs] He was the one who invented the idea. I simply wanted to support him in his plan for the senior staff which included a lot more than the faculty. You see at that time, the faculty consisted of probably associate professors, one or two, a couple of professors in chemistry, or three. Donald Garlick held an assistant professorship before he left Lamont. Wally Broecker held a faculty position. Paul Gast held a faculty position. I don’t know if any others in geochemistry — see, there were still five or six key people in geochemistry who were not faculty members. And that was the same way all over the rest of the Observatory.
Were there tensions between the senior staff and the faculty? Because the faculty did have tenured positions usually. They were more stable.
Yes, University tenured positions. But, my contention was that in the use of the endowment that the faculty should not be given the highest priority because that was not the intention of the Doherty Foundation, nor Dr. Ewing. Because the whole senior staff really was the priority.
Had problems arisen earlier?
No, I don’t think this was a problem. Dr. Ewing set up a fairly formal structure for the senior staff at the time of the Doherty gift, and this was because he probably felt that it was high time to do this and to provide more recognition for the senior staff and in particular to tell the University that we have a lot of non-faculty people here who are key to the Observatory. But he was very glad to do that. In this case, he would be basically working against Dr. Cordier, or he would be doing something Dr. Cordier never heard of, didn’t understand. Because in most departments about the only people who are leading programs are faculty members. That was not true in physics, of course. There were physics labs out in the country where the professors were hardly ever present. There was a cyclotron laboratory at Nevis estate in Dobbs Ferry which I was over there a number of times, but I never saw a physics faculty member there.
How was this issue resolved?
Oh, it wasn’t an issue. It was Dr. Ewing, probably if I discussed this with him later, I don’t remember, he said, “Well, yes, that’s the way it is. No problem.”
And it wasn’t a problem with Cordier?
Oh, I don’t think so. Because Dr. Ewing did include non-faculty people under the Doherty endowment umbrella. He did.
Were you aware of the negotiations going on for this endowment?
Yes. But, of course, I wasn’t involved very much. It was mainly a discussion between Dr. Ewing and the principals of the Doherty Foundation. They had an oil property which is known in Delta Farms, Louisiana. I don’t know. I think they almost wound down the Foundation with this gift. They sold the property and the money was given to Columbia. It was a restricted gift for basically the purposes we’re talking about in this memo. To stabilize the employment situation for senior staff at Lamont Observatory. Interesting thing about this gift, Dr. Ewing told me he had been told by President Cordier that when this gift was offered to the University, it went into President Cordier’s office. Then it was that at that point a number of vice presidents and treasurers and what not found out about the gift. I don’t think they had known about the negotiations for the gift prior to the offer from the Foundation, the letter from the Foundation. I do not have a copy of the letter, but I’m sure it went down to President Cordier. And I think, he told Dr. Ewing that he took seven top administrative officials to lunch to talk about this restricted gift for Lamont Observatory. He said the vote was 7 to 1 against accepting the gift. Whether that’s true or not, I have to take Dr. Ewing’s word. President Cordier said, “But I’m going to give myself ten votes.” So the gift was accepted. That’s the way Dr. Ewing told it.
Do you remember why they did not want the gift?
Because, I can only guess, it was the largest single gift in the history of Columbia University up to that time — there have been lots of larger gifts in recent years since then — but it was a surprise to the University administration. I’m sure they would much have rather have had an unrestricted gift that could have been used by the University for general purposes. They did not understand probably initially that these folks in the Doherty Foundation were interested in the earth science. They were oilmen and they were interested in the Observatory, not in the University. They were New York people, but they made their money elsewhere. They were interested in the Observatory and Dr. Ewing. So maybe they simply would urge President Cordier to approach the Foundation and see if this could be made an unrestricted gift. I don’t know. My conversation with Dr. Ewing was very brief. I’m sure it was just a remark from President Cordier. He said, “The vote was ten to seven.” Or so, whatever in favor of accepting the gift as offered.
This was a time of economic problems for Columbia.
Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Columbia was in dire straits at this point. I don’t know the date at which the gift was accepted.
Around ‘69, ‘68.
‘68 or ‘69 probably in ‘68 some point. Then President Cordier wrote to Dr. Ewing late in ‘68. But yes the University was in dire straits. There was a budget deficit. They were spending money from the Columbia endowment year by year to keep the place going. Costs had risen very rapidly, you know. Costs of maintaining the buildings. This was a period when the housekeeping employees, maintenance employees became unionized. I’ve told you about the high turnover rate in clerical or non-faculty administrative jobs downtown. The point I remember is that the only person in the Purchasing Department at Columbia University who had been there more than a year was the director. There was a 50% turnover rate in the office. Fifty percent a year. And this would be low salaries and poor conditions of employment. Non-recognition of non-faculty people. The Second class citizen syndrome. I’m sure the University would have liked to have an unrestricted gift at that point. So maybe it wasn’t just that they voted against it; maybe they just wanted the Foundation to consider an unrestricted gift instead. Well, they never were asked to do that. The gift was accepted as is because of President Cordier.
When you became assistant director what visions and ideas did you have?
Well, I said here at Memphis I do not do formal planning. I write a proposal. If it gets funded, I’ll work on it. That’s about the extent of my formal planning. Yes, we have a mission in this Center and we had a mission at Lamont. The mission at Lamont was probably to branch into as many areas of earth science as we could with competent work. We might want to hire people in brand new fields, and that has happened many, many times at Lamont because we know that the data we are getting could be interpreted by other people skilled in those areas. We have access to a lot of sources of information that we cannot deal with as geophysicists, for example. Now, Lamont has climatologists. They have people who are working on atmospheric circulation. There’s a man who works on the Triassic stratigraphy of the Eastern United States. A very interesting subject. We had no one competent in that area at the time. But these are all important. In fact, that particular subject, Triassic stratigraphy, has helped a lot in the overall Lamont program on climatology and climate change and so on. The man’s first name is Paul. I can’t remember his last name. He was not there when I was at Lamont. Obviously well known in his field and a person who came to Lamont with a lot of skills in a new field. So that was our goal for Lamont: to become an all-encompassing earth science laboratory. Nothing ruled out. It’s done pretty much that way. Marshall Key was interested in it because he realized Dr. Ewing didn’t rule out stratigraphy as a worthwhile subject. That’s why Dr. Bucher was interested in it. Marshall Kay had an office at Lamont. After I left, I think. When he retired. Maybe it was before I left. See, some things happened from ‘69 to 1972 that I didn’t even know about because I was in Houston so much. Even Dr. Ewing came down to Houston for long periods of time. It was sort of like when he goes on a vessel for a month or two. He came to Houston for one to three weeks at a time to work with us on the moon project.
And we do need to get into that, but before we do, I was wondering: you had mentioned about the conference and we talked a little about the conference you went to for IUGG [International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics] in Finland. I was wondering, you were of course meeting internationally. What differences did you notice between the way seismology got done at Lamont or even in the U.S. with what was done, say, by the Russians or throughout the world?
Well, my main contacts with Russian seismologists were really, except for seeing their papers — you know, we didn’t have e-mail to Moscow or anything like that. There were two, first I got to know some of the people during the Helsinki meeting. The second thing was I went to a —
Do you remember who they were? The ones that you met?
Well, yes, I can see their faces. [laughs] I can’t remember all of the names. I could probably remember some of the names after digging around a little bit. I’m sure I could find them, but Russian science I believe flourished in the late ‘50s and the ‘60s. It was a very important part of earth science. I remember at Helsinki that Stishov gave a talk about Stishovite which is a high temperature form of quartz, high pressure form of quartz, or silica, which he discovered, or fabricated in the laboratory. And I remember Stishov’s paper as a very intense interest. I was there. At that point, Russian earth science was in a growth stage. The Russians began to shoot refraction profiles on a mammoth scale. It’s sort of like the Russian space program, bigger and heavy and impressive. They shot long, long refraction profiles with hundreds of seismometers on the lines. Big explosion sources. The problem was they did not publish their data in any great detail. They put points on a graph. They did not put seismic traces on the graphs. They put picks of first arrivals, second arrivals and so on. But they were doing world-class experiments and making big contributions. However, the whole system really declined in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It got to be where Russian earth science was almost irrelevant finally. I think —
Were you aware of the decline as it was happening?
Well, at one point, five or ten years ago, I said, “You know, really, what we’ve gotten out of Russian in earth science the last ten years is not really as important as it was in the ‘50s or the ‘60s.” It just became apparent. I was in touch with only one or two people occasionally. I was in touch with Keilas Borac who came to Lamont, and I met him at several other meetings. He was in the United States a lot at various meetings. He was a special friend of Leon Knopoff at UCLA. But he visited Lamont, and I was his host there at one time. In fact, he was on his way to Los Angeles when I took him to the airport. The last time I saw Dr. Keilas Borac was at Cornell at the time of Jack Oliver’s retirement party. I spoke with him in an office. He had been there as a visitor, and he was working in an office there. He had a young associate from Moscow who was with him. I sat down and talked with him a little bit. He was disappointed to find out I was still working on some of the same things I had been working on in the ‘60s. I guess. Well, he’s a mathematician, not really an earth scientist. Then he showed me a scheme. I probably have it in a file. Which is his version of the New Madrid Seismic Zone. He had some maps which he thought were relevant to the tectonics of the New Madrid Seismic Zone.
They had all sorts of strange things on them that I had never seen before. I had no idea what the basis of this was. I brought this stuff back to Memphis with me, and I had it on my table there for a couple of months. I thought, “Well, gee, I’m going to show this to my colleagues here. This is brand new ideas on the New Madrid Seismic Zone.” But it was just so weird, I just never thought it was relevant. I could probably show it to Arch Johnson today, and he’ll say, “My gosh, this is crazy.” I think his work as a mathematician, and he just never got a hold of enough seismic data. He always talked about what seismic data should show you. But I don’t think he ever worked enough with it. This is kind of critical of Dr. Keilas Borac. He’s a bright guy. When we attended the meeting of First International Symposium on Theory and Computers in Moscow in 1964 in May, Moscow and Leningrad, he was the host of the meeting. The meeting was hosted by the Soviet geophysical committee, and he was the principal actor or convener. At that meeting there was about half Russian people and half Western people. And he translated in both directions. He translated Russian to English, and he translated English to Russian. He was a very good influence on the meeting because he made everybody explain to him what they meant before he translated. [Laughs] And it was a good meeting. It went a little slower, of course, in translation. But actually his role was really important because it helped to bridge the gap between mathematicians and geophysicists and between Russians and Americans. There were a lot of American people there. George Backus and Freeman Gilbert and Leon Knopoff were there from California. Jack Jacobs was there from, I believe he was working in Canada at the time. I could probably come up with a list of other people.
When Lamont needed data that the Russians had, were they able to get it at times? How did they work to try and get it?
Not in seismology so much. I don’t think. Now there have been many, many people since I left there who have worked much more closely with the Russians in terms of seismology. People like Lynn Sykes and Paul Richards and —
But not during your time.
Not so much. See, the data were really not available. The data were abstracted into little dots on graphs, and that’s the way they were published. It became apparent that the Russian style of publishing was not to put down anything like raw, original data but just to put down abstracted points. Dots on graphs. We never really saw what the traces looked like. So we were looking at summary results. There were theoretical methods explained in mathematical papers. But experimental data were not available in seismology, at least in the ‘60s. It may have changed in the ‘70s. But I was pretty much out of that kind of seismology for a long period while I was working on the moon program.
Were international collaborations encouraged?
It may have been quite different in oceanography. There was a Russian institution of oceanology in Moscow. I know the names of some people there. Udeen Seth and other people who were close to the Lamont folks. Bruce Heezen knew him very well.
But I mean, even to with South American countries or European nations, were these collaborations pushed or encouraged? How were they formed?
Well, if somebody does a great piece of work in your field, you know about it no matter what part of the world he comes from. You speak to him next time you possibly can at a meeting, or you write to him and discuss the problems. You know, this is a breakthrough or this is a big advance or this is a new piece of data. This guy’s a leader in our field. Everybody will acknowledge that. We get in touch with each other. So there was a lot of contact like that between the Lamont oceanography, the marine geophysics people. Because the Russian Institute of Oceanology was collecting a lot of data all over the world.
So seismology pretty much for the most part, they didn’t’ have these international collaboration projects?
Oh, yes. Seismology is a very international science. Because we all work on Greenwich time, and we exchange information on seismological data. I don’t think really the exchange of seismological data was not as free with Russia during the cold war period. You really need to talk with Paul Richards and Lynn Sykes about how they feel on that subject. I was not involved in that much at all. I had no Russian collaborators in my work.
Say with other countries, like African nations or other nations that perhaps didn’t have scientists already working in these fields, who were recognized — but to get them started.
Well, there are some areas such as geophysical expeditions in East Africa that involve local scientists and people from Europe and the United States in close collaboration. In seismology our closest collaboration was really with people from Japan. Already some important people in seismology who came to Lamont. Some young men and some senior people. The man who came to Lamont several times was Dr. Satu. He first came in 1956. This was right after I returned from the military service. He was there, working in Lamont Hall because that’s where the seismology group was then. He was a brilliant man. He helped us a lot. In the fall of 1956 he sat with us on Dr. Ewing’s course in seismology which was based on the book by Ewing, Jardetsky and Press. Not only Dr. Satu but Dr. Jack Nafe was in that class. And so was Dr. Ewing. So there were three, well, two faculty members plus Dr. Satu who was an accomplished seismologist. He had published in Japan for several years on a great many subjects. So there were three faculty members and two students. The two students were Mark Landisman and myself. [Laughs] So the pressure was on. The way the course was conducted that particular year, Dr. Ewing gave each of us a set of the galley proofs of the new textbook.
The course was basically read everything in the textbook and find all the typographical errors in this book. Check all the equations, check all the statements and assertions and make sure everything is right in this book. Well, we found a lot of typos, of course. But you had to check to make sure the exponent was correct or the subscript on this or that was correct. That the integral actually converged. Checking all the mathematics. In fact, we found an integral that didn’t converge. We talked about that one for an hour or so. Finally, Dr. Satu got up and he said, “I think this integral is meaningless.” Or something like that. And I guess it was. But the way each class started out was Dr. Ewing would point to either Mark Landisman or myself, and he said, “Well, get up and tell us what this next section is about.” They were going to the textbook from one end to the other. So we would get up, and we’d go along. The preparation was we had read over everything and tried to verify everything. We had found some typos and marked them on our galley proofs. These were the long sheets of paper of the text. It wasn’t cut into pages. We carried the galley proofs around all semester, working on them. Dr. Ewing kept a record of all the typos in his own copy. At the end of the semester I guess he sent it off to the publisher to correct the galleys and print the book.
I got a printed copy the next year. But if somebody stumbled and couldn’t do this or that part of the lecture — we were giving the lectures until we fell on our face and couldn’t explain what they were up to in this paragraph. I remember it went pretty well for the most part. We worked very hard. It was a three-hour course which took practically all your full-time day in and day out. Once Dr. Ewing was pretty disgusted. We all got stuck on something or other. He said, “If you fellows aren’t going to work on this, we might as well cancel the class. There’s no point in holding this course if you can’t come prepared.” I think in general we were pretty well prepared. But he wanted, he expected everybody to work hard. He didn’t drum on us about why haven’t you done this, why haven’t you done that. He pretty much left everybody to himself and just waited for good work to come out. He worked hard himself. He expected everybody was doing the same, and he didn’t really stop to check up a whole lot. That course was — we worked with Dr. Ewing three times a week and these other two senior people. I remember coming up to Thanksgiving week, Friday was a University holiday and of course Thursday was a University holiday also. I think we were meeting on Wednesday. Dr. Ewing said something about the Friday meeting, and I said, “Doc, Friday is a University holiday. Are we going to meet on Friday?” He didn’t know that. He didn’t know Friday was a University holiday. He knew Thursday was Thanksgiving and that was a holiday. He sort of frowned. I had already made plans to drive to Ohio and spend Thanksgiving with my family in Akron, Ohio. I was going to leave on Wednesday night and drive out to Ohio. I didn’t plan to be back there on Friday. Finally Dr. Ewing said, “Well, if Friday is truly a University holiday, we won’t hold class. If it isn’t, I expect you fellows to be here.” So I went off, and we never heard anything more about it. We met on the following Monday. We had a Memorial Day holiday here this year, and nobody here realized that we were going to have a Memorial Day holiday until almost the day before because we never had a Memorial Day holiday at Memphis before. A lot of people were here, and a lot of people found out about it and took the day off.
How did Lamont become involved in the NASA program, with the Apollo launches? How did that come about?
I think Dr. Ewing was a member of some advisory committee around 1959 or 1960. This would be a NASA advisory committee. At first, there wasn’t even a NASA. But when Sputnik was launched in October, 1957, the space race really began, or it came right home to the people in the United States that this was a high profile matter and a very important thing of international prestige, an important part of the cold war. I think the United States commands more respect around the world for having completed the Apollo program. [voice breaks with emotion] And that was a very important element of the cold war. Even though no shots were fired, it was still a very important element of the cold war, the fact the United States was first to the moon. So the ‘60s was a time of great tension about the progress of the Apollo program. President Kennedy said that we want to send men to the moon and return them safely to earth in this decade. So [voice breaks with emotion] —
What was the reaction of people at Lamont to that?
I don’t think most people at Lamont were very concerned about it. The project was started under the Principal Investigator-ship of George Sutton. I guess Dr. Ewing was a principal investigator in the early ‘60s. I’m not sure he was in the late ‘60s. But he had served on a NASA advisory committee for some reason. I’m not sure how he got involved in that, except that he was a prominent geophysicist. The contract to develop a lunar seismograph and to study the data that came from it, came to Lamont with co-investigators at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and Cal Tech. The co-investigators were Frank Press at Cal Tech — let’s see, later he went to MIT and transplanted his part of the lunar program to MIT. The work of developing the prototype lunar seismograph was done at Lamont. George Sutton formed a group which consisted of two engineers whom he had met in the Belgian Congo in 1958 or ‘57 or something when he went for a sabbatical at Lwiro. This was the Institute for Research in the Eastern Congo. It was on Lake Kivu. In fact, he had traded places with Jean-Claude Debremaecker, who came to Lamont and lived in his house and worked at Lamont for a year while George was in the Congo.
I think they just traded houses and traded jobs, more or less. But George had met two engineers who were working in the Congo with Debremaecker. This was an Institute staffed by French and Belgian scientists and a native African staff. In fact, after the revolution of the Congo when all the Europeans fled from the Institute, George or was it Debremaecker got a letter — see Debremaecker never returned to the Congo. He went to Rice University after his year at Lamont. He was Belgian by birth. Somebody, either George or Debremaecker, got a letter from the man who had been the seismology technician who was now the Director of the Center and asked him to come back as a staff member. Never did. The scientific staff was pretty well scattered and nothing ever happened there anymore as far as I know. That was the result of the revolution which was about 1960 or so. But then the engineers came. George invited these men to come to Lamont, so they bailed out with a lot of other Europeans. They came to Lamont to work on the lunar seismograph. A couple of other engineers from the New York area were there, about four altogether, full-time engineering staff members. They developed the prototype seismograph. It was a very good design. It was designed to go to the moon and to be handled by the astronauts and to be set up and to be turned on with very little delicate attention from the astronauts. It worked. At first the first seismometer was to be flown on Mission 12 which was the second moon landing. But a year or two before we got to the first moon landing, the NASA management decided to fly a seismometer on the first mission, Apollo 11.
Do you know why they changed that?
Yes. Because it appeared that the seismometer would be a key instrument in finding out about the moon, especially about the interior of the moon. There were many, many things that were anticipated, such as finding out if there were moon-quakes, and if so, what was the internal structure of the moon.
Were you aware at the time of the debates between Kosyrev and Kyper about whether the moon was active? Kosyrev was saying that he had proof that there was activity on the moon, and Kyper was the American who was debating him on that.
Well, yes, I guess I was aware of that. But you see, all through the ‘60s I was not involved in the moon project either. I was not a member of the team. Gary Latham, George Sutton of the original Lamont people, George was the senior person and he was the director of that project until he left Lamont; Gary Latham was his graduate student during the ‘60s. Actually Latham did his doctoral dissertation on a different subject because the moon project was a 10-year project. But with the four engineers, they worked on this. There was Ludo Van Hemelrijck, Jean Michel, Steven Thannos and Bill McDonald were the four engineers. Van Hemelrijck and Michel were Belgians who came to Lamont from the Congo. The design and testing work went on all through the ‘60s. I wasn’t involved in it. I was working on earthquake seismology, and I was working as Assistant Director. I spent a semester at Wisconsin as a visiting lecturer. Almost at the time of the first moon landing, Dr. Ewing called me in and asked me if I would like to go to Houston and work with the team on the analysis of the lunar data. He probably spoke to me about that in, well the first moon landing was on July 20. Probably just a few weeks or a month or two before that. So I agreed to do that. At that time Latham was heading the project. George Sutton had gone to the University of Hawaii, and he was a co-investigator involved in the project from Hawaii. His student Fred Duennebier came to Houston also later on and worked on the moon data, too. In fact, Fred’s doctoral research at Hawaii was on the moon, the lunar seismic data. So I went to Houston.
In fact, I got to the space center just the very day of the moon landing. I was on a vacation in Colorado with my family. I changed to my plans so I could get to Houston in time for the first moon landing. I got a plane from a city in western Colorado. We went to a rodeo in the morning in this town. Then Sally took me to the airport, and I flew to Houston. I got there that evening. I got a cab out to the space center. I was all mixed up about where we were because I had been there in 1967, and we flew into Hobby Airport which is on the south side of Houston. Then when I got there in 1969 I had no idea that they had a new airport on the north side of Houston. I got to the space center after being up for hours, and I went into the auditorium there. You had to get a badge and so on and go through a security process. I got into the auditorium, and we were watching the first EVA, extra-vehicular activity, actually Neil Armstrong stepping down on the moon. There were a couple hundred people. This was an auditorium with a big TV. The TV screen was the size of a movie screen. It was all NASA people, watching what was happening. I remember I was so tired from this travel, I got sick. I went out of the room after a while. I asked if they had a first aid station and some space doctor put me on a table and he said, “You just rest here for a while.” I think I slept for a couple hours, three, four hours right there. I didn’t even have a hotel room at that point. Maybe I did. I can’t remember. I got a hotel room across the street from the space center the next day. Gary [Latham], of course, was there. Then it was during the first EVA that we turned on the seismograph. There was only one EVA on the first mission, I think. I’m kind of hazy about whether I got sick before the first EVA or right after. Anyway, I was in the science support room. We all went up in the science support room. This is on the level with the mission control room. The seismic data comes in to a series of computers in the science support room, and we talk to the mission controllers. They pass our requests to the astronauts. There’s a script for the whole mission, of course. When they pulled the seismometer out of the cargo bay — the first seismometer was built rather hastily to go on this first mission. It was built in different form than the seismometers for the later missions. It was built in a single package. Just a seismometer. No other geophysics experiments. It was built so it was opened up like this and exposed two solar panels, which would power it in the morning and afternoon. See, all the Apollo landings were in the morning. This was to get there before the surface was too hot. The mission got back off the ground, of course, before the sun got to a very high angle.
So that was the only —?
Only geophysical experiment on the surface at the Apollo 11 site, except for a retro-reflector. I think the Apollo 11 site was also a reflector site. I would have to look in the mission reports.
How involved were the different departments in Lamont in working on these projects?
The moon project?
Okay. There were three moon experiments at Lamont. The heat flow experiment which was conducted by Mark [Marcus] Langseth. There was a surface gravity experiment involving Manik Talwani. It was not the traverse gravimeter, portable gravimeter experiment which was conducted by Lucien LeCoste. You won’t hear much about that one because it failed. Mark Langseth’s experiment did not fly on Apollo 11. Maybe it flew on Apollo 12. We’d have to look at the mission reports. There were several heat flow sites. There was a seismometer on Apollo 11, Apollo 12, Apollo 13 which never landed, Apollo 14, Apollo 15 and Apollo 16. On Apollo 17 there was no passive seismic experiment, but there was an active seismic experiment conducted by Joel Watkins and Bob Kovatch. Bob Kovatch was not a Lamont person at that time, but he had been at Lamont as a graduate student for a year. But Apollo 11 seismic experiment was built in an entire package with the radio telemetry, all of the computer logic and all of the seismometer and solar panels in one. The later packages did not use solar panels; they used a radio thermal heat source, a radioactive heat source to operate through thermal couples, generate power through thermal couples. But the first station was based on solar panels. So these things were like wings on the side. He opened it up. We asked him to. He pointed the antenna. The antenna had to be pointed at the earth. Then we asked him to step back. We said, “We’ll turn it on.” The seismometers were turned on by a command from the ground. And that was without astronaut control. Then we asked him to step back, and we could see his footsteps marching away from the seismometer. This record was on the drum recorders in the science support room. There’s a delay coming from the moon. I can’t remember if it’s 2.4 seconds round trip or one way. But we saw the data almost instantaneously.
How were the astronauts trained to use this sensitive equipment?
Hi, Joan. Well, they were, of course, they rehearsed everything many, many times on the ground. Gary Latham had been at rehearsals with the astronauts in preparation for Apollo 11. I never was at the rehearsals. But they worked from a script, of course. The flight seismometers were built by Bendix. Bendix was the contractor for the Apollo lunar surface experiment package, meaning all of the science experiments that went on to the surface of the moon. In the mission 12 and beyond all of the experiments were attached to one central station which had the digital logic and the telemetry and the power in it. The seismometer was on a cable in a separate little package so this was a different type of thing than the Apollo 11 seismometer. That was all one package for power, telemetry and seismometer and digital computer. So the astronauts trained with the Bendix people and occasionally with Latham, I guess, to rehearse the deployment. Everything went by a script. I’m sure they went through that script many, many times.
So you yourself did not work with them?
No, not I. Of course, I didn’t really get into the program until the Apollo 11 was actually on the moon. All the missions the astronauts rehearsed every step of the way. They were prompted by the mission controllers on the ground. They didn’t carry around a pad of paper.
And they were prompted as well by Langseth or —?
Well, sometimes, yes. We were asked about this or that. During deployment of the seismometers perhaps. I think we passed messages through the mission control people in the other room. So we looked about a year ago for the original seismograms that were taken off the drums that day. We can’t find them. I got a message from [Yosio] Nakamura, I guess, who is still working in Houston. Excuse me, he’s working in Austin, Texas, right now. Nakamura became the principal investigator of the lunar program in the late ‘70s. Latham and I became involved in so many other things then, and Nakamura was the last person working on the lunar seismic data in the late ‘70s. But I know I haven’t seen — we made several copies of the original seismograms. We took the seismograms off the drum shortly after that first deployment. And they were signed by several people in the room, each of the investigators and by Dr. Gilruth who was director of the space center. It was called the Manned Spacecraft Center, of course, in those days. It became the Johnson Space Center the day after President Johnson died. That would be 1974 or so, ‘73? After he retired. He went to Texas, and he died in Texas. The day after he died, the Johnson Space Center was rechristened. But we were not able to find the original seismograms or any of the copies, I guess. When the astronauts got back, the astronauts signed those original records, too. Buzz Aldrin was the man who deployed the seismometer. Neil Armstrong was the guy who flew — the mission commander. Michael Coffins was the guy who flew the command module which circles the moon while the two astronauts are on the moon. They all signed this original. Maybe in the move from Lamont to Texas or maybe somewhere, I don’t know where, everything got lost. Maybe someday I’ll find a copy of that original seismogram. Be interesting. Of course, Maurice Ewing’s signature is on it. He was in the room when the landing occurred. My mind’s a little hazy about where I went when I got to Houston, when I went back and forth that first couple days.
So it was pretty much just a very few people at Lamont that were actually working on the moon landing?
Yes, oh, yes. Mark Langseth had some engineering help with his heat flow project, too. But I can’t —
Was Sam [Robert S.] Gerard involved?
Yes, I think he was.
Do you know what he was doing?
No, I’m not really sure. I didn’t see Mark a whole lot. While he was working on his stuff, we were working on our stuff in Houston. We didn’t work in the same buildings at Lamont either. So I didn’t see much of Mark at that. In fact, I saw a little bit of Mark in Houston. But mostly I worked with the seismology folks, Gary Latham, Yosio Nakamura, George Sutton, Fred Duennebier. In the first mission there were several other people in the room. Frank Press came and Offy Toxos came down to Houston, but less often. Frank Press came generally when we were trying to wrap up the mission reports, and he helped on the final drafts of the mission reports. Dr. Ewing was there more often and for longer periods of time. As I say, up to about three weeks. He came down to Houston and worked with us. We spent more time with Dr. Ewing during those missions there. It was like being on the vessel. When he went out to sea, he went out for a month or two at a time. He came to Houston for a few weeks at a time. We lived in the same motel. We ate meals together. We went to the office morning, afternoon and evening, you know, and came home. We ate dinner and we’d go back to the office. It was great. We worked on science the whole time. There was only one telephone in the whole building. These were temporary buildings. See, NASA put up some temporary trailer buildings for the surface experiment people, the geological survey astrogeology people were there. They were the ones who were working on the photographs of the lunar surface. The sample people were not there. That was Paul Gast and his folks. They were in the petrology and geochemistry business, and they were working in a different building. But in our building it was mostly the magnetic experiment. The solar wind experiment. Other geophysics experiments that were on the surface experiment package. We only had one phone in the whole building and got a lot of work done as a result. So we spent long, long hours together because we were obliged to finish a mission report, significant report on new science from the mission 45 days after landing.
Where was this requirement coming from?
This was a NASA requirement. The publications are down there [sound of drawer opening].
In your shelves.
In fact, these — here they are. Apollo 14, 15, 16 and 17. I don’t seem to have 16 here.
This was a unique request to NASA that it had to be done in a certain amount of time.
Yes. NASA wanted to publish this report in about 45 days after the landing on Apollo 14 mission. There was a similar requirement on Apollo 12 and 11.
Was it difficult to crank it out so fast?
Yes. We had to work night and day. At first the first two weeks with the Apollo 11 data we weren’t even sure we’d seen any kind of a seismic event. The trace was noisy or it wiggled in some fashion. We saw a lot of things we didn’t understand. We found out gradually in Apollo 11 that a lot of what we were seeing was just creaks and groans from the lunar descent module which was sitting right — the seismometer was sitting next to a piece of the Apollo vehicle, the descent vehicle. The descent vehicle was a metal structure which creaked and groaned in the sunlight. Temperature changes would make pops and vibrations in this structure. The lunar surface itself was very quiet because it’s been exposed to heating and cooling for millions of years and all. And most of the rocks have either cracked long ago and are turned into just a sand or gravel that is not noisy at all when temperature changes. So most of the noise, it turned out, was coming from the lunar descent stage which had the descent engines and the fuel tanks and the four legs on it. The ascent module actually used the descent vehicle as a launching platform. The ascent module had fuel tanks of its own and an engine which blasted it off the moon. It was a much larger vehicle coming down than going up. It’s like the space vehicles. You leave a piece behind every so often. On the moon they left a big piece behind and used a small ascent vehicle to get off the moon and rejoin the command module in orbit around the moon. The command module was a much bigger vehicle which had propulsion and supplies to get out of orbit around the moon and return to the earth. The command module then had the reentry vehicle which was separated from the larger part of the command module when it was approaching the earth’s atmosphere.
The reentry vehicle of course had a heat shield, too, for bringing the thing into the atmosphere without burning up. The heat shield was simply meant to spread the heat away from the vehicle so it doesn’t burn up when it comes through at 22,000 miles an hour. So the descent vehicle on the moon was a structure not meant to fly in air. It was not streamlined. It had all kinds of bells and whistles sticking out all over the place because it was meant to fly in space only. It was very noisy in changing sun angles. That’s mainly the main thing we learned from the first mission. Later on we recognized that the seismic records of the first mission did have some lunar seismic events on them. We didn’t recognize them at the time. We were looking mainly at noise that came from the descent vehicle, and we were sorting out that problem. But we did learn that it would be good to place the seismometer as far away from the descent vehicle as possible in all future missions. So we told NASA about that. In fact, at one point in the first mission we were looking at some very, very large pops and noises that looked like sinusoidal, huge low frequency sine waves coming out of the vehicle. We called in a bunch of NASA engineers. About 10 people descended on the place within an hour to look at this stuff because it had to do with the descent vehicle. They decided these are the fuel tanks venting. There is some fuel left in the tanks. When the fuel evaporates and rushes out through the broken pipes — the pipes are sheared off when the descent vehicle was left behind — it runs out through this severed pipe. It forms an ice plug in the pipe which stops the flow. Then the vehicle is quiet. After a little while that ice plug melts and pops out and more fuel vents into space. This was a cyclic process. Every few hours, I guess it was. And we see these huge noises that came from the fuel venting. The engineers figured that out for us. So we knew what was causing that signal. It didn’t have any significance as far as the interior of the moon is concerned. But we learned that we needed to set the seismometers as far away as possible. We asked the astronauts on the next mission to move the seismometers as far away as possible. So that was a change in the mission 12 script.
What was it like to work with NASA, this new patron? Do you think they were capable of providing the best science?
The NASA in the days when I knew them had the finest people. They had an outstanding staff. They were dedicated, hard-working, smart. Some of the best people that could be found, I guess wanted to work on the moon program. They came there. It was a very fine performing organization. There was intense national interest in this whole thing, and they were the focus of attention. They were under pressure, I’m sure, and they did a great job. So it was a fine —
What were some of the challenges with working with NASA?
As far as I was concerned, not being a principal investigator, I attended only a few of the administrative meetings a couple of times when Latham was not able to go. But they left us pretty much alone to do the science. Again, I was not involved in negotiating the contracts. The contracts were ample to cover the costs that we had in conducting the program. We put in our budget. We put in the computers we needed for our lab at Lamont. We did a lot of traveling. Of course, we did quite a bit of flying back and forth between New York and Houston. We stayed in the hotels day in and day out. There was enough money to do all of this. The budgets were ample. We were told that NASA had spent $600,000 developing an umbrella, a pop tent for the seismic experiment and it weighed three pounds. And they decided not to use it because it was too much on the payload.
Too much on the payload?
They either didn’t want to carry that much weight or they didn’t want to bother the astronauts with an extra job on the surface. This would be a pop tent that was opened up with a touch of the button and placed over the seismometers, set over the top of the seismometer package. Just to stabilize the temperature a little bit more, keep it quieter. But actually we had a six layer, mylar stovepipe hat that went over the seismometer and spread out on the ground around the seismometer.
This was after the 11?
This was after Mission 11. For Mission 12 and so on. Okay, on Mission 12 we began worrying about noise from the lunar surface and the fact that the seismometer itself was exposed to sun and that the ground right close to it was exposed to the sun and that noise might be coming from these sources.
So is that when they tried to develop the umbrella or was that before?
Yes, I think developing the umbrella was a decision made probably after Apollo 12. Gary Latham would know the answer to that. It was supposed to be ready by Mission 15. But the decision was made not to use it. Anything that’s touched or handled by astronauts or goes on a manned space mission is engineered to the nth degree, all kinds of tests, reports. The stack of paper gets to be much, much bigger than the space mission itself.
So there’s more paper work —?
Yes, had a lot of paperwork, in validation and testing. All the tests are written up in great detail. Engineering reports. And all this was done. And then the pop tent was thrown away before the mission started. By that time I think we had decided we really didn’t need it. Things were going very well. We didn’t believe we had any serious noise problem on the seismometer package. It was well protected from changes in temperature by this six layer mylar film top hat.
Was the top hat developed at the same time as the umbrella?
No, that was before. That was part of the original plan. There was a top hat on Mission 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16.
It wasn’t started before 11? They hadn’t anticipated this problem?
I don’t think so. The temperature problem was recognized early. It’s just that no one had thought how serious a source of noise would be the space vehicle itself, which is sitting a few yards away from the seismometer. So we got in the Mission 12 we got the seismometer about 100 meters away from the space vehicle. And that made it much, much quieter. The noises were farther away.
Who was working on developing the top hat and umbrella?
Oh, the details of the engineering, the testing, were done by Bendix. The prototype seismometer itself was built at Lamont. There were tests made at Lamont. The prototype was turned over to Bendix, and Bendix took over the job of building flight models and integrating into the surface experiment package the digital sampling, the data transmission and the connection to the central station of the surface experiment. So different experiments were connected to the central station in different Apollo missions. There was a seismometer in each one. There were various and sundry different other surface experiments connected. As I say, Mark Langseth’s heat flow experiment was connected either in two or three of those space missions. Everything that went on Apollo 13 never got to the moon, but we did have a seismometer on the spacecraft at lift-off. In fact, Apollo 13 was the only launch that I ever went to. In Florida. In fact, I took my family with me and went down to Florida, stayed in a hotel at Orlando. Drove over to Cape Kennedy in the morning the day of the mission. Got into a parking area about three miles from the launch pad, and we watched the launch of Apollo 13 from there. I don’t think there was anybody closer than three miles. We might have been six miles. I can’t remember. I have pictures of it. It’s a big vehicle, so it’s not hard to see from a few miles away. Especially when the flames shoot out. When we left the Cape, we knew Apollo 13 was on its way. We flew back to New York. By the time we got to New York, Apollo 13 was in trouble. That was the mission which turned out to be such a close call. What was described in the movie I guess was pretty accurate. It was touch and go for a few days.
It was touch and go.
Touch and go. The astronauts weren’t sure they were going to get back home, and they did a great job of turning the whole thing into a rescue vehicle, a lifeboat. Basically, they abandoned large chunks of the vehicle and went home on a very small supply of air, and everything worked. But there was no margin of safety. So we went to Houston anyway on Apollo 13. We conducted a very similar study of the data that was still arriving from Apollo 12. Apollo 11 by that time was dead. Apollo 11 did not last long. We didn’t know why. I don’t think it ever awoke after the first lunar light. It ran for two weeks before the sun went down. Then being working on solar panels, it had no storage batteries, and so it was out of operation. I can’t remember whether it came up again in the second lunar day or not.
You didn’t have to write a report after Apollo 13, right? Because nothing occurred.
There was a report, but we were not in it, perhaps. I don’t think that we were in it. We have a list of our lunar publications. I can get it out for you. I’ve been looking at it recently because of the guy who was saying that thousands of house-sized snowballs hit the earth’s —
That was at the last AGU [American Geophysical Union] meeting.
I disagree with him. I think we have incontrovertible evidence that that couldn’t be happening. He’s probably right about the composition of this material. But he’s probably wrong about the magnitude, the size of these objects. He may be seeing thousands of objects per day, but I don’t think he can estimate the size of those objects very accurately. He’s probably off by three orders of magnitude, maybe four.
Did you have any relations to Robert Jastrow? Did you ever come into contact with him?
Yes. Bob Jastrow became Director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. Dr. Ewing referred me to him early in the 1960s, and I did quite a bit of work at the Goddard Institute. This was a place where we could use a large IBM computer. It was an IBM 7090 which we didn’t have at Lamont. So I did quite a bit of my work down at the Goddard Institute. Robert Jastrow was the director. I helped him with various things. I think I’ve got a picture of him right there. [Moving away from the mike] That was a day when — of course, Bob Jastrow was also a NASA employee and he was also an adjunct member of the Columbia faculty at that point. He called me up, and he wondered if we could bring down a copy of the lunar seismograph. He was on a program at CBS. Bob was a very articulate guy and very photogenic and could explain things in simple terms. So he was a popular guest on television shows. So I got a piece of the lunar seismograph, and I put on a suit and tie. I went downtown to CBS, and I met Bob down there on — that’s a television set. I can’t remember what year it is. I don’t think there’s anything written on the back of the photo. But he sent that to me afterwards. After we went to Texas I lost touch with Bob. He had moved then to Dartmouth. He became a professor at Dartmouth, and he’s still working on space science questions. Very bright guy. He’s the kind of guy who would finish his Ph.D. at the age of 19 or 20 or something like that.
Did you have other relations with people in NASA?
Well, of course, we worked with NASA employees during the missions at Houston. But we worked in a different building. We had a liaison person during Mission 11. I can’t remember the man’s name. He was a NASA employee, an engineer. He had been living in the area for several years. NASA people all were pretty much permanent at the Johnson Space Center area by that time. He invited us to his house for a cook-out during Mission 11. His neighbor across the street was Neil Armstrong. Neil Armstrong’s wife was at this cookout while her husband was in space. I can’t remember his name. This didn’t happen while he was walking on the moon, but it happened while he was cruising around in space, this cook-out. We were all in the theater watching the moon walks, of course. We saw him put that footprint in the moon and utter those famous words, “Small step for man, giant step for mankind.” That’s when he put that famous footprint right underneath the ladder on the space vehicle.
Were you aware of any attempts to bring over —
Neil Armstrong’s voice was very calm. I remember hearing him, he said he had turned off the engines and was checking all the switches and so on. He was talking with the mission controllers. This is all on tape and video and everything. But his voice was very calm. He was a test pilot. He was one of the very few astronauts who was a civilian. He may have been in the service, but he was a civilian test pilot at that time. All the astronauts were test pilots. Most of them were military test pilots. When we moved to Houston in 1972, the first group of astronauts were actually bailing out. We bought our first house in Houston from an astronaut because we find out that astronauts had 4% mortgages. I think this was because the developers had all wanted astronauts living in their developments in order probably to sell houses. I found out that this one astronaut’s house who had a 4% mortgage had it for sale because he was moving and leaving the space program. So I said what about other astronauts? So I looked at several astronauts’ houses, and they all had 4% mortgages, and I bought one because the payments were so low with that mortgage. That was before the first oil shock. The first oil shock occurred in October 1983, I believe. Before that, gasoline was very, very cheap. Electric power was very, very cheap. The house we bought was a big house with air conditioning and never had an electric bill over $70 a month before the first oil shock.
Were you aware of the attempts to bring over the Goddard Space Center, to bring it into, to maintain its autonomy but to be a partner with Lamont?
No, I probably am not.
Did you hear of anything that Doc was cooking up with Jastrow?
Probably. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit. Dr. Ewing had various proposals at various times that were sort of sweeping like that. He wasn’t a man without ideas. He tended to think big. That’s what made Lamont take off. But the one I remember was this: There was a proposal probably around 1965 or maybe even 1963, might even have been a little earlier to join forces with the Texas A&M University. Lamont would move a contingent of people to the College of Earth Sciences at Texas A&M. They would become faculty members in departments, Geophysics Department or whatever at Texas A&M. These negotiations were conducted with Andrew Suttle who was a Vice President of Texas A&M and with the President of Texas A&M. I met him and Andrew Suttle for dinner in Washington at one point. I’m trying to think of the name of the president. He was an ex-World War II general of some sort. He had been a commander in the Normandy invasion. I don’t remember his name. We had dinner. There were four or five of us, and we ate dinner at the Sheraton Hotel, not Sheraton. At a hotel in Washington. Doc then proposed, called a lot of people together. This would be pre-senior staff, but it was basically the senior staff people, faculty members and senior research people in Lamont Hall, and he proposed that we open up a unit at Texas A&M and that the ships could be based both in Piermont, New York and at Galveston, Texas. Texas A&M had a port facility in Galveston. Doe would be, maybe dean of earth science, or head of a new institute at Texas A&M and would remain director of Lamont, I believe. So it would be like a partnership of two institutions. Texas A&M was big in the Gulf of Mexico, of course. Actually I think Lamont has more Gulf of Mexico cores than Texas A&M to this day, or at least at one time did have more cores. But Doc being a Texan and a lot of his work had focused on the Gulf of Mexico, this was a great idea. He asked how many people would be willing to move to College Station in order to reinvigorate the geophysics program at Texas A&M and make a very interactive partnership.
What year was this?
I don’t know. But I might even have some letters or some way of putting a date on it. This meeting in Lamont Hall, there were no great cheers of jubilation at all. But Doc asked us to write him a note and tell him, each of us, whether we would consider the idea of moving to College Station. So I wrote him a note, and I said I would.
Why did you feel that you can move?
Well, I thought that it would be a good partnership and it would be a new opportunity, and maybe it would be great. I actually visited Texas A&M at that point and was interviewed by the faculty. I think I was interviewed for a professorship at that point. I’m not sure whether — but the whole proposition was dead on arrival, as they say. Because I don’t think there were many Lamont people who were really wild about it. I don’t think. Texas A&M is a fine university. It’s an outstanding college of earth sciences. In fact, the dean was Gordon Eaton at one point. But that was years later. In the early ‘60s, this would be anywhere from 1962 to 1965, Texas A&M had a geophysics program. They had some credible people there. But it didn’t look all that wonderful an idea for a new career to most people, I suppose. I was willing to give it a look, and I went down there. Peter Dehlinger, a geophysicist, was there, and he was my host. I talked with members of the department. I think Peter was actually about the only geophysics member of that faculty group that I talked with. I can’t even remember what the name of the department was. Maybe it was the department of geology. I can’t remember.
Were there some that agreed with the arrangement but just did not want to leave?
I suppose. I never really found out. I don’t remember if that was when I was Assistant Director or before I was Assistant Director. It might have been before. I simply said that I was willing to give it a shot and that I would like to visit College Station and talk to the folks down there.
Did anyone else go to visit?
I don’t think so.
Did anyone else agree? Do you remember?
I don’t know. I think I heard that three people were a little bit positive about the idea, including myself. I’m not sure. I think Dr. Ewing expected more of a response. It was not unusual for him to think of ways to expand the reach in geophysics. The resources of Texas were pretty important. In the ‘60s we didn’t have the oil boom —, you know the first oil shock raised the price of oil from $5 a barrel to $12 a barrel, and the second oil shock it went up through the roof to about $30 a barrel. Then state money was pouring in to Texas because Texas has a lot of oil revenue. People were coming from all over the world in the ‘70s to study at the University of Texas, petroleum engineering and so on and so forth.
You had this meeting there, the CBS meeting. What other contacts or interactions did you have with people in the press, for instance, anything with Walter Sullivan or Jonathan Lear?
Yes. Walter Sullivan hung around our office pretty close during the early Apollo missions. I remember being interviewed by Walter Sullivan at the space center in our office there at one point. He wanted to write a general article about the surface experiments. He didn’t write a very specific article about our work. But he was there a lot. Some well known scientists were there quite a bit. I’m trying to think of the Nobel chemist, oh, shoot.
It can be added to the transcript later. What I was interested in, was during this time, during Apollo, there was more press coverage, but before then or after then, was there much contact with people like Sullivan or Lear?
No, I don’t — What was that other name?
No, I don’t know him. I knew of Walter Sullivan, knew him. He knew me; I knew him. We had talked together a few times because he was at the space center. I remember the first press conference we had after Apollo mission, either 12 or 14, there was a press conference for the astronauts. I went over and on the table was laying a great big rock. I said, “My gosh, that’s a big chunk of breccia [?]. Is that a lunar breccia?” No, it wasn’t a lunar breccia. The lunar rocks were all in the lunar receiving lab. This was a breccia from some place in Idaho or something. It had a lot of the same characteristics as moon rocks. All the moon rocks were breccias. That means a fractured rock welded together in some fashion. There was no pure igneous rock on the moon. Everything was cracked and fractured, and most of the bigger chunks were actually small chunks welded together. Fragments. This is because of surface impacts on the moon. The whole surface of the moon is gardened [?] up by impacts. So this breccia that astronauts had on the table was just breccia they had picked up in their travels. Because they went out with geologists like Bill Muhlberger and did geological fieldwork to find out what sort of things they’d be running into on the moon. That was part of their training. But their training wasn’t all that thorough in some ways. I remember when I bought the house from Richard Gordon. Richard Gordon was the command module pilot of Mission 12. By the time I got there to buy the house, he took me out in the front yard and he pointed to a rock and he said, “That’s a piece of granite.” He pointed to a piece of limestone or something. He said, “That’s a piece of granite I’ve picked up on the trip in Idaho in the lava flows.” Well, it wasn’t either one. So, no, he didn’t quite become a geologist. But then again he wasn’t on the lunar surface, either. He was flying around the moon in the command module.
Do you think those that were on the lunar surface had a little bit more training?
I think they must have. Jack Schmidt was a geologist himself. He was a graduate of Harvard with a degree in geology, and he knew what he was looking at, even if some of the other astronauts weren’t quite so sure.
Why do you think that the lunar program at Lamont never kept going after Apollo?
It kept going in Texas through the ‘70s. We transplanted the lunar seismic experiment from Lamont to Houston. I can tell you how the move to Texas first occurred. I can’t tell you Dr. Ewing’s thoughts. But one day Gary Latham and I were in the lab at the space center, working on lunar data. We knew Dr. Ewing was coming down to Houston to stay for a few days. It was about the middle of the day, I think. We heard that Doc was on his way down the road, but he was heading for Galveston. You have to go right past the space center to get down to Galveston on the Gulf Freeway. We said, “What’s he going down to Galveston for?” Later in the day, Doe came back to the space center, and he says, “I’ve just been down to see the folks at the University of Texas medical branch. How would you fellows like to move to Galveston?” We listened for a little while. His plan was to establish a geophysics program in the Marine Biomedical Institute at Galveston. Some diving doctors were interested in drugs from the sea. We would have lab space and so on, building space. We would be appointed to the faculty of the medical branch.
They were interested in drugs from the sea. But Ewing’s work and yours had nothing to do with that.
It was a base. The Marine Biomedical Institute was not concerned with physical oceanography. It was concerned with man and the sea, with biological oceanography. One man there was taking a large marine snail which had only about 1,000 nerve cells or something, huge sized nerve cells, and doing physiological tests on the nervous system of this snail. A polizia, I think it was. I saw one once. I’m not sure. So we had some rather distant cousins of marine science in the Marine Biomedical Institute. But it was a fine arrangement for the time. The idea was that eventually we would be transplanted to the University of Texas at Austin, faculty. All this was arranged in a great hurry. I mean, this trip that Maurice Ewing made to Galveston was in the middle of May and by the first of July we were on the staff at the medical branch.
You had never heard anything before Maurice was there.
Right. At that time Andrew Suttle was now at the medical branch, and he was a member of the administration under Truman Blocker. Truman Blocker, the president of the medical branch, was a senior college president of Texas. He was the senior man in all of the college presidents of the whole state university. Many campuses. He and Dr. Ewing hit it off and decided that they wanted to set up a geophysics program at the University of Texas. Sure, the geology expertise in the university was up at Austin, and eventually this would all be added to the Austin earth science program. But in the meantime it could be set up quickly at the medical branch because Dr. Blocker was in charge. So that was fine with us. It sounded exciting. It was.
What was especially exciting about it?
That fact that here we are in Texas. This is an earth science state. It’s the world center of the oil industry. There are lots and lots of geologists and geophysicists in Houston. The University of Texas has great resources as a state university. In 1972 we hadn’t even seen the beginning of the first oil shock which actually added greatly to the state university revenues. It looked like a great opportunity, and so we landed at the University of Texas in very short order. We packed all of the lunar seismic laboratory at Lamont, including a huge amount of magnetic tapes that had already been transferred to New York. So we had a permanent office. We didn’t have a computer lab of our own in Houston. So all of the data tapes and archives were basically stored at Lamont in a lab there. It wasn’t a very big lab. We did need more space. Dr. Blocker would give us plenty of space at Galveston. In fact, he gave us a whole building. It was a two-story hospital building. There were more offices than we could even use. There was room for a computer lab. It wasn’t a big hospital, but we had plenty of room in there. They immediately set about building a geophysics lab building in the Port of Galveston area and constructing a dock port facility for our vessels. Dr. Ewing received a gift of probably $300,000 from Cecil and Ida Green which was used for buying the first vessel we had. It was probably a rig tender vessel. We converted it. We put a reel for streamers on board and converted it into a seismic survey vessel.
The Greens’ gift came after Ewing was already moved?
Were you aware of any attempts that he had to negotiate funds from then while he was at Lamont?
Yes. Dr. Ewing spoke with Cecil Green at least once. But that was a long, long time before. Cecil Green was one of the founders of Texas Instruments. I remember seeing Cecil at Lamont with Dr. Ewing. What happened was Cecil did consider making an important gift to Lamont. This was before the Doherty gift. It would have been a few years earlier. He was at Lamont and spoke to Dr. Ewing about this. I was not present at any of these conversations, but that’s what it was about. But he ended up making a gift to MIT instead of Lamont.
Do you know why?
I think I know why. Cecil Green was an MIT graduate. Probably the old school tie is very strong. In fact, MIT built, with the gift he made, which was Texas Instruments stock, the Green Building at MIT, which is an earth science building. It’s a high-rise. You’ve seen it.
It wasn’t too popular with the scientists.
Maybe not. I’ve heard the same thing. I’ve been in it a few times. It’s not a horizontal building. It’s a vertical building. The funny thing is, on the ground floor there’s nothing but glass doors and elevator lobbies. Everything else is on the upper floors. I guess there are freight elevators there, but that makes it a little tricky to move equipment in and out. MIT did not have major oceanographic equipment going in and out of there. They used Woods Hole for handling big pieces off of vessels. This professor’s office would be on one floor and another office would be on another floor. I wasn’t in the building long enough to know whether they really had usable stairways or whether you had to take elevators every time you wanted to see somebody. I don’t remember. Offy Toxos has been in that building for many, many years. Frank Press’s office was there when he went to MIT. That building was built with probably one of Cecil Green’s first big gifts. There are many universities that now have Green buildings or Cecil Green gifts. There’s a book about Cecil and Ida Green’s life, and in that book there is probably a list of the gifts that he’s made.
Here, there’s a map that was made in ‘62, ‘63, showing Lamont and some of the buildings in existence.
Could you turn that off for a moment?
So you can see that the buildings are quite spread out. From Lamont Hall to geochem, they’re on opposite sides of the campus. Did this present any special problems for people who were talking back and forth, between these places?
I don’t think so. This is a nice campus. It’s much better than if everything was put in one huge building.
Why do you think?
It’s got a lot more trees and bushes and so on. It’s a beautiful campus. I think to put one huge building there would not make it nearly as pleasant a place. To go and see the geochemists you had to get out and walk over to a different building, or else you would see them in seminars in Lamont Hall. Everybody would come up to Lamont Hall for seminars. I don’t think they had a meeting room in the geochemistry building. We did have a small meeting room in the seismology building, but we didn’t use that for Lamont seminars. We used Lamont Hall. I tried to keep up with things that were going on in all the departments, in the marine geophysics and the geochemistry. I don’t understand chemistry as well as I do geophysics.
Was there anything special in the design or layout of either the grounds, the buildings or the facilities that especially enabled the science at Lamont?
I don’t know. It just sort of grew, that’s all. There was a seven-car garage where we stored the cores. It seemed like it might be a good idea to put a core analysis lab on top of that so it was close to the cores. We had a root cellar here where we could build concrete floor and piers and make that into a seismometer vault.
That was right by the core lab?
Yes. At one point we had to take down the trees that were on top of the root cellar, on top of the seismometer vault because the swaying of the trees put noise onto the seismometers. There was no question about that. We tested it by taking a rope through the top of a tree and pulling it with a Jeep and swaying it. We could see the seismometer response right away. We realized that windy days some of our noise was coming from the trees right on top of the vault. Some of them were taken down. But it was a very good vault.
What was it like?
I never saw it as a root cellar. The piers were built by the time I got there. It had three feet of dirt on top of it, and it did not have artificial heating or cooling. So the temperature was very steady underground. It was unheated, uncooled, except for electronic equipment running in it. The temperature reached a maximum in the fall because it takes a while for heat to soak through three feet of dirt. It reached a minimum in the spring because it takes a long time for the heat to escape through three feet of dirt during the winter. So the temperature cycle in the vault lagged about three months behind the temperature cycles of the air above the vault. The total amplitude was only about 10 degrees Fahrenheit from coldest to warmest inside the vault. Without any artificial control. So a stable temperature environment is a good place for sensitive instruments. So it’s a pretty good vault, a shallow vault. The vault in the Ogdensberg Mine, Sterling Hill Mine I think it was called, Ogdensberg, New Jersey, was 1850 foot level, so that was very, very stable. The temperature wouldn’t change 1/100th of a degree a year without artificial heating or cooling or ventilation. The vault there was built with Navy bulkhead doors across the drifts so that the drifts were pressure sealed and without air circulation in the areas where the instruments were. That was probably the best seismograph vault in the world. The mine is flooded now. The campus just grew because at one point somebody said, “It seems like we build our next new building and we end up picking out the parking lot of our previous building because that’s the flattest, smoothest place at the moment. So then we have to build a parking lot after that, bigger.” In that sense I don’t think there was an overall campus plan or development. But when we could see our way clear to building a new building. It was the best place that was still left and build it.
Did they try to get the cafeteria more central?
Again it was just space of opportunity. Okay, here’s a good space. This is big enough for a cafeteria. We aren’t using it for anything right now that we can’t move someplace else. Let’s put it here. We didn’t have a planning consultant or anything of the sort. Not like campus planners. They hire architectural firms or engineering firms to do a campus plan. It’s great, except that all it is is ideas with no money. We have a campus plan for Memphis. Finally, the earthquake center is on that campus plan. The last campus plan this area here was just green grass. We said to the president, “What are we going to do with the earthquake center?” He said, “We’ll think of something.”
Thank you very much for this second session.