Notice: We are in the process of migrating Oral History Interview metadata to this new version of our website.
During this migration, the following fields associated with interviews may be incomplete: Institutions, Additional Persons, and Subjects. Our Browse Subjects feature is also affected by this migration.
Please contact [email protected] with any feedback.
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Fred Dolder and Reuben Gablehouse by David DeVorkin on 1982 January 13,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
A joint interview with Reuben H. Gablehouse and Fred Dolder covers the Ball Brothers contracts for the Orbiting Solar Observatory (OSO), telemetry problems, and their work on Skylab. The interview principally covers Ball Brothers' contracts for and development of the early OSOs from the late 1950s to the late 1960s. In this period Dolder served as Program Manager for OSO. Significant topics include: evolution of the original OSO proposal; the relationship of John Lindsay of Goddard (the contracting agency for OSO) with Ball Brothers; design changes relating to pointing controls, telemetry and structural configuration; loss of the AOSO contract; and Ball Brothers' work on Skylab.
This is Fred Dolder. My title is Director of Special Projects at this time. I was the Project Manager for the first of the OSOs here at Ball.
My name is Reuben H. Gablehouse, commonly referred to as "Gabe". I am presently President of Ball Aerospace Systems Division. The division is, you might say, the remnants of the Ball Brothers Research Corporation.
Can you describe what that means briefly?
Through the years, and several organizations, and reorganizations, this is what was really the original Ball Brothers Research Corporation. It is now called the Aerospace Division of Ball Corporation. The Research Corporation has been reorganized into several divisions.
And several other divisions have been formed out of various pieces of the disbanded Research Company.
Is there a corporation record available that can give me the dates of these reorganizations?
I'm sure there is, if you can dig it out.
Okay. It's something I could ask for specificially.
I think, if you ask in the corporate offices in Muncie, someone could determine when all these things occurred.
Fine. Let's go to what we were beginning to talk about, which was the evolution of the OSO program in the late '50s, '59, wasn't it?
Yes. Well, actually, it started a little earlier than that with the Aerobee biaxial pointing control, and the concept of the dual spin stabilized body, which was the basis of the original Aerobee pointing control. The Aerobee rocket spun, and the bi-ax pointing control despun, and then had an elevation gimbal, to point in elevation. The stability was not great. It was very short term; and because of the shape of the body, it could end up going into a flat spin. But the body was still stable, and at that time, people really didn't understand, very well, the complete nature, or the equations of motion of the dual-spin spacecraft, and how it would really work. I guess I'm getting ahead of myself a little bit. But at any rate, the University of Colorado, and also, Ball Brothers Research were making bi-axial pointing controls to go on Aerobees. We made several models. Are you interested in the bent ogive?
That came along, a year or a year and a half or so, after we started making the conventional bi-axial pointing controls, or the original ones in 1957. The idea for doing that was to get a very large, physically large instrument into the nose cone. Before, the focal length had to be really quite short, and you couldn't have any kind of a folded optical system. But with this thing, you could get a much bigger instrument, and that was the whole idea.
What is the origin of the name?
O-g-i-v-e; Ogive is the shape of the nose cone.
I think it was Russ Nidey's idea to bend it over like that. We didn't fly very many of them, but the thing did work. It turned out that there really were not as many applications for that particular size of instrument as people had thought, and so it didn't become really a main bread and butter item. But we built a lot more of the older type than we did of this bent ogive type.
Was the Ball Brothers Research Corporation formed by the people from the upper atmosphere research group, before they got the AFCRL contract?
I am quite sure of that. I could be wrong, but as I recall, that contract didn't occur until after I was here, which was in August of '57. The company had been formed in December of '56. There may have been discussions about it, but I'm pretty sure there was no contract.
Mr. Bartoe is the person I should talk to?
Bartoe, and I think Mercure would also know.
And possibly Stacey?
And Stacey would certainly know.
Okay. I'm asking that for the recorded record. That's good. Well then, we have identified the pointing control part of all of this. How did that lead to OSO? Was there an RFP from Goddard?
No. There's one more step in here that really paved the way for the concept of OSO: and that was a balloon pointer that we built. We called it SAPP, Solar Azimuth Pointing Platform.
That was one the guys put together, and fired up, and it worked the first time.
Yes. That was really a joy of a project; but it was the first time we ever tried to use a D.C. torque motor for the azimuth drive, on the grounds that the platform itself was basically inertial and that the big balloon payload hanging underneath would be the reaction mass that you'd drive against. We got a contract from the Air Force Cambridge Research Center for, I think, four or five of those.
Was this the Coronascope balloon, or for any scientific balloons?
No, I think it was for some kind of a surveillance project, or something of that nature. They wanted to be able to orient a payload toward the sun, so they could more or less navigate. I think that was it. No one ever told us what it was for. I don't think they were ever really used. One of them surfaced a number of years later down at the University of New Mexico. They had gotten it as surplus, and it had never been used; and they called us up and wanted to know if we had the schematics for it (laughs).
Yes. I found them in the archives.
Who was the person at New Mexico? Do you recall?
You mentioned that the plans were in the archives. Do you maintain that archive, at this point, and would that be an archive that would be available for historical research?
We don't call it an archive. It's just stored out here in a warehouse, and we've been purging those things.
Well, there was, you know, a genuine plan to purge stuff after five years, or seven years, or whatever it was. I never signed off to purge any of mine, but I've been away from the Aerospace Division for so long, people may just have thrown it away. At any rate, this little solar azimuth pointing platform was very much like the azimuth servo on the OSO. In fact, it was just about identical to the thing, and it had the same characteristics. So at that time we knew, for instance, how much power it was going to take to drive an inertial load like that. And we knew, kind of, the friction levels that we could expect. So, we had that under our belt, plus the Aerobee pointing controls. And as I recall, John Lindsay came to see us one day.
He was at Goddard already?
Was there an institution called Goddard then?
Yes, I think so. Well, he was at NASA.
You're right. I don't know whether Goddard had been formed or not: but he was at NASA.
I think the important thing is, can you recall the date range? A month and a year?
I would say it was the winter of 58-59 (our proposal for the first OSO dated Feb. '59) and we got the contract in September of '59.
Stacey came down. First I came here in late '59.
You did? You came here in December, didn't you?
Well, yes. I made the decision to transfer from Sandia around the first of December of '59.
You arrived here in Jane.
Well, I came up on a couple of occasions before I had actually made the transition, in January of '60. My actual reporting date was February 1, 1960; but the decision and everything was made in late '59.
Did you come directly to work on OSO?
Yes, specifically and directly. In fact, we were going to launch in December of '60, it seems like.
That was the original plan?
Yes. The original plan was to launch then. So I came on board in February, and we found tape recorders and command systems. We were going like crazy, headed for launch that year.
But the first one came in '61 or '62?
In '62, in March of '62.
Yes. Now, the drawing that we have in front of us. This is the original patent drawing? [In SS&E working files (flat files)]
No. This is the drawing that came out of the proposal. It doesn't look much like the original OSO. But anyway, this is Proposal 92.
And there's a No. 0185. I wonder what that means, on the lower right?
I don't know.
You call it a Satellite-born astrostat?
Yes. Now, is that the proposal to NASA, No. 92?
Yes. And as Gabe said before, when John Lindsay came he was just thinking of putting up a bi-axial pointing control that would last a day, or two days, or a week, or something like that. We figured that we could do it for about three weeks, maybe.
Were you being conservative? Was he being conservative?
No. Nobody knew at that time how to make sliprings function in a vacuum. Everybody knew that you can't make sliprings work in a vacuum, or that you couldn't make bearings work in a vacuum, because they seize up.
And the brushes in the Torque motor.
And brushes in the Torque motor, and all these things: nobody could figure them out. When Pete and I thought about this thing, we just figured we would put sufficient oil on the bearings so they would last for three weeks. After that, it was tough. An interesting thing happened. Pete and I shared an office; and we were both working on this proposal. I was pretty much trying to design the servos, and the electronic part of the thing. Pete was trying to figure out what the mechanical configuration would look like. Pete is a guy who, when he is working on a mechanical design, will usually come up with half a dozen, or a dozen different concepts, and he will never settle on one until he has finally really, exhaustively examined every one of them. And he was worrying about this thing, because it didn't look like this. (The patent drawing). It looked more like the bi-ax, and we actually thought maybe it would stay on the upper stage. Pete told me that Lindsay had asked for a bi-ax pointer to remain attached to the 2nd or 3rd stage. Since the stage was not stabilized he (Pete) was struggling with gimbal designs that would give a maximum amount of pointing. He didn't like any of the possibilities. We didn't know what we were going to fasten the pointer to. It had to be fastened to something in order to have this reaction mechanism.
Yes. You needed a reaction mass?
Yes. I remember, Pete would take his mechanics book home at night, and try to figure out what was really going on in the gyroscope, how the gyroscope mechanism really worked. Then, one morning he came in, and he said: "Dolder, I know exactly how we're going to do this." And that drawing came out that very same day. The key point here is that the satellite was separated from the launch vehicle and provided its own stability and continuous pointing without gimbal lock problems.
This is the figure 1?
The figure 1.
This was his mass. This is all connected solid through here, and that's the thing that stands still.
The rectangular object on the top, yes.
Yes. Now, this little band of solar cells here provided the power for the instrument, and the servo system, because it only had to work when the sun was out. There were batteries stuck out here in the rim of the wheel to provide a lot of inertia, and also, to provide power for the telemetry, and any other things that we had to have. The sliprings down here were only for signals, not carrying any power down. We figured we could house a slipring sufficiently to contain the lubricants we would need. We figured we could have sealed bearings, and they would last a sufficient length of time. For a few weeks of operation we had a tank of helium sitting in here for this set of thrusters up here.
The top ones?
Yes. Now, these are the ones that do the pitch control.
How did you produce spin?
Were there despin jets on there?
Two-spin control jets.
Well, see the third stage spin was already there. The problem was, you had too much spin. You had to get rid of it. We were going to use a yo-yo system to despin, and then control the spin rate, if we had to, with these nozzles.
So this doesn't have the cantilever arms that the OSO's finally had?
That was one way you despun?
That's an interesting progressive story, too.
Okay, we'll get to that.
This is the basic concept that came out when Pete walked into the office that morning, and said: 'I know exactly how to do it.'
You know, that reminds me of something, Fred. I saw this in Lindsay's office one time. He built the model of this. A little, a very small thing that was spun up — he had to hook up air pressure to it. He showed how you could precess this spinning gadget. It was a gyro, really.
Now, Mrs. Lindsay has that model.
It's just a little thing. He spins up the wheel, and then somehow —
He had a little gimbal. It looked very much like this. There was a wheel and a gimbal, and air lines came in to spin the wheel up. Just air pressure made it spin. The airlines were fed up here to the two nozzles. And I guess they came in through a pair. The thing was held in gimbals, and these came in through a pair of gimbals. By pushing one button or the other, you could cause gas to fly out of either of these nozzles, and you could show that the thing would precess.
Mrs. Lindsay has this?
It is my understanding that she has this.
In fact, I think I saw it at her house.
Where is she living now?
7201 Lackawana Dr., Springfield, VA 22150.
The interesting thing about that drawing is that it doesn't have any communication system on it. We didn't know anything about communications! I think NASA was to have provided the telemetry communication system at first.
Is that something that you contracted for, or that Goddard put in separately?
We did it.
That's where Gabe came in. We did it.
Back when you were interviewing me, Fred, you were monkeying around with the nutation damper problem. Dolder: Well, we knew we had to have the dampers. Let me go back to this proposal. We wrote the proposal after the concept was finally determined; we wrote the proposal very quickly, within a week, or something like that. The whole thing wasn't more than — I don't think — thirty pages, if it was that much; and half of that was resumes — I wouldn't be surprised. It was a very minimal proposal, suggesting how to do it, and really it was just to fly one instrument. It was very much like the original bi-ax.
But Lindsay had asked for this proposal?
Yes, that's my understanding. I was not in the meeting when that happened, but that's how I understand it.
Who was he with? Do you recall who else was in that meeting?
Merc and Pete and Dave Stacey.
Lindsay was pretty much a loner.
Yes, I don't think he brought anybody with him.
That's my impression from Goddard. Werner Neupert and people like that have been there (at Goddard) a long time, but even they don't know exactly how it all began.
Bill White was one of them.
Bill White, I was trying to remember his name.
I guess, if he had a close person there in his group, that Bill White was the one.
I haven't talked with him.
I don't know where he is. I don't think he is still at Goddard. I think he's retired or something. DeVorkin: Well, again, he is someone I can probably track down there.
It's my understanding that John came and said, "Why can't you put one of these things (bi-ax's) in orbit, and have it last for a few weeks; and look at all the fantastic data we could get?" So, this was the concept, John had asked for a bi-ax on the 2nd stage. We (Pete) responded with the separable payload concept.
He gave you specifications for the amount of instrumentation that was going to be required in there? In other words, he was asking you for a platform, or for the instruments themselves, too?
I think, what he had in mind was flying the typical bi-ax instruments. In fact, the whole thing was designed to take the same sized instrument with the same type of telemetry, etc., that would normally go on an Aerobee, like Tousey's, or Hinteregger's. Those were the two main guys who were flying at that time.
He wound up in his own lab there at Goddard, designing and building an instrument that flew.
Lindsay had an instrument.
Lindsay's instrument was the prime instrument. And then the second one was William Rense's. There were to be two instruments up on the top of that thing when we started messing around with it. (I am talking about the actual design that evolved not the original proposal). You remember old Rense? In fact, I think you and I were sitting in Lindsay's office when he got a call from Rense that said: "We can't hold the alignment of this dude," and he just couldn't make the schedule. And so, we had to create a CU backup instrument.
The CUBU instrument
There were two distinct instruments in the pointed section of the spacecraft. One was Lindsay's, and Werner Neupert was involved with that design.
So was the fellow that worked with Tousey so much on the ion chambers.
There was Raoul, and J.D. Purcell?
I think it was Purcell.
Yes, it was Purcell. Purcell was heavily involved with us then on the ATM instrument.
So this proposal went in during the summer, and it was approved in September of '59?
No, it went in in February.
All right. Do you know if there were alternative proposals from other companies?
I don't think so.
That was it?
We started out with a quarter-of-million dollar-study, I think it was, or something like that.
The guys didn't know what to do with a quarter of a million dollars.
Yes, I remember wondering how I was going to spend all that. But the result of the study was to be a mock-up, some servo system mock up. It wasn't a paper study. It was almost a preliminary design study, where you are building hardware and making pieces of the system to show that it really can be done.
Were you involved in the study, Gabe? I guess you must have been, because the study was about six months.
When did the report go in from the study?
We never had a report. We just went on.
The way we used to operate, Lindsay would come in, and we would talk to Lindsay. You know, we would tell him our thoughts. It wasn't all written down. A lot of stuff just never did get written down.
Was that because it was naturally informal the way he worked it, or people were in such hurry to get something out?
Both of those, I guess.
Was there the same sort of pressure as you may be aware of in getting the first Explorers up?
No. We were not trying to beat the Russians, or anything. We were just trying to make something that worked.
That was the big thing. Will it work?
We started out with this concept. [The prototype patent drawing.] I don't think this thing lasted a week after we had the contract.
The original contract?
The original idea of one instrument, and no instruments in here.
No instruments in the spin section?
Yes, and three weeks of life, and so on. Because I remember, we were in Lindsay's office talking about it. And he said: "you know, if you can make this thing last three weeks, why can't you make it last six months?"
Oh, oh, there we go. (laugh)
And we said, "Oh, we don't know. Why can't we make it last six months?" And so we said: "Well, we could try." But there was really no formal documentation or really anything, we just sort of changed the rules to make something that would last: We had to try and design something that would last six months, which brought us to the problem of bearings and sliprings."
What was your experience with the biaxial pointing control bearings, for the few minutes that they were in near space?
Oh, you have no problem.
But no, could you learn anything about the behavior of these things from testing them when they came back to the ground? Did you ever do that?
We just considered it a whole new problem.
When in the sequence was it determined that we needed some mass in the wheel? And when did you decide to put instruments in the wheel?
Well, I think that most likely happened at the time we went for six months. I mean, it just seemed that there was just this quantum change as soon as we started doing the study. Well, gee, why just put one instrument? Why can't we put a couple of instruments? Besides the Thor Delta can put 300+ pounds in orbit etc.
We put two up above; and now you need more mass.
Yes, and so we said; "Now we've got all this weight up here. We've got to have more reaction, yes. Well, we can put instruments in the wheel."
There are guys that are interested in that mode of operation.
Was this Lindsay's idea to put things in the spinning wheel, or was it a group idea during the meeting?
Well, I suspect Lindsay had a lot of these things in the back of his mind, all along.
This was just within a few weeks of getting the contract?
Maybe even before the actual contract. It was awfully early on, because I don't even remember struggling to try to do a study that led to a device like this.
This original, and I was the program manager from the first day. We must have had the discussions about increasing size and life before we got the contract for the study and mock up because we started out with a design to fill the Delta shroud (the large one).
Somewhere early along the way, we abandoned [the prototype design].
The wheel became that section rather quickly.
You're showing me an article by Bartoe, Dolder, Gablehouse and Mercure: “Design and Development of the Orbiting Solar Observatory" for the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1965. You are now showing me Figure 6. Now this says: "a modified wheel structure of OSO C." Modified from the original in what way?
Let's have a look at it. This is when we put in the MIT gamma ray experiment that took two of the wheel compartments. The basic idea of the wheel is there except that we had to cut a rib out of there and use two compartments to accommodate; who was that, Peterson?
MIT. Was it MIT?
It was MIT. It wasn't Peterson.
That's only a modification for the size of the instrument?
This wheel design here is the first design I can remember. It's the thing that just plain didn't change.
Almost from the very beginning; and "Red" Poyer, (Myron E. Poyer), one of our mechanical designers, did, as I remember, virtually all the mechanical design for this whole shmear. He had supporting designers with him, but really, the whole thing came off his drawing board very early on, in a matter of, maybe a month's time. He has a casting in here in the center, and then there are these ribs that are riveted together, and then these hydroform ribs in the bottom. People were doing detailing and things like that; but really, Red designed just about everything in there; and did all the conceptual designs for the castings. This idea, here, of putting the gas bottle on the shaft was Pete's original idea. And we followed through with that in the actual OSO; in that, this has the shaft that holds the upper structure here, goes right through the bottle. The top of the bottle had a fitting on it, and an O-ring. The bottle screwed onto the shaft. The O-ring provided the seal. And then the bottom fitting on the bottle was just a sleeve with a couple of O-rings in it, and the shaft went right through, because it turns out, these bottles expand when you pressurize them. And the force here is tremendous, because this is pressurized at 3,000 psi, and the bottle was about this big.
That big inside that central casting?
Yes. It sat right in there, and so, these O-rings slid on this shaft, back and forth, and made the seal.
Yes, at 3,000 psi.
There were a lot of different things going on.
And in space, that was in a vacuum.
We only added 15 more psi. (laughs).
The first bottles were round fiberglass bottles, and the second ones were titanium.
Why did you switch to titanium from fiberglass?
I think they had a lot of trouble getting the fiberglass ones.
And I think, that the fiberglass bottles had a bladder in them, also, Fred, and it seems like we had a leakage. So, when we built the second OSO there were a lot of things we couldn't do the same way again.
Is that right?
The whole lubrication system was changed. We went from a wet lubricant to a dry lubricant.
No. It was the other way around. Well, I don't know. The first one was dry.
That was dry to a wet. Yes, that's what it was.
As the design changed, what steps did it take to come to this configuration we are familiar with, including those arms with the gas bottles on the ends of the arms?
Well, we didn't have the arms on originally, and as the design progressed and the weights started coming in, we thought, and as far as I know, the whole world thought, that to have a stable dual-spin system, you had to have the axial moment of inertia of the rotating portion larger than the transverse moment of inertia of the combined body. Otherwise, the body would eventually tumble.
So, as the weights came in we started finding that it got closer and closer to where the moments of inertia were about equal all the way around. I remember, I was worrying the problem all the time, and I finally went to Pete one day and asked him: "What do you think we ought to do here, because it looks like we're getting too close; and we're going to be fighting this until this thing is launched. And we may end up with a very marginal condition."
Were you slipping the launch dates?
We really didn't have a hard launch date.
About the middle of summer in '60, in the fall, Septemberish, we said: "Hey, you know, I don't think we're going to make that damned December launch date."
Yes. You said that to Lindsay, of course.
Well, he was in it. It just sort of didn't really dawn on us that we didn't have a chance of making that date.
Finally it did, and then we talked. Lindsay would come out at least once a month. We didn't write progress reports, other than one-pagers. But for the real information that got transferred, Lindsay would come out here, and he would spend two, or three or four days at a time, and was intimately involved with what was going on, and knew what was going on.
He understood and retained it.
Yes, that's very important.
We had a very open relationship with John. We could say, "gee, we're in real trouble in this thing, or that thing." And we never felt like we had to cover anything up, because his reaction was always one of trying to figure out how to help get the problem solved, not one of pointing a finger or, making us seem in a bad light.
His whole goal was to get this thing launched.
But, there's this other aspect that I find interesting. On your original proposal, you were given a quarter of a million, was it?
A quarter of a million.
A quarter of a million dollars to make the instrument that we see here. But then, things got more ambitious. The time scale got longer. Did the funding change?
Oh yes. That also happened in a less-than-formal way.
Yes. Was it usually offered by Lindsay; or did you say, we need more? Or was it a blank check?
It was not a blank check. We would tell him how much we that we needed, and fortunately, John would always put about twice that in his pocket. Not personally, of course, I mean he would get more than we asked for and so was prepared when we needed more. And I was very bad at estimating how much it was going to take to do it.
There was finally a contract person identified back there at Goddard.
This was before you were dealing with any contracts people?
Well, I imagine there was one in the woodwork somewhere, but we never dealt through them. We always dealt through John, and .John called up his contract guys, and he would say, "send them more money." I don't know exactly what he did, but that’s how it was done.
I don't know how he did it. We negotiated the contract with a little Italian fellow. He reminded me of Fiorello La Guardia. We sat in his little dinky office, and he had a huge air conditioner, one of those window jobs like they have in every building in Washington, and the thing would absolutely roar. You couldn't even hear yourself talk across the table, and it would blow cold air; and then when he wanted to make an important point, he'd get up and turn it off. And then we'd talk awhile. And when we wanted something important, he'd turn it on. I'll bet he wound up being one of the head contract guys at Goddard. He was fairly short and kind of jolly.
That might well identify him enough. So then, the wheel was determined. We haven't completely specified how the legs were determined.
Oh yes, I was getting to that. I went to Pete one day, and I told him I just was up against it, and what did he think. And he said: "Well, why don't we just take the gas bottles that were normally sitting here in the rotating structure, because there is a separate gas system for the spinjets." And he said, "Why don't we just bring them out here on an arm after we get this thing in orbit."
It would have to be extended, because the shroud wasn't big enough.
The shroud just came absolutely right to the edge of this thing, and there really wasn't any extra room.
The shroud of the launch vehicle?
Yes. So, we said: Okay, well, that's a great idea. Why don't we try that." And we looked in the shroud, and looked in the shroud drawings. It looked like there wasn't anything hanging around down in here.
This is the model of the Thor-Delta that launched these things? [Model examined in office]
I think they designed that bulbous shroud strictly for the OSO. Because the first one they launched, the S-15, was skinny.
The OSO was actually made to just fit in here. The size of the solar array just clears the inside of this thing. The side of the body just fits in this straight section here, and then the arms were tucked in the tapered section. They just fit around the third-stage bottle.
There is one boiler plate mock-up of that in the shroud at Goddard Space Flight Center. [Visitor's Center] You can really see it. It just barely fits. It's in pretty poor shape, but it's there. Yes, it's quite clear. Now, you made the shroud, too?
Did you ever have any problems determining the right dimensions, or was your communication good with Douglas?
We had communications with Douglas. And finally, we hired the chief engineer that was working on the project, and then we had excellent communication (laughs).
Bill Stranger was the chief engineer.
Did you have any contact with the PI's of the various instruments, other than Lindsay?
Yes. We had very close contacts with them. In the earlier days, I would call the PI's up once a month, get weights and power, and try to find out if they were having any problems of any kind with telemetry and command interfaces, and all of that. Then toward the end, when we actually got to interfacing the instruments to the satellites, these guys were in our lab continuously, one or the other. Von Eschen really spent a tremendous amount of time with them.
Then we hired a guy by the name of John Roach. He became what we called the experiment accommodation guy on OSO-2. That's an interesting point, Dave. Our interfacing with those scientists got us to the point where we actually got into a new line of business, namely, building instruments, which is now the major part of our business.
Building the scientific instruments themselves?
That goes on other types of craft?
Other types of instruments. We've built many instruments that have been in orbit now. They produced over 300 articles.
Three-hundred, wow! Do you have a listing?
I don't know whether it's complete or not. [In NASM Ball Brother file, SS&E.]
When OSO was first flown, OSO-A that became OSO-I, what was your process of learning how to improve further OSO’s down the line? Or had you already started constructing more than one OSO? When did Lindsay, or you, begin to decide that there was going to be a string of these things?
I think Lindsay decided early on that there was going to be a string of them.
Before you flew OSO-I?
Oh, yes. I think we had a contract for OSO-2 and OSO-3. Yes, let's see, OSO-B, C and D. Didn't we, Gabe?
Right, because the next ones were D, E, and F; H, I, and J. they went in threes.
They went in groups of three?
A, then B, C, D, E, F. No, it must have been B, C.
Wasn't it just B, and then it was C?
You know, when OSO-B got blown up, we took OSO-D and made it into OSO-B. Isn't that right?
There was something like that.
Oh, I've got to sit and think about it.
Gabe would know those better than I, because I bailed out of the aerospace business in 1964, possibly 1963. But as I recall, somewhere along the line, before we had finished OSO-I, or A, we were working on OSO-2. Lawrence Hogarth became the program manager for that.
I see the modifications for C; but that was simply for a different type of instrument. What design modifications did you find you had to make to improve the OSO series after flying the first one?
The first major change was changing the telemetry system from an analog system to a digital system.
Was this because of better digital technology available, or finding out that digital would have been better in the first place?
It wasn't available in the first place.
I think it really was not available.
That's right, because I remember; one of the big problems with the digital system later on was the ground station.
There weren't any.
Paul Scheele and I visited Joe Purcell. He had received quotes from about three or four different companies in the country at that time for the ground station. Because it seemed that the airborne part was not all that tricky. The ground station was the thing that was not available. Once the ground station was under bid and under construction, then we designed the airborne part. You could handle more data, of course. You could handle it digitally, which meant that you didn't have to worry about variation in signal levels. It was all digitized. And I think something about bandwidth, too. We could just transfer a hell of a lot more data, digitally. Then the reason the command system was out is our old analog command system on the original OSO had a lot of problems with interference from the ground. It seemed like when it was over North Africa, that region of the world, we would get two signals beating together..
Yes, from European television stations.
Yes, and it would activate all our commands.
Oh my god.
The satellite would come back into view with everything all changed from the way it went out. The first time that happened it was a real panic. Von Eschen and I got called out in the middle of the night down at Fort Myers. We went to the ground station and they wanted to know what in the hell was going on.
Any rumors? I mean, were there any fears that there was some jamming or sabotage?
Well, the first time we didn't know what was the matter, because the ground station was reporting that they couldn't receive any data.
We didn't know what the hell was going on.
The ground station was reporting that they could not receive any data, and they didn't understand what they were hearing. I remember, that was one pass. When they called us up from the ground station, we had both gone over to Fort Myers, and I remember getting awakened in my motel about eleven or twelve at night, to go down to the ground station and see what we could do. So we got there for the next pass. And I remember, ol’ Von Eschen had just heard the signal come. Since it was analog he knew it. He could tell every channel from every other one when he was listening.
An analog system was a bunch of tones.
And he just says: "Oh, that's Ames! Give it a 5/3." He just walked up to the console and punched the button. Everybody was in a great panic, but the thing just straightened out.
Hmm. You could send restoring commands to it, once you understood what was wrong.
The thing was, Fred, there was nothing that could be commanded that would hurt anything.
Now, we've got to be careful.
They were pretty upset with Bob.
Because he preempted their right to push buttons.
But, at any rate, the change in the telemetry command system was a major change. I think there were structural changes made in what we call the azimuth casting. Because we were trying to carry heavier and heavier instruments.
That's the central stabilized portion?
Well, it's a big casting that sits up here on the top.
There must be a picture around here somewhere.
Not in the spin section, but in the stabilized section.
Yes, maybe you can see it here. Now, you can see part of it. See that big structure right there? The big frame casting?
Okay, that's around the instrument on OSO-I, around the scientific instruments.
Yes. Within that frame casting is another casting in which the instruments are bolted. Now, you've got the movement. This azimuth casting is attached to the lower part of the bird and all of this structure is fastened to it. That's the azimuth gimbal. Now, you've got to have an elevation gimbal. There's another casting, a U-Shaped casting sits in here, and the elevation gimbal bearings and elevation gimbal motor are on this axis. Vertical motion.
Okay. Inside the vertical structure.
In fact you can see the edge of the elevation casting right there.
Yes, the triangular piece that goes out in front of the solar panels. I am only saying this for the purpose of the tape. There was the Starfish incident during the flight of the first OSO. Did you learn anything from that, or was that just something that was totally uncontrolled?
That was really uncontrolled. I remember getting a call one day, asking me what would happen if somebody fired a nuclear explosion in space, in view of the satellite.
Yes. Do you know who asked you that question?
It's a guy I know; I'll try and think of him. For some reason, I have two names in mind. One is Lou Branscomb, and the other one is Larimer, or something like that.
Were they ARPA people?
I think they were ARPA. Anyway, I did know this fellow, and he called, but that's all the information he gave me. He didn't say that there was going to be great massive particle radiation or anything.
I wouldn't think he would.
All I was thinking about was; "what would happen to the servo system, and would the sun sensors and that sort of thing be blinded or damaged by the bright light?" I didn't realize at the time about the particle problem. So, I told them that it didn't seem to me that we would have any problem, which the servos would be able to survive, especially if the thing (I forget how the whole conversation went) was going to happen at night. The probability that the thing would be pointing at it was pretty slim, and everything would be shut off. So, I didn't really think that there was going to be a problem. But there was, obviously.
Yes, the solar cells, the degradation.
Yes. We were having another problem at the time. It turned out that it was possible for the lower portion of the satellite to get spun up; to go faster, because of the gravity gradient torques on the upper section. You can visualize a steady torque on the upper portion due to the gravity gradient.
Gravity gradient over this small distance?
Yes. The gravity gradient is the biggest disturber of satellites, in moving them out of their orientation, but not their orbit over long periods of time. If you can visualize a steady torque being applied to the upper section, the torque motor is going to be working against it, and is going to pump up the lower section. We ended up with the lower section spinning so fast that the azimuth servo couldn't recover when it came into the sun at morning. So then, the satellite just went through many orbits, just totally spinning, the whole upper and lower section. The batteries ran down, and it was really kind of poor. But, it also turned out that the spin rate started to slow down after that happened. It finally got to a point where the servo would catch again, and it would work for awhile; and then it wouldn't work. We were going through that when the Starfish thing occurred, .and then the amount of power we would get out of the power supply got so low that it was essentially dead.
We had tape recorder problems, too, I remember.
What kind of tape recorder were you using?
From Raymond Engineering Labs.
Was it a wire recorder, or something more?
It was a single reel continous tape. It took up tape on the outside, and, pulled it out of the middle, and wound it onto the outside.
Many little tape recorders worked that way.
I'm not sure how they work.
This kind is different. Yours is a reel-to-reel, but that was a very common kind of tape recorder at that particular time.
It was designed to store data and then dump it through telemetry all at once?
Yes, two speed.
We had real time telemetry, too. We actually could receive the data in real time, and also play back a whole orbit's worth in about five minutes. They were transmitting the real time data continuously.
So there were some changes, like we put spin-up and spin-down circuitry in for the second one. We changed the telemetry system. We beefed up the azimuth casting so we could carry heavier instruments, and as Gabe said, we changed the bottles, either on the second or the third one.
OSO-2 had titanium bottles.
I don't think that OSO-B, which blew up, had titanium bottles. I think it still had the fiberglass ones.
That was the launch vehicle that blew up, I take it?
Yes, the third stage booster blew up on the spin balance machine in the spin balance facility at the Cape.
That third stage was just a solid fuel rocket that had to be spun. It was a ballistic shot. There was a large race bearing right about in this section, right here; and while the whole assembly was still connected to the second stage, the second stage was controllable. It pointed us in the right direction in most cases.
Once we were pointed in the right direction, the rockets were spin fired. So that assembly had to be balanced. We spun that whole assembly up to 200 rpm, it was a pretty good go. So we balanced them very carefully. We balanced the spacecraft here in Boulder first. And of course, we took the balance machine to the Cape, and we rebalanced it there. Then the assembly of the spacecraft and the third stage motor had to be balanced. So, we were in this building out there toward the lighthouse at the Cape one morning. The guys were out there and they had just finished the balancing process. The spacecraft was covered with a plastic shroud for cleanliness. We had instruments on there. The scientists were beginning to get worried about particulate contamination, and other kinds of contamination, so we protected that thing. And the way the story went, was that our one guy by the name of Lot Gable, had his back turned, and everybody was just in the process of walking away from that rocket assembly. Sid Dagel went up facing it to adjust the plastic around it, and the sucker went off right in his face.
You mean, the solid ignited?
The solid ignited, and went right straight up into the roof. The spacecraft broke off and fell right back down. The rocket careened along the top edge of the building and almost nailed one of the Douglas guys that was going out the door beforehand.
Actually, there was a big pit in the end of the building. He jumped, I guess, he fell into the pit, trying to get away. The rocket came roaring down the wall, and into the pit and got itself stuck into the corner. When that happened, he leaped up and ran out the back door. Then the damned rocket went on again a couple of times.
What happened to Sid Dagel?
He was killed.
Lot Gable was killed.
Lot Gable was killed, and so was a fellow by the name of John Fassett, who was the Kennedy NASA guy that was in charge of all this. In fact, when we were down there for the Shuttle launch, his wife ran a little ad in the Cocoa Beach paper. They guys had founded a little memorial.
Is that right?
It was April 4th, 1964.
I was out of that program.
Fred was off to bigger and better things in those days.
Different ones, anyway.
What were you off to, then?
Well, we had a bunch of little splinter operations. We had a business that was making instruments to go on oil wells. We had a business that was making television equipment, digital television for secure communications, and also some studio equipment. We had another project where we were designing a plastic blow molding machine for the parent company. And I guess that was it.
So you left aerospace, at that point?
Did you re-enter?
We formed, essentially, the commercial division for the Research Corporation. I headed that up.
Did you return to aerospace work later on?
Just briefly in 1971-72 when I headed the study team for the Stanford Relativity Experiment Study (now Gravity Probe B).
Okay. So this pretty much identifies your period, then, with OSO?
I was involved in the proposal for the Advanced OSO.
I was going to ask a question about that. We [NASM] have the Advanced OSO prototype.
With the ball jar in it?
I don't know what's in it. I know nothing about it and I have absolutely no information on it.
You said the prototype?
There was the prototype; Republic built that.
That's what I thought, but what information do you have? Did you build parts of it? Were you involved at all?
We lost it.
We lost that. That was a bitterly contested loss.
Could you tell me something about it? I'd be very interested to get your views on it.
You'd have to almost summarize that, as we almost protested. I don't know that we ought to go into a lot of detail about that.
All I can say is that felt that we had had a very bad deal on that. We felt that the evaluation was not fair.
Was this also with Lindsay? Or was this with another group of people? By this time the competition had gotten going?
It really hadn't. There were three: Hughes, Republic and Ball.
Yes. You see, Lindsay took a position, as project scientist, or something like that. Hogarth was the project manager, and was the chief proponent in conducting the competition.
Well, could you give me a few hints of things that I should know as I try to do the history. I'm interested in OSO, because first of all, it was an enormously ambitious thing; and then it was cancelled.
The Advance OSO project was cancelled, but the little OSO's continued up through OSO-7, which was a major change in the configuration.
That's quite right, no legs, and much more on the stabilized portion.
After this, or during the time we were constructing OSO-7, there was a major competition conducted, for OSO-I, J and K. OSO I, J and K. This whole previous string of OSO's were pretty much sole source.
The sole source meaning you?
Yes, up through OSO-7. They felt that "gee whizz, we must have been given a great favored position," so they decided they needed a competition for OSO's I, J and K.
This was somebody in an administrative position, Hogarth?
No, there was a new program manager at that time, John Thole.
John Thole was also the program manager for the Advanced OSO.
Yes, he was, come to think of it. So long about in a year, Thole came on board, and he was a rather ambitious kind of guy. He wanted to change the configuration. So we went from this configuration to this one.
This was between 6 and 7?
That's right. 7 was the new configuration. Now, while this was going on they conducted a competition for OSO-I, J and K. Hughes won that competition.
What happened to those satellites; what did they become?
Well, that's kind of a long story; but the price that we bid for three of those birds was about $24-million.
For three of them?
Yes, for three of them. Well, the word we get is that the price for one turned out to be about a factor of three.
Yes, and it used up all the money.
That was the end of the OSO program.
Was this a political thing, something that might have happened because of pressure from Congress, or from a particular Congressman, or anything, to your knowledge?
I don't think so.
That was all within Goddard. The idea was to create, as you can already see in the advancement from this configuration and that one, a more sophisticated orbiting solar observatory, carrying the whole damn bit: larger instruments, more payload, a far more sophisticated communications system, and data processing. It was to grow this way. This was the idea of this guy, Thole. Of course, John Lindsay died back in 1968. He wasn't involved in this thing. Jack Brandt took Lindsay's place. He is still head of the Solar Branch, or something like that. He is here right now, talking about the high resolution spectrometer on the Space Telescope. And for some reason, we don't know what the innards of the thinking was at Goddard. Those were the days when the budget was big and people had a lot of money. Why not create a more sophisticated solar observatory?
Was this after AOSO?
Yes, they had tried this once before, you see.
The AOSO was down in what, the mid-'60's?
Yes, that was cancelled in '65?
Yes, we wrote the proposal in September of '62, and it was delivered in, like January of '63. We had the orals in the spring, and then Republic ended up getting the thing in the summer, I guess. They didn't have a clue, as far as we were concerned. We looked at what they had proposed, and felt that there were many, many things that they were going about like an aircraft manufacturer would go about it, especially the nature of the controls. But, we had lost, so we were really out of it.
You don't know why you lost? Or you don't really want to talk about it? I don't want to press you too much.
I think I made a mistake regarding our really heavy protest approach on the subsequent competition.
I, J and K? Well, we did that.
But we also kind of felt kind of bad about the AOSO.
The thing is, I don't remember a whole lot about it, because I was up to my ears in the regular OSO program at that time.
At any rate, we lost this thing to Republic, and Republic blew it, I guess is the best you can say for it. The cost kept escalating tremendously. Republic at that time was just about to go out of the airplane business, and they were really having a tough time. Their people left, and the program was in great disorder.
What do you remember about the instrument complement on that Advanced OSO? I remember only one:
The only one I remember was the HAO [High Altitude Observatory] coronagraph.
That's the one I remember. We had a contract for the Advanced OSO coronagraph for HAO.
To go onto AOSO?
Yes. Now, to make a long story really short, that particular contract yielded the coronagraph that was flown on Skylab.
I imagine you know this story much better than I. The way I remember it, in a short form, was that the HAO coronagraph contract did not get cancelled.
Oh, hell no! The Skylab basic contract was changed from that original thing to the original concept for flight on Apollo to the Skylab. Constant changes.
Yes, we had the contract for this HAO coronagraph, and I don't remember what led to it, but there were going to be a couple of Apollo spacecrafts left over. We came up with this idea: why not put this coronagraph in the Apollo? And we had a great kluge, a great arm that came out of the Apollo command module nose cone and then the service module. Then this coronagraph was up on that thing. In fact, there's a model around here somewhere. There's a picture of the ATM model on p. 62 of the BASD 25 Year Book. (ATM — "APOLLO TELESCOPE MOUNT" was what this program was originally called).
Is there, really? I'd love to see it.
Yes, there's a model of that around here. You know those command module compartments were kind of trapezoidal shaped. They were large and there was this great mechanism that brought this baby up and pointed it at the sun; again, a sun pointer.
Now, who had that idea here? Can you point to someone?
Oh gee, I don't know. John Roach was heavily involved in that.
I imagine, Bartoe, Bob Hathaway.
Bartoe, and the HAO people, themselves.
Who there do you think?
Oh, at that time, I imagine that it was of Dr. Newkirk, Gordon Newkirk. Another fellow came on somewhere in that sequence by the name of Bob McQueen.
Okay, those are good contacts. That's fascinating. That was sort of a shot-in-the-dark proposal that you had made through HAO and then to Goddard somehow?
That was done together with HAO.
Okay, together with HAO; but let me ask this: What cancelled the advanced Orbiting Solar Observatory?
I don't remember that. I just don't remember.
Was it Skylab?
Goddard just had finally had it with Republic; and the program was absolutely in a disarray, and they had spent so much money that they were embarrassed. They were running out of money.
Who do you think I could talk to candidly, who was involved in the Republic proposal and production; or someone at Goddard who was involved in that at the other end?
Jack Brandt might.
Thole was program manager.
John Thole is now at TRW.
Which TRW, in L.A.?
What's the name of the Air Force base out near San Bernardino? [Norton AFB] Thole is a great friend, buddy of ours now. He's now involved with the what used to be ballistic missile division. And he's the guy that put the Air Force on to our antenna technology. We're building the tri band antenna for the MX, the primary antenna system.
It sounds rather substantial.
Thole went from Goddard to NASA Headquarters. Then from Headquarters to Fairchild. Then he went out to TRW.
In the late '60's, though, funds were beginning to become limited at NASA?
Skylab didn't do that. Eberhard Reese. told me one time, in broken German: "our original idea 'vass' to have an astronaut go into the spent tank of the S-IV-B and turn on a light bulb."
To evaporate everything?
It was a kind of figure of speech — just to go in there, and turn on a light bulb. That was a kind of facetious remark.
What he was planning was a very minimal program.
A minimal program, you see.
Who was Eberhard Reese?
Eberhard Reese took over after von Braun left Marshall Space Flight Center.
Okay, that was going to be a minimal Skylab program?
A minimal thing. They were going to make some use of that tank. That fuel tank was in orbit. The whole shootin' match, the Apollos and that tank were in orbit. There is this big tank; we ought to do something.
They were going to go live in that, weren't they?
While we're on that subject, then, here's how that went: I remember the presentations we used to make, to old George Mueller. At Headquarters we'd make this presentation with this system that would put instruments out of the Apollo service module.
Okay, a big cantilever arm.
It looks familiar, doesn't it?
Yes. Like the shuttle arm?
I was trying to think of Mueller. I remember, one time we made this one hell of a presentation. Ol’ Hathaway was there, and Oates was there, in this great damn room there at NASA Headquarters. And George Mueller was asking all kinds of goddamn questions. He kind of had a little smile on his face, and put all this documentation up under his arm, and he went walking by. As he walked by me, he kind of smiled. It wasn't more than two or three days later that the concept of the so-called "wet workshop" came out. At that time, the S-IV-B stage was fueled, and they were going to enter it. And they were going to have a thing called the "Telescope Mount" attached to it. 7hat was a wet workshop concept. The concept went from that to a dry workshop. And then the dry workshop was fully outfitted og the ground. That became Skylab with the Telescope Mount, and this HAO instrument that we built, and then we built three other instruments, two for NRL and one for HCO, Harvard College, and the coronagraph. They were on this great assemblage, pointed off to one side, or tilted. There was an air lock and there was another cylinder built in which all the control systems were for the instruments. I've got a book over there, a Skylab book, which shows George Mueller's first scribbly concept of what turned out to be Skylab. [Leland F. Belew (ed.), Skylab: Your First Space Station (Washington, 1977) [prepared for MSFC]. And this all came out of our presentation for altering the coronagraph.
Did you give me a date for that?
No, I didn't. I don't remember it all.
It was probably like 1966-67.
We might just take that book out over there, because I think his sketch is in there.
Well, let's take a look at that. I can put this on pause.
All of the thinking that was behind that day's discussion, was influenced by the fact that he was head of the manned section. He wasn't really interested in science. But this put the men to work. That has always been a trend in the NASA strategy. This idea of his was just exactly that; because then, subsequent to that, astronauts visited us here in Boulder. We trained them to operate the instruments, and hell, they damned near became solar scientists themselves.
Did you have at any time a mock-up of the Apollo telescope control console here, that was in the MDA?
We had a wooden mock-up, a full-sized wooden mock-up sitting out here beside one of our buildings about three or four years ago.
Yes. I'm going to open this thing.
I wonder which one this is? "Skylab, the first space station." That's just out, isn't it?
Oh no, this has been around. This is an old one.
NASA History Office is putting out a history of Skylab.
Oh, is that right? That would be a fun one, honest to god, if they go into the details of how that sucker evolved.
I haven't read it, so I'd be interested to know.
This is: "Skylab, Our First Space Station". [see page 57 (reference)]. I think a lot of these pictures that you see were taken by our instruments on that mission.
I can't really remember where. The telescope mount, this is what we're talking about.
Right. I'm quite familiar with it.
This is where those big instruments wound. up.
I'm intimately familiar with that. We are working on trying to bring that up to the museum from Marshall in pieces, because we can't afford to bring the whole thing at once.
This is o1' George.
George Mueller. Now, here it is, page 14, 16 August, 1966.
Okay, 1966, it was.
You can put this down: "George E. Mueller". Oh, at that time, do you know what they were thinking about doing? They were going to rendezvous with the telescope mount.
I remember that. We were all worried about how they were then going to get that all bolted to that airlock.
We really ought to try to find one of those. We used to have pictures around everywhere of our original ATM concept. I've got those stored at home, Fred. I've got the whole blooming thing. That's a very famous picture.
That's right. That's with the spectroheliograph?
That came out of Tousey's spectroheliograph camera.
Well, that's an H-alpha picture, isn't it?
No, that was W. The H-alpha telescopes were the guiders, or the pointers.
That sure looks like an H-alpha picture.
No, that's false color.
There's the control console.
Right. We're hoping to get one of those.
There's the by-God instrument complement.
Yes. Do you have anything from ATM here; anything remaining of your prototypes, or anything? You weren't making prototypes any more, were you?
There were a lot of wooden mock-ups.
We called the small satellite, OSO-1, 2, and 3 through 6. OSO-7 was the last in the series. After we launched OSO-7, of course, our OSO program ended, because Hughes won the next series. They only built one unit, one spacecraft out of that.
Out of the I, J, K series?
They built one spacecraft out of the I, J, K series, and that was the end of the OSO program. Now, being an enterprising bunch of guys, we had some spare parts left from this entire series of OSO's. Government property properly stored and protected. It came to pass that the Air Force had a need to fly a scanning instrument, a gamma ray instrument. One of the characteristics of the OSO is that in a six-month lifetime, that spinning wheel will scan the entire celestial sphere.
So this is a gamma ray —
They needed to fly a scanner instrument. Well, the Air Force was very leary of bearings, sliprings and motor brushes in orbit. It took a couple of years of visiting, cajoling, and pushing to convince the Air Force that they could use these spare parts, and that they would, indeed, work. In fact, one of the Aerospace guys, that supported Air Force SAMSO at that time, called this an advanced technological satellite, because it had solved the problems of lubricating sliprings, bearings, and torque motors.
Only about 15 years later.
A guy by the name of John Stevens made that comment. He persuaded the colonels out there: "hell, yeah, it'll work. Don't worry about bearings freezing up." So out of that came what the Air Force called the P-78. And that's it right there. That is the last. We got out of the habit of calling it the big OSO, because the Air Force didn't want to call it an OSO. That is the last of the series.
Did anyone ever call that the OSO-8?
No. OSO-8 was the one that Hughes made. OSO-8 was a Hughes bird. There sits a P-78, Air Force satellite. The sucker is still working, has been out there for about, I'm guessing, I don't remember, four years, five years?
Four years, five years?
Well, more like four years.
Now, this is a gamma ray scanning platform. Is it specifically for military detection of atomic blasts and that sort of thing?
But, Tousey put an instrument on it?
Oh yes, see all these pointed instruments? NRL had instruments on this thing. There was a stratospheric aerosol gas instrument on there. I don't know whether we called it SAGE, or that we merely called it something else, but Dr. Pepiu of the University of Wyoming had that on there. Subsequent to that, we built two more of his ozone instruments.
All kinds of instruments, then, appeared on it, because the thing had the capacity to carry other spinners, and also pointers.
And it is still going?
We had a glitch in the antenna. This uses a new antenna technology.
That's that gold disc at the bottom?
Yes, it's a cylinder.
The antenna is sort of etched on the surface?
That's right. That's a new antenna technology. We call it microstrip. It's another one of our sidelines, Dave.
Oh, that's yours?
We patented it.
When you go beyond OSO now, you’re are in one hell of an area. I've got a brochure here for you. I was wrong when I said, 300 instruments. I was thinking more in terms of 300 articles have been in orbit. Here's the entire list of our menagerie. [In SS&E Ball file]
That's quite impressive. That's very nicely organized too. In areas, astrophysics, planetary, good.
Celestial navigation devices, low light level television systems, antennas, and conformal antennas. The electromechanical business, an offshoot of the old gimbal system off of OSO, has flown on many, many things. We also have antenna pointers that use sliprings and drive motors that have to be lubricated. Communication satellites that point solar arrays; antenna arrays; and now this stuff that's coming in line, we have just flown an awful lot of that sort of technology.
Is this plastic model here for something that is actually going to fly? This is not something that's ground-based?
We presume that it will fly. [Plastic gimbal mount in Mr. Gablehouse's office].
But you're not sure what it's going to be on?
We don't know what it's going to be on. We have built those kinds of pointer controls for the Italians, and a very large despin system that went into some Japanese vacuum chamber. It was a very large race bearing.
Yes, it really is very interesting, because it came out, we had one guy in the company who thought he knew how to solve this bearings problem. If you don't think we weren't hung out on this thing, as far as depth was concerned. We had this one guy, Marion Fulk, who I think is now at Livermore Labs.
What was the issue with that now? I mean, in other words, you really didn't know when you began?
Oh, hell, no. I think you guys had a feeling that, yes, there would be a problem in keeping those things lubricated.
Oh yes, we knew we were going to have a problem. We knew that there was a problem. We had one guy, Marion Fulk, who thought he knew a solution, and he was doing a lot of other things besides.
Did you ever put them in vacuum chambers?
We did extensive vacuum testing. We had to prove that. Subsequent to that first OSO flight, we used that technology on many different things. And one of the first things that the NASA people would wonder about was to prove it. One thing we had to prove was that the vacuum chamber that we used at that time didn't backstream sufficiently to lubricate the bearings. We had life tests going with the diffusion pump chamber. You know there could be some backstreaming, inadvertently lubricating the bearings; so we'd have these things running. We had to qualify the chamber first. The way we would qualify it, we would put an unlubricated set of bearings in there, and the damned things would freeze up and gall in a short period of time, short being like a few hours. Then quality control came into all this picture. We had to prove everything and document everything. That's why we're so sentimental over talking about the days of John Lindsay. Suddenly now, we were in a total documentation mode.
Oh, but this was in the first period, I thought? Weren't we talking about OSO-1?
That's where we are now in the first days; we didn't go to this great length. [So our lack of documentation created an interesting mystery.]
We had been running a set of bearings for about six months in a vacuum, and they were running fine. So we took those bearings and put them in OSO-1.
The same bearings?
The same bearings. We took them out of the vacuum chamber, cleaned them up and put them in. We figured to go with a winner.
We couldn't remember whether those were black or red rulon retainers.
Those were black rulon retainers.
What does this mean? What is rulon?
It's the retainer material in the bearings. Rulon is a glass reinforced teflon. We had made them out of two different kinds. One had molybdenum disulfide impregnated in the teflon, and the other did not. And there is a great controversy around here, or two camps. One says that the ones that flew had red rulon retainers which didn't have the moly in, and the other said, black, and I'm convinced they were black. I had hoped that we were going to retrieve that OSO with the Shuttle, but it just re-entered here about a month ago.
It did? That's too bad. You wanted to retrieve it for historical purposes?
Yes. Now we will never find out.
The reason that came up, Dave, is that I was on OSO-2, and Fred was off somewhere. I guess maybe you were still in the process of launching OSO-1, or something like that. Anyway, ol’ Marion Fulk came wandering in, and somehow, he could not repeat that goddamn dry lubricant on OSO-1.
The same formula? He just couldn't come up with the same formula?
All we kept track of those days was records, engineering notebook records. I don't know why it was, but he couldn't do it, or he highly favored a wet lubricant system.
I suspect that's what it really was. He felt that, even at the time we were taking those bearings out of the vacuum chamber to put them into OSO-1, he had a better scheme. But we wouldn't let him use it. (laughs).
You see, that was the problem Dave. In fact, with all space work, once you fly something and it works, you've got a hell of a problem convincing people that you ought to change now, because you've got a better scheme. It came out; it wasn't just the flap that he created on OSO. Kohlsman was building a star tracker.
Kohlsman? This is a company?
They were building a star tracker for the OAO, Orbiting Astronomical Observatory.
That's right. It was for the OAO. In fact, we were lubricating those bearings. We arrived on the scene, and said: "Hey, we're going to lubricate the OSO bearings with wet lubricant." And man, there was a big meeting called. I'll never forget that damned meeting back at Goddard.
With umpty ump gillion people around there. Marion Fulk was there, and they wanted to know why it was to be a wet design. We made a great presentation of why we were changing the OSO from dry to wet. I don't remember what happened to the Kohlsman bearings.
Well, what happened was that we had the same flap with Kohlsman. They insisted that we use the dry lubricant, because it had been used on OSO. We said, "no, it is not the right lubricant for your application. Your application really needs very low friction, and very smooth-running bearings."
Because they don't have spin stabilization in that did they?
No, and they were trying to point to arc seconds.
Yes. Well, you did have almost arc second capability?
Well, it was an arc minute on the OSO-I. Toward the end we were down to the few arc seconds region. At any rate, at this particular time, we had a hell of a session with Grumman and Kohlsman over the fact that we wanted to change the lubricant. And we had to go through all of the history of it. We used wet lubrication on those later OSO's too.
Lubrication, just a general overall comment about lubrication, is a big thing. It still is. It's a big goddamn thing. And we're experts. We get a lot of business just because we know how to put the stuff on. Sliprings — we still have a little side business going here from people like Eastman Kodak, we don't know what they go into — lubricating bearings and some little motors, and different sized bearings, and different sized sliprings for motor brushes. All kinds of those things. We haven't had a flap on anything like that for two or three years.
No, because it always works.
We had a problem one time with an Air Force meteorological satellite. We delivered this lubricated system-bearings and sliprings assembly. I forget who it went to, probably RCA. They stored it on a shelf next to some kind of damned material, exposed. It's a very sensitive process. You can't contaminate it. So, when they finally got around to firing it up, they ran it in a vacuum on their tests, and the damn motor brushes wore out, just like that.
If you contaminate it with silicones.
Yes, I think that's what I remember that it was.
Yes, I think it was. This is a big thing. It is such a big important thing that they went out and developed their own system. They hired one of our guys, years and years ago. They knew they had to have a bi-ax capability for pointing things, so they developed their own system for it.
We're still building the drive system for the GPS recon. GPS, Global Positioning System.
I have a few questions about ATM. I know that Marshall built the rack and canister, and probably built the spar. Is that correct? Then you people must have built the instruments?
We just built the instruments; that's all.
What was Martin Marietta's responsibility?
They were called the integrating contractor and they built quite a lot of the subsystems.
What's the philosophy of this kind of a diffusion of expertise? I mean, how does, one company come to build the instruments, and another build the main fame, and a third put them together. Does this cause more problems, or is there a managerial reason for this, something that you can describe to me?
Well, if one outfit does it, it gets to be a pretty big job. Of course, the reason that there is always an instrument contractor other than the air frame contractor is that there is really a sophisticated [specialized] expertise in building instruments, as you probably realize. Optics, sensors and that sort of thing, you know, we're the world's experts. We really are. Whenever NASA comes out with an announcement of opportunity, or even before a new mission, the announcement of opportunity inspires scientists to respond with their concept. Their concept, in order to be selected, must have the engineering concepts and some cost estimates in there. They can't just say, well, I'm going to measure ultraviolet phenomena and gamma ray phenomena. Well, most of the science people don't have capability in the engineering area. So, they come through here, and we support them. On the gamma ray observatory and even on HEAO, well let me use the gamma ray observatory. We supported almost all the scientists that got selected. In fact, that was causing a bit of a problem. On the GRO, I think that we have got all but one or two of the instruments. That's causing a big review, in fact, by Goddard, they're saying, "Hey, these ball busters people!" We laugh about it. A guy named Jerry Madden, is the program manager, and Bill Kiethley, who used to be at Marshall, and is an old Skylab buddy of mine, is now running that project. He sees it growing, and he sees that one outfit had got most of the instruments. It kind of worries him, because they've got all their eggs in one basket. That's our reputation in the science instrument area.
You have one of the instruments on the space telescope?
Yes, the high resolution spectrometer on the space telescope.
And that's Jack Brandt?
Yes, Jack Brandt.
That's quite a record. In building these, do you maintain a staff of people who know astronomical applications?
Yes, more or less. They have to. We have quite a few guys that understand quite a bit about what the scientist is trying to measure. In fact, in one case, a Galileo instrument, our guys got into it. Gerry Gilland, now head of engineering, looked at the concept that a fellow — I won't say his name — at Ames had for the instrument, an optical instrument. We did the original study for it, and we had to tell him it wouldn't work. It didn't make him very happy, and he went out and competed (put it out for bid) the instrument. We no-bid it. There was some altercation there.
You didn't bid on it? You 'no-bid'?
Well, we did the study, and they felt that, since we told them that their concept wouldn't work, they kind of got mad at us. So they decided to do a competition for the subsequent work, and we knew, if we bid, we probably wouldn't win it, so we no-bid it. The Martin Company had it. How they are going to solve the damned problem, we are kind of interested in knowing, because the scientists’ concept out there will not get him the data with the resolution he seeks.
I see. Do you have anyone who is professionally trained in astronomy on your staff?
No, we deliberately do not hire astronomy people.
Why is that?
The reason we do not hire them is that we do not want to be in competition with those scientists. Scientists, as you probably know, are kind of wary people. The original idea, the original concepts, they hold unto themselves, for obvious reasons. A couple of reasons. One is, they need to verify their finds before they publish them, otherwise, they wind up being laughed at. Secondly, they want to be originator of the discovery. Now, if you're sitting here with a bunch of scientists on our staff, and a scientist responding to an announcement of opportunity came in, and gave us his entire concept — they usually lay it all on the table: "here's what I'm really looking for” — with the idea that our engineering people would then assist them in accomplishing that, they would be very reticent to do that.
Thinking that staff scientists would scoop them?
I see. I know that a few industries do. I believe it's Grumman that does employ a number of astronomers; and I'm not sure exactly what they do. But let's say, someone trained in astronomy, but who leaves the research end, as many of the administrators in NASA have done. There were a good number of people in the early astrophysics program who are now completely in management, and they are not acting as scientists anymore. You have no one like that?
No. Our people — just to answer your question — know a great deal about the phenomena that the scientists are looking for, but they do not call themselves scientists.
Yes, fair enough. Thank you very much.
When you go beyond OSO, you’ve got a whole new ball game. When I was talking to Pete Bartoe, and the fact that he couldn't come down, I said to him: you know, if ol’ DeVorkin is going to do this right, he's going to have to come back and there's going to have to be subsequent conversations, and that sort of thing.
That is certainly true.
You know, I have an idea of what its all about and the next time we see you, I imagine we can fill in a lot of things.
But you really ought to talk to Pete, RC. Mercure, "Merc," and most likely, Stacy, if you want a third one for the early days. (Pause)
You know, we were talking about OSO-1, up in the launch tower, and it was bolted. Everything was together.
You mean, you were standing in the launch tower?
Yes, we were standing in the launch tower, and ol’ Fred was timing the timer. See, there is a launch sequence time, which would release the arms. I don't think we locked the azimuth gimbal.
Yes, we locked the azimuth gimbal.
We locked the azimuth gimbal that time?
We always locked it.
Yes, we always locked it. There were several little functions that had to happen, and we could tell when they were going off by just listening to the clicking and the clacking.
I had my stopwatch there.
It was a mechanical timing, just a motor driving a drum back to a bunch of cams that were on the damn thing. That's all we did then.
But as you were looking at this beautiful (it must be 11 X 14, or 14 X 21) color photograph of OSO-3 [In SS&E files] being tested, you've commented that, as you look at it, how much more sophisticated you got all of a sudden. What made you feel that?
The man in the white suit with the hat, the gloves, and the fancy test fixture, and the fact that it's in a clean room. It's in a clean room. We didn't have a clean room in the beginning. We took a room and closed the door, and waxed the floor, and called it the clean room. People weren't supposed to go in there with their shoes on.
Yes, for OSO-1.
But things really changed after that? How would you recall, in a sense, what it was like? Was it sort of a heroic age, building that first one? Putting it all together?
It sure was. It was a lot of fun. Well, there was a small group of people. I don't think there were more than maybe 30 or 40 people. You could come here almost any time of the day or night, Saturdays and Sundays, and you would find people working, and nobody got paid any overtime. It was strictly, you know, all volunteer, and it went like that for two and a half years.
We still don't pay overtime to an engineer.
What was it? Was it the science that excited you, or was it the engineering challenge?
I think it was the engineering challenge.
Yes, the engineering challenge, because we didn't get excited over the science until we saw some data, not on imagery. We had no images on that first mission.
That's right. These were not imagers?
I'll tell you a story that I can tell about how scientific knowledge progressed, [and how technical ability improved]. [Ed.]
This instrument, OSO-2, the Harvard College Observatory instrument. I remember one time talking to ol’ Lindsay. He said: "this instrument, pointed at the sun, can observe the entire sun ball in the ultraviolet, in this 1500 range." The entire sun ball. And ol’ Lindsay said at one time: "you know, we don't even know, based upon the design of the instrument — which was' built at Harvard — whether we will get enough stimulation in those wavelengths to stimulate the sensors," whatever they were in those days.
They had some idea what the radiation was, certainly, by that time?
I just remember his saying that. Now, by OSO-4. A 5 arc-minute area of the sun stimulated the instrument.
Again, that's Harvard College Observatory.
This instrument, incidentally, didn't work.
The first Goldberg one on OSO-2?
Yes. I remember it.
It didn't stimulate it?
In fact, this is OSO-2. This is the one. The first time it blew up, it was destroyed, and then I remember being up at Goddard. We didn't turn the instrument on — we had a lot of high voltage in the thing — and we didn't turn the instrument on for some time. Then, we weren't smart enough to realize that when you've got high voltage on board, what you ought to do is send a command, and send another command immediately to shut it off, just in case there was a corona problem.
So, here the thing came over. This was three or four or five days later; we had been at the Cape, and we were up at Goddard. And it came time. "Okay, guys, we're going to turn on the Harvard instrument.” So they sent the command, the Ed Reeves and Dr. Goldberg were all looking at the data output, which was a strip chart of some kind. I don't even remember. They got nothing but noise. They said, "Shut it off! Shut it off!" And before we got the goddamn thing shut off, it was out of command range. It destroyed itself.
Yes. This was on the eventual OSO-2 that flew?
Yes. The eventual OSO-2.
Still, you learned enough by OSO?
Our standard procedure was, in those days, that the thing was over the various ground stations for maybe five minutes. It would depend on whether it was directly overhead or at an angle. We would send the command to turn it on. We'd send the command to turn it off right away; and then we'd look at the data. If it was okay, then we'd send the command to turn it on the next time. If it wasn't, then we let it out gas for awhile.
Outgas for a little longer. That was another change we made in this OSO-2. The instrument now could scan. We put a scanning circuit in it, to allow it to scan back and forth and make a raster pattern of the entire sun.
Subsequent to that, the Harvard instrument, the ultraviolet scanning polychromator spectroheliometer on Skylab, not only had the primary mirror scan — that was a 50-pound surface mirror — but also scanned the grating. That passed about seven detectors. That was a change somewhere in the program. At first, you see, you have a fixed grating and the detectors, which were channel multipliers, channeltron multipliers were at a discrete point in the spectrum. The grating was fixed. And so, along came the great novel idea: "say, you know, if one of those craps out, we ain't going to get that wavelength. What we were getting is a section of the sun at any one of those wavelengths, you see, after we constructed the image back on the ground. So, hey, let's scan the grating." Well now, can you imagine, we were scanning the primary mirror, the 50-pound mirror; and you couldn't detect the scan movement with the naked eye. Now, we have the scanner spectrometer — I mean, not the spectrometer, but the grating. I'll tell you, that has some real sophistication in drive mechanisms and lubrication. You can't use a lubrication that contaminates the optics.
That was really a lot of fun.
I can see how this is going to be quite something, getting to understand all of these — You must have had different research teams for each of the four?
Different project teams.
Different project teams here; but they were all made here?
In general, you have high definition prototypes of these?
Not high definition, no. They were structural models used for different kinds of things.
I see, but they are here in storage?
The guy that ran these two was running a little solar heating company, a guy by the name of Bill Frank. The guy that ran this program died of a heart attack. And the guy that ran that program —
That's the HAO, yes?
Who ran that one?
There were two guys. Hathaway ran that originally, and there was Art Eldridge.
To what degree did you assist or determine the actual designs of these instruments in general, for Skylab?
Well, see, the scientists always had some knowledge. I wouldn't want to say that all the original ideas were ours, because they weren't. In the case of some of the spectrometers, we had a consultant by the name of Bill Fastie [from Johns Hopkins] for a time.
That's a name I've heard.
Yes. I'd like to say that our engineers were the ones that created the original concepts for designs, Dave, but there was an awful lot of interplay.
There were a lot of meetings?
NRL has just a tremendous amount of knowledge. Especially in the ultraviolet films. See, these cameras were film cameras. That signal there was transmitted over the transmitters.
You're talking about the Harvard ones that were transmitted.
Harvard's were transmitted. This had a film camera in it. These had film cameras. The astronauts had to retrieve these.
The NRL and the HAO?
The HAO was roll film, 35-millimeter, and no problem. But here, for the NRL experiment we had to create a camera that used discrete strips of ultraviolet sensitive film.
These were the NRL ones. Yes, I heard about that.
And those were complicated. Those film strips had to be maneuvered through the camera. When it was finally placed into position, it had to be formed in a Rowland circle.
You couldn't touch the surface of the film.
You could not touch the film. Those had to be discrete strips in there. The guy, the designer that designed the camera used to work for Frieden Calculator Company or something like that. The whole damn camera looked like it was one of the old mechanical calculators. I never saw so many pieces of linkage.
Would that linkage be here in your structural program?
No. I'd bet any money you could get those cameras out at NRL, though.
Yes, that's possible. When I first heard about it, I was thinking, wouldn't it be fantastic if we actually set one of those things up in a continuous sequence in the galley to show people how the camera worked.
I wouldn't do that because it is likely to crap out.
Did it actually do that?
Those damned things worked great. I don't think we had any one failure. Of course, what we were counting on was a whole supply of cameras. The astronauts would go out and pull the sucker out and put another one in.
Each camera had its own changing mechanism. That's how it worked, then?
The mechanism was in the camera still?
Oh yes, oh yes!
I see. You never had a failure in orbit?
Not that I know of. There might have been one hung up, you know, two-thirds of the way through the sequence. There's a hell of a lot of frames in one of those. (Cross talk)
It was a major crisis in this company for, it must have been, over a year, getting those damned cameras to work. I wasn't involved in the aerospace division at the time, but I knew that those cameras were having a terrible time.
Oh, we had just a terrible time with them.
Who was responsible finally, for the successful design and execution? Who could you point to?
I don't remember who finally did it, we phased about four or five guys through that. Bill Frank would know, probably. He would probably remember who he feels is the guy that really solved the problem.
Ek Lemberg was one of them. He's an Australian fellow. After he finished our job, he went back to Australia.
He did come back, didn't he?
Yes, he came back. I don't know where he is now. We no 1onger hear of him now.
Okay, well, I think I got some very nice added remarks.
What would you think about us putting a package together and sending it to you there?
Okay. I think that would be very good.