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 Herbert Friedman by Martin Harwit on 1983 June 7,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
This interview covers selected aspects of Friedman's career at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). It traces the development of upper air research at NRL through the International Geophysical Year (IGY, 1957-1958), and then outlines subsequent attempts at international coorperation in geophysical research. The latter discussion serves as the basis to explore the role of "big" science, and its relationship to individual and "little" science.
Okay, Herb, I think, when we first met, you were superintendent of the Atmosphere and Astrophysics Division (at the time it was called that, I think) at the Naval Research Laboratory. And that was, also, just shortly following the International Geophysical Year in which you had participated at NRL quite extensively. I know that you've told me, also, that you are now trying to have a follow-on for this program. Can you tell me, first the type of work that was being done at NRL in the Atmosphere and Astrophysics Division; and then we can go from there and talk about the IGY.
The way we connected with the IGY was through the rocket and satellite programs which were becoming increasingly important at that time. The rocket work had begun in 1946, as a result of our acquisition of German V-2 rockets that were brought back from Germany by our Army teams that went in and got there early enough to beat the Russians to rounding up whatever was available. Those rockets were brought back to White Sands. The Army was going to study the propulsion, but it was clear that it made sense to offer the scientific community the opportunity to put payloads in, rather than fill the warhead space with concrete and lead.
Who made that decision, incidentally? There must have been a military decision fairly high up.
The scientific groups, and I think, largely through the efforts of the NRL group, persuaded the military that this was the wise thing to do. The Army went along with it without any hesitation; and I forget the exact name of the group, but a panel made up of representatives from NRL, from the Signal Corps, from the Air Force, from the University of Michigan, and Princeton University, coordinated the efforts to do scientific research with the V-2 rockets.
Now, you yourself, of course, were mainly involved, if I understand it (if not correct me), with the solar studies in ultraviolet and x-rays, and also, stellar studies in the same wavelength region. But there also was a very strong atmospheric program going on within the division. So was it on your own behalf, or on behalf of the research of other people in the division that you were particularly interested in the IGY program?
The scientific background for the work that was done at NRL in the rocket program really could be traced to the interests of Ed Hulburt and A. Hoyt Taylor back in the early days of the development of radio communication. Hulburt and Taylor were very much interested in the ionosphere, and had made some of the very fundamental discoveries of how the ionosphere behaved under solar control. Taylor was head of the Radio Division at NRL. NRL had a strong role in Navy communications via radio, and the development of radar. And even the radar work can be traced to the original NRL interest in the fundamental behavior of the ionosphere, together with Gregory Breit and Merle Tuve, who were at the Carnegie Institution. The technique for pulse sounding of the ionosphere was developed. The pulser was set up at NRL, and they noticed that as aircraft came down the river to land at the Naval Air Station, Bolling Field, that the pulse signals were interfered with. And a young Navy lieutenant, who later became Adm. Parsons, (William S. "Deke" Parsons) suggested that, instead of being frustrated by the interruption of their scientific work, that they should look at this as evidence for the potential of what became radar. That really, as far as I can tell, was the origin of the work on radar, on this side of the Atlantic.
I see, yes.
Now, because of Hulburt's interest in the ionosphere, those of us who worked with him were aware of the fundamental issues, how does the sun control the ionosphere. In those days we thought of the sun as a 6,000 degree blackbody, and a 6,000 degree blackbody would not produce enough ionizing radiation to create an ionosphere. So Hulburt himself had speculated about x-rays from the sun. Theoretically, the work of Bengt Edlen, for example, in Sweden had shown that the forbidden lines in the coronal spectrum really were attributable to iron -14, and -15, and calcium -15, and -16, and so on. So it was clear that there ought to be some x-ray emission from a plasma hot enough to produce these ions; what was not known was whether the x-ray emission was intense enough to play a major role in producing the ionosphere or not. Given the capability of a V-2 rocket to carry instruments up to the ionosphere, it was rather natural to want to study the solar emission and the ultraviolet x-ray portion of the spectrum, to get the overall distribution. One way was to fly a spectrograph. That was pursued by a team who were led by Dick Tousey at NRL. My inclination was to try to develop specialized narrow band detectors to isolate regions of the ultraviolet and the x-ray spectrum; and to get a rough measure of the spectral distribution. The spectrographic work was a success immediately in 1946; but it only photographed the spectrum down to about 2200 angstroms. The x-ray detectors worked in 1949, and at the same time measurements were made in the Schumann region of the ultraviolet, and at Lyman alpha. And those early results in 1949, essentially gave the basic answers to how the sun controls the ionosphere. Everything from there on, I would say, was refinement of detail.
But at some point you decided that it would be nice to be able to follow these things over a longer period of time, or at least, to see how they depended on solar activities: is that what led you into the IGY work?
Through the years, from 1949 until the beginning of the IGY, we made frequent rocket measurements, and gained an under standing of how the solar flux varied over a sunspot cycle. We knew that at times of solar flares there were sudden ionospheric disturbances, and we wanted to understand what it was in the radiation spectrum of the solar flare that produced radio blackout. The techniques which had been used up to the time of the IGY involved Aerobee rockets, V-2 rockets, Viking rockets. All of them were liquid fuelled. They had to be placed in a launching stand and kept there only briefly, after completing the process of pressurizing the fuel system with helium; something like half an hour was allowed between pressurization and launch of the rocket. Since you couldn't predict when a solar flare was going to occur, that didn't give you much chance at catching a solar flare with a rocket of that type. But by 1956, we began to change our strategy. We started with the Rockoons, which were solid propellent rockets that floated on Skyhook balloons. They could be kept up for a day, and that gave the time advantage of being ready for a flare all day long, rather than for thirty minutes, with a relatively inexpensive system, that could be brought down at the end of the day if a flare had not occurred. And that was 1956. By 1957 we began to replace the balloon with a Nike booster, using two-stage rockets. That was much more efficient. You could keep the rocket on the ground, and be ready at the push of a button to launch it, if you had an indication of a solar flare. The Rockoon experiments did give evidence of a solar flare, at one successful detection in 1956, which proved that the flare was primarily an x-ray event, and that's what ionized the D region and produced radio fade out. By 1957 and 1958, when the IGY was officially underway, we had many successful launches into flares that showed the wide variety of flares, gave us evidence of the nature of a flare spectrum, and so on.
Well, you would probably have done all of that, whether the IGY had come along or not.
That's right. Now, looking towards the IGY, we wanted to develop the satellite technique. There was a plan for the Vanguard satellites. And because of what we had learned from individual rocket shoots, there was the obvious advantage coming up of having your detectors in a satellite which watched the sun all the time. You could begin a monitoring program, and really learn about the long-range geophysical behavior of the sun and as simply as on earth. Eventually —
Were you involved directly in the Vanguard project? Or was it Hulburt, or were all of the people in the division involved?
By the time of the Vanguard program we had an organization specifically set up at NRL to conduct both the engineering phases of the program, develop the three-stage rocket, and also to provide the satellites and their payloads. The number one priority went to an instrument for which I had the responsibility. It was one which would carry ultraviolet Lyman alpha and x-ray detectors. The second one was an instrument that Jim Van Allen was instrumenting to study cosmic rays. And then down the line there were various other experiments planned. Magnetometers —
But the rockets were not being built or designed directly in the division; is that right?
The Vanguard rocket was based on what had been learned from the Viking and the Aerobee. They were modifications of those rockets, staged to give the necessary propulsion capability. The Martin Company was the contractor. NRL was the contract manager.
So, to get back to the role that the IGY played in your plans, did you at the time solicit, or campaign for an IGY, or since you almost were working independently, as I understand it, from what was going on, presumably you would have gone ahead with the Vanguard project, even without that. Is that correct, or ...
I think that's right. The idea that it was possible to launch satellites was prevalent in the Navy, in the Army, and the push to get it ready for the IGY was supplementary to that. There was a lot of politics involved in deciding how to do it. Eisenhower decided that it ought to be a strictly civilian program for the IGY, and that's why it came to NRL, and why Vanguard was established. There was no doubt the Army could do it as well, but Eisenhower wanted to avoid the implication that, the impression that, our science was coupled directly to military activities.
Which of the geophysicists were primarily pushing for the IGY in this country?
Let me give you some of the background. The story is that Jim Van Allen had a social evening at his home in Silver Spring in 1950; among the guests were Sidney Chapman and Lloyd Berkner. Lloyd Berkner proposed that it was approaching 25 years at that point since the Second Polar Year (1932), the first having taken place in 1883. Berkner thought it was time to organize another Polar Year. The thought initially was that a new Polar Year ought to be focussed on Antarctic studies. Sidney Chapman felt that it ought to be broader, and he persuaded the community to think in terms of a global geophysics program. The proposal was put to the International Council of Scientific Unions, ICSU. That's the parent body for the Astronomical Union, the Radio Union, the Geophysical Union and so on. And they established a special committee for the IGY, with Chapman as president, Berkner as vice president, and a number of distinguished European geophysicists to complete the committee. They began serious planning in 1952. It was aimed at initiating a program of 1957 and 1958. I think, in retrospect, it is clear that this was a very distinguished and very able committee, and they put the IGY on track and got it going in a very effective way.
How much do you think was the effect of having the International Geophysical Year, as far as the everyday conduct of science went, that people were carrying through, or the funding that became available?
There were a lot of geophysical efforts in studying terrestrial magnetism, and studying the aurora, and the beginnings of a rocket program to understand the ionosphere.
You mean, because of the IGY, or these had been there?
No. This was the general picture.
The IGY offered the opportunity to try to coordinate these global types of programs; the aurora, Antarctica, geomagnetism were all programs that had to be studied on a global scale. And it was obvious that it could best be done if the countries around the globe got together and planned their scientific programs jointly and carried them out in the best time-coordinated way. That was the philosophy behind the IGY. By the time the program was fully underway, there were some 40,000 scientists and technicians who were involved. The planning was very substantial. The big events, of course, were the launching of Sputnik and the U.S. Explorer I and then finally the successful Vanguard satellites.
What is your feeling about how successful the actual coordination was? I mean, did people succeed in timing experiments so that they would get more out of them than one would have normally, just carrying on science on an everyday basis. I mean, the timing often is the most difficult aspect in a complicated set of experiments, and most of these, or many of them, at least, certainly the ones that you were doing, were quite demanding technicaly.
Once you had the satellite techniques, then it became important to coordinate the ground-based observations with them. The ground-based studies of the sun could be done all over the world. Also, in the aurora region you could set up riometers which would detect the incidence of energetic protons in the polar cusps. The riometer was essentially an ionosonde which detected polar blackout, when energetic particles from the sun entered the polar region down the open field lines of the earth's magnetic field. The instruments in space, of course, could pick up the radiation simultaneously in the x-ray regions. And later on, actually measure the proton fluxes themselves. Auroral all-sky cameras were set up all around the auroral zones to try to get complete pictures of auroral morphology. Ionosondes, maybe as many as 100, were set up all around the world to track the radio fade-out effects that accompany the x-ray bursts from the sun. All of the data were collected and archived in three world data centers, so that they were available to all nations; one in Russia, one in the United States, and one in Japan.
I guess, I'm sort of coming to the point that I'm trying to get your opinion on: what do you feel was the overall net effect on having organized a year like this, and perhaps getting more public attention focused on it, also, more attention by the scientific participants. What was the net effect of all of that, compared to what would have been done, anyway, in the natural course of scientific activities? Well, let me mention things not necessarily in any logical order: Russian science was a mystery at the beginning of the IGY. The IGY brought the Russians out into public view, say, as part of the worldwide scientific community, and they cooperated very effectively. It was a great success in terms of relaxing international tensions in that respect. Scientists from all over the world got the opportunity to meet freely, to talk freely. More Russian scientists travelled abroad than had been possible previously. It was a major breakthrough, in that sense. Even though it was a rather spectacular breakthrough with regard to the Russians, it was very effective, also, with respect to the Japanese. It brought a lot of Third World scientists into contact with the First World scientific activities. It stressed the values of open scientific cooperation, the scientists' values as expressed in a pure search for knowledge and exchange of that kind of knowledge without political machinations.
Would you say that this reaffirmed scientists' faith in the open scientific society, or would you say that it filtered down to the general public? The reason I'm asking is because you talk about tensions being relieved; and yet, at the same time, one really had this almost mass hysteria in this country about the Soviets beating us to the first satellite. And I remember, Eisenhower feeling emburdened to get on television and telling people that we had some new device (it was called the Snark, or something, I forget) that was going to give us adequate defense against any satellite attacks. You know, all of that that went with it. In what way did you mean what you were saying before?
By bringing it out into the open, it gave an honest picture. You could describe what was in the Russian Sputniks in great detail. There were scientific instruments; then a dog, and so on.
So I think it dissipated a lot of the misinformation and speculation that led to public panic. It also showed the public that, if scientists could do it, perhaps we could broaden that kind of open society into the political arena. Over and over again, the references were made to the honesty of the scientific endeavor, the ability of scientists all over the world to cooperate without any hang-ups.
Yes. Now, as far as the scientific value went, though, other than sort of on a political basis, do you feel that the understanding of the universe or of the solar system, of the earth was accelerated appreciably by this as well? Or is it more in the sort of international opening of doors that you feel, which eventually might have also led to scientific progress, that you feel that the major achievements were?
I think that there was substantially more science accomplished because of the cooperative efforts than would have been the case, if each country went its own private way. It also had great educational value. It encouraged more support for geophysical sciences from the responsible agencies. The original commitment of Eisenhower to support the IGY was something of the order of $11-million, I think, out of NSF funding. By the time the program was completed, the contributions were closer to, maybe $45-million for the U.S. effort in those two years, 1957 and 1958. It's very difficult to put a price tag on the Antarctic effort, because the Navy's contribution to the logistic supply of Antarctic operations was in the hundreds of millions of dollars. That wasn't charged to the IGY.
Do you feel that the creation of NASA (and the very large NASA programs that then came out of this) was a direct consequence of the IGY? Or would we have gone that way sooner or later, anyway, in this country?
Because the IGY planning started several years before Sputnik, you might say that the scientific community had developed substantial plans for what to do with satellites from a scientific standpoint. I think the establishment of NASA went ahead much more smoothly because the scientific community could project a very interesting and large scientific program. NASA's total commitment initially was to science. It is true that there were speculations about great practical returns, the ability to conduct radio communications via satellite was obviously bound to have a very large pay-off, and the ability to set up weather satellites and photograph the cloud cover of the earth was going to have a large pay-off for, applications — public uses. But the scientific projections were maybe even more persuasive publicly, because, immediately, there was the discovery of the Van-Allen Belts, which was a real spectacle, and there was a large amount of glamor and adventure associated with rocket shoots all over the world from shipboard, and rockets sent on balloons; and then two-stage rockets put up in all sorts of outlandish places.
Do you feel that, if there hadn't been the panic about Sputnik, that one would have proceeded in a less abrupt panic mode, and that the U.S. effort would have been built up around the Naval Research Laboratory, where most of the work had been done before, and where the Vanguard project had been located, rather than seeing the start up of an entirely new agency that was going to do this?
A good deal of work would have continued under Navy auspices without the IGY, but the IGY did give it a very large boost. My own experience, for example: we had been studying x-rays from the sun. We suspected from the studies over a solar cycle that the x-rays were identified with active coronal regions, coronal condensations. But we didn't have an x-ray picture of the sun, and we wanted to know what that distribution was. I had proposed doing an eclipse study of the sun, where by shooting a number of rockets during the progression of the eclipse....
What sort of a study of the sun — I'm sorry?
An eclipse, by shooting rockets during the progression of the eclipse, we could observe the effect of occultations of active regions, and in that way reconstruct the intensity distribution over the sun. The proposal to do that was turned down, because there wasn't enough money in the budget for the IGY. The week after Sputnik was launched I went in to see Adm. Rawson Bennett at ONR. He was the Chief of Naval Research. We had been asking for $70,000 and the support of a Navy ship. The eclipse path crossed the Pacific, and could best be observed in the neighborhood of the Danger Islands. These were small atolls in the South Pacific. Before the launch of Sputnik we had very little prospect of getting the ship support, and we could not get the $70,000 to prepare the experiment. When I went in to see Adm. Bennett, he immediately authorized the $70,000 and assigned the U.S.S. Point Defiance, which was an LSD, as the base for the eclipse expedition. That was characteristic of the sudden change in attitude. Suddenly, everything became possible. At that point, any good idea that was put forward got supported.
Now, you were mentioning a few weeks ago that you are now pursuing the idea of arranging a similar follow-on to the IGY. Can you tell me what sort of things that you are hoping this would be centered around? What kind of scientific projects, and what sort of response you have been getting from what kind of people?
Before I start talking about that, it might be worth mentioning some of the progress that was made between the time of the IGY and now. There has been a constant honing of the techniques of doing global geophysical research, and doing it on an international basis. There have been several major programs conducted since the IGY. In 1970, through one of the international organizations, called SCOSTEP (Special Committee for Solar-Terrestrial Physics), of which I was president, we had a discussion of various programs that were being organized by individual countries. It turned out that we in the United States were planning a couple of satellites to study the magnetosphere. The Russians had three in their plan. The Japanese were contemplating similar activity. It was suggested at that time that one of the major problems in understanding the magnetosphere was that it was highly time variable; and unless you could place satellites in different portions of the magnetosphere, and make simultaneous measurements, you could not separate out the temporal from the geometrical variations. As a result, a special planning group was set up for an international magnetospheric study. By the time it came to pass in 1973, some eight satellites had been targeted specifically for this program, one program called ISEE (International Sun-Earth Explorers) was a joint effort of the United States and the European Space Agency, ESA. And they consisted of mother-daughter satellites chasing each other around the magnetosphere. The Russians coordinated their efforts with that. The Japanese put up two, also time-coordinated with all of the others. By the time the program got underway, there were some eight satellites that were dedicated to this kind of coordinated study of the magnetosphere; and instruments were attached onto an additional 30 satellites put up there for a variety of other purposes, all of which contributed data. It is that kind of activity that has developed since the IGY, and has been very effective for global studies. I could mention a number of others, but that gives us the clue to how we want to proceed from here on. First of all, the IGY was planned for one or two years. We now know that many of the major geophysical problems have time scales of 10, 20 or even longer lengths of time. So it makes very little sense to plan programs which involve a great deal of effort and coordination to run only a couple of years. We want them to run for one or two or more decades. We want to set up the kind of organization that will have that sort of longevity. That means we have to identify lead agencies in the United States to match the international agencies for continuing such activities over, say, at least one generation of scientific life.
Let me interrupt you at this point, then. Your own personal style of research was always much more flamboyant than that, I would say. That is, as a researcher in ultraviolet and x-ray astronomy, as a pioneer of that field, you certainly — it is my feeling at least — would not have had the support of a large organization dedicated to an extremely well-planned and thought-out program. How do you feel that an organization like this, which has a lot of inertia built into it, just for the reasons you mentioned; namely, for studying the earth and solar-terrestrial relations over a longer period of time; how do you feel that that kind of an organization would view new instrumentation, completely new approaches to research? Or do you feel that those would be handled some place else, and that this particular organization would simply be dedicated towards the well predictable types of work?
I would hope that individual scientific groups in their respective countries would carry on their own creative efforts. They would have enough imagination to think of new approaches, develop new instrumentation, and then try to fit them into the broader participation.
Let me stop at this point and turn the tape over.
We were just talking about spontaneity in research and long-term planning; and I think you were saying that you felt that the spontaneous projects would probably, or at least, you would hope, would be carried on within individual countries under the aegis of national planning groups. Do you want to elaborate, perhaps, because this is one of the things, I think, that a lot of people are worried about to the extent that you see throughout the history of this century, this fear that sometimes is expressed about big science versus little science.
First of all, in the pre-IGY days there was so much to be explored that you could feel confident, if you looked at any new regime of space, or any new range of the spectrum, you would come up with discoveries and surprises. We sort of exhausted those potentialities. And now it's clear that the efficiency of doing this kind of science from a satellite is just enormously greater than doing individual rocket shoots. The satellites are expensive. Generally, you have to be part of a consortium operation for a particular satellite. The style has changed. It's inevitable; and the challenge to the individual is to see if he can remain creative in that kind of highly organized environment. I think it is still possible. I also think it is entirely possible that as we go on with the use of the space shuttle, we'll not only do the very big things like the space telescope, but we'll do small payloads which can be individually proposed and individually operated.
Do you think that that is something that will be possible under NASA aegis without the usual escalation of requirements that are put on payloads, advertised initially as: bring your old rocket payload, and we'll mount it on the Shuttle. And as time goes on, they become more and more and more controlled by the various safety requirements, manned space requirements, and so forth. Do you think that that's realistic?
...or that one could push....
The way things have been going, we certainly haven't arrived yet at the point where small individual experiments can be put on the shuttle, released from the shuttle and operated as free flyers and brought back in. But it certainly is possible to do that; and it would be a tremendous disappointment as time goes on, if that kind of activity doesn't become much more flexible and easy to perform. NASA does have, for instance, a program that they call Spartan, which is just what you have been describing. You take a rocket payload, and they provide a carrier which has the tape recorders and the propulsion and the stabilization, and the orientation controls within it. It will be put out by the astronaut, will fly alongside the shuttle, and then be brought back in after a few days, and eventually a week. And already, that makes it several hundred times more effective than a rocket flight. The instrumentation doesn't cost any more than a rocket. This basic package, which is a substitute for a rocket, is recovered and reused. The frustration is that it won't get its first test for another couple of years.
I've had discussions with NASA people about this part of the program, because I remember that 10 years ago when they first proposed the Shuttle, they were picturing exactly this kind of thing as happening. It hasn't happened yet. I do hope that it will. I guess you are hoping, also, that the more spontaneous, flexible projects could be done with that. Now, as far as the larger organization goes, that would handle a follow-on program, would you talk about that some more? What sort of — how you would expect that that could be run effectively, inter~nationally, and what your hopes are for it, and so forth?
Let me tell you what we're doing here to try to develop the idea on a national basis first. We conceive a program that has four major sub-elements: the solar-terrestrial research, including the sun itself; lithospheric programs which involve all of the aspects of crustal movement, plate tectonics, solid earth geophysics; the atmosphere and the oceans, atmospheric programs like studies of tropospheric chemistry, weather systems, how the oceans contribute to the interactions with the atmosphere and ultimate influence on weather and climate; and finally, the biosphere, all of the issues that we have been concerned with like the effects of ozone and C02, on a global scale, life in the oceans, how it is affected by transport of nutrients from the land masses, how vulcanism, acid rain and problems of that sort come into the local geophysics picture. We are going to have a workshop at Woods Hole this summer in which we will look at all of the on-going activities, try to see how somewhere down the road, in five years, they can be nudged in the direction of global cooperative programs; then also, to look across these disciplines and see what the interdisciplinary aspects might be, and how they could be encouraged. Let me mention some things. Radio interferometry has its clear application to radio astronomy, but at the same time it gives you an experimental technique for studying very fine motions of the crust.
We are going to develop a very long base-line array sometime in the next few years. This would be a transcontinental array.
Some 10 telescopes which will stretch from Bonn, in Germany, to Hawaii. It will be possible to add onto that array, both east-west and north-south to enhance its capabilities for radio interferometry, and at the same time, to enhance the coverage for crustal movements. Techniques for laser ranging have been developed, which also give you a powerful handle on crustal movements. The global positioning system has direct application to studies of crustal movements. We can use these techniques to study the earth's rotation and small glitches in its rotation, which relate to the internal dynamics of the earth. We can relate that variation of rotation to solar activity: what happens during a solar flare? Does it produce a measurable impact on solar rotation? We can study polar wobble related to geomagnetism and internal movements within the earth's interior. We can relate the length of the day, for instance, to the total angular momentum of the atmosphere. The idea would be to have the specialists in these various disciplines talk to each other, and see how they could make their techniques more broadly applicable. Recently, we held a workshop here on the multidisciplinary applications of the VLBA (Very Large Baseline Astronomy). The astronomers sat down with the geodesists and geophysicists. It turned out to be very successful. The geosciences side realized how powerful the new techniques of radio astronomy were. The radio astronomers suddenly realized that the geoscience people had some very good science to do with an instrument of this type.
I'm surprised, because articles have been around on that for a decade, at least, I think. I remember Tommy Gold having an article out where he summarized some of these things. But a lot of other people also had. But it still came as a surprise? I guess people forget. Is that what you're saying?
Well, they never really sit down and talk in scientific detail about what they want to do, and criticize each other's efforts, or suggest how the other side might do its job better.
And all of that happened in this workshop.
I see, yes. Now, for the VLBA-geophysical coverage, you probably need almost full-time utilization of such a network. Isn't that right?
Well, that's where the coordination comes in. The radio astronomers who have, of course, a very vested interest in doing the radio astronomy don't like to give up any of their time. But they concede that time can be scheduled in such a way that they give a reasonable amount of time to geophysics, and give it in such a way that the geophysicists get the best results for their time.
I just meant, as far as the glitching went, for example, that you had mentioned before, there you would almost have to wait long periods of time until the appropriate glitch came along that you were trying to...
Suppose your predictability for solar activity improved; you can't predict within the hour when a solar flare is going to occur, but you can identify a very active region on the sun, and say that within the next week or two there will be a number of flares, and maybe some very large ones.
And the geophysical effects, of course, follow many hours after the actual flares, so you could presume you would have some warning time.
You could be prepared to do some specialized studies on a matter of an hour's warning.
Just out of curiosity, you mentioned the total angular momentum of the atmosphere before, how is that measured?
You know the prevailing wind systems. You know the mass of the atmosphere, and how much air moves.
Yes. It is just that that you are talking about? Okay.
Yes. And it has a seasonal variation, and it shows up very clearly in the length of day. Superposed on that variation of the length of day, you see glitches which aren't understood, presumably are due to solar activity, or to internal abrupt rearrangements in the physical constitution of the earth's crust and sloshing around of its interior, and so on, which we would like to understand. I try to point out in these discussions that seismology is the way we get at the internal structure of the earth. Solar physicists have been studying vibrations of the sun, trying to understand the interior constitution of the sun from analysis of these vibrations; so the science is exactly the same. You use the same techniques for spectral analysis in these vibrations as you do in seismology. Why shouldn't the two groups...
...speak to each other. NASA is talking about a solar probe, a satellite which will come in to three or four solar radii, and as it swings by, will do the same thing for the sun that lunar orbiters do for mascons in the moon, or the GEOS types of satellites do for the internal distortions in the mass of the earth. So those communities ought to really be interested in each other's science. It's the same science applied to different natural objects.
Yes. So, do you envisage something that might be of the order of, say, the Space Telescope Science Institute, or NRAO, but on an international basis, with responsibility for a very large baseline radio astronomy type of array, and seismographs, and solar satellites and so forth. Is that the kind of thing that you would envisage?
That's right. You have these activities going on all over the world. Just the way we brought the Russians into open cooperation, we might do that with the Chinese the next time around. That's an enormous geographic area. Certainly China has a tremendous interest in seismology and earthquake prediction and so on. It's a missing link in our study of the globe as a whole. The way the cooperation will be sustained is through the international unions; the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics will be the center for coordinating the geophysical types of science.
But would you expect central laboratories that would be run by such an organization the way that NRAO does? Or would this be an organization which would more or less farm out the work to the local national laboratories and maybe arrange that people use uniform instrumentation, so that one can compare results directly and so on?
You mentioned one of the goals that would contribute greatly to the value of scientific data. If we're studying the same natural phenomenon, it's important that our instrumentation be understood, that there be cross calibrations. In fact, if we can design commonality in instrumentation, it makes the comparison of the data so much more effective. Take satellite oceanography: we've been talking about follow-ons to SEASAT, and to various other types of measurements from satellites, scatterometers which measured the scattering of radio waves from the wave patterns. Wave patterns on the surface tell you what the stresses on the surface of the ocean are; and altimeters that tell you what the ocean circulation is, that sort of thing.
Clearly, the days of doing oceanography from ships are numbered. You need a certain amount of ground truth, and we will continue to do that.
But to get the global picture, it has to be done from space. The Japanese are planning an ocean satellite program. The French are planning ocean satellites. We are. The Russians are. Wouldn't it add enormously to the scientific output, if we devised our instrumentation plans in a coordinated way; if we allocated the kind of coverage that each group would do on a global scale in a coordinated way, and exchanged our data? Certainly, each country is going to pursue its interests in satellite oceanography, but it would gain at least in proportion to the number of participants, if we share data.
Hmm. I guess, a couple of questions that come to mind are: do you see theorists, for example, also banding together in some sort of international effort? Or do you feel that international efforts are required mainly in areas where there are large-scale expenditures, where confusion would exist, if people didn't coordinate instrumentation and timing and so forth? Do you see these international efforts as unique efforts where one can't get along without that kind of large-scale planning; or do you see it as the future of almost all of science?
No, I wouldn't say of all of science. The major part of science will still be done in the laboratory, and largely as a matter of individual creative initiative. But global science, I think, inevitably has to be done this way. You can't understand the lithospheric phenomena without doing it on a very large scale.
It's, perhaps, not quite fair to quote you back to yourself after about 20 years. But I remember a conversation we had around 1963-64, when I visited your lab at NRL; and we were then talking one lunch time about NASA, which at that time was maybe five-six years old. And I recall your complaining that NASA was always organizing everything to death, and you felt that there were a lot of things that you yourself and your group could do much better at NRL, cheaper, faster, more intelligently, less paper work, and so forth. All of this becomes true in spades, I guess, for an even bigger international organization. And how does one cope with that?
The part that a particular group does can still reflect the personality of that group, its imagination and so on. Suppose you want to study the aurora; there have been some recent results which have been done by satellite, like the Dynamic Explorer, in which the payload was a mix of a number of experiments, and yet some individual experiments have turned up very exciting, and new phenomena, which taken by themselves can be interpreted, speculated about some; for instance, able to produce images of the auroral oval in a somewhat continuous fashion to show how it breathes, how it distorts, how fine its internal structure is; the fact that the interior of the oval is not empty, but that there are arcs which cross the oval. You take that by itself, it's, I think, comparable to a rocket experiment 20 years ago.
Now, if you combine those observations with simultaneous studies in the magnetosphere, you can look for the connections between magnetospheric substorms and the movement of the auroral oval, solar activity and the appearance or disappearance of arcs across the auroral oval. That simply expands the range of scientific interpretation of what's going on.
I understand. But if you think back to 1948, when you were just starting up in this area, and were 32; and were able to start up this effort, because you knew the local people to talk with, who would make it possible for you to get the V-2 rockets, and to start this tremendously exciting program on almost a shoestring, but with the help of the right sort of people; if you were 32 now, or at the time when such an international organization gets set up, would you look at it differently? Would you feel uneasy because that kind of an organization would be so remote, only accessible to the older members of the scientific community, with less direct contact to the people who would actually be able to give you the funding you personally would need, would that .... The reason I asked you for this interview, of course, was because you've worked both sides of the street, more than anybody else I know, both the big science and the intensely personal little science. How would you feel as a young man about such a big organization?
Well, looking backwards, I recall, you know, with great personal satisfaction the excitement of getting an idea, being able to move out on your own, do it quickly and get an answer that is scientifically interesting. In geophysics and global types of geophysics nowadays, that just is no longer possible.
Let me interrupt a second here. Is that perhaps an answer that astronomers might have given around 1938 to a young astronomer coming in, or even 1948?
Well, you mean in terms of getting observing time on major facilities?
No, I mean simply saying that we know the astronomical world. We've been doing observational visual astronomy for a long time. There is no x-ray, there is no ultraviolet — well, let's say there is no x-ray astronomy, because if there were, we probably would have seen it, or, you know, the usual sort of thing that one recalls about the Jansky era, and also the era that you started?
I didn't mean to imply that the spectacular discovery era has gone. I think that if people are creative enough, they will make the kinds of experiments to do them, and come up with discoveries, even though they have to do the experiments in a more complicated framework. Well, just trace the history of what's been going on in recent years in these programs: fundamental questions are still unanswered. We don't know what makes the aurora. We know of all sorts of possibilities. Can somebody devise a critically definitive experiment which will tell you that the aurora is generated by a large dynamo process of solar wind flowing over the polar cusps, or is it the result of some tearing-mode instability in the geomagnetic tail? Those are two strong possibilities. Somebody's got to find the answers.
In spite of all of the efforts that have been carried out recently, nobody has made that definitive experiment.
So where do you see the young Friedman coming into this picture as compared to the senior scientific leader. Would they have a conflict?
I think it's harder to get started, harder to establish your rights to conduct experiments out of your own head without a lot of peer approval and so on. That situation certainly is different. If we come into an era of prosperity, if there is more and more recognition of the value of basic research through that kind of economic prosperity, and so on, maybe these opportunities will begin to return. They aren't there now.
You say they are not there now?
The freedom for the young person to get his chance, establish himself, it's there, but he has to struggle to make it possible.
And yet there is much more money than there was when you started out.
Well, that's because the things we do are so much more expensive.
Yes, well, that's true.
In the astronomy area, for instance, I think there are enormous possibilities now for discoveries with simple experiments; but when you do a space telescope that runs over a billion dollars, you don't do the things that cost 50-million dollars, or less.
Yes. How do you feel about that, in fact? Should one do more of the 50-million dollar ones, and maybe postpone the billion dollar ones until later?
We all hope you could do both, but if it came to a hard choice, I would want to support a much larger community of individual efforts. If it means sacrificing that range of opportunities, numbers of individual scientific experiments in order to support some small team, and primarily contractor teams to do one major effort, then I think we would not get our money's worth.
So your heart is still with the young Friedman.
Well, you put it very generously. I think there are a lot of very able young people there who need a chance, who need the encouragement of knowing that they can go out on their own, if they have good ideas and get some support. Right now, that isn't there. They all seem to know they have to become part of some super team in order to have any role in future science.
But by going out towards an even larger team, are you not going in the opposite direction toward, you just said?
No. I think the programs I'm talking about are made up of many, many small parts; and the big umbrella is simply an attempt at information coordination, scientific exchange, scientific communication.
So, are you saying that you see this big effort as a means of channeling more support into this particular area with the support, then, potentially at least, divided among a lot of smaller groups, and thereby, a means of bringing the necessary support for this younger generation? Is that what you hope for?
I hope that's the way it finally works out.
Well, because the alternative, and the way I would have initially understood it, was that one would set up major networks with fairly well homogenized instrumentation, so that one would cross-compare results. And that kind of instrumentation, then, could easily soak up most of the funding that would be available. And certainly if there was a cutback in funding, it would be this major homogeneous network which would have to be maintained at the expense of the smaller, perhaps more ingenious effort.
Well, there will always be an element of that. Life is a matter of compromise.
If the value that you project, that of continuing the big network doing its relatively routine measurements is greater than what you might expect from abandoning it and putting the resources into some freer individual effort, you make that kind of decision.
What would you view your current role now? When you strive to set up this kind of an international effort, is it in part because you might feel that — this sounds corny, but people with some wisdom in science, at some point should try to make the effort to bring balance to an effort, whereby one could run a sensible large-scale program that didn't interfere with the sort of excitement that science can be for the young people, and the encouragement that young people should get to do innovative things, which later on one normally doesn't have the talent any more to do?
These programs always stimulate creativity, even though the major effort is some sort of, say, routine. Take the C02 problem. Everybody is concerned about the impact of C02 on the atmosphere, on global temperature. And there are programs all over the world to try to assess the input of C02, and so on... It becomes important to try to understand the historical behavior of paleoclimate; people have moved into areas of paleoclimatology that they would not have moved into previously, and largely on an individual basis. Some people have taken ice cores in the Arctic and looked for C02 in ice cores, and developed a scientific effort which is very exciting. We become interested in acid rain, and realize that vulcanism contributes an enormous amount of S02; so you start looking for evidence of volcanic activity in ice cores, trying to get some sense of what the climatic impact might have been in the past. I think the scientific community is full of bright people who see ways to go off on their own, to pick up some tangent which is in itself very interesting, and provides some important clues to a more organized global effort.
Are there questions I should have asked you about these global efforts, or concerns that I should have voiced that you still want to say something about before we finish up here?
Scientific progress depends so much on the caliber of the people involved, and the numbers of people involved that I think one of the major benefits of this kind of international discussion will come in the educational aspects. Young people have to get some clue to the intrinsic excitement of the kinds of science that we don't ordinarily look at.
You mean, high school, college or postdoc?
All the way through the system, so that you get creative people going into these areas. We are undermanned in every aspect. The amount of talent that is available to look at all the exciting science is really very small. And a lot of it that we find pedestrian and disappointing, as you try to review progress over decades in certain major areas, is directly attributable to the fact that there isn't a great flood of bright young people with good ideas in these areas.
So you would like to encourage that.
I'd like younger people to get some sense of the possibilities, the variety of problems, the challenges, the intrinsic interest in specific areas that they could dedicate themselves to, and still be part of the great international scientific community.
Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate this. I think it sheds light on a lot of questions that people are worried about these days, and I really appreciate the opportunity to talk with you about it.