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Interview of Jay T. Bergstralh by Joseph Tatarewicz on 1983 July 13,
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 reviews Bergstralh's childhood and early impressions of manned space exploration; his years as a graduate student at the University of Texas; his experience as a National Research Council fellow, and his time at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a senior scientist and member of the technical staff. He speaks at some length of his student-teacher relationship with G.H. Vaucouleurs. Other topics discussed include: NASA's Planetary Astronomy Program Office (now the Solar System Exploration Division, part of the Office of Space Science), activities at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Table Mountain Observatory. With Bergstralh's employment history, most of his recollections involve NASA and a history of the research and administration of NASA headquarter and branches during the 1960s and 1970s.
This is an oral history interview with Jay Bergstralh, who is a member of the technical staff at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and has been on detail at NASA Headquarters in the Planetary Astronomy Program Office for the last two years. The subject of the interview is NASA's planetary astronomy program, activities at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory, and also at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Table Mountain Observatory. We are at the Air and Space Museum, on the 13th of July, 1983. First of all I know that you received your B.S. in Astronomy in 1965 at Carleton College in Minnesota.
We like to ask everybody a few questions about their early life, and how they got into this business to begin with. So I was wondering if you could just briefly describe your family, and if you wish, what kind of education your parents had.
I think that my getting into this business was very heavily influenced by my father, who was a physicist. He got his master's degree from the University of Minnesota in 1943, I believe, and was unable to finish his Ph.D. because of the war. He went off as a Navy Reservist. He tried a couple of times postwar to finish his degree, I believe, at the University of Maryland, but was unable to take the year or so off to actually write his thesis. He was with the Naval Research Lab from 1946 to 1950, I believe, in the Rocket Sonde Division. He was an experimenter on V-2 flights at White Sands, in connection with that and later with the Viking sounding rocket flights.
And I am not sure, but he may have experimented actually on Aerobees as well. His interests were at the time in cosmic rays, but he was responsible for one experiment which took the first pictures of the earth, which showed the actual curvature of the earth, directly. It's a mosaic which shows most of the Southwestern United States. The purpose of the experiment was actually to check the stability of the rocket. They thought it was spinning on its longitudinal axis, so they put a camera aboard and simply shot photo after photo to see if the rocket was turning. What they wound up with was a mosaic that showed the Southwestern United States up to the Gulf of California.
He later went on to other things. First, at the Naval Research Lab, they built a pool-type research reactor there. In 1957 he took a job at what was then called Systems Research, Inc., later Aeronutronic Division of Philco-Ford. At that time they were working on something called Project Farside which was a four-stage solid rocket, sounding rocket launched from a balloon. I'm not quite sure what his connection was with Farside, if he had any direct connection. They later, Aeronutronic, had some connection with the Ranger Project and the seismometer that they were going to hard land on the moon in a big balsawood ball. And again, I think he had connection with that experiment. Most of his professional life had been involved in classified research, and that explains some of my uncertainty about the specific projects that he had been involved in.
But you were aware of what he was doing generally as you grew up?
You were aware that he had something to do with rockets and space?
Well, when he was with Rocket Sonde that was quite open. That was not classified, so far as I know. I remember his coming back from White Sands periodically, and my mother taking his suitcase out on the lawn to empty all the sand out of it, that he brought back. Early, in the early 1960's at NRL, he was transferred to the Nucleonics Division, and they were involved in Project Ivy, the first hydrogen bomb. Not in the bomb itself, but in radiation measurements, from the blast. During that period, of course, we didn't know much or anything of what he was doing, and since 1961 he has been with Aerospace Corporation. They are a nonprofit company that consults for the Air Force Missile Command. And most of that is classified, so we don't know specifically what he is doing on that either, or what he did, I should say. He retired about a year ago.
So, were you living in California at the time?
From 1957 onward. He left NRL in 1957 and we went to California. And my family, Dad and Mother and sister, have lived there ever since.
But you had lived here in D.C. while he was with NRL?
Oh, yes. My earliest memories are of D.C.
I see. Let's see, how old would you have been when Sputnik was announced?
I was 14.
Okay, so did that particularly strike you? Do you have any particular memories of that event?
Well, it was in a different context for me, I suppose, than for most people. What I was surprised at was that the Russians did it first, not that it was done, particularly. The Vanguard Project, of course, was an outgrowth of the Viking sounding rocket that Dad had worked on, and many of his colleagues from the late 1940s that were at Rocket Sonde Division at NRL went on with the Vanguard Project. So he knew the people that were working on them; they were family friends, working on Vanguard, I should say. These people were family friends and we were aware that that was coming, and I was aware of the IGY and that Vanguard would be the U.S. major contribution to the IGY. It was surprising that the Russians launched first, but not that somebody launched an artificial satellite.
Yes. When did you first develop an interest in astronomy?
That's a hazy thing to answer. I've been interested in a casual way in astronomy since I was a young kid. Dad could identify the constellations for me, and that was interesting. I had a little hand-held refractor, even as a young kid. As an organized pursuit, I didn't do anything really until I was a junior or senior in high school. We had a high school astronomy club, and our main purpose in that was to erect a telescope. Someone had years before left the parts for a 12-inch telescope to the school. It sat in the shop teacher's office, actually the agriculture department teacher's office; he was using the mirror blank as a paper weight; so we rescued those parts, and our entire purpose was to set up the telescope and use it. That didn't get finished by the time I graduated and went on to college. And in fact, I started out in college with the intention of taking a physics major, and shifted to astronomy at the end of my freshman year, for reasons that I couldn't really articulate. (chuckles)
Yes. Did you have any brothers or sisters?
I have one sister who is four and a half years younger than I am. She is an engineer at TRW without formal engineering training. She was trained as a draftsperson and actually has a degree in anthropology, and taught school. And by one means or another drifted into being an engineer.
Of your precollege experience, what events or people do you think might have had the greatest influence on the direction that your career took?
I think clearly the fact that I went into physical sciences was because of my father's influence. I had various teachers, a math teacher in junior high school, and a science teacher in senior high, the fellow who was the sponsor for our astronomy club, who certainly influenced me as well. And I couldn't really specify how they influenced me, inspired me, I suppose, encouraged me. I don't think I would have gone into astronomy particularly, except for the club sponsor in senior high school.
Who was that?
Oh gee, I wish I could remember his name (laughs). It's too many years ago.
What high school?
Tustin Union High School in Tustin, California. This was a place down in Orange County that got caught in the midst of unexpected urban sprawl. As the name implies, it was a rural area. It was a unified high school in a very rural area. I think for years and years it had taken in 75 freshman and graduated 75 seniors every year. By the time I graduated it had 2,000 students. So it was one of these cases of playing catch up, keeping up with the size of the student body, the sudden influx of people and students. So their science program wasn't very coherent, I'm afraid; in fact, none of it was, as they just tried to keep up with the flood of people.
Yes. And yet this was a time when science was being heavily emphasized?
Yes it was. And I think they were a little overwhelmed by it all.
Yes. How did you decide on Carleton College?
My father went there; and he didn't bring undue influence on me to go there. In fact, he thought I should go to Stanford or some nice West Coast school. I think I just assumed from the beginning that I was going to go to Carleton, and again, for no well-defined reason.
When did you first decide on physics?
Well again, my father is a physicist and I unconsciously, I guess, decided to follow in his footsteps. So I went to Carleton bent on a physics career; and decided about the end of my freshman year that that really wasn't for me, and went into astronomy. Carleton has an unusual position. It has a long career or a long history in astronomy. They actually had an active observatory as early as 1877 and did some of the first quantitiative work on the variable star Algol, orbit determination. In fact, the Carleton Yearbook is called THE ALGOL. That dates from the 1880s or 1890s. Carleton published something called POPULAR ASTRONOMY, which was one of the precursors of the astrophysical journal; and it continued publishing this up until the 1930s. I think the rights were finally bought out by what became SKY AND TELESCOPE. It was the first small college that had a very active astronomy program.
Who were your teachers in astronomy at Carleton?
There was only one. His name was Bob Mathews, and he is still there. He was an old-school positional astronomer. He had come to Carleton from the Naval Observatory. He was a good friend of Raynor Duncombe, who at that time was the head of the Nautical Almanac Office. So as an undergraduate, the astronomy that I was taught was basically positional astronomy and astrometry, orbit determinations, asteroid and comet, this sort of thing.
Yes. No real astrophysics?
There was a course called astrophysics, but it was a kind of a cursory survey. It really wasn't astrophysics (laughs). I got a rude surprise when I got to graduate school.
You did, as far as what the leading problems in astronomy were?
Yes. Yes. I spent a year or two playing catch-up ball here, just to keep up with the people who had come in to astronomy school with physics degrees, which I should have done. I came in with actually a bachelors in astronomy, and it was not — it was good 19th century astronomy.
.Were there any colleagues or associates of yours at Carleton?
Yes, Pete Schultz, who is now down at Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, and Harry Heckathorn (M.), who I think is now at JSC. He spent some time at NRL. They were both a year behind me. But Pete Schultz actually came down to the University of Texas then a year after I went there, and did a thesis, half in the Astronomy Department and half in Geology. He did an atlas of lunar morphology as his thesis. He's a colleague of Ted Maxwell's now.
I see. How did you decide on Texas?
Ah! They paid me a stipend to go there. (laughs)
Oh, okay. Were else had you applied?
Michigan, Berkeley. I think that's it.
And were you aware of specialities within astronomy at these various places?
No, I had a very naive view of astronomy. As I say, my undergraduate training was in 19th century astronomy, and I got a whole different perspective on astronomy and astrophysics when I got to Texas. And I think I would have had the same kind of shock anywhere that I went.
Had you been reading SKY AND TELESCOPE, and other popular journals along the way?
Oh sure, oh yes.
Professional literature as well? What kind of a library did Carleton have?
Carleton had a real — they have a very extensive astronomy library, particularly in historical areas. But for instance, a complete set, I think, of Astrophysical Journals, and certainly a complete set Astronomical Journals, well, that's nearly 20 years ago now and I couldn't reproduce the entire library collection from memory, but they certainly had a good astronomy astrophysics collection.
Did your friends and other colleagues from Carleton ever talk to you about experiencing a similar surprise?
I don't think so, not really.
Okay. So Texas offered you money, and you went off to Austin?
Yes. That's right. I went there in September of 1965. Actually, in the meantime, from graduation in June of 1965 until September, I worked at Naval Observatory here in the Nautical Almanac office. That was the Raynor Duncombe connection that Bob Mathews had. He placed quite a few of his students in summer jobs at Naval Observatory, and there in fact I met Bob Harrington, who is still at Naval Observatory, and was at that time between his first and second years at the University of Texas. So I got to know one, and in fact more current grad students in astronomy at Texas before I went down to Texas. It worked out well for me. Harrington was looking for a fourth person to share an apartment in the following year, and we did that.
So who was on the faculty at Texas at this time, 1965? They were just beginning to develop their astronomy program, weren't they?
They had had a year or two to come up the curve. Frank Edmonds who had been there since the early 1950s had been more or less alone throughout the 1950s, and Gerard De Vaucouleurs had been there from, I think, 1959.Harlan Smith had been chairman at that time for about two years, and Bob Tull, I'm not sure when he arrived; Terry Deeming, — I learned recently that Deeming is no longer at U.T. — Nick Wolfe ( Neville J.) , who was there for a year or two and then went to Minnesota, and is now at Arizona.
This is Neville J.?
Neville J. Wolfe, right; Andy Young had just arrived there that year. I was his teaching assistant.
And how many graduate students — that's quite a faculty.
I haven't named them all, either.
Oh, sure, I'm sorry.
And I'm having a hard time bringing in the rest of them. There were two or three others. One of Harlan's Smith's colleagues in radio astronomy on the Jupiter decametric problem, had just come down to start an astronomy or radio astronomy branch of the Astronomy Department.
And they eventually built an antenna?
Yes, a very large Mills Cross-type Interferometer, which I think is still in operation. That's about 40 miles from McDonald Observatory. It's down southeast of Marfa (Texas).
Well, how many graduate students were there at the time then?
There were probably 30 at the time. That's a big department, and still is. I think they have maintained at about 30 to 40 students all along that time.
So this is where you experienced the shock?
Right. I got into the initial astronomical physics course, the required course of all new grad students. Frank Edmonds taught it. And I suddenly discovered things like the equations of state for degenerate matter and things of that nature, that had never occurred to me before. The whole subject of stellar atmosphere and stellar interiors was a real shock.
So this introductory course assumed a fair bit?
It assumed a fair bit of physical background I did not have as a result of taking the astronomy course that I did at Carleton.
Did you talk much with the other graduate students at the time?
I would never have made it through if I hadn't talked to them a lot (laughs); particularly from my roommates. I got quite a bit of help and struggled through the first year. I was there provisionally for the first year. I was there on probation, basically. I had to pass a qualification test. I had taken a qualifier when I arrived at first and didn't pass it. I was there for a year on probation and took it again in the following autumn, September of 1966, passed it then, and then sometime later had to pass the grad records in physics and I did that fairly handily. So I was playing catch-up, but I did manage to catch up.
What kind of textbooks were being used in these first year graduate student courses?
Oh, the hot new textbook at the time was the second edition of Aller's ASTROPHYSICS, ATMOSPHERES OF THE SUN AND STARS. We also used Chandrasekhar,RADIATIVE TRANSFER, Chandrasekhar, STELLAR STRUCTURE; Schwarzschild STELLAR STRUCTURE AND STELLAR EVOLUTION. What else? Those are the ones that hit me.
You worked through all of those in the first couple of semesters, having had no previous, really exposure to them?
That's right, one way or another.
That's right. I wouldn't say that I mastered them exactly. I struggled through them well enough to pass the qualifier the next fall. And retook the astronomical physics course, in 1966, and did a creditable job that time around.
I assume that your conception of what an astronomer is and what an astronomer does was undergoing some changes during this period?
Changed radically, absolutely. It went from positional measurements to stellar. structure and stellar atmospheres basically. And the whole question of the structure of an atmosphere and its spectrum; as an undergraduate I had never considered a spectrum. I knew what it was, but the physical data that could be gotten from the spectra were completely unknowm to me.
Yes. How were the planets dealt with in these introductory graduate student courses, if at all?
Not at all. Not at all. They weren't at that time anyway. There were planetary astronomy courses taught. I think DeVaucouleurs and Smith alternated years teaching the planetary astronomy course. DeVaucouleur's course was not really 19th century, but probably early 20th century, basically dealt with photometry, photometric techniques applied to planets and various directions one had to make for phase effect, and for what you can deduce about a Rayleigh Scattering atmosphere. I don't think DeVaucouleur ever covered spectroscopy of planetary atmospheres, for instance. Smith's course, which I took, signed up for and dropped — I took after DeVaucouleur's — was a very rough survey. And I dropped it because I figured I wasn't learning much of anything out of it.
A rough survey of planetary.
Basically the current state of planetary science as of the late 1966s. It was a rather qualitative survey course. DeVaucouleurs's was a very concentrated quantitative course in what he taught. And you know, I say that it was early 20th century; it was valuable, nonetheless. It was a very concentrated course. He didn't use the blackboard. He had view graphs. You sat there and scribbled madly as he showed viewgraph after viewgraph after viewgraph of his prepared lecture.
Was there a textbook for this?
"The Green Report."
Yes, "Astronomy from satellite substitute vehicles."
Which he had put together for the Air Force.
That's right. It was ostensibly a study for the Air Force. It turned out that I think he really got the Air Force to subsidize an astronomy text.
What kind of a teacher was DeVaucouleurs?
As a teacher, I took only the one course from him, and I would rate that course very highly, given the subject matter; he taught it very effectively. I wasn't too thrilled about the subject matter, although as I say, it was good basic stuff that I have since used. His teaching technique was effective. You just didn't dare not pay attention You really had to stay glued to what he was saying, or you lost the complete thread. He did not stand up there and extemporize, and wander off in vague directions, as some others did. As a graduate advisor, I did not have him; but knowing people who did, I wouldn't recommend it. He was an exacting taskmaster in the old European school; and he was very demanding of his thesis students. They never quite satisfied him. I worked for him for a year, not on a thesis project, but on a longterm project they had going to create a "definitive" albedo map of Mars from historic observations. He was putting this thing together under NASA, and perhaps Air Force funding.
It was supposed to help interpreting, or be a source of data for interpreting the Mariner pictures of Mars. He was going to create geodetic grid from these historic observations to tie the spacecraft photos to. One class of these historic data were records going back to Schaparelli in 1877 of meridian crossings of various identifiable albedo features. And my job was to reduce all those meridian crossing observations to what was then the newly published physical ephemeris of Mars the Naval Observatory Nautical Almanac office had just put out, a new zero epoch and new rotation period for Mars. So I had to apply uniform corrections to all these historical data, to put them on a uniform longitude system. I spent a year pounding a Frieden calculator doing that.
And in fact, I think it was just two or three years ago that he actually published that work, along with the rest of what he was doing on that project. He sent me a reprint of the paper he finally published, after some 20-odd years of work on the project.
I remember, it must have been around 1969 or 1970 that an albedo map was published in SKY AND TELESCOPE.
With a commentary by him?
That was another part of that effort. I was doing one piece of something that was employing two or three people. What was the fellow's name? He had an airbrush artist by the name of Roth, I believe, who did that map that was published in SKY AND TEL. But the final report was published as a paper, I believe, in ICARUS about 1980. That included the work that I did, and the stuff that came out in SKY AND TEL in 1969, I don't think included any of the meridian timings, that I was doing. Jim Roth was the air brush artist. He also had a fellow, whose name escapes me now, who was translating some of the early work. Naturally the stuff came from several of the European countries. There was a whole body of work in Italian by Sciaparelli and his colleagues and successors, I believe this other fellow was translating the Italian stuff.
That's interesting. There's a Rand report at the Naval Observatory library by DeVaucouleurs.
Yes. And it is a collection of historic observations. And I looked into that, and I couldn't quite tell what he was up to with it. Then later on when I found out about the albedo map, it began to fit together, so apparently he had been pursuing this project for some time.
Oh, the materials that he gave me to work on had Andy Young's name on them, when Andy Young had been a graduate student.
Oh, I see.
DeVaucouleur had spent, I think, a year at Harvard, and Andy Young was at that time (it must have been in 1958 to 1959) a grad student at Harvard working for Mrs. Gaposchkin but evidently, worked for DeVaucouleurs for a stipend on the very same project, so that when DeVaucouleurs handed me this package of material to work on many of the references had Andy Young's name scribbled on them. So by the time I worked on it from about June of 1968 to June of 1969, he had had these materials together already for 10 years or so.
.Was this data used in the Mariner or the Viking programs?
Not to my knowledge.
No, it just dragged on so long, and I don't think it ever — well, as I say, the final report didn't get published until two or three years ago. I was very surprised to see it, you know (laughs). Here was a ghost of my past, coming back to haunt me 10 or 12 years later. I got a certain amount of amusement. I was seeing that it finally made it in the press. But I don't think it was ever terribly useful, at least as far as the ostensible reason for which it was done.
So, to return to your first year there, it was traditional astrophysics.
Traditional for the time.
Stellar structure and stellar evolution.
Yes. Were you aware of what McDonald was doing in planetary work, of any ties with NASA?
No. No, because I had no planetary interest at that time. As I say, I came down knowing about astrometry and orbit determinations, plunged into what was really a classical astrophysics course, and paid no attention at all to the planets. There was, if anything, a bias against planetary work, and I don't think that I was really very aware that there was any planetary work going on in Texas, or very aware that Harlan Smith had been involved in any planetary work. That didn't develop until the summer of 1966. I had summer jobs for two years at Aeronutronic. That's where I got into planetary work. In the summer of 1966 I did library research for, I guess, what was the Space Science Division of Aeronutronic.
You mentioned a bias against planetary work. How did you become aware of this?
Oh, it was explicit in the case of Bob Mathews when I was an undergraduate. Planets were objects of no interest. No real astronomer would pay any attention to them. I suppose it was more subtle and unstated when I got to graduate school, simply in the sense that no great deal of attention was paid to the subject in the physics courses, or the astronomical physics course that Edmonds taught, or much of anything else that the department was doing.
Mathews actually just actually said —
In what context? Do you recall at all?
There was some question about using the telescopes to observe planets. We had an option of doing an Honors paper, and I think that was the context in which it came up. He taught basically a three-year course, starting from introductory to about junior level, and then for the senior year you did independent research under his supervision. And I think the question of doing one of these projects under his supervision came up of doing a project on planets; and he said, no, that's not serious astronomy. That's not the real stuff. I won't supervise such a project.
Yet, were the planets covered in the introductory astronomy course, the usual survey of the universe kind of thing?
Sure, Baker, Edition 7.
Okay, but when it came to doing research —
But when it came really to doing research, that was not for serious discussion. Aril not too surprising, of course. That was still — well, it was 15 years after Kuiper published his first big compendium.
The 49 Yerkes Memorial Volume.
Yes, that one, and not many people had yet really gone back into planetary research.
Yes, and even at McDonald, or even at Texas, I mean, at the university, there was no introduction of planetary astrophysics, as it was sometimes called?
Not as an integral part of the introductory astrophysics courses. I mean, you could do that. I mean, you could take courses from DeVaucouleurs, and from Smith, but that was optional later on. It was not an integral part of something that everybody was exposed to.
That's interesting. I would have expected, of all places, that at Texas, it might be worked in.
Not as of the fall of 1965, or even 1966. It may be now. I don't know. But when I was doing my graduate course work it was not a really central issue.
Yes. Were you aware of Smith's work, or DeVaucouleurs' work as a first year graduate student? Were you aware of what the faculty was doing in their own research?
I knew about DeVaucouleurs actually from the time I was in high school. He had written some popular books, particularly on the atmosphere of Mars.
Yes, Patrick Moore, I think, translated one of those.
Yes. And in fact, I think I did a high school science paper on the question of life on Mars, now that I recall, and used DeVaucouleurs as a source. So I had heard of DeVaucouleurs before, and was aware in general that he had worked on planets. But even at the time at Texas, and still, his major research was in galaxies. I mean, at the time that I was there he was doing the Mars map, I think, as a side issue. And his really central research topic was his big morphological catalog of galaxies that came out then in the early 1970s. It must have come out in 1971 or 1972. I think I was still at McDonald when it was published.
Yes. But he already had shifted the major focus of his research into galaxies.
Yes, oh yes.
Because he was consulting on planetary topics with NASA Headquarters to some extent, but mainly with JPL.
That's right, and that may in fact have been the source of his Mars albedo map. But certainly by the time that I arrived at Texas his major focus was galaxies.
Yes. Let me just flip this tape over.
This is Side No. Two of Tape No. One.
Just to tie off one loose end about DeVaucouleurs, you asked earlier what sort of teacher he was, and I digressed. In his course work he was a very effective teacher, in his set piece classroom teaching. As a thesis advisor he was very demanding, because I know from friends of mine; but I digressed. I started off on the story about the Mars map. As a person to work for in any other context, I would characterize him as being demanding, but fair. He reviewed your progress weekly. And as long as you showed him that you had done something concrete in the intervening week — it didn't have to be much — but as long as there was some identifiable product that you had achieved in the intervening week, he was happy. So he had a funny little quirk in that sense. You really didn't have to do much, as long as it was something that you could point your finger at.
A trait that a lot of us wish we had had in various professors. We could have learned much more if they had demanded more or had been a little more structured.
So you said that you first either became aware of planetary work, or became interested in planetary work during your summer jobs at Aeronutronic.
Exactly. I think they put me to work in the library because they didn't quite know what else to do with me. That may be unfair, but that's my perception.
What were you supposed to do; they didn't know what to do with you; how were you hired at Ford?
Old family connection. My Dad had been there. He had gone several years earlier, but several of his colleagues still worked there. Well, it was an expansionary time. They had lots of summer jobs available. I knew the people there, and knew what they were doing in a general sense and it looked like a good place to go. They were at that time involved in what they then called Voyager, which was supposed to be the Mars lander. And generally they were interested in what they perceived as NASA's expanding interest in solar system exploration.
They were interested in outlining what directions NASA might go in, for further solar system exploration beyond Mars and Venus. We had already had Mariner 2 and Mariner 4 by that time, Venus and Mars. And the question was, what next? What kind of scenarios might we expect in the next 10 or 15 years for solar system exploration? And my part of that was to go to the library, read what was in the current astronomical literature on planetary astronomy, planetary science in general, and outline what kind of exploration scenario might be rational. What would you do? Where would you go next, and what would you do there? So I basically spent the summer reading this brand new journal ICARUS, and ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL and a little bit of the ASTRONOMICAL JOURNAL, gleaning whatever I could about solar system science and putting that together in an outline form and about a two-page summary report then, that gave a very rough scenario of solar system exploration.
Voyager was to be a general purpose planetary exploration spacecraft?
That's right. As it was perceived at that time they were going to land a big ball by parachute, and the thing was about five feet in diameter, and weighed how many hundred pounds .I don't know. It was a very general purpose wet chemistry laboratory.
Right, I think the Wolftrap originally was supposed to be in there.
Oh, it had all kinds of stuff. But more than that, it had wet reagents and a little automated laboratory. And you could call on it to do a variety of chemical experiments. It wasn't originally preset. The four life science experiments that finally landed on Viking were one-shot deals. But this thing was a full laboratory and very versatile, as it was perceived. Of course, they were going to land it by parachute in this 75 millibar surface-pressure atmosphere. And when the low surface pressure on Mars came along about that time, that really killed the project, although Congress didn't officially kill it until, I think, August of 1967.
Right. Let's see, you were at Aeronutronic in the summer of 1966?
And in 1967.
And in the summer of 1967?
By the summer of 1966 the low surface pressure on Mars.
Was already known.
There was still some controversy over the precise value of it.
And the error bars on it?
But it was definitely known to be down in the 10teens or perhaps even less.
Ten or less millibars, yes.
And one whole set of Voyager capsule designs had already been thrown out by the initial Kaplar~Munch and Spinrad results; and what was Aeronutronic up to that summer?
I'm not clear on what was being done. As I say, my part was to look at what might be done beyond Mars and Venus, or what further had to be done on Venus, for instance. But what would you do to explore Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn? I don't think they were considering even Uranus and Neptune at that time, or satellites.
Yes, but Jupiter and Saturn were included?
As I recall, yes.
Major planning studies for outer planets came along in 1967-68, but I guess they were being considered.
Yes. That's right. This was an .internal company study, and clearly at a very low level, one summer student.
Yes. Were there any other astronomers there?
No. No other astronomers. By the summer of 1967 there was a fellow by the name of Bruce Ulrich. He was developing Josephson Junction I.R. detectors, submillimeter I.R. detectors at another division at Aeronutronic. And he ended up then a short time later in the Astronomy Department at Texas, and for all I know, he is still there. He was there throughout the time I was a graduate student. And he actually set up a Josephson Junction on the 107-inch and looked at the sun with it. His blocking filter was a piece of black polyethylene stretched over the front end of the telescope, so they blind pointed the telescope to the sun. And I think it took that strong a source to detect anything with that generation of Josephson Junction.
Yes, the I.R detectors were really of low efficiency at that time.
Un hum, and that was in fact submillimeter. That even went beyond I.R He was working right around one millimeter wavelength.
So you discovered ICARUS? What was your impression of solar system studies?
Well, I found that by the end of the summer I was fascinated with it. And you know, this was clearly a good intellectual challenge and something that I was positively interested in, something that I understood, that I grasped, and that I wanted to continue with.
How did you translate this into action after the summer jobs?
I don't know. Well, I got back to Texas in 1966, the fall, and I plunged back into finishing my catching up. I don't know if it was the 1966-67 or 1967-68 academic year; one of those, I took DeVaucouleurs' planetary course, and more or less let it be known that I wanted to do a thesis in planetary astronomy. Coupled with all of this, as I say, I got down there unprepared and played catch-up; and I think Harlan Smith's perception of me was that I had better take a master's degree as a sort of insurance policy. And I did .a master's degree on nondetection of carbon dioxide on the planet Mercury. So I suppose you would say that is how I put this into action.
Okay, that's your "upper limit" paper.
That's it. That's the one. Coincidentally, at that time, Louise Young (or Louise Gray as she was at that time) came down to Texas from JPL and spent a year's sabbatical. And effectively she was my master's thesis advisor. She married Andy Young later, who had been my supervisor the first year I was in grad. school. I was his teaching assistant. So Louise came with lots of laboratory expertise in carbon dioxide and guided me through that master's thesis. Officially, she was not my thesis advisor, I think. Harlan Smith was, because she wasn't officially on the faculty. She couldn't be my thesis advisor, but for all practical purposes she was. So I learned a fair amount about carbon dioxide and a little bit about the planet Mercury; and.I think the thing that inspired it was some Russian reports of detection of unresolved, I think, the 1.6 micron C02 bands on Mercury.
So at this point now, you have been exposed to spectroscopy, first by way of the introductory stellar courses. And then after your literature —
Literature searches, and then certainly a crash education from Louise Young, a crash education in the CO., molecule, anyway, and an introduction to experimental spectroscopy on the 82-inch. We went out and observed Mercury with the 82-inch, with what was then the newly revamped Coude spectrograph. We looked at the near IR band at — I don't know whether that — it must have been the… No, I can't even remember spectroscopy of the C02 molecule any more; it's been that many years. The near IR, from 7500 angstroms, is the number that sticks in my head. Oh! Yes, and we also looked at the 1 micron band. McDonald had just gotten delivery of the Carnegie S-1 image tube. This was the state of the art at that time, a big magnetically-focussed monster that had an electromagnet, a solenoid that had to be cooled by circulating antifreeze through it, and then circulating the antifreeze into a dry ice bath. So that thing was a real monster to operate, but we got some 1 micron wavelength CO2 observations of Mercury. That's a nice strong band. We saw nothing, naturally, and published the upper limit paper. That was my master's thesis.
So this master's thesis then took you through the observing end of spectroscopy: the telescopic instrumentation, the collection of results, the reduction of results, theoretical interpretation and everything.
End to end.
Yes, and you had her expertise to —
Understand what the molecules were doing.
And she was in the Space Sciences Division at JPL, visiting Texas?
Did many people travel between JPL and Texas at this time?
No, not really. The only other person was Ron Schorn, and there was an old-time connection there. Ron Schorn was the first, as I understand the story from him, he was the first program scientist for planetary astronomy at NASA Headquarters. He was Bill Brunk's predecessor, and was in that role for one year as a detailee from JPL. And I think at that point he made the connection with Texas. He at least claims responsibility for the 107-inch going to Texas. He came regularly to McDonald to observe. He may have been responsible for the upgrade of the 82-inch Coude spectrograph, for transferring the money for that. But he made the connection with Texas at that point and then came to McDonald fairly regularly to observe. He did not come to the department in Austin to spend any length of time. As far as I know, Louise was the only JPLex to do that.
Okay. So then you let it be known that you wanted to do a dissertation in planetary astronomy?
Was there any reaction, either on the part of your faculty or your fellow graduate students?
Not in particular, no. It became a foregone conclusion that Harlan Smith would be my thesis advisor. He was the only person actively engaged in planetary astronomy, if you could call it active, because really he was administering the department and administering McDonald Observatory, and every so often teaching a course. But he was the nearest thing to an active planetary astronomer in the department.
The 107-inch was very nearly operational at this time; that is, it was 1960? — it wasn't until late 1969 that the actual scientific dedication was held. Or was it early 1970?
No, it was late 1968.
Yes. No, the 107-inch project had been initiated in the sense that NASA authorized the money, I suppose, about the time that I arrived at Texas. During 1966-67 the engineering studies — I guess, actually during 1966 — were going on at Texas, and they let out the contracts for construction. The telescope itself was built by Westinghouse, and in fact the major pieces, the tube and major parts of the mount were fabricated by the electric boat division, which caused no end of problems, because electric boat was making more money building submarines than they were in building telescopes. The telescopes got low priority, and it was delayed by several months. And I believe there were lawsuits over that. Davidson Optronics in California did the optics, and I don't recall who built the dome. It was a separate contract. Let me back up. I arrived at Texas in the fall of 1965.
I went out to McDonald the first time in October of 1965, and comet Ikeya-Seki the sun gazer, came around. I went out there because I knew how to develop photographic plates. And not many of the other grad students knew that, coming in from physics departments. There were a couple of advanced graduate students who wanted to observe Ikeya-Seki at the time of perihelion. They took me along to develop plates (laughs). The purpose for this digression is that when I arrived out there in October of 1965 they were just doing the surveys of this spot where the 107-inch was to go. There was no hint yet of the grading or anything like that.
By the time I got back out to McDonald again, which must have been in 1967, to do my master's thesis observations, they had blasted and leveled off the site for the 107-inch. Construction of the building then started. I went out again in 1968, with Brian Warner, again to act as an assistant on an observing run. By that time the building was under construction, and I remember being out there, and not quite in what connection, at various stages of the building construction. For instance, I remember them putting the final coat of paint on the dome. And that was quite a bit before the telescope was installed. The dome was completed several months before they began installing the telescope. I was in there when it was a complete building, and the observing floor was just empty. It was a cavern.
Right. They have that unique crane.
I went up there and got a view from the top.
Down into this empty rotunda. It was a dizzying, a very impressive, view of a large cavernous space from the top of the rotunda, the gantry crane.
Were you aware of why the telescope was being built? Or why NASA was sponsoring it?
I think I was. Yes. They needed a dedicated telescope for planetary astronomy that they weren't getting much time on existing telescopes. I probably was not aware of the severity of the problem. But I knew that the justification, the motivation for building the telescope was to get more dedicated planetary observing time.
Were you at all aware of the Space Science Board recommendations, any of the kinds of recommendations that went into planning the planetary programs, which had also come to the same conclusion that more ground based planetary facilities were needed to guarantee ground-based observations of the planets?
I think I wasn't paying a whole lot of attention to the Space Science Board in those days. I was mainly trying to keep my head above water in graduate school, to keep up with the course work and do my master's thesis, so no, I wasn't aware of that.
Yes. I'm just curious as to how much of what was going on in Washington and elsewhere between the Board and NASA and other observatories, as they attempted to accomplish some ground based observations of the planets, how much of this might have trickled down.
Well, you know, clearly, Harlan Smith would have been aware of it, but that may have been circular motion, because I suspect that Harlan Smith was involved in the Space Science Board.
Oh yes (chuckle).
So that was all a feedback loop.
Yes, but I'm curious as to how much graduate students were aware.
I can only speak for myself, and I wasn't.
Yes. When did you join the AAS?
Gee, it must have been in 1968, as a student member. I went to my first AAS meeting — I gave my first paper to the AAS in 1967, on Mercury. It was the Williams Bay meeting, the summer meeting, in June of 1967. I gave my results on nondetection of CO2 on Mercury. I got up and found that Chandrasekhar was the session chairman, and I just about (laugh). He was very kind to me. But I knew his reputation and I was very nervous. I gave my paper and headed out immediately to California to my summer job at Aeronutronic. I didn't have time to stay around for the whole meeting.
And when did you first become aware of the DPS?
I became aware of the DPS in December of 1968, at the Austin AAS meeting when they held the organizational rump-session for the DPS. So I have been with the DPS since its prehistory.
Okay. Were you invited in, or were notices sent out to the whole AAS membership about the possibility of forming this division?
I don't recall specifically. The reason I was there was because that meeting was held in Austin, and we gradute students were used as flunkies at the meeting. Certainly I was already interested and involved in planetary astronomy by that time, and went as in the natural course of events to this organizing for the DPS.
What was the justification for forming this division, if you recall? Does anything stick in your mind about that .initial meeting?
Oh yes. In fact, the justification gets trotted out every business meeting of the DPS. And that was that this growing body of planetary astronomers felt that they were lost in the larger organization, that planetaryrelated papers were scattered around randomly among the many parallel sessions at a typical AAS meeting. By that time, by 1968 already, the AAS was running four and five concurrent sessions, and there would often be planetary papers given in competing sessions. So one of the earliest ground rules in the DPS, and one of the motivations for forming it was to avoid parallel sessions. And I think, more generally and less specifically stated, to avoid getting lost among stellar and galactic papers, to concentrate all the planetary-related papers into one topical meeting.
It was originally to have been the Division for Planetary Astronomy.
I wasn't aware of that.
From correspondence that I've seen that initially went out. Now, that may not. be terribly significant to change from Planetary Astronomy to Planetary Sciences.
I think it may be significant, because there are still a fair number of people in the division who are so-called division affiliates, not members of the AAS. And their role has evolved gradually over the years from being kind of hangers-on to being full voting members and eligible to hold office. In fact, that is something that was just approved a year ago by the AAS, the parent organization.
I see. The affiliate members can now hold offices.
Yes. They can vote in division — they have been able to vote in division elections for probably three years now — and they are now eligible to hold office in the division.
Because it was two years after the formation of the division that the category of affiliate member was opened up to allow non-AAS members.
Yes, that's right. But the reason for calling it the Division of Planetary Sciences probably has to do with those people who were initially division affiliates, who came in from areas other than astronomy; who came in from geology, for instance, probably the largest single group, or who were from laboratory spectroscopy. They, the division officers and membership at the time, wanted to open it up and encourage cross-membership. I can't even think of the term I am trying to use. They wanted to make it a multidisciplinary, inter-disciplinary group. And the distinction between planetary science, I think, was important in opening it up and encouraging non-astronomers to come into the organization.
Were you aware of how other astronomers felt about the formation of the division?
No, not terribly, because I was not an active AAS member at the time. I had gone to one AAS meeting and presented a paper there. And in fact, the Austin AAS meeting was only my second AAS meeting I ever attended. So I was really not active, or terribly aware of attitudes by other astronomers.
So you have now finished your masters, and from your vita, you say that from 1969 to 1972 you were involved with the NASA-Texas planetary astronomy project.
That's an official title? That is to say, there was some sort of project that carried this name, NASA-Texas Planetary Astronomy Project?
Yes. It was known by that name at that time. I think it carries a different title now, but it still goes on. The NASA Planetary Astronomy Program supports a fairly hefty planetary research program, and also subsidizes operation of the McDonald telescopes.
Subsidizes operation of both the 82-inch and the 107-inch.
Yes. Yes. I think, in principle, the NASA Planetary Astronomy Program subsidizes up to 40$ of the operating cost of those telescopes.
I wonder if you could describe the management structure of the project and the other astronomers who were involved; that is, how was it run.
At Texas at that time?
Yes, at Texas at that time, because in our previous discussions you suggested that it was a pretty big on-going project.
In terms of dollars it is, yes. Well, the principal investigator was Harlan J. Smith, and still is. So he wore one more hat in addition to being director of the observatory and chairman of the department at that time. He was principal investigator on this planetary astronomy project; our coinvestigator was harry Trafton (and still is) and Ed Barker, who at that time had just finished his Ph.D. Larry Trafton had gotten his Ph.D. at Caltech, I believe in 1965, and spent two or three years in the Air Force and came to Texas from there. Into the astronomy department; specifically to the planetary project.
He is not on the faculty. He is not a tenured faculty member in the department. Ed Barker, ditto: finished his Ph.D. in 1969 and went to work as our research associate on the planetary astronomy project, and again, has no faculty responsibilities. We had one technician and myself as student help, living out at the observatory. Barker, me, and our technician lived at the observatory. Trafton lived in Austin and still does, and came out periodically to the observatory to observe. And Harlan Smith in Austin came out very rarely to observe.
How were the specific observation programs chosen; that is, how was it decided that you were going to take spectra of this or that? What the scope was to be used for in this project. What I'm wondering is, ultimately, how were the NASA requirements for the planetary program transmitted down the line into actual work?
Clearly, NASA's big interests at the time were Venus and Mars. In 1968 we had just had Mariner 6 and 7. Perhaps that was 1969. 1 know they were very recent at that time. They were developing Mariner, and in the longer term, developing Viking. So NASA had a requirement for lots of supporting science, lots of supporting ground-based work on Mars. That was the major portion of our research at that time. Ed Barker was conducting the project that I described of trying to determine Martian topology by observing the strength of the carbon dioxide bands as a function of central meridian longitude. He was going to try to get a rough topographic map of Mars, at least get some idea of altitude variation around the Equator.
Bob Tull spent a little bit of time working on detecting water on Mars. And in fact he detected a seasonal hemispheric variation in the water abundance. And the other major object that we were working on was Venus; and that was the JPL connection, Ron Schorn and Louise Young, who had gone back to JPL at that time, and then came out again periodically to McDonald to observe Venus, to do spectroscopy of the CO2,bands of Venus. I am not quite sure what they were trying to prove with all this, but I know I was involved in, or I was assigned periodically to work with them and in their absence to work for them, to take spectrum after spectrum after spectrum of Venus in the C02. And there were periods of time that the three of us, Barker, our technician and myself, were keeping the two telescopes, the 82-inch and the 107-inch, running 24 hours. We would do Mars at night and Venus in the daytime.
An enormous amount of data taking?
It was, no doubt about it.
These projects, did the individual PI's propose these themselves? Did they come up with the ideas?
Sure. I think it is true that at that time, as well as to the present, NASA gets it work done by way of so-called "unsolicited proposals. "There are "Dear Colleague" letters that go out periodically, about every six months, just newsy letters outlining NASA's interests, and developments of the program; at least, that's the way Brunk runs his programs, and still sends out a letter to all his PIs, everybody in the community who might be interested, outlining what NASA's programatic interests are, if there are any changes. He then receives proposals. And as a general rule, "mirabile dictu" the proposals reflect NASA's programatic interests (laughs). And it is up to the PI to propose a program that is interesting to NASA. And there is little or no overt pressuring of the PIs to do directed research. But nonetheless, the PIs manage to read handwriting on the wall very clearly, and most of them, many of them, at least, adjust their programs accordingly.
That's one of the things that I am trying to find out more about, which is how programatic interests get communicated. Bergstrlh: That's one way.
And how research gets done without upsetting the normal way of doing scientific research.
It's an exercise we are going through right now. NASA's programatic interests are evolving very heavily, for obvious reasons, to comets. How are we going to get our supporting research and technology shifted over to an emphasis on comets? As a rule, over the last year, two years, but especially in the last year, the renewal proposals that I have seen coming in have been shifting emphasis to cometary research, and it's not very surprising. Or it shouldn't be to anybody who can see the direction that NASA is heading. I am sure a lot of that recently has to do — the cometary research — certainly with the international Halley Watch. It's no secret that NASA's supporting that and that is a major, public, high-profile statement of NASA's interests. A less-known commitment is NASA's interest in Giotto. We are supporting 33 American co-investigators on nine of the ten Giotto experiments.
I hadn't realized that there were that many Americans involved on Giotto.
Oh yes, heavy American involvement on the Giotto. As a rule, these Americans would be PI's, if it were an American mission. What happened was that the European PIs invited American collaborators to become co-Is, and basically submitted the American proposals to ESA.
So in the case. of nine of the ten instruments, those are fundamentally American designs. Now, there is very little hardware that we are delivering. In fact, in only one case are we, NASA, supporting construction of hardware to be flown on Giotto. It's the ion mass spectrometer. And in fact, we're not supplying the entire instrument. We're supplying a major portion of it. In other cases, I gather that the way it is involved is that ESA is paying for American fabrication of instruments, but NASA's major involvement is to support 33 co-I's on nine of these ten instruments.
And they are participating in very significant ways.
As I said, I was interested in how the programatic concerns get transmitted and the scientific community responds, because one of the fears that a lot of people have, especially immediately after Sputnik or in any context in which the Government gets heavily into funding scientific research is a fear that pure science will turn into — basic science will turn into knee-jerk science; that is, science that responds only to the wishes of the Government, whose wishes are in turn connected with Congress, politics and a whole range of extra-scientifc concerns.
Well, look, in the case of NASA, I think they have tried to decouple it as much as possible, but clearly in deciding which proposals to fund, NASA isi ,unlike the NSF in the sense that it takes programatic interests into account, and it also takes some pains to convey to its community what its programatic interests are. NASA's research and analysis program used to be called supporting research and technology, and the active word is "supporting", in the sense that all research and technology was supposed to support the missions, the programatic interests. And that is still the case.
Let me change the tape.
But I don't think it has ever been true that NASA has directed one of these PIs to change his research, and in fact, the question of how to change emphasis in the program, as I say, has been one of some soul searching, particularly recently. You know, redirecting the emphasis toward cometary research.
Yes, first there was — the original emphasis being, for the most part, on Mars and Venus up through the mid, or actually through the late 1960s.
There was a flurry of planning documents and Space Science Board reports around 1967-68, and particularly in the 1968-69 period, and planning for the outer planets missions, with the development of the concept of the Grand Tour.
And so forth; and then a programatic need for greater researching into the outer planets.
Yes. That's where I fit in, at Texas for instance, because while I was working, banging away at Mars and Venus, I was also doing my Ph.D. observations of Jupiter.
How did you pick a topic?
I think that was something I picked up as a side effect of work that I did at Aeronutronic. I wrote that little report at the end of the summer of 1966, a little summary report of all the library research that I had done. And I don't remember too clearly, but one of the outstanding interesting questions was the question of Jupiter's atmospheric structure, and I think that's in a general way when I settled on that topic; and that became more specific then by 1969, with further reading and further evolution of the problem, identifying a particular research problem that I could attack with the telescope.
Yes. The availability of the equipment at Texas and the fact that you were all set up.
To be doing spectra certainly might have played a role?
The physical availability of the telescope and the spectrograph, and my interest in the problem all came together. You know, if I hadn't been there, I would have done something entirely different, I'm sure, the photometry of flare stars or some other such thing. But it all came together in one place. The bulk of my observations on the 82-inch and a more minor part of my dissertation on the 107-inch.
Did you discuss the topic with anybody; did you work it out in detail?
I had to write a proposal to Harlan Smith, which he lost in the bottom of his brief case for several months. I had to remind him several times to bring it out and take a look at it. He finally did and approved it. I had talked about it with him, but mostly with Larry Trafton. And by that time I had made contact with JPL people, in addition to Louise Young. She introduced me to Jack Margolis, who was then doing laboratory spectroscopy of methane.
At JPL; and I think that among those three people, Jack Margolis, Louise Young and Larry Trafton, we evolved the thesis topic. And I wrote the proposal to Harlan Smith. In fact, yet another part of my thesis was to reduce some laboratory work that Margolis had done on the methane molecule. The whole topic revolved around the 3U3 Methane Band.
Did you sign up for time, or sandwich them in during runs?
I basically sandwiched it in during other runs. I may have had one or two runs assigned. But basically I sandwiched it in on others. Jupiter has the great virtue of being around every year, unlike Mars.
So, for instance, we had Mars around in 1969, but not in 1970, and that's when I did the bulk of my Jupiter observations. We would be doing Venus daytime and do Jupiter at night.
And did you, in reducing the data — was that when you developed the software?
For synethetic —
— Synthetic spectra. That was when I developed my Mark-Zero software for synthetic spectra, yes, with some advice, but not a whole lot, from Larry Trafton. I really developed that from a paper by Danielson, Bob Danielson at Princeton, and Marty Tomasko, who was at that time Danielson's grad student. It appeared in the JOURNAL OF ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCES in 1969  They developed a generalization of one of Chandrasekhar's equations. I generalized it further. But the program, the software that I developed to create a synthetic spectrum from that generalized equation made use of looking up tables of X, Y and H functions. It was what would now be a very crude approximation. At that time it was the state of the art. And since that time I have gone on and developed other more general algorithms.
Yes. I notice that you said that it resides up at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
Did you have any contact, or what was the nature of your relationship with this?
That's a very tenuous relationship by way of Glen Orton, my office mate at JPL. He's what's called an interdisciplinary scientist on Galileo; he is involved with the PPR, Photo-Polarimeter-Radiometer. Jim Hanson is the PI on that, and through that kind of back-door connection I got time on the GISS computer. Ostensibily we're supporting GISS and PPR by doing modeling, of Jupiter and other things.
And I never miss an opportunity to ask people about the Goddard Institute, because most of the people I talk to, even people at NASA, people at Goddard, don't quite know what goes on up there; and find it to be a mysterious place.
I know a little of what goes on up there, but I don't know about the whole set-up. It's an extension of Goddard Space Flight Center, as you know, and I think it was put up there because Bob Jastrow had enough pull to get it put up there in close proximity to Columbia. They use Columbia. They use Lamont Dougherty as a body shop, and they get a lot of student help and contractor help through that connection at rather a low cost. So there is a very small number of direct Civil service people working at GISS, and a whole potload of students and contractors through Columbia. I know Jim Hanson, Larry Travis and Bill Rossow, and I have a general idea of what they are doing, and it's mostly connected, the bulk of their work right now, is connected with Pioneer Venus orbiter. We are analyzing data from that, and the Galileo PPR. We're cranking up for that. And the CO-I's on the Voyager PPS, Photo Polarimeter subsystem. Now what the other divisions of GISS are doing I'm not too clear on.
Yes. My understanding is that when Jastrow set it up it was originally to have been a liasison with the academic scientific community far enough removed from 'the Civil Service aspects of NASA so as not to scare the university community too much.
Yes, I gather that was an issue once upon a time. I'm not sure it is any more. It certainly has never been an issue for me personally, and I suspect that has a lot to do with my background, at least, through my father and his long-time connection with Government laboratories. They are not something scarey to me.
Yes. They were for a lot of people, and again, still somewhat today. But in the early days, especially as NASA was getting off the ground, materials that I have seen and that other historians have looked into show a clear skittishness on the part of the scientific community involved with it.
Yes, I think there was a concern that the Government laboratories would get into directed research and absorb all of the money.
Yes, set priorities, decide what science got done, and circumvent the traditional self-policing of the scientific community.
Right. And in fact, that was an issue for many years, I gather, between JPL and NASA Headquarters. JPL perceived itself as a branch of Caltech and a part of the academic community. And NASA Headquarters perceived it as being a Government lab like all the others. I wasn't directly involved in that. It all happened many years before I arrived there, but I have done some reading since, and that becomes quite clear, particularly in Homer Newell's book.
You, say you. got your Ph.D. in 1972?
And then.were a NRC Resident —
— Research Associate.
Research Associate at JPL?
How did you become aware of that opportunity, and how did you choose JPL? Or did they choose you?
A little of both. Clearly, I knew people at JPL, knew what they were doing, Louise Young and Ron Schorn, and Jack Margolis. And in fact, I had collaborated with Jack Margolis on a paper, so I knew them and they knew me, and the connection was fairly natural, although I must say, I also applied for an RRA, I believe at Ames with Pollock, and was perfectly sincere about that. But discovered, or NRL told me, that I could apply for only one at a time, and they cancelled my application to Ames.
To what extent were you aware of the long-path absorption work at Ames?
At that tirne I wasn't. I got to know Larry Giver later on, but at that time I don’t think I was terribly aware of it.. Let's see, I was going to say I also pursued, not very seriously, a postdoc at Princeton with Bob Danielson. That never got off the ground, and I simply resumed and went on with the RRA at JPL.
Yes. What was the structure and activities of JPL astronomy people when you were out there? Let's see, you were out there in 1972?
For the most part, they really geared up for the outer planets.
Well, clearly, NASA's interests were evolving in that direction. NASA's interests evolve basically as the technology evolves and makes these things possible.
And Venus and Mars were the only things we could get to in the 1960s within reasonable flight times with reasonable data rates. By the early 1970s they were cranking up already for the Grand Tour, which became Voyager, so the interests were shifting. Ray Newburn had been involved with some Jupiter work. He had taken some spectra of Jupiter in the 3U3 Band, work paralleling the work that I had done at Texas. But by that time his interests were already evolving away, and I think even later on he was getting interested in comets. I know it was very early on in my stay there that he began to seriously become interested in comets. Jack Margolis was interested in laboratory spectroscopy of methane, and that naturally led to an interest in Jupiter, although not a very active research on Jupiter. He also did some work at that time on ammonia, and did a little observing program on Jupiter in the 6450 angstrom ammonia band. He published a paper with a summer student.
He did his own observing?
Yes, he actually did his own observing for that.
Where did he do it, with what, on the 24?
On the 24-inch. When you say 24-inch, most people have a pre-conceived notion of what that is, a typical little observatory. The Table Mountain 24-inch is not typical, and it surprises people a whole lot when they see it for the first time, because it is really a spectrograph, which happens to have a little 24-inch telescope feeding it (laughs).
The Coud( room?
The Coud( is a monster, so a much better description of that would be the astronomical spectrograph with its 24-inch feed, rather than the 24-inch telescope. It is very well set up for the kind of spectroscopy we were doing in those days. And Margolis used it and did some work, as I say, on the 6450 angstrom ammonia band on Jupiter. The problem is one of analysis of that band, identifying the rotational levels, getting any physics out of the observations. And I think that that was a fairly inconclusive project. My advisor, as an RA, was a fellow named Bob Norton, who was interested in a kind of academic way, I guess you would say, in outer planets.
But he really evolved out of it. He is now and has been working for several years for Barney Farmer on terrestrial observations, upper stratosphere. I think the bottom line of all this is that when I arrived we had Ron Schorn interested in Venus; Louise Young sort of interested in Venus but getting away from it; Jack Margolis interested in laboratory spectroscopy, applying that to Jupiter; Bob Norton interested in what is not clear; Ray Newburn beginning to be interested in comets; and me interested in Jupiter and outer planets generally. I think I was brought on as the outer planets expert. A couple of years later we had Glenn Orton come in as an RRA from Caltech. And as far as planetary atmospheres are concerned, he, and I have divided the spectrum between visual/near infrared for me, and far infrared/thermal for him.
So I think we two are still the basic source of expertise on outer planet atmospheres.
And at that time Norton was actually director of Table Mountain? Was there such a position as director? I was never quite clear after Newburn's involvement in getting Table Mountain established, in getting the 24-inch set up.
No, there has never been a job description until very recently that says, Director of Table Mountain. And in fact, Jay Apt, who took over from me when I came out here as a detailee, was the first one to insist on a job description for that position. So he evolved a little four or five-point job description that says, scientific director of Table Mountain Observatory as distinguished from the business manager or site director, as we call him.
Okay. How was the optical astronomy group there organized? Or was it loosely?
It's not what you would really call an organization at all, and never had been from the time I arrived. It may have been once upon a time. There was an optical astronomy group, and I think it began as a group of people who were all funded by Bill Brunk to do ground based astronomy. That would have been Newburn and, maybe Margolis, and Norton, and Schorn: but that all came apart in 1974 when the big budget crunches hit. And since that time the optical astronomy group has been more of an organizational convenience for NASA and for JPL's management than it has been a really cohesive research group.
In what way?
On the organizational chart you will see something called Optical Astronomy Group. And there is an optical astronomy team, and there is a team leader, Torrence Johnson, and a deputy team leader, me, and then a changing cast of about a dozen characters following those two names. And people are shuffled in and out, basically as an organizational convenience. There has to be a pigeon hole, a slot for everybody (laughs)!
And for convenience, they are shoved in or out of the optical Astronomy Group, depending on their primary interests.
Yes. I'm wondering about what makes Table Mountain different from any other observatory at which one submits a proposal for observing time, comes and conducts a project which they have more or less freely chosen, within all the usual constraints? In the sense that Table Mountain was developed partially in response to the need for time and facilities for ground-based planetary observation, somehow or another to contribute to the planetary flight program.
Does this in any way make Table Mountain Observatory unique, or a different kind of creature than, say, any other observatory?
Oh, I think so, yes. I mean, our principal work is planetary. There are some people who come in, also, and do some stellar work, but they are vastly in the minority. That is sort of add-on, time filling. But certainly, the bulk of the work is planetary.
How is the time scheduled? Say, would somebody outside of Caltech or outside of JPL be able to use it?
In principle, yes; but we don't advertise it. Again, it's a kind of word-of-mouth advertisement. People that I know or somebody else on the staff knows might get word of it and express an interest. We entertain proposals for observing, and if there is time available outside the basic planetary work that we do, we'll assign it. For about three years we had a fellow from Purdue, Tom Moffett, an old graduate school colleague of mine, who came out and did flare star observations. And it was convenient, because during those summers we were planetless. There wasn't a whole lot of planetary work that could be done.
That would have been what, two years ago?
Yes. Tom Moffett came out from Purdue.
I think he quit coming out two years ago, but for the previous three summers he or one of his graduate students came out and spent several weeks at a time just banging away at flare stars.
Yes. I remember the planetless summers. I was out in Indiana at the time. I remember getting up at odd hours to do some gazing. I wouldn't call it observing. I had access to the 12-inch Kirkwood.refractor at Indiana, and also from time to time the 36-inch at Goethe-Link.
No, the outer planets certainly, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune in opposition, all in the late winter or early spring. And we had quite a block of summertime that went begging.
Right about the time you went to JPL the Greenstein report came out. Did that have any impact?
On you personally. Were you aware of it at all?
I was aware of it, but I don't think I ever really studied it. I had pretty well set my course and kept on with it. I don't think it would have changed me very much.
I just wonder how much, again, on this question of how much trickles down to the individual level, I wonder, when things like the Greenstein report or George Field's report come out, how much discussion that raises up in the trenches, so to speak, among the actual astronomers who are using the facilities and working. I wonder how much it gets discussed?
Oh, I thinly the astronomers as well as most other scientists, fall in a couple of broad categories. There are those that I characterize as the entrepeneurs, and the, what, the drone bees, I suppose. The guys who quietly get on with the work and don't pay much attention to the trends, who are very narrowly focussed on their own work. And the entrepeneurs, Harlan Smith as a very good example of that type; and I think that things like the Greenstein report are not only generated by the entrepeneurs, they are then taken to heed by the entrepeneurs, principally. You know, these are the guys who go out and hustle money and build observatories and build up programs. I don't know if I even had a thought to complete there. I think there is a large proportion of the community that kind of plugs along and doesn't pay a whole lot of attention to things like that.
One question that I did want to ask you about is the Preston Committee. This was the NASA Science wbrking group. Is that the correct title?
As nearly as I can tell. I don't have my notes with me from that time, but my recollection is that that's the correct word, the correct term for it. It is a science working group that NASA organized, or that JPL organized at NASA's request. JPL acted as the logistical support for this committee, funneled the money from NASA to pay the consulting fees to these people, provided me as the contact point and executive secretary. So NASA transferred money too JPL and I then authorized disbursement of the money to the participants on the committee.
Who selected the group? And how and why was the group selected?
It was basically selected by Nancy Roman and George Preston. Why was the Space Telescope in political problems at that time? It wasn't clear that Congress would give it a new start go-ahead. There were some outstanding technical questions, and this group was convened to review the NASA studies that had been conducted up to that time, and satisfy itself that the outstanding problems had been addressed satisfactorily. And give its blessing to NASA's proceeding with the project. It was intentionally set up as a committee of influential well-known astronomers and other scientists, physical scientists, a blue ribbon committee whose approval was sought to reassure NASA top management and Congress that the Space Telescope was worthwhile and in fact, a tremendous opportunity.
Were question of the feasibility of the observatory addressed, or was this scientific promise rather than technical?
We had three sessions, and we had presentations from the Space Telescope management, and from each of the prospective experimenters. Clearly, it wasn't an approved project at that time.
And therefore, there were no selected experiments, but there had been studies, study contracts for prospective experiments left, a couple of years before that. And the people who had been conducting these studies came in. They were assumed to have the inside track on any announcement of opportunity that would come out subsequently to build the actual instruments to go on Space Telescope. In some cases they did, and in others there were big surprises. They didn't. But those people, who had been conducting the experiment studies gave presentations to the Preston Committee to demonstrate just what could be done, what kind of science issues could be addressed. I think everybody on the commitee had an intuition for how vast an improvement the Space Telescope would be. But I suspect that this was the first time that everybody who had done the studies actually got together in one place and presented all of this material in a coherent way, and came up with a coherent description of just what could be expected from Space Telescope. And that was what was needed to convince NASA's top management first of all, and then Congress, that this was a worthwhile project to do.
Yes, and you met three times. This was at JPL, and what, once at Headquarters?
Once at Headquarters and never at JPL, actually. We met at least once, and I think twice, at Caltech Campus, but we never actually met at JPL.
And I presume that you wrote a report?
Preston wrote the report, yes. Well, to which I contributed. I sat and took notes, and I gave my notes to George Preston, and he wrote the prose.
Were the minutes kept anywhere were that they might be accessible?
Well, such minutes as were kept were the notes that I made. And George Preston should have those, if he still does: if he hasn't cleaned out his office in the meantime.
Was there any talk during this of anyone proposing using the Space Telescope for planetary observations?
The topic of discussion came up, and Nancy Roman made it clear that there would be planetary time assigned on the Telescope, that the Telescope would be used for planetary observations. I don't think any of the people conducting studies or the project management mentioned this, brought it up; and I'm not sure how the topic was brought up. But I do recall that it was, and Nancy Roman at that time made it very clear that NASA's position was that the Telescope would be used for planetary research in addition to extragalactic and stellar.
Yes, so this was apparently a policy?
Evidently it was a policy that had been decided within NASA before that time.
Yes, before 1975?
Was there any particular reaction from the people on the committee to this?
No. There wasn't booing and hissing, for instance.
It just seemed like the reasonable thing to do.
Ah, my memory is a little hazy on that, so I really couldn't say. But it was certainly presented.as a fait accompli that NASA's policy was that the telescope would be used for planetary research.
Was a presentation ever made to NASA management or, I guess, if Preston wrote the report, then it was just submitted to the —
In the sense of a formal presentation to NASA management, I think NASA management sat in on the meeting that was held at Headquarters. I don't recall a formal presentation of the final report,,no. I think Preston simply submitted that.
Okay, was there any discussion of the relative difficulty of using the ST for planetary observations?
Not that I recall. Sometime later I talked with Bob O'Dell, the project scientist, and he said that he specified from the very first a certain tracking rate that the Telescope had to be able to follow for a moving planetary object at a certain tracking rage. He specified that tracking rate for Halley's Comet. This was the proper motion that the telescope had to be able to follow in order to observe Halley's Comet.
So that set the limit?
As far as he was concerned, that set the limit. And in fact it indicated his interest in what he would like to use the telescope to observe.
Yes, and it was certainly a serious consideration, the ability of the telescope to track a planetary object, parallax and all that.
Yes, yes, given the parallax and simply the very high proper motions certainly of comets and of earth-approaching asteroids.
Finally, I wanted to ask you how the field looks from the other end of the grant, given your experience of the last couple of years. You have had increasing experience in management of the science, management of science being done by other people, some that I haven't asked you about your experience on Voyager as liaison.
Table Mountain and the latest last couple of years at NASA Headquarters. I'm wondering how your experience in science management, whether that has changed or enforced any of your opinions about how astronomy, and particularly planetary astronomy, is best done?
How it is best done, no. Certainly I've had a change of perspective, and gotten a much broader perspective of the whole field of planetary astronomy, rather than my own narrow interest in atmospheres of giant planets. You know, there is a whole zoo of things out there, vastly different physical properties. I think that's improved — my perspective on things has changed a whole lot. As to how the science is best managed and best funded, no, I don't think I can really say I've changed very much on that. I've understood NASA's motivations for funding various kinds of emphasis in planetary astronomy, and that is that it's intended to be supporting research and technology.
The only way that NASA management at my level can justify doing ground based astronomy to NASA's top management, which is very mission-oriented, is that the work we are doing is supporting in some sense, and that it's a constant problem to rejustify this, especially, every time there is a new administration, a new change of administration, a new administrator, or a new face in the top management — and I gather it's really a severe problem when there is a change in the administration when there is a new president, and he brings in a whole bunch of new people. The planetary program has to be rejustified once again. It's an on-going stuggle. Our current administrator of NASA is known to have said the research and analysis program is welfare for scientists. I think he has been convinced otherwise now. But it's taken, you know, nearly two years to convince him of that.
Very interesting, because the story of the support of ground based astronomy by NASA, particularly in the period from 1958 through about 1965, when Bill Brunk comes on board and there is a full-fledged program office, is a long story of a whole number of individuals and events finally coming together to convince NASA that they really do need to support ground based studies for a whole number of reasons, not the least of which is theutilitarian reason of being sure that you build a spacecraft that will do what it is supposed to do, and be able to return the data that it is designed to return in a meaningful way.
Yes. And that is still the fundamental justification.
And yet, this whole process had to be done over and over again?
As people and power come into the agency?
That's right. That's one of the flaws of having so little continuity at the top level of the agency. The ground based program had to be resold over and over again, not merely as something desirable, but something that is absolutely essential, something that you cannot do the missions without.
What about the National Science Foundation? Have you had any contact with them in an official capacity?
Have I personally?
Very little: I've gone to some of the coordinating meetings as an observer, not really a participant. What I can tell you is that there is very conscientious effort at coordination between NSF and NASA. There are at least annual, if not more frequent coordination meetings in the astronomy program, to avoid duplication. It's not unheard of — in fact, relatively common practice — for a PI to submit a proposal simultaneously to NSF and NASA. And in that case, the relevant program managers know about it and are on the phone with each other.
Sometimes they split the funding, and sometimes they decide one or the other should do the funding.
Yes, it's done in a very cooperative way?
Yes, oh yes.
Finally, is there time for anything that you would like to say, or is there anything that I might have left out? Or do you have any final comments?
Nothing really comes to mind. You have been very thorough.
Okay. Thank you very much.
My pleasure. Thank you.
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