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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of William Brunk by Joseph N. Tatarewicz on 1983 July 21,
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 traces Brunk's career in engineering with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), Lewis Research Center (formerly Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory), NASA and NASA Headquarters. The discussion begins with an overview of his family background and his education at Case Institute of Technology, followed by his work in supersonic aerodynamics for NACA. The interview primarily examines Brunk's role in and perceptions of the development of planetary ground-based astronomy during his tenure at NASA Headquarters, as Program Chief of Planetary Astronomy. Topics discussed include: telescope innovations at different observatories; problems and techniques in ground-based observation; exploration of Mars; the Planetary Patrol program at Lowell Observatory; his membership to the American Astronomical Society; and general perceptions of NASA's role in ground-based astronomy. Other affiliations and contacts discussed include: Jason Nassau, Nancy Roman, Urner Liddel, and Gerard Kuiper.
This is an oral history interview with William E. Brunk, who is Program Chief of Planetary Astronomy at NASA. Is that your correct title now?
No, I am presently Chief of the Planetary Science Science Branch at NASA.
The subject of the interview is planetary astronomy and the time period to be covered, in this session, will be up to about 1964. Interviewer is Joseph N. Tatarewicz and we are at the National Air & Space Museum, 21 July, 1983.
Are you only going up to '64? Is that as far as you're going?
Well, we'll see how it goes.
My involvement previous to '64 in planetary astronomy is very limited.
The time period is very flexible. I'm prepared to go beyond '64.
The reason I mentioned this is because in '64 I came to NASA headquarters, and prior to that I had practically no involvement with solar system astronomy.
You were at Lewis?
Right, Lewis Research Center. I was working in supersonic propulsion.
In the oral histories, we ask everybody a number of biographical questions, because we're very interested in how people get into astronomy from various interests, what kinds of influences impinge on them and so forth. So I'd like to start out with a general biographical question. I know that you received your B.S. in math at Case Institute of Technology in '52, but I don't know anything about your earlier life. I was wondering if you could describe your family.
Okay, I was one of two sons and I was born in 1928. My father, who was the son of a foreman on a railroad road crew, had little formal education, having left school at about the 4th grade and worked since then. He worked at many different jobs, never having had any formal education. My mother had gone to nursing school instead of high school, and her education stopped then. During my youth, my father worked at many different jobs, including the National Youth Administration, which was the youth counterpart of the WPA. He worked in a lawyer's office, he worked as a salesman, and he owned a machine shop for a while. He did miscellaneous types of jobs. So my immediate background was not an intellectual one.
Did you have any brothers or sisters?
Yes, I had one brother, who graduated from college as an aeronautical engineer and is presently working for the Boeing Aircraft Company as a mechanical engineer. I graduated from high school in Cleveland, Ohio. My ambition at that time was to go to sea, but my parents were very negative to my becoming a sailor. They said I should do something that used my mind more than swabbing decks. They insisted that I could go to sea but only through an officers' academy, and the only one in existence at that time was the Naval Academy. The Coast Guard and Merchant Marine academies had not opened yet. I applied to the Naval Academy, was successful, except that because of slightly poor eyesight in one eye, I was rejected. They required perfect eyesight at the time. After rejection by the Naval Academy, I had to decide what to do. My life was, as you might imagine, completely upset, because going to sea had been my entire career goal. I entered Case Institute of Technology, not so much because I was interested in engineering, but because my previous educational background had given me the proper prerequisites for engineering. The Naval Academy is an engineering school.
Also, to practice for the entrance examination for the Naval Academy, I had taken the entrance examination for Case Institute of Technology, strictly as a practice run. Well, I had done very well on the entrance examination for Case, and was originally offered a scholarship to go there, even though I wasn't interested. A year later, after I had been turned down by the Academy, I entered Case as I was already qualified.
This was shortly after the Second World War, in 1948, and the school was full of veterans. It was very difficult to get into any college. I was accepted into the civil engineering department there, and after the first year, decided that engineering was not my field, and so I transferred to mathematics. I had no career goal whatsoever at that time, after having my original plans upset. While a sophomore I was in an astronomy course taught by a Dr. Jason J. Nassau, a prominent name in the field of astronomy. At that time, jobs were very difficult to come by, with the return of all the veterans from the Second World War. Dr. Nassau offered tow positions for the summer at the observatory working with the astronomy department. This was back in the summer of '49.
You had had a course with Dr. Nassau?
Yes, a sophomore course that all the physics majors had to take. It was a general astronomy course. We used a textbook by Baker. Every mathematics major was basically in the same curriculum as the physics majors.
And at this point you'd already declared a major in mathematics. In high school, I know you said that your aim was to go to sea. Had you had any interest in mathematics or scientific subjects at all up until getting into Case?
No. In fact, I had taken very little science in high school, just what was absolutely required, which was physics, no chemistry, no biology, no other science whatsoever. Physics was required in order to get your degree from high school, and as I say, I went to Case primarily because I had taken the entrance examination to practice for the Naval Academy. The Naval Academy is an engineering school, and students who graduate and are not commissioned into the Navy are graduate engineers. But during the first year at Case, and going through the engineering courses I was taking there and the mathematics courses and the science courses, I found myself more interested in the mathematics and science than in the engineering.
To me engineering was sort of a cookbook type of subject. I was more interested in the intellectual exercise of the mathematics and the physics and decided at that time to go into mathematics rather than physics, and I don't know the reason for that. Anyway, it was during the sophomore course in astronomy that Dr. Nassau announced the opportunity for two positions at the observatory during the following summer. I felt that because jobs were so hard to come by, that I had no chance of getting one of the positions. Dr. Nassau asked that each interested student write a letter giving their qualifications and why they wanted the job. I felt that I was so far down the list that I would not even try for it.
However, as I was leaving class that day, Dr. Nassau stopped me in the hall, which was rather unusual, since he didn't know me from Adam, or I though he didn't know me from Adam, since I had never known him other than in this class consisted of about 25 people. He stopped me and asked if I wanted a job at the observatory. The possibility of a job at that time was really something, because jobs were hard to come by, and so I said, "Absolutely". He said, "Well, write the requested letter, but you've got the job." And so I started working at the observatory in my sophomore year and worked there part-time during the school year and full-time during the summer.
When I graduated from Case with my Bachelor's degree, he called me into his office and asked me what I was going to do. I told him I thought I was going to go out and get a job, because that's what my father was expecting. He suggested that I stay at Case for a year, and he gave me a graduate assistantship, if I would stay and get a Master's degree in astronomy. I stayed and got my Master's degree. At the end of my Master's degree, he called me back into the office and asked me what I wanted to do with myself and I said, "Well, I'll go out and get a job." He then said that he could get me a fellowship at any university that I wanted to go to, if I wanted to stay for my Ph.D. I turned him down, because I was weary of the Ivory Tower existence. So at that time, I left Case and got a job—
—can we back up just a little bit? What were, what kinds of things did you do at the observatory in this full-time-summer and part-time-during-the-school-year job?
It was basically a research assistant job. During the summer time, I was the assistant observer. At Case, the main observing instrument was a 24-inch Schmidt telescope, and we had no night assistant, so the astronomer who was making the observations would work alone. During the summer he had the luxury of having an assistant observe with him.
That would have been Nassau?
No, whatever astronomer happened to be on. During the summer I would work as the observing assistant, which meant developing the photographic planets that were obtained with the telescopes, measuring some of the plates, getting ready for the next night, things like that. In addition to that, I was doing the routine work of analyzing the plates, doing the calculations that were necessary to analyze data and prepare it for publication.
This is astrometric, primarily?
No. They were working on galactic structure at the Case Observatory and what we obtained with the Schmidt telescope were objective prism plates of regions of our galaxy. A single wide angle photographic plate (as this was a Schmidt telescope with something like a 4 degree field) would be covered with thousands of spectra. I did not analyze the spectra. The staff astronomers analyzed the spectra, or looked over the plates to pick out the stars they were interested in. I did a lot of photometry.
In addition to the spectral plates they took direct plates in tow or more colors, and I spent many nights sitting at a blink photometer, doing photometry on these plates, basically measuring the density of the image on the plate, using an instrument called an iris photometer. There was a lot of routine work. I also ran the photographic dark room. I did all the necessary dark room work, which included everything from copying the plates to drawing and copying figures to going into papers and things like that.
And who were the other astronomers who were using the observatory at the time?
The astronomical staff at the observatory was rather small. It consisted of Dr. Nassau, who was the head of the department, and Dr. Sidney McCuskey, who was an astronomer but primarily was head of the mathematics department at Case. When I first started, there was Dr. Daniel Harris, who later went to the University of Chicago. There was Dr. Victor Blanco, who became the head of CTIO. There was Dr. Jurgen Stock, who is now an astronomer down in Chile. There was Donald MacRae, who is now, I believe, head of the observatory at the University of Toronto. There was an astronomer by the name of Dr. Cameron who later died.
Let's see, would this be the husband of Winny Cameron or another Cameron?
No, this was not him. Unfortunately this Dr. Cameron studied so hard that his physical health deteriorated while he was in graduate school. And although he worked as a professional astronomer afterwards, he was never healthy and eventually died at a young age. But he was on the staff. That was about the entire staff, and they had something like four students, so it was not a very large department.
Okay. So through this summer job in your undergraduate days, you had quite an exposure to professional astronomical activities.
That's right. Yes, and I had one or two courses in astronomy as an undergraduate student. In the area of solar system astronomy, the only training I had as an undergraduate was part of one course, I think it was the senior course, in which we were told basic information on the planets in the solar system, and were given a little instruction on celestial mechanics, but relatively little on the physics of solar system objects - for two reasons. One of them was that the solar system was not the main interest of the observatory, which was galactic structure, and secondly, there wasn't all that much known. Kuiper's work was just starting to come out, and the whole field of planetary astronomy, back in the 1950 time period was somewhat in disrepute.
How was this disrepute communicated?
I don't know that it was communicated in any way, other than by lack of discussion. In other words, we were not told that it is an unimportant field. It just never came up as one of those areas of astronomy research that were being seriously considered. And when people like Gerard Kuiper were mentioned, it was indicated that, yes, he was working on the solar system, but he was also doing legitimate astronomy.
They'd bring up his double star work and so forth?
What textbooks were you using in the undergraduate curriculum, and what kinds of courses were there beyond the introductory course?
The Introductory Course used Baker. I don't remember using another textbook as such in the undergraduate work. It wasn't until I got into graduate school that we went into any of the other textbooks in astronomy.
Okay. So at Nassau's encouragement, you went into the graduate program.
At Nassau's encouragement I went into the graduate program and I did get a Master's Degree in astronomy, with a general background in stellar astronomy.
Okay. You did this in one year?
No, two years.
Could you describe the curriculum and the kinds of work you did?
Yes, the curriculum was one made us of many different areas. It included work on astrophysics which used basically Aller's textbook. It included statistical astronomy, let's see — trying to remember the text right now, it's a big thick one. I don't remember the author of it. It included celestial mechanics. But at that time, because the department was small, many of the courses were down at the university and were physics courses and mathematics courses and not strictly astronomy courses. The curriculum at Case in the astronomy department was later changed so that almost all the courses were taught in the astronomy department.
This was because it was felt that many of the graduate students in astronomy were not interested in the non-astronomical part of various courses, and therefore they got more towards their astronomical background by having the course taught in the astronomy department with more of an astronomical leaning.
I took basic physics courses, and basic mathematics courses, to get my astronomy degree. Now, that gave me a very general background which was very good in many ways. I had to take thermodynamics, classical physics, modern physics which would be atomic and nuclear, this type of thing. And spectroscopy, but more spectroscopy from the general physics point of view than from the astronomical point of view.
Laboratory spectroscopy or theoretical?
Theoretical. There was at that time no laboratory spectroscopy that I'm aware of at Case. We did spectroscopic analysis at the observatory, but we didn't have any laboratory spectroscopy. But we basically studied the textbooks of Hertzberg in that area — atomic and molecular spectroscopy. As we studied stellar sources, my background was primarily in atomic spectroscopy, not molecular spectroscopy.
Did you do a Master's thesis or project?
I did a Master's thesis on the photographic process, specifically, the accuracy of photometry as done using photographic plates. Nowadays people worry about photometry to a thousandth of a magnitude, a hundredth of a magnitude at least. Then we were happy if we got measurements on photographic plates that agreed within tenths of a magnitude. A great deal of the problem was working with photographic emulsions. So that's what I did my Master's thesis on.
And who was the director?
During this Master's program, did you consider going on in astronomy? Did any particular fields of research excite you?
Yes and no. I liked astronomy. The thing that I did not care for in astronomy was the ivory tower existence. I felt estranged from the outside world, and I felt that I wanted to get more involved with people, spend less time setting by myself in an empty room with a textbook or some data in front of me. I found astronomy very interesting from the point of view of a science, and one of my most enjoyable parts of the time I spent there in astronomy was lecturing, not necessarily giving classes which I did not do, but lecturing to the public, which I was asked to do as all the other graduate assistants were asked to do, public nights and things like that.
Did you join the AAS or take part in any professional meetings or anything like that?
Yes. Now, it wasn't a matter of joining the AAS. It was a matter of being asked to become a member of the AAS. When I started out in astronomy, the AAS was a very prestigious organization, and you were invited to become a member of it, when it was felt that you were producing enough in the research line to be considered part of the community. The membership of the AAS was rather small. I am probably off on my estimate, but I estimate it at something like 300 members.
To give you an idea of — I won't say the reverence in which it was held, but the fact that it was such a closed organization — at one time, when attending one of the AAS meetings, I was expected by my advisor to be able to identify everybody coming in through the door and their research field, if not their most recent research. Now, of course, with the membership of the AAS being up in the thousands, that's not possible. But you were introduced as a potential member of the AAS by a member, and your introduction meant that you were capable of presenting a worthwhile scientific paper to the AAS.
There are still vestiges of that in the formal applicational process to the AAS.
It was a rather prestigious thing. When you were asked to become a member of the AAS, it was sort of that you were now being accepted by the astronomical community as one of theirs. At that time, that was an honor. The community was not that large. And most people knew everybody else who was a member of the AAS. So I became a member. I don't remember exactly when, but it was around the '51-'52 time period. And of course, in those days, to become a member of the IAU was just heaven. You know. Not everybody that was in the AAS was an IAU member.
Okay. So, as you finished up the Master's work—
I finished the Master's work, and decided at that point that, as I said, I was rather tired of sitting by myself in a room — which differed basically from the other people that were going through at the same time, because that's what they wanted to do.
Who were your colleagues at that point, there? I know I asked you about the other people in the department, but which fellow graduate students can you remember?
At the time that I got my Master's Degree, there were relatively few, if any, there. There was Tom Matthews, who later went to the University of Maryland, and into radio astronomy; I don't know what happened to him beyond then. The thing that's confusing to me is, I don't remember who were fellow graduate students during my Master's and in my Doctorate. The students that I remember are: Sanduleak who is now working, I believe, with Jurgen Stock down in Chile; Dave Philip, presently at the Dudley Observatory. One of the reasons I don't remember them is because they all went into stellar work, and I have very little interaction with them at the time or right now. And there were a couple of others whose names don't come immediately to mind. It was a small department, never more than three or four students, and at times I was the only student.
So Nassau then suggested that if you wanted to, you could go on.
Well, he encouraged me to go on with my Ph.D. I decided that I wanted to see what the outside world was like, and so when I got my Master's Degree, I applied for and received a position with NACA, which was the predecessor of NASA. I went to work then in 1954, because that's when I got my Master's Degree, for the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio. That was part of the NACA organization. I went into a section there that was involved with theoretical and experimental work in supersonic aerodynamics. My section head at that time was an individual by the name of George Low who later became the deputy director of NASA. This was, as I mentioned, in 1954.
George Low was my section head, and although I did some experimental work, I also did some theoretical work, and there is a Low-Brunk paper on supersonic flow past cones at angle of attack, a theoretical paper. I was working in that area. I was working also in the area of transpiration cooling, and I was involved in the thermodynamics of supersonic flow — how do you cool a body? How does a body heat up in supersonic flow? I was also involved with other individuals on various experimental programs.
How did you find out about the position at Lewis? How did you choose Lewis rather than any other place? Was it an advertised position?
NACA was advertising at the time. They were looking for personnel, as were many other organizations in that '54 time period. Jobs were reasonably plentiful. I was trying to find something that was in the Cleveland area because I'd never lived any place else. You know, your family comes from that area, you come from that area, you look for a job in that area. They had openings for people with engineering degrees. I looked at a couple of other organizations like Corning and others, that were jobs which were out of town. For some reason, I don't remember what it was, I looked at NACA.
They had an opening. I applied and they accepted me. I don't think in those days there was a great deal of thought that went into where you worked. It's a completely different environment, at least it was back then in Cleveland, than it is in a lot of places. Now, a lot of people put thought into where they're going to work, and what part of the country they're going to work in, who they want to work for, other things. There, it was more a matter of, you had to get a job, and you looked around to see who was hiring. They happened to be hiring, and I applied for the job and I was hired there.
Did you maintain your interest in astronomy while you were working there? Did than ever come up?
Yes. I retained quite a strong interest in astronomy, and I spent a fair amount of time visiting back at the observatory. I wasn't working on any research project, but I was involved with the people back there, at least on a social basis, if not necessarily on a research basis. In fact, I took a couple of more graduate courses at Case. Since I had a desire to do more graduate work, but since I was working in an engineering field, I decided that I was going to go into engineering courses more than into the pure science courses, something that related to what I was doing. I took a couple of graduate courses in engineering, and actually found them very boring.
They were boring for rather a simple reason. My associates in the courses were graduate engineers. The undergraduate courses that they took had taught them a lot of engineering, but very little mathematics. The graduate courses were providing them with the mathematics and a smattering of engineering. When I took the graduate courses, I discovered that I already knew the mathematics, and the amount of engineering being taught was rather trivial. They were basically applying mathematics to engineering. I had had the mathematics, so it was just a repeat of what I already had, and the engineering was rather trivial, so I found that I wasn't really learning very much. I also was given the opportunity at NACA of going back and taking classes with support from the government.
They would permit you to take so many courses per year, and they would pay the tuition. So I went back and made use of this. I was single at the time that I went to work for NACA. I had a latent desire to go back and get a doctorate at some time. In the '56 or so time period, I had met the person who was going to be my future wife, and decided if I were going too go back to school, it would probably make sense to go back and finish off the school before I got married. So in — I'd have to look up the exact date — approximately in the'56-'57 time period, I decided that I would try to go back for a full year and get doctor's degree.
Originally I thought that I would go back and get it in mathematics, because that had a connection with both the work that I was doing at NACA, since I was doing a lot of theoretical work, and also made use of my undergraduate degree. I took one semester of mathematics towards my Ph.D. and discovered that the field of mathematics, as it was taught at Case in the graduate area, which was basically topology, algebra, the more pure mathematics, didn't interest me. I was interested in mathematics, but applied mathematics, not theoretical mathematics, which was all that they taught there in the graduate department at that time. So the second semester of my year away, I decided to enroll in astronomy, and so I took some graduate courses in astronomy.
You finished the course work?
Well, no. I took some courses. It turned out that I was the only graduate student, the only student in the department. All the courses that I was taking were strictly reading courses. There were some internal politics going on at that time in the department of astronomy at Case, and I'm afraid as a graduate student I was suffering from some of the politics. As a result, halfway through that semester, I dropped out. SO my courses then all show "Incomplete"-
And this was a year you were on leave from —
I was on leave for nine months from Lewis to do an academic year. I had to get a year of residency in, if I was going to get a Doctor's degree. About a month from the end of my academic year, I dropped out of all the courses I was taking. I believe that they either don't show on the record or show as incomplete on the record. I then got married in June of 1957, and basically had given up the idea of trying to go back to school. But Fate intervened. About that time, individuals in NACA were beginning to see the writing on the wall about the space program, even though we did not have any official charter to consider space, rockets, this type of thing.
Was there any notion when you were doing this supersonic aerodynamics and thermodynamics, of space, any notion about ballistic missiles? Was this strictly in relation to projected aircraft?
That's right. It was strictly aeronautical.
And was there any interest in astronomy or space? When did you first become aware of space and astronomy and all of those kinds of issues at Lewis?
Not until after I returned to Lewis following my eight months or so in graduate school.
Okay, you mentioned that people at NACA/Lewis were beginning to see the handwriting on the wall.
Well, there was beginning to be interest on behalf of certain individuals there that space was the new frontier.
Who were those individuals?
George Low was one of them, of course. Wolf Morckel who happened to be my branch chief. Well, my division director at that time was John Evvard and there were several branches in that division. This was supersonic aerodynamics. I guess we were officially called the "8 by 6 foot wind tunnel division". Wolf Morckel was a branch chief under Evvard, and he had two section heads under him. One was Ed Cortwright, who much later became the director of Langley, after going to headquarters, and the other one was George Low. Wolf Morckel started working on space trajectories. I would say at this time none of these things were trajectories. I would say at this time none of these things were being done officially. There were being done more in the area of personal interest. In fact, I think I've got my timing a little wrong.
Wolf was not working on trajectories at that time. He was still working on supersonic aerodynamics, as the rest of us were, but there was getting to be more and more of an interest in the whole area of space flight. One of the things that they started to begin to look at was low thrust propulsion. Ion engines and this type of thing. And eventually when the agency became NASA there was quite a project under way in this area. They saw the handwriting on the wall. They had showed an interest in this type of thing, and when we became in 1958 part of NASA, and the name changed to the Lewis Research Center, it did not come as a complete surprise to the individuals who were there. But when we did become NASA, people realized how little background they had in anything connected with space. It was a completely new domain. The terminology was completely different.
To back up again just a little bit, were you aware of the IGY?
Oh yes, sure.
And all of that, was there talk of that around the lab and about Vanguard and Project Orbiter?
There was talk of that by individuals around the lab. There was nothing officially done in that area.
I should think they would have been pretty interested in the RTV, Reentry Test Vehicle.
Yes and no. You see, the charter of Lewis was always propulsion, and everything basically we were working on was propulsion, with the exception of the work being done in some supersonic wind tunnels, which was on supersonic flow for later supersonic air transport. We examined the problems that you run into in supersonic flow. Most of the rest of the laboratory was working either on compressors and turbines, or on the chemistry of propulsion. My branch was sort of the advanced group. There was a lot of interest by the individuals working there, who were of course, engineers or scientist with engineering backgrounds in what was going on in the IGY.
I was trained as a scientist but was basically working with a bunch of engineers, and although there was interest there, there was not that much scientific interest. It was a different environment. As much as people like to say scientist and engineers are very similar, I find them quite different in outlook, in the way they do things, and with my scientific background, I looked at things quite differently than they did. So there was a personal interest in things like the IGY and there was some interest on behalf of many of the people there, George Low and Ed Cortright and others, in this type of thing, but among the people on the working level, they were interested more in their engineering tasks.
Did you become the lab astronomer?
Well, that's what happened. I became the lab astronomer. I was the only one in the laboratory that understood this strange jargon that they used when talking about space flight. I was the only one in the lab who knew anything about celestial mechanics. I was the only one who knew anything about celestial coordinate systems. The only one who knew anything about these strange objects that they were talking about going to visit. And so suddenly I became very valuable to the laboratory, because of my formal background, and so, starting in 1958, a good fraction of my time was spend educating or preparing materials for the people, or reviewing a whole stream of papers that were coming in from other places, like this strange Goddard Space Flight Center that we'd never heard of before and NASA headquarters that involved space flight.
The way that NACA operated was completely different in many areas than the way that NASA operated. One of them was publications. It was very difficult when you worked with NACA to get publications out. A paper underwent all kinds of reviews and committees and was reviewed by every center and by headquarters. It had to go through months of review before it ever was permitted to be published. The belief was that, if it's going to be a NACA paper, it had to be a good paper and it had to be very, very carefully considered. To give a lecture or presentation at any sort of official meeting as a NACA employee, you went through a long and very tedious process of getting everything prepared, reviewed, and approves.
As an example, when you gave a paper, which was very unusual in the first place, you went through several reviews where you'd show every slide, and the slides were picked to pieces, and any unnecessary information was removed. It had to be simple to read and extremely clear and show only the points that you were trying to get across. They had many lay reviewers in these sessions who knew nothing about the subject, and if they couldn't understand clearly what the paper was about and what you showed on every slide that you showed, you had to redo it.
So you became part of this process?
I became part of this process for Lewis. A paper would come out from Goddard or from someplace else on trajectories, and nobody at Lewis knew what they were talking about. The papers referred to periapsis and apoapsis, the line of Apsides, various planes and coordinate systems, ets., and nobody at Lewis except me knew what they were talking about. Now, Lewis was not particularly interested in going into these areas, because it felt that its domain was still propulsion, and it remains that way today, but since they were being asked to provide a representative, either for the review of papers or to serve on certain committees and things like that, in these areas, I found myself being looked to more and more frequently and making use of my background. I would give lectures to people on coordinate systems, motions of bodies under gravitational forces, generalized basic astronomy, the planets, this type of thing.
Did you find this enjoyable?
Very much so. I really loved it. I loved it far more than the research work.
From what you said about your feelings back at Case, it sounds like you suddenly started to do what you really had wanted to do.
That's right. Another thing was — because we were not in the space business, this was after 1958 — that we were putting out through our public information office a lot of information about space. Some of it might have been just information that had come from other sources, but we were also doing illustrations and things like that, and I became a consultant for the PIO office and for our illustration group, because I was the only one that understood what this stuff was that they were looking at. And so I was getting busier and busier. I was also beginning to teach some courses at Lewis.
Let me back up here for a minute to say that Lewis,for a number of years, had put great emphasis on furthering the education of their employees, and they had a lot of expertise there at the laboratory, so they set up at Lewis a series of courses. It was not a graduate school, gave not credit whatsoever, but people could take classes once a week on various subjects, taught by people in the laboratory. The courses were taught for two hours once a week, one hour on laboratory time, one hour on the person's own time. If the closing hour of the lab was 4:30, the classes ran from 3:30 to 5:30.
They gave a large number of courses. They gave courses in chemistry, in propulsion, in turbines, and everything else. They probably had ten to fifteen courses a semester, on a semester basis, but not formal in any way. They gave no credits, but they were given by experts at the laboratory who knew a particular subject. You could take one in report writing, I guess, if you wanted to, but they were all related to the work at the laboratory. They gave some basic chemistry courses, mathematics courses, that type of thing, for improving your background. So they gave an introductory course on orbits, trajectories, this type of thing, and I taught part of that. Then they decided they wanted one in astronomy, ad I taught that for two or three years.
I began to teach more and more of these courses, and to lecture more and more on the outside for the agency. In fact, toward the end of my time at Lewis, I was probably giving three lectures a week, to such things as Kiwanis Clubs, schools, engineering societies, which I loved, by the way. That, I thought, was really the benefit of working. I really enjoyed the lecturing. And I did a lot of work on my regular job, reviewing material coming in from other centers and areas, things like that.
At this point in your job description had been changed?
No, it hadn't.
You're still in supersonic?
I was still an aerospace engineer in supersonic propulsion. That was my official job description.
Did you continue to do airflow and aerodynamics?
Yes, but of course, lesser amounts of that, as I was doing other things.
When did you first actually have any contact with NASA headquarters?
Well, it's still a bit of a story. This was back around the 1958-59 time period. So then I went back to college — now seriously — to try to further my education in astronomy.
Back to Case again?
Back to Case again, but starting to take only a couple of courses a semester, again under this program which allowed you time off to go to school and they paid the tuition. I finished up most of my courses in astronomy for my doctorate, prior to the fall of 1961. Then in the fall of 1961 I got leave from Lewis — official educational leave. It's not really a sabbatical, it's just that there were a number of positions from the laboratory each year that were awarded time to go back to school.
The agreement at that time was that if your were given x months off, you had an obligation to work for the agency for 3 months beyond that time. So I applied for and was given time off starting in the fall of 1961, and I went back full time in the astronomy department and tried to finish my thesis by the spring of 1962. It turned out that I finished my thesis, but it was submitted too late to get my doctorate in 1962. I went back to work at Lewis full-time in the summer of 1962. I got my degree officially from Case in 1963, although that intervening 11 months was not spent in school. I had finished and submitted and defended my thesis in the spring of 1962.
Then you went back to doing what you had been doing?
Yes and no. One of the things that happened was, right after I got back from school, NASA had decided that, because of the intense interest in the space program, they were going to put on a major public display on space, in September of 1962. So when I got back to Lewis, my first job was to work basically full-time as a consultant to the laboratory getting this exhibit together.
Where was this exhibit going to be put?
They rented the entire public auditorium of Cleveland for this exhibit.
Oh, so this was a Lewis project?
This was a Lewis project. In fact, I've still got the material or copies of the material from that exhibit. And this was a major exhibit. I mean, the public auditorium in Cleveland is like the convention center here in Baltimore, or the convention center here in Washington. I don't know if you've ever been up to the convention center in Baltimore or not, but you know the large display area they have there where they have trailer shows and boat shows, things like that?
Oh, the Civic Center. Or do you mean the large convention center?
The convention center itself, the big new convention center. They have these big shows like the flower show, the craft show, the auto show and all of those things. They have a tremendous display area. Well, the public auditorium in Cleveland has a display area about that same size. It's not an auditorium with seats like you think of an auditorium, it's just a large display space with rows of seats about it, a stage at one end where they can put performances on, but it's basically used for these large shows, flower shows, recreational vehicle shows, all these things. It's about the same size, I would say, as the one in Baltimore. Anyway, they rented that whole space for this space show, so it was a large exhibit.
I worked on that almost full-time from the time that I started back at Lewis until October or November of that year. We had a lot of cleanup to do after the show was over. Being the only astronomer at Lewis, I was extremely popular, because they wanted to have a display on exploration of solar system, and all of this type of thing. They needed my assistance, as I was the only one of 3,000 people at the center who knew astronomy. They decided, as part of this exhibit, to have an educational series for local high school students. They arranged for something on the order of eight different lectures to be students, as part of the exhibit. These were to take place physically in the same building but not in the exhibit hall, I think they were down below the exhibit hall, where a series of temporary classrooms was set up.
Two of these courses were on astronomy. One was on general astronomy, and one was on solar system astronomy, and I worked closely in establishing both of those courses. I think, if I remember correctly, Jastrow basically put together the one on astronomy — Robert Jastrow, who was working either at GISS (Goddard Institute for Space Studies) or Goddard (Space Flight Center) at the time. We tried to put together the one on the solar system astronomy. The difficulty we found was that there was just not enough information available on the solar system to put together a three quarters of an hour lecture.
Did this come as a surprise to you?
In a way, yes. We found ourselves having to give all kinds of boring numbers to the students, to fill up the time. We just filled the screens with slides of numbers, sizes of planets, numbers of moons, some celestial mechanics, this type of thing, but there wasn't really that much that we could fill the lecture with on solar system studies. Now, I must admit, that we did not bring on board somebody like Kuiper or somebody else to prepare such a lecture. He could probably easily have done it, and I heard some lectures by Kuiper at that time, but we tried to put together the material ourselves, and I believe we had people form the laboratory giving the lectures.
Who else was working on this with you?
Well, nobody. It was basically my responsibility. I worked with people in the PIO office. We had some writers and people like that. But it was basically my job to assemble the material, and in the astronomy one, I think we did bring Jastrow in as a consultant in this area, but basically everything in this whole show was put together by peope at Lewis.
In looking for material to use in the solar system astronomy lecture, do you recall where you went for materials? Did you go to the journals? Did you look for textbooks? Did you go to Kuiper? Kuiper's "Moons and Planets" volume was just about to come out at that time. I'm not sure it had come out at that point.1
Yes, the only — what's the name of his book that was out at this time?
"Atmospheres of the Earth and Planets," Kuiper, Gerard P. & Barbara M. Middlehurst. (Eds.) "The Solar System" (in five volumes). "Volume III, Planets and Satellites" Chicago University Press, 1961.
I was going to say "The Earth and It's Atmosphere" and "The Atmospheres of Earth and Planets" had been out prior to that time, and there had been some work done with Tousey and Friedman in rocket flights.
Yes, there was some of this material, but really there was relatively little material that was available, other than well, in, let's say, a popular format. Now, you remember, my background in getting my Ph.D. was all in galactic structure and stellar astronomy, no planetary astronomy, none whatsoever in graduate school.
Was it available at all? At Case?
Some of these books were in the library, and of course all the journals were in the library.
But you had never considered planetary astronomy as a possible area of research in graduate school?
No. In fact, I don' think it would have been permitted. Certainly not at that observatory. There were only a couple of places in the country. You could have gone to Chicago under Kuiper. You could have gone to Yale under Wildt for theoretical work on planetary interiors. There was a little bit of course, Lowell Observatory was not doing any graduate degrees, still doesn't. There may have been a possibility at Cal Tech. But, at 1Kuiper, Gerard P. (Ed.) The Atmospheres of The Earth and Planets, papers presented at the 50th Anniversary Symposium of the Yerkes Observatory, Sept., 1947. Chicago Univ. Press, 1949, 1952, 1979. that time, it was very marginal.
Most of the people went into classical astronomy, The background for planetary studies was either through classical astronomy or through another field; either earth's atmosphere or geology. There was certainly some work on meteorites going on at that time, but very little around the country. Atmospheres were studied but it was mainly the earth's atmosphere. You would basically have to go to work with somebody like Rupert Wildt whose name you're familiar with, or Gerard Kuiper, or, I'm trying to think Dirk Browwar, Paul Herget on orbits of minor planets.
There were probably a half dozen to a dozen people in the country who if you knew about them and had an interest in that field, really strong interest, you might be able to go and work with them. But the chances of getting a graduate degree in what we call planetary sciences were negligible at that time. You had to get a degree in a more "legitimate" field, and then maybe be fortunate enough to work in that area. I think there was some planetary radio astronomy being done, Harlan Smith up at Yale was doing some work on Jupiter, but you really had to go around and find out.
There was not much available in the popular literature. When I said I went back there and started to prepare for this material, I went back to Lewis in June, and this exhibit was going to be going on in September, and I had to put together a couple of exhibits, so i didn't have a month to sit down and go through the literature. I had to put together what was available pretty quickly, and the people who were knowledgeable in the area of solar system studies were just not available to come down for two weeks time lecturing to high school students. So we basically had to put together a lecture which was given by people at Lewis on the subject and the materials had to be drawn from something that they could understand, so that would be basically popular literature.
And the popular literature at that time didn't say anything more than basically classical planetary astronomy, there are so many planets, we know this and about a few of them, but relatively little. So we put this together, and it came to my attention, by trying to get enough material to go into this lecture, that there really wasn't very much known. Now, you can say, did this turn you on to planetary studies? No, it did not. It was just an interesting insight that I had at that time.
In fact, we ended up by cancelling that lecture. We gave it for the first few times and the kids got so bored with it, that we gave up on the solar system lecture. We did continue the astronomy lecture, which they found quite interesting. I did have an exhibit on what we knew about the solar system. I remember the big spacecraft at that time was the OSO, Orbiting Soar Observatory, and we put together a big exhibit on the Orbitin Solar Observatory. And the thing I remember was that the public was so fascinated by star trackers or sun trackers. We had this full size model of the OSO there, with its sail on with the solar cells on it, and we used to take a bright light and shine it and people could see the sail —
Oh, you had a working star tracker?
We had a working model of the OSO. I think it was either the proof test model or something like that for the OSO. We had solar cells and a sun tracker on it, and it would follow a bright light. It absolutely amazed people that you could do something like this. Stuff we take for granted was so new at that time. This was 1962, and the whole space program was brand new. I remember one of the things that they had was this device that they use for trying to disorient the astronauts was this nausea cage that rotates in all three directions. They spin it up and the person inside tries to bring it to a halt.
I mean, Lewis went all out. They got things from all over the country for this exhibit, and there was no limitation on the cost involved. I did more travelling getting ready for that exhibit that I think I'd done the rest of the time I was working for NASA. It was quite an exhibit. I should take a look at it again it's very interesting to look back at the exhibits that they id have at that time. There was a complete photographic record kept of everything. You know, one of the things in my solar system exhibit was an actual exhibit of meteorites. Most people had never heard of meteorites because there was no interest.
There was no understanding of this type of thing at all. Well, of course, I just gloried in this job, this assignment. I was just floating throughout the whole thing, because I was interested in the public interaction and educating the public in these areas, seeing their eyes light up with wonderment at all this. Anyway, when that show was over, I went back to work at Lewis. I was working then on thermodynamics, heat transfer problems, with bodies at supersonic velocities.
So this is early '63. The exhibit is over.
The exhibit is over. I'm doing this aeronautical type of thing. My years are fusing together here, and I have to back off slightly. Let me approach it from a different time period. In 1964, the New York World's Fair opened in the summer of 1964. It ran through '64 and '65. NASA put on an exhibit at the New York World's Fair. I told you I had been working very very closely with the PIO office at Lewis. At the New york World's Fair in 1964 and '65, NASA had a big display, and I'm not quite sure of the reason, but for some reason, I was chosen to be the individual to spend the first month of the opening exhibit in June of 1964, to be the technical representative for NASA, at their exhibit.
Looking back at it, I do not understand why they would have chosen an individual from Lewis to be the technical rep at the opening of the New York World's Fair space exhibit. But they did, and I spent a month there. part of my job during that month was to train the college students that were hired by NASA to serve as guides for that exhibit for the two summers, and also to prepare a technical library for the exhibit, and basically to set up the system, so that technical questions by people attending the exhibit could be answered. We had all the NASA exhibit people down there. They took care of getting the physical exhibits in and things like than, but they didn't have anybody with a technical background, so part of my job was. If anybody of importance came and visited, I had to go with that individual, in addition to the exhibit director.
I would go around and answer any questions they had. I had to train the guides so that they were capable of answering simple questions from the public. It was an outdoor exhibit but at each exhibit panel, there was a little speaker system with a little microphone in it. We had a trailer in the back of the exhibit where we had a speaker, a switch panel, and a microphone. It was possible for people to ask questions at the exhibit itself. We probably had ten to fifteen of these distributed around the grounds. Now, the normal way it operated was that there would be maybe five guides at a time wandering around the exhibit and it somebody had a question they would ask the guide the question, and if he could answer it, he would answer it.
If he could not answer the question, he would then talk into the mike out in the exhibit and ask us the question, and we would answer the question and then the people could hear the answer. Being the technical representative, I was supposed to be there answering the questions, but I got bored with that, so most of the time I spent wandering around the exhibit, because I found (now I'm getting into just personal things here) the guides were hired to be guides but weren't very interested i the job, so al long as nobody asked then any questions they were very happy. They didn't generate any interest on behalf of the people. You know, people would come up and look and pass on the next panel, look and pass on to the next, look, or they'd just stand there.
That used to get me mad, so I'd go out there and start talking to the public. And of course, the moment you started to talk to them, they suddenly became very interested, and you'd get the people in the crowd listening about all these exciting things. Anyway, I enjoyed that very much. I helped set that up and I was there for the first month. While I was there, at the exhibit, I received a phone call from Dr. Urner Liddell, down at NASA headquarters, and Urner Liddell asked me if I would be interested in coming down to NASA headquarters to take over a program of planetary astronomy for the agency.
This is June, '64?
This is June of '64.
Had you been aware of the existence of NASA support to Kuiper's Lunar and Planetary Lab or any of —
No, I had not even been aware that NASA had a program in planetary astronomy. In fact, I knew nothing really about NASA's program in planetary exploration other than having read that we were going out to the planets and things like that. You know, I knew the names of the spacecraft but knew nothing about the management of it, knew nothing about the headquarters setup whatsoever. With one exception, and I will come back to that exception in a minute. I got this call from Urner Liddel, who said would I be interested in coming down to NASA headquarters, to run a program in planetary astronomy.
Now, at that time, back at Lewis, I was getting very discouraged because they were wanting me more and more to work in supersonic aerodymanics, not because of my expertise in the field, but they felt that it was inappropriate that they were supporting somebody to do astronomy because astronomy was not their area, and as a result of that I was not getting any promotions back at Lewis.
They didn't say, change or leave, but you know, it's like publish or perish. They were not interested in promoting you unless you were working in the areas that they were working in. And that handwriting had been on the wall. Now, about a year previous to that, Nancy Roman had tried to get me to come to NASA headquarters to work for her. So this would be in '63, right after I officially got my degree.
In what capacity? Not solar system astronomy?
No. Nancy was program chief for astronomy, and she was wanting some assistance, a staff scientist to work for her in the entire astronomy program.
What you need to do in this situation is to have an interview with somebody, let them leave for a short time, a day or so, then have another interview with them, because there are many things that somebody hasn't thought of for years, and the moment they think of them for a short while, they straighten things out in their minds, and then they can give you a much more meaningful interview.
I interviewed Nancy Roman twice, with about then days separating the two interviews, and we spent the first half hour of the second interview picking up loose threads from the first interview that she couldn't remember at that time.
That's right. One of the things I'm finding, for example, is that years back then in the early sixties are getting confusing. Was it '62 or '61, or something like that? If you haven't thought about it for a long time — some people can recall these things immediately, but other people can't. You can recall it if it has a date that has some significance to you, but just trying to recall things in sequence is sometimes more difficult, and it would be a major advantage to sort of have a discussion, and then let somebody think about things for a day, and then go back and do an interview. Or else say in advance of the interview, what I really want to cover in this interview is this time period and this part of your background, so that people would have a chance to maybe look up an old record. You know, it's the same thing. You look through the chron files, it brings something to your mind that you might want to discuss in an interview, but the interviewee is not having the same advantage.
Right. As a matter of fact, I did bring along some materials. In fact those three notebooks came from Ray Newburn. I've got some other materials here that relate to a series of questions that I wanted to ask you about your tenure on the astronomy subcommittee.
Well, that's what I was going back to talk about here.
Maybe it would be better if we started form the beginning of your sitting on the astronomy subcommittee and worked our way up.
That's what I wanted to go back to do, and to say that shortly after NASA was organized, a space science steering committee setup was developed, with various discipline subcommittees. Nancy Roman was employed at NASA headquarter to be chief of astronomy programs, and at that time that included solar physics and planetary. It included all astronomy, everything in astronomy. When they originally set up these subcommittees, the way that they were established is that the chairman recommended or appointed a number of members from the university community to serve on the subcommittee, but in addition there was to be a representative from each of the NASA centers. I was at Lewis. This was an astronomy subcommittee.
I was Lewis's only astronomer, so the natural thing was to appoint me as the Lewis representative to the astronomy subcommittee that Nancy Roman chaired., That was my first connection with Nancy Roman. I had never known her before, although I had known of her. She had been given an appointment one summer to spend the summer at Case. I don' think it worked out, but anyhow I had heard of her, and besides, women were not that common in astronomy that you didn't know of most women who were in the area.
You then had heard of her before her association with NASA?
No, let's say the first time that I knew Nancy was the association with the subcommittee at NASA. In personal discussions thereafter, I realized that I had run across her name previously in connection with the possibility that she might have come down to work in Cleveland, for, I guess it was a summer, or something like that, but I didn't know her until the time of the subcommittee. Anyway, I was the Lewis representative on the subcommittee, and I remained the Lewis representative on the subcommittee for the entire time period from '58 through I guess it was '64, because Lewis had no other astronomer. That's where I met Nancy Roman.
Nancy knew that back at Lewis there was no astronomy being done. Nancy needed some assistance down here at headquarters, and so she asked me in 1963 if I would be interested in a job here at NASA headquarters. I was not overly happy with my position back at Lewis, where science was not considered a legitimate activity and there were no other scientists around, so I had seriously considered coming down here. However, my wife did not want to leave Cleveland. And so I decided to remain at Lewis. And so I turned Nancy's offer down. Then in 1964, when I was at the World's Fair, and my marriage had been disintegrating, (we had no children), my marriage had been falling apart.
I was offered the position to come down to headquarters to run the planetary astronomy program, which at that time had been separated off from Nancy Roman's program, for a reason that I don't need to go into right at the moment. So I looked at this possibility much more favorably than I had looked at working for Nancy Roman. I agreed to come down to NASA headquarters to talk to Urner Liddel and some of the other people about the position, but I was more favorably inclined to the position.
Now, there were a couple of aspects to it. One of them is that I was feeling more and more out of place at Lewis. The marriage was disintegrating, so that my wife's desire to stay in Cleveland was not that strong a force in my decision making. And also the position they were offering me at NASA headquarters would be basically equivalent to Nancy Roman's position. Rather than just working for her, I'd be working in a parallel position, but in another division. So I came down and discussed it with the people at NASA headquarters, in something like the later part of June, the first part of July.
With whom did you discuss it?
Coming down to take the position? I discussed it with Urner Liddel, who was the man who had called me. By the way, I'd never heard of Uner Liddel in my life before that time. He called me so I came down and discussed it with him. He had me talk with several people, one of whom was Bob Fellows, who was head of the planetary atmospheres program at that time, and Oran Nicks, who was the division director at that time.
Lunar and planetary programs, this was a division?
Yes, lunar and planetary division.
Urner Liddel was staff scientist?
No, he was deputy director and chief scientist. Oran Nicks was the director.
And Fellows was?
He was program chief for planetary atmospheres. The position that they were asking me to consider was officially called staff scientist for planetary astronomy. The position of program chief for planetary astronomy was open. It had been previously occupied temporarily by a fellow by the name of Ronald Schorn, who was a detailed from JPL. And before Schorn had been there, a fellow by the name of Roger Moore who later went out to work at the RAND Corporation.
Moore had occupied the position before Schorn of, not program chief? Or was he program chief?
Of planetary astronomy. But my memory — my memory hasn't anything to do with it — my knowledge of what happened specifically prior to that is lacking. I didn't myself go back into the history of it. I wasn't that interested in the history of the personnel in that office. The situation was that when I came down and took over that job, Ron Schorn had already gone back to JPL for at least one month, possibly tow months. Ron Schorn had been brought on detail from JPL to NASA headquarters because Urner Liddel had been dissatisfied with Rober Moore, and I believe he brough Ron Schorn in there to be Roger Moore's boss, so Moore quit and went to RAND.
Now, whether they had had prior to that time an official program in planetary astronomy, whether planetary astronomy had been in that division under some other heading, or under somebody else's responsibility, I do not know. But I do know that when I came down there in July and August of 1964, that there was a planetary astronomy program, that I was hired as staff scientist for planetary astronomy; and that there was no program chief for that discipline.
Bob Fellows was there as the program chief for planetary atmospheres, and he had come down from a program called physics and astronomy, which he had worked with Nancy Roman for a while. There was originally a division called physics and astronomy, and physics and astronomy had included astronomy, physics, reorganization some time before I was there, they had brought some of these programs down to the planetary programs office or division.
The spring of '64 there was a reorganization within what at that time was Code SL. And there had been actually a transfer of some programs from astronomy over to lunar and planetary programs, and actually the transfer of a program or two from lunar and planetary over into astronomy. I've seen some materials on that.
I was unaware of the politics of this, but Bob Fellows and the atmospheres program had been in physics and astronomy and had come down to lunar and planetary programs. And I believe at that time or shortly before that time was when planetary astronomy broke off from the regular astronomy program. The reason for that is, it was felt that Nancy Roman was not giving the emphasis to planetary flight missions, that they really needed to support the planetary flight missions, that they really needed a person in house in the lunar and planetary division, with specific interest in astronomical objects in the solar system, to provide them with the data they needed to support the planetary missions. And as far as I know, Robert Moore was the first individual with that responsibility, and I don't know what his official title was.
He was already gone by the time you got there?
Everybody was gone by the time I got there.
By the time you got there, Moore was gone?
And Schorn was gone, too.
Schorn was gone, okay.
As I understand it, and this is just hearsay, heard from other individuals, Liddel and Moore never got along together. And so Liddel brought Schorn in to be Moore's boss and Moore left and went to RAND, and then Schorn went back — I think Schorn may have been there for a year, but anyway and went back to JPL, and that office had actually been empty for a month or two months before I arrived on the scene. There had been nobody. In fact, the correspondence had been piling up, and when I took over the job, I had this pile of correspondence. The desk was just piled high with things, because nobody had handled that job whatsoever before I got there.
What was Moore's background, did you ever know?
I know nothing about Rober Moore. I don't think I've ever met him. I think maybe somebody said, "That's Robert Moore," and pointed at him across the room once, but I can never remember being introduced to him. I wouldn't know him.
Had you any contact with Homer Newell by this time, at this point? This is all going on...
— below that level.
— below that level. One of the reasons I wanted to bring up the astronomy subcommittee, in addition to the fact that you were on it as the Lewis representative, was because the records and minutes that I've looked at and some of the other discussions that I've conducted with people seem to show a campaign to get Nancy Roman to take the need for planetary astronomy seriously, a campaign especially conducted by Ray Newburn, who appears over and over again in the minutes saying that this is a necessary program. Discussion of it keeps getting postponed. And since you were at those meetings, I was wondering if you remembered anything of that at all.
No, I don't. When you say, had I had any interaction with Homer Newell, I would say yes. He probably came to some of the subcommittee meetings. Certainly at some of the receptions and things that we went to. Back in those days, NASA was well off. People were looking for funding and as a result of this, people associated with advisory groups were reasonably well treated. What I mean by that is, that you'd go to a meeting, let's say at JPL, and they'd say, "Oh, we're going to have a little get together after the meeting's over, somebody's invited us over to their house for an informal discussion, cocktails,"— things like that. So there was a lot more of that social type of activity.
That's all disappeared. Now when you go out to JPL, they say, "See you in the morning," you know, because the funding is so limited that the sales campaigns have been reduced significantly in size. Now only Ray Newburn but there were a number of advisory groups around this same time that were saying, "You know, you really can't go out with spacecraft and explore the solar system, we really don't have enough information about it. You've really got to do your homework." Kuiper, but many other people were very very loud, and I think Ray Newburn was in some way parroting these concern. And I've run into these concerns in the literature back then that say — you know, in the early literature on the planetary exploration program — that say, "It's ridiculous to say you’re going to send something to the moon; you don't know anything about the moon. You've really got to do a lot of work from the ground before you can do that.
And if there isn't a lot of work from that ground, it can't be done." So Homer Newell, Oran Nicks, people like that were becoming much more interested in trying to bring us up to speed on what we could do from the earth, using classical methods of astronomy, for the solar system. I think, and again this is just hypothesizing in my own mind, that they were unable to convince Nancy Roman, to the extent they wanted, of the importance of this . Nancy Roman's thoughts throughout this entire time had been in the area of astrophysics work, outside the solar system, and in fact Nancy Roman and I had a discussion on this point, after I came down to work at NASA headquarters, in which she said, and I agreed with her, that while there was a lot to be done in the area of planetary at the moment, that the future, ten years from that time — and we're now talking about the '64 time period — ten years from that time, the real thrust in science was going to e in the astrophysics area. We were going to know everything we could know about the planets from ground-based astronomy.
I admit that I was forced to agree with her at that time. I remained a member of the subcommittee even after I came on board at NASA. And in fact, I'm still vice chairman of the astronomy management operations working groups. I don't go to all their meetings but I'm officially vice chairman of it. Anyway, the discussion, as I said, took place with Bob Fellows and Oran Nicks, and I was interested in the job. I was interested because I wanted to get away from Lewis. I wanted a change of scenery. I was really wanted to get back into astronomy.
I felt that in this particular position, where I was basically my own boss, I was going to be able to do more things than I would just working as an assistant to Nancy Roman. Also I felt a need for a change of environment personally as well as professionally. So I accepted the job, and agreed to come to work on the 1st of August, 1964. That particular decision I would say basically terminated my marriage but my wife did come down here in the fall of '64 and we lived together until '67. But it was basically terminated.
I came down here, and my first day, Urner Liddel gave to me a stack of meteria, so think, 3/8 of an inch or so, and said, "This is the planetary astronomy program at this time. What do you think of it?" I went back and sat down at a desk for 20 minutes or so, leafed through these pieces of paper. I must admit that I did not understand 90 percent of what I say. I was not familiar with the names in the program.
The names of the people?
The names of the people who were being supported in the program. And didn't really understand a great deal about the research. But his question to me was, "Do you think this is an appropriate distribution of the funding in this program?" I went back and said, "It looks fine." He said, "Do you want the job?" I took the job, and started my education in planetary studies at that time.
At that time, negotiations had been under way with Texas for the upgrade of the 82-inch and also for the new 84-inch, later to become 107-inch. Kuiper was being supported for the 61-inch.
Well, there were a number of things under way at that time that I inherited. As far as facilities go, we had the following situation: There was a grant out for the upgrade of the 82-inch. There was a contract I believe out for the 84-inch at Texas. There was a grant or a contract to Kuiper for the 61-inch, and the 61-inch was fairly far along. The 40-inch for Yale was just about completed or just about completely installed. There were some negotiations under way with Cal Tech about building a telescope for planetary use out there, this is the 60-inch telescope.
There was a grant under negotiation to build a telescope in New Zealand. I think it was Mount John. Small planetary telescope. There were a number of people being supported to do research. Rupert Wildt had a grant. Paul Herget had a grant. Kuiper had a research grant. I think Bruce Murray was being supported at Cal Tech but under a different program. That was under the infra-red. There was an umbrella grant there, but Murray and, I think, Neugebauer were going to put a telescope on White Mountain, a 24-inch telescope, which they did eventually, then brought it down again, but they put it up there, and I think that grant was in existence, or that program was in existence at that time, but it was being supported under geology or whatever that program was at that time. There was an individual, I'm trying to remember it it was Bob Bryson, I think Bob Bryson was there at that time, but I'd have to look back.
There were so many changes in the geological and the lunar program area that I can't remember specifically who was there at that time. I'd have to look at the old records. Well, let's see. Urner Lidell ran the geology program, and I think Bob Bryson was there working for Urner. Now, one thing I should state here is, I came in as staff scientist for planetary astronomy. There was no program chief. The reason that I came in as staff scientist was twofold. One, they didn't want to make anybody program chief until they had had some experience and they had had a chance to see the individual and know who he was and what he was doing. But it was also considered that various titles had various government service ratings associated with them, and NASA had argued that to be a program chief, it was necessary to employ somebody at the GS-15 level.
I was a GS-13 at Lewis. I had been a 13 for about four years or so. I was unable to get a promotion at Lewis because they said, "Look, you're spending all your time working in astronomy. We don't hire astronomers. If you want to work on wind tunnels, things like that, that's fine, we'll consider you for promotion, but we don't consider you for a promotion. And going from a 13 to a 15 was fairly high level promotion in the government at that time.
But program chiefs were considered to be a very high level management position, so they were 15s, so when I came to Washington I took a lateral as a 13. I was not in position high enough to take the program chief's job until I became a 15, so I became a staff scientist and remained a staff scientist for a couple of years.
But your duties and activities didn't change.
My responsibilities — nobody else was there. There was no program chief. I think that Bob Fellows was the acting program chief or whatever, but he never did anything in that program. Anyway, until I became a GS-15, I was not given the title of program chief, although there was never a program chief in that area. There were probably about 15 programs under planetary astronomy heading at that time.
Some were facilities construction. Some were research programs. And it took me a while to familiarize myself enough with two things, both what was going on in the programs and — oh, Clyde Tombaugh was also being supported at that time. You know who Clyde Tombaugh was. He was doing photographic imaging of planets with a telescope he'd built in his back yard. Tatarweicz: Was it a 16- or 24-inch that he and Brad Smith —
No, it was before the Brad Smith telescope. It was a 16-inch, I believe, and it was located down in Las Cruces, New Mexico, right in the center of town. But nobody else was taking pictures of planets, with the exception of Kuiper who was taking pictures and wanted the 61-inch to take pictures of planets. It was nominally a 60-inch telescope. So I spent some time getting myself up to speed, both on the subject of planetary astronomy, and on the grands that we had out at that time.
This was in August, and by the time the next program review came around, which was May of the next year, I was well up on everything and was able to go through the review. Then I started changing grants around and things like this, started picking up new people, started discontinuing slowly some of the grants that we'd had. One of my first actions was to discontinue the negotiations on this grant for the telescope in New Zealand, and I've always had a personal bit of doubt in my mind, you know, as to whether I had made the wisest decision in the world there or not. I don't think that I made an incorrect decision; but on the other hand, I've often wondered what would have happened if we'd had a telescope in New Zealand.
That was to have been a pretty substantial piece of equipment, this I recall.
It wasn't a terribly large one. Then we were getting into the arguments of whether you do a better planetary job on a 24-inch telescope or a 16-inch telescope or a 100-inch telescope, this type of thing. Almost immediately when I came on board I got involved in these decision like: Harlan Smith wanted to go from his 84-inch to a larger telescope, that's a story on its own. Very shortly after I got there, in fact, the '65 time period, we started negotiating with Jefferies for a telescope. Because at that time, Kuiper had already put a small telescope over on Mauna Kea. Alika Herring was his observer over there, and this small telescope was on tope of Mauna Kea.
He was using it for site testing purposes. That was basically the status of the program. There were also large requests from the flight programs that they needed material in order to design spacecraft. One of the concerns very shortly after I got there was what the surface pressure on Mars actually was. They were talking about an entry vehicle into the Mars atmosphere, and what are you going to need to land it? Can you use a parachute, land it with friction drag, or you know, what type of environment are you going to be in?
There was also some question about the legitimacy of NASA getting into extensive support of ground-based astronomy, particularly building observatories and facilities.
Was there any friction with the NSF at that point? Or would that have been going on above your head?
There was no friction with the NSF. There was serious concern within NASA itself as to whether it was appropriate for us to be pursuing the construction of astronomical facilities. That's where the real point came up. It was not so much the area of supporting ground-based research, because at that time we did have a definite, and we still do, legitimate requirement for ground-based observations. The question was, whether or not it was appropriate for NASA to be building major facilities.
Which would be didicated in part to solar system study?
—which would be used in part for soar system studies, yes? It was thought by many people in NASA, and I believe also by the NSF, that they (NSF) were the organization that should be doing this, and also by OMB or Bureau of Budget at that time. And there were some questions on the Hill. And there was a policy statement prepared, and Homer Newell was on the NASA side with that statement, and, by the way it's a policy we still go with. NASA would not build any ground-based astronomical facilities, unless we had a specific requirement for such facilities. And then we would build them to satisfy our requirements. We have followed this up to the present time. Now, that doesn't mean that we need 100 percent of the time on those facilities for our own use, but they provide us with a capability that we have to have and that is not available elsewhere.
Newell once wrote in a memorandum, Homer Newlll to Administrator James Fletcher, October 28, 1971, "OSSA Astronomy Program," National Archives Record Group 255, Accession 79-0649, Box 25. That in the earlier years of NASA, around '60 and '61, Dryden was against NASA supporting the construction of telescopes, and that after Webb had taken over, Webb took some convincing, but there were questions raised with Bureau of the Budge and so forth, especially along the same lines of concern that you just mentioned. And he mentions that at one point - now I get to another reference, which is Jesse Greenstein's article in SKY AND TELESCOPE last fall, the Sputnik anniversary issues they had in November, in which Greenstein says that the question of whether or not NASA should support ground-based astronomy, that Webb took the arguments to President Johnson, but without success. Greenstein, Jessie, "Perspectives on Space Astronomy," Sky &Tel. (October 1982): 317-319. A very cryptic reference, and I was wondering if you knew anything about that, or had heard anything about that?
When you arrived, were you brought in to consult on the whole policy question, the whole business with Bureau of the Budget?
No. When I arrived, there were telescopes under construction. It was strongly suggested by both Urner Liddel and Oran Nickds that we continue this. We were specifically, at the encouragement of Kuiper, looking at the possibility of building a telescope for planetary purposes in Hawaii. We were thinking of establishing some patrol network of telescopes. Your question never came up in my day-to-day running of the program. Now, if it had come up at the level of Oran Nicks or Urner Liddel, I was not involved with it and they never mentioned it to me specifically. It did come up later, and this position paper was written later, and I was aware then of the concern. There wee other concerns that we had, one of whether or not the telescope was a facility or was it an instrument? We went around and around and around on that one. If a telescope were considered a facility, then it had to come out of the facility budget that NASA head, or out of the authorization that we had for facilities.
And they had the university programs, facility programs.
It had to come out of there. And it would be treated in a particular way. If you considered a telescope was an instrument and only an instrument, then it could be handled under the regular R and A program (Research and Analysis), without going through any of the additional justifications that a facility required. It did not have to have the university agree to accepting it as their facility. Now when I say their facility, the university facility program was set up, it basically said: Look, we do want to establish facilities to assist you in the involvement in the space program, but we're going to limit it to one facility per university, until we've satisfied everybody, then maybe a second one if we're still in business. Well, if you look at the telescope as a facility, then that would eliminate the possibility of your getting a building as a facility.
Is this the origin then of the policy that NASA would provide the telescope but the university had to provide the pier, the building, and the dome?
Yes. That first came up with Cal Tech, and we agreed to build a telescope there as a facility — we would pay for the whole thing, building and everything else — but then Cal Tech would have to accept that as their NASA-sponsored facility. Cal Tech didn't want that. They didn't want a telescope to use for planetary programs rather than a building down on campus, you see. And so they reneged on the agreement; and I think that happened just before I came on board. So we could do the telescopes as instruments, provided that we stayed away clearly from brick and mortar.
Now, that's the way we built the 107-inch telescope. That's the way we built the 61-inch telescope at Arizona, Kuiper's telescope. That's the way we built the 88-inch telescope in Hawaii. We built them strictly as a research instrument, and all the bricks and mortar, the building, the piers, the dome even — we had a big fight on the dome — everything had to be, the funds had to be raised some place else other than NASA. We just contributed the telescope that sat in the building. The reason the dome became a problem is they said, no, the dome is really part of the instrument because the dome has to rotate, so you can look out through the slit, you've got to make the argument for it being part of the instrument.
The argument that it's part of the building is, no, the dome is a rain cover, and if we didn't build the dome there, the building wouldn't be finished, you wouldn't have a roof on it, the roof of the building the fact that it rotates is immaterial, it's still the roof of the building and therefore it's part of the facility. And finally we gave up on paying for the dome as part of the instrument at any of the places.
I do not remember whether this was part of the argument when Kuiper bought the 60-inch telescope, which turned out to be 61. I don't know whether this discussion had come up at that point or not, or whether he said, "Look, I'm able to raise the money for the building, all I'm looking for is money for the telescope," because that happened before I was there and I don't remember seeing anything about that in the files at that time. But I knew it did come up in the case of the 82-inch telescope for Texas and certainly for Hawaii and for the other instrument telescopes that we've built. In the case of the IRTF (InfraRed Telescope Facility), of course, that's a NASA facility. It was build as a facility, and we paid for every penny of everything, the bricks and the mortar, and that is NASA's only telescopic facility. It's the only one that belongs to us.
I see, so NASA owns title to the whole thing?
Yes. We even have title to the land on which it sits.
I was wondering about a couple of things. One, two memoranda for the files that you wrote very shortly after you came into the position. Staff Scientists, Planetary Astronomy, William E. Brunk to the Files, 15 September 1964, in chronological files of William E. Brunk, NASA. Revised version, September 17, 1964. And a memo here from Newell to Seamans, which is October 2, '64, which is, 'need for a large telescope,' Homer Newell to Associate Administrator Robert Seamans, 2 October 1964, "Planetary Astronomy-The Critical Need for Telescopes." National Archives Record Group 255, Accession 67A601, Box 7. It carries that title. And I was wondering if you could recall what the context was for those?
Well, here we have October 2, 15th of September, 17th of September. I would take it that the first one's a draft for the second one. The argument sounds very familiar. The basic arguments for all of this program haven't changed since '64. The first memo here was a justification that I prepared shortly after I was on board to pursue the possibility of getting the 60-inch telescope at Cal Tech. It was after this that Cal Tech said, "No, we would rather have a building on campus," in effect. Now the pressure on this was from JPL. JPL wanted a large planetary telescope for their use. At that time there was not a great deal of interest in planetary studies, planetary astronomy at Cal Tech. The people at JPL were the people who wanted to do the planetary studies. That's Ray Newburn and the group there.
The people at JPL had been trying to get observing time on the Cal Tech telescopes.
On any telescope. Planetary astronomers found it almost impossible to get telescope time on any sizeable telescope, because planetary astronomy was not considered a legitimate area of classical astronomy. And not only that but there was also a problem involving the individuals who were requesting the time. JPL went out and hired a number of people like Ray Newburn and others who were not card-carrying members of the astronomical community. Ray Newburn does not even today have his Ph.D. The level, the scientific level of the personnel at JPL was considered too low by most of the university to consider giving them telescope time. JPL had hired people who were enthusiastic about planetary studies and doing planetary astronomy, but were not well recognized or even accepted by the astronomical community.
Somebody like Charles Capen, for instance. Certainly somebody like Chick Capen who was an amateur astronomer, basically still is. Somebody like Ray Newburn who couldn't get through his degree, and other similar individuals, and not many of them, maybe four of them or so on. But when these people went to a place like Cal Tech and said, "I want telescope time on your bigger telescopes to look at the planets," they laughed at them. Not only were planets not important to need to be looked at, but we were being asked by a number of junior people to give up our valuable telescope time! So they felt, if they had their own telescope, it would be easier to get the time. Now, eventually we did build a telescope for JPL but it was only a 24-inch telescope.
This was written by Urner Liddel. It was probably written by me but it went through Urner Liddel. Yeah, Martian atmosphere was critical at that time. I can see where I should have kept a lot of my old records. But you know, they came in and said, "We're moving and you can't —." They're doing the same thing now. We don't have space so they're just getting rid of tons of stuff, making room —
Making room for the new space telescope? Over there?
No, it's just that I understand they've been told that they have to cut down on the amount of office space. I'm beginning to wonder if I don't have some records that you might be interested in, that were not in my file cabinet. Let's see, '64 — they're talking about the '73 opportunity. Okay, 84-inch. My mind is working as I'm reading this.
Sure, take your time.
Okay, this memo was written by Urner Liddel because it refers to things that I was not aware of. But apparently this question had come up at this time, and apparently was satisfactorily resolved, because we did go ahead and build a couple of other telescopes. Now, I think that it may have come up — since these are all around the time that the negotiations were going on with Cal Tech for a telescope — this may have come up because of the involvement at Cal Tech, that the Cal Tech administration may have been in contact with upper NASA management about this telescope there. My memory is that the Cal Tech administration was not all that strong behind the idea of the telescope. See, the telescope was being pushed by JPL. It was the JPL astronomers that wanted the telescope, not the Cal Tech astronomers.
So even though it would have been sited at Cal Tech, this 60-inch that was under discussion would have been primarily for the use of the JPL people?
Was there any thought of putting it at the Table Mountain site?
So Cal Tech was not all that enthusiastic about the 60-inch planetary telescope, but the JPL optical astronomy group really wanted it. It looked to me like, on that particular memo, "Critical Need for Telescopes," that Newell had to justify something to Seamans, for some purpose or another, and I wasn't able to dig up any other associated correspondence.
It's hard to tell. The memo doesn't end the way I anticipated it would end. I think what may have been the case here is the following: any contract that goes out above a certain dollar level has to have the administrator's signature on it. And all the telescope we built, we had to go up and get the administrator's signature before the contract can go out, because of its total estimated cost is over a mission dollars — or maybe five million dollars now, but it was probably a million dollars for a long time — and the administrator, of course, wants to know why you want to spend this money.
And very possibly the associate administrator, who would have been, well, at that time it would have been Dryden, the associate administrator may have got this paperwork going up to him and said, "Hey, wait a second, why are we, in the space business, building a telescope?" And he may have asked Homer Newell for this, and Homer Newll said to Urner Liddel, "Look, put together a memo on why we need telescopes in the first place, and what are we doing about this?" So it's not just a memo answering the need for telescopes, but what is our present status, what are our plans in this area?
He starts out asking about the need for the telescope and he ends up talking about basically plans, you know, who has proposed, what is the situation today, what are we thinking of doing here? Where is he were just asked to answer the question of, why telescopes? He would not have ended the memo the way he did. At least I don't think he would have. It looks like, in preparing this memo, I had this memo.
That's why I had those together. I kind of suspected that.
And that Urner Liddel took the material from my one and put it into this along with some other things, because he must have written this because some of the information given at the end here I wasn't that familiar with, I don't remember, and since I didn't remember, I probably wasn't heavily involved in this. They Hynik telescope down in New Mexico, I know we ended up by giving telescopes but that's not what they're talking about here.
What they're talking about there was a joint Northwestern-New Mexico state proposal for something in the neighborhood of 120-inches.
Yes, and I'm not aware of the details on that, so apparently it never developed significantly enough so that I got myself involved.
Since it was mentioned in here, there was one other thing I wanted to talk you about, and that is the Cloudcroft facility, that apparently John Salisbury and some people form Air Force Cambridge Research Lab wanted to establish. Were you aware of that?
No, not for planetary purposes. Cloudcroft, of course, does exist, and it was done, but I was never involved with it.
What is the status of Coudcroft now? What have they got there? It's north of (Sacramento Peak) Sac Peak.
I really do not know. It would be misleading of me to indicate I do know anything about it. I don't. Sac Peak, of course, is part of the NAF observatories under AURA.
Right, it's been taken over from Air Force Cambridge. Did you ever have much contact with John Salisbury?
Yes. He was using a telescope up in Cambridge, outside of Cambridge, and they were doing lunar studies with it, and I'm trying to remember right now, in fact I think we funded it at one time for a short while, and he was doing, as I remember, surface material studies of the moon. But it was a minor program. And I think most of it was being done through other programs. There are some astronomy programs that have been run through other disciplines in the planetary office. To give you an example, there have been some studies of the composition of the lunar surface done by Tom McCord over in Hawaii, that were for a long time supported out of the geochemistry program, because although the technique used to obtain the observations is astronomical, the analysis of the data is more geochemical, and what they're comparing are the geochemistry of this part of the moon with respect to another part of the moon.
That is typical of a type of program that presented use with some difficulties for a while. If you put all the astronomical observations under discipline, should that discipline then be responsible for the data analysis of those observations when the data analysis of those observations is very clearly under another discipline or in the area of another discipline. The way it was finally resolved about five years ago was: these individuals either put in two proposals, one to make the observations, one to reduce the observations, or we split the funding on the single proposal into making the observations and reducing the observations. The question was of more than moot interest, because the dollar value of making the reductions was many many times the dollar value of making the observations. The observations were relatively easy to make and routine. The reductions were time consuming and were where the real research was being done.
But you weren't aware of Salisbury's or Air Force Cambridge Lab's apparent needs for a dedicated planetary telescope? Or their desire for one?
I was not aware of their desire for one. That was prior to my coming there. That must have occurred in the '63 and the '64 time period.
Yes, there was a site survey which Tombaugh and Brad Smith were in on. Charles Capen made a lot of the observations for that survey, and it kind of dragged on from about '61 until about '64, when that seemed to be about the end of it.
Yes. You see, many of these things probably terminated just as I was going on board, and I did not get involved in the details. There were no records of the details of this type of thing. And so I was not aware of some of the stuff that was going on. Urner Liddel never educated me in these areas. They just happened.
basically you came in, were given this stack of metierals to look at which were the existing—
...which were the existing contacts at that time, or the existing paperwork associated with the contracts. It had no history. And we basically took it from there forward, not there back.
now, there were certain things where we did go back, but that was mainly on those projects that were already approved and under way. I had to go back and find out just what it was that we had agreed to originally, because that had an effect on what we did from that time on. But for things that basically had been concluded, there was no attempt to keep a history of this stuff. Unsuccessful attempts at getting NASA to support a telescope were not listed any place.
This would probably be a good place to end this session, if that's all right with you?
Yes, okay, that's fine.
Okay, good, we can — next time we get together, whenever that is — we can pick up from here.
Yes. Unfortunately, there was a lot of material that's no longer there on these things. And the difficulty that I have run into for years on this is that the level of activity is sufficiently high, the people involved in it don't have the time to go back and summarize, they don't have the time to go back and look through and clean out the records. You know, just the matter of going back to a file and keeping this because it has historical importance, and throwing out another document because it was a draft or something, is very difficult to do. We just don't have the time to do it.
We don't have the time to do it. We don't have the time to record things as they should be. We just continually run from one exercise to another one, and I think that that has been a problem introduced by the lack of sufficient number of personnel. But I guess this is quite typical of many places where they just keep adding more and more file cabinets — which many people did for a long time, and then they come through and say, "We're going to have a big drive in the government to reduce the number of storage thing," and then somebody comes in and says, "You've got a week to clean out five file cabinets," plus do your regular job. You don't have any time to sit down and go through and say, "This is important, that is important."
I notice myself, for a long time I kept in my file the original files for the 88-inch telescope contracts and negotiations and the 107-inch contracts and negotiations, and there was a thing on the file cabinet that said, "These are never to be retired. These are to be kept." Okay. Well, when I went to check on those files the other day, for a reason other than this, I discovered that they had been tossed.
They had been just destroyed, thrown out?
As far as I know. They're either in record storage, I've got to check on that, or they're tossed. But the difficulty I'm having at the moment is that I have no secretary, I don't even know where to look for the records of what's in storage to find out whether the files are there or not. Now, I kept them, not for historical reasons, but I kept them because I need to know at times what agreements were actually reached at the time that these telescopes were put into place. Because that may come up as a questions.
Now, I understand that the official records may be kept, the contract records. I don't know how long they keep those, but there is correspondence and there are memos and other things in the official files simply have the proposal, the paperwork that went along with it, the progress reports, and maybe the negotiation memos, things like that. But if the person building a telescope sent me an informal progress report or a letter raising a problem or something else, that's in my files, that's not in the official files.
For someone like me, for an historian, drafts of letters, informal notes, things scribbled on the back of a matchbook or something like that can very often be just as important as final reports.
Oh, sure, because a draft is never prepared unless you're going to need a draft for something. you don't just sit around writing drafts to keep occupying your time.