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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Thor Bergstralh by David DeVorkin on 1983 August 1,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Concentrates on Bergstrahl's work at NRL (1946-56), principally as an experiment integrator for rocket flights, with additional coverage of his later work at Ford Aeroneutronics and Aerospace Corporation. Besides discussing the procedures and problems of integrating experiments, Bergstrahl relates his work at NRL on early attempts at high altitude photography, on rocket impact point prediction systems, and on cosmic ray balloon research. The discussion of his years (1956-62) at Ford Aeroneutronics examines his work on lunar and planetary studies, including work on the Ranger Hard Lander.
This is an interview with Mr. Thor Bergstralh. When and where were you born, and who were your parents?
I was born in a very small town in Minnesota called Grasston which is in east central Minnesota, and my parents were Carl L. Bergstralh and my mother was Augusta Bergstralh. My father was a blacksmith, an immigrant from Sweden from the Malmo region, which is at the very southern tip of Sweden. He came over when he was about 19 years old, with the trade of blacksmith.
My mother was also born in Sweden but she came here as about a one year old child with her parents. When I was about one year old we moved to North Branch which is about 45 miles north of St. Paul, on the Duluth highway, and that's where I grew up and went to grade school and high school.
Did you go through public schools?
Were you an only child?
No. There were six of us. I was the second of six.
Did you have brothers or sisters that went on to college also?
One brother who went on to college. The others did not. He went on to college after the war. He was a Marine and went to college on the GI Bill. I got into college in a peculiar way, having graduated from high school in '32 when things were extremely difficult. I worked around and finally wound up in the Civilian Conservation Corps. In the fall of 1936, the president of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, Dr. Donald J. Cowling, offered to take one of the CCC boys and sponsor him, in a sense, at the college, if the CCC would pick him out. They actually selected about six of us, and then Dr. Cowling was to make the final selection, and he picked two, and so the two of us went down to Carleton, and as a matter of fact we both were able to stay there and graduate in good shape. So that's how we got to college, in spite of the financial condition.
So prior to that you really had no idea that you were going to go to college?
When I was in high school I had hopes. But as I say, with the economic conditions following '32 and, of course, the Bank Holiday, all monies that were available were all tied up, so there wasn't any real possibility of doing anything at that time.
What did you want to do? What did you get interested in in high school?
Well, frankly, when I was in high school I wanted to study law. Then I'm afraid the four years had intervened, and I'll admit that it was in college that I became interested in physics. Since we were required to take sciences, the first science I took was physics, and it turned out to be more interesting than it had been in high school, by quite a bit.
Was there a particular teacher that you liked?
Oh yes. Dr. Culver was the teacher, and while he was a bit of a Puritan, he was also a very good teacher, and I enjoyed what went on. Then through the four years that I was there taking other courses, there were other instructors who were, as I say, quite interesting. So it came around to the fact that I decided I would major in physics, probably with no good idea of what I could do afterwards, because physics at that time was not exactly a commercial type of major.
Did you take any astronomy while you were there? Carleton had a little observatory.
No, I did not, but they did have an observatory, as a matter of fact. Also what was at that time POPULAR ASTRONOMY was published there.
Dr. Gingrich was at the observatory, and Dr. Fath was a specialist on variable stars, so we knew about variable stars, even though we didn't study astronomy. The college was small; there were about 800 students. So there was a certain amount of information you picked up by osmosis, even though you didn't take the courses.
That's right. Let me back up a little bit and ask you about possible influence that your father had on you. Since he was a blacksmith and worked with metal and did things mechanical, so to speak, did you gain a facility? Did you early on help him out in the shop?
Not a great deal in the shop. I did help him more, later when he was shoeing horses, etc. It turned out that in the later years, when I was 14, 15, 16, the situation had changed, and farmers no longer brought their horses into town for trimming their feet and shoeing them, if they were needed, and they did not need shoes as much because they didn't use them on the highways the way they had before. But I would go out and help him then because it was quite often necessary to restrain the horses. They were not accustomed to having their feet picked up or anything like that, since, unlike people who ride horses, the farmers did not do much petting around with their horses, picking up their feet and doing things like that.
So it was necessary to restrain them, and I'd give him help that way. I did help him some, as my brothers did, in the shop, with some work if it needed two people to be able to hold something, or a piece was too big or something like that. But my father was never anxious for us to follow him—in fact he was quite anxious that we do not follow him—in the trade of blacksmithing, and of course it was understandable, because that was a trade that was essentially dying in the thirties. That is, the advent of the automobile and the truck and so on, and the tractor, was changing it a great deal. The major share of the work that he had done, such as repairing wagons, making sleighs, and of course work with horses, was beginning to disappear pretty rapidly, and so, it was not a career that one would attempt to follow.
I'll admit, my parents were quite anxious that I go on to school, and it was a bit of a disappointment that at the time that I graduated from high school, I could not go on. But as it turned out, it worked out, by accident and by luck, however you wish to call it.
Now, in Carleton you were studying physics. What kind of physics did you get interested in?
Well, in Carleton of course we had the more general physics, the classical physics of thermodynamics, etc. Of course Dr. Culver was particularly interested in electronics at that time, since he was fundamentally an electronics engineer, although he had a Ph.D. in physics. He had been chief engineer on the Canadian Broadcasting System when it was built back in the early twenties, and then had come back to teaching physics. So there was a great deal that we did there in the way of the electrical and the electronic, good old vacuum tube work.
My interest however did get over, in the last year or so that I was there, into the area of nuclear physics because exciting things were happening in nuclear physics in '39 and '40. So that when it turned out that I was able to go on from there to the University of Minnesota and graduate school it was in nuclear physics that I wanted to really study and work.
So you were aware at Carleton College of the advances in nuclear physics in the late thirties?
Oh yes. We certainly knew of the things that were happening. Now, not in great detail, because we didn't have any great course in nuclear physics. It was not a really up-to-date course. However, it was brought up-to-date by the people who were teaching it, who were acquainted with the literature and told us what was happening, and we would then read the literature, so we were aware of what was going on in the real sense.
PHYSICAL REVIEW was readable at that time to a student.
As an undergraduate, for you?
Do you recall any of your major textbooks? Did you have Richtmeyer by any chance?
No, not there. We used Richtmeyer when I got to the University of Minnesota and we were teaching there. No, Dr. Culver had his own general physics text, and no, I can't remember the others. I'll have to dig back. I know there was a thermodynamics text and I can't remember the name of the author.
Did you have laboratory?
Oh yes, we had laboratory. Of course, it covered a great deal of things, but not nuclear physics too much. The Millikan oil drop experiment was one that I recall that we did at that time.
All right, now, as you were graduating from Carleton, did you have options as to where you would go for graduate school or whether you would go to work?
Well, in a sense I had an option. I did consider going to work and did some checking around, and found that even in 1940, there was not a great deal available. I have to admit that when I applied for work at various places and admitted that I had majored in physics at college, it didn't seem to help.
But I had the opportunity then of going on to graduate school at the University of Minnesota, which was my preference in any event. I really wanted to go on to graduate school, but I did investigate the possibility of going to work because of the economic conditions.
You went to Carleton in '36? You'd already been in the CCC for how many years?
A year and a half.
Fine, so you graduated in '40.
So was there any particular program at Minnesota that most intrigued you? Was there another school that you considered going to, like Chicago?
Well, yes. There was one, as I remember, that was somewhat of interest to me, which was medical physics at the University of Rochester. I think the matter of convenience at Minnesota—I was able to go up there, of course, and talk to them directly, because it was only 45 miles away from Northfield, and when I met Dr. J. William Buchta and the others there and talked to them, they said, "Sure, we'd be delighted to have you come here. Dr. Buchta was the head of the department at Minnesota at that time. When they offered me a teaching assistantship there, I accepted immediately. I thought that that was a very good possibility, much better than taking the gamble on being able to get something somewhere else.
So that was a position that allowed you full support. You weren't dependent on your family at all?
No, I was not, and couldn't really be. They were having enough economic problems of their own. It allowed full support. I think we got $600 for nine months, and so that amounted to about $67 a month on which we lived, which we managed to do in the early forties. It was possible, because strangely enough, you could get a dinner for like 50 cents.
True. What was the atmosphere like at the University of Minnesota? What were your required courses and how did you do?
The required courses were theoretical physics, for which we used the text from Paige, and then, of course, quantum mechanics that came later, and more advanced thermodynamics. Melba Phillips was the instructor in electrodynamics. She wrote a book on electrodynamics later with a fellow from Stanford (Panofsky). She was there for a couple of years and was a very interesting lecturer, as I remember.
She wasn't part of the cosmic ray group?
No. As a matter of fact, there really wasn't a cosmic ray group at Minnesota at that time. They came after the war, when people like the Freier, both George and Phyllis Freier were there, and Ed Ney, who graduated from Minnesota, and then others who came in there and worked on cosmic rays, including Frank Oppenheimer.
But none of them were there at the time you were there?
Well, yes, George and Phyllis Freter, and Ed Ney all were in graduate school at the same time I was.
Well, let's keep going on the graduate school, then. Were you focusing in on some particular area of physics to do a dissertation, or getting interested in it?
Well, things became a little hectic, as you can remember at that time. I started working with Dr. John Williams, and he had a van de Graff there at the time and we were working on various cross section measurements. So I was preparing to do a thesis in one of those fields, but then of course, with the war breaking out, that whole organization got wound up in the Manhattan Project.
As a result, we were working pretty much on that, so that even our course work began to drop off pretty heavily because we weren't able to spend that much time on it. Between doing some teaching in the laboratories, which the graduate students did—that is, they handled the laboratories for the general physics courses and so on—between that and the work we were doing for the Manhattan Project, which was primarily neutron cross-sections, there wasn't a great deal of time. It was becoming clear that those of us who were in that area were probably either going to have to change our field and write a thesis in some area other than nuclear physics, or we were going to have to wait until the war was over, when the Manhattan Project had finally cleared up.
That was the direction things were going. Then of course in early '43, the Manhattan Project people moved to Los Alamos. We didn't know it as Los Alamos at the time. We knew that they were operating somewhere near Sante Fe.
Dr. Buchta actually talked me into staying because they had a lot of military students coming in. That is, we had the Navy V-12 program. We had the Army pre-meteorology program, the Army pre-flight program, and also the ASTP program, Army Specialized Training Program, I think it was. V-12 as you know really kept students in to get a degree. The Army programs did not. They were relatively short term, up to a year or so programs, where there was a concentrated effort in certain areas, mathematics, chemistry and physics to get people prepared for certain fields. One of them was meteorology. So we had about 500 students there. I think it turned out, we had 500 students in each of the categories.
You must have done a lot of teaching.
As a result they had to round up and shift graduate students over to teaching. Of course what we were teaching was more or less sophomore physics, and, depending on which group we were working with, we used Richtmeyer — general physics, a well-known one at the time, and as a matter of fact there was a Naval Academy edition which we used with the pre-flight people. So we were using two different texts, working with these different groups.
That went on until spring of 1944, and at that time with the situation with the draft, it became clear that in spite of these things that were going on, the draft board would no longer agree to my being deferred, and so, the choice was, what should I do? I could probably have gone to Los Alamos, but having a crazy streak, I guess, I decided I would apply for a commission in the Navy, which I did.
For an actual commission?
Yes, for a direct commission.
What kind of crazy streak?
Well, just the feeling that if the draft board wants me, I'll join the services. But I'll join them on my terms, not theirs.
Where were you as far as your graduate education was concerned? Had you completed all your courses?
I had essentially completed all my course work by that time. I had taken a Master's in the interim. When I saw what was happening, I decided that I'd try to get a Master's degree, because things might turn out that I'd get interrupted, which was the way it happened. But I had essentially completed all of the course work that I would have needed, but I would have needed a thesis, which at the time, from '43 to the time I left a year later, there was really nobody there to work with in nuclear physics. They were all gone.
You had chosen nuclear physics?
Yes, I had, and had been working as I said with John Williams, but those people were all gone at that time, and even—my memory for names is troubling me a little bit — because there was a man who invented the mass spectrograph, who had been there (Alfred Nier), and came back later, fine fellow, and I'm sure if I mentioned the name you'd recognize it immediately.
Now, you took a commission.
To do what?
Well, obviously, when you applied for a commission, their position was that everything was open. I did request that I be sent to radar school and go on through as a radar officer. They more or less allowed as how that was highly unlikely but nevertheless that's what happened. Within a few weeks I had orders to preradar school at Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, and then on to MIT for the radar school, both of which took up a big share of the next year. In about March of 1945, I was then assigned to the Radiation Laboratory at MIT as part of the Navy liaison group, and actually assigned to the shipboard radar group there under Richard Emberson.
What were your duties as liaison?
Well, there my duties as liaison were to be a member of the group working on shipboard radar. My duties were no different than those of any other member of the group. I was just one of the group. The reason, I guess, for having a liaison person there, if you want to call it that, was that as it did turn out later, there were times when it was necessary to go out on board ship with something, and they always had to have a Navy officer go with the civilians from the laboratory, and so I served that purpose. In other words, when we did that, I would go along as the Navy escort for the civilians. For some reason or other, the Navy people were usually very nervous about having civilians on board their ships. Maybe in wartime that's a reasonable attitude.
There was a man I've interviewed who was involved in shipboard radar, John Hall. Does that ring a bell at all?
Yes, he was there. I did not know him very well. It was a fairly large operation there. The division that we were in was headed by Dr. Street from Harvard, and Dr. Emberson was our particular immediate group leader, and there were other groups in that division. Hall had one of those.
He was in a different part.
While you were in Cambridge then, did you go to any colloquia or maintain your interest in nuclear physics in any way?
No, it was pretty difficult. As a matter of fact, we were pretty well tied up, and so there was not much opportunity to go to anything of that kind. That is, they usually occurred at a time when we were working. Sundays was not a day for colloquia.
What did you usually do on Sundays?
Well, it varied. Some of the time we just rested, but some of the time we would go out to a baseball game, if one of the Boston teams was in town, and do a few things like that, so as to get a little relaxation for the week end.
Now, how long were you at the Radiation Lab?
Well, actually I got in there about March of 1945. As you know, in August of '45, things came apart there very quickly at the end of the war, and people were going elsewhere. Of course, being in the Navy I couldn't go elsewhere. I had to have some assignment. So I was assigned to the Navy Patent Office that was attached here, and was an engineering consultant to the Patent Office. That is, they had patent lawyers but they needed people who could interpret the work that was coming in from the lab. In many cases, the the notes were incomplete, or in a sense they were certainly not easy for laymen to read. So I was assigned over there.
At the same time, interestingly enough, the group from NRL which Dr. Krause led was coming to the Rad Lab and was interviewing people, recruiting them to come down to the Naval Research Laborary.
Can you give me an approximate date for that recruitment?
Well, that should have been in September and October of 45 that they were in there.
Very interesting. Do you recall anything they said about what NRL was up to at that time?
Well, of course, NRL was involved in radar and all of that, and as I say, Dr. Krause's group was working on guided missiles, and was pointing out that there were a whole number of things. But I know they were very interested in radar people, because I think there was a feeling that with Rad Lab dissolving, there had to be somewhere where all of this radar work was going to go. They didn't want it to stop, of course. So they were making an effort to build a pretty good radar group there too, which they did.
So in many of the areas of electronics, they were looking for people. As a matter of fact, they were running an airplane shuttle service up there, and they would take people down to NRL and show them around.
Really? Did you go?
No, I did not. I had been there. In a sense it was not necessary. I had been sent down there as part of my work at Rad Lab as a Navy liaison officer. I had been sent for a visit to NRL to see what it was all like, so I had spent about two or three days down there several months earlier, and I was pretty well aware of what was going on. Probably the most important thing about it was that there was a Dr. Gilbert Perlow who was with that group, and he had been at the University of Minnesota, and so I had known him there and he had known me, and he convinced me that probably I'd be well off to go down there.
By this time of course I had a wife and a child, and so it was not as economically feasible for me to go back to graduate school as it probably should have been.
So that was a factor?
That was a factor in my going to NRL and taking work there rather than going back.
Even though there was the GI Bill and that sort of thing?
Well, the GI Bill of course wasn't available at that time, right at the end. If I remember correctly, a year or so elapsed before that came around by which time I was deeply involved.
When were you married?
I was married in 1942. I met her in Minneapolis.
That's straightforward. I'm very interested in what Gilbert Perlow or Krause had said to you that you might recall, about what kinds of projects they were getting into.
Well, as I say, they were at that time primarily discussing the matter of the guided missiles, or what might I guess more closely be called smart bombs today, in the sense that they were short range guided missiles, and that was the type of thing that they were continuing to work on and preparing to develop.
Between September and October, when they were interviewing?
When they were interviewing at that time, that was their discussion. As a matter of fact, Homer Newell was also in the group at that time.
Can I then assume that there was virtually no discussion of the exploitation of V-2s at that time?
No, there was not at that time. And I'm not sure whether—well, in fact, I'm reasonably confident that Dr. Krause was not, at that time, aware of the fact that the V-2s had become available. I don't think that became known until about January of 1946.
A lot of things happened in that interval, I'm sure, and one of them clearly was the decision of that group to do something other than guided missiles. They decided to do upper atmosphere research before they were aware that they would have the availability of the V-2s.
That was quite evident to you?
Well, I didn't know anything about it, because while I had hoped and had thought I had an arrangement that I was going to be transferred from Rad Lab to NRL, as a Navy officer, to complete the time period that I'd have to serve, that didn't work out. The Patent Office there decided that they couldn't dispense with any help that they had, which was probably true. They did need the help, and so as a result I had to stay there in Boston until the end of March of 1946, at which time I was shipped back to the Midwest for processing out of the Navy.
I then came down in May to the NRL, and it was when I arrived there that I discovered that we were in a new field—which as a matter of fact I was quite happy with. I was delighted to be able to work in that rather than in guided missiles. It seemed like a more interesting subject to me, and so that's what we began doing.
During this period did you have any contact with Krause or Perlow by mail possibly?
Very little. Very little. I had not had any real communication by mail. As I remember, I think they had come up, and Dr. Krause had been up to the remains of Rad Lab a couple of times through the winter, and we had talked, and he was aware of the fact that I would have to stay at Rad Lab until I had earned enough points so I could get out. He had assured me that that was fine, I would still be welcome at NRL when I became free to come.
So you'd made the decision that you would go to NRL after that?
Yes, I'd made the decision. I had been interviewed by some other companies and so on, but I had chosen NRL, and one of the reasons, frankly, was that there appeared to be the possibility of doing some further graduate work, with the University of Maryland, while there.
Did that work out?
Well, yes, I took some more courses there, but I never did prepare a thesis there. I guess I just was too busy working on what we were doing to get involved there. A couple of the people did. So it was a feasible program.
Was there any pressure at NRL for you to get the Ph.D.?
You indicated that you were delighted with this change of projects. What did you see in it of personal interest?
Well, I thought that it was a good research program. Of course, by that time the V-2s were available, and so there was the feeling that this was a really new field of research, which other people had not been able to do, because the vehicles to reach those areas just had not been available. This seemed to me like a very nice thing to do.
Now, obviously cosmic rays was the closest to nuclear physics that was in there. On the other hand, there was a rather good group there already doing cosmic ray work.
Who was in that group then?
Well, of course Dr. Krause was interested in that himself, and Dr. Perlow was there and a fellow by the name of Serge Golian.
What was his background?
Well, if I remember correctly, his undergraduate work was at Case, and he did graduate work at the University of Chicago, in which he had done some work on cosmic rays up in Colorado, with Schein at Chicago. He was an interesting fellow, in the sense that he was born in Turkestan, raised in China, and came to the United States to go to college. Actually he went to Staunton Military Academy, as I remember. We were pretty good friends afterwards. I knew him pretty well. He had been at Rad Lab and had been overseas in the London part of Rad Lab, and came to NRL from there.
Do you know if Golian or Gilbert Perlow are still around?
Perlow is. He's at the Argonne Laboratory just outside of Chicago. He's been there for years and he's still there. I don't know whether he's still editor of the PHYSICAL REVIEW Letters or not. He was.
I can check that easily.
Golian unfortunately died last year, so he's not around any more.
Well, you came in May of '46. What were your duties and who did you report to?
Well, in the beginning I reported to Milton Rosen.
But he wasn't specifically in cosmic rays.
No, and as a matter of fact, he was interested primarily in the rockets, and I think shortly after I got there, he left for a period of time to go to JPL to study rocketry. I did some work on heating analysis of the V-2s re-entering, that is, re-entering from the altitudes they could reach. It turned out that their heating was not really serious. It was the impact that was serious. They really knew that, because although they hadn't had any to really high altitudes, they worried that when they'd get to 100, 150 miles that there would be a serious problem, but that was not true.
I guess it just followed that I became more or less the experiment integrator, which was my main task. They had the cosmic ray experiments, the ionosphere experiments, and the density and temperature measurements, which were all mixed up, so that you had to measure one in order to measure the other. All of these were there, and somebody had to provide the integration, the control, the battery power and all of that to make sure that they all worked together and they all were powered up. It turned out I guess that I either became elected or somehow or other—I don't remember how—I just became the one to do that, and trying to do some other experiments on the side.
For example, we put some cameras in the midsection of the V-2 and took photographs of the earth, and you probably have the report on that.
Let me ask about the procedure you went through for this process of integration. Did you decide where each experiment would go?
Yes. Well, we would actually do the mechanical layout. I had a couple of mechanical engineers working for me, and with them we would do the mechanical layout of how the experiments would fit into the experiment section or warhead as we called it at that time. There were really several places where you could put experiments. One was in that conical warhead which for some reason was made of half-inch steel.
Even the ones that NRL was making were made out of half-inch steel?
As a matter of fact, NRL supplied these warheads to all of the people who were doing experiments on the V-2. They were made at the Naval Gun Factory, which is probably the one place in the country where they could be turned out, because you realize, they were about six feet tall and almost 36 inches at the base and of heavy steel.
Why did they continue to make it out of heavy steel, not aluminum or something?
One of the reasons of course was the fact that they believed that the V-2 had to be balanced out, so that the center of pressure would be behind the center of gravity instead of ahead of it, so that it wouldn't tumble. As a result, that meant they had to move the center of gravity forward a bit. That is, you couldn't shift the center of pressure on the thing, so the center of gravity was what you had to play with. They needed a lot of weight up in front to replace the weight of the actual V-2 warhead. So the weight of that warhead instrument section was just part of the ballast that you needed up there, at least the way that people were thinking about it at that time.
I think later they discovered that they could actually fly it without all that necessary weight up in front. Unfortunately, in order to meet the rocket people's requirements, we would have to put some lead counterweights up underneath that warhead at times, in order to provide that, and this obviously didn't help the altitude any. We hated like sin to put all that weight in there.
That's very interesting.
Of course the other reason for the heavy warhead was that there was some hope of recovery. Now, it turned out that there was no way of recovering the warhead, if you let that rocket come back intact. That was not possible. But it did turn out that by separating the warhead from the afterbody, you destroyed the aerodynamics of both sufficiently so that they would both land. The warhead of course, being rather heavy, landed kind of hard, but also being very sturdy didn't get wrecked. The equipment inside did not survive too well, however. It was pretty much of a jolt. But the afterbody would come down in pretty good shape. We would recover cameras. We recovered a spectrograph that was flown I think three times that way.
Let me ask about the June 1946 flight. Were you involved in the first flight of the spectrograph?
No. I was not involved in June of 1946. I had just arrived at that time.
I'm curious as to what your perception of the morale of the group was, after that crash, when Krause was never able to find a bit of the spectrograph?
I think the feeling was generally of some disappointment, but nevertheless there was the attitude we've got to find a way to do this. Of course at that time, if I remember correctly, they had the spectrograph in the nose of the vehicle. It was pretty clear, I think, thinking about it after that particular flight, that there was never going to be any hope of recovering anything as long as it was attached to that heavy warhead section, because that thing itself weighed half a ton, and no matter what happened, it was bound to hit pretty hard. On the other hand, fortunately it wasn't going to hit on the tip, which would have destroyed everything, but it just jarred things loose.
So it was after that that the idea of mounting the spectrograph in the tail section came about.
Do you know who had that idea?
No. I don't know. There were several people, Tousey, Eric Durand and Charlie Strain, who were all working in that area, with a couple of other fellows. Oberley is a name I remember. I think as a matter of fact the idea of separating the nose cone from the afterbody for recovery purposes was probably an idea that was generated by the General Electric people at White Sands, very likely, because they mounted the explosives on the struts of the so-called instrument section, which was right below the warhead. An instrument section was part of the original V-2, and in there was where we mounted batteries and everything like that.
They then decided they would try this scheme of putting blocks of explosives on the struts, connecting them with line primacord explosive and setting it off after it had reached the apogee and was on the way down. Of course that was done and it turned out that it worked very well, particularly the afterbody. The whole afterbody came down in pretty good shape, considering all that. Not that you could have flown it again, but various things, particularly things like the spectrograph that were carried in the tail fin, if that tail fin didn't happen to be the one that hit first, were usually in very good shape.
Yes. During the summer of '46, after the first June flight of the spectrograph, I have some records of a small group, about three people, trying to build a spectrograph using photo cells instead of film, so they could telemeter information to the ground and not have to worry about recovery. Were you aware of that work at all?
Yes, I think that work was going on. There was certainly a lot of that because a major share of the information was being telemetered, and as a matter of fact again NRL and this group, having basically been an electronics group, had developed a very nice, for that time, telemetry system, which they supplied not only to the NRL but to other experimenters also with the V-2. Harrison Smith and Jack Mengel had done that work.
There was a natural interest on their part to do that. Now, I think there were other things that happened. In '46 we also worked on a method of ejecting a container from the V-2 and using parachutes for recovery, and we did actually do some experiments with that. However, once the technique of blowing off was introduced, of separating the warhead and the afterbody, and we saw the recovery capabilities of that, those ideas were kind of scrapped, because we were able to do it so much easier. That had been one of the ideas of being able to get information back from the spectrograph, that we could just eject it after apogee and use a series of parachutes to bring it down. That would have been one of the things.
But as I say, while that was carried out through a few experiments, it was never carried to fruition because the other recovery method seemed to be so simple and so straightforward and worked well enough to do what was necessary.
Right. Certainly the first experiment, as far as the spectrograph was concerned, that worked very well was October 10, '46.
Now, between June and October, were you involved in various tests, experimentation, in the separation process?
At that time I was involved. I think my major effort at that time was in this ejection container, the effort to find a method of physical recovery from.the system, and we were working with a parachute manufacturer in Philadelphia in an attempt to set up a series of parachutes that would bring the container down.
What kind of tests did you perform?
We dropped from an airplane. We got an airplane to go up to about 40,000 feet and drop it out. Unfortunately that didn't work too well, because the whole affair was mounted outboard of course on the wing, and it turned out, with him trying to work his way up to that altitude, the line that should have pulled the parachute was gone before he let go of it, so the thing came down in kind of one big fell swoop.
Where were these tests?
At White Sands. It was very difficult to get airplanes to do that. These pilots didn't care much about it, because they said it was very difficult for them to work the airplanes up to that altitude.
Was it a B-17?
No, it was a World War II fighter plane that they were using, and they were out of Biggs Field in El Paso.
That's interesting. So you never perfected the ejection.
We never perfected it. We had the mechanism for ejecting it from the V-2 worked out. We had a parachute series with a small metal lead chute to pull out. We were probably too conservative in that respect. We probably could have used a cloth chute even, because at apogee, the velocities probably weren't that high. We could have gotten away with things, if we had ejected high enough and pulled the cord. But of course we realized that the densities were very low and one thing and another.
So you never actually tried this out on a V-2?
We made one try on a V-2, as I recall, but it was not successful.
When was that, do you recall?
Well, it was late '46. I'd have to look back; I might be able to f ind it in here if I have it, but I don't remember.
You have some of the reports.
I have some of the reports here.
Do you recall if you had an instrument in that particular attempt?
No, we only had that instrumented to the extent of the box itself. We didn't carry anything in it. We did not take a chance on that in the first one. I'm sure it was before this one (looking at reports). I don't have a full set of these Naval Research Lab reports. Dr. Krause has a full set, I think, but I do not.
Okay, let's continue on then.
As I say, the success of the separation of the rocket just obviated the need for the other, and we decided it was more complicated than necessary so we just went the other way.
All right. I have a curious question. You've been referring as others have, and the literature has, to the nose cone as a warhead. Why so?
Oh, it was a remnant from the war. After all, what it replaced on the V-2 was the V-2 warhead, which was basically a cast iron body filled with explosive. It turned out, I guess, they could have filled it with anything. At the velocity it struck, the energy was the equivalent of that mass of explosive anyway, so I'm not sure in the V-2 whether the explosive was of any value or not, because if you do the calculation, you find that at about 5500 feet per second, the energy per gram is about equivalent to the explosive energy of TNT.
That's right. How many visits did you make to White Sands? Were you out there a lot?
Oh yes. We were there about on an average of every six weeks, there for a few years.
So you went out personally?
Oh yes, I was out practically on all of the shots that the Naval Research Laboratory did from 1946 to about 1950, '51.
What was your first impression of White Sands? What was it like to work there?
Well, I had never seen the desert before, and White Sands was a bit on the primitive side. The buildings there at the time were old CCC barracks that they had brought in from Civilian Conservation Corps camps that they had had in the general area somewhere. But as you know, White Sands was in the middle of a valley, and we weren't at White Sands. White Sands was about 40 miles north of where the place was located, but it seemed fairly desolate and a long way from anywhere. The first ride out, I remember coming from Las Cruces and on out over the Organ Mountains into White Sands.
At White Sands, since you had been involved in integration of the instruments and the warhead, did you oversee their placement in the warhead and make sure all the connections were right?
Right. I was responsible for that, and for the checkout, that is, the testing that we did ahead of time. Each group would test their instrument so that there'd be no interference between them and so on. One of the worst jobs was to keep the batteries charged and make sure that when we launched, we had a fresh set of batteries in there, so that they had energy to work with. We were using the big 28 volt aircraft cells as batteries for that, so they were lead sulfuric acid cells.
They didn't retain their charge?
Oh yes, but you know, if you tested, you used up the charge as you tested them, so generally of course we'd operate with a dual set , one that we used for testing and then another set that we installed just before flight, so that there was a fresh set of batteries in there.
I'd like to know what the checkout procedure was. Did you have written instructions, things that you gave to each instrument group? Did you have things very, very regimented in your checkout procedures?
No, it was not terribly regimented. However, we did prepare schedules of the checkout. These were somewhat informal schedules. They weren't prepared in the sense that we had a lot of paperwork with it, because realize, we were going out there every six weeks, which meant we had to prepare a set of experiments, go out there, fire it, take the data, do something with the data, and six weeks later be out with another set.
So things were going rather fast. I usually always had a big electrical diagram of the whole system, so that we knew where everything was electrically as well. Physically of course we had that worked out before we left the laboratory. We checked everything into its locations, and we knew that we could physically put everything in and everything was fine, and then what we needed was to have an electrical layout so that we knew where everything was to be connected in, and how it was to be checked out. Our major problem was to be sure that we could check it out from the blockhouse. Checking it out on the gantry crane was fairly straightforward, because we had ready access to the equipment.
Did you use the VTVM probe?
We could use that type of thing when we were up there, but then of course when we were in the blockhouse, we had to work out a method that we could check out just prior to firing, so that in the blockhouse the individual experimenters could tell that their system was working.
Did it ever happen that just prior to launch, one of the individual experimenters found something wrong?
Yes, and usually if it was one experimenter, that was too bad. Realize that firing the V-2s had dual purposes. One was for the upper atmosphere research, of course, but the other was for essentially the Army becoming acquainted with rockets and in a sense, training in handling and all of that. So there were purposes other than upper atmosphere research and I never remember any of them that were held up.
Well, I'm sorry, that's not quite true, but these were instances when the situation got to the point that you couldn't launch the vehicle. But generally one experiment would not hold it up.
Can you give me an instance where it did?
On one rocket there was an experiment, and I don't remember whose it was — it was not ours — in which they had mounted some liquid tanks in the midsection, between the oxygen and the alcohol tanks. One tank, I believe, was fuming nitric acid and the other was some other liquid.
This was the upper air circulation experiment, with the smoke?
Yes, that was to be a smoke experiment. Unfortunately when they were filling the acid tank, it overflowed, and acid came spilling down the side of the vehicle. Well, that was one case where an experiment stopped the launch. But as I say, it wasn't because of the failure of the experiment. It was the other problem. Unfortunately at least one man was very badly injured in that.
Where were you? Were you in the blockhouse at that time?
Well, we were off the vehicle, because that one bothered me a great deal. There was another experiment that was to use sound for density and so on and it had 16 grenades mounted in grenade launchers around the base of the instrument chamber or warhead, and I'll admit, I was kind of nervous working up there all the time, because those grenades tended to be aimed right at the middle of your stomach. But they were of course not armed.
But, I remember, in this case, because they had this acid tank, I had agreed with our people that when they were going to fill the tank, we would be off the rocket. Although we would normally have been working up above them, at the top end of the rocket, and they were at the middle, and therefore in one sense, they couldn't have hurt us, I felt that there was a hazard that people might not be able to get down.
So you had a sensitivity to that, more than others.
Yes, I guess I was more frightened than others. I don't know. I felt that from a safety standpoint it just didn't make sense, and there wasn't any fundamental reason why we had to be up there. We cleaned up our work ahead of time. We scheduled to get cleaned up and get off the rocket before they filled that. Then we were going to go to the blockhouse and make our f inal checks from there, but we were outside watching when they were doing this fill, saw the accident, which was very unfortunate, very bad.
Yes, that's right.
That particular rocket had a very sad history. I think it took three times before it got launched finally.
So the rocket itself wasn't destroyed?
Oh no. It had to be cleaned up and all of that straightened out, and of course that meant they had to unload the fuel. They had the fuel loaded in there at the time. They had to unload all of that and go through quite an operation. They took it back in, they cleaned it up, and as a matter of fact I think they brought it out twice more before they could launch it. That's sheer memory. I know it was finally launched.
When an instrument was not working right but the flight went off anyway, how did an instrument scientist or one of the principal investigators or someone on an instrument team feel? Were you ever one of those people who saw a non-working instrument fly?
Yes. You felt kind of unhappy. But in a sense, you had to realize that, well, there's no way you could hold the whole thing, because of the hazard of holding a rocket too long, unless you could get up and fix it in a hurry. If you could do that, that opportunity would be allowed to you. But if it were something that would require quite a bit of time, the idea of holding that rocket full of oxygen and alcohol, in that condition, we felt was more hazardous to the other experimentation than taking the chance of going.
The other thing you've got to realize was that at that time, as I say, we were operating on a six weeks cycle, which meant that it was only six weeks till you'd be back there the next time, and "better luck next time" was the attitude. It isn't like today with a satellite where, if you don't go this time, it's going to be five years before you get another opportunity.
The turnaround was quite a bit faster.
The turnaround was very fast there. As a matter of fact it was terribly fast and kept people really hopping to keep up with the firing schedule.
Right. Was there also not a sense of competition for a berth in the warhead?
The rocket panel assigned vehicles, and so, I don't think there was any really great problem with that. As a matter of fact, all of the organizations I think were pushed to use the opportunities they had, and were a bit relieved when once in a while, the Army and GE would have a problem and have to delay a firing. I think it was a bit of a relief to people, because it gave them a little chance, more breathing space. Because I think everybody felt, I'm sure we did, that the schedule was pretty high pressure.
What were your working relationships like with the Army people and the GE people at White Sands? Were you harmonious? Was there any friction?
I would say, particularly with the GE people, it was very harmonious. They were a great group, and also, I think when you recognize the kind of thing that was going on here, it was pioneering, if you want to say that. The whole environment at White Sands was very cooperative.
For example, the Naval Research Laboratory had a machine shop trailer out there. We had a couple of machinists that came out with us, and if we needed something done, why, those machinists—this was in the early days—would do it. They would work in their trailer and do the work very well.
Once in a while interesting things would happen. I remember one time we wanted to have a wave guide bent, and the fellow who was working on that decided he needed to pack it with something. He thought, gee, that white sand up there, that was great stuff, which he somehow or other managed to get. He didn't tell us about what he was doing, but by the time he got it heated and bent, of course, that gypsum was not coming out any more.
It was glass.
It was a rather humorous type of incident that occurred there once in a while.
Did the wave guide actually get inserted in the instrument?
No. He discovered his own error. He said, "Boy, that's the funniest sand I ever saw, it just became vitrified in there." He had a solid mass inside of the wave guide. He found that he had to get another piece of wave guide and start over again, with different packing.
That's funny. He was unfamiliar with gypsum.
Yes. He just thought it was nice white sand. Of course, that's the way it seemed. Nobody had told him that that wasn't sand, that it was gypsum.
That's the kind of thing that could happen. But, as I say, again, the whole place was very informal, and I think there was a great deal of feeling of cooperation and camaraderie between the people who were working there, particularly with the GE people. I would say that the military—Colonel Turner and all of them—were very supportive, I think, of what we were doing. So the relationships were quite good throughout that time period.
So there was never any problem with the way the military wanted to run the place?
Well, at first, as I say, it was very informal and open. Then it became a little more formal as time went on, as these things always do. For example, the Navy had a group that came in there, and they had decided that we should not have this trailer for a machine shop. They established a machine shop, and then they established procedures that you had to go through to get things done which were at times a little troublesome. But it was always possible, I know. You could always get to the captain who was running the Navy part of the station, tell him, "Look, your boys and their procedures are hindering progress," and things would get straightened out very quickly.
I understand, okay. Let's see, now you did photography and you did cosmic ray work.
Which did you enter into first?
Well, on the rocket I did the photography first, and as a matter of fact, the cosmic ray work which I did was primarily with balloons, interestingly enough.
Right, I have that. Let's talk about the photography, then, to start. Were you assigned that as a specific project and what was the goal of the project?
Well, it came about, there was some evidence which wasn't very clear that the rocket was performing some peculiar maneuvers, which many of us said were impossible, because physically the thing couldn't do what some of these people were telling us it was doing.
Who were the people?
I can't remember now where that information was coming from. And so, one of the thoughts was, well, we'll put cameras in the rocket and we'll photograph the ground, and from the photographs we can tell how the rocket has behaved.
Well, it turned out what we had were big Navy cameras, and I did some experimentation with them on the ground and came to the conclusion that I wasn't going to get anywhere unless I had infra-red film. You know, even at Washington you couldn't see more than two miles with normal film. That is, the haze in the atmosphere just killed you.
So we did obtain some infra-red or rather red sensitive film. Although we used the term infra-red it was red sensitive rather than blue sensitive. After experimenting with that, we did mount two of these in the midsection of the V-2, again, between the tanks, using a prism; that is the camera was aimed outboard, and then we had a prism in front of it, so that the view was then deflected by 90 degrees. The cameras were mounted 180 degrees apart.
These were K-25 aircraft cameras.
Right, aircraft cameras.
Why did you choose them in particular? Anything about them?
There were two reasons, I guess. One was they had pretty good plate size so that we felt we could get some visibility on our prints. We also had little gun cameras which were small 8 mm movie cameras that they mounted in the tail for other purposes, but we didn't figure that there was any hope of seeing the ground with those things because it was such a small picture. They used those to look at the plume of the rocket engine. But we decided to use the K-25s. Probably the major reason was that they were readily available to us. We were in the Navy and we had availability of these military cameras very readily.
These were cameras that had already been designed as remote control aerial cameras? Taking pictures?
Yes, they were cameras that could be operated by a switch, yes, remote control in the sense that the pilot could operate them from his position without having physical contact with the camera. So it was convenient for that, and we just mounted these cameras in there. I don't remember the number of prints that you could take with a roll, I think the timing was something like every 18 seconds, and we had the two cameras. We'd fire them alternately which I think was supposed to give us a picture about every 9 seconds going up. Of course we were primarily concerned with the behavior of the rocket after the burnout of the engine, that is, after the fuel was exhausted, when it was in free flight.
It turned out that on the first flight, we were fortunate. We recovered the cameras. We got the pictures, and we saw that there was no unusual behavior of the rocket. Our purpose had been to study the behavior of the rocket, not to take pictures of the earth. But then it turned out that the photographs, while they were of course interesting, were of most interest to the weather people, because in that series of photographs, it turned out we had a tropical storm pictured down in the Gulf of Mexico.
Was that the 7th of March 1947 flight?
In that particular article, you indicated that there were previous attempts but they weren't successful. Is that correct?
Boy, I'd have to remember.
This is your paper, "Photography from the V-2 Rocket at altitudes ranging up to 160 kilometers," in NRL Report No. R-3083. It said here, page 1, "As on several of the previous flights, an attempt was made to obtain photographs of the features of interest on the rocket and of course the earth."
I think that referred to the gun cameras, the ones that we were using. I think March 7th was the first time that we put the K-25s in, and we were just extremely fortunate. That rocket landed at White Sands, as a matter of fact, so we had pieces all over. The cameras were in a steel container as a mounting, which wasn't really an armor type of thing, but they came right out and were separated completely from the rocket. So in a sense we had good fortune in two ways. One was that everything came down all right, and the second was that we found them. As a matter of fact, I think it was Ralph Havens who found the camera that had the best photographs in it.
So as with the spectrograph you were trying to guard against destruction upon landing.
Right, and they did work. Now, the meteorologists were interested in what they were able to see from this.
Yes, they became very interested.
That was heretofore quite unexpected.
Oh yes. That was certainly not something that we had expected in any way. I don't remember just how it happened. Somebody was out at the laboratory, and we were showing them these pictures. We of course were kind of happy with them because we could show the curvature of the earth and a few things like that that seemed of interest to us. We were also interested because of the fact that you got resolution on long lines, such as a railroad. I had never realized before that resolution was somewhat a feature of the feature, rather than an absolute of the camera and the film.
But this gentleman was in meteorology, and he became excited about the pictures. As a result I was scheduled to make a presentation to a meteorology group, showing the pictures that we had taken, and they were quite excited about it, wanting to find a way in which they could do this kind of thing on a routine basis. Obviously the trouble was that with probe rockets, it was just not a greatly practical thing. That is, you'd get five minutes of photographs and you could only shoot a rocket every few months or something like that, and you had limited locations from which you could go. But it certainly made it clear that if we had satellites, it would be fantastic.
It was clear at that time. It was something that people did think about.
Oh yes. There was no question. They were very interested in this technique of being able to photograph all of these big cloud systems.
Do you remember any names in the service, meteorology?
No. I'm sorry, I cannot.
What about people interested in aerial reconnaissance? Was there any interest there?
Not really, that I recall. Realize that the photographs were excellent for clouds, but they weren't too great for ground features, for surface features. Because the resolution was not that good. Now, I don't think there's any question, you might have been able to design and build a camera that would have done a great deal better. But on the other hand, we were not in a position to do that. We had to make do with what we could get, and that was why the K-25 was about the best we could get our hands on.
Once you flew the first ones, how many subsequent?
I think we only did it once more, and that time the film recovery was unsuccessful, because we did not redesign the camera to have the film go into an armored container, which is what we should have done, but it would have been a rather large undertaking to redesign the camera to do that. So as a result, if the camera got smashed, the film got ruined too, so you didn't get much result. So as I say we were extremely fortunate on the first shot. We got good results. Subsequently, we didn't have any great reason to continue the photography, because we had gotten the results that we wanted out of it, and there was no way that we could really continue to provide the weather people with anything worthwhile that would be of more help.
You were working on the camera through early '47, late '46?
Yes, it was late '46.
And your other assigned duty was integration.
Were you given the freedom at any time during this time to engage in personal research?
Well, not really. There wasn't too much opportunity to do anything, because in a sense, I guess, the camera was my personal research at the time. I was not doing anything in cosmic rays at that point, so you see, I had deviated a bit from my nuclear physics again. The way things happen, nothing ever goes in a straight line.
Did you want to do anything?
I was interested in shifting over to those, but other things happened. One of the things that I got involved in was with Milton Rosen on the Viking. As you know, NRL had a view that they wanted to continue beyond the V-2s, and I think it was Ernie Krause who was primarily responsible for selling that whole point to the Navy and getting approval of the design and construction of a probe rocket, which was the Viking. Rosen was in charge of that and I was working with him on that, to some extent.
What were your responsibilities?
Well, at first a big share of it was just to help him with the checkouts and looking over the work that Martin was doing and going back, but then we also became aware of the fact that we were going to have a problem. The Viking was designed to go pretty high. In fact, it was designed to go higher than it did, I guess. That's true of all rockets. But one of the concerns we had was of the safety system at White Sands, and that we could have some grave difficulty with it.
At that time the safety system consisted primarily of a set of wires, a triangle, if you will, with a central wire coming down, which if you viewed the rocket along the wire and it stayed along with the wire, it was going due North and would stay within the range. If the rocket was aligned with these other wires, it meant that if it gets beyond one of those wires and it continues to burn until burnout, it will go outside of the range. Well, that was of course quite restrictive, because it meant that you had to cut down a rocket the moment it got outside of the grid of those safety wires.
This was not electronic. It was directly visual?
Yes, direct visual.
These grids were outside?
They were outside. A man watched the rocket with respect to the grid, and if the rocket stayed in view within the grid, everything was all right. It was permitted to go to completion.
Was this part of the rocket impact point computer?
That wasn't. That was the thing that led to the rocket impact point computer. We decided that this system that they had down there would be very difficult for the Viking, because it was scheduled to be able to go to 200 and 250 miles, which meant that a flight that didn't necessarily go to completion could be very useful. In other words, we might have one that would go out of the range if it went to full burn, but it could go to 100, 150 miles and still stay within the range. We wanted to determine that, because otherwise we felt that we might lose rockets that could be very useful and we'd cut them down unnecessarily. So the problem was, what could you do to avoid that?
As I remember it, we did ask the Army at White Sands if they couldn't do something with their radars there to set up a safety system that would determine whether or not the flight could continue safely for a while and not be cut off until the last moment, more or less. Their position was, no, they didn't feel they could do anything. Obviously they didn't have any real interest in that problem anyway, as far as they were concerned.
At the Naval Research Laboratory then, one of my jobs was to get that type of thing taken care of. So along with my integration work, my other task was to have this impact point prediction system developed, which we did, with the Ford Instrument Company at that time.
Was Krause involved in that at all?
Well, he knew of it, but by that time, I think, you know, Krause left that group before the Vikings were ever flown.
He left in 1947.
He left, yes, late '47, and so he probably was gone before we ever really started that impact point prediction system. We then did install that at White Sands and fortunately it worked. It was quite a kluge. I don't know if you remember what it was.
Well, the Navy had big, ship-board binocular systems, with these huge binoculars mounted on a pedestal. They used two operators, and one would handle the binoculars in elevation and the other in azimuth.
Were these theodolites?
No, they were really binoculars.
Well, they were optical viewers for tracking. So you might call them theodolites. They were similar to that. But anyway, they weren't fixed. They were trainable. Because we couldn't use the radar, which was the primary method that we wanted, we decided to do it optically. We got two of these binoculars, one set which we put west of the launch site, and one set which we put south of the launch site.
So we had a view of the rocket both in the north-south direction and in the east-west direction. Then we put in selsyns which gave us an indication of where the optics were being pointed at a particular time, and fed that back to a small analogue computer, which then calculated where the rocket was, and where it would land if you cut off the power at that moment. In other words, a vacuum flight impact point computer. It just said, "The rocket is here, it is going in such and such a direction at such and such a velocity; if I cut it off, here is where it will land," and a pen traced that out on a table.
By vacuum, you mean, there was no account of air friction or anything like that.
Air friction was not taken into account, which we considered to be conservative, in the sense that it would go further in vacuum than in air. We had to have four operators at the two optical stations, and one tracked the rocket in elevation and the other in azimuth, and they kept the system on there. Of course there was a little jerkiness to it, so there was a little bit of smoothing done by the computer, a second or so of smoothing in the computer. As I said it was a little analogue computer and a plotting table, and the system seemed to work.
Strangely enough they used it on other things for which it wasn't designed. I remember later they used it on missiles that were air to ground missiles, as I recall.
Was this after the incident where the rocket landed in Juarez?
Was this partially stimulated by that?
Well, the safety system with the wire grid that I described to you was instigated by the Juarez incident. Matter of fact, there were two incidents. One landed in Juarez; one landed just outside of Alamagordo. I think the one outside of Alamagordo created more furor than the one in Juarez.
I'd think so. Anyone hurt?
Boy, that must have been something!
That's my memory. I don't have a record of that.
This work that you were doing, including the aspect work with the K-25 camera, was certainly similar to responsibilities of Clyde Tombaugh who was out there. Do you remember him?
Oh yes. Tombaugh, of course, was operating the optical systems, the static optical systems.
Well, they weren't trainable. They weren't dynamic in following the rocket, as I remember. Yes, I remember Clyde Tombaugh. He was a very nice quiet gentleman. We were happy to meet him because we knew he was the discoverer of Pluto.
You didn't work directly with him?
Two distinct, independent operations.
Completely. As a matter of fact, he worked for the Army, and as I say, they had more or less washed their hands of this impact point problem at that time, and then we decided to go ahead with it. They were generous enough to let us install it there and operate it, and as I say, it worked. Later on the Army decided, and rightly so, that they should improve the whole business by using radar, which they did do.
Looking at your list of publications, there is Number 7, which is "Instrumentation for the third and fourth cycles of V-2 firings," and Number 9, "Instrument techniques employed in the V-2 rockets." Unfortunately I haven't had a chance to see these, but what were the purposes of these articles?
Oh, they were primarily just recording. They were in NRL reports. Just for historical purposes, the instrumentation was described, and I think you'll find in each of these reports, there will be one like that. In this one, for example, it is described as the V-2 warhead, research warhead, which was really the instrumentation section. It describes how it was mounted and so on. Then you have a report on telemetry, in this case it was C. H. Smith.
C.H. Smith worked with you?
Was it C.H. or C.P.?
There were two Smiths. This happened to be Carl Harrison Smith, who did the electronic work. He and Jack Mengel were the electronics people in the control and in the telemetry. C.P. Smith was Charles Patrick Smith. He worked with me on the integration.
Okay. Was he an engineer?
Yes. After I left the group he stayed on and continued with that.
I know that the V-2s were flown in cycles of 25, was it?
Was it 25, or?
Well, boy, I don't remember.
You weren't involved at all in determining the cycle, the scheduling?
No. We were just involved in instrumenting those that were assigned to us. So I can't tell you. I have a book at home — I should have got that; I forgot it — which was on a meeting in England in about '54, '55, and it was, I think, on rocket research and the atmosphere.
I think I have that.
You probably have the book. In there, there's a chapter on the V-2 by the GE people, and there's a whole listing of when they were fired, and so you can get all that information.
Yes, that is available. I've already talked with Dr. Krause and others about the nature of the cycle, but I was just interested in whether you had anything to contribute.
Well, Krause and Homer Newell would know more. Krause was chairman of the panel that ran all of this for a couple of years, and then Newell took over.
When Dr. Krause left in late '47, did the nature of the research or the atmosphere for doing research in the group change any? Was there a shuffling of people?
Not very much. Newell, I think, had been acting as second in command all the time anyway. He and Joe Siry were kind of the theoreticians in the group. So actually when Homer Newell took over, there wasn't a great deal of change. The various experimentalists in the outfit were kind of independent anyway, and were doing their own experimental designs, in which things were constrained only by the overall constraints of what could be done in each flight, and also constrained by the physical attributes of the rocket and how we could mount things in it.
But as I say, at that time we were also getting a good deal more clever about what we could do, and so things were going along pretty well, and I don't think, in my recollection, that there was really any great change. There wasn't any noticeable shift in what happened after Dr. Krause left. We missed him. He was a very dynamic individual, of course, and therefore the fact that he was gone made some difference. Newell was different, a much more quiet type of leader than Ernie Krause was. But they were both very good, and I think everything went along pretty much on a steady keel after he left.
Certainly you were not then affected in any way.
No, not really. As I say, I had worked with Harrison Smith and I worked with Milton Rosen, and they were still there, and Homer Newell, of course, had been there all the time. There weren't any new people coming in. It was just that Ernie left, and I think there were probably one or two others that left with him, but I can't remember who they were.
Richard Tousey was in a different section, and his group of people, in doing the spectroscopic work, were composed of people in the optics section under Hulburt but also people under Tousey in the rocket sonde section. How well did they get along?
Well, now, Tousey was never really in the rocket sonde section. There was pretty good cooperation. I can't speak for Tousey and the rest of the people in the optics group, although when they were out at White Sands everything seemed to be done very well. There were people in the rocket sonde group who were actually working with Tousey and there just seemed to be good cooperation among them. With Dick Tousey I don't see how it could be otherwise. Given the kind of individual he was, it just naturally would be a very good situation.
Could you describe why?
Dick Tousey was probably one of the pleasantest and easiest people to work with of anyone I've ever known. He was a real fine gentleman, and everything was pretty low key, in the sense that there was nothing in the way of disputation or anything like that that went on with him and his group at all. So I think Tousey just was the kind of a leader who inspired a good situation. I always admired him very much.
He had quite a bit of loyalty from his people.
I see, looking again at your list of publications, moving on in the future here, that you did do some balloon work; publication 11, with C.A. Schroeder, "Search for cosmic ray diurnal effects at balloon altitudes," PHYS REV, 81, 1951, page 244. How did you come to do this work?
We were trying to get some diurnal effect measurements on cosmic rays with the rockets, Perlow primarily, and I don't remember who was also working with him at the time, because Golian had left and Krause had left. It just didn't seem practical to make those measurements with rockets. We did launch a night-time rocket and a day-time rocket within a 24 hour period, but nevertheless the night time rocket, if I remember correctly, was an Aerobee which had even a lower altitude and shorter flight time than the V-2. As a result, with the kind of data you got, the statistics of your effect measurements were extremely poor, and so the question was, well, what could one do?
At that time I had become aware — because they were doing some of it at White Sands — of the Skyhook balloons General Mills was building, and I had met some of the people there that were involved in that. So either I or Perlow suggested that probably one way to do the measurements would be to do a balloon experiment, and I had talked, I think, to Charlie Moore at General Mills, asking what kind of a payload could we take up and still achieve a good altitude?
He had come back with a proposition that we could put three Skyhook balloons onto one payload and we'd get a good lift. Perlow agreed that that was probably a good idea, because then we could get several hours at altitude, and go over the night-time, day-time period. We'd launch at night and hopefully the balloon would still be up at dawn and we'd see the shift.
So Buck Schroeder, who was an electronics individual who was working there, and I, worked on this. I worked out the counter system and he worked out the electronics to go with it. As a matter of fact we had to do something about knowing time, so we had a clock in there that we photographed every so often. It turned out to be an analytical problem a little later, in the sense that we had to worry about how good that clock was. But it was adequate for our purposes.
So the balloon idea, as I say, was primarily because of the short time that you had available in a rocket. You couldn't do a decent statistical measurement of the day-time, night-time distribution. In other words, the diurnal effect would have to be very large, indeed, to be able to make any statement about it, in the rocket.
Because of the short time.
The short time which resulted in bad statistics. So this was designed, and then Schroeder and I went up to Minnesota and we launched this from Camp Ripley. We did have a successful flight, and it did go over the dawn period. It was an interesting launch.
I don't think the General Mills people had ever had a tandem launch like that before.
A tandem launch?
A launch of three of these balloons.
Was that because the payload was so heavy?
Yes, that was because they thought the payload was heavy enough so that they would have to do this to get enough lift. The way these Skyhook balloons were launched was that you laid them out carefully on a big cloth, and then you put a little bubble of helium in the top end, and then let go, because of course as the balloon went up that bubble of helium would fill the balloon.
Well, now we had three of them, and we had to let them go at the same time, and of course they would go downwind, and depending on the wind rate, it was the rise rate versus the windrate that was the problem. Buck Schroeder and I were with that payload, and as the balloons went downwind, we were running down there with them so that the payload wouldn't bump on the ground until they got off. It was an interesting thing. As I say, fortunately the handles they had on the payload were not such that we'd get tangled up and go up with the balloon.
How heavy was the payload?
Oh, it was only a few hundred pounds.
But that was bigger than the kinds of things that the Minneapolis group themselves were launching.
Yes; later they would have felt comfortable about launching such a payload on a single balloon.
What kind of contact did you have then at that time with Ney and Naugle and others in the cosmic ray group?
Only the fact that while we were at Camp Ripley, they were there too, and of course I knew Ed Ney and Phyllis Freier who were working with Frank Oppenheimer and Naugle and those people, and so when I was in Minneapolis talking to the GE people, I visited them at the university. Then it turned out that while we were at Camp Ripley, they also came up for a launch for a cosmic ray system on one of their balloons. It was Ed Ney and Frank Oppenheimer as I recall that were there at that time with some graduate students.
Did you have any discussions about the relative efficacy or efficiency of launching with rockets as opposed to balloons? And did you ever ask them why they didn't get interested in rocketry?
Oh yes, we discussed it, but I think it was pretty clear. One of their reasons for not being in rocketry was that they just didn't have access to rockets, and secondly, it was a little expensive for a university setup. They couldn't really mount the effort to do what we were doing. There were some universities that were involved. University of Michigan did have some involvement, as you know, and of course Johns Hopkins, which I think was all through the Applied Physics Laboratory. But as far as I can recall, their interests in the balloons were twofold. One, at Minnesota, they had the manufacturer of the balloons right in the backyard. Two, they had the launching location up there at Camp Ripley, very convenient. So they had gone that route.
As we all knew, there were advantages both ways. One is, you could get much higher altitudes with a rocket, but you had much shorter times. Both methods were unfortunately limited as to where you could launch them, although the University of Minnesota group did do some launching of balloons at White Sands, so they used both Minnesota and White Sands.
Of course later, both the rockets and the balloons were launched from shipboard. For instance, they launched at the Equator. Both V-2s and Vikings were launched from shipboard, one of each, as I remember, and then I know that balloons were launched down in the Caribbean from an aircraft carrier.
Now, you mentioned two points — lack of access and lack of money — did they ever actually approach the Rocket Panel, to your knowledge, to try to put something on a rocket, and then were turned down, because they didn't have access?
I don't think so. There were others who did. There were some minor experiments, which we never recorded because they weren't part of ours, but I know there were minor experiments performed by some university people who came and were given access. I just have no record of it in any sense, but my recollection is that somebody was doing film layer experiments in the rocket — in other words, plate stacks. I can't recall who it was, but they were done by somebody from a university.
You mentioned the Aerobees. Did you also have integration responsibilities for Aerobees?
Well, for those that NRL used, yes.
Did you run into problems with the amount of weight? The things were very different.
Oh yes, of course, there it was a good deal smaller. In that sense it was a good deal easier, because you couldn't carry all that garbage, and therefore you didn't have so much to integrate. The V-2 happened to be a truck, in a sense. You had to put a lot of weight up in front, and so as a result you could put a lot of stuff in there, and it made the integration a good deal more difficult.
You mentioned also earlier that you didn't have very formal checkout procedures, but I forgot to ask you at that time if you could recall what the checkout procedure was. Could you give me a rundown of the procedure?
Everything was physically checked out to make sure that everything was there and properly interconnected. Then we would run through from one experiment to the other and have the experimenters check to make sure that their experiment was operating within the bounds of what they expected. Cosmic ray experiments were fairly easy, in the sense that you were always going to get some signal, once you turned it on. Some of the others were more difficult, but the experimenters were responsible for setting up a test procedure that they could run through and tell me that "We're ready; we're okay; we can go."
So we would run through that prior to the buttoning up of the rocket; that is, before we put the heavy doors into the warhead, and before we closed up the next section, which was below it, which was called the instrument section. Before we put that in, we would then run their signals through the telemetry system to an antenna that we had near the blockhouse, and we would check things out through that. We were interested in two things. One was that we could get the instrument working and the other was that we could get a telemetry signal through, for those who were dependent on telemetry.
Did you, as you went through this procedure, have a notebook into which you would enter an indication that a check had been made?
Oh yes. We did. But those were all left at the laboratory.
These were part of the registered notebooks that had to be signed every day?
No, I don't think so. I think we were more informal than that. Things were just going so fast that —I'm sure I kept a record of where we stood, day by day, but it was just one of those things. Once the rocket had been fired, you were through with that one. Whatever date you had there wasn't too much concern about what had happened prior, inasmuch as, if everything was working, you just didn't care about what the sequence of events had been. You were too busy getting ready for the next one.
Did you throw those notebooks out, or did you deposit them?
I'm sure they were left there. I'm sure that they got thrown out in some clean file operation, which everybody has every so often.
Did you have any specific names for these notebooks?
I doubt it. We probably had them by V-2 number, that is, the missile number that we were using.
The reason I'm talking about this is that with the knowledge that they existed, we're going to go back to NRL for other things, and one of them would be to see if these notebooks are still preserved.
Might be. As I say, there were drawings, of course. There were the electrical layouts of all the things that were there. But again, whether they were preserved — it's a long time — I don't know.
Okay. With this particular paper in the PHYS REV, "Search for cosmic ray diurnal effects, " you found none?
We found that within a very small percentage, there was none. We could say, "There are no diurnal effects that are greater than like 1%." I don't remember, but it was approximately that.
That was the state of the art at the time. From the result of this, what was your feeling about what cosmic rays were by then?
We were aware at that time and believed that there was evidence that there were a few particles, heavy particles, in the cosmic ray distribution. But we were quite certain that the cosmic rays were not pure electrons, which had been the view at one time, because we certainly had evidence of protons. In one experiment there was indeed evidence, we thought, of an iron particle in a cloud chamber.
So the types of things we were doing were indicating to us that there were heavier particles in the distribution, and I suspect that we were kind of feeling that there was probably a fairly wide range of particles. As a matter of fact, as you know, at that same time, the Minnesota group did find heavy particles at balloon altitudes. Obviously we were following what they were doing very closely.
Were you thinking at all about the source of cosmic rays, that part of it?
Well, yes and no. Yes in the sense that certainly that was one of the problems of interest, but I guess as far as I was concerned, no, in the sense that that was a problem for the theorists to work on. We were attempting to get measurements and to provide data that would help out in that direction, but I guess we weren't feeling that we were able to really do the theoretical work that was necessary for that. Of course the theoreticians were very interested. They were involved in all this and paying attention.
Who were the theoreticians you were in contact with?
Well, there were several. What was the name of that fellow at Princeton? He was involved later. Ernie probably told you, didn't he?
We didn't talk too much about it; he was gone by that time. We weren't talking about cosmic rays.
John Wheeler was involved in that, and then there were some others later. There were others who came in.
Did you talk with Van Allen at all?
Oh yes. Van Allen, as you know, was with the APL group and so he was working with them at that time. It was after I left that Van Allen became head of the Rocket Research Panel. I think it was after I left, or did he take over right after Krause? I can't remember.
No. Newell did.
Newell did. Then it was later that Van Allen took over.
Yes, much later. Well, contributions No. 12, 13, and 14 start to show me that you started to get into some very different projects. No. 12, "Contributions to AEC report on Project Greenhouse, diagnostic experiments." What is that?
I left the rocket sonde group in 1951 and joined Krause again. Krause had been involved in assisting the AEC in diagnostics of weapons, and that's what came about here. As a matter of fact, I didn't go over there to do that. I did not transfer from rocket sonde to the nuclear physics division in order to work on nuclear weapons. I was going to complete and put into operation a van de Graff accelerator for nuclear physics research. It turned out that we did get it along as far as we could and we were waiting for a building, which was, through the military system, unfortunately very slow.
As a result I then got assigned to do some work on nuclear weapon testing, which we did for about a year and a half. Project Greenhouse was in 1951 and then there was Project Snapper Ivy in the spring of '52, and Ivy Mike in the fall of '52, yes.
These are still probably classified?
I suppose so, although some of the things that had to do with the Ivy Mike shot that I worked on have been shown on television. Ivy Mike was a big thermonuclear device. I think that's all well known. I don't think there's anything classified about that.
But then by '53 here, with Krause and Golian, Marlow and Bebbs, and Moskowitz, you worked on the safeguard study and design of the NRL research reactor. You finally got it built. Was this the a van de Graff?
No, the van de Graff happened while I was shifted over to help on those weapons things. For instance, the first thing I did on that was that we designed and built a small portable Cockroft-Walton device, in order to produce neutrons. While the device was being done for this weapons group, it was really sort of just a sideline of the van de Graff business, part of the same business. That was my association with Greenhouse. Then with the other one, I actually did get involved in the testing, and at that time another fellow by the name of Ken Dunning took over the van de Graff, and he stayed with it while waiting for the building and all that.
But as soon as that fall of '52 shot was over, we were essentially getting out of the work on weapons testing. NRL didn't want to stay with that any more, certainly to the extent that had been done, because they had been responsible for the entire diagnostics, essentially. So again, going back to nuclear physics, we decided that what we needed at NRL was a research reactor.
It was Golian and I primarily who went to work on that. The problem was twofold in getting the reactor laid out. One was to get things cleared with the Reactor Safeguard Committee, which Dr. Teller was running at the time, and the second was of course to get the Congress to stand still for a reactor in Washington. As I recall, the headline in the Washington Post was, "Reactor to be in Shadow of Capitol Dome," something like that.
Yes, I noticed that during this time you did study environmental aspects of the reactor, and I imagine there was also public reaction to this as well as Congressional reaction.
No, not much. As I say, we did get the publicity in the newspaper, and the public wasn't particularly perturbed about it. I went with an admiral up to Congressional hearings and it turned out the admiral did all the talking. I never said anything. From what I heard that day, the one thing Congress was worried about was that the military would go out and buy land somewhere, and we weren't going to do that. So everything went along pretty well. It was surprising that it went along.
The Reactor Safeguard Committee kept us on their agenda until we were ready to start building. I think that was just a matter of, don't let anybody off the hook until you have to. Can't blame them very much. I think we learned a lot from attending their meetings, because we then listened to the presentations of all the other people who were in the same boat. There was the Phoenix Project in Michigan at the time, and there was an Army setup up in Boston that wanted to put in a reactor.
Of course, the big interest in ours was that it was the first one in the Washington DC area. It was patterned after a reactor at Oak Ridge, so it was a pool type reactor.
A low pressure.
It was an atmospheric pressure reactor, but it was just a reactor core buried in a swimming pool. You could see the core glow when it was operating.
Now, you had pretty much left the rocket work during this time.
How did you feel about that? Had you formed an attachment with the cosmic ray work, the rocket integration stuff?
No, actually in the rocket group, I was not doing as much in the way of research as I would have liked. I was doing the integration, I had the impact point computer, and was helping Rosen with his test problems with respect to the Viking; so I wasn't doing much research. So when I was offered the opportunity to go over and take over this van de Graff, I figured, aha, here I have a chance to get back into real research.
You say you were offered the opportunity. Could you have turned it down?
So you really always maintained freedom of choice?
Oh yes, there was not any coercion on that. No, NRL was a very good place. It was a nice place to be and had a lot of real advantages.
Okay. Yet you eventually decided to leave.
Could you go through the stages in which that decision was made?
That's probably a little on the complex side. There were a number of things. We did have the reactor in operation, so that was completed, in that sense; and we had the research problem started — both of which I had put a lot of effort into in those few years.
Then the opportunity to come out here was there, and I guess I have to admit that to some extent, a reasonable extent, money was one of the factors. I had a boy coming up who was 14 years old and I was looking at the fact that he was going to college in a few years, and at that time yet, which was in '56, civil service salaries just had not seen any move up. They were still pretty low. As I remember, I was a grade 14 and I was getting a little under $11,000 a year, I guess, and so, living costs and all of that were such that it was going to be kind of tight.
So I got this opportunity to come out with Ford Aeroneutronics. Now, obviously one of the reasons I came there was that I knew the people there. There was Ernie Krause, of course, and there was Montgomery Johnson, whom we had worked with on nuclear physics at NRL, Eric Durand, Harrison Smith, and several others. I probably would not have come to any of the other organizations out here, where I didn't know anybody, but knowing that group and talking to them about what they were up to, I thought it was worth a shot, so I came out.
Did they actually recruit you?
Yes, they actually recruited me.
When was this?
In the fall of '56.
And what did they recruit you to do?
I was to work on reactors for the Ford Motor Co.
You mean a potentially commercial enterprise?
Right. I know I had some discussions with them at the time and said, "Well, you know, this is a great idea, but they had better be committed to spending a lot of money or it wasn't going to work."
Who did you have to tell that to?
I told it to Jerry Lynch who was then the president of Aeroneutronics, and he allowed as how he thought Ford was really going to be committed to all of this. Well, it turned out, as I say, not too surprisingly, that was not really forthcoming. They made a couple of efforts, and it wasn't a really promising thing for them to do, in competition with the other organizations that were involved. So then we shifted, and I was perfectly happy to shift over to the space business, which is where things were going then anyway.
When was that? Just before Sputnik or after Sputnik?
Oh, it was after Sputnik.
After October of '57.
Yes. I was involved in reactors there for about two years. As a matter of fact, we had a pretty big proposal in on the gas cooled reactor, and, which was won by our friends down south, Convair, who had built the place at La Jolla. It was before Gulf took it over a little later.
How did you make this transfer into aerospace? Who brought you in? Was it Ernie Krause?
It was just essentially that Aeroneutronics made the transfer.
You mean the Aerospace Corporation formed out of that?
Aerospace was completely independent and had nothing to do with Aeroneutronics. Aeroneutronics as you know was and still is part of Ford Motor Company, and at that time it was a mostly Ford owned but partially minority stockholder owned part of Ford Motor Company. It was, I guess, a dream of Ernie Breach to get into the aerospace business or get into the various things. The reason why it was called Aeroneutronics, was that they were going to do both space and nuclear physics. It turned out that they wound up doing space work, not nuclear physics.
What kind of space work did they get into?
Well, they were involved in a number of things. They did get involved in some things that had to do with missiles. They had a project that they launched out in the Pacific, of a rocket on top of a balloon or below a balloon. That was Project Farside. That was during the time I was still working on the reactor problem and the proposal for this gas-cooled reactor. So they were doing that, and then of course, later they did have some missile related programs, and they did get the Ranger Hard Lander for NASA, which was probably the most important space thing that I worked on while I was at Aeroneutronicss.
What was your input on that?
There we were involved in the physics of the problem with respect to the landing, especially what temperature problems we would have with Ranger when it was on the moon. Also, our group did some work on the scanning system for it — the way it scanned to look at the lunar surface. As you know, the first few never got to the moon. They finally did land one and it worked.
Yes. Now, the instruments you mentioned, which you were involved in, were eventually taken off Ranger, were they not? What were they for?
The first concern somebody came to me with was, this thing will overheat during the transit from the earth to the moon. I allowed as how I thought that probably the period on the moon would be the critical phase. So we did calculations analysis and showed where the problems were. So my group was primarily doing the physics analysis of the problems that they were associated with at that time.
That's why I'm confused. The Ranger was a hard lander.
It was a hard lander.
So it really wasn't expected to work, once it got to the moon?
It was expected to work and to transmit some data. It was supposed to survive, and as I remember it had a device that was basically, in a sense, a camera, that was a line scanner. It was supposed to go around and to transmit the information to the earth.
Surveyor did that.
Surveyor did, but Ranger was supposed to give information too. It wasn't just supposed to land there.
But it never did that.
Oh yes, I think one did, if I remember correctly.
Number 7? Here I think — you got a ringer.
A ringer. Well, as I say, I don't remember how many of them had propulsion failures and didn't get there. I know the first one that landed failed, but I thought that one or two of them actually did work finally, but I can't remember.
Okay. In '59, which was before the Rangers or anything had succeeded, you with M.H. Johnson, I.H. Blifford, R.H. Havens and Dinsmore Alter had a paper, "Lunar research studies astrophysical measurements." That is in AFSWC, Publication TR 59 37. What is AFSWC? I wonder how I might be able to get a copy of that.
The trouble is that AFSWC is Air Force Special Weapons Center at Albuquerque, and for instance, here is a classified document done for the same organization.
I'll be darned, you mean this underground experiment?
That was done for the Special Weapons Center and that was a classified document. Now, this one—
No. That probably was one of the things they just gave us a contract to do. It was a matter of looking at what research you could do with respect to the moon at that time. That's why Dinsmore Alter was consultant to it.
I'd love to get a copy of that. But let me ask you a few questions on Alter. He worked on a consultant basis?
Could you describe how you met him or how he was chosen as a consultant?
At first when I was here, Alter was running the Griffith Observatory, and also he had probably been the most prolific individual with respect to research on the moon for the last 20 years. Alter did a lot of that. So I knew of him, and I met him at Griffith Observatory.
You visited up there?
Oh yes. We visited there. Then of course there were other meetings, and it was just at that time that Alter had to retire. He became old enough so that he was forced to retire, which didn't please him very much, but that was all right, so we chose to ask him to help us as a consultant, which he did. So he worked with us for several years on that, and as a result was very helpful in instructing us at what we should be looking for on the moon, the kind of research studies we ought to be doing. But we did a lot of calculations as to what you'd have to do to do the work.
What type of calculations? What were you looking for?
Well, we were looking for, for example, what could be the temperature down into the moon, in various layers of dust, and how you would measure that and so on. These were the things done. I don't remember that report in detail. I guess it covered a number of things, as I recall, and as I say, we had good help. Montgomery Johnson was an outstanding theoretical physicist.
Montgomery Johnson — was he a consultant also?
Oh no, he was my boss at the time. I worked for him.
I see. What about I.H. Blifford and R.H. Havens?
Well, Havens was a consultant at that time. No, wait a minute — what year was that?
That was '59.
'59 — no, Havens was an employee. He had also come with Krause from NRL, and he still lives up in the north end of the valley. So he had been involved early in the work on the temperature and density measurements of the atmosphere with the rockets, and at Aeroneutronics, he was also. At first he was an employee, then he quit and became a consultant, because he worked not only for Aeroneutronics but for others. But I think at that time he was an employee.
Do you recall Blifford?
Irving H. Blifford, yes. He was with us there for a few years and then later he went to NOAA in Colorado. As far as I know he's still there.
Let me just ask a few questions about Havens. Was he part of the original group at NRL also?
Yes, he was.
Was he there earlier than you were?
Yes. He was there during the war.
What was his background? Was he a physicist?
Right, he was also a physicist. He was a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin.
He engaged primarily in direct atmospheric measurements?
Right. His background had been in infra-red work, and then he came to Aeroneutronics and he was doing the temperature pressure work, which was what he had been involved in with the V-2 rockets.
So he could have been present during the early meetings when the Rocket sonde section was formed?
Oh yes, he could have been, very well.
Do you think it would be valuable for me to contact him?
I would think so, yes.
When was the last time you saw him?
A few months ago.
He's still in good shape?
Oh yes, no question; he's still around.
Is there any way I can get an address for him?
I can call home and get it for you.
We can do that later, if I have any extra time. You say he's in the north end of the Valley?
Yes. He is just north of Grenada Hills.
Let me ask a few more questions then for my colleague, Joe Tatarewicz.
Did you sense competition among aerospace companies for lunar and planetary expertise for those contracts, during this time, '58, '59, '60?
Well, there certainly was. There certainly was competition with respect to trying to get contracts. On the other hand, they did have the Lunar Panel, and there was a considerable amount of interchange between people at that time. I think that was because it was all so new and none of the companies had really done anything in that area, so there was an interest in being involved in that. Of course, there were academic people involved. Harold Urey was involved in that group, as well as people like Alter and Stanley Greenfield of the Rand Corporation.
Did you have any contact with the Lunar Panel yourself?
Yes, I generally attended their meetings.
What was the nature of those meetings? Were they pretty open?
Yes, they were very open. They were general discussions of what we ought to be looking for, what we ought to be aiming at trying to do. A lot of it was also discussions on what people thought the moon was like. For example, there were discussions with respect to the vulcanism versus impact theories, all of that. That was one of the concerns in considering what you could do.
What was your role in going to them? Were you representing your company?
I was representing the company, and we were trying of course to get as much up to date as we could, and as I say, we had the Ranger contract and we had another little contract. We did a little crazy experimentation to look at this lunar crater business.
What did you do?
We actually put materials in a vacuum, and then could create the craters with the various terraces and things that would appear from vulcanism. When you pulled the vacuum on top, what happened was, you'd create a small volcano, and what we were able to do was to demonstrate that with vulcanism you could create the craters, the features that you saw in the lunar craters, as best you could see them from the earth. We were partly influenced on this by the fact that Alter was really a believer in vulcanism. And he was in contact with a Russian who had seen the plume in a crater on the moon.
How did you feel about this? Were you a believer also?
Oh, Dinsmore was very convincing. I guess I felt that there was clearly both kinds of craters, that there had to be both kinds. There was no question that there were impact craters. The moon couldn't possibly have escaped impact craters. The earth had them, the moon had to have them too. But I thought with Dinsmore Alter that there was no physical reason that we could see at the moment why vulcanism wouldn't also be present. And of course, our Russian friend gave us a lot of confidence, whether we should have believed him or not, is different, but we did.
While you were with Ford Aeroneutronics, you attended a few meetings at the Lunar and Planetary Exploration Colloquium. Is this what you were talking about?
This was sponsored by North American Aviation Missile Division, April, '59. Again you were attending these meetings in an official capacity?
Yes, I was part of the Aeroneutronics contingent that went there.
What did you think of the prospect of lunar and planetary exploration at the time? Would it be considered audacious, feasible, visionary?
Well, certainly we weren't thinking of manned exploration very much at that moment, but certainly unmanned exploration we felt was quite feasible, because of the rocket thrust we had at that time we felt that we could put at least sma11 things onto the moon.
Now, obviously, the rocket development went perhaps faster than I guess most of us would have expected, and as a result we could really do more than we thought at that time we could do. But that's where Ranger came out, of course. It was about what you could do with the technology that you had available at the time.
Were you involved at all in getting Ranger as a contract for Ford Aeroneutronics?
Yes. My group did a number of studies for the proposal, and that got the contract. JPL evaluated all of the proposals.
They were the evaluating proposals?
JPL evaluated the group of proposals for that one.
Who were some of the other competitors for Ranger?
Oh, I can't recall. I suspect that Lockheed and North American were competitors, but I can't recall. Lockheed should have been, because they were interested in the space business, very much so.
Right. You were involved in writing reports and proposals?
Did you ever testify or give any oral presentation?
No, not on that one, interestingly enough. There was a program office group that handled all the meetings with JPL, and what we did was give them papers on various subjects that they had need for, and they would then present those. The way JPL worked, if I remember correctly, was that they would rather get a paper than they would a presentation.
So you didn't have any particular contact that you knew at JPL yourself?
No, not really. Our group was in the background, you might say. We were the physics group supporting the program office. They were doing the engineering of what had to be done.
Was Dr. Johnson part of your physics group then?
The physics group that I was running reported to Dr. Johnson.
I see. So who did you have on your own team?
At that time Golian had come with us. Here we've got (looking at publication) Krukoff Meyer, Worcester; they were also part of it.
I see. This is part of publication No. 27?
Yes, that was a later one, but they were in that group at the time. We were about 35 people. Blifford was there I think still at that time.
It appears from your publication list that you were writing these background papers on a number of different areas. You were continuing with nuclear research but you were beginning to do problems and studies in space, so you had a multi-task sort of thing.
As I say, I had this group of about 35 people, and I had to keep them fed, and so I was getting contracts from the Air Force Special Weapons Center and various other places like Picketiny Arsenal, but we were doing classified work for those people. Then of course, we were doing the unclassified work with these other proposals like Ranger and various other things that were going on at the same time. But the classified work was kind of a background support kind of thing. It was nuclear physics and it was all fine.
But we were able to do it, and it was a source of financial support for us to keep us going, because we didn't have the luxury which we would have liked to have been supported by the Ford Motor Company as a great resource. We were there as a resource, but I had to find maybe 60% of the support for the organization from outside contracts directly, rather than from inside the organization. There wasn't enough really at Aeroneutronics at the time. Their major task was Ranger and they did have the Scout at the time and we were working on both of those.
The Scout launch vehicle?
Yes, which started at Aeroneutronics and was later shifted down to Texas.
Right, but the Scout has become one of the major NASA launch vehicles. What was your role in that?
At that time, the Scout was started by the Air Force, as I recall, and I think they called it the Blue Scout or something like that. The first development of the Scout vehicle, the first bunches of the Scout vehicle, were done by Aeroneutronics. Again there was a program group that was running that, and as the physics group, we supported them in various analyses on what was going on with the rocket. We had helped them with their proposal, and then we helped them as they were going along with their development. After the first contract, as I remember, Aeroneutronics lost it. I'm not sure why; that was about the time that I left and went to Aerospace.
When was that?
Let me ask a few more questions about Dinsmore Alter. He was a classical astronomer, ground-based. What was his feeling about all of this, going into space? Actually going to the moon? Was he excited about it?
Very excited. Very unhappy that he felt he was too old to go himself.
He wanted to go?
Oh yes. He would have been delighted to go to the moon. He was a marvelous individual, and just as happy as he could be that attention was now being placed on the moon and the planets. He had been a lonesome soul, looking at the moon, for years. He had an arrangement with the observatory up here at Mount Wilson that they would call him on nights when the seeing was extra good. He would rush up and take some pictures of the moon, because obviously, resolution was a big problem with the moon.
So he had done that over a period of about 20 years, and had been I think probably the only astronomer in the United States who had even looked at the moon in those 20 years. So he was delighted the way things were going.
You mean this general revitalization?
I see. Did he talk about his hope that ground based astronomy would continue? Did he see this possibly as usurping it?
Oh no, I think he thought that there would be a great deal of cooperation. I'm not sure that he ever felt at that time that we would be able to do things like the trip to Jupiter and so on. But the moon, he felt, was within reach. That was only a quarter of a million miles away. We had a shot at that. Then, of course, things like an orbiting telescope, he was very interested in.
How did that come up? Did he talk about it or were there proposals?
Oh, I don't think there were any proposals. It was part of the general discussion at the time, of what could you do in space that you could not do on the ground. Obviously, one of the big problems you had with ground based telescopes is the seeing, the distortion of the atmosphere, and obviously, if you could get above the atmosphere, it would be great.
Now, Dinsmore, of course, wanted to look out from the earth, contrary to a lot of other people, and what we have done is look at the earth from space, which has turned out to be very useful, but of course his interest was the other way.
So you left Ford Aeroneutronics in '63.
Did you have any other major contract proposals for space that did not get funded before you left?
You know, I don't recall. There certainly were. My problem is that I can't recall what they were.
You didn't bid for Surveyor?
I don't recall whether they bid for Surveyor or not, I don't think so. I think they were at that time tied up with Ranger, and I don't think they would have been allowed to bid for Surveyor.
Why did you move to the Aerospace Corporation?
Well, I don't know. I guess there were a whole variety of reasons. I was getting to the point where I was doing a lot of classified work there, in order to keep the organization going. Part of my problem was that while doing that, I only had limited access to various areas of information that I needed, because of the nature of Ford Aeroneutronics. So when Aerospace formed this division out at San Bernardino, and Ernie Krause was running it—
What was that particular division in San Bernardino?
Well, actually that was the division that was supposed to work with the missile part of the Air Force, because the missile part of the Air Force was then located at San Bernardino. Then Ernie Krause was chosen to run that organization, and we got together, and he asked me to come out there and pick up on the nuclear survivability problems, which I did, since that was very much like what I was doing at Aeroneutronics.
I felt that Aerospace, given the nature of the business as it was, being as closely associated with the Air Force as it was, I would have better access to data and information than I did at Aeroneutronics, which turned out to be true.
Was there the same contracting problem, that you had to survive through outside contracts?
It wasn't the same, by no means, because Aerospace, at that time and still, has essentially one contract with the Air Force which they negotiate each year. Instead of the constant flow of proposals that we had at Aeroneutronics, we did not have that at Aerospace, and that was somewhat of an enticement too. I think I was actually pretty jaded with the business of preparing proposals.
It just turned out that it was for proposals that Aeroneutronics really wanted my group most of the time, and once the contract came in, then they would set up their own organization, and they would get other people to do all the work. So I would be very valuable and helpful to them in getting proposals, but once the job came in, I didn't get too much work from them. It annoyed me a little bit. But as a result I did a lot of proposal work, and I think I got tired of that. That was certainly one of the factors in my leaving. At Aerospace I wasn't supposed to have to do any proposals, and we didn't, for a long time.
What do you think of the problem of proposal and grantsmanship activity — how did that affect long range planning, the development of a knowledge data base, so to speak? Did it keep you from feeling comfortable about — this indicates, the Ranger — really getting to know lunar and planetary exploration?
Well, it had sort of a dual effect. Yes, it did interfere in the sense that you put a lot of effort into proposals, and while you were doing that you could have been doing something else. But it did turn out at that time, in the nature of the business, in order to do a proposal, you had to do a lot of studies. In other words, it wasn't a situation where you could reach back in your files and pick out all the things you needed and write the proposal. Most of these things were for new things, and some of the things that were being asked for were impossible or almost impossible, and so there was a lot of work that you did as a result of that.
It was probably a very inefficient and expensive business for the companies involved, because each one had to put a lot of effort into getting a space proposal out, and more so I think than they did in other areas they were working in, even with the military. I think the NASA proposals were probably more difficult than the ones for the military.
They required more documentation?
No, I think they required more background work, more study — although certainly the ones for the military did too, because again in rockets and everything else, it was a new field and things were changing rapidly.
Yes. When you went to the Aerospace Corporation, you started out working in the area of nuclear safety?
That's right, yes.
And did you continue in that or move into something else?
Well, I stayed there a little while, and then I was asked to become first associate manager of the technology division, in which the nuclear effects group was one part. It was basically the engineering group, if you might call it that, for the San Bernardino operations. So I went there in April of '63, and we worked on safety aspects, nuclear effects aspects, in missiles and so on for two years. Then in 1965 I became first associate director or manager and about three months later general manager of the technology division, there. So that's what I was there until '72, when they closed down that facility, and I came in here then.
You came down to El Segundo. In what capacity?
I became manager of the guidance and control division here. This is a bigger operation. Out there we had one division that did all of the support engineering work. In here they have four divisions, which includes the computer operation, so it was three engineering divisions plus the computer operations division, and I became general manager of one division, because we basically consolidated the two organizations.
So, while I had responsibility for guidance and control for missiles as part of my effort out at San Bernardino, then when I came in here, that was the sum total essentially. That is the mechanical engineering, the electronic engineering and so on were in other divisions.
I see. So when did you actually retire here?
So you worked again another ten years here.
In guidance and control, or did you change?
No, I changed, about in '78. I shifted off to a somewhat smaller organization called the orbital and environmental analysis group, in which we had the orbit mechanics and navigation people. All the time I was in the guidance and control, I had a small group in nuclear effects, environmental effects, with me, that is both space radiation and bomb radiation. The biggest share of the effort there was obviously space radiation related.
The effect on man or the effect on the instruments?
The effect on the instruments, mostly. Man, yes, but since we didn't have much expectation at that time of man in space through the Air Force—the MOL program, which was a Man Orbiting Laboratory, had been cancelled before that.
Right. Had you been involved in that at all?
No, because I was at San Bernardino at that time. But when I came in here in the engineering group, I was the one division manager who had a nuclear background, and so they assigned the environmental group to me. I had them in addition to the guidance and control. Then from '78 to '80, about a year and a half, I did run a smaller group which had the orbital mechanics and navigation people and the environmental people.
Then at that time, I was 65, and I decided that while I wasn't really anxious to retire, I didn't want to continue with that kind of management. I was offered the chance to come up here and work in corporate planning, and so for two and a half years I was involved in that. Every year we put out a thing called the Ten Year Outlook, which is a forward looking planning document, within the constraints of a non-profit organization such as we are. So I worked on that for 2 1/2 years and I'm still helping them with it. I come in occasionally and that's how come I have an office here. I come in once in a while and give them some help.
Because this is the first year that people other than myself and Ernie Krause have done that activity, it got transferred over to other people, so they're picking it up, and we're still giving them a little advice and counsel on it.
I see. What is the purpose of the Ten Year Outlook?
Well, it's basically to provide guidelines for how the organization ought to plan the use of its resources. That is with available funds, where should it be invested, what should it do, what is going to be needed in the sense of investment in research, in research equipment in buildings, etc. We try to work with all of the people in the organization to pull together what seems to be the most likely way things are going to go.
Is this a report for internal use primarily or for the Air Force?
Well, it was originally intended to be available to the other organizations also, but the Air Force has essentially constrained us to keep it within the company and the Air Force. That is, the Air Force does have access to it, but they have said they don't want it distributed publicly, so it is listed as "Not for public distribution." I can show you one.
Ten Year Outlook, FY '83, FY 1992, this is September 30th, 1983, the Aerospace Corporation, public release is not authorized, secondary distribution of this report not permitted. Yes. I won't read anything on the inside.
Oh, that's all right. It's difficult to see just what their concern is, but I think one of the problems the Air Force has is that they sometimes are, I think, much too sensitive about information. But Aerospace certainly does go along with the Air Force on this. There's no problem. But it is a useful internal document in the sense that it provides guidelines, and as a result, we have developed plans that would not otherwise have been available.
You were saying that you felt the Air Force was being overly conservative about this.
Oh, I think so.
That's pretty much their prerogative, I guess.
Right. They certainly have rational reasons for concern, in the sense that most of what they do is not completely unclassified. Some of the things they do are not but a lot of it is classified, and so, a concern about insights into that is certainly there.
In your work in the 1970s, in orbital and environmental aspects, did you propose, through the Air Force, any major satellite projects that you'd be involved in?
No. In all of that, we were in support of two things. One, primarily, was ongoing projects. For instance, in the navigation group, we were supporting what is known as Navstar, or the navigation satellite, and it was a big heavy effort to work on that. Of course, in orbital mechanics, we were supporting mostly communications satellites because that's mostly what we have.
Secondly, we provided support for new programs. For example, when Navstar was proposed years ago, during the time that the concept for a program like that was developed, Aerospace was deeply involved in the concept development and the general basic systems engineering of what that was designed to do, and the people that I had and worked with were involved in that. For instance, in the guidance, how the guidance was to be formulated and what the various requirements were for guidance systems.
To what degree were the results of the Starfish test available to you for your own studies? Project Argos happened before you got into this environmental stuff. Were you involved in any way?
I was not involved in Starfish in any way. However, certainly, even at Aeroneutronics I did get information on that, and at Aerospace I was able to get that information, because as you know, while I was at NRL I worked with the weapons people. We had much contact with the Los Alamos people at that time, and after I got here, I again had contact with them, and the reason of course was, to get information that we needed for those kinds of survivability studies. So I had access to all the classified data.
Did you find the information adequate for your purposes?
Well, there's never adequate information for what you'd like to do, but there was a lot of data there that was very useful, and there was a lot that left you obviously concerned that you'd like to have more data. I guess I should say, it's pretty clear that the weapons lab people were the ones who provided most of the information, and they did the theoretical studies, so we were the recipients of their output and then used it, applied it to our situation.
What I'm curious about is, at the time of the Starfish tests, there were a number of satellites that degraded as a result of it. Was the record of their degradation the type of information that you needed?
Oh yes, that was very useful to us, not only with respect to Starfish, you understand, or that kind of thing, but with respect to natural radiation, such as solar storms, which have always been a problem, and which provide us with a lot of radiation in a hurry sometimes.
Yes, you mean flares and things like that.
Those type of phenomena have been of concern to us. Now, it was certainly true that because of Starfish, I think, satellites did get built in a fashion that they were much less susceptible to such radiation.
What kinds of changes had to be made? I'm curious.
With respect to circuitry primarily: whether or not you're susceptible, and certain piece parts that happened to be susceptible to radiation.
Individual solid state transistors. At that time we were operating with solid state transistors, and like everything, there were susceptible transistors and not so susceptible transistors. So all those kinds of things were worried about. Now, we haven't repeated any of those experiments, but I think that today you'd probably find that a Starfish experiment probably wouldn't have any real effect on the existing satellites, most of them.
I appreciate that. I know that in the mid-sixties and probably through today, Aerospace Corporation supported some planetary radar studies in the millimeter range, with — is this Green? I can't remember the fellow's name. Are you aware of any basic research going on here at Aerospace that we would regard as planetary astronomy or radar work?
There certainly has been millimeter radar work that has gone on, yes. There has been quite a bit of that. I don't know that what was going on here has had a great deal of impact on planetary astronomy, but there have been efforts to find the windows through the atmosphere and that kind of thing, primarily for high frequency communication and so on. Aerospace is primarily associated with the Air Force, and the Air Force just has not done planetary work. They have had near earth orbit satellites, so that's been the major effort here, unlike JPL where obviously their effort has been on planetary research.
NRL was able to get berths for some of its scientific instruments on Air Force satellites.
These satellites continued on after the OSO series had finished. Was there any contact with your group on environmental requirements for these instruments?
Yes, in the sense that our group worked closely with NASA. That type of environmental work was primarily handled by NASA, and NASA was sort of the coordinator. As a matter of fact our people in our research labs did work on that, and their information was then fed to NASA. There was data gathered from satellites by the different groups and all that information was then fed as a community into NASA, then our group would use the data to create an environment. For example, what was the energy distribution of electrons at various altitudes? Obviously whether you were in the midst of the Van Allen Belts or whether you were at synchronous, it would be quite different.
The leadership in that was NASA but organizations such as Aerospace and others did provide inputs from wherever they got them. OAA certainly provided information. Then the Air Force satellites would add instruments that would give a kind of data, and when that data came in, it was fed into NASA for inclusion into the canonical environment, if you want to call it that.
Do you feel there's anything we've left out about your career, your background, your interests, your successes that we should discuss at this moment?
I don't think you've left out anything that I can discuss. There's a lot I can't.
That's perfectly okay. As you look back on your career, what do you feel you were involved in or that you did that was the most exciting or the most rewarding to you?
Well, I think, as a matter of fact, the early days of the rocket research were probably most exciting, simply because it was so pioneering, and everything was going at such a nice hectic pace — that was without doubt the most exciting.
But I think that, as a matter of fact, to put it another way, I probably got less satisfaction out of the managerial efforts I've done than when I was more fully engaged in the direct research work itself. I guess that's just a natural thing for most of us. It wasn't that I didn't recognize the value or the need for management. I did. It's sort of the way you go, and I guess it's also true that research is for the young. They do it best.
Well, they seem to do very well. They're probably more willing to make mistakes. When you get older, you get a little worried about mistakes. I don't know.
Just for the last few moments on the tape, you have a number of things out here for us to look at?
Well, that bulletin was one that I just happened to have; it's about the NRL reactor.
That's Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C. NRL Bulletin, 2 October '56, No. 85.
It was just when the reactor went critical.
"Goes critical," in quotation marks, everybody seems to have a smile on their face.
Well, that's right. We had at that time got it critical for the first time, so it was operating as a critical facility.
This is a good picture, with everybody's name, probably a good famous picture. Can I get copies of this?
I can certainly try. We'll run a copy and see what happens.
And are there other things here?
No, that has nothing to do with it. No, I don't. I missed one thing. I don't know what I did with it, that I didn't bring along. I had a picture of a bunch of people at Martin with the Viking — I don't know whether that would have been interesting to you or not.
It had Homer Newell and Milton Rosen and other people there, but I don't have the names, except those few that I recognize now. If you wanted it I could probably mail it to you.
All right, we could make a copy and then send it back to you. What other records do you have? You said you moved around a lot so you don't have too much, but do you have correspondence, working notes?
I may have some. I did look through what I could, and I didn't find very much, but that just means that I have a lot of stuff stored in boxes and things that I just wasn't able to get through. However, I really doubt that I have a great deal. As I say, I have a few of those pictures. Actually, Ernie Krause had many more of them than I have. He had a big stack of stuff.
He's been very generous with us, that's right.
So if you've received things from him, I think you've got much more than you could have gotten from me. But if I find anything I'll be happy to let you know.
I have one final question I forgot to ask you. Now, your son is at JPL.
Of course he is in space work. Did you encourage him to go into this?
Oh, I guess. He'd known about it and been involved in it through me from the time he was a little child, because he did go up with me to Camp Ripley, for example, to balloon launchings. As a matter of fact, when he was in high school, he organized an astronomy club and they put up a telescope at a high school in Tustin, California.
That's when you were out at San Bernardino?
No. that's when I was working at Aeroneutronics. They were in Newport Beach and we were in Tustin just a little way away. In 1964 I moved to Redlands, but by that time Jay was back up at Carleton going to college.
He went to Carleton also.
Yes. But there, unlike me, he did get interested in astronomy, and then he went on to the University of Texas where he got his doctorate.
It's interesting; you're a two generation family in space.
Yes, I guess so. Actually, my daughter is also in space work at TRW. She didn't start in that direction, but through a series of events became involved in computer aided design.
Might be the first.
Well, there can't be many ahead of us because Jay was born in '43, so he was a fairly small boy when we were doing some of that, but he was well aware of what it was. We had little models of a V-2, and I guess he used those as toys as much as anything else.
I remember one case. It was after we had been up at Camp Ripley. We'd been somewhere else and he had gotten a couple of helium balloons, and he decided to launch them, as he had seen the ones at Camp Ripley go, and this was to the great amazement of his playmates, who couldn't understand what he was up to, because he let these balloons go.
Did he have a little package?
Oh, he had a little package on it of some kind, and he launched those two in tandem, and he just let them go and was cheering as they went, and his playmates couldn't understand what he was so happy about — his balloons were disappearing. So yes, I think those early things always do influence people, although some of us, like me, we get a long way from the blacksmith shop to this.
Well, I want to thank you very much. It's been a delightful interview session.
It's been a pleasure.
"Rocket Exploration of the Upper Atmosphere., Interscience Publishers, 1954.