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Interview of S. Fred Singer by Allan A. Needell and David DeVorkin on 1991 April 23, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/28613
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Ionospheric work in the ‘50s; Lloyd Beckner, extensively; McKerran Act and scientists; Satellite discussions in the early ‘50s; meeting and attendees at a meeting in Beckner’s room at IUGG; Project Farside; rocket work; discussions of using explosions in space to create shock waves; trapped radiation; Project Argus; Singer excluded from NASA and NRL but got funding from NSA.
This is the third interview in a series with Dr. S. Fred Singer.
As we discussed, I had taken some time and looked through some of your papers at the Garber facility. I'm specifically interested in writing an autobiographical treatment of Lloyd Berkner. I discovered while I was out there several documents and areas to talk about. We've talked about some things as well. I thought that maybe just to start — and I've copied several documents from your files that I'll give you to look at so that we can talk about them. We had tried to pin down when it was that you first had some professional and personal associations with Berkner and you had recalled that it was probably after the war when Berkner returned to the Carnegie Institution of Washington DTM. The earliest correspondence I found between you and he is dated February '51. You had already, I guess, been in England and it does talk a little bit about scientific matters and I wonder if you could just comment on this (letter dated 20 February 1951 from Dr. Singer to — it says Dr. Berkner but I think at that time he's still was Mr. Berkner).
I never knew whether he had a doctorate of not. I always thought he qualified so I simply addressed his as Dr. Berkner. I had met his around '47 or '48 and I remember meeting him in Derwood, Maryland where he had set up a rather fancy type of observing station for the ionosphere, one which automatically tracked the height of the layers. It's a new idea. It was a sort of a feedback system that he had instituted.
This just wasn't a sort of automatic sweep, that it would sweep through the frequency range.
It was an automatic sweep but it also tracked in some sense, as I recall, the height of the layer. It seemed to me — I'm trying to recall this now — that he had introduced a substantial technical improvement.
So there's an active feedback mechanism from the layers as it was detected or was it just simply it swept every certain period through all the fields.
I think it certainly swept as they normally did but he had in some way automated it. That I don't recall. My own involvement in the ionosphere was of course through the measurements which we made of the current layers, the ionosphere using rockets.
When you say we you mean at APL?
At APL, yes. We is — I had two collaborators at the Naval Ordnance Lab, Maple and Bowen. So the three of us were the experimenters. I was the lead experimenter and took a magnetometer instrument which they had supplied to me, modified it and adapted it for rocket use and handled the rocket experiment. That was the one which later on discovered what was called the equatorial electrojet current. These are experiments done at the suggestion of Harry Vestine, also of the Carnegie Institution DTM so I was closely connected with DTM, visiting the people quite often and that's how I met Berkner.
So this was not a collaborator that Berkner was directly involved with that you're referring to here.
No. Now looking at this February 1951 letter he apparently has written me concerning our current measurements. I told him how pleased I was that we had gotten a positive result.
And outlines future experiments that might be done and prospects of using Aerobee rocket and such.
At that time I don't know whether I had already done the theoretical analysis which I published I think in 1952 or '53 in Nature —
It was JGR-56, June '51. That was your first one with —
That was not theoretical, that was simply observational.
The Nature was 170, December 1952.
That's it, yes. So I had not done that work when I wrote to Berkner. Later on I did this work and published it and discovered of course the reason why the current layer appeared in the E-layer of the ionosphere in a rather very narrow ten kilometer interval of altitude rather than as everyone had believed in a three hundred kilometer interval. It has to do with the fact no one really thought that the ionosphere would have enough electrical conductivity to support such a larger current and I found by analysis that you could get very high conductivity by taking into account what is called the Hall effect. That's essentially what I published.
So that I guess this leads in to the question about your time with the ONR office in London. You were essentially working on research observations that you had already made.
Obviously I could not do any experimental work because I had an office job but I could think about experiments that I had made and in fact did publish maybe half a dozen papers during my stay in London.
So this would have been sort of keeping your contacts open, keeping preparations for possible future work, things like that.
Yes. It was quite interesting to continue this work.
Could I ask was it your ionosphere work that made you interesting to ONR?
No, I think it was my cosmic ray work. Definitely the cosmic ray work because the man I replaced, Tom Coor, was a specialist in cosmic rays.
The person who replaced you though was a specialist in ionosphere physics from Penn State. I've got his name somewhere.
Well, it may be that my presence there changed the emphasis of the job which is certainly true because I brought a lot of experience in upper atmosphere research and space research which included, of course, ionospheric work, in addition to cosmic rays.
So have you already talked about how you were recruited for the ONR job and why you decided to go?
Quite simple. I knew Tom Coor. I'd always been interested in the ONR job and when I learned that he was planning to leave I asked if he could recommend me for the position.
Essentially your thinking being that you'd be interested in the contacts you would make. You wanted to travel at that time?
I had spent four years doing very exhausting kind of experimental work on rockets and I wanted to be able to sit somewhere and think about some of the things we found and also liked the idea of traveling to Europe. I had a choice basically between completing this work with Van Allen in Iowa or going to London and I chose to go to Europe.
Can you recall how the job was described to you. I mean how much of it would be sitting and thinking. How much would it be going around to various laboratories and just making reports on what was going on.
The job was to go around to various laboratories. Sitting and thinking was done on my own, that was not part of the job.
So the job was described to you as essentially being —
Liaison Officer which meant reporting on the work of others in reports.
Who were the reports to?
They were to ONR and to ONR contractors in the United States.
And through them to the scientific community in general, in guess.
Don't forget at that time there was no National Science Foundation and much of the basic research at American universities was supported by ONR.
Were you asked at any point to follow up particular work at Oxford or Cambridge.
No, that was all left to me.
So it was through your own judgment.
My own judgment, yes. From time to time we might get a request would I look into something, somewhere. I don't recall right now of any specific request.
Do you recall were there — in a sense were you involved in political discussions to the effect that Berkner was at this period. He, as you know, during this period, I think you know, worked for the State Department quite exhaustively on various projects.
No I don't remember having any political discussions at all. I think we dealt on a scientific basis and this letter that you just showed me brings back some memories of our exchange of ionospheric problems.
But as far as — I think I mentioned to you at this time there was some discussion about what the role of scientific expertise and scientific advisors should be in foreign policy in general. And of course this is the time of the whole scientific organization of military is under development.
I was aware of that. I know that Berkner had consulted with the State Department, had written what was called the "Berkner Report."
That would be in 1950. When did you go?
September 1950. Then I think Kaepfle was appointed as the first director of that office at State and they appointed two scientific officers at the U.S. Embassy in London. Those were the first two. One was Hans Clarke and the other was Farenhold.
Now there had been an office.
Yes they had an office. Charles Piggott was there. I remember him and I met him but I remember what his position was called but I don't remember now.
There was a man named Evans and that doesn't ring a bell?
Evans doesn't ring a bell. Piggott does. Charles Piggott.
Do you recall working with this State Department office, that is a foreign embassy office as to coordinate what the relationship with ONR would be?
No. I did not work with them or coordinate with them in any way. It's quite possible that the director of my office had some coordination with them but I doubt it. The purposes were quite different. In our ONR office each one of us — there were about a dozen of us, maybe more — had a certain field of research that we followed and we followed it across Europe with an emphasis, of course, on Great Britain, whereas in the State Department office it was all fields but geographically confined to Great Britain. I think they spent a lot of their time entertaining visitors or facilitating their work.
If this is appropriate I'd like to ask about how well you came to know the British ionosphere physics community?
Quite well. They were of course among my, you might say, clients. People that I reported on if you want to call it that. People I mainly dealt with were people like Ratcliffe and his whole group at Cambridge. Through them also all of the radio astronomers. A group at Manchester, which was Bernard Lovell and through him all the radio astronomers and various British governmental organizations. I remember particular R.Q. Twiss, Richard Twiss.
My interest is that I'm trying to better understand if there were polarities in the ionospheric physics community led by Chapman who left just at that time. He was at Oxford. He went to Alaska, although he was moving back and forth a lot.
I saw him at Oxford. In fact remember having lunch at his house with his wife.
He was just moving to Alaska I guess. They had a dual appointment.
Yes. I never considered him to be an ionospheric physicist. His interests were so broad and I never connected him with the ionosphere as such. I would have said that he was concerned about the upper atmosphere generally.
Certainly but in '30 and '31 he established the basic model of discrete layers for the ionosphere and I'm curious if you recall how his models were being discussed during your period of time in ONR.
Chapman was hardly mentioned any more. The subject had advanced considerably since the '30s. Appleton was still considered to be one of the leading experts in the field. I remember meeting Appleton in Great Britain and shortly after 1954 at the Hague at the URSI conference where I intersected with Berkner. Ionospheric work was really you might say monopolized by people who had been brought up in the radio engineering profession rather than in the atmospherics physics profession. Berkner certainly was an electrical engineer, so was Dieminger at the Max Blonk [phonetic] Institute, so was Riebeck [phonetic] in Gothenburg, Sweden. These are all electrical engineers.
And the discrete layer model was still quite strong wasn't it at that time.
Yes and still is. People still talk about the DE&F layer.
Do they seem to refer to them more as regions and more continuous don't they
Yes, they do.
The reason I'm asking this and I should come clean is that I have pretty good evidence that rocket data was the first to show that there was a continuous distribution, not discrete.
Burny Seddon's [phonetic] work, I would imagine. Burny and Seddon.
But also Calmen Bilk. [phonetic] Are you aware of her work at all under Kaplan?
I can understand that Calmen Bilk's work would not be too well remembered but even the NRL work is not very highly cited in the literature and as I go through the reviews by Ratcliffe, by Massey, by Bates, I don't find any clear statement and in fact as late as 1973 in a retrospective on Chapman Bates ends in a poetic way saying that — his metaphor was the person who built the bells was still around to hear them chime at his death in 1970 or thereabouts. Can you offer some insight as to why that's so given at least what you know about the community, ionospheric physicists in the early '50s when you were in London?
I'm not sure I can answer your question directly but let me try. I think there were no ionospheric physicists as such. They were ionospheric propagation experts. That is to say they came from the point of view of radio propagation and electrical engineering rather than from the point of view of the physics of the ionosphere. For example my own work, the work on ionospheric currents was virtually unknown to these people because it didn't affect radio propagation.
That is quite interesting.
But of course it was known to the people who were interested in terrestrial magnetism.
Of course, yes.
But it was cited. I have a citation pattern for your Singer, Maple and Bowen plus the Nature, the JGR and the Nature papers here because I was interested in this point. You see it's bimodal. It peaks in '53, '54, peaks again in '60, '61.
Well you know why?
That's another question but tell me why first.
Quite simple. It's because that subject was taken up again experimentally with rockets at the beginning of the space age. Funds became available to various people in the United States. At the University of New Hampshire people essentially repeated the measurements we had made and found that indeed the current was there and from then on lots of people started to measure the current. And they usually went back and quoted the original papers.
So that makes sense for the bimodal distribution. Malsey [phonetic] and Bestein [phonetic] and Newell and Mayer [phonetic], Van Allen did cite you. So at least the one exception is Massey but he seemed to be the biggest advocate for rocketry anyway.
Yes. Massey did or did not cite it?
You said the biggest exception.
He was in the same group of British physicists who were interested in the upper atmosphere, whereas all these other fellows did not cite you for the reason you gave.
The radio propagation people, that is correct. Yes. I had not realized that they did not cite me but of course I'm not surprised because it didn't affect their work.
So you can rationalize not only your work but the work of Seddon as not being very well cited because it didn't affect their work?
It should have been cited.
How about being cited by ???? and terrestrial magnetism.
I would say Seddon's work would not be cited by people in terrestrial magnetism where they would cite my work and conversely people interested in radio propagation would not cite my work but they should have cited Seddon. Burning and the NRL people who did atmospheric measurements because they measured profiles, the position of the layers.
Is it your impression — you seem to think that there really was a belief that these were really layers instead of regions in this earlier period but don't the review articles, for instance, Berkner's review article of 1939 in the big encyclopedia more or less state they were talking about ion distributions and were talking about the possibility that after increasing certain layers that either remain constant or decrease —
You see from soundings from the earth all you could do is to see the peaks standing up. You couldn't see the valleys in between. You could see the peaks, as it were the mountain peaks standing out but you couldn't see the valleys because they were hidden by the peaks.
They recognized the limits of their techniques.
Yes, they usually put dashes in there.
But the feeling was — I've read Stu Gilmore's, the historian who has been looking at this closely, that the radio observations fit the concept of a layer so nicely when you see those peaks that it was a nice visual trace that supported the idea that the ion concentration did vary in a pattern going from virtually no ions at all to a maximum back to no ions at all.
They simply left the hours blank because they didn't know what the concentration was between the peaks.
What you're saying for radio propagation purposes one can behave as if there were layers, it really doesn't matter.
It doesn't matter, correct. Since the radio waves couldn't reach the valleys, it doesn't matter.
There are two other aspects of the ONR period — I have some documents that Berkner's a little bit involved in — I thought we might talk about. One was — there's some correspondence, again this has to do with the State Department, having to do with visas and the whole problem of their relationship between Americans and scientific — the attitude toward American among that British scientific community and the one that I picked out was a controversy over Blackett and I wondered was this an official capacity or more or less as a sort of American scientist that you intervened is a little strong —
If you'll hand me the exhibit.
There are two. There's a letter to Bruno Rossi and then a year later to Sam Allison in Chicago and I can just summarize for the tape. (This is a letter, first one from Fred Singer to Bruno Rossi dated 4 December, 1951 having to do with a concern over the relationship between Americans and the scientific community in England or in Europe over difficulties that some controversial left-wing or other scientists were having in obtaining visas to travel to the United States.)
These letters were written in a personal capacity, not on behalf of the office. I was concerned about the attitude that then existed in your State Department about the admission of people who might have had some connection with shall we say left-wing causes of that sort and I felt that it would damage our relations with the scientific community in Europe generally. That's what I expressed here. This of course was during the McCarthy period, during the height of the McCarthy period and during the period when the McKerran Act was very strictly enforced.
The McKerran Act said that anyone who — essentially it refused entry to the United States of subversives, fellow travelers.
I found that this felt particularly strongly about Blackett's case and I thought I would take it on.
Because he scientifically, of course, was so well known.
Well known, a Nobel prize winner and also because he had played such an important role in the allied war effort. He of course started the operational research activities in England which helped us in overcoming the German U-boat problem. So for all of these reasons. I don't think Blackett even knew about this. I did this as it were on my own behind his back and lobbied in essence with people who I thought might have some influence to see if the policy could be modified or reversed.
And the reason that the Berkner connection comes in here is that as you mentioned one of the new positions at the State Department was this science advisor to the Secretary of State and this man Kaepfle was the first to come to that office and that was a direct outgrowth of Berkner's study, Science and Foreign Relations. I wonder whether you had had any contact with Berkner of this matter, if you recall?
I don't recall. Probably I should have written to Berkner because he would have been quite influential. I think I wrote to Allison and Rossi mainly because they knew Blackett so well.
Do you remember how that all turned out? Did Blackett make a visit to the United States?
I don't remember. I don't think he made a visit to the United States.
This is a time when certainly these other people we're talking about like Chapman, Bates and also Marcel Nicolet in France and Ratcliffe were visiting the United States quite frequently.
Of course it was very important for them professionally to be able to do so.
Can you expand on that?
Yes. It raised their status within their own community within their own country and it also paid money for them. For example Nicolet and Bates had large contracts from the Navy test facility on the West Coast in China Lake.
That's where they spent some time.
So that was Naval Ordnance money.
And conversely of course those who could not go to the United States were greatly handicapped. Now I never argued, for example, that Powell should be granted a visa. Cecil Powell who also had a Nobel Prize and whom I knew fairly well. But because I was convinced that he did not qualify but I thought Blackett probably should be granted a visa. I thought he'd make a good test case and I argued why this help our relations and why this would undercut the so-called Science for Peace Movement.
What was that?
A strongly anti-American movement among academics in Europe at the time.
What was the basis for the anti-American feeling?
Well, (chuckle) it was always there. There's always been an anti-American feeling among academics in Europe and conversely a pro-Soviet feeling and anything we did that looked bad like a negro was lynched in the United States, or if the police killed somebody or a visa was denied, they would latch on to that.
So that was extra scientific, it didn't have anything to do with ideological events.
Of course, yes.
Unless you want to follow up on this I thought we would talk about the satellite proposals, satellite activity. I have a lot of references to Berkner as we go through but I take it that up until the 1954 period that you're not collaborating or talking to Berkner about satellites. He's not actively involved.
I don't remember talking to him. By 1954, I returned to the United States in September of '53, I think I participated then in the big space festival at the Hayden Planetarium which was early '54, May '54, so I was highly charged up on the issue.
Now you had spoken at the British Planetary Society. You had given a couple of talks.
Satellite concept had been well publicized and published by then so then we come in to the URSI meeting and the URSI International Conference at the Hague.
Before we get there, there's an absolutely fascinating document here which I want you to look at and this I guess corresponds with about the time of the Hayden Planetarium Symposium. I don't know who wrote this, you'll probably be able to identify it by the signature.
It's not my handwriting.
No. It's a letter to you from somebody who was temporarily in Pasadena trying to get you in contact with Wernher von Braun. The first page is this —
(looking at the document) that's my handwriting. This is about what accelerations are required in order to obtain satellite orbiting velocities in four seconds.
Then what follows is from your MOUSE file.
His signature is on the back but we can't read it.
Oh, I know who that is. This is Val Cleaver, I think.
E.V. Cleaver and you call him Val.
Val Cleaver of the British Interplanetary Society. You can see from the handwriting, it's a European handwriting.
It's a fascinating document.
I haven't read it for a long time.
Take your time.
Yes, it was Val Cleaver. He stayed with Fred Durant so that made sense.
Why does that make sense?
Because they knew each other. Fred Durant was well known to the British Interplanetary Society.
As president of the International Astronautical Federation —
And Val Cleaver at that time may have been the president of BIS or past president or at least he was one of the people with whom I had lots of interactions on the MOUSE satellite in London.
Just as a quick aside, when did you meet Fred Durant?
I met Fred Durant during my period in London. I think I met him in one of the IAF conferences maybe in Zurich in '52 or '53, I'm not sure.
And he was president of the IAF at that time?
I don't know whether he was president at that time. Val Cleaver knew Wernher von Braun and was strongly — I had never met von Braun. I had a very poor opinion of him at the time because of his —
Call it publicity, call it articles, it seemed to me that at that time at least to talk about manned space flight probably gave the wrong slant to the space program. In fact it was counterproductive. That was my point. It is fair to say that Collier's is to blame for this and not Wernher von Braun. Just a different outlook. He (von Braun) thought that publicizing space flight to the public would built up the interest and then it would follow and I thought that it would turn off people who were in the position to fund such work and that one should go the route of unmanned, essentially an extension of the rocket work, unmanned instruments.
To finish up there is a suggestion that maybe your last proposal could be scaled down and included in vaguely litigious scheme that von Braun was hatching at that time.
Yes, which eventually would have happened of course because Van Allen's instrument, the one he flew on the Redstone was in fact a scaled down rocket instrument.
So this would have von Braun's orbiter proposal, his proposal for Project Orbiter —
—and do you whether you followed up on this.
Yes. We finally met in Washington under the auspices of Fred Durant who brought us together in the office of George Hoover, a Navy commander in ONR.
And that would have been in '54?
It would have been after '53. It could have been in '54, '55.
Well this letter is May of '54 so it was after that.
Project 50G, that's where the 250G comes from.
What was that? What experience is 250G.
Well, he must have had the idea of — I think what he may have had in mind is something that goes up to let's say 300 or 400 kilometers and then shoots out horizontally.
Please correct if I'm wrong but here's the chronology —
And here's what I calculate, that it would take four seconds at 250G to get out and would also take four seconds and require a guiding tube of this length. I guess I never worked it out.
Here's what I'd like you to think about and help clarify. I'm not sure when the actual Project Orbiter proposal was. Was that in the context of post-IGY?
No, it was pre-IGY. It was influenced above grounds proposal; it was influenced by the MOUSE concept.
There's a von Braun proposal that's dated 15 September 1954 and it's "A Minimum Satellite Vehicle Based on Components Available From Missile Developments of the Army Ordnance Corps, that's the title and "A Guided Missile Development Division Ordnance Missile Laboratories Redstone Arsenal 15 September '54. The reference here is that this proposal was the result of a 3 August '54 meeting between Army officials at Redstone and Navy representatives from ONR.
Probably George Hoover.
That was Hoover. Were you involved in that by any chance?
I might have met Hoover before then and briefed him on the MOUSE, the concept. No, Durant probably did that.
Here's the other thing to throw into this chronology at about the same time. In August of 1954 at the URSI meeting you introduced the first resolution in support of establishing a satellite program to go along with the other programs.
That is correct. I did this at the instigation and with considerable support of Berkner.
Right. I guess what I would like to know is where did Berkner get his enthusiasm from. Did it have anything to do with these prior planning or brainstorming on satellite vehicles. I mean how did the idea for everything seems to gel in the late summer and fall of '54. Where did it all come from?
At the Hague. It was not preplanned and I remember writing it long hand right there.
But you're saying that the idea of introducing it to the IGY developed spontaneously but we've just now seen that over the six month period prior to that there is these kinds of discussions going on about scaling the MOUSE proposal down to satellite proposal sometime in May. There is also a big conference at the Hayden Planetarium in May.
I don't recall whether I reacted to this in any way, to this letter.
There's nothing in your files?
No. I don't remember. My recollection is that I went to the Hague, it was a scientific conference.
This would be August of '54.
Yes. There were two conferences back to back — Hague and then Rome. I introduced essentially the same resolution at both: the URSI Conference in Hague and the IUGG in Rome.
But now Berkner was at both conferences.
Berkner was at both conferences. He was a leading light. You might say a prime mover in the URSI and certainly a strong contributor in the IUGG. At the IUGG there was opposition with the American delegation. I remember we had a caucus of the American delegation in Berkner's room.
I have a copy way to give you. In '57 you wrote to Berkner with an excerpt from a memo to the files which you wrote in 1955 recalling that meeting.
I don't remember that, maybe I'll recall it. [pause] Did you find the memo to the files?
Let me see it.
I didn't make a copy of it. This long memo to the file that you wrote sort of outlining a full chronology of all of your speeches having to do with satellites and MOUSE. That's just an excerpt of the part having to do with the discussion in Berkner's room.
Yes, it's quite interesting that the opposition to this came primarily from Homer Newell who was in charge of the rocket program at NRL and who was concerned that an emphasis on satellites could jeopardize the funding for the rocket program.
Right. On thinking back on all this —
All this changed of course when he became a NASA official.
Oh, sure. But I guess what I'm trying to figure out is there clearly is your long-term interest in a satellite vehicle and this MOUSE idea. I guess the first question is how seriously integrated into your overall concepts of your research program was that? Of course if it wasn't going to be possible you certainly couldn't finance it on your own, you'd have to put it aside. But was it an integral part of what you wanted to do as you saw in the research program?
As you know during this period from '53 to let's say '56 I published maybe a dozen different papers investigating in some detail things that could be done with satellites. For example the basic invention of the ozone instrument that's now being used to measure ozone was published in '56. Air trap radiation was published first in '56. I had a review article published in '56 which was not really a review article; it was written for a review volume but it was an article of what could be done with satellites which mentions about two dozen different types of investigations which I think half must have been original in the sense they had not been published before. That's in Reviews of Geophysics or Advances in Geophysics edited by Landsburg.
And that was 1956. Certainly there is Scientific Uses of Earth Satellites.
Yes, that was it. Since I wrote this myself it could be published without any delay and without any referring as regards journal articles, I was able to put into this so-called review paper many things that actually didn't get printed in the refereed literature until a year later. It takes a long time for the journals to cooperate.
From my point of view and I'm trying to tease out — you probably just simply don't remember — is how much independent of the IGY within the only organizations in the United States at this time who were really capable of controlling of technology to do satellite work and that is the Navy, the Air Force and the Army.
Let me turn the tape over.
Clearly we have von Braun's interest in this proposal which I don't know how closely you're drawn into it but at least there is some content. I take it that Berkner would have had very little to do with the Army proposal.
As you know there was intense competition among the services. The Army certainly had the means to launch a satellite and eventually did. The Navy did not but backed on the White House view that it should be done for peaceful purposes and interpreted this to mean that it should be done with rockets that were specifically developed for missile use. But they did this really to edge out the Army. In other words if the Navy had a rocket available which was used for missiles they would have used it. As it turned out the Navy wanted to keep their Viking program, rocket research program active therefore claimed that they were developing a satellite launcher based on the Viking with a new vehicle and eventually of course did lead to a real satellite launcher.
There clearly were people in the United States —
The Air Force had no vested interest. Well, they had interest but vehicle to back it up. The ICBM's had not been advanced so the Air Force tried to get into the act through Project Farside.
Didn't they try at one point, at least people in the Air Force, try to put an Aerobee on top of an Atlas and then decided not to because it competed with their own military program?
I don't recall that. But the motivation for supporting Project Farside which you know about, starting in '55, '56, '57 was really to beat the other services to the punch so to speak and to able to launch something which would then go —
Farside was a balloon launch?
This was a balloon-launched multistage rocket which I designed for them and which eventually would have gone they thought, I didn't think so, but eventually would have gone around the moon and come back and that's why it was called Farside.
It was planned for the moon?
It was planned to go around the moon.
It got what 4,000 miles?
4,000 miles, yet. That was all it could do with the rockets that were chosen for the job.
Here again and I realize this is kind of a vague question but just want to get your impressions of this. Certainly there are a number of scientific people, people like yourself who are anxious that this technology come along because you know the kinds of things that might be done with it and you'd be anxious to instrument such things.
There are then military rocket people who are developing this technology otherwise. We know that these are more or less going on at the same time. Then along comes in the fall of '54 the adoption by the international IGY agencies of this as a geophysical goal, as a goal that should be, the country should be –-
Yes, our hope was this would stimulate the U.S. Government to support the program, the satellite development program. They didn't care when it was to be done but I just wanted to see that it got started. The IGY to us just a convenient vehicle.
Now when you say us I mean you're obviously including Berkner.
I guess what I'm asking you is can you give me some account or some impression of what was Berkner doing in this are at this time. Was he independent of your activities. How busy was he in other circles lobbying for satellites. How important was this as one of his goals.
I don't think it was that important. I think he had many fish to fry. But that time he'd become president of Associated Universities and therefore he was concerned with accelerators and other big scientific projects. But I think he's always been interested in what we call mega projects, big scientific projects and it may be that in this satellite was another big scientific project albeit one with which he could identify because of his own background.
Now the other question. This clearly is in character for Berkner in 1954 at the URSI meeting and later to say, "Boy, this is something that, the kind of thing I'd really like to get going," and to encourage you to go ahead and make a — to sort of be a behind-the-scenes movement shaker. The question is was this sort of Lloyd Berkner independent as a mover and shaker or was he acting in some kind of official capacity in encouraging these international organizations to go ahead.
He was number one. Lloyd Berkner is an individual mover and shaker, I'm convinced of that. Myself also and Spillhaus, we're all acting as individuals.
Then we get back to this second resolution, that is the IUGG Rocket Working Group and this hotel room meeting. In that excerpt from your memorandum for file you list all the people who were there and it's an extraordinary interesting group: Joe Kaplan, Lloyd Berkner, Spillhaus, Wexler, Atkins, Shapley.
Which Shapley is this?
A. H. Shapley, Allan Shapley
Hugh Odishaw, Homer Newell, J. W. Joyce, Gerson
Nate Gerson of the Air Force Cambridge Research Center, at that time, now with the National Security Agency. You ought to talk to Gerson. He's at Fort Mead.
He's been doing a lot of ionospheric physics for a long time.
He's also interested in history.
He knew Berkner quite well.
He's at Fort Mead?
I think it's something to do with the NSA. He's probably retired by now. All the people here — is Kaplan deceased?
No, but he's quite advanced, in his nineties, I think.
Yes, he must be. Have you had any contact with him?
Someone has. I've heard that someone has interviewed him. Ron Doel is the contact.
I'd like to see him again if that's at all possible. Berkner's gone. Spillhaus is available, lives in Leesburg, can be visited and should be visited, I think. Harry Wexler died quite early. Atkins, I don't know. Allan Shapley, his brother tells me is well and living in Boulder and knew Berkner very well. Earl Dressler I think is no longer with us, I'm not sure. Odishaw is dead, so is Joyce and Newell.
In any case you gave the technical part of the discussion and then there was essentially a political discussion after that.
Yes. One amusing part of this which is commemorated in one of the books somewhere written up by someone, I could probably find it for you. Newell objected to this whole idea because he said that batteries would bubble. I remember Spillhaus banging the table saying, "Goddamn it, we'll get batteries that don't bubble." (chuckle)
Is this part of Newell's fear that the rocket part of the IGY would suffer?
Partly that and partly the Navy as Newell knew was desperate to control the satellite development and I don't think they really wanted to put this into the international arena. If they were it should be done under Navy auspices. You have to really understand that the competition between Navy and Army was very intense.
Then you didn't perceive that Berkner had a stalking horse in this race.
He was just more or less just thinking that this was the kind of thing that —
Yes, Spillhaus the same way.
There is this discussion about Berkner and Spillhaus emphasizing that the United States couldn't afford to be left behind.
Yes, that would be in character with both Berkner and Spillhaus.
Any other recollections about that? Was that based on some expectations of Soviet activities.
No, I don't think so. I don't think anyone expected the Soviet Union to launch satellites.
Okay. So this is the same kind of thing that goes as far back as the RAND study in '46 which identifies this as very important symbolically.
I suppose so.
Was there any discussion of fear of overflights and open skies.
No. That never came up. It would be done under the auspices of the IGY, was done for scientific purposes and I think the idea that there should be opposition would not.
But the IGY satellites would provide the precedent for military flights later on.
I see. That's an interesting point. I don't remember it being discussed. Maybe someone had thought of us, maybe this was in back of someone's mind. I never considered it, I can tell you that.
Okay. I had one other area.
You say you have a memo to the files —
This is the memo out of which that was excerpted. I didn't make an extra copy of that.
(reading) Yes, Odishaw was also very upset about the resolutions. I see it from here that he told me that a mention of my name wouldn't do me any good, which is true. I didn't get much financial support from the IGY. And then from Homer Newell afterward when he went to NASA. In fact I never got a NASA contract.
You never got a NASA contract?
You feel this is one of the origins of that reason.
Yes, I do.
Now let me understand what it is that you're saying. That is the pushing of the satellite project or taking a sort of up front visible —
The second a visible role. I would think that that was much resented.
And why would that be?
I think probably just jealousy.
So that's why this is formulated essentially showing that you've been interested in the satellite thing since 1951.
Probably yes. I have not seen this for a long time. (pause). I would like a copy of this. This is good.
I think this, together with the 1956 review papers sums up all the work I did before the actual satellites were launched.
Okay. Before we end this and go into a whole other series of things having to do with trapped radiation there is this which both David and I found quite interesting.
Okay. John Crone worked in the National Security Agency at Fort Mead. He was also a graduate student at the University of Maryland. That's how I got to know him. He came to my lectures. All the support I got for my rocket work came from him, not from NASA.
But this is 1955, where your association with them was — so this didn't come from the Navy either.
Actually I have a copy of that for you.
Let me look at this.
Crone was a student of yours and then became in a way a patron.
He was an employee of the National Security Agency who attended some of the seminar lectures in the evening in space physics or some such subject.
And then agreed to support you as a result of that.
So essentially what we have here is that after the CSAGI, the international organization adopts the satellite program the American Vanguard program gets established, there are all of these committees for going through instrumentation, developing — and you're essentially frozen out of that.
I take it that you did make application.
Yes, I did and didn't get anywhere.
So simultaneously with that you were able to then obtain some support to do the same kind of instrument development largely probably focused on radio propagation or ionospheric material through support of the NSA.
Was the NSA a big player at this time.
That's an interesting story that's kind of hidden from view.
Then I also got some support as you know from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research for the specific Farside Project. I tried in every which way I could to get involved. These were the only channels that were opened. Unfortunately this did not go any further. Obviously the director of the NSA didn't feel that he wanted to get involved in earth satellites, although they did support my rocket work at Maryland. The Terrapin rocket, the Rockair and the Oreole, all three were supported by NSA.
As their major supporter or did you have support from other —
They were my major supporters.
Okay. Well, I was going to then skip ahead to 1957. f we're missing something that strikes you as extraordinarily relevant in either the Berkner sense or in the sense of things that we're talking about I can come back. This is a letter dated August 22, 1957. Let me tell you what this whole series of things has to do with. It has to do with trapped radiation, it has to do with what became the Argus Test and I just found some of these letters extraordinarily interesting but a little bit hard to figure out. The first one chronologically is a letter that you wrote to Lloyd Berkner in August of '57 where you tell him of a paper that you're planning to give in Barcelona in October in which you're going to talk about possible geophysical, I guess it's astrophysical, geophysical use of thermonuclear explosion on the surface of the moon. I think this is going to be the topic of the Barcelona talk which I take it has its own controversy in that interesting side to it. But then following that you begin to discuss another idea and that is a more geophysical use of existing tests of hydrogen bombs. (pause - Singer reading)
Yeah, these are ideas of the testing of nuclear explosives on the ground or in the atmosphere they would be powerful enough to jiggle the earth's magnetic field in effect propagate all lines of force and then would be detectable at the end of the line of force, I could see you have something here.
Let me tell you what I think are three of the issues that I'd like you to think about as we talk about this. One again is this insider/outsider subject that we were just talking about because there is of course a parallel development going on at this time, the story of which is in real schematic that sometime after Sputnik in October or so Nick Christofolous had this idea about using high altitude explosions to create an artificial retrap radiation and aurora, etc. and by the end of the year he came up with a classified proposal and in fact Project Argus was begun and by a year later these tests were actually undertaken, Explorer IV was instrumented by Van Allen and tests were done and I guess the Argus explosion I guess were in — [phone interruption] With the background on Project Argus and I know your interest in the development of theories of trapped radiation and aurora formation and acceleration I wanted to explore these documents in terms of again insider/outsider and how much –
You're quite correct. I was not aware of this. I learned about it much later by reading newspapers. I find that Nick Christofolous —
We have some documents showing when you talked to Christofolous and that's what's very interesting.
I am convinced that he conceived of this quite independently after talking to him. I wondered of course because I had been publishing on trapped radiation in the earth's magnetic field since about 1956 and after having learned about the Argus experiments from newspaper reports I did write a four-part series for a magazine called Missiles and Rockets discussing all the aspects of such explosions including the ones described in this letter of August 22, 1957.
Why would you have written to Berkner on this?
Good question. Why would I write to Berkner? Well, because I suppose we've talked about scientific applications for H-Bomb explosions.
Why would you talk to Berkner about scientific applications of H-Bomb explosions?
Good question. I don't remember. I must have visited him in New York and probably the subject was on my mind.
But he was on the President's Advisory —
No, I knew him. I visited him in New York evidently and must have told him about a paper I was going to give in September which is the following month in Barcelona.
This paper had to do with one could learn about excavating, cratering —
On the moon, yes.
I take it that there's some indication in your papers that that was blown out of proportion by some Russian scientists afterwards or you were criticized for suggesting such a terrible thing.
Yes, that's quite possible.
In reference to the Russian, at least there's a Russian name, you can correct me, to one of your articles in Missiles and Rockets, S.S. Dogenoff [phonetic]. Is he indeed Russian?
Missiles and Rockets wouldn't have been Barcelona on the H-Bomb or the moon, that would have been the trapped radiation articles.
Missiles and Rockets might have written up both of them. The four-part series about explosions in the earth magnetic field was written by me for Missiles and Rockets.
And that would have been in 1958, '59, or '60?
'58 I think.
After the Argus.
After the Argus.
It is '59. The other person who cited you is well known in American Rocket Society and that's R. P. Hamilon [phonetic].
Okay. With this letter to Berkner than in August, then comes Sputnik on October 4, you are obviously at the IAF conference in Barcelona. Here is a piece of stationery from the Hotel Ritz in which we have this diagram. I find it an interesting diagram and the coincidence of course is the timing. Whatever these scribbles are there then is the very interesting writing in your handwriting, I take it, on the last page which says "Von Karman's in Washington November 22 to 30 at the Hotel Shoreham, I will write Teller." You could see why this would have struck me as interesting in the case of Argus and the coincidence.
I see that I copied both Von Karman and Teller on this letter to Berkner.
In fact it looks as though — I guess I didn't copy everything to give to you.
John Toll is the chairman of the physics department at Maryland.
It looks as though on October 18, 1957 you wrote to Teller in reply to a letter from him dated September 24th saying, "During the last week I've had a chance to discuss the matter in question with Dr. Von Karman who would very much like to participate in any discussion which we might have and he suggests the period of November 22 to 30 when he will be in Washington staying at the Hotel Shoreham. I hope that it will turn out that you can come to Washington during this interval. However, I will be happy to see you whenever it is convenient for you since I expect to be in Washington from now on." I take it that this probably has something to do with trapped radiation or am I over- interpreting that diagram that I gave you. Would that have been this idea of a shockwave.
And then once it gets to the ionosphere actually propagating along the lines of force.
Yes as the planet's moving along the lines of force.
So this wouldn't be in a sense trapped radiation in the sense of actual trapped particles admitted from the explosion but the propagation of a shockwave.
Yes. This however is an explosion at the surface of the earth so that would not release trap radiation into the field.
All right. Then idea though must have had something that you hoped to follow up, that you felt would be a worthwhile geophysical experiment to do.
Yes as long as we're going to throw away these nuclear weapons, let's do something with them.
The next letter I have is dated December 2, 1957.
It seems to me however that in '58 I wrote some papers for the American Astronomical Society, at least one, in which I discuss the possibility of explosion — of rejecting trapped radiation directly.
That would have been after you talked to Christofolous.
No, before but I didn't use bombs, I used accelerators, orbiting accelerator.
Let's get all of these documents on the table here and maybe go back and see you can help — clearly, as you say, you cc'd Teller on that August letter to Berkner but then you sent him another copy in early December of '57. You apparently at this time were planning to be southern Arals [phonetic] in November of '58.
I don't remember that. Oh yeah, we had a cosmic ray experiment that we set up there for the IGY.
Being your Maryland group?
University of Maryland, yes. I had a research associate named Martin Swetnick who actually went down or was it George Homa, one of the two, I can't recount now.
And you say here, "We will be in a position to make the necessary observation and am anxious to discuss the project with you and your associates," and then you try to arrange for a meeting which does not take place until mid-January of '58. You have to talk about what would require a Q clearance since you don't need a hydrogen bomb a TNT bomb would do.
We don't care how it's done as long as it's a big explosion.
Creating first a pressure wave which will then be turned into some kind of a plasma, a hydroelectric dynamic wave in the ionosphere.
There's a mention that some kind of discussion was made that you would be made a consultant to Livermore on this or related matters but clearly you're out on a loop here and they're not allowed to talk to you about Argus. In fact Argus proposal isn't really formalized until late in December.
Your proposal has something to do — is not the same thing as Argus but it's certainly related in some —
You should find a paper somewhere in the files about an orbiting accelerator, injecting electrons, one MEV [phonetic] electrons or something like that, into the earth magnetic field and they would be trapped.
This is an accelerating source of some size.
Shooting up, no it's like a cyclotron, but electric accelerator. These things are very simple.
Okay. Then December 19, 1957 you finally make arrangements to go to Berkeley in January and you write on the bottom and I take it that's after you returned.
Yes, must be.
Then you saw Colgate and Christofolous.
Colgate of course I knew before. Seems to me I was a consultant to him at Livermore during some years, middle '50s or late '50s, as I recall it.
The final document in this collection clearly indicates that you weren't brought into the inner circle on the Argus period because you went to Willard Libby again trying to interest him in this proposal
Here in the first paragraph you say — you're talking about the trapping and storing — now it's interesting, now there is a connection between your proposal which is this ground low altitude explosion creating this upper shockwave and now you're connecting that with trap radiation theory.
This was written May 16. I wonder if I had by then already heard about Argus, could I?
I don't know. That's the question that was —
I don't know that.
Okay. You see why I was puzzled by all that. Those are the things I wanted to cover.
My best recollection is that I learned about Argus from the newspapers.
From the New York Times that decided to break the story.
You must have been very surprised.
Yes but I immediately figured out what was going on and wrote the pieces for Missiles and Rockets I think very soon thereafter. Do you have a date on that? Do you know when these appeared?
Just the '59.
I don't think the Argus test was released in fact until '59. I guess it was Malcolm Baldwin from the New York Times who just had been sitting on the story for a long time. In fact had threatened the Department of Defense several times that he was going to release this and they wouldn't let him.
That's interesting. I didn't know all that but in any case as soon as it appeared I started to write these pieces for Missiles and Rockets to tell people what this is all about. Also to really demonstrate that one didn't need to have a clearance or be involved in it to be able to figure out what was going on.
I think I was so really peeved that I am not involved in it.
You were right around it all the time, talking to all the people who were involved in it with ideas that were if not identical at least closely related.
Did you have the same treatment from others in addition to Newell in your not being allowed access to NASA funding, to satellite vehicles?
Yes. The NRL group that moved with Newell to NASA remained that way. I think that's something going back all the way to our conflict between APL and NRL. I have a feeling it dates back to that. This involved people like Robert Jastrow and others. Jastrow was head of the Goddard Space Research Institute. I never received an invitation to attend any of the meetings. Very strange because I was involved in some of the research that they were discussing.
Can you help us better understand why this competition persisted for so long?
I don't know.
Was it because of Van Allen as well?
Could be. Van Allen as you know went the other direction. He worked with the Army and succeeded beyond expectations. Essentially von Braun needed to have a scientific experimenter for his satellite. He didn't care really who it was or what they did but since they were working with JPL and since Pickering and Van Allen had been close friends for some time. Pickering, I think, brought in Van Allen.
Your feeling is that Berkner in all of this is really kind of an honest broker.
He had a Navy background during the war —
But he didn't take any positions.
Because he was obviously not shut out. He became a president of the Space Science Board and was very well connected. How was it that he was able to tread in all of these sensitive waters?
I think he obtained a senior position in science very early.
And he wasn't actually grinding his own. He didn't have his own research projects at this time.
Right. So he wasn't really competing with anyone. I think that's it. What handicapped me most in my own personal relations is the fact that I was not a member of a group of people who were elected to the Academy in '57-'58. It was a group of people who were involved in the IGY who were all brought into the Academy, created a new category for geophysics which didn't exist before. And this group included people like Van Allen and Friedman and a few others.
That's really quite interesting. How many people were there in total?
I don't remember, maybe a dozen or so.
Was Newell part of that?
I think so, yes, but I don't recall.
There is some correspondence I've seen where Berkner who had been in the Academy since '48 tried to lobby new people to change their affiliations to this —
Yes, that was it.
Tried to lobby which people?
Like Simpson to give up his primary physicist identification and join the geophysics.
That's quite interesting.
Another sort of outsider up until '58 period is John Simpson who is doing work with – he's not doing rocket work at all. He's doing balloon work with his neutron monitor and he's very active in the IGY and he is not much more successful in breaking in to satellite work.
He was not perceived to be a threat to anybody just because he didn't do any rocket work and established a very solid record in ground-based observations and moon observations. Except I also did ground observations and moon observations. There was no problem with getting support for that.
But it was this very closed group of rocket —
Yes and particularly satellites.
Did Newell's attitude change toward satellites when Vanguard was approved in your knowledge?
Definitely. Particularly when he became a major official of NASA.
And Berkner had a very strong position in the early days of NASA. He was Chairman of the Space Science Board. His influence couldn't —
I don't know if he exercised any influence.
Almost finished but what I was asking is once Berkner became chairman in 1958 of the Science Board did you recall dealing with him as far as trying to obtain access to —
No, I did not.
At that time you were quite convinced that this was not going to succeed or —
I don't know. I don't recall. I suppose I really didn't feel like pushing myself forward. I was hoping that he would take action on his own but he didn't. Maybe he did but did not succeed. The only one that I know of that tried to take action is Joe Kaplan.
What did he try to do?
He tried to make a very determined effort to nominate me and get me elected to the Academy of Sciences and at his request I prepared nomination background papers which I still have somewhere listing publications and curricula vitae. He tried to get myself and I think Bill Kellogg and Francis Johnson and that's what he told me.
This brings up a very important point to me and that is that I'd like to know a little more about the relationship between Kaplan and the rocket groups. Was it also one of being an outsider?
Kaplan never was part of the rocket group. He never did any rocket experiments but one of his students succeeded and Charlie Barth became very prominent in rocket and satellite work. I had a very good relation with Kaplan and with Barth. Kaplan by the time of the IGY had become largely a figurehead. He was really specialized in one area which was aurora radiations.
I'm just curious why his own student, Calmen Bilk, [phonetic] was literally ignored in her work on the ionosphere.
I don't know.
Just one question that comes to mind as well and that is especially with your work in ONR and your relationship with Soviet scientists, how much of an active — I guess though since you weren't really actively involved after '54 and '55 with the IGY you wouldn't know very much.
Well I was. I was on the cosmic ray panel and I did get support for it.
How much active attempt was made through the IGY to draw out the Russians and get the scientists involved and find out a little bit more about the quality of Russian science or Russian technology?
Not much. I don't think they were taken very seriously before the IGY. And as far as rocket and satellite work is concerned don't forget we had very few contacts with them, maybe through the IAF and they were spasmodic types of attendees. You never knew if they were going to show up or who was going to show up. They gave very few papers and of course no inkling that they were working on a satellite.
Okay, thanks a lot.
That was very helpful.