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Interview of Alan Shapley by Ron Doel and Fae Korsmo on 2003 August 22, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/30543-2
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Alan Shapley, son of astronomer Harlow Shapley, was born in Pasadena, California in 1919. The family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts two years later. In this interview, Mr. Shapley shares recollections of his father and other astronomers, including Donald Menzel. He also discusses his own work on radio propagation at the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism and on solar-terrestrial phenomena at the National Bureau of Standards. As a major figure in the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957–1958, Mr. Shapley headed up the coordination of World Days, when intensive measurements would be taken. His memories of the IGY are included here.
This is Fae Korsmo. I’m here with Ron Doel interviewing Alan Shapley and Kay Shapley in Boulder, Colorado. It is the 22nd of August, 2003. As long as Kay is here, I would like to ask both of you how you met.
Do you want the truth? Or do you want her version or my version?
Well, we can start with her version.
Both sound quite good.
She knew me before I knew her.
Yes. In fact, I knew Alan’s father before I knew him because while I was working for Walt Roberts, Alan’s father came out to look at the new coronagraph that was going to be put up at the Climax Observatory. And somehow, in looking at it, HS got a piece on the lapel of his jacket, and I took it off [laughs]. So that’s how I met him. And Walt, of course, was an old friend of Alan’s. I don’t know, he’ll have to say when they started to know each other. But Alan was here in and out of Boulder so much that it was hard to know when he was going to be around. And I think the first date we had—and he’ll confirm this or deny it—was dinner with Walt and Janet up at Flagstaff House.
It was expensive then, but not as expensive as it is now.
So that was our first date. And then I suppose afterwards, he’d remember to call me when he got back to town after being away for six weeks or whatever it was. So it was an off-and-on acquaintanceship. Can I tell them how you proposed to me?
No. If you do that, I’ll say how you almost lost me by making a martini! I guess we had a date for after work, and Kay knew of my addiction to martinis. This was after the end of Prohibition, yes. And so she thought she would save time and do that and mix a martini. She had learned a four to one ratio. She’s since forgotten it. And so instead of, when I got there, that I would get out the ingredients and the ice and that stuff, so she was going to save time. So she mixed them four to one and put them in the freezer unit of the refrigerator to cool them down. Are you a martini expert? An undiluted martini—a martini that’s not made over ice—is absolutely lethal. So she brought out the martini when I came home, whenever it was, and it was lethal. So I had to teach her that you have to put it over ice. You mix it over ice.
So how long did your courtship last?
Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know how often he was in town before we were married, but I did keep track of how often he was and how long he was in Boulder over a period of a year. And we were married in March ‘56. ‘56. He was gone, of course, most of the rest of that year. So the next year, when I was pregnant, I kept track of when he was out of town. And just on the number of days he was out of town, he was gone the first six months of that year, off and on. But that was the way our life went. And he was here and he was not here. I would pack him and get him off to the red-eye to go from Boulder to Denver to Washington, and so the rest of the week I’d be by myself. That was the way it’s been until he retired. Then I wish many times he would have to go off to keep himself busy!
Since Alan did tell the martini story, you were about to tell a story of the first date?
Well, I had gotten a house for him to live in that had been built by my former husband. And the people who lived there were going to be gone for a while. So I asked them if they would like to have somebody live in the house, so Alan lived there. I don’t remember now how long it was, but anyway, I guess you were still there. Fill in some blanks there. I can’t remember.
For the better part of a year, I lived there in that house. I’d forgotten that you had gotten it for me, but I’m sure that that was true.
So your question was?
You had mentioned, I think, the proposal.
How he proposed. Well, anyway, we were in this house and were having a drink before going to something else, just having a drink. He was standing by the fireplace with a drink in his hand, and he said, “Well, when should we do it?” And I must say that I was surprised! And then the second thing he did was to get the telephone and call Walt Roberts and tell him that we were going to get married [laughs]. Sad, I know. Life has been with him gone so much of the time. Anyway, that’s my story. I won’t tell any more.
And you have how many children?
A daughter. An IGY daughter who was born during—
She was Miss IGY. That’s what we put on our birth announcement. I don’t know whether I can pull out a copy of it out of things or not. But anyway.
Well, you know the IGY symbol, the logo? And we picked that out, not at the very, very beginning, but halfway through the preparation. But it was the Earth with the southern hemisphere pointed there to emphasize the Antarctic program, and then the moon lying around. Well, I think I broke the copyright laws and that sort of thing. I took one of those and cut out a diaper pin and substituted that for the satellite.
Well, this is not easy to look at. [Looking at a photo.]
But she came 18 days late.
Yeah. She actually didn’t come late. She did come the day I asked her…that I thought she would arrive. Anyway, he’s told you what it was. This is a collection of pictures of our families, going back to my great-grandmother and his great-grandmother and all of the family. We now have two young Shapley’s who are seven and five years old. So the name continues, whatever that’s worth.
Thank you very much. That was a great story.
In the beginning...
Make the least of it, please.
[Laughs] Well, speaking of IGY, I’d like to start right there today if we could, and how you came to be involved with IGY. When did it start?
Well, I wasn’t involved in the cocktail party at Jim Van Allen’s house, which is reputed to be when Berkner proposed it. And Sydney Chapman was there. But it wasn’t too long after that. All right. Well, so Berkner was the wheeler-dealer. And the one and only Academy staff involved was Wally Atwood, who was the one and only staff person for international affairs of the Academy at that time. As things turned out, he didn’t really play a significant role. He finally left the Academy and started a marina somewhere down on the Potomac River. So I surmise that Berkner and Atwood got together to think about a national committee for the Third Polar Year, as it was then known as. And they somehow hit upon—Berkner was going to be, of course, very much involved, but he didn’t want to be involved nationally in the US program. He wanted, and ended up being, Vice Chairman of the International CSAGI. So they hit upon Joe Kaplan, of UCLA, whose claim to fame was not really in geophysics. But he identified what are now known as the Vegard-Kaplan bands in the spectrum of the aurora. That’s almost the only thing he did except defend their football team.
It sounds like you heard him do that on a few occasions.
Oh, yes, yes. So Kaplan was handpicked as being Chairman.
Did you wonder at the time why Kaplan was chosen?
No. Yeah, well, one, he was a professor. He wasn’t a Fed. He was loquacious. I don’t know that Berkner knew that he was as loquacious as he turned out to be. He wasn’t widely known in what was not yet called geophysics. So Kaplan was picked as Chairman. How they hit upon me, I don’t know. My recollection—I was thinking of it just now—my first contact with it was, somehow I was invited to a dinner of four people. It was Atwood, who I hardly knew, and Berkner, who I somewhat knew, and Kaplan, who I doubt if I had ever met him before, at the old “Commie” Club. You know what I mean by that?
Yes. [Cosmo Club]
Which is in the Molly Addison house down there—the garden, I remember it was. And so Berkner made his pitch and did almost all the talking. They wanted me to be Vice Chairman.
Did you know that was coming when you went to dinner?
No. I’m not even sure that I had heard of the IGY or the Third Polar Year before that.
And I’m not sure whether they had made the appointments, whether they appointed the whole national committee before that. I rather think not, but I’m not sure. But in any case, I said I ended up being the Bureau of Standards representative on the committee. So that’s when I first heard of what turned into the IGY.
What did you think about Berkner’s offer to become Vice Chairman?
I thought I was on the young side to do it. So I was not over-confident of my qualifications. So I at least initially demurred, I guess they were all large people, and I wasn’t a big man. But Wally Atwood was well fed. Kaplan was large. He was what, six foot two or three or something. And Berkner was also a large person. So that’s how it all began.
Did Berkner tell you why he wanted you in that position? Did that ever come up later?
I can’t really recall. I think that they wanted a Fed in that they already had a university person as Chairman. But Berkner didn’t know much about me. They didn’t know about my FAS experiences. This would have been ‘49, 1949.
Just a little bit later, probably, because IGY, that first conversation was in 1950.
The cocktail party was in ‘50?
April 1950, so probably shortly after.
Oh, well this must have been bang-bang after that, and this may have been part of what Berkner had in mind, I don’t know. The next appearance of IGY was—I guess if people are dead, you can tell stories about them, can’t you? Well, in the international hierarchy of things, and I was only partly aware of it at that time, there was URSI, and there was the IAU, there was the IUGG, and then there were a couple of what they called Mixed Commissions. There was a Mixed Commission on Solar-Terrestrial Relationships, which put out a pamphlet, or several little pamphlets. The other one here is a Mixed Commission on the Ionosphere, MCI, which predates—Is there a mammoth company now called MCI? So the Mixed Commission on the Ionosphere, it met every couple of years. It had people on it from URSI and from IUGG and from the Physics IUPAP that covered cosmic rays and aurora. We’d have a meeting every couple of years, and there was one scheduled for, I think, late August of 1950 in Brussels. And the Mixed Commission, that one, almost always met in Brussels because Col. Herbays, the executive person for URSI, was running it. But the cast of players we had, of course the President of the Mixed Commission on Ionosphere was perpetually Sir Edward Appleton. And he would belong to any international group as long as he was chairman. But Menzel was on it for the astronomers. Oh, well, you can look it up. But a lot of people—and for URSI, Berkner was a member of it, and I think Howard Dellinger, the radio man at Bureau of Standards. Then Dellinger was through and Newbern Smith, his deputy, was named an URSI representative. But then there’s another whole world of Dellinger and Newbern Smith. You’ve heard of frequency allocations of radio frequencies? And the International Telecommunications Union, ITU—gosh, you all nod and know all of these. And then the technical advisory body to ITU was called the CCIR, the Consultative Committee on Ionospheric Radio. That was for the high frequencies on that. And after the war, there was a lot of time spent in continuing conferences in Geneva to clean up the assignments of frequencies. That was full-time for Bureau of Standards. That was an essentially full-time thing for Newbern Smith and for several others that don’t matter. So Newbern Smith wasn’t around in Washington much because he was in Geneva. I think I’ll skip over some of the sexy things. But the bottom line was that Newbern Smith was meaning to move out of the Bureau of Standards orbit and that sort of thing, and there were marital implications. So Newbern Smith, apparently—I guess it was from Geneva—decided that he could not go to the next commission meeting in Brussels in late August of 1950. And for reasons that I don’t know, he picked on me to go in his place. I guess, come to think of it, that there’s another staff person, another whole story at Bureau of Standards and in this telecommunication business called Dana Bailey. So Dana and I went instead, in place of Newbern Smith. And it was sort of a last-minute thing. I can’t really remember how I traveled there. I think the airplanes were just beginning to cross the Atlantic, and I suppose I went in some sea thing. I remember once coming back from Europe in the QE-1, and probably was coming back from that 1950 trip. Okay, so at the last minute, I was posted off to Geneva, and with all the big shots—D.F. Martin, who was from Australia, and I guess Sydney Chapman was there. I can’t remember. But Berkner certainly was. I don’t think Chapman was. But Vegard and a couple of small statured Japanese. And I can’t remember. I suppose the minutes of that are in the Annals of the IGY. I’m not sure. And Nicolet was a member of the Mixed Commission. One of the big topics was Berkner’s proposal to have a…
What do you particularly recall about the discussion that followed the proposal?
Well, Berkner was a dominating, domineering person, and he had answers for everything. He had prepared it. And I don’t know how much—I’m not sure he had pre-briefed people. He must have sort of cleared it with Appleton, or it was Appleton and his sidekick, Beynon, who plays a big role in my later stories. And they were, I guess at that time, at Cambridge. So it was complete enthusiasm, although nobody could imagine any specifics or details. But the strategy for Berkner was to get a strong endorsement from the Mixed Commission on the Ionosphere in, I think, late August of ‘50. Then two weeks later, the URSI was meeting in Zurich, and he was going to get URSI to make a strong support for it. And I guess the other unions, IUGG and IAU, that he did that through their executive committees, because they weren’t having assemblies. And certainly for the IUPAP, that was the fourth union involved, which was involved because of cosmic rays. And there was a lot of talk about the international committee, which turned out to be CSAGI. So and the system of rapporteurs, reporters, they defined the disciplines—number one, two, three, four, five, and six, I guess it was. How the reporters were selected, I don’t know. I wasn’t in then. But Berkner was World-Days, Chapman was geomag. All right. In any case, 1950, a large structure was put together and Dana Bailey and I and the Japanese people, at least those, went on to Zurich for the URSI meeting. We stayed in Baur au Ville. Do you know Zurich? There’s Baur au Lac, or something like that—the hotel on the lake and the hotel in the city. So it went through the URSI also, and URSI immediately appointed an URSI-IGY committee. Guess who was the chairman of that committee? Sir Edward Appleton. I don’t know if he had his Sir. I think he had his Sir. That was a political deal. The field of physics didn’t recognize the ionosphere as a legitimate subject, but Appleton got it for his ionospheric work. You know why Appleton was remembered for so much ionospheric work? As with old British custom, you have a senior professor and then the juniors and all of that. The order of Beynon authors in a paper, regardless of the seniority and all that, was always alphabetical, from A through C. So Appleton and Beynon, you know, Beynon did all the work, but Appleton got the lead author. And Appleton wouldn’t cooperate with Aaron or other people because then he wouldn’t get top billing. Well, and Appleton, of course, showed up in Zurich also. URSI did what Berkner wanted them to do, and set up committees and passed suitable resolutions. And as I say, the URSI set up an URSI IGY committee.
When you look back to that early period, were there concerns that you had about this planning for IGY? Something that you felt particularly needed to be done for this to work successfully?
I don’t know what you mean.
I’m just wondering, as you were becoming more and more involved in the IGY, what seemed to you to be particularly large challenges in making this work?
Well, getting the show on the road. I don’t know what you mean. I don’t know how to respond to that.
That’s all right. I was curious if there were things that you remembered as being particularly challenging in that period.
Well, the whole thing was challenging. Remember, this wasn’t too long after WW II, and several things operated. Zurich was probably the first, meeting the Japanese—showed up at—at least, I think there had been a meeting in ‘48 which was when things were even less organized. And we were suspicious of the Germans. There were no Ruskies there. So the memories of that time, including a tiny bit of mine, was the Second Polar Year of 1932-33, which was almost ruined by the Depression. There was some Rockefeller or Carnegie money that Fleming raised to—
All right. You people do your homework. But it was only a partial success. But Appleton did his only real work, I guess, in that, on the ionospheric storms that he observed from northern Norway. Am I correct? That early, we didn’t have too many dreams as to how big a thing it was. It was only two years, maybe three years later when they allowed the equatorial people in and the mid-latitudes. So it was Chapman—in my impression, in my memory, I haven’t checked it out—Chapman that said he had to solve or take the problems globally instead of as polar-wise. So I don’t think Berkner should get any credit for broadening things, although he certainly subscribed to it. So that happened. A lot of the sciences were still not very far advanced. The one I was closest to, of course—and Berkner—was the ionosphere, the radar. The first radar, you know, was Breit-Tuve on the ionosphere. So he doesn’t get top billing on that. But the procedures in reducing and analyzing the ionospheric soundings were not very well developed. And the recordings were especially hard to analyze systematically in the polar regions. So URSI set up a high latitude soundings committee. And guess who was chairman of that? Yours truly. That started a five, six, seven-year effort to systematize the analysis of the ionospheric records. And the Japanese came in and a German came in and a Brit and an Australian. I’m not sure about the Australian. So it was the High Latitude Soundings Committee, we called it. That took quite a bit of my time for the next couple of years, and my assistants here. As a matter of fact, I had a lot of backup from them. And I mention that because that was a pre-IGY activity that was really active. Oh, there was a Canadian on it, yeah, a guy named Jack Meek. He was then based in Saskatoon. I recall as we were frantically trying to get some results out of the committee that my assistant, Bob Knecht, he and I—It’s not easy to get to Saskatoon from here. You have to go east and then west and back and forth and back and forth there. So I got the idea, well hell, let’s get an air taxi and go straight through. So that was almost the one and only time that Bob Knecht and I, we took a charter plane up there. And that’s when we solved an important part of the problem of analysis of ionospheric records. I don’t know what order now to take things in. Let me probably take the URSI route. I don’t recall seeing much of Berkner in those next two years. Let’s see, Berkner, was president of Associated Universities, Inc, Brookhaven. And I think it was in those two years, yeah. With the head office in the Empire State Building in New York, New York. I think it was in these next two years, between Zurich and Sydney, that he asked me, no, told me to come up to New York and work with him, because he’d been taking on the job of rapporteur for World-Day and the CSAGI, which by then had been rounded off and they had lots of people on it, mostly Frenchmen. But Berkner had to make the report, and he didn’t know beans about the subject. So I went up. Apparently I didn’t have problems in getting travel orders and trips from the Bureau of Standards.
That’s what I was going to ask. The Bureau was supportive of all this work that you were doing during this time? Or did you ever feel that it was somewhat in conflict with what the Bureau wanted you to do?
I think it’s true, they were supportive of it. Dellinger is famed for a speech he gave here in Boulder. See, he retired before we moved to Boulder. Telling an untrue story about me going into a travel agent, you see, and he says the travel agent asked, ‘Where to, Mr. Shapley?’ To which I said, “Oh, anywhere. I have business there.” So Berkner had to make a report. So I went up to New York, and only time I’ve ever been in an office in the Empire State Building. But Berkner’s job, and he was fuzzy about it, was to select World Days, the days when people would take extra observations or do this, that, or the other thing. And so he had the idea, or I had it, there would be some stated feasts. And then he thought then we’ll have days, with a regularity to them, but we would have ones when there were magnetic storms on. But he didn’t realize that we couldn’t predict magnetic storms ten years ahead, or five years ahead. So I had to give him an elementary lesson, because see, on the side here, I was running the warning service and predicting when magnetic storms would show up. So I recall Berkner not understanding, and finally I got him to understand. But I also got him to understand that he didn’t know the business. And so at the next meeting of CSAGI, which may be in the Annals, he got me appointed as rapporteur for World Days. When he understood that you could not forecast great magnetic storms five years ahead, you had to have a communication system for spreading the word when the magnetic storm was going to happen. So I backed in, and I was a young runt then, the youngest member of CSAGI. I backed into being rapporteur for World-Days communications. In parallel with that, you see, in URSI, we had a scheme that they invented back in the ‘20s, called URSIgrams, which were up-to-date notices of ionospheric or other events that would be broadcast from—the main thing was we’d broadcast from the Eiffel Tower at this frequency, that frequency, and with codes as to how things went. I eventually inherited all of that. I don’t want to make this all too long, but that’s how I got involved internationally. There were two ways. First, through URSI and the high latitude committee, and then the World-Days communications. My memory, which is fallible and all that, was that Berkner got a hold of some of us in spring of ‘52 and said, “Things aren’t going as fast as they should. Nobody’s doing enough of it.” I said, “Well, ionosphere is working on the high latitude problem.” And I helped him on the World-Days communications. And I guess the other things fell into place—But I remember him putting pressure on me, and I’m sure he did on others, to get URSI more active. In those first couple of years, and it was something like the old days where the old men were taking their time in doing things. I remember it was a bit later than that that the data centers came up. And Appleton—it started with Appleton—said, “We don’t need data centers. If I want some data, I write and they send it to me.” That’s a classic thing. Another thing on the World data centers, before I forget it, was meeting of the US National Committee. It was in the boardroom at the Academy—I remember that, the main Academy building—and Merle Tuve, who was a member of the US National Committee, and he was a very feisty person. A wonderful person, in contrast to some of the other people. But he’d recently taken over at DTM, and he said, “The attic at DTM there, I have all sorts of records from the Second Polar Year that nobody’s looked at in years and years and years. Unless you have some provision for centrally collecting the IGY of the Third Polar Year data, then I’m gone.” And he pounded the table and left before lunch.
How did the rest of the people at the meeting react?
Yes. So 1952—you see, in those days, URSI met every two years, every second year—so the URSI meeting was going to be in Sydney, in Australia. And Australia was a long ways away in 1952. The British Delegation all got together and took a ship from—Well, that’s the old-fashioned way. But Appleton and Beynon, and I think the French were also mostly on that same ship. So Berkner, I remember Berkner was too busy. He couldn’t go to Australia. He charged me and maybe somebody else—I don’t think so though—to make sure that URSI took action and passed strong resolutions and this sort of thing and that sort of thing. Because the same thing happened that Newbern Smith opted out of going. So I was tapped to go to Australia. Another Bureau of Standards of radio—URSI also had radio standards, save time and that sort of thing. And Howard Lyons was supposed to go. He was a microwave person, I think. In any case, he got to San Francisco and got on— Then they flew airplanes going to Australia. They were Boeing flying—They weren’t flying boats, but they were shaped that way, and downstairs with a bar. I can’t remember the airplane. But we flew on different planes. His got halfway to Hawaii and turned around and came home, and he canceled out. So I was the only Bureau of Standards person at the Sydney meeting. Well there, Berkner got his way. The Mixed Commission on the Ionosphere also met there, and Appleton was in charge of everything. The Mixed Commission meeting was held at Canberra. Things were just much smaller in those days. I think there were 57 non-Australians at the assembly, which is not like it is now. And so the first week or week-and-a-half of the assembly was in Sydney. Then the Australians put us all in airplanes, all 57 of us, and finished up the meeting in Canberra. And that’s where the Mixed Commission meeting was. And Canberra was only partially built then. It was very, very rural, but there were I think two hotels around. But the only heat in the hotel was an electric fire in the foyer. A lot of people caught cold. In any case, we did suitable resolutions and some may be in the IGY Annals, and my high latitude committee had a report that was well accepted. And then they said, “Now you’ve done that, now you’ve got to do it for the rest of the latitudes.” So we formed the Worldwide Soundings Committee and enlarged the membership. That occupied a lot of my time for the next three, four years. It was a relative success. And you asked me yesterday what a vocation of mine was I proudest of or something like that, and I hedged on it. But I didn’t write the book. A German and a Brit wrote the book. I consider that to be one of my major contributions. As I say, URSI passed resolutions. Another odd thing happened. Remember I told you that Appleton would participate in any group as long as he is in the chair? Appleton had been the chairman of the Precedent of URSI since 1919, when it was established. And I wasn’t involved in those politics, but they somehow got Appleton to step down and put a Father Lejay as the president. Appleton, I don’t think ever came to another URSI meeting after that. I guess he resigned, from staying on as the URSI IGY committee, but URSI was one of the more active international unions in the IGY. It was partly because of me and Beynon the rapporteur of ionosphere, Appleton’s slave. I had better hop back to Odishaw.
One of the things that I know you were involved in in 1952 was a meeting at the State Department with Joe Koepfli that you communicated about to Lloyd Berkner. Do you recall your interactions in those early years with the Department of State over IGY?
Not very much. Koepfli, the name I recall. I don’t really recall him. The State Department person who was very active and very helpful was Wally Joyce I think maybe he was a successor to Koepfli, I can’t even pronounce his name. What a debriefing after we got back from summer meetings, is that what it was with Joe Koepfli?
This one was actually, it could well have been in July of 1952.
Oh my. That’s before those meetings. Do you think Berkner was there?
You had mentioned that there was a planned joint conference coming up at the State Department in a letter to Berkner. I was wondering if that brought back anything to memory?
You were mentioning Hugh Odishaw a moment ago, and I didn’t want to stop you on that story.
All right, but let me finish 1952, partially finish it. I was still partly an astronomer and the IAU, the Astronomical Union, (remember I carried the baggage to the dormitories), and they were meeting in Rome I think at the same time. And I was a young kid doing that. There was no point in coming back to Washington and then going off to Rome to those meetings. Let’s just go the rest of the way around the world. So I did. And this was in ‘52 when they had Putt-putts. So I went from Sydney in a British airplane to Singapore and stayed over and the whole planeload stayed overnight. In those days you stayed with the plane company. They put us up at the Raffles Hotel and then on to Calcutta where I had written ahead and got invited to meet be the house guest of Saha. You get his name with the Saha equations in physics in 1922 or something like that. So anyway I talked my way into being his house guest.
And this was the first time you’d met him?
Yes. He was a senator as well as a scientist and he was very impressive. So I stayed two days in Calcutta and I had to kill time and then on to Rome. My airplane broke and so it went into New Delhi on three engines, and then they fixed it and took off again and went into Karachi on three engines. Then they said, “The hell with it,” and they cancelled the flight. So I overnighted at the Karachi airport and got on another airplane and went on to Rome. So I went to the IAU meeting in Rome. In a sense I was piggybacking on the old man who was there. I gave some astronomical talks and I guess I lobbied for the IGY astronomers. The solar activity rapporteur was a Swede named Yngve Ohman, a very, very pleasant man. And on the way back, while I was in Europe I visited a half a dozen places. That might have been ‘50, so I’m not sure what I did.
What do you recall from the IAU meeting? Was there interest in the proposed, what became IGY, or did you sense that that community wasn’t quite as interested as some of the other groups?
It was only slightly more concerned than the physicists because there is only one small part of astronomy that was involved and it was the solar activity part. So I suppose there I met Geickenheir for the first time, a German astronomer. So the solar astronomers were more obviously interested than the physics, but the cosmic ray community there was even smaller and the physicists were funny people anyway. So I got that at the international meetings in ‘52. And don’t be frightened because my memory gets hazy and I have been trying to make a calendar of my life ‘53 to ‘60 something.
Our job is to keep the dates straight. I’m just interested on your recollections.
All right. In the meantime the US National Committee for IGY by that time had been changed to IGY was having a meeting every four or six months at the Academy. Wally Atwood was the Academy person on it. He had a little money. I don’t know where he got it from. We discussed US programs. I think we then we had rapporteurs. Maybe it will come back. When we started on the programs it was a polar year, so the emphasis was on that. There, the Antarctic was one of the unexplored things, one of the new things and one of the things that we all recognized took advanced planning. So I think we had an ad hoc Antarctic Committee of the USNC, and Merle Tuve was active on that. And sometime there we brought in Larry Gould who played a huge role. But there were discussions of how are we going to run things, because we all had jobs and people on the USNC were bureaucrats, senior professors, and they couldn’t spend a lot of time on it, at least they didn’t think they could. But the general thought was that we would find a retired admiral to be the staff person and help us. That was the thing to do in those days. So as vice chairman of the IGY committee they wanted me to have an ad hoc committee group to look into the staff possibility and find the retired admiral. There were a lot of retired admirals around, including one named Smith, who was not only a retired admiral but admiral of the Coast Survey, an admiral of the Navy. I’ll repeat it. I remember saying about this, but the liaison then with the Science Foundation. The science foundation was very new and young.
We’re resuming after a brief pause. You were saying about the Science Foundation.
Science Foundation. Remember I told you of my tiny involvement in the passage of the Science Foundation Act, FAS-wise? And the Science Foundation Act did pass (I can’t remember the years and all that) and the Chief Scientist of the Office of Naval Research, ONR, Alan Waterman, was appointed to be the first director of the National Science Foundation. And it’s a small world. Alan Waterman played the viola, and a friend of his who was also a friend of mine, played the piano, Tom Carroll. And somewhere we picked up a violinist. And oh, for five years or something, we had an ad hoc chamber music group and a quartet.
That’s very interesting. How often would you meet?
Oh, I guess about every six weeks or something like that. The violinist was named Beck. And he was, I think, at the Naval Research Lab. He didn’t travel much, but I traveled a great deal, even then. I went to most meetings of the American Physical Society, even though cosmic rays was really the only overlap, but for FAS business. But I guess this is another aside. I think we played in his early NSF days. And Tom Carroll, who was at the Bureau, got the idea, “Let’s play for the APS, American Physical Society, at their banquet at their Washington spring meeting. Let’s play the Schumann Quintet.” Do you all know the Schumann quintet, piano quintet? So then we started meeting every week or twice a week, practicing. We had to get another violinist, Franz Ulz, also of the Bureau of Standards. He got lost in the fugue in the final movement that we performed. So I knew Waterman through those connections. And Waterman had a son, also named Alan Waterman, who was a radio scientist and participated in US URSI. So the Science Foundation was very young. They appointed a liaison to the IGY committee. I can’t remember details. But his name was Stevenson. And you may find him in that book, but he was not a significant player. But then a friend of Stevenson’s at the NSF was named Harwood. I can’t remember his first name, and he may or may not be in the US volume there. So Harwood took an interest in the IGY and came to a meeting we had, a meeting when my ad hoc committee was appointed, and was constructive to say that he thought that—Astin’s assistant director, Hugh Odishaw, might be approachable. And both because I was Chairman of the ad hoc committee, but also I was an employee with the Bureau of Standards and also that I had had previous interactions with Ed Condon and Hugh Odishaw, so I was designated, of course, to broach it to him, which I did. Odishaw’s first reaction on the International Geophysical Year was “What the hell is that?” I had interacted with Hugh quite a bit on the Condon Case and the various FAS. And Hugh took me over to Ed Condon’s residence, the Manse on the Bureau of Standards grounds. I think it was those early days that he took me to Gifford Pinchot. Ever hear of Gifford Pinchot?
Indeed. And this is Gifford Pinchot, the father?
Yes. Actually, the widow, because he had died. He died in the teens, I think. But the Forest Service and the conservationists, and so Hugh took me several times—
To visit Mrs. Pinchot?
To her house on thing. And Drew Pearson.
Mmm hmm [yes]. The columnist?
Yes. That’s where I met Drew Pearson. So I interacted with her. So I put the [IGY] proposition to Hugh, and he was only vaguely aware of the international scene of things. But he said he’d think about it and all that. Then Mr. Harwood probably should be given credit. Hugh was intrigued by it, because he felt he was through at the Bureau of Standards. So it was Harwood that talked him into being available for the job. $11,000 a year is my recollection. And he came on board within a few weeks. Another of his initial reactions is, “1957, ‘58? Why are you working on it now?” But within six months, he was taking the bolder view of that. But that, for better or worse, made the IGY a going thing, nationally and internationally. I give him full credit. Everything changed. And I can’t put dates down. You’ll have to look up the dates. I had a problem myself with this, because CRPL, Bureau of Standards, was moving to Boulder. And so I didn’t put it in writing, but I put my resignation as Vice Chairman on the table. It was obviously a Washington-based activity. I guess it was Berkner and Kaplan, they talked me out of it. As I say, that changed everything, started everything. And under Hugh we had to raise money from Congress. The Science Foundation people (fortunately I can’t remember their names), but they were already fuddy-duddies on doing that. It’s hard to put things in order. But one of the first things that we tackled—and Hugh and I were buddies. Joe Kaplan was a mouthpiece. Not to denigrate him, but Hugh and I did all the tactics and strategy. Well, one of the next things I remember was writing the first appropriation document, which I had never done before. Hugh, I suppose, had done them. Hugh knew enough that you do the pages the long way—do they still do it that way? I’m quite sure it was Hugh that got moving on the US reporters, who had already started on the Antarctic plan before Hugh came on board.
What was it like to go through the appropriation planning process when you worked on the appropriations, that first one?
The timing I can’t recall.
No, but what was it like to do that? What was the task like as you can remember it?
It was tremendous. A huge task. We appointed reporters in each of the disciplines, and panels, you know, advisory committees, spreading it around to get all concerned institutions. And we tasked them to—Gee, I’m not sure where the money came for the first round of panel meetings and that. However, we tasked them to develop programs. What would we do if—And both to create content, and then the dollars. Almost none of us had any experience in that sort of thing. [Kay enters.] Welcome back!
Thank you. You’re still doing it?
And the dining room lady says that she had a cancellation.
Oh, bless her heart. And she called.
She called, and I said 6:15, but maybe you better confirm with her. Okay. None of us had any experience. Hugh seemed to know how it’s done because he’d been involved in Bureau of Standards budgeteering. So as I say, he knew you’ve got to put the paper this way and how you do the subs and the text and all of that. And I suppose we got some—or he did—some advice or instructions from the Science Foundation. The Science Foundation business office was two people. But for the next two, three years, we did the initial appropriation. —did the biggie, and then we did the follow-up. So I think there were three appropriations. I think the first two, the IGY appropriation request was bigger than all the rest of the Science Foundation.
Yeah. It was a very small agency at that time.
Yeah. And we did the work, Hugh and I and our panels and that sort of thing, and did the typing, and went down and defended against the appropriation committee.
That was something else I was very curious about. You both developed a strategy to deal with members of Congress who would vote on the IGY appropriation?
You alluded to that. I don’t remember personally doing that. Hugh probably did a lot. And I think I triggered a lot to get done, but that doesn’t stand strongly in my mind. Then things took off. Somewhere we had money for our panels to meet. Chicken and egg. I can’t quite now do it. I was a member of five or six of the panels. And I, of course, ran the World-Days. But we had to press everything out, also. The ionosphere business, we had to design a new ionosonde the C-4s. I think we bought 13 of them. Then auroral cameras, cosmic ray neutron monitors. Another thing that sneaks in here, there were international meetings. I think the first real CSAGI, you know, would you believe ‘53? And it was in Brussels. That’s where the international resolutions on what the program should be, like we had subcommittees on chains of stations, zero-degree longitude chains, Downsen, India, and so on. Of course, the international resolutions didn’t have price tags. And also, oh gosh, I’m sorry, so many things go on in parallel. Then I think it was also ‘53 that the Antarctic international planning meetings started. I went to each and every damn one of these. I was thinking last night when I couldn’t sleep, I probably went to every international CSAGI-related meeting, and IAU, IUGG, URSI. Except there was one regional meeting in Africa that I didn’t go to. But I guess the second CSAGI meeting was in Rome in 1954. And lots of things happened. I can’t remember when we announced our satellite program, but I warn you, if you look me up on the World Wide Net—well, somebody did and told me it’s almost all on the satellite announcement. That doesn’t do me justice, quite frankly. I remember something satellite-wise at Rome with Spilhaus. But the significant thing that happened was that the Russians showed up at Rome. And that was another thing that made the IGY a success. But they not only showed up, they showed up late, of course. And their English was more broken than any of our Russians, but they brought the solid earth programs into the IGY—seismology, gravity, maybe glaciology. I’ve forgotten now. But it’ll be in the IGY Annals. But that was significant.
What do you recall of those meetings with the Russians in that time? Because until Stalin’s death, the contacts that you had with Soviet scientists were rather limited.
Well, in my memory (which is bad) we had zero contact until the time of the Rome meeting when they showed up, to me unexpectedly. Pushkov, I can’t remember all the others, and with program ideas, and especially expanding it to the solid earth, which the Americans and the Brits, they never thought of going into solid earth, to my knowledge. I was naive. I was young. But that had to change our budgeting plans, because there was another whole group of disciplines. Also what had to change our budgeting plans was the satellite program. That is a sort of side story of its own. We had a rocket program from the very beginning of planning for the IGY. It was managed by a very powerful American ad hoc committee, which has a name and all the players. And we invited them to propose a program for the IGY. Oh gosh, I can’t remember what happened first and what happened second. In any case, we started planning the satellite program under complete secrecy. And that’s when Hugh, I guess, recruited Dick Porter to be head of the satellite panel, except the US National Committee really was the de facto panel. I wasn’t involved in machinations on the satellite program. It’s a complex thing. And I guess in many ways we were considered naive scientists, whereas the big boys were the von Brauns, and the ICBM people knew what was going on. The services were jockeying for power. But I was certainly a simple country boy in that whole thing. How much Hugh was, I don’t know. What role Berkner played, I don’t know, in the US program.
What were your relationships like with Sydney Chapman in those years? How much did you and he talk about these broad issues and IGY plans?
He and I didn’t do much of that kind of talking. I was much too junior. But he and Berkner and Nicolet, I think they knew pretty well what was going on. I got involved in the China problem.
That would also be of interest.
That’s right. We’d like to hear about that when you are at that point.
I just thought maybe they’d like to meet the other member of our family. [Shows photos.]
So I don’t really know much inside on that. As I said, I was a simple country boy. But there were dealings with the Eisenhower people and the Pentagon. And it was a July day (and you tell me which year) and we had a meeting in the US National Committee at Woods Hole. I’m not sure whether we told the Eisenhower people or whether the Eisenhower people told us. But at any case, it was at that Woods Hole meeting of the National Committee, the only meeting of the National Committee—certainly at Woods Hole and almost the only one outside of Washington, I think—that we would go on the satellite program. So I remember being rushed off to the Federal Express in Providence, which is the closest to Woods Hole, and then it was agreed that I and Athel Spilhaus would front for the announcement on the US IGY satellite program. I can’t remember whether Athel was with us at Woods Hole and we came down together. I remember I stayed at the Hay-Adams—the only time I ever stayed at the Hay-Adams. So there was a press conference called on short notice at the “White House.” And that picture is in my WWW what-do-you-call-it spot. So it’s on the computer.
On the Internet.
Yeah. And S. Douglas Cornell, who was the senior representative of the Academy, was there, Alan Waterman was there, and then Athel and me. Eisenhower was playing golf somewhere, so Haggerty—
His press secretary?
Yes, Press Secretary, presided over it. And a couple of things I remember reported. One is that the Washington Post reporter there said, “You know, they didn’t tell us what this was going to be all about. It’s a hell of a spot for a police reporter” [laughs]. Because they were political reporters. And Athel was wide-awake enough to say that it was a grapefruit-sized thing. He did that. And Waterman. I didn’t participate very much in it, but I was there. I guess I was an example of youth in that. So my memory is that it was a July date. Later that summer, the IAU meeting was in Dublin. So everything is by places. And as you know, the powers that be chose the Naval Research Lab program, John Hagen.
The IAU met in 1955 in Dublin.
Oh gosh. All right. So this was already ‘55. So that didn’t leave much time to get things done. They did the NRL proposal, Hagen and Newell, which was to patch together a big booster with aero-something. But in any case, you can get it there. But it was a paste-up job that the NRL had proposed. And another thing that I remember, and not from the press conference but an actual fact was that we got the third team of Martin Orion. And the ICBM got the first team, and the Army got the second. I don’t know. It was approved by the US authorities, but it didn’t get very high priority. Well, in these years, we had each year—almost always July, I think—we had an International Antarctic Conference in Paris run by Mr. Laclavere. And our Antarctic program began to grow for political reasons. I told you a story about the inland stations. Or have I? There had never been a wintering inland station in the Antarctic. There had been a few summer things. The French went to the magnetic pole, and then there were temporary stations down there. But early on, this was way back in ‘52 or ‘51—and I told you that we started that US Antarctic planning early—it was sort of a given that we’d have to go back to Little America for nostalgic purposes. That was really our beginning. That was our only plan. There was early in our discussions, if we could go inland, where would we go? Scientifically, for scientific reasons. And I’ve told this story many times, but I’ll repeat it. Apparently over the years, there had been coastal stations. They’d publish their results in the Climatology. And a British meteorologist named Simpson figured out that at the coastal stations, there was a prevailing wind that came off the ice. And he triangulated back where the origin of it would be at, and it came to 80 south, 150 west. Of course, they had no real evidence that that was something unique that happened there, but you have to have some reason to go somewhere. So Harry Wexler put his finger on 80 south, 150 west. And that’s where Byrd station ended up.
But as you pointed out, there seemed, later, to be nothing unique about that.
You are correct. Well, Harry and I had sort of a competition, and I didn’t want him to get away with that. So I did some instant quasi-thinking. And the ionosphere, a lot of things of things vary with the solar zenith angle, diurnal variation, and that sort of thing. And I thought, well in the Antarctic, we could keep the zenith angle constant. And so, I didn’t want to be outdone by Harry Wexler, so I put my finger on the center of the map.
What did Harry say to that?
Oh, it’s all sort of jolly and joking. I remember Merle Tuve was there on that, but there was a quasi-scientific reason for going there. If one could ever have an interim station anywhere. See, there were no stations except at the very perimeters. Little America was on the edge of the ice by itself, and all the other stations. Well, I’m not sure that I had one percent influence on what happened. But there would be political—And of course, “How the hell could you put up a wintering station right in the middle out there?” We hadn’t even asked the Navy to give us a ride. When we did ask the Navy, they turned us down. Merle Tuve said, “God damn it, if the Navy won’t take us, then we’ll hire a Danish icebreaker and we’ll do it ourselves.” Whether that got into print or got into the glory—I wasn’t involved in negotiations with the Navy on that. But of course, the South Pole was a good political place to go. And apparently this [the IGY] gave the timing to it. The Russians came in in ‘54, so this must have been ‘53, ‘52. Yeah, early. And the Navy did agree that it was in their interest to train their sailor boys by doing logistics for the scientists. As I said, we would have these annual international Antarctic planning meetings. And early on, the New Zealanders had said that they would plan a station on the Ross Sea. That turned into the…I can’t remember his name now. In any case, it was because the New Zealanders did it, we wanted to be friendly and all that, that we named McMurdo as our logistic base rather than a scientific station. As a matter of fact, it’s only been in the last ten years that—I guess that we started biology science in the ‘60s. So our original program was Little America 6 or whatever the number is, Marie Byrd’s station, or Byrd Land station on the flat plateau, and then the South Pole station. And Hugh very cleverly—well, almost everything he did was clever, but called it the Amundson-Scott Station, and not the “Americans at the Pole” station. And Richard Byrd hadn’t died yet, so we had to watch our politics there. Then politics came in with the South Pole. I can’t remember the order of things, but I think the British and the Argentineans both said they would want to put a station in the Weddell Sea area. And to keep them from fighting each other, we had to propose a station. It became the Ellsworth Station on the Weddell Sea. And the Russians came in with their—what’s the name of their station?
Vostok was their inland station.
Yes, that’s right.
A sort of a survey station on the coast. [Mirny] I’m wearing out. So we had to, for political reasons, because the Australians were scared of the Russians being in their quadrant. So we had to propose a Wilkes Station. So that was the Wilkes Station. And Admiral Dufek got really impatient with us, because every year we had to have another station [laughs]. And again, I can’t remember the order of things.
Would you deal with Admiral Dufek directly?
What was he like? What kind of a person was he?
He was a drunkard. He knew his politics a bit, and so he most of the time behaved himself. But one time he didn’t, that I recall. It was at one of these meetings in Paris. Maybe there were two meetings in Paris. But I remember once, he was sitting up in the balcony of the meeting room. And he went far out or something. It was the Chileans misunderstood and sent their ambassador to Paris to the meeting and started reintroducing the claims business—which early on, we had said from the go in that the IGY program would be independent of any territorial claims. Dufek hadn’t recovered from the night before, and in a loud voice decried or descried the Chilean ambassador. Another time, there was a reception after one of the meetings. Dufek was budding-up with the Russian translator (I won’t further identify her) and wanted to take her to a night club. In a rather loud voice this and that, he told me to cancel my plans for dinner and go there also and protect the situation. So Dufek was not always controllable. I thought for a Navy Admiral, that he did [pause.] He did the Polar Times. Did you ever see the Polar Tunes?
Mmm hmm [yes].
Do you want some extra copies? I have them here. I was on their board of directors for decades. They had a lot of Dufek and the other admirals. And they’re not very complimentary for Dufek. But in private, I was not very complimentary of Richard Byrd.
Had you ever met Byrd, personally?
Never. Byrd, of the Virginia Byrds.
It’s a famous family.
So what thread was I on? Oh, on the Antarctic program. And every year—and even the next year—again, the New Zealanders—I’ve forgotten now how that came up, but somehow, we got stuck with setting up the Cape Hallett station, which as a New Zealand station was sort of called “joint.” But then I think it was in the Polar Times or somewhere here recently I’ve read that there was only one American at Cape Hallett, The rest were New Zealanders. And I knew one of the New Zealanders that went there. So the US Antarctic program grew. I think the main contact at the State Department was Wally Joyce on all of this. And there were lots of interagency committees that I only was vaguely aware of. Harry Wexler took me to one of them. That was after the IGY. Not much after it because Harry died prematurely in ‘62 or something like that.
You know your homework.
What sort of person was Wally Joyce?
Oh, frankly, he was a fuddy-duddy. Did I say that softly enough so you didn’t hear it? [Laughter]
He was the ultimate bureaucrat, but so well meaning. And I think he was at the Coast Survey in the old days and got into the State Department business. But so very well meaning. He never really contributed to anything, except he covered the US’s rear ends on that, so all credit to him. Well, in these years, the Antarctic program grew. And we had to be doing budgets behind, I remember, Bernt Balchen. Hugh hired him, it was rather early in the game, when he and I shared an office there at the Science Foundation building. But he helped us with budgeting, and maybe he testified. I don’t know. But there were, and you probably looked at some of these, these annual Antarctic meetings. Then there were regional meetings. There was one for the Western Hemisphere in Rio de Janeiro. There was an Arctic meeting in Stockholm. There was a Eastern European meeting specifically on World-Days communications. That was my first trip to Moscow, and I was the only Westerner at the meeting. So I can tell you some stories on that. But that was in ‘57, shortly before the beginning of the IGY.
What do you remember from that meeting?
That meeting? Oh, the Moscow meeting. That was a Moscow meeting. In ‘58, in August, there was a CSAGI meeting.
But that was your first time in Moscow?
And almost everybody’s first time. The Cold War was beginning to thaw, and I was given the treatment. I had my personal interpreter and guide. But my visa didn’t come through when planned. And I remember going to—didn’t come, didn’t come. I decided to go to Washington to sweat it out there. And the meeting was about to begin in Moscow. Finally, the visa came. So I hopped on the next airplane, I thought I had made arrangements to connect at Copenhagen to a plane to Moscow. I got to Copenhagen and the flight didn’t exist. So I didn’t know what to do. Finally, but with help, I suppose, from the airlines—Oh, yeah. I found an airplane that presumably went from Helsinki to Moscow. So I found a connecting flight from Copenhagen to Helsinki. I thought I sent a telegram to Beloussov at the Academy in Moscow, and flew to Helsinki, transferred from there to the Russian version of DC-3 to Moscow, and arrived in Moscow about midnight. And nobody else was in Moscow. There was an in-tourist gal, and she said, “What can I do?” Nobody was awake at the Academy. And she looked up the Academy number. I didn’t have it. “So about all I can do is put you up at the airport in-tourist hotel, and we’ll see what happens.” Oh, that was scary, that was scary, because there had been stories about, I think, just a few months before, an American just disappearing. Or maybe he was finally found, but he had been—not in Siberia, but not where he was supposed to be.
That must have been a really traumatic moment, going to the in-tourist hotel.
Yeah. And I did. And I’ve forgotten whether I’d had supper or not, but certainly the next day I didn’t have any breakfast. I was sure I locked my hotel room, but about 11 o’clock my hotel room door burst open and Professor Beloussov barged in.
What were your impressions of him? This was the first time you’d met Beloussov? Or had you met him before the meeting?
Oh, no. Beloussov had been involved from the beginning of the Russian involvement. He was the leader of the Russian delegation. So he was boss man at Rome when they showed up, and he was at every CSAGI meeting after that. So I knew him and he knew me.
Did you find him easy to deal with?
Oh, yes. We were far apart scientifically. He was a seismologist, solid earth person. But no, he was an okay guy, and probably played games, but so did we. He did what he was told, just like I did what I was told.
I can imagine what you’re thinking, but I’d just be glad for a few examples of what you’re thinking about when you talk about the necessary political games that were being played at the time.
Well, I don’t quite know what to say. The thing that I got over my head in was the China problem, and that has several aspects. We had a Western Pacific regional conference in March of ‘57. I don’t know how I survived a lot of these—
The travel that you did at that point was extraordinary.
Oh, it was fantastic. So I was also involved in—You know, I had at job at home and stuff. And among many other things, I was on the Air Force Scientific Advisory Committee or whatever it was. I think it was in that same frantic time when the Air Force authorities insisted that I come to a meeting. I won’t go into this very much, not that it was all that classified and stuff. But I remember going to meetings in Europe. And the Air Force insisted I come back. So I flew back—this was putt-putt days—and went to their meeting, in San Diego it was. I stopped by in Boulder to get clean shirts and things. And tired, because I had to go—I was here for a weekend for those meetings, then I was due back in Germany the next day for this worldwide soundings committee meeting. I got to Idlewild. That’s what it used to be called.
And wooden buildings, still. They go back to TWA, I guess. No, it was Pan America. To Frankfurt. So I got to the terminal there, and it was the evening flight. And all I could hear there waiting for the plane were howling brats. They were really brats. I just thought that I would die. But I had an air travel card, you know, a charge card. So I upgraded myself to first class, decided that I would expire if I had to share the tourist fare with those howling brats. It got through the government system. They paid for the upgrade. So I was hugely busy. But that first trip to Moscow, and almost the first trip of any of us IGY people. There hadn’t been any IGY meetings in Moscow. I had first class. I had an Academy operative assigned to me. In the end I treated him and took he and his wife to the Bolshoi. But I had translation services. The meeting held was significant in many ways, but it was on sort of logistical planning. The World-Days program was not that much scientific. But they gave me a trip down to the Crimea to visit the observatory down there.
How was the instrumentation and equipment?
About the same as the rest of us. They had a solar activity station in Symphopol, which is next to Sebastopol at an observatory called the Simeis Observatory that was their solar activity station at their astrophysical observatory. It was high up in the Crimea. I don’t know. I’m wandering again. Maybe I’m wearing out. But the IGY hasn’t started yet.
We realize we’re probably going to need to make another trip to continue talking about this, I’m not sure if we should ask any more about the Chinese issue or wait until we come back for that next interview.
Oh, that’s what started this. The Western Pacific meeting was in March.
And that was the Tokyo meeting?
It was in Tokyo. But I had a problem with—I’ll try to make this short. But see, I had to plan and execute the World-Days program. There were the stated days they periodically had on the middle days of the month. Then we had the meteorologists fly extra balloons on the middle day of every month. So that was put on the calendar, and Nicolet produced the—maybe you saw the IGY calendar. We’ve continued ever since, done by associates here in Boulder. So that part of it keeps going. But then for the magnetic storm times, it had to be predicted and in order to predict, you had to pass around what used to be called URSI-grams, but solar and magnetic ionospheric data. So I had set up, we called them regional warning centers, in each part of the world, and then a world warning agency, which the Americans ran in Fort Belvoir in the Washington suburb. Well, all this to say that that program was the live wire of the IGY.
And you had set that up well before IGY, is that right?
Well, but not well before. One of the problems was the Japanese, because they had a regional center and they were supposed to send messages. Each regional center would send advice on to the world warning agency as to whether or not to call a disturb day. All the regional warning centers in Europe and in Japan and Australia would send advice to the Americanos, and they would necessarily call a worldwide alert. We did it—and I’m jumping ahead now, then I’ll come back. When the IGY started, we had a practice month, June of ‘57. So the boys at Fort Belvoir, which is where it was the ionosonde station for the Washington area, they did as I said and told them to and set it up. So I sent out an alert. That turned the Signal Corps of the US Army upside down, the first alert for the IGY. They said, “Hey, stop. The whole post was put on emergency and that.” So you know, you can’t win them all. And my boys at Fort Belvoir, they acted promptly at that. They put the word “geo” in front of the word, so “geo-alert.” That calmed the military. I don’t know whether the Russians also scrambled their Earth links or not. All right, but a problem was the Japanese were inefficient in that. It got to be Christmas time in ‘56, but I couldn’t get word to and from them. I’d send them messages. So I finally said to myself, “The only way to sort things out is for me to get an airplane and go down.” I sent them a telegram—we had communication links and that sort of thing—to “straighten out what you’re supposed to do and what you’re not doing and that sort of thing. I’ll be arriving on Northwest Airlines such-and-such the third day of January.” That got their attention. They immediately sent a telegram back, “Please come, but don’t come then because everything is shut down in Japan for the first ten days of January.” Which I didn’t know. You didn’t know that detail, or did you? So I postponed for a week. That’s when I made my first trip to Japan. Stayed at Imperial Hotel, the original Frank Lloyd Wright job. It was cold as the Dickens. I’ll say this as a preface to saying that six weeks later, I made my second trip to Japan, went to the Western Pacific conference. What else showed up? The mainland Chinese showed up.
And did you expect the mainland Chinese to be there?
Not for a long time, but I think we had a few weeks’ notice on it. And I wish Hugh Odishaw were alive and could tell what he did, because we had to disinvite the Taiwanese.
They had not been interested—or at least they had not responded—once the first IGY announcements had gone out. What had you heard about what caused the Taiwanese to become interested in participating in IGY?
Oh, they were proper members of ICSU, so they got invited to things. They didn’t take much interest until then. I suppose they submitted national programs, but if so, they were very modest. So the US had to, as I say, disinvite the Taiwanese. I think the Taiwanese—excuse me, the Republic of China.
People’s Republic of China.
No, it’s not the People’s Republic of China.
Oh, you’re talking about the Taiwanese, yes. It is. I’m sorry.
That’s the Republic of China.
—didn’t keep a diary of it. I’m sorry. Because things were happening fast and furious. See, along with this, I was de facto running the U.S. ionosphere program, and more so than what Roberts would admit. I was running the solar activity program, and I was de facto running the international ionosphere program and a lot of other things. And I was Staff Sergeant for the whole US program. Hugh and I were running the U.S. program. We manipulated Joe Kaplan as necessary. And Hugh wanted me to be Chief Scientist of the U.S. Antarctic program. I said, “Enough.” And Harry Wexler deserved it. I’ve forgotten what else I was doing. So the mainland Chinese showed up at Tokyo, and I said the Taiwanese were dis-invited. I don’t have too many memories of that, but I have papers on it. And I would be giving a lecture in Tokyo on the ionosphere program. I don’t really remember the personages that came. They were all named Lie.
And Communist China had insisted that Taiwan not be allowed to participate in IGY.
That’s right. One of the consequences there was that Hugh said that we’ve got to go down there and placate the Taiwanese. So on the last day or the day after the Tokyo meeting closed, Hugh and I took an airplane and went down on almost no notice to Taipei. They didn’t even have a proper hotel for us. It was a nurses’ quarter or something. It was pathetic, the Taiwanese. They didn’t want to show us any of their scientific work. They wanted to entertain us, take us up into the mountains. And Hugh, with my full backing, said, “No. We came here to talk about the IGY and to talk about your program and the national university.” Not the provincial university, but as you know, all the stuff in Taiwan was in all the provinces. So we let them entertain us a little bit. We insisted on—And their facilities were pretty pathetic, especially the montage of the—They were the national university and the national committee, and these Taiwanese were provincial people. So it was pathetic, and that was my first involvement in the China problem.
Were you meeting at the Academy, at the Academia Sinica in Taipei?
Yes, I suppose so. I have almost no memory of that. But my second involvement now jumps ahead, and we can talk a lot about Sputniks. I was the world’s tracking center for Sputnik for about 36 hours here in Boulder. But that’s another story.
You went back to Taiwan about a year later, as I recall, for a second visit?
No. If so, I’ve forgotten. I’m quite sure I was only there that one time. But my second involvement was a year and a half later. See, mainland China went through the motions of having an IGY program and participating. You’ll probably tell me more than I can remember, but it was at the Moscow CSAGI meeting in August of ‘58. In the meantime, Lloyd Berkner had resigned as Vice President of IGY, and he had designated me to represent him at the Moscow meeting. I’m not sure I can think of the order of things or even what happened. But the US State Department misbehaved, at least in my view, on the China question. And I was put in the position of being ordered to pack the Taiwanese. The Taiwanese didn’t get their visas—that was it—for the Moscow meeting. But the mainland China people I don’t think showed up either. And I’m afraid I’m not able to speak of this, what happened, except I was put on the spot at the bureau meeting. When the Russians joined in ‘54, then the CSAGI bureau, which was just Chapman, Berkner, and Nicolet, they were either forced to or volunteered to, or in any case, they enlarged their Bureau to five people. And Beloussov, was the Russian. And then it was Laursen who was the fifth, to balance the non-Beloussov, or the Soviet CSAGI bureau. It was a five-person thing. So I was representing Berkner at the Moscow meeting, which I didn’t want to but I had to. I was hoodwinked into defending the American position. And that was not a happy time for me at all.
I suspect the pressure must have felt extraordinary on you, and a lot of conflicting feelings.
Yes, and it got aggravated because the rest of the CSAGI bureau didn’t accept Berkner’s action, and therefore wanted Homer Newell to represent Berkner, which was a personal blow to me.
How did the State Department let you know what it wanted you to do? Did people come from the Embassy in Moscow?
No. It was done through, I suppose, Wally Joyce and Hugh Odishaw. Neither of them were happy about it. I’m not sure whether I should have shared this with you, but I don’t mind.
It was a difficult time for many Americans who got caught up in these developments. And I also know we’ve been talking now for three hours, and we probably better bring this interview to a close. But I wanted to thank you once again for this very long session and repeat that neither the tape nor the transcript to be prepared from it will be released to anyone without your express knowledge and approval in the permission forms that you’ll get.
And I’ll repeat that I’m not playing games. But I’ll also tell you that this experience, which I’m not faulting anybody on that, but I’ve had a fever attack. Maybe you see that I’m sweating. So I’m unwell.
I appreciate so much that you gave us this time.