Notice: We are in the process of migrating Oral History Interview metadata to this new version of our website.
During this migration, the following fields associated with interviews may be incomplete: Institutions, Additional Persons, and Subjects. Our Browse Subjects feature is also affected by this migration.
Please contact [email protected] with any feedback.
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Peter Glaser by John Elder on 1994 October 11,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Some of the topics discussed include: his Jewish childhood and early education in Czechoslovakia; his family's escape from the Nazi takeover; his education as an engineer in England; fighting with the Czech army during World War II; his return to Czechoslovakia after the war; his emigration to the U.S. where he earned his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Columbia University; his employment as a consulting engineer at D. Little in Cambridge, Mass. where he spent his career; his resolve to obey the Hippocratic oath to "do no harm;" Cryogenic insulation; lunar surface research and experiments; von Braun rocket team; space solar power; thermal imaging; Krakatit (the book).
This is October 11, 1994, an interview with Peter Glaser by John Elder. I was thinking of continuing from last week by asking you if you can remember how your notion of what the solar power satellite would look like or what it would be like say from the time you first talked to Bob Brown in '65 or '66, when it was, to say '70 or '75. But I mean, here I am going to actually ask you something more technical than I usually do.
Really what changes had occurred in your notion of it, and whose input caused you to change it, or just your own thinking or things that happened? This is really more the history of a piece of technology than I normally ask you to recount, if you can really remember that.
Sure. Basically it's gedunking experiment, and I should have looked for that book — I think it's — That's it. I have been trying to find this paper. Remember I, as an engineer, I always felt the key was not to make things more difficult than you can, and this paper was called "The Future of Power from the Sun." And I had ideas about what you can do on the ground, and I was able to calculate, solar collect the surface area with hundred percent efficiency. If we had — and to supply the electrical energy demand which I show in the preceding table. And it really showed me that what you are talking about is in terms of square miles. And I said how would we need in the U.S. by the year 2000, and I came up with the number of about 284 square miles.
Of solar collectors.
Of solar collectors. And then I went through the various types of collectors.
This was 284 square miles of solar collector existed at that moment or —?
No, no. We would need 284 square miles regardless of—you wouldn't have it in one —
No, but I mean given — was that with existing technology or some —?
No, that's hundred percent conversion efficiency.
No, if God Himself designed the convertor — hundred percent that's what you would need. And now I had another paper here where I compared it with [???] marsonite silicon, organic systems, and I assumed that 24 percent and 80 percent efficiency. We had no idea how to do it, and to this day we don't know how to do it. I just made these assumptions. And basically I showed that by the year 2000 the square miles for the United States with silicon would have to be about 1894 square miles, not 284. And that gave me the idea that there is no way that you can do it in one area. The efficiency of silicon is 15 percent and so on, and it sort of, anyone who started to look at it realized that there was no way that we can do it on that scale on the ground.
In this paper, is this leading up to proposing space?
What I am saying, and the conclusions might be of interest to you, we cannot minimize the development efforts required to carry out the suggested solar power generation satellite, and that's essentially the picture that I had in mind. At this time most of the difficulties are expected to be within the projected capabilities of systems engineering rather than requiring the invention or development of new physical principles. Also the developments required for such a system or other competitive large-scale applications of solar-powered devices are not far enough advanced to allow detailed cost benefit analyses. However, the cost of such devices and power generating plants can be estimated, and they should be evaluated and compared to the projected costs of nuclear power plants over the next two decades. The search for power from the sun appears to be less of a technological gamble than when we first announced our objective to land a man on the moon and return him to earth by 1970. In fact, the developments stemming from the space program may find projects such as solar power, a logical outgrowth of achievement in space, and help lead the world into an era where an abundance of power could free man from his dependence on fire. So that's essentially, if you like, my philosophy — and I haven't changed in the slightest to this day what I said then. All of the power generation, you know, I discuss what you can do in space, what do in the ground. I had an idea that the solar cells would not be requiring a big structure. In fact if you look at the way I thought about it — and there are some problems with it, but just again a gadunking experiment — I would have a very large circular area, and I would very slowly spin it, very slowly, such that I could have very thin area which would spread out. And this approach was actually —
You would have a kind of centrifugal force that would keep it rigid [?].
Yes. I could use — I don't even need a structure to support it, and a very —
The rotation would support it. It would support itself. Okay.
Yes. The centrifugal force. It was only about I think five or six years ago that one of my colleagues in England at Cambridge Consulting Laboratory, CCL, came up with the idea, there was this Bicentennial thing — it was eight years ago I guess — had a contest to land one kilogram on Mars in any way you wanted, whoever gets there first, and it was to be done with solar sails [?], and the deployment of solar sails, these people in Cambridge came up with a sort of a folded structure which went up with a rocket, but then it had a spin to it and it slowly unfolded into a huge circular sail which can then sail — you know, there's a solar radiation pressure — to Mars. The commission in Washington who made the announcement to the world about this, and there were several teams. We were with a European, and there was a Russian team and Japanese team, but they ran out of money. They could never proceed in the first phase here. But the idea of having large, thin, very large, thin surfaces which can be deployed was something that I didn't go into detail, and I figured we can do it, well these guys did it for the solar sail, and the same approach you could then use for what I had in mind. Now there is other forces involved, and you'd have to look at what does it take to stabilize it. So that first design — and that is, I had to get a very good artist at IDL back in '67 I guess, so I got him, I told him what I wanted to show, and at that time I didn't really have a good understanding of phase array [???] radar. That was all classified stuff. So I showed it just as a concentrator, you know, where you concentrate [???] and that's — We did this with an antenna at Goldstone [?] [???] Center and we put a big generator at the focal point and then it provided the beam for us, and I think I mentioned that to you. So that was all there was to this system, and it was very lightweight, and I wasn't concerned can I get it up there. We had done the Saturn [?] so I knew what that is, it's an [???] manufacture these Saturn rockets on a larger scale, and then the cost will approach the cost of fuel. And I had a friend, Hugh Davis, who was then in the propulsion thing at NASA Houston, and he agreed with me that eventually if the market is large enough you [???] approach to the cost of fuel. And the cost of fuel, which may be oxygen and a few we now use, is relatively inexpensive. So that was a first cut that I felt, well, I'm not talking about an unobtainable [?] fuel; I didn't have to have God knows what. And Gordon Woodcox [?] then became interested and several other people, and they all said, "Yeah, we think we can do that." So if I'm answering your question how did I come about this, because I tried to do it as simply as I could think of, and so that was my first patent application had that in it.
Do you remember coming up with that idea of the thin —?
I just couldn't visualize building a structure 5 miles in diameter. Remember we didn't have a [???]. How the heck would you do it with people, you know, we were thinking about EVA and the first spacewalk was a big deal that came, and the Skylab, you know, and all this was to me, to do that I felt was very difficult. You couldn't do it with people because of size, and you had to do it with robotics, but robotics in space hadn't come as far as — And ten years later [???] Pistov [?] agreed because he said, "Well, the reason they're building this [???] space station, because we've got to learn how to assemble large structures in space." And that's with robotic systems.
So it just came to you, huh?
Well, I knew I had to have a flat surface which doesn't weigh anything, okay? A large, flat surface with minimum weight. So I said, "Well, to put up huge structures doesn't really make sense." Now then when NASA looked at it, all sorts of things, you know, you generate forces and gravity, I said look, that may well be, but it gave me a chance to scope what this is like, and it isn't that bad. Perhaps you can do a lot better. So then [?] become what I call the bridge-building era of solar power satellites. The bridge-building era essentially was what the NASA reference systems turned out to be. To give you an idea, I think the girders [?] for this thing here which were robotically produced and assembled was [???] concept of that which [???] dig up was developed by Grammin [?] and Boyle [?] and somewhere between the two. And you needed the depth of the beam was about a kilometer deep. You know, I mean that gives you an idea that you are talking about enormous structure with a large amount of material required. And I wasn't very comfortable that that was the way to go. You could show, for example, that when it goes into a shadow with a huge aluminum structure, 5 kilometers by 10 kilometers, as it cools down would have a major thermal contraction, and that isn't something the structure takes very easily. Therefore you'd have to design some — And they were working on designing very clever structures, but it was an inelegant way of [???]. So I'm still not sure what the best way is, but you'd have to see. Partly it may be you want to make smaller units, and not where each one produces — well, NASA wanted to produce at first 10 gigawatts on earth, which is ten modern nuclear power plant equivalence, which is an enormous amount of power. So I said well, let's at least think about five, because just like we didn't have small [???] now, we now have these huge [???]. And I thought there would be a benefit in having something that you can mass produce which is smaller and get it up with automated systems, rather than build these enormous structures and all that kind of stuff. So, and these tradeoffs still need to be made. You know, I'm just giving you my personal view that if something goes wrong I'd much rather repair a smaller structure than a big one. Today when we did the faralay [?] satellite I think I mentioned to you I gave a paper on that, and the International [???] Federation Congress in Grotz [?], a year ago actually, and I really tried to show that we can do the reflector, solar reflector, out of very thin material, and it's the same idea, you know, whether you have a reflector this way, or, and the Russians went that way too, so the idea of having thin reflectors and so on really needs to be pursued in much more detail, because I think to have these enormous structures is just not an ideal way for — So the basic idea is very simple, you know, there ain't much to it. You've got a solar cell and you provide the electricity through the microwave generators, and later on, you know, this phased array [?] and now the Japanese have solid-state microwave generators in the NASA DOE program. RCA actually came up with solid-state microwave generating devices. And that's perfectly — that was back, what, 20 years ago. So it's not on the forefront of technology, but people haven't really pursued it. Now when the Japanese flew their airplane, what they call their Milax [?] microwave-lifted airplane experiment in August '92, they had solid-state devices, phased array antennas, they put the blooming thing on the top of a Nissan pickup and had a model airplane sort of following this thing while it was traveling down the road, and I've got a picture of it someplace. So I think what you need to sort of look at our different approaches and let different teams come up with approaches and then have like a fly-off. But what the thing will look like eventually, I am not able to tell you, but I don't think it'll be a huge structural construction.
Maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree here, but it sounds like maybe you never were proposing a really very specific design.
No. What I was after was a concept, "buy into my concept," in those words. The concept that the Wright brothers pursued was basically developed by Chinkovsky. He figured out that if you have a curved surface as a wing, you get lift because the air goes quicker over the top part; therefore the pressure is lower and can go up. And some very basic thoughts about it. He couldn't tell you how to design a Concord, and the Wright brothers and other people took that knowledge base and applied it to airplane design, and eventually out of that you know we came through the DC-3 up to the DC-7 and then the 707 and 747 and God knows what we'll get to next. But there is a long time where various ideas have to be tried, and eventually you can use solutions which everyone says that's good, you're there. And then somebody comes up, "But I have this better idea." You know, the DC-7 was good, but I was in England going to school when Commander Whipple [?] had developed the jet engine. I think I mentioned in 1936 he came up with that, and then in school in Leeds College of Technology we were studying this jet engine. As far I knew none of those had ever been built. I think GE started getting into it in '41 or '42, and the Germans somehow got hold of it too, so jet engines, but Whipple already had the concept how to do it. Now his concept bears no relationship to today's jet engine I'm sure, but the principle is the same. Just like if you look at fancy clocks, the Swiss clocks. I've seen clocks made of wood. They worked at the time. They weren't accurate, but the basic idea. All I could do is present orthogonal [?] thinking from what the accepted sort of development path was, and said no, you don't have to rely on small scale terrestrial [???] solar [???]. We can do it on a global scale. Well that was a new thing. People did not think in those terms. And I offered what was an incredible way of looking at it. This thing here, if you wanted to you probably could build it, not [???] optimized design, and I think that sort of then those people came and said, "Oh, I have a better idea." Got to it, you know, and I knew I've sort of gotten something going. There were people saying, "But why do you want to be in geosynchronous orbit? Why don't we put things in lower earth [?] orbit?" And there's some good reason why you want to think of lower earth orbit, just like a radio announcer [?] says I want to put things into lower earth orbit communications satellite rather than a geosynchronous these huge [???]. And a good friend of mine, Dave Criswell [?], says Peter — he was the head of the Lunar Receiving Laboratory, so he got all the lunar samples, and said, "The way to do it, put all the stuff on the moon that you need, the solar cells and the transmitters, and then beam it back to earth and you have some simple reflectors orbiting earth," and I said, "Dave, that's great! I don't care where the stuff is." In other words, that's a designer's choice, and the question is what is better from a technical point of view, from an economic point of view, and a societal point of view.
Were there any — say just between 1965 and 1970, was there anything — had your idea changed in any particularly —?
No, my idea really hadn't changed. When NASA got into the act I realized that what they are trying to do is find a major new vision for NASA, and I wasn't sure that was a good idea, you know, [?] Brown and all of his [???] so people at NASA Houston did it and so on. That's why the two centers were competing at one point with each other for the design of the solar-powered satellite. I felt it was too early at that point to sort of somehow we've got the answers, this is it. Nothing, in my experience in technology, comes that way. You know, Ford [?] did the Tin Lizzie [?], and what we have today doesn't bear any resemblance to Tin Lizzie — except in concept.
So I cannot say what this final solar-powered satellite is which we will have up there. I don't know if anybody has yet come up with the right design. But the concept is as valid today as when I talked about it in '68.
You mean to say that even if all the money — if suddenly there were no economic obstacle, you're not sure it's ready?
No. The economic obstacle is great. Until you can come up with a design which can be manufactured at reasonable cost, can be launched and can be maintained, can [???] safely that's what — And we never got this far. The Japanese got a lot further with it than we did, with much less money. You know, we've been designing a space station, so far we spent I don't know, ten or fourteen billion dollars, and we don't even have a piece of something to show for that. We've been arguing about which way to go and been forever changing. It's like if you want to build a house, and you continually tell the architect, "and I don't want it this way, I want it north, I want it south, I want it two stories, three stories, fly-throughs, peek-throughs," well the architects who work for you, after ten years you spend a bundle of money but you don't have a house.
Were you involved in this — well, the whole process by which I guess Congress in the end rejected this?
Congress didn't really reject it, no. DOE.
DOE rejected it.
Not Congress. Congress in fact, it was in Congress, to this day people who, you know, from Goldwater to years ago I had lunch with Dick Kunchini [?]. There are a lot of people who felt that this was a good idea, and they still think so.
Well, that's what I was going to ask you, [???] that you were really involved in on the political side, or do you [???] people?
No. You'd have to look up the various Congressional Records, and I can't even remember how many of those participated. I have several of them here. You know, there were hearings in the House and the Senate, the two space committees, the energy committees, and of course the opposition came about because the people in the fossil fuel didn't like it, the people in the terrestrial renewable didn't like it because this was a large macro-engineering project and they wanted, you know, small is beautiful. The people in the nuclear business, fusion business, didn't like it because they felt a threat to their programs.
Did you talk with those people?
Oh yes. And I said, "Look. I feel we have to pursue all the possible options we can. We don't know which eventually will be the best to pursue, and fusion is a very interesting topic because it teaches us a great deal about what happens in the interior of the sun and the interior of the atom, and thus it has sort of a life of its own, and should have a life of its own." And as far as nuclear reactions, I'm an engineer. I'm convinced if you do it right, you probably can do a reasonably good, providing safe nuclear reactors. I never was quite sure what the hell do we do after we're through with reactors and the waste, but that, you know, [???] all sorts. In fact I worked on a project I recall what it would take to have electromagnetic launchers and launch it into space. And we did that. That was an interesting project.
Is it a good idea?
You know, we —
As long as you don't make any mistakes in the launching.
You see, that's the problem with any of that stuff. The science fiction story — I've forgotten who wrote it, but all it was this tremendous UN [?] cry, "Nuclear materials are being shown to be in the atmosphere, and who is putting nuclear materials into the atmosphere." Essentially we shot it out someplace, and as we go around, you know, like the asteroids we run through that stuff, so we had nuclear materials raining from the atmosphere. We have to be very careful, you know, my motto being—
Do no harm?
Do no harm. Particularly when it comes to global opportunities and concepts. So I think that this whole subject needs to be looked at. In fact, OTA did probably one of the best jobs in looking at it. I would think the least — There was a critique of the SPS which Fred Koomanoff [?], who is a program manager, asked the National Academy of Sciences to do, and that was really, you know, all that they did, well, they took the NASA [???] system and critiqued that system. And I tried to say but, you know, this will never be built. It is a way of having a straw man that we could study — not the technology, but we could study the legal and regulatory, or if we had something like that where environmental issues or societal issues. Those were the — it was a straw man design, and they took it as if that's what we're going to build. And in that critique they said it'll cost trillions of dollars. They haven't the foggiest idea of what it would cost, because we didn't even say what it would cost. You know, solar cells were expensive, they based it on silicon solar cells, fixed [?] solar cells, and therefore the thing weighed at I don't know how many, 50,000 tons. You know. And that's what they took as the basis for making that critique, and it's like saying the DC-3 is going to be the way we're going to fly passengers across the Atlantic, and the National Academy of Sciences does its thing, comes to the conclusion, "I mean the cost for one passenger to fly from New York to London is so great nobody will ever want to do it." And alright, but we don't fly across the Atlantic with a DC-3. We fly cattle cars called 747s or DC-10s, and you can now fly to London, what, $300 on a special deal. If the post office weighed you as a package it would be more expensive. So I think the National Academy I was very disappointed, because they had a political — Again, a lot of people there who are more interested in saying this is not the way to go. But they even recommended that although research funds should not be expended, we should revisit this periodically and NASA should report to the Academy what are they doing that comes closer and what have they learned, because that was never known. The Academy never said you can't do it; they said it's too expensive to do. So I don't think that was a fair evaluation or assessment.
Well, did you ever just get mad?
I was disappointed that the Academy essentially never really gave me a chance to present the case. They studiously avoided asking me to really participate. I was not on the committee. I was on OTA committee, but not on that one. And I felt that that report was then used by the community opposed to SPS, as India [?], we need to shut it down. Now, whether it was collusion I have no idea, but it looked to me that there might have been, because why would the academy have —? I should study that report. In parts it just was, you know, to assume that all we'll have forever are thick silicon solar cells, you know, it's like they are saying well, the only thing we'll ever have is CPC, you know Car Program Calculators [?], and you put the wires together but it'll never really do much for anyone. So I think that the view that the technology evolution would stop at what the early designs were was just the wrong assumption. But they said "and that's the reference system, and all we are critiquing is the reference system" and we're not looking at anything else. So I think that was very disappointing to me, because I felt that the history of technology has always progressed in stages from one design to the next to the next to the next, and essentially the U.S. since 1980 abandoned work in this area and left it to the Russians and to the Europeans to some extent and to the Japanese. It has consequences that I am not able to now —
Well, did it ever make — did it ever seem like it might make sense to you to work with Japanese?
Well, yes, I in fact —
You know, if the U.S. doesn't want to do it?
But you know, I've — These people I know very well, and they even give me [???] basic idea. But you know it's not easy to work with the Japanese. I work for a consulting company that would have had to hire [???] to do some of that. Now whether it would have been considered by the State Department exportation of strategic technology, I don't know; we never got to that.
But it never would have — Well, I shouldn't say that, that's a leading question. I mean, would it ever seem possible to leave ADL and be a private citizen and say —?
Remember, I did a lot of other things. I just didn't work on this. So it was very interesting for me to do many different things, and I don't know that I wanted to sort of become, you know, very narrowly specialized — particularly since I know the Japanese are, you know, their thought processes are somewhat different from ours, and to work with a group, I don't really know of any Western engineer or scientist who has worked successfully [???] years on something like that. The only exception is an uncle of mine. I think I mentioned him, Anthony Raymond [?], who was a partner of Frank Lloyd Wright, [???] hotel and then stayed over in Japan, and he was very successful. And when he died about 15 years ago he had about a 300-architect firm in Tokyo. But, you know, I don't think my family would have liked to live in Japan. I always liked the Japanese. I have many good friends with them; I admire their tenacity, their intelligence, and their long-range outlook. They do not think in the terms that we have to think in.
But did you sometimes just want to — "Damn! What's with these people?"
Well, I tried not to do that, because that would not have been a very helpful way of proceeding. I was encouraged because I started out alone, and over the years there were hundreds of people working in various countries who say this guy Glaser is right, that's the way we'll have to go, and that group is increasing. And I always have to think of the Talmudic thing, you know, you are required to start the task; you are not enjoined to finish it — particularly in macro-engineering.
What about Sunsat [?]?
Well, okay, Sunsat. Just around the time when DOE and NASA were in sort of a — they started in '76 the SPS Concept Development and Evaluation Program, where Congress told DOE, "You manage the program, and NASA will support you." They didn't want it to become a space program; they wanted it to become an energy program. And I realized that the way things were going it was an American program, and nothing wrong with that, but I also had some contact with Comstadt [?], and I was impressed that the people — Charek [?] and others, he was president first of Comstadt, realized that we may be very successful in the communication satellites field to begin with, but in the end we have to think of a way to have an international partnership, and out of that evolve [???]. And when I used to go and [???] hotel, I realized that the Comstadt was on one side of the plaza, and Intersat [?] on the other, and the American companies had a strong influence on what was happening in Intersat. And to this day I think the president of Intersat, Goldstein, is an American. And I believe that as far as I remember 60 percent of the hardware was provided by U.S. companies to Intersat, and Intersat was owned by 129 countries, I don't know, just about everybody who had an interest was part of Intersat. So I felt, well you know this tells me something, that for us to paint the American flag on it and have this satellite and beam down God knows how much power, and they're going to say, you know, "[???] are the controllers of this whole shooting match," and I could see well, jeepers, somebody might say — whether it's the Russians or the Europeans or the Japanese, Chinese — "How do we know you are doing a good job on this? What's to prevent you from having this microwave beam and [???] control, but we don't really know whether you haven't got a big laser in there and at the right time you might tell some country, you know, if you guys don't do what we'd like to do, instead of sending in the troops you'll turn on the laser." So I became sure that —
I'd like to say that to Iraq right now.
I wish they had done that.
Yeah. So I felt, well, this ain't gonna fly, because you cannot in this — even then it was clear there was a committee for peace for the uses of outer space, and there is international telecommunications union, world administration radio [?] conference, you have to get through the UN, frequency assignment, you have to — [???] because we don't own that space. There is no country which owns space or the moon. Therefore it is something that belongs to planet Earth society. So I knew that the chances of this ever coming about just as a U.S. are very slim. So I felt well —
Didn't DOE also know that? Or were they not worried about that far —?
They weren't concerned about it too much at that point.
Is it also the case that just economically —
And another — Of course.
Countries — people not willing to be completely dependent on someone that might be —
I mean imagine —
— The electricity which we would provide as the U.S. Not even Great Britain would be comfortable, because if we decide we want to make a bit more money, we'll charge a bit more and if they don't want to pay it we'll shut off the beam. So I realize this ain't gonna fly as a one-country proposition. So I got people from the aerospace industry and other people together and said, you know, what we've got to do is set up something which eventually could have an influence on the international arena, and there were meetings in Washington, and we set up a Sunsat [?] Energy Council as a nonprofit organization in '78, and we had — quite a few people were interesting in that, and we started to publish in journals, Space Power Journal, and we sponsored conferences all over the world, and I recommended, I was president then at the time, to the board, that we really should become an NGO, because I thought that was a good way for us to be heard in the various UN meetings. And that takes quite a bit of time to make applications and so on. And we made the grade, we're an NGO, and we are with a very important group of the UN, the Economic and Social Council. [???] in consultative status. It means we can attend meetings and arrange meetings, and we can have a forum. And that sort of I felt was the first step to show the international community of nations what this is about. And there were various places where we made our presentations. The last one was this year at the NGO Global Forum in Accra, Ghana. And I was told — I didn't give it, by a very good friend of mine, Dr. R[???] from Bombay, who is on the board of Sunsat — by the way Sunsat is very, we've got Japanese and Russian, you know, everybody and his brother, we have people from Mexico. Because that's the whole point.
Sunsat, it can't be anything like Intelsat [?].
Oh no. Sunsat is an NGO. You know, there are many NGOs, and as such there is no thought of Sunsat becoming an Intelsat. I chose Sunsat because — although I got in trouble because people always call it "Sunset" instead of "Sunsat" —
Actually, the first time I heard it that was what I thought it was. It's what we in the speech recognition business you call "confusable," confusable words.
Yeah, particularly with my accent. So that was very important, because people were interested in it, and the fact that it has now survived since '78 and has become, you know, we are a member of the International Astronautical Federation and recognized, and arrange meetings, co-sponsor meetings, have people in many different countries, and essentially can speak in the international terms — which I think is the whole point. Now who and how you organize it to [???] on an international Sunsat, I don't know. But I don't have to do all that. There are many other people. At the last board meeting I requested that I resign as president.
You were president this time?
Yeah. So I felt the time has come and Greg Gurniak [?] agreed to take on the duties and insisted that I become chairman, and so I'm willing to be chairman of the board. You know, I can [???] — what's the singer? — Frank Sinatra. So I think we had some influence. We are known throughout the world to people who are interested in the subject.
What was it like creating this?
Actually it was — you know, I didn't have any familiarity with how you create a 501(c)3 organization, and I was looking for somebody who would know what I am talking about, and the guy that I asked about that was Senator Frank Moss. He was in the Senate Space Committee, and he was very intrigued with the whole experience, and he then retired from the Senate, and he became the legal counsel to Sunsat for many, many, many —to this day.
Which Senator was this?
Frank Moss, M-o-s-s. He was sort of one of the big moving forces in the Senate Space Committee. And I said, "Frank, we've got to do something. How do we become a nonprofit organization?" So he got us to a law firm in Washington and we went through the various paperwork and became a 501(c)3. Remember, we don't have much money. I mean, this —
My next question was, before you are this nonprofit organization, who pays for the legal work?
This was done pro bono to some extent because of Frank Moss's connections, and we paid some.
Just the individuals.
And we had some corporate monies. You know, we need very little money and we are not big spenders and people — the only board member who we help to get to the meeting is Raj Mayoor [?].
So when you became an NPO —
But a nonprofit, an official nonprofit —
— you already existed.
Well, we existed, but we had to become very quickly nonprofit, so [???].
But you already had some corporate sponsorship.
Well, that was part of the beginning, and I got a number of these aerospace companies, invited them to a meeting, and that worked real well. So I hope the Sunsat Energy Council will — we now have a newsletter. Gary Kano [?] is of course involved, and we are doing very well. You know, it does all what I expect it to do, and hopefully we can do bigger and better things, and it's been sort of surviving, and publishing, and that's all that counts. And so I think that if you look back on this, you know, which was a group that helped getting these things off the ground, I would think Sunsat had an important role to play.
You know, I'm getting the creepy feeling that I have this on the wrong speed. It's been more than a half an hour, hasn't it?
Why hasn't this side ended?
Why don't you listen?
I'm going to check this for a minute. Okay. We're back on the air here. Dr. Glaser asked if he had answered my original question, and I had said that I had the feeling that I originally thought he had more technical designs that would have evolved over time and I was curious about that, but it looks to me like maybe that really wasn't the case, so I may have asked the wrong question in the first place.
Well, I on purpose did not try and spend a major effort in coming up with a straw man design, because I felt that that would hinder the development. I knew that the design had to go through many different phases before we would know and recognize well we are coming to something that we really can start to build, and I have no illusion that I as an individual could possible come up with technical designs in a number of major areas, starting with the structure, the tower beaming system, the launch system, safety systems so that we always had control of the beam, and all these things. I felt that in a sense these were the technical details that the group that would be working on it would be very able to solve it, and whatever ideas I put forth would probably be found to be inadequate when it comes to a macro-engineering project. You know, I am reminded that what Napoleon wanted to have a tunnel under the channel, and he didn't specify or make any big calculations how to do it, and it took about 150 years before it was actually done. Well I hope it won't take 150 years, and I was also fairly confident that if the idea as a concept would be accepted, then various agencies would, if they thought it was worthwhile, actually go and do some of the preliminary design and that took $19 million, so I knew as an individual would not be able to master all the talents that I would need to —
Just go to your boss and ask for a raise.
So I felt that my contribution here was to sort of be the catalyst for the process, and that was my major objective, and I wanted to be a catalyst, orthogonal [?] thinking about energy supply for planet Earth, I wanted to be able to show that none of the technologies per se required [???] in order to achieve it, and that the economics was probably within some reasonable shouting distance of what people would be willing to pay for and that the societal issues from a health and safety point of view, from an environmental impact point of view, were not show-stoppers. And essentially that was what I was trying do, knowing full well that I could not compete with a group of aerospace engineers who occupy several acres in a building to come with the right structural design or the launch vehicles or whatever technical solutions might then be preferred. I would feel that it would hinder the process. Because I did not say, "That's what it'll look like." I said, "Here is a concept. Think of the functions that I am talking about." And none of the things that I thought in 1968 was so outlandish that people couldn't see, "Well, yeah, we probably could do something like that." And that's all I had in mind. I was an individual working for a company who expected me to do work for clients, and this was sort of an extra chemical activity. And I felt that this actually worked very well, because once working on NASA contracts starting in '72 I had a team which consisted of Ray Feelan [?], of Ramun [?] and S [???] and Arthur D[???], so I felt we had a good team of people working, and then NASA had two major teams, with Boring [?] and Rockwell, and then DOE got into the action, and therefore — I think at one point DOE must have had 50 contractors working on this. It was a big effort. And universities and aerospace companies and people [???] legal and regulatory issues, you know, if you delve into literature you can get all the names of the people who have been working on it.
It would have been a good — well, it still has been [???] project.
And it was an ISU project and I thought their report was outstanding, and the Russian report was very good, the Arab-Euro [?] Space Report was very good. Any [???], and you know, the Japanese work is outstanding. And so there are many groups by working the problem begin to understand and speak my language, so to speak. And I think that's the communication that I was looking for, rather than my saying, "That's what it will look like," you know. The Wright brothers didn't say, "Well, that's what a Concord will look like." They didn't know shinola from a jet engine. I think that that's the way I at least felt it would be best to proceed other than presenting you know a detailed design for it. And in the early days of most technical developments there were no detail design. Some people did very well, like the Wright brothers, and perhaps Graham Bell, a fairly rudimentary thing. You know, Graham Bell could not imagine what we now have for communication.
Can you see it's going at a slower speed?
Yeah. I just, you know, if you're thinking about something else you see things but you don't think it through. I probably wouldn't make a good test pilot or astronaut. A thing like that could kill you. Since the other side got cut off early, let me just add on what you said. You said that Graham Bell couldn't have imagined what 50 years later we have now and that you are willing to admit that you probably can't imagine what it will be like 50 years from now.
Even what your own ideas will have turned out to look like. I'd be interested in asking you, if you feel comfortable talking about it, just about some of the people that you mentioned along the way. How you met them or perhaps what you knew about them before you met them, and how it all —
Let's say just recently I was in touch with Aaron Cohen. Aaron was the director of the Houston Space Center for many years, and he — you know, I didn't know him, but we met at one of the International Congresses. I think — there was one in Brighton I recall. I had meetings with him. And he invited me before then even to come to Houston and talk to his top people and tell them about my ideas, and that was even before the start of the NASA DOE program. So I actually became a very good, friendly relations with this Aaron, and he was very helpful, because several of the people in Houston became very interested in it, and the aura of science fiction sort of was dissipating. It was accepted as a worthwhile object for study in terms of what can be done and how to do it and what are the best approaches to do it, and so —
About what year would you say this was that you —?
That was probably in '76, '77, thereabouts. And it was in the NASA community, technical community, SPS was seen if you like initially, which all of NASA could subscribe to, and they were very much hoping to be the lead agency until Congress told them no, it's going to be DOE. Well that was a fateful thing that Congress did, because DOE really didn't know what to do about it, and it was just like if somebody would have put a needle into your behind and say, "Well, it's good for you." And you would have tried to get rid of that needle just as fast as you can. Here was DOE, of course people who were trying to use the best techniques for fossil fuels, whether it was shale oil and that big project and coal and oil and gas — you know, the whole [???] of fossil fuels and liquefied natural gas and methane and all that. And renewable people didn't want to hear much about that, because they had their own fish to fry, and terrestrial renewables, and they thought this would sort of muddy the waters for them and we would get the sun and space. And of course nuclear and fusion people jealously guarded their research projects, and since that was placed into the research division, it was sort of a foreign implant, and it took them a while to reject it, you know, because — And I can see their point, "We say we will have controlled fusion in ten years and here's this program which will take it from, start from space and what the hell, instead of spending money on that, why don't they give us more money since we are sure we'll have controlled fusion, and that's the answer, and why do you need that thing. And as long as this SPS program goes, it sort of creates a question. Does it mean Congress and the country believes we can't get controlled fusion? That's why they're putting a lot money into an option." And a lot of money, you know, is a total of $19 million over a 3- or 4-year period. Fusion had $500 million a year at the time, and it was this fusion and that fusion, and it became the problem of cold fusion. So the fusion people were very nervous in a sense about having this kind of thing within their research department. They didn't quite know what to do about it. And like a foreign body, they wanted to expel it without creating too much of a fuss. Of course the nuclear people were not keen on it either, because at that time we were going nuclear, commercial nuclear power was sort of on everybody's lips, and we won't have to worry about nuclear power, it will all work out beautifully, and let's just build more and more nuclear power plants, and utilities [?] essentially agreed with them, and partly it was sort of —
You agreed with them.
Did you say you agreed with them?
Not in that sense. I agreed that we need options, and the nuclear power was one option that I felt all along that the problem as an engineer was convinced we could build a safe nuclear power plant, but what we had no answer to, what the hell do you do with the waste products in decommissioning nuclear power? You see Chernobyl. We haven't figured out how to decommission Chernobyl. I mean, how many thousand tons of concrete have they poured into whatever they — and it doesn't work that well. And where do we put the waste? We now store it in nuclear, in the utilities for the nuclear power. I mean this is — ADL had a major contractor, so-called Tiger Teams, and looking at the nuclear waste and environmental health and safety. I mean the nuclear waste problems are of a magnitude which are beyond my comprehension even at all of these centers, you know, Hanford and Savannah River and so on. And there's no solution. Therefore it isn't that we don't know how to build nuclear plants, we just don't have the whole A to Z worked out, and all we're worried about, let's do it just like the Russians, you build the plant and produce power and somehow miraculously you get rid of the waste safely and you decommission the plant safely. Well, it turns out that this decommissioning may cost as much as the whole power plant cost to begin with and then the poor utilities to afford all this propaganda essentially, who are stuck and have to, you know, and some of them nearly went out of business. So I think, I'm sure a well-designed nuclear program could have avoided some of these things, but the nuclear program tried not to have any bad news. You know, you couldn't talk about anything bad, and people were attacked. I've forgotten the names of the people within the program who were making noises that things aren't all that great. But there was secrecy, you know, classification, [???] nobody could really — I didn't know what was going on. I just sensed that there are many unsolved problems, and the only way to deal with these unsolved problems is to talk about them. Therefore from the outset I talked about the problems of solar-powered satellite, and that's when I said we've got to be international, we have to have control over it in an international way, we have to be able to meet all the health and safety regulations, we have to convince all the authorities that it can be operated safely, and it has to be a societal positive solution acceptable to the public. That was from the time I started talking about it. So I think that —
I'm not sure of the chronology here. Did you learn your lesson from watching the nuclear people?
You think if you hadn't had that experience, you might have made some of the same mistakes they made?
Not — no, I always felt we have to be completely above board and talk about the difficulties, the societal issues, the legal regulatory, and all that, particularly in space. You had no choice but to talk about it, because we don't own the blooming place. We couldn't put a fence around things. Therefore everything had to be very open. And the nuclear debacle essentially was an object lesson how not to do things. And if you recall we had, I had this contract with the National Science Foundation on the federal policy for macro-engineering projects which was a report which was published. So I think — you know, I learned through that activity something as well.
That was an ADL?
That was an ADL report. You know, it's obtainable from these people.
What year was that? That sounds interesting.
It was in February. I forgot [???]. I know it's someplace, but where is another question. As you see, I need this and help in organizing all the — It's a public report obtainable through NSF and I don't know if I even have a copy here. I didn't take ADL reports with me.
Who was the contractor? NSF?
I'm sure I can find a reference to it someplace.
Well I might be able to find it too, if I know that. [???] a lot of these government things, but —
Next time I will see if I can find the report and tell you what the reference is.
Okay. We started out there with Aaron Cohen.
So I met a lot of people at the centers who are friends of mine, you know, who had worked on [???] the moon and all that, I was credible [?], and they thought that this was a worthwhile thing. I mentioned to you Hugh Davis, and there were any number of people in the centers who thought that was a very important thing for them to be involved with. Because, remember, at the end of the Apollo program, nobody knew what the hell we're going to do in space for an encore. We had a space shuttle, but it had no place to go. There was no space station. That's why it was called a shuttle. It was supposed to go to a space station. We had no space station, we still don't have a space station. Going to the moon turned out to be too long-term and too expensive, and then came Mars, and that just made it more difficult. And so —
By this point it had been really ten years of kind of a downturn.
It didn't look like it from the outside, but it was from the inside.
Oh, and then the people at various levels felt this is really an interesting possibility. But they were scared, because if they would have — You see, what scared them was that Congress took it away from them in '76. And they said, "My God, you know, imagine if you would have been going full blast and then Congress would have said, 'No, we want DOE to do the [???]'." So it was a helluva lot of politics and within NASA the man who was very supportive was Jim Fletcher, a NASA administrator, was in his first term of office, second term, and I did all sorts of work for Astrotech, which was Mr. Rockwell's, The Mr. Rockwell's company when he left Rockwell. He had to do something, so in Pittsburgh [?], and Jim was on the board and we were looking at this whole thing for Astrotech.
So what was it now again? That was ADL or you?
Yeah, ADL. I never — in other words, I always did things as an Adler; I never did things as Peter Glaser Incorporated. And whatever I did, was if sanctioned by ADL. I didn't do these things on my own and —
Or else it was volunteer?
Or else it was unpaid?
Yeah. If — Everyone knew what I was doing. Jim Gammon [?] was very supportive, then another president, a Harvard [?] man, and the various people knew what I was doing every step of the way. I never made any secret out of what I am doing, and they encouraged me in the Sunsat. So I think that from Arthur D. Linton's [?] point of view the fact that one of the senior people, a vice president, was out front, well, ADL was out front in cryogenics before anybody could spell the name in this country. The liquefied helium [???] could do it, on a smaller scale [???]. So ADL was very supportive through many years. Didn't do us any harm. Then we had contracts to do on various aspects. For example one was for DOE on various technology alternatives. Another contract was how do we devise, you know, what is the justification for going to the moon, it was a NASA contract.
When? Before or after?
Let's see. That was before.
The justification for going to the moon the first time.
Mm-hmm [affirmative]. No, no, not — in other words, justification for going to the moon, I did this work I think mid-70s.
Oh, for going back.
Later. For going back to the moon. But, you know, looking at it from the point of view of the transportation system, and why do you need a transportation system to go to the moon? What would you do when you get there? And essentially solar-powered satellite, there was a rationale for that, and it still is. We are not going to go back to the moon for science alone, because we can do that not with man [???] we are going to do these probes. So I think that I'd have to think that when all the people, Jerry O'Neill [?] certainly —
Well, he was certainly one I was going to ask you about.
There's a few that I just know because you've mentioned them or because I know them myself. There are probably others that you just don't happen to have mentioned yet.
Yeah. There are many, many people, and I have to say that in headquarters there are many people. Many of them are retired.
In NASA headquarters.
In NASA headquarters. One of my supporters was Asimov [?]. I had lunch with him in his apartment in New York. Very nice fellow [?]. He understood what I was talking about, and he was very positive.
Did he write about it in fantasy and science fiction?
I think he has. I'd have to go through some of these books. Some of them Harry Stein [?] wrote about it, some people who wrote about it as sort of a doomsday, you know, with the beam and burning passengers in an airplane, you know, things of that sort.
Well, you mess around with science fiction writers, and their job is to think up stories.
Of course. In fact, I was — gee, I was invited to talk at [???].
And did you?
Yeah. You know, one of these days I have to go through all these. I have just put these books in no order. I can't even remember what I have written for these people. Typically I don't have a book. Either it's because somebody gave it to me [???] asked him to write something about something that I must have contributed.
You were on a panel with Hal Clement [?].
So I — One of these days I'll have to get things in order so that I know what I've got.
[???] these people are dead now too.
I had a lot of good fun there.
[???] died. [???].
Well, this is just one example. I have a whole list of them. I did keep a record of where I've been talking, and nobody can say I kept things to myself. I didn't make a secret out of what I was doing —
I'll just note for the tape that the book that he was just showing me is the proceedings of the Noreas [?] Con, which is a Northeastern Science Fiction Convention —
Boston, 1971. He was on a panel with some science fiction writers — at least some of them I know were science fiction writers.
It was fun. So that's a kind of thing that I felt was worthwhile, because these people should at least, if they write science fiction, get it right. Well, is this a good place for us to —
Yeah. I think that's nice.