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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Peter Glaser by John Elder on 1994 June 28,
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 June 28th, 1994. Interview with Peter Glaser by John Elder. Yes, I did have a question.
On the last interview, I was listening to it again, and you know how at the end, you said you tried to live by the Hippocratic oath, in a sense, to do no harm. And I was wondering, this question might be premature, as far as your life story. Is there times where you really felt you weren't making a choice, or where you thought you might — there's some direction you might have gone, but you decided that might be harmful for you?
I don't — you know, I felt I've chosen the things I've worked on. Which really could not be utilized in ways that would do harm, and I on purpose, was involved in those things, where I thought it would do some good. For example, when I worked on this High Frontier project.
I felt that this was perhaps the largest state poker game we were playing, in that if we can avoid nuclear war by convincing the Russians that we hold the chips and the aces. They would probably not proceed, in fact, that whole business would collapse and, you know, that was my fondest hope. And as I worked on it, and President Reagan announced the strategic initiative — defense initiative. I — first of all, I was awfully surprised he actually did it, I didn't expect it, and that I felt once America laid down that kind of technical conflict, I felt they could not play in that same league, particularly because my view of communism was that it was a system — triconic system. You know, the corar archaei [?] pallets and that you read in all that I knew. I mean, it was a society which had nothing to do with marks, I felt, I mean, that was just like the Chinese of marks.
That took the ideology, and essentially, they appointed [???] and all they did was utilize the excuse to do terrible things to their people. And just like czarists collapsed of their own weight, so I expected these things to — now, that was my fondest hope.
I had no proof, and none of us could have foretold how it happened. We felt that if we can show that we can protect ourselves from the missiles, which was enough to puncture that balloon. And it worked. And it wasn't too surprising to me, at least, that it worked. It was surprising to everybody — to a lot of people, that didn't believe, you know, and the various estimates of Russian missiles, numbers. I learned one thing in the Army, it doesn't matter how many tanks you've got in the end, if they don't work. The Germans had a hell of a lot of tanks; they just didn't have the fuel. You know, I mean. Its basic ingredients, in that kind of an environment.
And I lost. And the game is up, and they realized the game — the Army realized it, not the political figures. But I guess the Army knew that they couldn't play in that poker game. And then they told that, then the rest just — the minute you cannot keep the people under this dictatorial hard line routine, things unravel fast.
Is there any other instance that that brings to mind, in your life?
In the Army, I felt that I really wasn't too keen on having to shoot at people. In the tank you don't see people.
Did you choose that? Did you have the — did you have a choice?
Yeah. You know, they asked me, do I want to be in the Air Force and be a pilot in the REF and I didn't seem that — I didn't know what all that would entail. And I just felt that I wanted to fight against them, but I'm not sure that I wanted on my conscious to know that I killed people. So I drove trucks, and I drove tanks. Anything with wheels or tracks. But I really didn't aim at people.
Somebody must have though, and in the tank.
Or were you just moving the tanks from here to there?
No, no. The tank. And you know, that was the case, but it wasn't I who was — you know, I felt I wasn't the conscientious objector.
But I never really wanted to be faced with having to shoot machine guns or whatever, at people. I felt that's — if you see them being killed, that, you know, the various things, that's a tough thing to take and think about. And long after the event.
If that was on your mind, at the time, what was it like to be a — I mean, all around you well, were somebody who was doing that?
Well, I accepted that we are in the war time, and the people who had no problem is that.
Did you ever ask them about it?
I didn't. No, I didn't discuss that. But, you know, I got a medal for supplying my tank unit with ammunition during a very difficult time, and I was perfectly — aware that I could get killed any second as I drove live ammunition in a truck. Shells falling around. But that didn't bother me. It would have bothered me knowing that, you know, I would have done something. That's why I really didn't want to be in a bomber or something like that. I'm not a hero, but you know? I did what I did to fight Hitler, but I didn't really want to do it. I would see the person that was killing. Obviously that ammunition was going to be used.
And I mean, so, I was not in terms of that I was actively assigning, you know, I'm a conscience object — I was not a conscientious objector.
Do you think that you ever slipped up and did harm?
Not to my knowledge. In all the certain my professional life, anyway, had anything that would have been a [???].
Okay. That was a wonderful discussion last time. When I listened to it, it was really —
It was nice to hear. So we went over your absorption American Society and also your mother and her having jobs and adapting to this world instead of her previous life. And also some more about Columbia and the people who were there. So, I think unless there's anything missing, that brings us back —
No. I think that's —
Back to ADL again.
Do you remember your first day or your first few days?
Yeah. I stayed with my wife at that time, we were engaged. I stayed with a doctor who was a friend — a very close friend of my wife's aunt and uncle who — her uncle's a doctor — in Cambridge. And it was the summer of 1954 and '55 during the epidemic — polio epidemic. I think it was the last polio epidemic. She was a pediatrician, Dr. Nauen. Lovely lady, she's over 90 now.
How do you spell that?
Yeah. And she was one of the most impressive people that I've known. She was originally from Hamburg, her father was a Rabbi, if I recall. And her husband had died and I lived on the third floor, and she had the rest of the house. And she was able to — she said her greatest concern is a mother, because the mothers got frantic when the child had a cold, or anything like that. She was also the doctor for all of our children. [???] so that's where I spent my summer in the — and so I was very much aware of the polio epidemic as the terrible thing that was happening.
Where was Eva?
Eva was in New York, and then during the summer she was Middlebury [?], so I was a commuter to Middlebury College, where I said that was my first exposure to Vermont.
She was a student?
She was a student in the French school. She and her sister were. And she had to speak French.
Even to you?
She got special permission. If you went even into the town, you were not supposed to unless you had special permission.
And it's a lovely school. I don't know if you've ever seen Middlebury College.
I've never seen it, I've always heard of it.
It's very nice, and the language schools are excellent.
Yeah. Don't they train a lot of — for government diplomatic corps?
That's right. So, that's how I spent and the house of people [???] was starting to work, and beginning to know where the men’s room was. At the ADL it does take a while to begin to know the society, because you have a lot of initiative of your own. There's nobody that tells you you're going to do this and you're going to do that. I think that's not unusual consulting for law firm. I was a fairly senior person in the starting line as a Ph.D. And had, you know, quite a bit of leeway even at the beginning of what I was going to be doing. So I enjoyed it very much.
What did you actually do the first few days? I mean, you had no client yet.
Well, there were some senior people who did have clients, and I was involved in some assignments. And, as I told you, very soon after I came, the assignment was to develop a more effective similar insulation for the Whirlpool Corporation. So, and then, you know, various other things came about, for example, cryogenic insulation that they started to work on for liquid hydrogen. And we were — I was aware that some better insulation — [???] insulation could be developed and I worked on what was called multi-layer insulations. Which have seen reflective layers.
What's it called?
Thermal Insulation. And, in fact, that became the most important thing for the various lunar excursion modules and other things going into space, because it was much lighter than fiberglass. And in space, you had a good vacuum. So, these things were wrapped in some ways. If you ever see a limb you'll see the type of insulation used. So that was a project which continued for several years. These things don't just, you know, take a short time. And then I mentioned to you the interests I had working with Hanscom, [inaudible]
Did anything go wrong? Did you run into people that you didn't — you couldn't get along with, or didn't like?
Actually, I must say —
In all these years, I haven't found a person who I would not want to be with. It takes a long time to hire people at ADL. People get very frustrated, because the person who's hired isn't just hired for today or tomorrow. And he's not hired to just work with one person or one group. We work in teams to solve problems, and thus, you may work for half a day on this project, with that group, and sometimes you're the project leader — or the case leader, as we call it.
At times you work for somebody else. And I was amazed when I found out that as a case leader, I could go to the president of the company, and say, "Gee can you spare an hour or two on this problem and help us?" Or go someplace visiting.
And that's possible. So that it's a horizontal society. And that is, you know, essentially ADL is geared up to as much of the administrative work as possible, by people who do this very well, and let the staff essentially do other [???] time, to work in this place. Just like in any other [???] organization.
Did they take a long time hiring you?
Not that long, I have to say, because, I told you how I got to ADL, and I got an invitation to come in for the interviews, and met with several people. Then it happened. So, I guess I must have struck a chord of these people, and I felt I could contribute.
And during this time — this might also be a premature question, but — were you particularly conscious of things that had to do with space travel or future space travel?
Oh yes. I mean —
Was it particularly interesting to you, or just something that was out there?
No, because, you see, I started to work with Hanscom as in '58, '59, on this — on a fascinating problem for me, can you land on the moon? And what's that lunar stuff there? Green cheese? So, that was, you know, I had heard of space travel, of course, and, as you're aware, you know, but that was my first real exposure, and I got to know various people. Tommy Gold, you know, was at Cornell, and met him and some of his other colleagues.
Well, when you got involved with this program, was that — were you surprised that somebody was really thinking about how to land on the moon? That somebody might really want to do it?
You know, what I felt is that this was one of the most challenging things that one could work on. And I read things by Wernher von Braun. It was only later that I met the man. And I felt that this indeed is a new dimension for humanity to pursue, and then when, you know, the president essentially said in ten years we want to land a man on the moon — that was in '58 — you know, that's when things really got started. And to me, it shows that you have to have a leader who, for whatever reason, is willing to set a long-term goal, and devote our [???] for political reasons, probably, it was like you said it, but that didn't really — I'm not analyzing.
What I feel is that the president — the leaders — have to have a long-term vision, and lacking that it —
But you started working in '58 on this lunar?
Actually — yeah I think it was on there. You know, the president made that speech.
It was 1961.
That he made that speech.
That he did that. So, I'm curious, in the meantime —
Well, you see, what I think —
Who was this work for? Who —
It was for the Air Force.
And what did you think they were going to do with it? What did they think?
I had no idea.
Frankly. I mean, to me, it was a fascinating thing that we would do that.
Did you think — I mean, at that point, did you think that they meant to do it?
Nobody talked about what we were going to do. The task that I had was tough enough, and circumscribed enough so that we could study the surface of the moon. And that in itself was a unique thing to do. And that group at Hanscom, Jack Salisbury and others there, you know, really had good ideas.
Was it odd, or did it strike you as odd that the Air Force would be interested in the surface of the moon?
No. Because it was a geophysical inventory and it was a nation that they had to study things of that sort. And, you know, and I didn't — I didn't think that had anything to do with some military things, it was clearly a scientific endeavor. The various research groups like the one at Cornell, which was interesting, and Tommy Gold's ideas which he fairy castles, he called, that has a part ivelture [?] glamour ray, and, you know, I guess we really made an important contribution in that based on the national end of temperature changes on the lunar surface, we put that you set the material. It was kind and, in fact, I produced a sample of a material which, instead of what one might expect, I used a substance called perlite, something you can buy at the probably hardware store. It's expanded glass, volcanic. It's a natural occurrence. And when you sort of conglomerate this, and where it was formed, it has the right correct prefix. And then you can make it into a brick heap. So that certainly was a convincing — at least to the group that presented papers on that.
It sounds like that since you weren't —
This was on contract, of course. You know, it wasn't after the little things.
Yeah. It sounds like though, that you weren't overtly involved in going to the moon or space travel.
No, that wasn't. That was a first — that was the first time I was the first time I learned where the moon was, sort of.
What I mean, is you say you didn't encounter the kind of people — people thinking it was crazy or something?
Oh, hell no. I mean, that was discussed in well-known societies, and actually some astronomers participated in this. In fact, I was served in a NASA extraterrestrial something group. Inside of port have somewhere in the files that was published by that. You know? And the Corps of Engineers was involved in that. Because they felt, well, somewhere we may have to build things on the moon. And they were probably right. The corps builds bridges on earth, and the routes, and they might do that on the moon.
Civil Engineers on the moon.
That's right. Civil Engineers on the moon. So that was a, you know, and I'd worked on this for quite — several years. This was not just a short-term thing. And Doctor Hunter [???] it was here and it was here and went MIT from that group, in geophysical abbot, too. And that was sort of a very seminal project for me, because I was able to do that. And then, you know, this Kennedy speech didn't come out of thin air, but it was essentially a race with the Russians after starting here to come up with something quick. And I guess he had enough — this was one of the inputs that was used that we can get to be on the moon and work there, and do things. And I feel that was probably, you know, the most important thing that Kennedy did. That speech. Just like that for the Reagan's to teach the defense initiative was probably the most important. I don't know whether hero [?] did mind you, probably in was [???] and some of those guys who rode did find, but never the less, he gave the speech. So I felt that it was part of important historic events.
When Kennedy gave that speech, did you hope that you would be part of it in some way?
Well, I was, in that sense. I started earlier, you know?
Mm-Hum. But I mean, you — that was a contract, and the contract would eventually be completely —
— and you could be assigned to —
But you see, because of that contract —
— anything after that.
I then conceived of this — there were several experiments, which I mentioned. One was the heat flow prob. And I worked on that, and then the National Academy, I think, met in Woods Hole, I was able to — I was invited to present it, and it was then selected as the experiment. And that brought me together with Dr. Marcus Langseth, and Lamont-Doherty. And it was a very important experiment. And then to — you know, the fact that the National Academy of Sciences essentially agreed, and I was very pleased with that.
When you were designing it was — well, at the university. Were you competing with some other people to have that?
As far as I know, nobody else had the idea; nobody else knew how to do it.
It wasn't like — you know, now when they send up a mission, they say, "Well, we can send up five experiments on the shuttle."
"But 300 people want to do anything."
Remember, most of the effort went into getting there.
The science was really not — although the Academy wanted science, and there were quite a few experiments. They — I don't know how they do this, my guess is the president or someone said, "Well, you devote five percent to putting things on the moon, which are science." And I don't know. I could read about it. So that's basically the way I would think about it. And it was very interesting, and then we also worked with MIT. You know this mountain — Okay?
We had a contract problem [???] to work with them on this lunar [???] which was to be mounted on the rover. That was, you know, we didn't know quite what the rover would like, but might he had this thing on the [???] and one of the things was to be able to insulate it. And so we have developed a group which learned what to do with multi-layer insulations. So that was one other thing that we did. And then I started — well, I don't really recall how I met Joe Weber, at the University of Maryland. He was a lovely man. And he was the one who wanted to do this coincidence experiment of gravity waves, which would in hinge on the moon, and also in hinge on the earth. And he had in the laboratory, at that time, some sensors on the rod, etc., and measuring changes in gravity.
And that seemed a fascinating, and very difficult experiment. Imagine that you're putting a very sensitive gravimeter [?] on the moon, and you have to control the temperature to what are going [???]. And again, it involved, essentially thermal knowledge and insulation and all that stuff, between you. So I —
Did you —
Remember, I'm not doing this alone.
No. But were you or your group —
Were you the only ones? Was it a problem that uniquely you could solve?
I think so. At that time there were very few people who were concerned about that kind of thermal insulation problems. Remember, Arthur D. Little had a unique [???] of cryogenics. That meant insulations.
And then the multi-layer insulations, one could transfer to the problems which we encountered on the moon. So, imagine, you're putting a very sensitive spring on the moon, which has to be temperature controlled, but you don't have any power. The surface of the moon goes from -150c to +150c. So we developed a shade so that it's shaded and we left an opening so that any heat internally could be rejected to space without ever seeing sunlight. So there was a way of maintaining that, and it was a very interesting way of trying to measure lunar gravity.
Do you remember the process by which you solved this problem? For example, you present the problem to me and you say, "Imagine having to have a spring on this delicate instrument on the moon, and the temperature goes from this to this, and the first thing you say is, it must be crazy, how could you do it?"
So, from somewhere between that and the answer there are six steps.
I think that — and I wish could remember how I came to Joe Weber. He must have heard of us as a group doing this thing. Anyhow, I met him in his home, and his wife, lovely people, and we discussed this problem. And I said, "Well, the one thing that we understand is thermal analysis, and the construction of very effective insulation materials." And he felt, "Well, that was the important thing." So he invited me to meet with LaCoste, which was in Austin, Texas, which made the black box which we could insulate. We never saw what's in the box, it was government furnished equipment, because, as Dr. LaCoste explained to me, it was a very successful company because if you want to find where oil deposits are, you want to have a very sensitive gravimeter to tell, you know, differences in the geology.
And he developed an instrument, if I would take it from here, and put it here, it would show a change in gravitational attraction. So that was the right instrument. And there was another, very complicated apparatus, because — well, a cost [?] instrument was designed — essentially a spring and a weight. Now that works on earth gravity, but when you got to the moon, you got to change the weight. Therefore, we developed a —
Or change the scale.
— another weight. And he wanted to change the weight. So we developed this device which would take the weight and, you know, do things, so that it would equal the gravity. And because nobody was allowed to look into that box, it was truly a black box, LaCoste made this decimal error and it just didn't have the sensitivity. Which, I'm sure Joe Weber would have gotten another price if he could have shown that there's a coincidence which is gravity waves, and you can measure them on the moon, and you measure it on earth. It's still worthwhile doing; I don't know why we haven't repeated it. You know, it was a silly error, which one can reproduce somewhere in NASA, they probably still have all of the drawings and stuff like that?
How did you find out about this mistake?
After it was on the moon. So that was a real heartbreak. More, of course, we did all we could. We knew all our stuff worked, it was passive control of temperature. And the third one was the [???] and [???] for a factor. The shell was one of the — is the most successful experiment in many ways. Six investigators using this thing. You know, you can look it up in the library and all that stuff.
There's NASA reports on the laser engine [???] reflector. Now it's interesting, you know, the people at the University of Maryland saw him, and Jim Faller, saw him. They wrote the scientific articles and they gave us footnotes produced by Arthur D. Little. So, as far as people are concerned, it's the scientific groups which in the literature, and who can write literature, well, you wouldn't find our name, but we did all the work on the reports and solved the problem. So you'd have to see the report to see the —
No, it isn't really an injustice, I mean, it was their idea. The laser ranging. Professor Alley and Jim Faller. And because of my work with Joe Weber, they came to me and said, "Gee, you did all this stuff here, can you do it for us, this thermal design?"
It's funny you should say that, because there's something I think about when I read Science News or Scientific American or anything, I always wonder how the measurements — how they know what they know, in the sense that they say, "Well, we've created a — you know — something that comes to a point with one atom at the point." And I say, "How do you know there's only one atom at the point?"
Well, you know, most of these —
Who measured that?
— you can use theoretical work. And, you know, like in those things that we knew before it went to the moon that it worked. No question about it. You know, we had at Arthur D. Little for the heat flow probe, you build about a, I guess it was, 12 foot high column, packed with a close approximation to the lunar soil, and we had the probes and then you measured, and, you know, we did all the things that — it was a very large project. So I think that, and you know, that occupied me for many years.
What did you actually do all day when you were working on a project like that? Are you researching? Are you physically setting up experiments?
You know, first of all, you have the idea, okay.
And when you first tell someone of the idea it obviously sounds science fiction. They're not going to measure [???] or measure the earth's wind, or whatever. And they say, "How the hell are you going to do that?"
Well, then you explain how you're going to do it. Remember, it wasn't just me, you know, it was a group that I lead. And, you know, everyone had a task, and just like in your place. Nothing gets done by one genius. Only as true teamwork that these things can be done. And it's things you make a proposal and to do the best you can, and then you work at it and it will go through stages until you get to something which really is an outgrowth of the original ideas. Now that's the normal way that the project gets started.
But when you come home at dinner, what had you actually done for eight or nine hours?
Well, one is and you deal with NASA. Not an easy thing. And NASA is an organization which is bureaucratic. And therefore, they have to have a quaman's [?] document, and you have Q&A and you have all these many things. And as an engineer, I know that this is necessary. You can't just go in your lab, build it, and put it on the moon, because, who knows whether that will work? And then you have to have various tests, and you have to have suppliers. I know at Woods Hole, the question I was asked, "Well, how will you make measure temperature differences that accurate?" And I explained, "We will use platinum thermometers." And the next question was, "Oh yeah, the platinum resistance thermometers, if you just bang them slightly, loose their calibration, so how will you do that?" I said, "Well, we believe we have found a way of doing it with [???] supplier that does not loose calibration." And we had to prove this. So, you know, experiments, designed to prove that it can —
You had to think of that in advance, and solve it.
Oh yeah. We had to solve all that. Another interesting thing, we had to have the probe in, you know, sheaves and it had to be — we were told it has — I've forgotten — four pounds, the whole plumbing shooting match. Well, how would you — you know, if you have a metal used, you're out of business for many reasons, because you're heat flow wouldn't work. So you have to have very good insulation. It has to be as strong as steel. You know, they're totally incompatible things. And withstand all this handling. Well, the only that we could think of doing it, was composite materials. Now remember, that was around '65, that was, you know, very few people even could talk about it. So, we found a man who knew how to wind structure — you know, make structural components. With the parts, the gooks [?] and gunks [?] and we had a group which knew all about gooks and gunks because they worked for industry on that. That's what we called them, the gooks and gunks. And they were able, based on working together with the engineers, fashion, borand [?] epoxy fibers in this gooks and gunks matrix which was exceedingly tough, and withstood all the conditions. And then we even had to make the drill bit — the drill stand for it. So, you know there was a hell of a lot of new technology.
When you invented new material you have to invent all the new tools to deal with it.
You have to make new everything for those, nothing — we couldn't go to XYZ Company and say, "Gee, give us this, or give —" They never heard of it. Then we were careful not to say "Well, we want these things." Because if we would have said, "Well, we want to measure heat flow on the moon, or earth from a distance." [???] you must be crazy. Obviously crazy. Certified.
Well, in what year?
That was in the early '60s.
People still would have said that?
Oh yeah. I mean, nobody believed they'd get a man on the moon in ten years. And we did it in less. But of course, there was a lot — and remember, when the president said it, there were at least five or six years of people working. So that when he was saying it, there was fairly good —
Well, there was a 20, the Germans.
And that, you know, the one Wernher von Braun team. And I had a chance to — I knew very well some of them. I did, you know, go down to Huntsville on many occasions, just talked people like Dr. Stuhlinger, and von Tiesenhausen. I mean all these. And you know, I was very friendly with them. They knew who I was, I knew who they were, but —
I was wondering about that.
Wernher von Braun the same, you know, I didn't discuss, and they didn't discuss. They knew, as [???]. They knew I was here. They knew I was Jewish.
Didn't come here for a vacation.
Right. So that was a very interesting group. In fact, Stuhlinger then was very supportive of my work on solar powered satellites. And so was von Braun. We had meetings down there. He was in — there were two contracts, one was Huntsville and [???] that was with Boing [?]. On the solar powered satellite staff, and one was Rockford [?], in Houston. And then somehow they switched allegiances. But I was in many meetings with those fellows. And von Braun was very supportive, that always makes since to him. That's what you would be doing. I'm sorry that's real [?].
It was too late, he wasn't really calling the shots anymore.
No. He was sidelined, I guess, because he was bent on going to Mars and all of sudden the country was no longer interested. I've forgotten when he died, it must have been —
I think it was '77?
Yeah, somewhere in there. You see, and then the Glory Days were over. But you see, all this background, I mean, peril, I was involved in so much. I felt that this was a very important thing to learn how to use the sun, which came from this early work on the solar furnace.
And participate in meetings and was director of the International Solar and Engines Society, and got to know some, you know, like Harry Tabor, who's one of the leading lights in the field, became a very good friend of mine. And I organized annual meetings, and I found a home for the Journal of Solar Energy. He's my friend Robert Maxwell. And I realized that those two are very much — what I'm doing on the space program, and what I'm doing on Satellite [???] have too many common nodes, so to speak. I felt that the space program is a means to an end. It isn't the end itself. And the end itself is to do things which are supportive of life on earth. Eventually that life on Pluto, I don't know, but in the time frame that I could think of. And so with all this thing ongoing, I felt that truly solar energy could become the most important source of energy for use on earth. And that sort of, was something we discussed back in the mid-sixties. But you know, that were dreams, because there was no way that until we went to the moon, that — and until we knew we were going to the moon, and it's for real, and I presented my paper in August, 1968. That was the first paper on that subject, at the Inter-society and Inter-convergence Engineering Conference. And I knew I was taking an enormous risk. We hadn't landed on the moon, and I was talking about obtaining power from space for use on earth. But I felt that it was a risk worth taking, and I was convinced that we could do it. I had no illusion that we could do it, in '68, '69.
I'm not quite sure why the moon landing was so important. I mean, there were already satellites.
There were satellites, but you see, the moon was very important in other ways. I felt that we had to have people in space. I felt that this moon stuff was just the beginning, and that eventually we would, you know, the land was for there for a very limited time. But there was a sort of group that felt that eventually people will be out there. And I don't know whether that's on the moon, or you know, whoever. Something in space. It was at that time that I also became aware of O’Neill’s work.
Jerry O’Neill’s work. And I felt that his ideas were very interesting, and the colonization certainly turned on the, you know, the L-5 Society, and actually I then became involved with him, too. I think gave young people a tremendous inspiration. And the L-5 Society was, you know, a real [???] early way to express yearnings of humanity to concur new worlds, in a peaceful way.
You said young people. Why do you particularly say that?
Because, remember, that was the '60s.
And the people that they needed some goal to overcome the various evils of society that were becoming apparent. And the goal of providing unlimited energy and settlements in space, colonization. And to a lot of enthusiastic young people, and they still are enthusiastic young people, and not that young anymore, but — and I very much enjoyed the Jerry O’Neill. I felt that going to the moon was a very long-term affair, particularly settlements, and he and I had many discussions, and he's on chemical sabbatical here in '73, and —
And that gave us much more chance to talk. And I think I can — he began — he wasn't interested in solar powered satellites, because that sort of — he felt was a diversion from the settlement and colonization thing, you know. And yet, he slowly began to see that if you have to settlements, these people have something to do. And I certainly felt that his ideas of settlements were very valuable because then we don't have to take the materials from the earth and certainly he had that view as well, so we had many common views. And he was an exceptional individual, there's no question, but he spoke very well, and he could motivate the young people. And so, we became very good friends and essentially saw eye-to-eye on that, and I felt that these solar powered satellites could be developed by using lunar materials and asteroid [?] [???]. It didn't matter to me where it comes from. And that it would be — yeah, I'm an engineer, and I was looking for one thing, how to reduce the launching of stuff to a minimum, so that only we would launch black boxes up there. And the commodity of the materials come from the moon, and establish the capabilities to use lunar materials and I knew about the lunar materials in the way of samples.
You had some —
I had some.
— right in your office.
Right. And so I knew that they were earth like, and we could do all the things that we needed to produce structures, and insolation, whatever we needed there. I wasn't quite sure that colony in space had sort of — I just — the thing that was missing, what we could do there. Why would the world community support a colony in space, unless there was some economic driver behind it? And I felt going to the moon using materials that indeed was a driver. And then I think Jerry O’Neill agreed also, with that view, and then sort of [???] in these fanciful colonies and big cylinders. He began to really look at the moon much more as the way we can get materials. And I had no illusion when I said, "Well." Well, I talked about solar powered satellites, I couldn't care less whether you beam it from here or whether it's on the moon, or whether it's on an asteroid, or whether it's God knows where. You know, I always felt, well, look, it's the talmants [?] space that you have to [???] the task, but you're not enjoying to finish it. So I felt, well, I'll start the task, there'll be many others who will come along to finish it. And, in fact, after — as I was working in the '70s I also got to know Dave Criswell, as a good friend of mine. Dave, of course, worked in this lunar receiving laboratory knew all about the stuff that I knew. We had lots in common. And then he became interested in solar powered satellites, and he started to work on actually putting the stuff on the moon, I said, "Great stuff. I mean, I don't care where you catch the sun and beam it back, as long as it's beamed back to earth and we can use it." And it's a matter of what do you do first, second, and third, and what I proposed, in all these things that I've written, I don't even remember all the things where they are. Somewhere, I should certainly go and do a — you know, all the papers that I somehow make sense out of all that. But anyone who will do this work will figure out as that I didn't start this with a vision of putting things on the moon. It didn't, you know, come to me like Venus out of the waves, it's a progression. And I felt that these were all interesting ideas, but in fact, I had a contract with the National Science Foundation which allowed me to think about some of these things. Macro engineering, you know. How do you approach macro engineering project? And we looked at various nuclear programs and things like that. In fact support is probably still available from NSF; I've forgotten when we did that. Somewhere in the mid-'70s or later '70s. I have it someplace in here. The thing that I felt society is riskable [?], and I think what we have to do is start small and build up from there. So I came up with a concept in my mind on building terraces. You know, build a terrace you'll learn about this and when we are ready, we can go and build the next terrace, the next one, the next one, and if each terrace you essentially develop technology and testify and technically economic and societal grounds and that, as a project, has a life of its own, and it's great stuff. And you can make money in that by needs, and then you perhaps use all the knowledge of gain for that second project, that high terrace, but not with the same group. That group is already doing that; you now have to start getting another group doing that thing, and so on and so on. And that's where I, you know, more recently I've talked about the high altitude long endurance aircraft, I think I mentioned to you, which is, I call it the poor man's satellite. Powerless power transmission. And then the power relay satellite, and then solar power satellite, in low earth orbit, and geosynchronous moon and each time you go to the next terrace, you have accumulated more knowledge, have learned what some of the challenges are, and thus when you come to the macro engineering project, which is let's call it a drilling —