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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.
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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Peter Glaser by John Elder on 1994 August 2,
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).
Okay, this is August 2nd, 1994. Interview — the sixth interview with Peter Glaser. I'm John Elder. And we're going to catch up since we haven't spoken for a few weeks. Where we left off was — well, we had gone through Columbia, and we had gone through the kind of a sequence of assignments, at least the main ones, at ADL and one of the two — at least what seem to be two strands, [???]. Particular materials that led to the lunar research that led. And then on another side there was this re-entry research that led to the —
Solo furnace, augmenting [?] furnace.
Augmenting furnace, and —
Hyden [?] bluchurd [?] stuff and so on.
And then they met at some point also. So, I would like to go back now to one of those stories and get it in more detail as an experience, and not just as a [???]. To say that this was the problem you're presented with it, and you solved [???] therefore, we're ready for the next one. So, I'd like to know how the problem came to you? How you worked on it? What, if you can remember — this is what is particularly interesting to me, and also I think, what's particularly often missing in histories of scientific or engineering are the things — well, things that have problems that you solve, and you say, "Well, here was the problem, and this is what we did and it solved it." And there's not all that in between, which is where most of your time is spent, not having solved it yet. And also, as you took care to mention to me a couple of times, you kept saying, "It wasn't just me, there was a lot of people." So I'd like to hear about the other people, too.
Sure. Well, let me go back in my memory bank. Do you want to go back to the solar stuff, or would you rather go to the lunar stuff? In some ways, perhaps —
Both. So whichever one you want to start on.
I think the nature sort of progress we made in thermal imagining, was the recognition that relying on our solo furnace in Cambridge was not consistent with doing research on any schedule, because the sun just didn't shine when we needed to have it shine and we were on a schedule to deliver data on various projects.
So, is it true that at that point you weren't worrying about energy supplies, a useful thing that the human race needs, it's just —
No. At that time I was —
It was just an expedient that it wasn't working out as well as it should.
Yeah. At that time, my primary concern was I had a job to do, I had to make measurements, I was essentially a researcher and the solo furnace to me was a tool, which allowed me to maintain samples of, for example, you know, zirconia [?] at temperatures where this thing melted, when it looked at it under a bigger size, it looked just like egg easy over. You know, the yellow yoke. And we really were after making measurements. The solo furnace was not the objective. Yes, we had to design our own ways of controlling temperature, with sort of a [???] shield which moved back, and could move back and forth, depending upon the temperature of the sample. We had to develop our radiometers, which could withstand those very high temperatures and told us how many milliwatts per square centimeter we are getting at the sample surface, and we have to make temperature measurements all along. We have to develop black bodies which allowed us make certain calibrations, and you'd like — we had to develop the instruments which could do it. None of that really existed. So, that was a very interesting and challenging task for several years.
Who's the “we”?
The “we” was a man by the name of Henry Blau, who worked with me on some aspects. Dr. Henry Blau.
B-L-A-U. And Dan Comstock. Henry is retired and I'm not sure — lives somewhere in this area. Unfortunately, Dan Comstock died. I think from cancer, which he had a brain tumor. And so this was sort of a little team that — and then we had some technicians working with us. I then became rather impatient with waiting for the sun.
[laughs] Well, let me ask — let me — I'm going to do my usual thing of keeping you from getting from A to B for a while.
Well, I have two questions. One is exactly what was the problem? What did you want to know?
What we wanted to know, was the thermal connectivity of some materials, which we measured at high temperatures, because if you want to design the re-entry bodies, you had to know how fast does the heat go in, and how does it melt, and then at what temperature do these phenomena take place? And the measuring temperatures at these very high temperatures when your sample sizes like a centimeter or less in diameter, is no mean trick.
Why does it have to be so small?
Well, that's — when we concentrated all the energy.
Oh, oh, oh.
Okay. We only had certain mirror size, and then we concentrated the energy on a sample, unfortunately, if you want to get high temperatures, you either have to have huge mirrors — now, I — during that time, I also became aware that in France, Professor Trombe had worked on a launch furnace, at a place called Odeillo, which was near the border of Spain in Southern France, in the Pyrenees [?]. And that was a very famous installation, and they had, I think, a twenty-meter mirror, and that way you could get bigger areas, higher temperatures, but there was somehow less control. In fact, I visited there and I became quite friendly with Professor Trombe. That's T-R-O-M-B-E. And his co-director, of The Solar Energy Laboratory, at Odeillo, Professor Foex. F-O-E-X. And, in fact, my wife and I went there and I can't tell you the year, it must have been in the late '50s, and we visited a small town called Quillian. Q-U-I-L-L-I-A-N. Where my wife was going to school as a little girl, after they escaped from Vienna, and then they were in unoccupied France, and eventually, of course, that was occupied as well. So we, in fact, met the people who — where they lived in a hotel. And my wife was sure nobody would recognize her, and as we came there, she saw a young woman and she said, "Gee, I think I know this young woman. She's the daughter of the man who owned the hotel." And so she went up to it, and said, "Are you —” and I forget Odeillo, or something what her name was, and she looked at my wife, and said, "Are you Eva or Erik?" Because they're both twins. She couldn't tell, but she remembered. So, the whole family came about, the whole town people came from, and in fact, one young woman came with [???] turned out that she had gone to Middle Bury College, so it was this tiny French town, you even had that kind of — and that was very close to Odeillo.
Beautiful country and [???].
I'm going to make a — [tape off then back on]
Okay, so the reason why this was very interesting, because they had a large group working with them there, with various Ph.D. scientific types, and it was part of the CNRS — Centre National Rescherches Scientifiques, and they spoke a little English, and I spoke a little French, and moved along very well, and my wife acted as [???] and she speaks perfect French. I became convinced that there was so much work that needed to be done, that relying on the sun was just not a practical thing in America. Except in Arizona, perhaps, but certainly not in Cambridge. And I became aware, and I don't quite remember how that came about, that we could use arcs — electric arcs, and the thought came that we could perhaps build electric arc imaging furnaces.
Now, let me interrupt one more time.
How was it that you came to be using the solar furnace at all?
The only thing that I knew of that you could get high temperatures in air. See, we were only interested in exposing materials in air for an obvious reason.
Going through the atmosphere.
And how — this may sound like a stupid question, but it's something that's interesting to me — I ask the same question to Gordon Woodcock, all the time. How did you know — you know, how did you know that that was — how did you know about it?
Well, there was a man at Furtum [?], who was a professor there at that time, Tibor Laszlo. L-A-S-Z-L-O. Very nice man, and I became friendly with him. I don't recall how I met him. He invited me to go to Furtum University, and he had a solar furnace there. I think that was, you know, one of the first or second in the US. And so I realized that this was possible to do. And then we — I got him as a consultant to work with me.
Was it just chance that you happened to have met this guy?
Do you think you would have found out about this otherwise? If you had just had the problem to solve?
I probably would, because I was aware of the French work. You see, there was — I was interested in solar energy from the point view high temperature research, and that I actually was able to, you know, there's a sort of college on ways for various things like that.
Let me ask you something else then. Then is a whole new side of it, but your —
[inaudible] of another aspect here. Go ahead.
Well, you said you got him as a — you were able to hire him as a consultant, so I'm interested in, you know, as you're doing your research, you're functioning as an engineer, as you're, you know, thinking —
— mind. But you're also a businessman, and then you're working in this company and you most definitely some budget or some ability to spend money.
What do have to do to do that?
Well, I knew that —
To go hire somebody or just spend their money.
What we had to do is we had a schedule, and milestones, a budget, and I, you know — yes, in an academic environment, you can spend six months reading the literature, and go and do that. And we had to do it relatively quickly. So I was trying to find out who in the world has been doing things [???]. You know, that was what I was interested in doing. So that's how I came about Tibor Laszlo, Professor Trombe, and that's how I came to know about it.
Do you go to the library? Where do you do your research?
Yes, actually, it was library research. And then there was sort of —
Boston Public Library? MIT?
MI — ADL and MIT are so close, that at that time we had tie phones, you know, so it was very easy to work with them. In fact, Arthur D. Little left all of his stock in the company to MIT and then later on in the late '40s, Arthur D. Little bought back the stock from MIT. So we would usually have the MIT president on our board or something. Use to, I'm not sure at this time.
I'm asking you these questions because I'd sort of like to get a picture really —
Sure. How things —
How do you go about it day by day?
And it really is a research, you have to find out, here is the problem that you need to solve, and what tools do you need to solve them?
Do you — is there a — are you presented with this schedule in this time line, or do you help to create it?
No, that was a proposal that we made to do for the community — Air Force, was interested in those kind of things.
It was before really NASA existed, and we worked with [???]. And —
Did you have a budget?
To spend. So you could —
Just like you have in any other organization. You have a budget —
It's actually a sore point [laughs], in the organization I work for we don't have budgets.
Well, we have — Arthur D. Little, being in management, consulting firm, and I was in the technical part of the company, well, you know, we knew how to manage programs, and that was part of the thing that [???] —
So you could hire consultants, simply because — do you have so much money to spend, or do you have to go get somebody's permission to do that?
No, it was — I was the program manager on this project, and that's how I felt, well, in order to do this at the least cost, we have to have somebody who really can help us, and I can't tell you how I got a — he was Hungarian, and there must have been somebody who told me, "There's this Hungarian guy, you know, so the European connection made, you know."
One other thing that you might be interested in, when I told you that the Japanese came to see me, because they were interested. And I didn't know what the hell they were really interested in measurements of — and use of solar furnaces.
When is this that you are talking about?
That was in '57 - '58, and '59, I think. At that time, they were beginning to think of producing semi-conductors, they were not interested in merely antibodies, you see, but we have instrumentation set up to do those kinds of things. And if you want to know the references, there's a book I wrote on high temperature imagining, I have it someplace here, in this drawer. Thermal Imaging Techniques, and I got a co-author from the Bureau of Standards, because I also — a fellow called Walker — I also was published by Clement [?] Press, and I felt that the Bureau of Standards had introduced the message well, and I went there, you know, again, trying to short circuit — I didn't want to become an expert in thermal measurements, necessarily. So, now, as an outgrowth of the visits by the Japanese, I got a letter from Tetsuo Noguchi, that was '56, '57, I believe his guys were there. But he liked to work with me, in a laboratory, and I said, "Well, why not?" So, Tetsuo came to me and worked with me for six months, and it just so happens he is, through his family, we're still engaging Christmas Cards.
Wow, this looks righteous for [inaudible]
Where is it?
Yeah. He's inscribed, "Enclosed is a copy of the picture of my family, I took at the I-Z-U Green Park recently." So I don't know where that is. You know, and he was at a congress in Budapest, "and toward the coming centuries, all the energy must be getting much busier. Etc." So Tetsuo Noguchi. And I always had lots of interesting contacts with people from abroad, because of the things I work in are very internationally oriented activities. It wasn't just the — there was a sort of community of people interested in the solar energy business. And then Tetsuo was responsible for building a much more sophisticated solar furnace, at the Nagoya — the Research Institute in Nagoya, and he served with distinction for quite a few years, but he's now retired. And, you know, that's — I never knew boundaries, in that sense where we worked. Now, does that give you a little —?
Yes, it does.
And the Russians I also got to know. This was — in Tashkent, they had a solar furnace. And don't ask me, you know, I found out that politics aside, people go to conferences. You know, like astronomers, and they would know about politics, because they deal with subjects which don't tend to politics. And there was a director of the laboratory, Professor Baum. B-A-U-M, in Tashkent, where the major solar energy activity was, and I was — I met him and we were in correspondence, and so there's a sort of global contact, and that has been true throughout my career. I have always had contact with people working on similar things in different things in different countries under different circumstances. Now we didn't discuss specific projects, we discussed neutral things.
However, very useful to know what they're doing, exchanged public, you know, papers, and so on. So, I felt it didn't matter to me whether the guy was a Russian, Japanese, or whatever, we could talk some general things which we were interest.
Well, the research that you do at ADL, is it all publishable? Or is some of it proprietary?
Some of it is proprietary, but the thing that's proprietary has nothing to do with the solar furnace. It's what you stick in there. Okay, what you do. What the results are. That may be proprietary. But the other stuff, you know, the books published are ways about things.
I just wonder, is the — simply put, was the task — the research was given a certain material, how long have you got?
What happens to it?
Now, I told you that there was sort of a college. You know, I found that in every field, whether it is solar energy, or moon, or — I just today talked to a friend of mine who was in Switzerland at a meeting, I think a week or two ago. It's called the Intra-structure Working Group. The Lunar Intra — in other words — and there are quite a few people that I knew quite well. One was Kulcinski, from Wisconsin, who was the produce heat and get helium sweet [?] on the moon, which is the ideal fusion fuel.
Is Wendell Mendell in there?
Yeah. It wasn't at this meeting, Wendell and Mike Duke, also. In essentially using moon as a science laboratory and doing other things, and we talked also about this — the fact that, you know, we always felt one needs to understand more about the moon, and use the moon as a basis for looking out in the universe, particular radio-astronomy, telescope, it's better than a humble [?] even because you have some base, you know, you can move around more easily. Nothing shakes. And, of course, this Jupiter impact has a renewed interest in NASA and Congress to look at what would happen if we get hit by something like that. Well, if it does, there's the end, but perhaps in a few thousand years, or a few hundred years, we have the capability to reflect it. So, again, a college, if you like.
People who have been interested in the moon. That's ongoing, and we talk to each other, and if you're in various colleges it's a busy interesting time.
So, when you were working on this problem of high temperature behavior of these materials, or the thermal conductivity —
And the thermal properties and the measurement instrument.
Were you mostly in a lab getting stuff to work?
Well, I had excellent —
Working with things?
I was working with things, but I had excellent technicians that I was using, you know, people who just were artists in their right, who could make things. So, there was an info-structure for doing this kind of work.
What did each of you do? What did Henry Blau and Don Comstock do?
Well, these were people who were particularly familiar with optics and optical measurements and things of that sort. And we could understand, you know, where thermals [?] were, requirements. How to meet some of the requirements for temperature measurements. I knew about thermal conductivity measurements. I had to set things up and so on. So you never worked, you know, alone in a garret [?].
Them days are gone because, see, you couldn't deliver on time and within budget.
And were each of them and you — were they also working on other projects with other [???]
Oh, yes, always.
And you were?
Yeah. I was working on other projects, like, and I — they are still working on the solar furnace when I realized this is going to be tough to do, and I looked around how better to do it, and this idea of using electric arcs, again is not brand new, but I was able to find a company which could make those things to our electric arc imagining furnace to our specifications in Toledo, with strong electric they all knew all about arcs, control of arcs, and so on. And that was very timely, because, I think you started producing — they made them and then we got them and we sort of finished it off. It became a product. Would you believe we sold 30 electric arc imagining furnaces? Every aerospace laboratory had to have one.
Was ADL even set up to sell anything?
Oh God, yes. We had the strength of Arthur D. Little, when compared to some of our worldly competitors, is, to this day, there are only three businesses. Management Consultant, Environmental Health and Safety, and Product Development. So —
I bet that covers of a lot ground, that one.
Yeah. But, you see, the Product Development is not our wars [?]. There was a division which did nothing else but develop new products. For example cryogenics, I mentioned that I worked in that as well.
How did this contract — how did this original task of studying the thermal properties of these re-entry materials, were you then — was it expected that you would then manufacture re-entry shields or something?
No, no, no, no. The product in that specific product that I mentioned to you the electric arc imagining furnace, nobody else —
But would seem — that sounds like that was an accident.
It was — yeah, it wasn't planned.
So what was the —
It so happens we were doing this, and then people in — I know United Aircraft, and NASA and various Air Force Laboratories, all at once said, "Jeepers [?], I didn't know you guys had a gizmo which does this."
How did they know? How did they find out what you were doing?
Because of these conferences, you see, the thermal imagining, there was a book, there were — we held conferences. You know, the people who work on this, the re-entry people were very — you know, how the hell did we do that? [???] there wasn't that much time, so there was a lot of interchange of information.
Since you enumerated those three things, I don't see how that original contract fit into any of the three of them.
To do this research. It sounds like it has defined it was just research.
Which one? The re-entry part of it?
Well, it does. Because —
How was it product development?
That had nothing to do with prod— The product development, to this day, is an outgrowth of things we do, and then someone says, "Gee, I'd like to have one of those." The best example I can give you, that goes back to the late '40s. Arthur D. Little was somehow asked how Dr. Howard McMann and Professor Collins at MIT — Howard got his doctorate — worked together on liquid — a machine for liquefied helium. And out of this came the Collins Helium Liquefier.
Is that the one that you sent?
That was at Arthur D. Little.
And our management people were asking, "You know, what is a market? Is this a product we should be interested in?" and they'd consider and they came up with this the idea, "Well, —" remember that was in the late '40s and '50s. Perhaps four or five might be sold to university laboratories. So Howard McMann decided, "Well, we'll supply four or five." And we had a person by the name of Streeter, who only spoke English, but traveled throughout the world, and Japan, and was — don't ask me how he managed. By the end of the time we stopped producing it, we had sold 300. Therefore, my faith in market surveys is somewhat limited.
Sorry, I just wanted to make sure of something. Okay.
Because the people who are making these surveys may not understand how things work. This particular product was used in semi-conductor research throughout the world. We could find — you couldn't get liquid helium, you could get helium that you liquefy, and then you can provide helium for various things that need to. So, that's — and this electric arc imagining furnace was a product of ours. Another product that we had developed you see now advertised scroll refrigeration compressor. One arcs and if you buy them, they tell you it's a new devise, but in my group we developed the — John McCullough was the engineer — developed the first scroll compressors, which were sort of a product. And we had licensees throughout the world making scroll compressors.
How did you come to do that?
One of the — a fellow — in fact I just saw him at ADL the other day — Neils Young, who was an inventor, that's what he did, you know, invent things. And he came to us and, I was at that section manager, and said, "Look, I've got this idea of this scroll compressor." He had that in court two pieces of paper which showed how it works. And it was interesting, and so John McCullough was —
What year? About when was this?
I guess it was in the early '60s. And when John McCullough was a chief engineer all my lunar [???]. In fact that just had his retirement party two weeks ago. A very bright guy. Excellent engineer. And he sort of took that on then as his project to develop scroll compressor machinery and ADL is doing very well in the role of discipline for licensees throughout the world. In Japan, we have several licensees train as our licensees in this country. And they produce air conditioners for cars. You see, it doesn't use distancing, there's a much more advanced — more like, well, the wankle engine loss, the wankle engine tried to do it, but it was the wrong way of doing it, and it never succeeded, this is what you now can buy from Trane or any of these companies now. They advertise it now, I can see the ads, scroll compressors. So that's an Arthur D. Little way that we — you never know what the hell they're going to get into.
When you were doing your research and you were, you know, subjecting various materials to credible temperatures, were you presented with mysteries — I mean, did data come out that didn't make any sense, you had to muddle your way through?
No, it was fairly straight-forward.
You know, nobody had really worked at these high temperatures with materials in [???]. And then Avco got into the act and we worked with Avco, they used the — also arcs to generate — in the high flow of wind tunnels. I mean, huge things. You know, we did the small scale stuff, but that was — it's like jigsaw puzzles, that kind of stuff, you know. If you say, "Well, how did all this come about?" I would say, "By luck." Because it's very hard to plan how all these things happen? How did Pasteur find out, you know, what our [???]. Or Curie, or any of these people you find that they were just there at the right time, and a lot of the things sort of there was a pregnant solution and, you know, if you put that little crystal in there —
Yes to luck.
So that's basically — and ADL is very good at that kind of stuff. So, the things I was working were — if you like — were products. My lunar stuff were products.
Well, when a project comes to an end —
You start — well, we have — it isn't that I'm — that you work on one project exclusively.
Right, but when one of the ones that you're working on — let's say, this contract to do this research. It must have had some time —
That it concluded, you had made your report. Do you have to fold up a laboratory, or get rid of things, or put things away and make physical room for something else?
Yeah. Usually we ship everything to the client. You know, all the hardware, everything. Because we are through with it. Unless we start developing a product that we would actually make at Arthur D. Little. Particularly — typically though, nobody wanted to sell a furnace, they did want the [???] furnace. And so on, though it depends on the project. And we ship it to clients, or typically men who work for DLB, we ship them the whole kitten-caboodle. I don't know what they do with it. We don't — we have limited laboratory space, and when a project is completed, that's it. Now, what I tried always to do is to have their paper presented on the results, in the profession meetings, because I felt that's the only way you can have these things in the literatures that other people know about.
Did you ever have — was it ever sad or anything to sort of clear out a lab and try to remember what you had done?
I never was sad because every day I was — it was like starting a new job. And that's what kept me working there for 40 years. It was fascinating; I always was stimulated to do something interesting. And I had a lot to do with what I was doing. It isn't that, you know, we had sort of the run of things that all we did was test internal combustion engines at General Motors Laboratories. And ADL just is a unique outfit in that we can do very interesting work for clients. And they come to us because of when you somehow can put together the technical, the economic, the management, the title, you know, the whole smear of things. And we understand what's involved. So, as a company, I think that I was very fortunate to work there. If you look at all things that I've been doing, I — you know, in my wildest dreams, I couldn't have expected more. To this day.
So, does that give you a —
Yes, it does.
And, you know, this is how I came then to work on this lunar stuff, because of — I mentioned to you the thermal conductivity, and it was just an explanatial [?] growth of things that I was doing all the time and to this day.
Let me ask you something else, just —
Like a tree with branches, you know?
Yeah. Working — about working at ADL, do you — do you have any kind of supervision? Does anyone determine whether you're doing a good job?
Or get a raise or —?
Yes, of course we do.
Or that you —
Well, you know, by now it's fairly and well, you know, established, we have quality — we have what we call a client advocate, and I get these things every week or two, all of us. And I call up a client and I have a whole questionnaire with, you know, how did we do? And what did you like, or didn't you like?
This is for a job that someone else did?
No. That's how the client advocate does it on a normal project.
Do people complain? I mean do you get —
Oh, hell yes. Sometimes they say, "Jeepers, you've charged us a lot of money, and I don't think we got our money's worth." Jeepers, we don't walk on water every time. You know, I was luckier than most — in the things that I've been involved with.
Did anyone complain about you?
Not to my knowledge.
What do you do with that information? Do you have to go back —
No, there's a whole group which looks at this and tries to improve, you know, quality control of professional work. Because we pride ourselves in delivering for clients. We work with clients; we don't just leave them in the work. Perhaps Dragon Systems can learn from us if they have management problems. So, the selectic [?] augmenting [?] furnace was a very interesting thing. Because it, you know, it fits into this room. About this size, and it does all the things that you need to do if you want to get high temperature research done. At very high temperatures you have one centimeter active area, and it does the same as a solar furnace.
Is there anything dangerous about using it?
No. Not if you observe the — no. I think we are very careful in particular when it's a product you sell to others. I'm sure, out of those 30 there are probably half of those still somewhere in university laboratories, because it's a unique tool that people use. And you know, I didn't just work on one project, typically, we worked on several at the same time. Various stages of completion, or spotting, and —. And that lunar stuff, you know fit very well into it.
May I ask you a little about, just some of your memories of these people that you've mentioned?
The people that seem to be important to story were Blau, Comstock, and Laszlo.
Well Henry Blau left ADL, I would think somewhere in — Jeepers, the mid-60s. And he was a very senior person, understanding the way you that you could make very complex [???] [???].
Was he your age, older than you?
I think he was about my age. Dan Comstock was a very good engineer who could design engines. And at ADL we are fortunate that we have, you know, a lot of people, and we're a horizontal society, just almost like a law firm.
It's, you know, we provide professional services, therefore, if I needed somebody, I went to the physics — you know, the section manager of physics, and I said, "Gee, you know, I got a problem like this, who do you think could help me?" He'd say, "Oh, go and talk to Dan Comstock."
After a while, I would think that you would know —
— yourself, if you'd still need to go through the —
No. I'd just pull up and we're independent agents.
And you just sit down at a table and say, "Hmm."
Yeah, " — and here's the problem. What do you think?" Remember, we are providing professional services, basically. The product is a sort of — we love products because it's very profitable. And it's not the names of universities level. There's a director at — called Product and Technology Development director, which does stuff like this.
What was Dan Comstock like?
He was very skilled in instrumentation.
What kind of a character was he?
Very pleasant. In fact, he lived in Lexington far from here. I must say everyone that I worked with, I felt that it was pleasure to work with these people. We were very fortunate. It takes a long time to hire people. To get a job at ADL. We get — I think I was told — 50,000 applications a year. And there are 2500 of us, so that gives you an idea that it's very — it takes six months to get hired. You have to be very patient. Exceptional circumstances, well may occur, but typically, it's —.
Okay. And now maybe — let's see where we are here — maybe now we could pick up the other in the strand? I'm not sure where to begin. Maybe with — was it, when you first worked on the subject of what —
The lunar —
What is the lunar surface like? Was that with Salisbury?
That was with Salisbury and Hunt. He was another guy at Air Force Cambridge. He was then a professor at MIT and Salisbury went — see, these were with Geophysical Survey. You know, the Shoemaker. I — Shoemaker I've known for years and years.
Oh, I — let me ask you — there was something else I wanted to ask you. Going back to this thermal conductivity study. When you were presented with this, this is something — I wasn't — I couldn't quite decide — I couldn't quite get how it was from the other tapes I was listening to. Were — was it presented as a study whose purpose was to solve a re-entry problem?
No. It was —
Was it just an abstract question?
Hanscom Geophysical Lab was working on lunar's — you know, I guess —
Oh no, the previous problem.
Oh, the thermal conductivity?
It was thermal properties of re-entry material.
Okay. So you knew from the start what it was concerning?
Oh, sure. Sure. We usually are very directed towards an objective, you know, we are not wild blue yonder guys, so it's pretty well defined what people want. What a client wants. Like Jack Salisbury and his group wanted to know, what the hell is this lunar stuff? They had the telescopes, they could make thermal measurements. What did it mean?
Well, were they just interested because they want — sort of had the purely scientific question, what is the moon like? Or were they wondering whether you could land something on it?
Oh, I'm sure that was more than just a philosophical interest, I suspect — remember that was the time before the president said, and I can imagine not Salisbury's level, but someplace, somebody up and said, "Gee, why don't as the Air Force, go to the moon?"
And when were you first approached with this?
I think it was in '59 — '58, '59.
And what exactly happens? I mean does somebody just call you up, like — how is the contact made? How do you go from not having anything to do with this, to beginning to get involved?
Very often you hear about — they heard about, you know, what they're doing and they said, "Gee, do you know about measuring thermal conductivity?" Most of the business is usually a lunch or a breakfast, you know, and that's how things get started. You have to have people contact.
And so we discuss things and, remember, there are two aspects to it. How do you measure thermal conductivity? And the second is, how do you get accurate? Which is equivalent to what you expect on the moon which is 10 to minus 10 or 10 to minus 11 taller [?]. Which has not been done before. You know, it's tough as hell to get that kind of vacuum. Now we were working on ways to get such high vacuum. There's cryogenics on the surface if you have liquid nitrogen inside a vacuum chamber, the gas molecules colliding with that surface get frozen out. And that's how you get a good vacuum.
Why were you trying — why were you wanting to try to get this vacuum?
On the moon.
Then the — it sounded like — I don't understand, it sounded like you —
To measure the — to take the measurements —
It sounded like you already were working on that problem of creating the vacuum.
No. We did not — we worked in vacuum, yes. ADL did because this helium stuff and similar things. Therefore, we knew how to get vacuums.
In order to super mold the helium.
Yeah. We did not work on cryo-pumping, which is what I'm talking about. And out of this work, cryo-pumps became the way of doing high vacuum, in fact, you set up their CTI — Cryogenic Technology, Inc. Which is now in Mansfield for the [???] 28, which, to this day, supplies internationally cryo-pumps. Which you see attached to vacuum pumps. That's how you get very low vacuum. Therefore, the man who was working with me on that, Ray Moore, who's also been retired quite a few years from CTI. CTI was an outgrowth of Arthur D. Little. And so we knew how to create very high vacuum. So here's the Air Force.
Who wants to measure thermal properties of lunar materials, and what you needed, high vacuum and knowing how to measure thermal properties, readymade. So that get data as the terminator [?] goes across the lunar surface, and that's all we needed. To tell us what kind of material would be on the moon? There's a book on lunar surface materials, which I wrote with Jack Salisbury. Academic person who [???]. So that occupied our interests for quite a while. Remember that was before Kennedy was talking about going to the moon?
Right. That's why I'm so curious about what — what was the point of it, or what —
Well, remember, we got Wernher von Braun — what was the project, you know, where they captured those Germans and shipped them over to the US?
Oh, that. Was it Paperclip?
Yeah, that's it. You know, Wernher von Braun and all these guys, Wernher von Braun wasn't interested in rockets. You know, and missiles, well, he worked on this stuff, of course, at Huntsville, at the Army Missile, whatever that's in West Point. His interest was to go to the moon. And we, I guess, convinced Medaris, you know, General Medaris, and other people, that, you know, this is something we ought to be considering. You know, he wasn't the first one to think about Oberth, but he was a student of, you know, Oberth was his mentor. And it's a natural continuation to go to the moon.
And therefore, a lot of those guys at Huntsville, and I knew them, because I worked with, you know, they were people I worked with.
And that's what was behind this effort at Hanscom?
Remember, it was the Army and Air Force which brought — the Army/Air Force brought these guys over. And I think some general in the Pentagon must have thought, "Well, that's a mission for us." It probably was, to have the people. In our letter I didn't make a study of how it happened. Oh, all I can tell you my part in it was, to find out, can we land on the moon? Can that be done without sinking? Because of this controversy, this Tommy Gold, a professor at Cornell. [???] there's this deep stuff.
So it was in terms of landing something, it wasn't just what's it like up there?
Oh, hell no. It was not a theoretical — remember, I'm not a union work — I'm not part of a university. I wasn't on a faculty, I was in a profit making company, until July 1, and I'm a consultant there to do the real things. This was not a hypothetical — you know, when we did the lunar surface layer, there was one objective. Can we step out on the moon and not sink into the dust? Nobody knew that before. When Jack Salisbury and Hunt, and myself and some of the colleagues that worked with me are even to sure we can.
Can you describe how you went about doing it? Were there any hitches in that?
Well, you see, we knew roughly —
Or points where you were —
— what the material was like. We know that the micro-meter had impacts and static forces — electric static forces keep in using the slightly suspension. And the parameter thing which the Hanscom people got through the telescope for measurements was the temperature changes. And once you know how a temperature changes, and you have some very good data, you know, if you put a piece of steel there, it'll have a totally different temperature change as opposed to the rock. And now you can relate what kind — so we had a number of materials that we used, and I proposed as a model, which actually worked very well, a slightly center Pear-light [?]. Pear-light is a natural volcanic type; you can buy it in the hardware store probably.
It's an insulator.
But you make it sound like it's actually very straight forward.
Well, it wasn't in the sense that we, you know, you'd have to read the books on the subject. I mean, there were people — there was a large group of people by then measuring temperatures and hypothesizing what the hell the moon was like, and all that kind of stuff. And by the '60s, you know, Kennedy didn't just say, you know, over a cocktail, we're going to land the on moon. There were about six years, seven years before that. Probably if you take what the Germans were thinking about, you know, perhaps a decade of work which went on before then. So, he essentially, had enough data that he said, "Well, am I going to be made a fool of?" And I guess he was assured, "No. We can really do that." And the problem was, that Kennedy, as a politician, didn't think far enough, and didn't understand, it isn't that was a political decision he made, rather than a long-term decision why do we want to go to the moon? And he didn't — that question he didn't address, it was addressed sort of later, but it's — and that problem that NASA was, that the whole enterprise was designed to land a man on the moon, and therefore we went through, you know, Mercury, Gemini, and these various Apollo shots around, and so on. But nobody ever thought, "Well, what the hell do we do once we are there? And what's do we now — why didn't we develop the space shuttle first? You know, and a space station first?" As you know, there was a lot of argument to have a space station first. von Braun very much was in favor of that. He had that sort of ring kind of structure.
And I think had we done this in a logical way, we today would be on the moon. What happened is, and that's, you know, not a popular thing to say, Kennedy's decision probably set us back, I hope not forever, but essentially delayed us from having a man’s activities on the moon. Because it was very narrow focus, land a man on the moon in ten years, which was done. And then what? You never recover from that? He should have said, "You land a man on the moon, but it isn't just for political purposes, we want to do these things."
He has to get a job when he gets there.
Yeah. That's it. What do you do after you get there? And I think, had he done that, the ten years was an artificial — what we should have been developing are the capabilities in low earth orbit. It was a mistake for us to go directly to the moon and then to Saturn and all that stuff. In retrospect, we have should built a space station. We could have had that space station since the mid-'60s, that [???] we could have done. We could have totally changed how we looked at space. And the space shuttle was designed just to go from here to the space station, nothing to do with things that they're doing with it now. Two weeks of Newts, you know, laying eggs, or whatever they were doing. So the work that I started to do, you see, was all in preparation of answering a very basic question, is this a crazy idea or can we actually do it? Now how the Russians then found out about it, I couldn't tell you, but they did, and Mr. Ames [?] must have had a lot of other colleagues who did similar things, and of course, they haven't found them, but they were. But they Russians do the work, too. And I always assume that whatever we do, any competitor will now, in due course, when it commercially interest in the Japanese you know it first, when it's military interested, I assume the Russians would know it. And look at it, that the —