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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Robert J. and Ruth Davis by David DeVorkin on 2005 October 15,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
The interview includes an overview of Robert Davis's childhood and early interest in astronomy; his experiences as an undergraduate, a Naval Officer, and a graduate student in the 1940s and early 1950s; his interest in observational astronomy; his work in ultraviolet stellar magnitudes, and his appointment as head of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Project Celescope in the late 1950s. He outlines the Celescope program, the design of the telescope, the decision to use image tubes and problems encountered with funding, and the successes, failures and ultimate relevance of the program. Ruth Davis comments on the changes of the social climate at the observatory as the staff increased. He concludes the interview by commenting on former colleagues, changes in astronomy and the legacy of Project Celescope. Among those prominently mentioned are: Vaughan Harmon, Harlow Shapley, and Fred Whipple.
This is a tape-recorded oral history with Robert Davis and Ruth Davis in their home in Harrison, Maine. The date is October 15, 2005. The auspices are the American Institute of Physics, National Science Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution. I’d like to start out learning a little bit more about your family life.
I was born in Omaha, Nebraska on October 26, 1929. Since the stock market was closed, they had to wait two days to crash. It was a Saturday. They found out about me. My dad was an accountant for the telephone company. At that time there was basically one company in the whole US; it was AT&T. The part that served the Midwest was Northwestern Bell. He’d been working for them since before he was married. He married in 1928 and continued working for them until he retired at age 60 in 1967.
You started off with the stock market crash. Was that something that affected your family?
No. The only thing that I remember is that the telephone company stopped Saturday work and reduced all the salaries by 10%. But he came home with a throat-slash mark for people that he knew.
What do you mean?
Every time somebody got laid off, he came home and said, “So and so has been laid off.”
Oh, he would use the slash mark.
He didn’t suffer?
No, his job remained through the Depression and through the war.
As you said he was an accountant.
The word “accountant” usually doesn’t describe that. He was responsible for computing toll billing, and his computer was 100 girls working on adding machines.
I certainly want to get back to that, but let’s get his full name.
Harry Cleve Davis.
And your mother’s full name.
Margaret Louise Homan. When they got married she added the Davis to it.
Did your father and mother have college training?
No. They graduated from high school and went to work.
Did your mother work during your childhood?
Not until we were in high school and then she got a part-time job. She had stopped working when she got married.
What was her occupation before she got married and then after you grew up?
Before she got married she was in a real estate office. It was a small office. I think she was the manager’s Girl Friday — she did anything that needed to be done in the office.
Sort of like assistant office manager?
Did she go back to that kind of work afterwards?
No. One job that I remember that she had was for a photographic developer, and I think she did the paperwork that had to be done when the mail orders came in. The only paper he did not advertise in was the Des Moines Register and Tribune because he said he’d rather handle complaints by telephone.
Are you an only child?
I had a brother. He died 15 years ago.
What was his name? Older or younger?
Younger. His name was Larry. Lawrence.
What did he do in life?
He started out as a technical writer. I can’t remember the name of the company. It was in Minnesota. They manufactured electrical relays and that kind of thing.
Was he with Honeywell?
Yes, he did work for Honeywell, but he also worked for another company that made the same kind of stuff. Then when he moved to New Jersey he was Director of Marketing, and in the ‘70s during one of the recessions his entire division was terminated, including him. For the last seven or eight years of his life he dealt blackjack in Las Vegas.
Really? Sounds like a character.
When they moved to Las Vegas he got a job at the Radio Shack selling computers, and he decided to go to dealer school instead of staying. He didn’t like the job at Radio Shack, but he enjoyed his job dealing.
What was your family life like in the 1930s growing up? Did you do a lot of things together as a family? Who kind of ran the family, and what were your family values?
If you watch Little House on the Prairie it comes close, except we lived in the city.
You, of course, went to school. I take it was public school?
Did your parents follow and were they concerned in any way with your education?
They wanted to make sure that both of us went to college and followed whatever career path we thought was appropriate.
Why was college important? Do you remember anything about what your father or mother might have said about why that might be important?
They saw that by the 1940s, when we were graduating from high school, if you didn’t have a college education you didn’t get anyplace. And Dad saw a couple of college graduates that passed him on the ladder in the telephone company.
You were getting to be college-age, though, just about the end of the war.
A lot of my friends joined the Army two weeks before the end of the GI Bill so that they could get in on it. We were 17 then. We were not draft age, but anybody at that age when I graduated from high school and was 17 could join the Army if they wanted to. This was 1947.
I take it you did not.
I did not, but five years later when Korea was breathing down my throat, I joined the Navy — after I graduated from college and before graduate school.
Let’s talk about the evolution of your interests: your hobbies, books you may have read, and how you got interested in the idea of a career.
Well, I remembered going to the public lectures at the Drake Observatory in Des Moines, and this would have been when I was eight or nine years old. I went there regularly for the next eight or nine years until I graduated from high school.
So it indicates then that you had an interest in astronomy.
And my interest in astronomy was either sparked by the first lecture I went to or sparked by something that I can’t remember.
Okay. So there was no clear-cut thing, but you were interested early?
I was interested early, yes.
He used to say that he got interested when he was about seven years old.
What interested you about astronomy at that time? I take it Drake Observatory had a telescope.
The Drake Observatory had a telescope. The president of the university, who was also the director of the observatory, was the only astronomer at Drake University. He’d done his graduate work at Yerkes. He’d discovered a comet. But of course being president of a medium-sized university, basically all of the astronomy that he was doing was public lectures.
What was his name?
When you had mentioned comet I started to say Morehouse. You say it could have been possibly his lectures that stimulated you?
Yes. I think it was 1941 when he died, and the lecture series was continued. I think one of them was an engineering professor and the other one was a mathematics professor. At that time astronomy didn’t have, except for positional astronomy, it didn’t have highly complex computations involved. It was basically a descriptive science, and the professors knew everything that they had to know to keep the public lecture series going.
Did you have a lot of contact with those professors, or was it just through the lectures?
The mathematics professor was perfectly willing to let a couple of high school students operate the telescope while he sat downstairs in the warm office. [Laughs]
What kind of stuff did you look at?
As long as there were people coming past the telescope, we looked at things that were bright enough for them to see.
Oh, so you operated the telescope for the public?
Oh, well, that’s much more than just casual observing. That’s quite good. So you were explaining things also?
Did you use any of the equipment with the telescope?
Well, there was equipment, but none of it was ever attached to the telescope. We looked at things through the eyepiece.
Okay, all straight observation. No micrometer or anything like that?
That instrumentation was there, but nobody ever put it on the telescope.
In your schooling, is there anything important and particularly memorable that you think helped influence your subsequent career?
I can’t remember anything in grade school that was particularly important, and I can’t remember anything in junior high that was particularly important. In high school, the physics was an 11th grade course and chemistry was a 12th grade course. I got physics first. The physics teacher was much more amenable to accepting new information than the chemistry teacher was. The chemistry teacher was still refusing to admit that plutonium was a real chemical element. This was two years after the atom bomb. [Laughs]
That’s pretty amazing.
But he knew his inorganic chemistry well enough to teach us. He insisted that everybody learn glass blowing techniques to a minimum level, and strange things like that.
So you did have some lab experience?
Lab experience in both physics and chemistry, yes.
What did you find most enjoyable about your physics?
Well, the ability to prove that the laws that were written in the books actually worked when we did an experiment.
Did you like working with your hands in laboratory things?
I enjoyed it then. I enjoyed laboratory work so long as I didn’t have to figure out how to use real complicated equipment.
I take it you must have had some experiments in light and spectroscopy, anything like that?
I don’t remember anything in spectroscopy until I got to college. There probably was some. I remember lots of electrical experiments measuring how current and resistance and heat and so forth are related. A lot of mechanical experiments seeing how things accelerated down inclined planes, that kind of thing.
As you moved through high school and you knew that college was in your future, did your high school have counselors or anyone watching you and advising you?
Everything that they called a counselor was a completely hopeless case. [Laughs] My grades in high school were near the top. The other high school course that I remember (I should go back to it) — typing. It was most important thing that I ever learned. I took that instead of biology.
Oh really? So you had that kind of a choice?
Yes. It became a tool. No matter what you do, the faster you can type the less time you waste at the keyboard.
I’ll say for the tape the first thing I saw as I walked through your garage was the computer, but you explained that that was the place where you could set it up.
The TV cable comes into the house in four places, and of those four places that was the only one that made sense for the computer.
What colleges did you look at, and what did you want to go on in? Were you thinking about a career?
By the time I entered high school, I was planning to become an astronomer. The colleges that had strong undergraduate and graduate programs in astronomy in 1947 were Harvard, Princeton, Chicago, and U Cal Berkeley. Or maybe Southern Cal, I can’t remember which — maybe both of them.
I think it was Berkeley.
I know Berkeley is strong in astronomy.
How did you know that? Did you read magazines? Were you a member of a club?
No. I wasn’t a member of a club. I probably asked the fellows at the Drake Observatory. I know I asked around. I know I looked into it.
Did you apply to all four places?
I know I applied to Harvard. I think I applied to Princeton, and I don’t think I applied to either of the other two.
Any particular reasons that you can recall?
Everybody I talked to said Harvard was the best. I figured if they’d let me in, I’d take it.
But didn’t you get a scholarship? A high school scholarship?
I got scholarships, but aside from the $50 from Pepsi Cola, all the others were issued by Harvard.
Did your parents have anything to say about you going away to college?
At the time, the Harvard tuition was $400 a year, which didn’t sound like a lot of money even to them.
Oh, okay. But you did get scholarships?
I got scholarships, yes.
Robert and I are second cousins. So when he received his entrance into Harvard, it went around through the family. His grandmother was very, very happy. His grandmother went right to my grandmother and my mother. So it was great family news. Everyone was just thrilled that he was going to Harvard.
Was this a big deal?
Oh, yes! Everyone was very proud of him and all excited. I came from a family where my father was a professor and always stressed education. It was thrilling to have him go to Harvard.
Were you the first person in your immediate family to go to college? It sounds like, in your immediate family.
One of my ancestors went to college. Now my dad had a cousin who was a medical doctor, so he must have gone to college. My mother’s father went to what they called at the time “normal school.” It was two years and you come out a teacher.
Okay, so we have you moving to Harvard. And astronomy is definitely in your future in your mind. Did you write or did you communicate with any Harvard professor before you showed up?
When you showed up, what was your first year like as an incoming Harvard freshman? Of course you had all sorts of standard courses to take. It was a very well set curriculum.
Well, I took Astronomy One. As an astronomy concentrator, you basically had to take Astronomy One.
So you did enter as an astronomy concentrator? I wasn’t sure.
Yes. The English course was required. Anybody in science had to take physics and math, so that made up the four courses for my freshman year.
Who did you have Astronomy One from?
Was that taught on campus?
It was at a place called the Astronomy Lab, which was an old frame building that predated the observatory. And in the backyard were a couple of telescopes.
Was this close to Harvard Yard?
It was where they built the law school. No, not the law school, the Graduate Commons. That’s where they built the Graduate Commons, although the Graduate Commons was much bigger than the astronomy lab.
I see. So they had a small building plus small telescopes there, and you were one of the last, probably, to use them?
Yes. I think it was 1949 when they tore down the building and built the Graduate Commons.
How was the course? Was it everything you wanted?
It was the first course in astronomy. Yes, it was everything I wanted. It insisted that I learn the computational techniques for planetary motions. I’d avoided doing any astronomical computations before that.
Had you read any books before that time?
Yes. As a matter of fact, one of the books that I’d read before I left Des Moines was Fred Whipple’s book Earth, Moon, and Planets. But I’d read fairly extensively before I got there.
Had you read anything by Eddington or Jeans?
Well, I read the words. I didn’t try to figure out what they were talking about, but I’d read the words.
But you were aware of those?
Anything by Hubble?
I can’t remember reading anything by Hubble. I read plenty of things that mentioned him.
Did you by any chance read the textbook by Russell, Dugan, and Stewart before you went to Harvard?
I don’t remember reading it.
Do you remember what the textbook was for your Astronomy One course under Armin Deutsch?
Can you recall what excited you the most about that course? Did it confirm your interests?
Yes, it confirmed my interests and it included a tour of the Oak Ridge Observatory, an evening tour — the kind that’s bright enough to see the telescope when you get there and dark enough to use it by the time you leave.
That’s a nice kind of a tour. Did you meet any of the astronomers who were up there at the time?
Harvard Observatory was one big, happy family. Yes. Dr. Shapley lived in the director’s residence. At least once or twice a year there was a party. Everybody was invited.
It could be the janitor. Anybody.
Everyone. There was no distinction. It was, as Bob said, one big, happy family. But a small family.
The professors at the time were Bart Bok, Donald Menzel, Fred Whipple, and Harlow Shapley. It was several years later that Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin got her professorship, but she was one of the lecturers. The Gaposchkins had parties at their house. The Boks had parties at their house. The Whipples had parties at their house and the Menzels did too. They all did.
May I say Dr. Shapley always insisted that we have a Virginia Reel before everyone left. There was no alcohol at his parties — he didn’t allow that. They were just really nice, clean parties. Everyone visited. We had our refreshments. Then when it came time to leave, we had the Virginia Reel, and everyone had to be part of it and dance. It was great fun. And then we’d go and say goodbye.
That’s amazing. Now that’s already by the time you’re married and you were a graduate student?
I was in the Navy when we got married. Her memory starts before graduate school because I took her to a couple of parties before we got married while we were still in the Navy.
We were both in the Navy. I joined the Navy Medical Corps after college, and I was stationed down at Newport, Rhode Island at the Navy Hospital there. Now I’d heard about Robert all my life and he’d heard about me a little bit. But it wasn’t until I was stationed at Newport that we met. Robert and I are second cousins on our dad’s side. My mother was Ruth Davis née Cinnamon before she was married.
I was in the Navy because Korea didn’t have a navy and I didn’t want the Army.
So your freshman course didn’t do anything to dissuade you from taking astronomy, I take it? Tell me about Armin Deutsch. What kind of a fellow was he? I don’t know too much about him.
Armin Deutsch was a quiet, observational research type. He liked to observe. He specialized in peculiar A stars. The first astronomy job that I had was summer of 1950 at Oak Ridge Observatory — $1 dollar an hour so long as I stopped collecting wages after $50 dollars.
By ‘50 you were a sophomore?
It was between my junior and senior year. We were observing peculiar A stars for Armin. My particular task was to put one of those old silver halide glass plates at the business end of the prism spectrograph and find the star that he wanted and keep it on the slit for however long it took. Third magnitude stars would take about an hour.
This was with the Wyeth?
This was at the Wyeth, yes.
So you observed with a 61-inch telescope in your summer?
In the summer of 1950, yes.
Did he show you how to use the Wyeth, or did somebody else?
It was some graduate students that showed me how to use it. Frank Kameny and Dick McCrosky.
You have one paper in the Harvard Bulletin in 1951, which is about this time. It was “Tables of the Secant of Zenith Distance.” Was that something you did for Armin Deutsch?
I was using the 24-inch telescope photoelectrically. I know that I used it for my senior research project, and I know that I observed the peculiar A stars for my senior research project. I can’t remember why I was using it before that. I made the tables to help with the reductions of the photoelectric photometry.
So you were exposed to photoelectric photometry, to spectroscopy, all of these things at the time?
Were you exposed to actually maintain the instruments or build them or evaluate them?
When I was an undergraduate, the answer is no. If you took a plate, you’d develop the plates, so you had to learn darkroom techniques in pitch-black darkrooms, which is very handy. Ruth always complains that I don’t turn the lights on. [Laughs] If you know where things are, you don’t have to see them. The only thing I ever tripped over at home was the dog.
What part of astronomy also was most interesting to you?
Observation was by far the most interesting.
Again, was that a hands-on thing?
Using the telescopes.
Which telescope did you enjoy the most?
The old 24-inch telescope, and once I got used to it, the 61-inch telescope. Those were the two that I enjoyed the most. The 24-inch was enjoyable because it didn’t have a dome. You rolled off the roof and you stood on the balcony. Sometimes it was pretty cold. But you could see everything, whereas the 61-inch, all you can see is that little piece of sky that the telescope is pointing at.
Were you using a Newtonian focus for the 61-inch?
Yes, and also for the 24-inch.
So Newtonian in both cases?
Yes. The building that used to house the 24-inch now houses the 16-inch and has a dome.
I see. So they extensively changed it.
The only thing they saved was the brick walls. [Laughs]
This is something I’ve failed to ask you about your much earlier life. While you were in high school or before you went to Harvard, did you ever build a telescope or want to build a telescope?
I considered it from time to time, but I never actually got around to grinding glass.
But you never had a telescope then?
Well, a little 2-inch refractor, but this was a nice 8-inch telescope at Drake Observatory.
So you had access to one?
I had access.
We’re now placing you as an advanced undergraduate. You definitely prefer observation over theory. But you by now have certainly had courses from others at the observatory. Who stood out?
Well, Ivan King taught celestial mechanics. It was fun despite the fact that computers didn’t exist. By the time I was doing my senior thesis work, Armin Deutsch had left in a huff because they wouldn’t make him a professor. Harlow Shapley guided the program that I’d worked out with Armin before the year started, which was photoelectric photometry of peculiar A stars. So that year having regular discussions with Harlow Shapley was memorable.
Did you ever have anything with Dr. Hynek?
Dr. Hynek didn’t come until the Smithsonian came.
He was much later. What about Whipple, Bok, Gaposchkin?
I never took a course from Dr. Whipple. I took courses from both Cecilia and Bart when I was a graduate student. I probably took one more course from somebody someplace along the line, but I can’t remember what that other one was.
Apparently none of them really standout as being significant to you?
Not as an undergraduate, no.
You graduated in —
Shapley was still the director?
Shapley was still the director.
He stepped down the next year in ‘52?
Was there any discussion of that among your peers or your older graduate students, that you know about?
I was in the Navy when that actually happened. I had continuing contact with the graduate students that I knew and with the professors that I knew, but it wasn’t a particularly frequent contact.
Did you think of going directly to graduate school? Or was there no choice — you felt you had to go into military service?
Well, I knew that I was going to be drafted. As a matter of fact, I received my draft call three days before I was sworn into the Navy, which was two months after I’d applied for the Navy. But the Navy assured me that three days wasn’t long enough for them to find me. [Laughs]
You chose the Navy.
Well, for one thing, I didn’t want to slog through swamps of Korea. And for another thing, the Navy had a fast track to officer status without enduring boot camp. The officer candidate school was wimpish compared with boot camp.
Was there any particular specialization in the Navy that interested you?
Well, the specialization in the Officer Corps is such that if all you have is an undergraduate degree, you become a line officer and are expected to be able to do anything that doesn’t involve engineering or medicine.
So it wasn’t a technical position?
It wasn’t a technical position, no.
By the time you graduated — and you graduated in astronomy I take it, at Harvard —had you taken courses in E&M, electricity and magnetism, or any practical courses in electronics?
I remember the laboratory. I can’t remember the name of the course that involved all sorts of electrical and electronic measurements. There are two courses I remember the best. I took physical optics and thermodynamics both from Ed Purcell. He was able to give such brilliant lectures that I didn’t absorb the content so much as the presentation.
This is right about the time he was doing some very fundamental radio astronomy.
Yes. As a matter of fact, when I came back to graduate school, all of my research was in radio astronomy. My contact with him was because he was responsible for the equipment and he seemed to be the only person who understood what went on inside the receiver.
In 1957, you published a paper on 21-centimeter observations near galactic longitude 120 degrees. That was an ApJ paper. What did you do in the Navy?
Well, junior line officer’s responsibility is to serve as officer of the deck, stand bridge watches, make certain that the ship does what’s in the plan for it to do, make certain that it doesn’t hit anything, and things like that. Part of the time that I wasn’t on bridge watch, I was cryptographic officer.
He was on an icebreaker.
I was going to ask. That’s a very interesting kind of place to be, I think. What did a cryptographic officer do?
When a coded message came in, the cryptographic officer would go into the coding room, lock the door, and decode it. When a coded message had to be sent, the cryptographic officer took it into the coding room and did the reverse process.
What was the name of your ship?
The Atka. It was Coast Guard, and then they gave it to Russia during World War II. It got frozen in the ice a couple of years and the Russians towed it back to Yokohama. The Navy managed to get it limping across the Pacific after being in dry dock in Yokohama for six months. About a year later, I reported onboard.
Okay, so those were your primary duties. How did you meet your wife during that time? Because you already mentioned that you met in the Navy.
Well, both of our families knew that my ship spent time in Newport. She was stationed in Newport, Rhode Island.
I was at the Navy hospital there.
So I’d been corresponding with her mother for two or three years. I’d heard about her for all my life and I figured it was time to meet.
Robert called me and asked me out for dinner. This was just, you know, as cousins, and we went to a very nice little restaurant, which we still go to every now and then.
Except its name has changed.
That was in Newport?
Yes. All I could think about was Robert’s big blue eyes, and I thought, “Hmm, this is great sitting across from those big blue eyes. I wonder what it would be like to sit across from them all the time.” But never did I dream that we’d fall in love. He took me around sightseeing. I came up and stayed at the Commander-Sheraton in Cambridge for a weekend, and that’s when I was able to attend Dr. Shapley’s party. One Thanksgiving I came up — and Robert showed me around in the observatory and around Harvard. Then, before we knew it, Robert proposed to me on Valentine’s Day, and I received my ring on Valentine’s Day.
This is while you’re still in the Navy?
So you went to Shapley’s parties when you were in the Navy on leave, basically?
Well, my ship’s homeport was Boston. We spent a couple months a year in Newport and about a couple of two-month spans in Boston. The end of the working day is 4:00 in the afternoon. You’ve got the whole evening to do anything you want to.
What did you do during the working day, first of all, while you were in port?
I was also Electronics Officer, that’s right. They sent me to electronic school in Treasure Island, and I was Electronics Officer. I was responsible for making sure that the people that knew how to do it kept the electronic equipment repaired.
So in a way you were managing maintenance?
I was managing maintenance of the radio equipment, the radar equipment, and the machine that told us which way was up. I forget what they called that. Oh, a gyroscope. Not the gyrocompasses. Those were somebody else’s. But the gyroscope that told which way was up, that one was mine.
Just out of curiosity, you were based in Boston. Where were you breaking ice? Where were your various missions?
In the wintertime we’d see first ice as soon as we rounded Newfoundland. In the summertime we’d see first ice somewhere around latitude 72.
So you were always in the Atlantic?
Yes, always in the Atlantic.
So how long was your tour of duty?
Four months at Officer Candidate School followed by three years as an officer.
So that puts you thinking about getting out around late 1954?
What were your plans at that time? Well, let me ask. You stayed in contact with Harvard, evidently, at this time. [Ruth hands something to the interviewer] What do we have here? Ah!
That is Dr. Whipple.
A letter. September 20th, 1954. Fred is writing back to you as a lieutenant, and this is saying that he may have a job for you.
Would you like copies of those?
Okay, then honey, we’ll have you go down and print those off.
Oh yes, all of this sort of thing. How much of your letters have you kept? Everything?
I have tried to. Robert tends to throw things out at times, but I decided that in our old age when we retired, I would start collecting things. I gave him a huge box the other day just full of things. I said, “Make sure you go over all of these,” before you come. He was also an astronaut candidate for a while, and we have that. Also I wanted to keep some of this for the children. I thought they’d be interested in having a scrapbook of their dad.
That’s wonderful. That’s just delightful to hear that. So Whipple’s offering you a job. This is for the interim between —
This is for the few weeks between the time that I show up in Cambridge after leaving the Navy and the time I start graduate school.
He says he is interested in your security classification?
Yes. The word “satellite” was classified secret. I got the distinct impression that it was because the Navy and Air Force didn’t want each other to find out about it. But in any case, the only way that I could even mention the word “satellite” was in a room where everybody else had secret clearance. [Laughs] That’s why these letters don’t say anything.
You’re right, they don’t. But it says, “The job will involve an appreciable amount of travel.”
Which it didn’t.
“Give you a chance to see some interesting places,” which it did?
And the asked about Caroline Louise.
Our eldest daughter, our first one. She was just a baby.
Then a PS. Again, that’s just he wants to get an answer from you. Was this a surprise?
But he says, “Since I wrote you recently.” So did you stay in contact with him?
Yes, I stayed in contact with everybody.
Wonderful. Then you answered him four days later and you say when you’ll be separated and what your salary is and that you’re cleared for cryptographic final clearance, same requirements as for top secret. You’re asking how long and how often you would be likely to be out of town? You’d need to use your own car, stuff like that. But again, there’s nothing about the job itself. Okay, and then the next letter is over a month later, October, 28. He’s delighted, and you are able to drop by Dallas and visit Varo? Did you do that?
Yes. In Orange, Texas. We needed to get back to Boston and we had to stop in Laramie where her folks lived, and Omaha where my folks lived on the way. Well, you head from Orange, Texas to Laramie, Wyoming and you go right through Dallas.
How did you end up in Texas? Was that the end of your duty?
The last year in the Navy I was assigned to the mothball fleet in Orange, Texas.
What did he want you to do at Varo?
Meet Austin Stanton, who, since we were in a secure room when I was talking to him, told me all about the Navy’s plans for launching a satellite.
And that’s what this was all about?
That’s what this was all about, satellite tracking.
And it was that early. So we’re talking September of ‘54 through October. Oh, yes. He says, “Shall drop a note to Mr. Austin Stanton, president of the company, advising, but prefer not to write about it.” So you still really didn’t know what it was about.
Not until I got to Dallas and talked to Austin.
It was a big secret.
The next one was in May of ‘57, so we can wait on that. We’ll talk about this later. These are great letters. Do you remember that discussion with Stanton?
Tell me about it. So what did he say?
He said that the Navy was working on a project to launch an orbiting Earth satellite and that Dr. Whipple was hoping to be involved in the tracking and using them for measuring the structure of the Earth, things like that.
So it was geodesy?
It was geodesy and atmospheric resistance to measure something about the atmosphere.
What was Varo’s role going to be?
If you’ve ever seen the movies that had caricatures of Texas millionaires, Austin Stanton was a Texas millionaire, and he was supporting this with his personal funds.
So he wasn’t going to be a contractor, he was going to be a patron?
Both. Varo manufactured image tubes and that kind of vacuum tube equipment. So he was both a contractor and a patron, although I don’t remember us ever actually getting any of the equipment. His factory didn’t quite have the right kind of product for anything that we actually used. The Baker-Nunn camera which came out of this brainstorming used chemical photography.
Right. They were traditional photography. Exactly. What brainstorming was that?
Our talking was about how to build a satellite, how to get the money to build a satellite —
To build the satellite itself?
Yes, and what can you do with a satellite. All the talk that I encountered at this time was for an inert satellite that only provided information because you were measuring its motion.
Optical. This was optical motion. So the idea was to have a satellite as a payload in a Navy program. By the time any real money started flowing, it was flowing through the Smithsonian.
So with Austin Stanton, I take it, all of the discussion was limited to the tracking as well as the satellite itself? Or just the tracking or for the whole project?
The whole project. And of course, I was only with him for an hour or so.
So this was just to meet him?
This was just to meet him and find out what it was that I was going to get into when I got back to Cambridge.
How did you feel about that?
It was exciting. It remained exciting for at least 10, maybe 15 years. Everything to do with satellites was exciting.
But it was very different than the kind of astronomy you had been doing or probably were thinking of doing.
Well, it was observational astronomy.
Yes, but a completely different level.
A completely different level, right. When it came time to select a topic for my thesis, Fred said if I could get into orbit computation I could get the Ph.D. in a year. It sounded like too much pressure to me, so I got the degree in three years by going into radio astronomy.
And that was your thesis on radio astronomy?
I know we’re getting ahead of the game here, but he was okay with that decision?
Well, let’s go back. You have this meeting with Austin Stanton. Did you have any sense by then of what you would be doing?
Yes. I would be developing the requirements for tracking cameras by preparing papers… [Shuffles through papers]…papers such as this one.
Okay, “Time Available for the Optical Observation of an Earth Satellite,” and that is by 1958, though, that’s in a conference bulletin?
And that’s by Zirker, Whipple, and Davis. I see, the work that’s presented was supported by the Office of Naval Research with Varo Manufacturing Company. So they were supporting it, partially?
I see. “Light curves during the twilight observation of a satellite are computed for spheres of 20-inches in diameter.” That’s what you were doing, basically. What was your role in developing what was ultimately called the Baker Super-Schmidt?
By the time it got into the actual engineering phase, I was responsible for the electronic timekeeping equipment, and I worked with the Norman Clock Company in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.
Let’s get some years straight. You re-enter graduate school.
Between the time I got out of the Navy and the time I entered graduate school, I was on the payroll of Varo Manufacturing Company. That was only a couple of months.
And that’s from September, October of ‘54 through the end of the year?
It was November of ‘54 until the end of January of ‘55. It was basically December and January ‘54 and ‘55. Then I entered grad school. My recollection is that I got to working on the timekeeping equipment while I was still on the Varo payroll, and I know that I was working on it for at least the first couple of years of graduate school.
Did you ever ask Whipple why he chose you for this particular job?
I can’t remember asking him, but I think what he did was to go through his list of possible people that had the expertise and was determining which of these people had secret clearance. I may have been the only one.
So you had maintained your contact through the Navy with all of the Harvard people, but had you maintained it with Whipple in particular? Did you have any special relation with him, or he was just looking at all Harvard students?
Until I actually started working on this project, my connection with the astronomy professors was more or less similar for all five of them.
Interesting. So he must have gone through all of the lists of everybody that sort of the small family knew. Would you say that’s a reasonable way to characterize it? You were part of the family?
Did you feel you were part of the family?
Was there any question in your mind that you might go to someplace else to graduate school?
I was toying with Princeton.
But you were interested in observation?
But I was interested in observation and Harvard had a more complete observational setup than Princeton did.
But what about going out West to one of the big observatories?
They were mainly research institutions, not teaching.
True. Well, there was Chicago and McDonald.
There was Chicago and McDonald. I knew the people. I knew the location.
So you’re back as a graduate student, and you took a regular course of graduate instruction, I imagine.
So your teachers were pretty much the same?
By then Armin Deutsch was at Mount Wilson.
Okay, after a pleasant break we’re taping again, and talking about your coursework in graduate school and what was particularly influential in your training. But when we were just having tea, you mentioned that you’d learned shorthand in the Navy. I was wondering if this helped you to take notes during your graduate classes and how important that was for you.
It was very important, because I could take much more content in the notes. And then transcribing refreshes your memory when it’s still fresh enough so that you can remember what the professor said. So basically I got the lecture twice — once when I took it down and once when I transcribed it.
In the shorthand when you transcribed, do you actually hear the voice in a way?
No, it goes from eyes to fingers.
But it still was something that you experienced?
Were you working throughout your grad years for Whipple?
I was getting paid for what I did for the satellite tracking. Basically I was getting paid for what I was doing for Fred Whipple while I was in graduate school.
What were your responsibilities in the satellite tracking program?
My responsibilities were to find out what was available in the way of electronic timekeeping equipment, determine what precision was necessary for recording the images to be taken with the Baker-Nunn cameras, and working with the only company that was in existence at that time to improve what was available in their catalog by a factor of 10 or so. I think a factor of 10 was all that was required. We were doing it to a tenth of a millisecond.
What was the particular method of recording? How did you record that time?
It was photographed. In the corner of each frame of the Baker-Nunn camera was a picture of the digital clock and of the oscilloscope, which was recording the time. Let’s see, one trip around the oscilloscope screen was ten milliseconds. So the position of the spot on that screen gave the tenth of a millisecond, and the digital, I think it was Nixie tubes gave the rest of the time.
So these were straight Nixie tubes?
That’s my recollection. It might have been a mechanical speedometer type thing, but I think it was Nixie tubes that were actually photographed.
I can certainly check on that. We have acquired the first Baker-Nunn system that was in New Mexico.
Looking at the pictures taken by the Baker-Nunn, it should be easy to tell.
Are any of them saved at Harvard, to your knowledge?
I’m trying to think of who might know the answer to that question.
I could say that Leo McGrath said that some, a lot of the preliminary processing was done at the Baker-Nunn stations, but then things that really had some value to them were sent to Harvard for a more careful reduction.
What he didn’t know was what happened to the films, and these were film based, after the more careful reduction — whether they were saved or not.
And I never handled any of those. I saw them from time to time, but I never handled them.
Did you actually ever work with the Baker-Nunn camera?
No. I visited the tracking station in New Mexico, the tracking station in Hawaii, and the tracking station in Australia. But Australia was the place I was sent. They had problems with the amplifier that amplified the signal from the clock strong enough to drive the synchronous motors of the Baker-Nunn. They had trouble with the amplifier and I was sent down to help get it repaired. I watched them do the Baker-Nunn, but I never actually touched any of the controls myself.
During this process, were you in contact with Jim Baker or with Joseph Nunn in the development?
In the development, I was in contact with Joseph Nunn. I actually visited him in California while the thing was being put together, and lots of discussion as to why the thing needed to be run by synchronous motors that were driven with the same precision as all the other timekeeping, which was the reason that we needed a 500-watt amplifier for a milliwatt signal. I had continuing contact with Jim Baker — before, during, and after the satellite tracking program. But I was not involved in any way with the Baker-Nunn optical design.
Would you have thought that there would have been a better design or a more efficient design?
For the amplifier, yes. They asked a fellow at Harvard Engineering Department if he had what we needed. So the person responsible for the procurement took that device, gave it to a manufacturer, and said, “We want 10 of these.” Well, it had been built with surplus vacuum tubes by the professor that built the original. [Laughs] But they worked.
That’s interesting. That pretty much characterizes your involvement with the tracking.
By 1956 at least, you published a paper on ultraviolet stellar magnitudes, and this was for a volume that was edited by James Van Allen. I would love it if you could just walk through how you came to do that ultraviolet catalog, that paper of what the sky would look like in the ultraviolet.
That was 1956?
It was published in ‘56, and this was from a symposium on the scientific uses of earth satellites.
It was two years later before we had these meetings at the observatory. All of the astronomers who were interested in Earth satellites were interested not only in what they could tell us about the Earth, but interested in the possibility of getting telescopes above the atmosphere. From the astrophysical point of view, the most important reason at the time for getting telescopes above the atmosphere was to observe the ultraviolet light from stars. Rockets were able to do this for the sun, and all sorts of spectacular things were coming from the surplus V2s. But in order to do anything fainter than the sun, we needed something to stay up longer. So astronomers everywhere were very excited about how can we get a telescope up there, and what should we do with it when we do?
This was even in ‘55, ‘54?
Do you remember how you were asked to participate in this conference that Van Allen put together, or did you actually participate?
Yes. I actually participated. That was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, right?
Yes. Who asked you to do that first?
Had you done any work like this before? This is photometric work.
Well, I’d done this kind of work in the optical spectral region.
Did you keep your classified clearance through this time?
Well, I certainly still had it in 1956. I can’t remember now whether that was a classified conference or not.
It was published unclassified, but I don’t know whether there was any classified element to it.
I can’t remember now whether there was a classified element to it, but as soon as it became unnecessary for me to retain the secret clearance, I let it lapse.
When did it become unnecessary?
I remember going to the conference. My recollection is that the conference was classified, but everything that the conference talked about became declassified before the proceedings were published.
Who did you meet there, and do you have any recollections of that conference?
I met John O’Keefe. He was my roommate in the dormitory. Aside from that, I have no strong recollections of the conference, other than the fact that it was in Ann Arbor.
Well, let me ask this about Fred Whipple. Do you remember when he asked you to do this work of seeing what ultraviolet colors would be like for stars as a function of temperature? Did he talk to you at all about actually building a satellite to observe them?
Yes. This was in our discussions all the time during satellite tracking. When we got around to brainstorming, this was what we talked about — how can we use this new technique to benefit astrophysics?
Let’s talk about these brainstorm sessions. How formal were they? How did they start?
Well, the ones in February of 1958 were reasonably formal.
You have mimeographed records of them. Is that right?
This is worse than mimeographed. This is multilith. You put a multilithed document in sunlight and the printing disappears.
Well, we’ve got to be careful, then. This document states space research meeting for February 9, 1958. Is this the first meeting?
This was the first time that a meeting like this was actually done with the thought of getting something accomplished, as opposed to just general chatting about it. We’d been chatting about it for two years, and all of the people in this list had been in on the chats mostly two-by-two.
Reading it for the tape, “Menzel, Whipple, MRS. Gaposchkin, Hynek, Stern, Schilling, Fireman, Rinehart, J., Whitney, Billings, Krook, and Davis. Additional guests at lunch and meeting, Mr. Nunn and Dr. Layzer.” Dr. Gold was not present, and you were listed as the recorder.
I took the notes in shorthand.
It looked like, to go so far as to say, “not present, Dr. Gold.” Does that mean that everybody here was officially a member of a committee?
There was nothing official about it. These were the people that were interested and these were the people that came, and the 25th of February, Professor Gold was present.
So how many meetings like this did you have?
Just these two.
The second meeting, which is 25th of February ‘58, you had separate proposals —“Studies of Lunar Planetology” and “A Satellite-based Astronomical Telescope.” Apparently there are separate proposals for both of these. Do you have copies of these proposals?
No. At least I didn’t run across them when I was looking through the things that I kept.
Who wrote the proposal of Satellite-based Astronomical Telescope?
Myself, Chuck Whitney, Dick McCrosky, and Karl Henize, with Fred Whipple reviewing everything and adding his comments and suggestions.
In 1959 AJ, four of you — Davis, McCrosky, Whipple, and Whitney — published a plan for operating an astronomical telescope in an Earth satellite. Would you say that this proposal of “A Satellite-based Astronomical Telescope” was the progenitor of that paper?
So Henize was no longer on there.
Henize went to the University of Chicago. I think it was the same time that Allen Hynek did, but I can’t remember which year that was.
Hynek left pretty early, maybe about ’59?
They went at the same time.
Oh, I see. I didn’t know that. Can you remember these meetings and what were the flavor of the meetings? Who actually ran the meeting?
Fred Whipple pretty much ran the meeting.
Who did most of the talking? [Aside: Mrs. Davis brings in cartoons of aliens by Donald Menzel.] I certainly hope I can copy those. Those are incredible.
I had the nicest collection for you. Documentals, little designs. Dr. Menzel would send — I’ll find them. I have so much stuff downstairs I’m sorting out, and I had a little file. Every Valentine’s Day and sometimes on New Year’s, Dr. Menzel would make his cute designs of outer space characters and send them out. I’ve seen the treasury bill. He sent them, sometimes, to all the ladies for Valentine’s Day. I didn’t know if you knew about those.
They even appear in Ph.D. theses. Jay Pasachoff put one in as his frontispiece and went to publish them in various places.
Oh, he did? I didn’t know that. We were all delighted to have those. I came across some the other day. Since you have seen them, I didn’t know if you’d want to see them.
I’d love to see them, sure.
I’ll find them. I have several things going at the same time here.
Basically everybody just talked one at a time. But they were small meetings, so they didn’t really need a moderator. It wasn’t that formal.
Other than the fact that you were the recorder. It seems like what I would call “blue sky meetings,” where everybody was encouraged to come up with ideas. Were there any rules like you can’t criticize somebody else’s strange idea? Everybody should feel free to come out to all the meetings?
That rule was never expressed, but everybody that came accepted that rule as an unwritten rule and adhered to it.
It says Harvard College Observatory on it. Where was the Smithsonian in this project?
The Smithsonian was there in the person of Fred Whipple, who was Director. Allen Hynek who was there too.
So Whipple and Hynek represented the Smithsonian, but also Rinehart, J. was part of it. So was Schilling.
Yes. They were Smithsonian.
So a good number of Smithsonian people, but then Menzel was there, and Gold.
Basically Smithsonian and Harvard at the scientific level were always considering themselves as being together in everything.
So this was not a project that Smithsonian would be doing independent of Harvard necessarily?
By the time it came around to getting funding, Smithsonian was the one that went after the funding.
Was the feeling around the table, or at least certainly in your mind — and I’d like to see if there’s a way to distinguish those two things — that the Harvard Smithsonian, however, was going to actually build something to fly into space?
In February of 1958, that was the hope. But nobody said that they knew how to get the money for it. I know that as a direct outcome of this, the five of us put together a proposal which was one of four similar proposals that landed on the desk of the director of.
I know that Fred Whipple communicated with the ABMA, the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, and with NACA.
Yes. But the proposal ended up on NASA’s desk because NASA was created… By the time the proposal was ready to send to somebody, we knew that NASA was going to be the place to send it to if we waited one more month.
Exactly. But meanwhile, you were deliberating from February through the spring and the first records we have are from Hugh Dryden to Fred Whipple, and that’s June of 1958. Dryden is saying, “Very interested in the project to develop and operate a telescope in a satellite.” Dryden was not yet at NASA, and he was at the NACA at that time. Then July 1st Carmichael, who was the Smithsonian secretary, sends a letter to ABMA with a proposal and a budget for an astronomical telescope in a satellite orbit. My question is, during this time — and there was no NASA. NASA was being deliberated in Congress, but there were differences of opinion as to whether there should be a NASA. I would love to know your recollections of what your feelings were about that and more, especially, what Whipple’s feelings were. Did you discuss how, on a national basis, this should be done?
All of that was between Fred Whipple and these other agencies. He didn’t pull us into that. The first time I got pulled in at that level was when NASA was going to exist, and the decision was this proposal that we put together was going to be on NASA’s desk the day that NASA started in business. I was in on meetings with NASA, but the only meeting I remember with the military side of things was two years earlier when it was satellite tracking.
On July 3, 1958, Whipple writes to Nielson and Ledwith. I’m not sure who they are.
Ledwith was the electronic engineer that took over all responsibilities for the timekeeping equipment as a fulltime job as the Baker-Nunns were being established. Nielson — I can’t remember what his job was. I do remember that he flew a couple of balloons, but I can’t remember what he did.
Whipple is saying to them in July 3, 1958, “The prime responsibility for this early development work rests on the shoulders of Mr. Davis.” So, he made the decision by that time that you were running the show basically for him. Up to that time, was there any question as to who would be spending most of the time? Did you ever go and offer your services? Or did Whipple simply turn to you, or were there other people who might have been asked to do this work?
Chuck Whitney might have been asked. Dick McCrosky might have been asked.
So you don’t know for sure yourself?
I don’t know for sure, no.
They were both senior to you.
Well, they both had received their Ph.D.s. McCrosky is older than I am. Chuck Whitney is the same age, but he didn’t spend any military time, so he got his Ph.D. a few years earlier.
Right. Good point. Yet, your time in the Navy was a rather important part of your training I would think. Would you agree with that, in terms of what you were about to embark on?
I’d like to have a sense of what you feel was important there.
Well, the leadership training that officers go through. How do you manage not all the details, but the technical details of a project? The Navy also taught me that you don’t have to be asleep at night. [Laughs]
Oh, that means you’re working 24/7?
You’re working 24/7, and you sleep when you can get it.
In other words you knew this was going to be a big job. One of the issues about the whole project was how big it was going to be. By that I mean, it’s one thing to build a payload. It’s another thing to build a satellite. It’s another thing to build a tracking station.
We wanted something like this in 1960.
So what I’m looking at Astronomical Science’s review. “An Astronomical Telescope in Space,” page 9, January to March 1959. Now that looks like single telescope.
It’s a single telescope. And when we had that first meeting with NASA, they said, “Think big.” So we changed it to four telescopes and it was still too small so they put us in Wisconsin in the same satellite looking out opposite ends. They said we weren’t thinking big enough.
Who was that who was saying that?
It was whoever we were talking with down at NASA. I can’t remember now who was in that original meeting. The first project director that I remember was Bob Ziemer. I don’t know whether he was in on that original meeting or not.
Now in this article — and I have seen this article, but only in a very poor copy. This is the first original I’ve seen and it’s really very nice.
I’ve got another original.
You have several copies. That’s great because I’d like to be able to reproduce these graphics here. I remember you said here on page — it’s not paginated — but right under Figure 2 under the ground stations it says, “We have kept our satellite as simple as possible without seriously limiting its potentialities for astrophysical research.” When I look at the diagram, which is Figure 1, the schematic, it looks like it is a single, almost like a Herschelian telescope, that has gimbals and various other elements to it that indeed are very simple. And you have a rotating filter wheel, and you have an image tube inside of a television camera. So that was the basic concept. Can you tell me who came up with this graphic concept here as it’s displayed here? Because you are the first author.
Basically the sketches, I did, and the artwork was done by some lovely professionals we had over in the publications department.
It’s a little difficult for me to understand this whole structure here. As we look at Figure 1, is this basically just a sort of a light baffle? The thing that says C and the cylinder around B?
C is a mirror cap — something to keep the light out when you’re looking in a direction that’s dangerous. The light comes through there.
And the mirror is at Z? No. I can’t quite tell.
The mirror is at M.
Then it reflects back up? Because the diagram over here, Figure 4 shows —
Yes. This is the Herschelian telescope. It shows the optical design of the telescope.
Okay. So it’s an off-axis primary feeding a single image tube, and that’s what you guys had in mind? Was there a sense of haste? In other words you know how to keep it simple to get it launched?
We wanted to keep it simple to get it launched.
What was the argument behind that? Why did you want to do it that way?
We wanted to do it that way so that the observational capability would be compatible with the scientific reason for doing it. We knew that the longer it takes to build something, if you don’t change the design while you’re going along, the science might pass you by and the instrument might be doing science that’s already been done.
You already had mentioned that in your first meeting with NASA, they wanted you to think big. Did you resist that?
You didn’t, personally.
I didn’t personally. Fred grumbled a bit about it.
He did? He grumbled to you?
He grumbled to me.
Was he worried, just for the reason that you said?
I didn’t detect any worry at that time, no.
Now things start happening at this point, and it gets really quite complex. You are literally put in charge of a project that has so many unknowns in it. How did you feel about that?
For several years I felt euphoric about that. But when things started going wrong, it became somewhat of a grind.
When did this start going wrong?
This was when it became obvious to everybody that we weren’t going to have our part of it ready by the launch date.
And the original launch date was ‘62 wasn’t it? Or am I wrong by that?
I’m talking about the original realistic launch date, which I thought was later than ‘62. But the one where they took an X-ray instrument out of display in the World’s Fair and put it behind Wisconsin. The OAO was launched. It had multitudinous problems. The one that killed it was the batteries overheated and exploded. That was the one that we weren’t ready, and they launched it when the other experiments were ready. But the spacecraft itself, if the temperature control hadn’t been so bad, there was some software in the pointing that would have killed it within two or three more days anyhow.
Oh, really? So there was a lot wrong with it?
There was a lot wrong with it. One of the things that came out of it was taking Bob Ziemer off of being project manager and putting on someone named Joe Purcell.
This was on the Smithsonian side?
No, this was on the NASA side.
This was somebody who worked for Nancy Roman?
No, these people didn’t work for Nancy. Nancy was the scientific leader of all astronomy or at least all astrophysics. Jim Kupperian was the NASA astronomer.
Were you responsible during this period, as you were running this project, for actual hiring of people?
The answer is no. I had responsibility for deciding who I thought was appropriate to hire for some of the jobs. But the personnel office had all sorts of final say on everything.
Oh, the personnel office did, yes. I’m thinking also in terms of scientific colleagues.
Yes. I remember the people were involved in the ground station operations like Bill Deutschman. I was closely involved in deciding who to hire for that.
In September of ‘58, which is still quite early, you contacted people in the West for advice on choosing a site for a ground station. Was it Whipple’s insistence, or his view that you and the Smithsonian would be creating your own ground stations and not using, let’s say military ground stations?
That was his thought before the project got its identity. But once it got its identity, NASA insisted — insisted is a stronger verb. But anyhow, NASA took the responsibility for the spacecraft, giving us the responsibility for what goes in the spacecraft but not for the spacecraft itself. And NASA took the responsibility for the ground stations.
How did you feel about that?
That seemed fine to me.
How did Whipple react to it?
He didn’t express any dismay to me.
Because I know that he did campaign to manage ground stations, and I’m wondering if you were aware of that. Because you were definitely making some plans here, so it was just curious to me since the Air Force certainly had ground stations.
The Smithsonian already had 12 ground stations.
Sure for the Baker-Nunns. But this was also radio, I think.
They would need telemetry.
Exactly. And you knew something about electronics and that sort of thing. Were you involved in at least devising what could be a telemetry station, a ground station?
No, I wasn’t involved in that.
Also in September, you started contacting different instrument companies about developing television image tubes. It was a very interesting meeting you had. You visited GE in late September, about ‘58, and you recorded that they favored the recovery of data on film rather than telemetry. But you favor telemetry. Could you reconstruct in your mind or for me what the various options were and who did you talk to at GE?
I can’t remember that meeting with GE. Does it say which city it was in?
No, it doesn’t say the city. It just says September 27, ‘58. Would it have been Schenectady?
I remember visiting GE in Philadelphia, but I don’t remember any details of the meeting.
The company you contacted for the television image tube initially was Flee’s Instrument Division and a fellow named Robert Lee. Does that ring a bell?
That doesn’t ring a bell, no.
But your problem was to find a television image tube and that would set to be sensitive to ultraviolet?
The two that we worked with closely were Westinghouse Research Laboratories and a company in Texas, General Devices.
That was the one. Did you know about these people? Did somebody tell you about them?
The ones that I can’t remember were part of the search. Basically I got in touch with every company I could find out about that manufactured television tubes and talked with them. Westinghouse, which ended up building them, I was favorably impressed with. The General Devices Company I was favorably impressed with, but my pleasure with them faded, whereas the Westinghouse people remained responsive and competent.
There was something called an Ebicon.
The Ebicon was a device that had electron bombardment by induced conductivity where the photoelectrons hit an electron-sensitive target, which converts that into an image. We originally thought we’d use that principle, but the principle that ended up being successful was called the SEC Vidicon. With our UV-sensitive photocathode, it was called the Uvicon.
From your records, by the end of the year 1958, you had reported and I’m not sure to whom — you had already proposed to NASA at that point, but you didn’t know what the outcome was going to be yet — and you recorded that, “We have decided to start a small-scale attack on the problem of an ultraviolet television image tube here in our Cambridge laboratories pending the outcome of the NASA proposal.” So you set-up a small image tube or a TV tube laboratory. Could you tell me something about that?
I think that might have been where George Nielson was working. It didn’t result in any successes.
You had indicated before that your feeling was one of euphoria building this up. But I should think that the unknowns were daunting and it must have been something of that order to you. Especially, as you say, you built up this shop and nothing came of it. What were the frustrations? Do you remember any of that kind of process?
I remember my discussions with Westinghouse. And it became very obvious that you needed something the size of Westinghouse to do this kind of a job, because the unknowns were less of a quantum jump for them than it would have been for us.
But it certainly was a huge jump.
So you were basically working on a contract model?
So far as Westinghouse was concerned, yes.
How did you feel monitoring a project that big? Did you understand the physics? Did you understand the engineering? Or did you feel you had to understand?
No. I came close enough to understanding each of the things. As the Westinghouse engineers explained to me what was involved in manufacturing a new kind of image tube, I could understand why certain things were problems. For instance, the EBIC principle never quite worked right, and as I said, the Uvicon does work as a secondary emission photo cathode.
Who did you work with most closely at Westinghouse? Who was your point person?
I can’t remember the names of the people there. One of the fellows I met again in Baltimore a few years later became a Vice President in charge of Operations in Baltimore.
Let’s see if I run across any names here. You describe the funding for the WEC. Is that Westinghouse?
Westinghouse Electric Company.
Contract via memo to Bradley and Harmon. I guess they’d be Smithsonian people.
Bradley was the Assistant Secretary or Associate Secretary for Administration under Carmichael, and who was the second person?
I can’t remember his function. There was somebody named Anderson.
Somebody named Grossi?
Oh, he worked for me.
OK. Before we get that far, in May of 1959 I guess it was, you submitted a proposal to the Lyman labs for using the Cambridge accelerator. The purpose there I think was for creating UV and X-ray standards?
That was for calibration. That was a source of known intensity UV light. We ended up using a bolometer as our primary standard. That way instead of having a huge synchrotron delivering the radiation we had a little bitty quartz mercury tube. Well, we had to measure the sensitivity in absolute units, and we used a bolometer as our primary standard, converting the ultraviolet light into heat.
In the ultimate design, the Celescope had a standard source?
The Celescope had a xenon emission lamp. We measured its output and we also measured the Uvicon sensitivity in our ultraviolet calibration lab. The xenon lamp kept things honest. We knew that the Uvicons were going to change with time. We presumed that the xenon lamps would not and then of course we measured standard stars as soon and as often as we could.
Right. But as I understand it, something in the calibration system wasn’t as consistent as you’d hoped.
It was the sensitivity of the detectors. Their sensitivity decayed faster than we’d hoped for.
So the corrections were much greater?
The corrections were greater than we’d anticipated.
OK. We’ll return to this later. Now, what was the first launch date that you felt was realistic back in the ‘59, ‘60, ‘61 period?
Up until the actual preflight testing, we thought the ‘62 launch date was realistic.
You felt that was okay. When did you start realizing that that wasn’t going to work?
About four or five months before the date that it had to be shipped to Cape Kennedy [Cape Canaveral].
Where did the integration take place?
Goddard Space Flight Center.
So all of the integration, all of that stuff occurred there? You must have started traveling down to Goddard quite a bit.
There was one year that I made 48 round trips.
48 round trips? Wow. And was this by train, car, plane?
Plane to Baltimore and to Washington National. My recollection is I didn’t start preferring Baltimore until after 1962. There wasn’t any real difference in the distance and it was just a question of do I want to drive through the District or around it?
Exactly. Okay, going back a little ways, in a memo that you wrote to Whipple in June of ’60. You said, “The most serious non-financial problem with Celescope is the procurement of an adequate electronics staff.” Does that ring a bell? Who did you have working for you there who had electronic expertise, and what did you mean?
There was Mario Grossi, and he never severed his ties with Raytheon. He was paid by Smithsonian three-fifths of the time; he was paid by Raytheon three-fifths of the time. He worked six days a week — three for us and three for them.
What did Peter Hoffmann do?
Well, Peter Hoffmann was a laboratory technician.
Steve Sydor, what did he do for you?
Steve was an expert in the manufacture of telescope optics.
I know that at that point there were a number of things going on. There was still a question of a ground station, hopefully, a Goddard ground station operation. You’d asked for more ground stations than NASA was willing to give you? Isn’t that right?
So there was a question of how you were going to obtain data. Did you ever talk about some kind of a recording device onboard, or you just needed real time?
We needed real time.
Because this was just huge. This is not a digital signal. This is an analog signal basically. Although, what about the electronics?
That may have been before we hired Mario Grossi and Yasushi Nozawa.
You had Grossi at least mentioned earlier than that, but he was mainly doing stuff related to ground stations. You mentioned a Japanese fellow?
Okay, and you’re looking at an annual report.
The report by Dr. Whipple. What about Frank Nitchie? What did Frank Nitchie do?
He was on the business side of things.
Oh, business side. A very nice person. All those people were so nice to know.
Throughout this time, there are various memos about getting more support from NASA. And it sounds like NASA was not coming through with funds or they weren’t approving the funds that you said you needed. What was your general feeling about that?
Well, just the general feeling was if we were insistent and persistent enough we’d get what we needed. And we got what we needed.
You feel you did?
Because there were a lot of indications, at least in the record, that you had to rattle cages a lot.
Oh, we did have to rattle a lot of cages. Fred Whipple did most of the rattling.
But you apparently did some yourself.
These are your publications?
That’s the annual report.
Quite right. What I wanted to try to do is get at the daily operation, the feeling for what it was like. Because in my mind at least, this was a bigger leap for astronomers than the space telescope was. You know, the present Hubble Space Telescope? I mean getting into space at all from literally nothing was incomprehensibly difficult in my mind. You were saying in August of ‘60, “When I saw Jim Bradley on Monday, he suggested you telephone in and discuss with him how to stir up the Celescope backing in NASA. He would like to talk about it and find out what he could do by going down there to prod the right people.” These were the kinds of strategy things you were constantly going through?
And at the same time you were trying to get Smithsonian more able to pay for job hunters because you were having trouble attracting people, who could not wait for the usual delay of federal hirings. You said, “Smithsonian cannot pay agency fee, and this has lost us some candidates.” So this is all at about the time that you’re trying to acquire good electronic people. Does any of that help you remember what the state of affairs was at that time?
The state of affairs was that the hiring process was administratively very complicated.
I remember there was one individual you kept saying was not good, he just wasn’t good. He didn’t seem to be effective.
Well, no, the people that didn’t produce didn’t stay with us very long.
No. I just remember one individual, but I can’t recall his name.
Well, I can’t recall his name either, but I can remember. He was only with us for a week. He was only there for a week.
Sometimes there’s a procurement officer or there’s a particular office in the Smithsonian where everything simply stops. You can’t get beyond it unless you just absolutely raise all sorts of trouble.
I remember when satellite tracking was winding down. The people that didn’t want to lay off anybody unnecessary transferred a whole lot of warm bodies to us with the idea that we could figure out how to use them. They were already on the payroll. Some of them were good and some of them were useless.
There was also something that comes up a number of times, and it also came up in an interview with Fred Whipple. And that is that there was interest through late 1960 itself and into ‘61 about also constructing an X-ray telescope.
We were involved in that. Albert Baez. He was Joan Baez’ father. He was very interested in that. We even had a conference on X-ray astronomy, and we tested a few devices.
Was this something that you personally were interested in?
I was interested in it, yes. But the ball bounced toward MIT.
Bruno Rossi and Giaconi?
Ah, yes, it was Giaconi who was the one that came from MIT to Smithsonian and pursued that. So we started the ball bouncing, but we had plenty to do without keeping it for ourselves. Al Baez was only with us for a year. He worked for UNESCO in Paris after he left us.
Okay, so you didn’t pursue that, although through ‘61 you wrote a letter to Nancy Roman, for instance in February of ‘61, explaining what you wanted to do in X-ray imaging that you’d be running in conjunction with Lockheed. So I know that Lockheed had a group of people who were doing X-ray, mainly classified stuff. Do you remember talking to people at Lockheed about this program?
Yes, I remember talking to people at Lockheed. I can’t remember any of the details or who I talked with.
You said something really interesting to this guy. You said — you’re writing to Roman, actually — and you say, “You will not make any decision concerning X-ray aerial photometry” — which means mapping I would assume. You wanted an X-ray map of the sky — “for Celescope’s participation in OAO until we are reasonably assured that there are X-rays to investigate.” Remember that?
So you had no idea what was out there?
This is, in fact, before Giaconi’s 1962 identification.
Well, I think Giaconi was at those meetings. We had some meetings at Harvard. I think Giaconi was at those meetings.
Were there arguments at that time whether it made any sense to try to build X-ray telescopes?
The only X-ray emission that could be predicted at that time was similar to the solar X-rays, which would be too weak to see at stellar distances.
But still you were interested in searching even though there may not be something there. You feel that it made a big difference for Giaconi to actually be able to find those discrete sources?
It made a great difference.
Okay, that’s helpful. Now it still continues through ‘61, difficulty hiring electronic engineers. I think the strongest statement you said was also in February of ‘61, saying, “The presently planned program of Celescope, this situation, if continued, will very shortly be disastrous.” That sounds pretty serious. What was going on?
We needed somebody that could determine whether the companies that could bid on this were capable of doing the job right.
This was too much for you to do, I take it.
Yes. Well, among other things, my electronic training was with vacuum tubes. And vacuum tubes were not the technique of choice in 1960.
Did you finally get people on time or before it was a disaster?
Yes. Yasushi Nozawa and Arnie Goldstein. Arnold Goldstein and Sam J. Goldstein, pronounced Goldstein differently, but spelled their names the same.
By later in the spring it must be that you started finding out stuff that you didn’t like, because you said, concerning the contract, “There’s a distinct feeling among our staff at SAO that Westinghouse feels that they have this program sewed up, and to put it bluntly, are about to milk us for what they can get out of us.” That sound familiar?
Yes. It turned that it was General Devices that did that.
Were they subcontracting to Westinghouse?
No, they were in competition with Westinghouse.
So they were both in competition at this time? You hadn’t decided for Westinghouse. How did you finally decide that?
General Devices was incapable of producing a device that worked. Westinghouse produced one.
Now, Nitchie and Grossi apparently were also reporting back to you on their discussions with the Goddard team. Who was on the Goddard team? This was the engineering team or the science team?
This was the engineering team. Jim Kupperion was the scientific representative. Bob Ziemer and John Ainley were on the organizational side of it. They had an over-all view. Bob was the director of all the OAO operations. Then there were individual engineers for each specific thing that had to get done.
Moving through it, things started looking better in 1962. But in June, you said in the Monthly Progress Report No. 8, “Lack of a qualified ultraviolet sensitive camera tube continues to be the major problem.” But by July 12th in Progress Report No. 9, “Westinghouse achieved significant advances in their efforts to produce qualified Uvicon tubes.”
Yes. That was about the time they abandoned trying to make Ebicons work.
How did they come to that realization?
Well, they had been working with Vidicons. Vidicons had been available for a long time, and SEC Vidicons were a breakthrough in that area. Basically, they worked for the EBIC principle. They were never able to make a real tube that used that principle and worked.
So, that’s when they shifted, in 1962. Right then.
Okay. And that is a shift or an evolution that, in a way, you were completely dependent upon Westinghouse to deal with. You or no one at SAO was able to deal with that?
That helps clarify it. One thing in Report No. 9 which is quite interesting was that a tentative decision has been made by SAO to eliminate the spectroscope in the Celescope experiment and replace it with a fourth broadband television photometer.
That’s just a question of “What do we put in front of the detector”? For a slitless spectroscope, you put a prismatic wedge in front of the detector, and each star is a streak of spectrally separated light.
So there were always four Schwarzschild cameras, and it’s just what you put in front?
It’s what you put in front of them to accept different light wavelengths — so how you decide what the color of the stars is.
Why did you decide not to go with this slitless spectroscope at all? Wouldn’t that have given you greater versatility?
I think it was mostly that we knew that there were going to be proper spectroscopes in the OAOs that were going to come out soon after that, and that the broadband would give us more stars.
How did you decide on a Schwarzschild design? I mean you had a Herschelian design.
That was a phone call with Jim Baker. I told him what he already knew. He was in pretty close contact with us. He knew what our requirements were, and he simply said, when I talked to him on the phone for a few minutes, “What we need is Schwarzschild camera.”
That’s quite a fundamental change. That must have been way earlier, though, in ‘59 or so?
It was along in there someplace that I had that discussion with Jim Baker and looked at the original Schwarzschild document, the original Schwarzschild paper, which was written about the early 1900s.
This is because of the flat field?
No. As a matter of fact, the Uvicon required a curved field, and we had recurved the Schwarzschild’s flat field by appropriate refractive optics. The Uvicon faceplate changes the flat field that naturally comes out of Schwarzschild. The reason for the Schwarzschild camera was that it was the most compact design that would give a focus inside the telescope, and we wanted the focus in the middle of the telescope. We didn’t want it behind the telescope like a Cassegrain would give.
And why was that?
To save space.
That makes sense. We’re talking about how you talked to Jim Baker about going from a Herschelian to a Schwarzschild and the fact that even though the Schwarzschild provided a flat field, you still needed to modify that for the Uvicons.
Yes. The Schwarzschild put the focus in the right place, namely right in the middle of the telescope. We couldn’t use any major refractive optics because of the need for ultraviolet transmission. But the Uvicon faceplate of course had to be transparent to ultraviolet, and we made them from lithium fluoride for the shorter wavelengths. But that was what ruled out a Schmidt telescope, which also has the focus in the center. And actually a Schmidt telescope has a curved focal surface. So the faceplate of the Uvicon was made highly concave on both sides to move the flat field into the right curvature for the inner face.
Moving on through ‘62, by the end of ‘62, in Monthly Progress Report No. 14, you reported that you’re worried that the present funding for Westinghouse was going to be exhausted quite soon. There’s still a quality control problem, and that not everything will have been done by the end of that. So it seems like there was a continuing money flow and pressure to get more support. By March of ‘63, there was a formal review of financial transactions of the Celescope contract. This stated that, “The purpose of the study is to determine the causes and events leading up to Smithsonian Institution becoming over-obligated in December ‘62 on the Celescope program.” What was going on there? What was the over-obligation?
I can’t remember the details, but apparently Westinghouse was told to keep going with money that wasn’t in the pocket yet.
Was that your decision to do?
No. All of the financial and legal aspects of this were being handled by the other group of people that were working with me but not for me.
Who were they?
There was the project administrator. I’m trying to remember who — Back at that time it was probably Frank Nitchie.
Yeah, his name does come up.
George Megerian was in there for a little while. Jack Burke was the one that got everything under control. I can’t remember exactly when Jack showed up.
It said “budget matters had been handled by Mr. Megerian, and they’ve had their ups and downs.” Now Megerian worked, I thought, for GE.
He worked for GE. Then he came to us for a few months, and then he went to the Boston office of the Department of Transportation.
Okay, but he was still with you. In 1962, I guess it was as early as March, you were designated in March as Project Scientist, and Megerian was Project Manager. There was a specific delegation of how the different responsibilities broke down.
It wasn’t the Department of Transportation. NASA originally had a Boston office, and the office stayed there after it was reassigned to the Department of Transportation. But I think when Megerian moved over there it was still NASA.
But he was still working for you at that time?
Yes. Well, he was working with me, not for me.
Okay. Then who was he working for?
I think if you looked at the organization chart he was working for Fred Whipple.
For Whipple or not Carol Tillinghast?
Well, whether it was Tillinghast or Bartnick, whichever one. I can’t remember.
Everybody worked for Whipple eventually.
Yes. He would have been working for Tillinghast or for his successor, Bob Bartnick. And I was working for Chuck Lundquist.
But there was a lot of complicated stuff going on at this time. Carmichael apparently delegated various responsibilities to SI contracting officers down in Washington. And Whipple, you, and Megerian were unaware of this. Megerian continued to make contract changes and approvals. So it sounded like there was a breakdown in the chain of command, a lack of communication within the SI. Does that sound familiar?
It sounds familiar, but I wasn’t directly involved in it.
Yes, I can see that, because there was also, in this financial review they criticized Whipple. They said basically Whipple’s decision to split the organization between you and Megerian had some very real dangers. And here’s a quote, “By freeing the project scientist, you, of administrative and developmental burdens, Dr. Whipple more or less places the project scientist in a vacuum.” Okay. So you didn’t know what was going on. And as a result of this, staffing is a very, very delicate subject. Now, you were the person who was being at least identified as the person who should have been in the know, but you weren’t. You were kept out of it. How aware were you of that?
Well, I never thought that George Megerian was working in the best interest of anybody except George Megerian, but he wasn’t there very long. Jack Burke, who basically had the same job, worked very closely with me and kept me informed as to what was going on.
And was that after the March 1963 review?
Yes. It must have been.
Did Leo McGrath work with you at all?
I remember the name, but I don’t remember the person, so I don’t think so.
He was managing the Baker-Nunn photographic reduction office. I talked with him mainly about Baker-Nunn stuff that he mentioned. And we discussed a little bit that he was asked to spend a few hours part-time doing pure project budget work for the Celescope project during this period.
If it was budget work, he would have been in remote contact with me and direct contact with George Megerian.
Okay, and he also did some contract management. So that would have also been Megerian?
Do you know why or how Megerian came to be the project manager? Who designated him?
Well, he was hired. He was basically hired for that job.
He was the GE person who acted as secretary of the Upper Air Rocket Research Panel under Porter, from 1946 to the early ‘60s, when the V2 Panel essentially became the Upper Air Rocket Research Panel.
He was older than I am. I didn’t think he was that old.
Okay, starting in May, some of the stuff gets worked out, but then you start having problems with EMR. That’s another contractor?
Well, that was the prime contractor. EMR was basically it. They built everything except the optics and the detector.
Who built the optics?
Ferson Optical Company in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Do you know how they were chosen?
It was competitive bidding. Being a small company, a specialized company, and in Mississippi, they were the low bidder. We carefully analyzed their competence to make sure they were able to do it.
I think Fred Ferson was an amateur telescope maker.
Well, he was a professional telescope maker by then. But yes, he started out that way.
Just curious if you knew his history, because he’s a famous name. But at one point in May, Goddard was not happy with the test plan that EMR came up with, or at least that Ferson must have come up with.
The only tests involving Ferson were basically I did the telescope make images? All of the other testing to make sure that it would survive launch and so forth was EMR’s responsibility before it got to Goddard, and Goddard’s, ours, and EMR’s responsibility together after it got there. Now, there were major administrative problems at EMR in this general timescale. And the President, who never set foot on the property, came and fired the Vice President who was running things in Sarasota. Before that happened, the competent people had been replaced by incompetents by an incompetent Vice President. We got the competent people back after the Vice President got canned.
Oh, so the President was on the right side?
The President was on the right side, but he never came to work. He just sat at home and collected his money, except when something like this happened. The Vice President was in charge of a lot more than just us.
I see. What a mess. There were a lot of memos running back and forth between Hurlbut (I wonder who he is) to Tillinghast. I know about Tillinghast, but does Hurlbut sound familiar?
He sounds familiar, but I can’t remember.
It was all contracting stuff. Did you get more involved with contracting after Burke took over as manager? Did he keep you informed?
He kept me informed, yes.
So that helped?
In July of ‘64, Harry Goett of NASA.
He was Director of Goddard.
He was writing to Whipple. Goddard is still unhappy with aspects of the SAO experiment. Do you know what he was reacting against? Because he said, “You will be able to show...”
He was reacting against the problems that were developing down at EMR when management became incompetent and replaced the engineers with incompetent engineers.
He said, “It’s hoped that on our meeting on the 16th, you will be able to show Goddard Space Flight Center how the status of your experiment can be measurably improved.”
And at that meeting, what we found out was that Harry Goett was canned the day before and the next director of Goddard was the one that was in charge of the meeting: John F. Clark.
Well, how did that affect the experiment or the meeting?
Aside from surprise, we went on with the meeting that we’d planned to have with Harry Goett. I remember walking into the Fireside Restaurant, which is the only restaurant between Greenbelt and our motel.
Yes, Fireside. And Harry Goett is in there eating lunch. I chatted with him about what had happened, and he didn’t act too dismayed or surprised.
Amazing. Oh, I meant to ask you. This will be way out of context, but I can always reinsert it. Do you remember where those meetings in 1958, the two meetings in February of ‘58 —
Yes, the Building A classroom at Harvard Observatory.
Yes. It’s the brick building that was built about 1952 or so. It’s the newest bricks. After that they built them in concrete. At the entrance, which is at the north end of the building, there are stairs up to the top floor and down to the bottom floor. And you go down to the bottom floor and the classroom is on your right. That’s where the meeting was.
Where was your office at that time?
I had an office on the ground floor of A Building. I had an office on the middle floor of C Building. I had an office at 1 Story Street, which is about a mile closer to Harvard Square. My office was probably on the ground floor of A Building at that time.
So it was next to the classroom?
It was within a few steps of the classroom, yes.
I have to ask a few more questions about it. I hope you don’t mind jumping back there. Is that okay?
Did Fred Whipple call the meetings, or did you call the meetings?
I did not call the meetings. I think Fred did.
Fred did. And you knew what the meetings would be about?
So there was no mystery.
By this time, all the classified work was long gone — it wasn’t classified anymore.
Did you prepare for that meeting or going to that meeting and what your thinking was at the time? What was your state of mind, what were you thinking about at the meeting, or were you thinking about something else?
Well, I was basically thinking about what astrophysical contributions can be made by putting a telescope up there above the Earth’s atmosphere. I was basically thinking about what can be done. By then I’d done enough looking at it to have settled pretty much on ultraviolet, but I wasn’t yet thinking about television.
Okay, you were thinking possibly of film?
No, I was thinking of photoelectric photometers, one star at a time.
I think I have to ask you a few more questions about that, if that’s all right. You did have different kinds of options. I mentioned to you that GE had asked you why not consider film and retrieval? Did you have any idea how you would get retrieval at that time?
To me it didn’t sound problematic. Since we were thinking of photoelectric recording and that’s narrow channel telemetry, we were not thinking of stretching any of the engineering parameters except maybe stabilization. I talked to people from time to time about stabilization, but I never got deeply enough into it to know what the engineering problems might be. To me, the returning of something physical to Earth sounded like it would be much more development than a simple one-channel telemetry signal.
At that time, there was the Discovery program, the military reconnaissance program to retrieve photographic data from orbit, what was called Corona. Of course that required all sorts of classification clearances at that time.
Also it required need to know, and I never needed to know, so they never told me about it.
So you had no idea that anything like that was happening?
That’s right. The only classified meetings that I went to were directed at the Navy’s satellite development and planning program.
Very early ones. So photoelectric was your first idea: that it would be single star-by-star sort of thing?
Why did that change to the image tube? Did you make that decision, Fred Whipple, or NASA?
It was basically me. I talked with Fred about it. By the time NASA existed, we’d pretty much settled on television.
Now the technology though, that was a whole leap.
That’s something I didn’t find out until I started talking to Westinghouse.
Oh, that it was a lot more complicated?
That I can’t do this with the tubes they’d been producing for the broadcast industry. The 1P21 is only a one-channel device.
But that’s what you would have done if you’d done it photoelectric, right?
But wouldn’t it have made more sense for just a real quick and dirty design, which is the sense I got from the initial plans.
That was the initial plan.
So why did it get more complicated at that early point?
It got that much more complicated because when NASA evaluated the only four proposals that they had received (which included one of their own), they went for the Athink [email protected] philosophy. Don’t do anything small and primitive. Go for something big and spectacular.
Even though the astronomers were not particularly?
Wisconsin and Smithsonian were for something quick and dirty.
Wisconsin was photoelectric.
Yes, they were photoelectric. And Goddard Space Flight Center, which was basically Jim Kupperian, were for the same general idea but bigger and better, occupying the whole spacecraft. And Lyman Spitzer’s, from Princeton, was the same idea — one star at a time, but do it with a big telescope.
And longer exposures.
But you can say that you made the decision it must have been with Fred Whipple and talking with other people that you would go to TV technology because you can get more stars?
Because we could get more stars.
But this was before you knew how difficult it would be?
If you had it to do again, would you have stuck with the photoelectric, do you think?
[Pause] It’s hard saying. Yes. Because the next generation of TV detectors was everything that we hoped. Ours was the first, and now they’re using CCDs.
But the SEC Vidicons, which is what you were the first astronomical application of, the SEC Vidicon, as I understand it.
So you were really in untested territory. But the SEC Vidicon stayed in satellite work for quite some time.
Oh, yes. It kept getting better.
But it was basically that design that was just starting out, and you were faced with all the beta testing.
That was part of it. The other, we think that the loss of sensitivity was radiation damage to the lithium fluoride faceplates.
Oh, really? From just solar radiation?
No, not solar radiation. The Van Allen Belt radiation.
So something that even then was not fully understood.
It was not fully understood how fast lithium fluoride would deteriorate.
So it was actually an optical degradation, not electronic?
That’s what we think. Of course we never brought the machine back to measure for sure.
Exactly. Let’s go back to the mid ‘60s and talk about various proposals that you guys made in your status reports on Celescope. In early ‘65, you wanted to use balloons to send up Celescope equipment to test all of your systems. Give me an idea how the idea for doing tests on balloons emerged. Were they supposed to be tests, or was this sort of even another way to get a quick and dirty look at the ultraviolet sky?
It was both. The most important aspect was to make sure that the device could actually see stars. The way that we finally settled on was, we put it on the 61-inch telescope at Oak Ridge Observatory and looked at Vega, which is so bright that the long wavelength end of the Uvicon could see something. And yes, we put it on the telescope, we pointed it at Vega, and we saw Vega through the television. So we knew the system worked.
But would you have preferred to put it on a balloon?
We would have preferred to send it up so that we could get more than just the long ultraviolet wavelength leakage through the atmosphere.
Why didn’t you get the balloon project working? Was it something NASA just didn’t support?
All the money we were able to acquire was directly used by the satellite program. We came close to getting a rocket launch, but somehow or other we never actually ended up on the rocket.
Do you think that the fate of the trajectory of the program would have been different if you actually could have tested by balloon and by rocket?
No. The program would have been the same because the balloon and rocket would have shown us what we found out in the first few hours of being in orbit, namely that the system worked.
Because there wouldn’t have been enough look time for any kind of degradation.
There wouldn’t be any degradation.
And the balloons wouldn’t have gotten you into the Van Allen Belts.
No. The balloons would have gotten us above the ozone. That gives about half of the ultraviolet.
So the argument that you made — and this was from T. W. Taylor.
That’s Ted Taylor with the Institution Smithsonian. He worked for Jim Bradley. He was Assistant Secretary or Associate Secretary for the Administration.
He’s writing on behalf of Celescope SAO to NASA saying that really what was going on is that you’re not willing to wait another two years (because you’ve got your own launch in ‘67) before experimenting in the ultraviolet. So the chance of being able to look at the ultraviolet was a very important part of this. How disappointing was it when NASA didn’t come through to allow you to do that?
It was highly disappointing to all of us involved.
Yes, I could imagine. NASA’s argument was that it was a completely new proposal and it wasn’t part of the present proposal. Does that make any sense to you?
Since we made numerous trips to Wallops Island and were actually scheduled on a rocket, that didn’t make sense to us. It sounds more like it was approved and the approval failed to get renewed.
They regarded it, at least bureaucratically, as an unsolicited proposal and felt that their office couldn’t approve it. That was purely bureaucratic. Now you were going down to Wallops. How close did you get to an actual flight? And what kept you from getting that flight?
We were scheduled for a particular rocket. And I believe that the Uvicon that was scheduled to go onto it stopped working in the test lab.
Okay, so there was a package problem?
There was a package problem, yes.
A containment problem. Yes. I know that through ‘65 through the spring and summer of ‘65 there were problems with the high voltage power supplies, thermal isolation, and the Uvicon production. And Goett at that point — this is still in ’65 — was concerned about that. This was when you were also having all these problems with EMR?
And Whipple wrote to Goett and to Kupperian saying, “Our real problem is EMR. I thank you greatly for stirring up the top management.” So that must have been quite an episode.
And as I said, our part of EMR’s bottom line was miniscule. They don’t can Vice Presidents for one little part.
Chuck Lundquist at this point, though, said that it would be easier to change to a completely new contractor. He thought it would be both to dump EMR and change?
We were in the process of doing that when EMR shook things up and put the people that we just started with back on our project.
Ok. Yes. Because Goett said, “The thought shocks me.” I see. By ’66 where were the tubes being tested to make sure that you were going to be using the best ones, to separate the best ones?
They went first to the laboratory at 60 Garden Street.
So you set up a testing laboratory there?
Oh, yes. We set it up long before ‘66.
Who was running that lab?
What was his background?
Aside from the fact that he’d studied for the Catholic priesthood and decided it would be better to get married and have nine kids, I can’t remember what job he had before he came to us. He worked for Celescope until there was no further need for us to have a laboratory. He was laid off for a month or two, but then they found a job for him in the engineering department, and he worked for Smithsonian until he retired. I can’t remember what his background was.
He must have had something to do with electronics and testing and that sort of thing.
Electronics and testing and laboratory work.
There was another budget review in 1966, in February, where there were considerable cost overruns well over a million dollars $1.7 million. Was that something that was shocking to you at the time?
No. Basically I knew all of that.
Because Jack Burke kept you informed?
One of the problems seemed to be that there was a transfer of responsibility for the procurement of the Uvicons from SAO to EMR.
Oh, yes. Some administrator someplace or other decided that was administratively preferable.
But it cost a lot more money apparently. So these were mainly administrative reasons for the cost overruns. You’re getting closer to a launch. When did you know that you would have a ‘68 launch and not a ‘67? And why was there a slip? Was that due to you?
No, that was the spacecraft. We could not have made it to a ‘67 launch. Our payload would not have been ready for making ‘67. But we were slipping slower than the spacecraft was slipping, and the change in the directorship at Goddard meant that we were able to find out from each other how each other were doing.
By September of ‘67 you were going 24 hours a day in shifts.
Yes. This was during the environmental testing phase.
So that wasn’t a compressed schedule. That was because of the nature of the beast?
Well, it was the interaction of, “Test it. Fix it. Test it. Fix it.”
So you had two or three shifts of people going constantly in that?
We were going 24 hours a day. I think it was a two-shift operation. Nobody lived anywhere near Maryland, so 12-hour shifts for a few weeks wasn’t all that bad.
It says, ASAO plans to cover the Goddard OAO operations activity on a 24 hour per day basis, starting with mission practice activity, continuing through the launch period and up to such time at the launch when operation routines permit lessening of coverage.
So this was the critical time with engineering checkout and everything?
Engineering checkout, launch time activities. I was in Maryland for the launch because you could see better what was happening that way. It might not be as thrilling as watching the rocket go in real time, but you see the same thing and more on television. And as soon as it gets up there, all the action was at Goddard Space Flight Center.
So you made the decision to go to Maryland for the launch. Did anybody from Smithsonian go down to the launch itself?
Yes. I can’t remember who was actually there, but I know that it was —
Whipple? Mainly to show the flag, I would imagine. Or did some of you have an actual function?
We had no function. We had a function up until about two weeks before the launch. Well, it was actually a month before launch, because they tried three times to launch it before they got it off the ground. We had a function up until the point where the spacecraft was seated on the rocket. From that point until it left the ground, we had no function. Then as soon as it got into orbit, all the action was at Goddard Space Flight Center.
At Goddard. So you made the decision to go to Goddard. How long were you there? Weeks or months?
I was never there more than a week or two at a time. But the cost of a roundtrip plane ticket was roughly equivalent to the cost of a couple of nights in a hotel, so I did a lot of shuttling back and forth.
By March, there’s an immediate authorization of SAO personnel department to recruit, hire, and relocate two additional SAO field personnel Can astronomer and an engineer Cto serve at Goddard. Who did you recruit?
He was the astronomer?
He was the astronomer. I can’t remember. I think EMR may have furnished the rest of the ground station crew. Yes, there were some temporary fellows that we hired out of a temp office in the Baltimore area. I can’t remember their names now. They were on the payroll for two or three months, until we could lighten up the number of shifts we needed.
Robert, do you have that one newspaper where we had a stack of them showing the party at Dr. Whipple’s? You know, I gave it back to you.
It may be in here someplace. It may be somewhere else.
You still have that box.
Was this a party after the launch?
It was right practically at the time. The photo shows Dr. Whipple and someone from Washington, D.C., and it mentions Robert not being there. It must have been within hours.
We can figure that out later.
There are a few things that were happening just before launch. When was launch in ‘68?
It was December 7th.
Leading up to launch, Purcell to Whipple, there’s a letter. Now I don’t know which Purcell this is.
This was the OAO manager.
Right, that fellow you mentioned. He said there seems to be more administrative changes, things going on. Then in August, there’s an independent research and development agreement, IR&D. And it’s a contract between DOD and EMR, where DOD will pick up 80% of the contractors expenses for research and development. Was that for the tube? Or was that for other aspects? Where was DOD in all of this?
I don’t remember any contact with DOD myself. It sounds like it might be one of these things where the law says that if you’ve developed something, you’ve got to tell the DOD how you did it or something like that.
Well, I’ll try to check it out. It is DOD though. There’s no other acronym I can think of that would be DOD.
I can’t think of any either.
Now, you’re doing proof tests in the fall of ‘68. You’ve got it all ready. It must be integrated now and at Goddard. Is that about right?
Everything’s at Goddard. Here are some quotes. “The Celescope field support team” — now this would be Deutschman and people like that, I would guess — “members who still tend to think that the Celescope experiment as mounted in a dark enclosure in a perfectly stable OAO in Building 7 at Goddard.” I read that, and I said, I mean this is a slightly sarcastic statement, I think. The mentality is that it works fine in the laboratory in a dark room, but will it work in the satellite? Was there a fear about this?
Not that I’m aware of.
It sounded like there was just a whole universe of little unknowns and things people were trying to wrap-up.
I remember figuring out why the images were blurred. It took about three days to figure out that it was the magnetic stabilization system, which would do its job perfectly well if they turned it off for 10 minutes while we were receiving data. The path of the electrons inside the Uvicon was effected by the magnetic impulses from the magnetic stabilization system. But the magnetic stabilization system didn’t have to be on 100% of the time. It could be on when we weren’t observing.
I see what you mean. The magnetic stabilization for the whole craft?
I understand. That’s sort of cross talk between systems. So it still hadn’t been worked out by then? You were still learning?
Well, it’s the kind of thing that you don’t know that you have to test for it before you launch.
Understood. Okay, that’s the kind of stuff that was going on in proof tests. Well, you launch. Everything seems to work. Through the early months of ‘69, how did you feel about everything?
[Pause] I felt basically that it did everything that we wanted to do, but it wasn’t all that relevant anymore.
Oh, really? You even felt that then. Was that a sinking feeling?
Did you talk to people about that? Talk to your wife about that?
Did I talk to you about that?
I don’t remember that. I just know we were elated, and Helen Beattie, dear, dear Helen Beattie… I’ll show you a picture of Helen. She said, “It’s an answered prayer.” She was the observatory secretary, the dearest, dearest person you could have hoped to meet.
That sort of represents a lot of tension build-up that must have been going on for years.
Helen was right there during the entire planning. There are other pictures of her. I gave you so many of them. I just wonder where they are. She’s was a Black woman, and the dearest, sweetest person. And even though she was just exceptional, there was criticism of her being Black and being hired at the observatory.
There was prejudice against her. A wonderful person.
She was at the observatory before I was, and she came to the observatory from Watertown Arsenal.
And she was right there, working through the whole planning of Celescope. She tended to be religious anyway — not a fanatic, but she just said, “Our prayers have been answered.”
That’s kind. That’s wonderful. This is an interesting picture, actually. The discrimination. I don’t doubt it. In the world, there was a lot of discrimination at the time. But here, she’s sitting next to Fred Whipple. And you’re in the Harvard Faculty Club, so she was allowed in there, I guess. I know that women were discriminated against.
There was no official discrimination.
I see. Just a feeling.
Here we are. This is the one I was talking about. We have so many copies of this.
What I don’t see here is an indication of what copy I’m looking at.
This is the one, “Telescope works.” And this is — Babbie Whipple had a party in her house.
This is Volume 9, the SAO News. Volume 9, 1969, “Celescope works. OAO is A-OK.”
Here’s the title page.
The one where the group picture was, SAO news volume 12, January 1970. That makes sense. Then this one is January 1969. That one is Volume 9, No. 1.
It sort of gives it a review of what took place.
Sure. Did you keep all of the SAO News? Do you have them all?
I have a lot of them.
Oh, that’s wonderful.
Yes. I have quite a few. Right now when they come in, I don’t think I’ve kept too many over the last year or two, because now you see names of people I don’t know.
Oh, sure. I know that they lasted for the first 10 years approximately, but these are after that. These go all the way into the ‘70s then. Continued on after 1970?
Well, they’re still going on, aren’t they?
They changed the name of it.
Yes, the Center for Astrophysics.
Okay, yes. Well, that would be after ‘72. That’s right.
Let’s see. Right now, for us, there doesn’t seem to be that much news, does there, Robert, when you get them?
I don’t get anything. They converted to electronic, and then they stopped publishing.
I would love to be able to get copies. We have copies of only the early ones, and they’re really valuable.
Yes. Well, you certainly can have this one. I’m not too sure about — Well, anyway, we’ll work that out.
I just want to continue on with this period.
Yes, I know, and I don’t mean to interrupt you. This one, definitely take this, definitely, because we have several of those.
This is Volume 9, No. 1, January ‘69, and that is the “Early Returns” and “Celescope Works!” Thank you so much for that.
Oh, that’s fine. And I’ll keep looking downstairs for things.
Let me continue. In early ‘69 things are working. You’re observing. You’re gathering data. People are analyzing or doing preliminary analysis of the data and everything seems to be working just fine. By May, NASA has a budget cutback. And of course this is in the post Apollo era; there’s heavy cutbacks. And NASA says, “regret very much the requirement to take this step.” This is a reduction in the SAO grant. That NASA “has been pleased with the work performed by the SAO and believe that the SAO has made an outstanding contribution to the scientific community.” But you got a budget cutback. How significant was that? This was in a letter from Truszynski to Bradley.
I can remember that when the satellite tracking program got a cutback, a lot of those people were transferred to Celescope. This was on the crew that was procuring the data for analysis. The recollection that I have is that most of the people who were transferred had to be laid off rather than transferred to us. I know that Howie O’Brian was laid off, but before his unemployment pay ran out he was rehired in a completely different department. Everything continued as to the publication of all of the results that we got. I can’t remember when they stopped observing. I thought it was about a year after launch.
‘71, I think. Well, there was a performance evaluation of Celescope by August of ‘71.
That must have been it. So that’s almost three years. I didn’t realize that we got that much in observations. The actual completion of the analysis lasted another year or two. I tucked my copy of the Celescope catalogue in someplace that I can’t lay my hands on it. But the publication of that was the end of the whole thing.
It was a two-volume set.
Well, it was a two-volume set. One of them was the theoretical part with Bob Kurucz. And I never mentioned to you that Fred Whipple said several times that Chuck Whitney was to do the astrophysics. Bob Kurucz was to do the computations. I was to do the observations. And that was the companion volume, which gave the computational astrophysics to interact with the observations to determine more about the structure and processes in stars.
Now as it turns out, Gene Averett did the second volume, not Chuck Whitney.
I thought it was Bob Kurucz.
Yeah, with Gene Averett.
Yes. Fred had that idea, but Chuck remained in the conceptual astrophysics.
So you’re saying that Charles Whitney was more responsible for the conceptual stellar atmospheres?
Now you weren’t stellar atmospheres at all.
I never — I took a course from Dick Thomas once, and I took another course from Lawrence Aller. I think both of them were visiting. I don’t think they ever had direct Harvard appointments. But in any case, I took courses from them.
So as an astronomer, you were building a telescope that essentially was going to produce data that you were not going to use. Did you feel weird about that or funny in any way?
No. I’ve figured both before and after that, if my specialty is getting clean data, somebody else can figure out what it means. As a matter of fact, that’s what I’m still doing now. I’m participating in getting clean data.
Yes. Because you continued working with Dave Latham afterwards?
I worked with Herb Gursky for a while. I did something with galaxies, I was observing galaxies for a while. I must have been working with John Huchra for that. But I’ve always felt more comfortable working with stars, and I’ve been working with Dave for at least 20 years now.
There was a performance evaluation of Celescope in August of 1971. I presume that meant that SAO people went down to NASA and gave a briefing on that order and then wrote up a final report. Gene Averett spoke about stellar atmospheres. But he had indicated that by the time of the performance evaluation the astrophysics people, the stellar atmospheres people, hadn’t really gotten any answers yet. So you had to do this whole performance evaluation before you had the catalogue and were completely finished with data reduction because of the problems with calibration. Were you directly involved in all of that?
I probably was, but I don’t have any recollection of it.
When did you realize, though, that there was a calibration issue? That there was no fundamental instrument calibration that you could depend on because the calibration varied?
Well, the calibration procedure was there. We hadn’t combed it out of the data as of the time of that review. We didn’t comb the calibration out of the data. It was there, and it took a massive effort from people that knew how to use computers to handle massive data sets.
Right. It was a huge thing, because you had to model the entire sky.
You had to do it all at once. Was that part of the original plan, to do it that way?
Well, it was part of the original plan except the original plan didn’t expect the problem to be as massive as it turned out to be. The degradation in time and the image recognition. You can look at a picture, and the human brain can identify it if it has a map to go with, although I remember one slide that I presented at NASA where there were four simulated pictures, and three of them were right, and the fourth one was an utter and complete mistake and never should have been printed. And Nancy Roman spent ten minutes trying to prove that the fourth picture corresponded to the map that went with it when they weren’t anywhere close to each other in the sky. The human brain can do strange things.
So by image recognition you mean?
Here’s a map, and here’s a picture. What stars are you looking at? Three of the four pictures corresponded to the maps that were on the same slide. The fourth picture and the fourth map were completely unrelated to each other. It was a mistake.
That’s amazing! This has been very helpful critical review for me. Now, we need to pick up some of the things you were talking about and both of you were talking about, and this is the working atmosphere or the social atmosphere for the observatory at that time. You have a number of letters out here.
Well, these are when the wives would go with their husbands on satellite tracking to various countries. I think it was Mimi Hynek or Babbie Whipple who get together, thought it would be a good idea if the girls, the wives, would write back to those of us who were still here and tell about what they had found and what they were going through to get readjusted. Some of them had their families. And quite a few here are from Babbie Whipple and when they were traveling.
Traveling to the different stations?
But I’d love to be able to copy those because there are people working on what life was like at the different stations.
Yes. And I’ll probably come across some more. I don’t think Babbie would mind. But anyway, the girls were supposed to write back and tell us here at home how things were going for them. And then, so they wouldn’t be lonely, we were to write to them and tell them about what was going on at Cambridge and what was going on in our lives.
This is a Hello Newsletter. Satellite Shiraz. So that sounds like Iran.
That’s the Iran station. Cable addressed to the RCA camel caravan and crystal ball August 4th. [Laughs]
I probably have a few more downstairs. Do you want me to just keep looking for things?
Oh, yes. Oh, Charlotte Truesdale, now. She was the wife of one of the fellows who would go around?
No, Clancy Truesdale was the observer.
I read that when it first came in and then I found it the other day, and I thought I didn’t want to throw it out. I wondered if I should give it to the library over at the observatory. Of course, I haven’t talked to Babbie. When you see her, please tell her I’ll never forget her, and I love her so dearly.
And at Fred’s Whipple’s memorial, Ruth spent the day in bed in the hotel because she came down with a horrible cold.
I know. We stayed overnight; we went down the day before. And I was fine, couldn’t have been healthier. And during the night, I came down with the worst cold, so I missed seeing everyone. But every fall, I think of how lovely the teas were. Then as time went on into, I think that was the ‘50s and the ‘60s. In the ‘70s, you know, women got to this “Don’t be home. Don’t be a wife. Don’t be a mother.” You know, women’s lib started coming in. And so there was a time, like late ‘70s and early ‘80s I’d say, that some of the younger wives thought it was very old-fashioned to have teas. So teas became sort of out; they weren’t as popular. And even though we had this lovely, lovely women’s group, outside of the teas that Babbie Whipple and Florence Menzel had for us during the ‘50s, the ‘60s, early ‘70s. If a girl was getting ready to have her baby, expecting, Babbie might have a baby shower. She did for Jean McCrosky and for me. And it was on the same day, the same afternoon. It was supposed to be a surprise. So Babbie said, I’d like you to come over to the house, a certain afternoon. I said, OH, I’d love to. So someone picked me up, and the same way with Jean McCrosky. We got there, and here was the surprise baby shower. And when the gifts were opened up, we both were supposed to open up our gifts at the same time. So my gifts for my baby were supposed to go to the left, and the gifts for Jean’s baby were supposed to go to the right. So when the women got a gift, they had to remember, now is this for Mrs. Davis or is this for Jean McCrosky? It was just a lot of fun. Then we had this Ladies Group at the observatory. We would have slideshows. Some of our evening affairs were held at Dr. and Mrs. Baker’s. Or if it wasn’t at the Whipples, it could be at the Menzels.
What I’d be interested in is how did the social atmosphere like this change over time, or did it change? Would you say when you retired from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory as the Harvard Center for Astrophysics, it was still a small, friendly family, or had it changed?
It was a small, friendly family when Harlow Shapley, three professors, and Cecilia Gaposchkin, who became a professor later, were the entire scientific staff. There were maybe a dozen graduate students and a dozen undergraduates and a dozen administrative types. You go from that to a place that has 2,000 people, it changes. It changed in one step when George Field became director. But by then it was huge, and it changed from a project-oriented to a division-oriented operation. Dave Latham was still having parties as of a few years ago, but his parties were never observatory-wide. They were his own people he worked with.
Well, I don’t think anybody could afford to have an observatory-wide party. It’d be impossible
Well, we went from a lovely little family affair where we had teas and luncheons and evenings where the husbands and wives attended and all planned by the wives. But remember we had a director’s wife. When Dr. Goldberg became Director, he had separated from his wife; there was no wife there. We had to give all the credit from the beginning I think to Babbie Whipple and Florence Menzel. Because George Field, when he was Director…and I’m trying to think of the sequence here. George and his wife had separated — so again no Director’s wife.
Leo Goldberg was the last Harvard Observatory Director who was not also Smithsonian Director. When Leo left and Fred Whipple stepped down, George Field became the dual Director.
So there was no wife, you see, to sort of lead what was remaining of the original group.
But the family nature must have changed?
The family nature changed. As it changed, what happened was that there would be project-oriented parties.
Well, they got so they were having cocktail parties. And some of them got a little bit out of hand. It just got to the place where we just didn’t want to go. We didn’t go. Some of them went to Harvard clubs, and then the Carpenter, wasn’t that it? One of the places where we’d go where they had the Christmas party and —
They had anyplace that would rent them enough space.
That was the primary thing.
So under Shapley the whole astronomy department was operated kind of like a family. You felt like a family. When did that change, the assurance the people were all sort of connected socially and emotionally? When did that change?
I’d say as soon as Smithsonian got there. I am certain that our Ladies Group was initiated by Babbie Whipple and Florence Menzel and maybe Elizabeth Baker. Those of us who belonged have very special memories and memories of delightful times together.
As soon as Smithsonian got there, the size doubled, and there was an Aus and a type of feeling.
And their interests were different. Ours were more like the slideshows, dinners in a private home, the wives sightseeing together in Boston.
Well, by “us and them,” I meant Harvard and Smithsonian.
I mean Smithsonian seemed to want these theme parties and maybe little dancing.
Satellite tracking had one kind of get-togethers. Celescope had get-togethers, but none of them seemed to be all that much family as colleagues. It was more office party-type things. The satellite tracking was enthusiasm, and they had budget-oriented things.
Well, before Smithsonian, there was always the Apple Blossom Picnic out at Oak Ridge, even though it was then called Agassiz Station, and at Harvard. And we’d go to the observatory with the children, and we had a great time. There might be a few games or something. It was family-oriented. It was an activity during the day. If it was in the evening, it was this lovely group of astronomers and their wives trying to have some kind of a cultural thing besides astronomy. I remember the time we had a lovely luncheon that Babbie Whipple, especially Florence Menzel, was thrilled with. We had it over at the Gore place, in Waltham. It was Governor Gore’s mansion. If you haven’t been there, that’s quite a place to see inside, mainly because of the winding stairway that goes upstairs. So we had a luncheon there, and it happened to be the day that Mrs. Perkins arrived to see Mrs. Menzel. And Mrs. Menzel said, “You must come to our Ladies Group luncheon. It’s at the Gore place.” Mrs. Perkins was thrilled because she was the one who donated a lot of money for the Perkins building. She was a charming, charming lady. She just was so gracious. We were thrilled, and Florence said it couldn’t have worked out better — here was this lovely luncheon that we’d planned, and here comes Mrs. Perkins to enjoy it. Just little things like that. But then as soon as Smithsonian got in there and got to growing, it lost all of that intimacy. It was just so different.
Basically, the place quadrupled in size within three years of the time that Smithsonian came there. When you have 200-300 people, you don’t operate the same way as when you have 20 or 30.
It’s interesting that throughout all of this work of mine, I always think of it as Smithsonian. But was it really the Smithsonian? Or was it Fred Whipple being able to use the Smithsonian to grow?
It was Fred Whipple being able to use the Smithsonian to grow. And Leonard Carmichael —
Yes, he’s on the picture back here, that one I gave you.
Seeing the importance of getting the observatory out of the 19th century.
Yes, because this is a nice picture.
Do you know of any prior contact between Leonard Carmichael and Harvard?
Leonard Carmichael is a Tufts man isn’t he?
Yes. I was just wondering. After the Smithsonian connection started, Carmichael was a member of the board of overseers at Harvard, but not before.
He and Fred Whipple knew each other long before the transfer of the observatory to Fred’s directorship.
Oh really? How do you know that?
Fred said so.
Fred did say that to you? And did he say anything else like how they knew each other, what their relationship was? This is news to me. I didn’t know this.
I’m pretty certain that it had something to do with Leonard’s background at Tufts.
I do have to correct myself on something. When you were getting your men ready for Celescope, quite a few of those wives were engaged with the women’s group. And we also had a singing group with quite a few of them involved. In the very beginning, when there were not too many people connected with Smithsonian, we still were able to maintain this family-like feeling. Wouldn’t you agree to that? Because some of them were very active in the women’s group, and we did have these other activities like the singing group.
But did the family activities sort of spill over to how people were treated professionally within the Harvard Smithsonian group? You mentioned that when the Baker-Nunn people were cut back, the feeling was, well, you just couldn’t let them go. We had to find jobs for them, and you inherited a lot of these people whether you needed them or not.
Well, the people I inherited were those that had worked in Cambridge, not the people from the Baker-Nunns. I remember John Thorpe started out as a Baker-Nunn observer, but he passed through Celescope and several other places at the observatory. He had talents and abilities that were quite useful in addition to his observing. But he’s the only observer I can think of that — Oh no, some of the people out at Mount Hopkins had that background too.
And Leo McGrath, the fellow I mentioned. He did work here for a good while. I understand that, but I mean the people here at what you might call headquarters. There was certainly a paternal kind of feeling, do you feel, where once you’re at Harvard, once you’re at the observatory, “we’ll take care of you”?
That was a definite feeling that I had.
Did that stay? Or did that change at any point?
I think it disappeared somehow. I don’t know.
Well, it’s certainly there in the Optical and Infrared Division.
Which would be some of the oldest divisions, of course.
Basically, the present division structure is almost identical to the original division structure. Radio and Geophysics used to be two separate divisions. But basically the structure now is the structure that was originally set up when George Field became Director.
Well, one thing that really upset me was, the women, whether you were a secretary, a wife, whatever, the women’s group in the beginning included all of them. And as the Smithsonian came in and it grew, there came a time you couldn’t go on unless your husband made a certain salary. To me that was hm-hmm [no], hm-hmm [no].
This is on the Smithsonian side?
This was the whole thing, the whole place. Our little group that we had — Well, there was just, you know, the students and wives and the secretaries, when we first got there when Robert was in graduate school, then as the Smithsonian came in, like Mrs. Lundquist and Paul Morris’ wife and quite a few of these wives here…Let’s see, well, Joan Cook, of course. This is part of our women’s group here.
For the record, we’re looking at Volume 9. Oh, this is January ‘69, that same volume. And you have a picture of Christmas Concert at 60 — 60 means 60 Garden Street.
Yes, and that was our singing group. But as more women were coming, more wives were coming in, and they started to object to the teas and that kind of thing.
They started to object?
Yes, that was in the ‘70s. Somewhere in there, the ladies group had gotten rather large, or they thought it would be. And I remember being told by some of the girls that, from now on, they were going to go by their husband’s salary as to who could belong to the observatory Ladies Group.
And the ladies made that decision?
No. I understood it was the directors.
That’s a rather odd thing.
Yes, it was. Because I know that a couple of the girls that I had met, I said, “Are you coming to the ladies group?” “Well, we can’t belong.” Then I was told because their husbands didn’t meet the certain salary.
And it didn’t matter whether they were Harvard or Smithsonian, it was just salary?
That’s a really odd thing.
Well, the government does lots of odd things.
Are you saying this was a government thing? I can’t imagine.
Well, we worked for the government. The government of Harvard University is just as bad as the federal government.
So it was somebody’s decision of how to limit membership. That is too bad. Okay, we’ve come a long way. We’re at the end of the fourth hour, and I really want to ask you at this point, is there anything that we have not covered to your satisfaction?
Well, we haven’t discussed the relationship between Fred Whipple and Leo Goldberg.
Oh, that’s quite right, and I’d be very interested in that. I certainly know that they had a lot of problems. But from your perspective, what was going on there?
From my perspective, Leo wasn’t doing things Fred’s way. And since Fred had been there longer than Leo, [chuckles] they just didn’t get along.
This was in the late ‘60s?
This was in the late ‘60s.
Or was it throughout?
Leo comes in. Fred entices him to come in.
So, Fred invited Leo over there?
That’s the recollection I have. Leo didn’t do things Fred’s way. Leo was director of one observatory, Fred was director of the other, and the interaction was not very harmonious.
So Fred thought he was the senior of the two directors, so he should be setting policy, setting the pace?
Something like that. At the time that Leo left, Fred decided that it was time for him to step down and to talk the two institutions into hiring the same director.
Now I understand there was a whole Harvard review where Harvard staff members were actually asked to come in and testify and to prepare position papers on what the problems were and everything like that. This is in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s possibly. Were you involved in that?
I wasn’t involved in that, no.
You were probably too busy. I mean, during this time, this was Celescope. This must have been your complete focus. But you were aware of the friction?
I was aware of the friction, yes.
Were you affected in any way by the friction? Were you or your project affected in any way?
No. We were housed in a different building.
Which building was it?
This was 185 Alewife Brook Parkway.
Out by the shopping center?
It’s across from the shopping center.
During most of Celescope, that’s where our offices were. It was 185.
About a half mile from 60 Garden Street?
It’s closer to a mile.
Did that have any effect in your feeling, your association, with Harvard, with the observatory?
It meant that I had to go out of the building a considerable distance to get to the library, to get to the scientists. The computer was in that building. It was a huge monstrosity.
That’s right. That was called the Computer Center. You were with the Computer Center.
I was in the same building.
But wasn’t there an advantage to that for data processing?
Well, it meant that I could carry the tapes downstairs instead of halfway across Cambridge.
Exactly. There was no Internet at that time.
Did you discuss what happened when Dr. Menzel didn’t keep up the funds for the Agassiz Station and it just sort of closed down out there with the telescope? And it wasn’t until Dr. McCrosky came in, who hired him to come back and rebuild the telescope out at Agassiz? Because that was when we used to have our Apple Blossom Picnic. We used to observe out there. Then it just was not kept up in repair. That was Dr. Menzel’s directorship, wasn’t that?
The Agassiz was periodically closed down for neglect on a number of occasions. At the end of Shapley’s administration there was a question, and at the end of Menzel as well. And now, of course, it’s closing again. If that affected your career in any way or your interests or your ability to operate?
No, it didn’t, because when it was closed during Menzel’s time, I was 100% busy with Celescope. The only effect it has on me now is that I can get my work done in about 10 hours a month instead of 40 hours a month.
Three quarters of the Echelle spectrographic data were coming from Oak Ridge.
I just don’t like to see it closed down. I guess it’s because of the memories and the students that used to be out there. I felt badly when we saw it deteriorated. I heard Dr. Menzel didn’t do anything. And then was it Dr. Shapiro that got it rebuilt again? Because Dr. McCrosky had that job to sort of restore it. But I was trying to think who was the Director?
It started operations again under George Field, yes. But the operations were paid for with Smithsonian funds. So the Harvard director, all he had to say was, “Yes,” because it didn’t cost him any money.
That’s right. That’s correct. And what we’re trying to do now is determine what is owned by the Smithsonian and what is owned by Harvard as it’s being closed down. But as far as the scientific use, it sounds like those days are done.
Astronomy has changed in huge ways. Celescope was one of the biggest agents of change. Do you have any thoughts about that? About the fact that you were in at the beginning as a pioneer in a wholly new way of doing astronomy?
I’ve managed to keep interested in the things I was doing, and for the last 20 years that’s been Echelle spectroscopy. Now the Vidicons have been replaced by CCD technology.
Right. They were the original linear or one-dimensional CCDs?
That’s what it is, a one-dimensional CCD.
And you observed with those?
I observed with those, yes.
Dave Latham was the one who made the detectors or made the instruments?
Well, he’s primarily responsible for the optics inside the Echelle spectrograph. John Geary is the one that does the detectors.
What did most of the Celescope staff do after Celescope closed?
Bill Deutschman became a professor at Carlisle College in Pennsylvania. He was there for a few years, and then he moved out to Oregon, Klamath Falls, Oregon. I think he remained a professor at some college or other, but I think he’s going into some other line of work. He’s old enough to retire anyhow now. John Thorp remained with the observatory until he got divorced, and then I think there wasn’t enough room in Massachusetts for him and his ex. She still lives in Massachusetts.
That sounds slightly less than amicable.
Arnie Goldstein remained on at Smithsonian as an electronic engineer for several years and then got another similar job elsewhere. Frank Licata is still at Smithsonian in the engineering department, though I think he has retired and left the Smithsonian. His specialty was electrical, but he’s developed in other branches of engineering as well. Mario Grossi remained a staff member of Smithsonian until he died. Steve Sydor and Jim Franklin had expertise in fields that were no longer needed in Cambridge, and both of them went back to their roots in Rochester, New York.
Was this some sort of normal attrition, or were they actually released?
I think Steve and Jim were actually released. Yasushi Nozawa, I think, was actually released.
He was your electronics person?
Yes, but his expertise was such that being released didn’t bother him.
What about Jack Burke?
Jack Burke was in the administrative side of things. He remained on at Smithsonian for a little while. I think he ended up as a private consultant.
Then you have Mark Malek.
Mark Malek never worked for Celescope.
This is a list. I have him here as a contract specialist starting at about ‘65.
That’s Mark Malek? Yes. He worked directly for the business side of Smithsonian.
And then you have these managers here, like Bob Eric and John Stanley. But you have a list of them in this picture.
Somebody put together a name list here of people who were involved one way or another in Celescope. There are some 14 pages of names.
Howie O’Brien remained on as a Smithsonian employee. He was in the engineering department until he retired. Peter Hoffman, I think, remained a Smithsonian employee after we closed down Celescope optical lab, but not very long. We remained in contact with him for a few years, but I can’t remember what he was actually doing.
Somebody had the engineers listed here. Bill Grimm.
Bill Grimm. By the time was hired, the engineers in Celescope were actually hired by the engineering department and assigned to Celescope so that their job was guaranteed after Celescope no longer needed them. Bill Grim was among those.
That’s an interesting way to do it. Basically, the funding for the project went to the central source that managed these technical services, and then they hired these people with the intention of keeping them on if they were good. That was basically how it worked. Yeah, Smithsonian does work that way. You mentioned Steve Sydor. There are actually two, and they must be the same person. Steve Sydor and Stefan Sydor.
Stefan is his son, but I didn’t think Smithsonian ever hired his son.
He was a consultant.
Oh, wait a minute. Stefan is Steve’s name. That’s right.
Stefan Sydor Optics, Inc. It sounds like he was hired in 1959, but by ‘65 he was a consultant because he had his own company. Does that sort of thing happen a lot?
Well, by ‘65, Celescope didn’t need him anymore because the optics had been delivered. So he was probably a consultant to somebody or other, but not to me. And he came to me from satellite tracking. He was highly responsible for the optics in the Baker-Nunns.
Oh he was? So he did all of these optics?
He was the absolutely unique individual who could look at a piece of glass, get permission from the manufacturer to put his fingers on it, and make it from almost right to precisely right. He had polarized eyesight, which did him no end of good if he was reading the backs of poker cards. He could analyze the polarization of light without putting the Polaroid in.
With his eyes?
With his eyes, yes.
That’s odd. How could he do that?
There is no other Steve. He could tell his fingers what to do and they’d do it.
That’s wonderful. That’s the kind of magical technician — I’ve heard stories about Jim Baker that way.
Jim Baker has all of that. Plus, Jim understands the mathematics. He knows not only what the specifications are, but he knows how to make the specifications.
Pretty amazing people.
Oh, Jim died — when was it?
Just about a couple of months.
A couple months ago.
Did you have any contact with G. F. Schilling?
Could you tell me a little bit about him?
My contact with him was friendly. I can remember going to a dinner at his house. He was renting that particular house, but going to dinner at the house he and his wife were living in.
What was his official position at Smithsonian? And then what did he actually do? Because he wasn’t there very long and he ended up at NASA.
My recollection is that he was on the administrative side of it, because I don’t remember any professional contact with him. It was all friendly discussions both in the office and at his house.
But he was always on the administrative side, and not scientific?
That’s my recollection.
A few other things to ask you about. There was something called project Cat Eye. Was this the optical tracking of the satellite? Or this was the electronic tracking?
My recollection is it was under Dr. Hynek’s supervision. I remember going to what later became the Baker-Nunn station at Organ Pass, New Mexico. This was before there was a Baker-Nunn. And there was this Cat Eye telescope. I think it was a television concept, and I don’t think it ever worked.
I know that Hynek took it with him to Northwestern quite early. Do you know why Hynek left, by the way?
I think he just figured that what he was doing at Smithsonian wasn’t what he wanted to do professionally.
He came from Ohio State. And he sort of seemed to be like a fellow that sort of latched onto different projects and moved around.
Yes, that’s right.
Finally, the naming of Celescope. Can you tell me how it got its name? Because one thing I noticed in the early deliberations was it was named all sorts of different things. Everything from Space Telescope to — But who actually named Celescope?
There were a bunch of us that went to lunch at the Chez Dreyfus Restaurant to discuss that. It was on Church Street. And it included Donald Menzel, Fred Whipple, Chuck Whitney, and myself and maybe a couple of others. We talked, and when the word Celescope came out of somebody’s mouth, everybody else said, “That’s it.”
Some people credit Menzel?
It could be, because he was at that lunch.
And what did it mean?
Nice package. And everybody just jumped on it and liked it. So it’s nothing that NASA did?
NASA had nothing to do with it. It came out of that lunch that there were somewhere between four and six people at.
I know this was an important thing to do, but it wasn’t like life or death. But it must have been pleasant and kind of fun. What were some of the other names? What was your favorite name before then?
I think I came up with the word Uviscope.
What about Beta Eye or Space Telescope or things like that?
Space Telescope was being used for all sorts of things. It was already being used, and it was generic.
Do you remember something like Big Eye?
I don’t remember Big Eye.
Or Space Eye or something like that?
Space Eye, I remember. That may have been Chuck Whitney that thought of that one.
Something like that, because there were a number of people that liked to name things. This was too early for Dave Latham, but he was a great namer. He’s a great namer of things. Okay, anything else that you’d like to add?
Well, the only thing I can think of is that one of the early successors to Celescope was the International Ultraviolet Explorer. I was the link between Smithsonian and NASA on that one.
That’s interesting. And they used SEC Vidicons, didn’t they?
They used SEC Vidicons, yes.
Very successfully. What was the difference? I mean that was already the 1970s, building that, and it was an instrument that was not one of the major grand observatory concepts, but it was an explorer concept. What lessons do you think you learned in Celescope that helped you advise and better understand IUE?
Well, I had nothing to do with the engineering aspects of IUE. The meetings that I went to when IUE was on paper all had to do with the scientific specifications and nothing to do with how you convert these into hardware.
So you were on the science side?
I was on the science side.
How would you typify the legacy of Celescope?
The legacy of Celescope is that the concept worked well enough so that they were able to work the bugs out of the hardware. Of course, the step from SEC Vidicons to CCDs means a completely different kind of physics involved in the design of the instruments. But the idea being that, once you get a device that will deliver pictures, you make sure that the people that know how to make them better get enough money to make them better.
But in terms of the operation or the relationship of a government agency to a university to different contractors, do you think that there was something in the management structure as well as the technical that one can point to Celescope and say, “Yes, this is where we learned how to do X.”
We looked at the way NASA was doing it and improved the way we were doing it with the same general concept of try to keep the cooperation between the administrators and the scientists a high level of cooperation, and pick administrators and scientists that can work together without infringing on each other’s fields of expertise.
That sounds like an ideal to me.
It’s an ideal, and you get the right people and it works. You get the wrong people and it doesn’t.
Do you feel you had the right model, overall, for Celescope, both on the NASA side and various other places that people had to be replaced when they couldn’t meet it? Or did you feel that there had to be a fundamental restructuring in the way that you managed it in terms of project management?
Yes. I felt that there had to be a fundamental restructuring, and we did it and it worked.
That was when Megerian was out and Burke came in?
So that was also a restructuring. In other words, you were no longer isolated at that point. That’s an important watershed I think that we have to appreciate and historically preserve.
Did Robert talk to you about when he wanted to be an astronaut and all of the facets of that?
No, not at all.
And I think we have a big pile of all of that. I think there’s some letters, probably, from Dr. Whipple or Dr. Hynek or somebody in there.
This was the 1967 scientist astronaut selection.
And that was something you were interested in?
I got as far as the medical exam, which was given to 64 of the 2,000 people that applied.
Excuse me. Can you get that big pile?
There’s no point in getting a big pile of paper. Remember, 1967 was that period when Celescope was having all the problems, and this was a good way to escape from it.
Ah. Well, that would have been an interesting thing.
Of the 64 that got to the medical exam, two of them were personal friends of mine, and a third was somebody that I knew.
Karl Henize made it. Bill Tifft and I did not make it.
So you got to the medical exam?
So the three of you, Bill Tifft —
We went there at the same time. It was 64 people, and they had us there for one week in groups of eight.
Robert passed all his psychological tests and the medical tests.
Well, of the 64 of us, 60 of us passed all the psychological and medical tests. They had space for 12, so they interviewed us. Karl was in Chicago.
He was in Chicago. He didn’t know that Robert had applied, and Robert didn’t know that Karl had applied.
And Bill Tifft knew that I’d applied because he saw a picture that was claiming to be the missing thumb of Robert Davis. But it wasn’t the missing thumb of Robert Davis, it was the missing thumb of I forget his name, somebody that took the exams at the same time They got the name and the picture mixed up. [Chuckles]
Seriously though, you were applying for the Astronaut Corps. What were your stated reasons for wanting to go into the Astronaut Corps? I take it that you kept copies of your applications?
I’ve got copies of those.
What was your stated reason?
My stated reason was to conduct astronomical observations without having to be at the end of a long telemetry stream.
I see. So you wanted to do astronomical observations in space. You were ready to pretty much leave Celescope. This had no relationship to Celescope at all?
It had no relation to Celescope. It would mean spending a year learning how to fly high-performance jet planes and then be based in Houston.
How did Fred Whipple feel about this? Did he endorse this?
Yes he did. And if you could just get that pile for me, I’ll go through it. Please.
Well, I’ll get the pile.
Before you leave, I would like to know about that. It’s very interesting, but there’s one other thing I wanted to ask you whether it’s significant to discuss. I have a collection from a 1961 IAU meeting in Berkeley, a collection of those daily reports. And in one of them you figure very prominently. There’s a picture of you with a Uvicon.
Yes, I’ve got it. It’s in this pile someplace.
The question is, what was your role at the 1961 IAU?
Well, the primary function of international meetings is to meet people and discuss things and advance science by private discussions and by public talks. And everybody that has something to say has an opportunity to say it. That was the something that I had to say to bring the rest of the world up — let them know what I’d been doing. And if they wanted more information, they knew how to find me. Those meetings last two weeks.
In this one particular issue of IAU Bulletin, I guess it was called at that time, there was a picture of you in a booth with the Uvicon. And then there was a picture of Schwartzchild with his stratoscope. Was there any cross talk between the two of you as to what you were doing?
I had discussions with Martin Schwartzchild. He was the son of Karl Schwartzchild who invented the Schwartzchild camera. Yes, I had discussions with him. He was about 20 years my senior. But, yes, we were talking. He was working closely with Lyman Spitzer, so, yes, both of us were interested in what each other were doing. Since Lyman Spitzer was also involved in the OAO, there was quite a bit of information that had passed back and forth between Smithsonian and Princeton before the meeting.
Just curious if you discussed with him what it was like to deal with NASA.
I didn’t discuss it with him, but I heard him talk in public lectures what it was like dealing with the US Senate.
He testified for the Apollo program and things like that. What was the impression you got from him in his public talks?
The impression I got from him was that he would accept the fact that power is more important than knowledge, but he didn’t like to like the people that had it. [Laughs]
That’s very good. I want to thank you for this very long session, and you just held up beautifully. It’s a lot of effort.
I admire you because you had to do all the writing.
[Tape stopped] I was asking Dr. Davis about the continuing interest in the optical tracking of passive satellites. And you said what?
I said I didn’t really have any interest in it even when I was writing the papers.
These were delegated tasks, pretty much?
Delegated tasks, yes.
By Fred Whipple?
Yes. I carried them out as part of my graduate student training.
Okay, but no intention of following through?
Okay, thanks. [Tape stopped] Okay, go ahead.
The final meeting at Goddard Space Flight Center to talk about integrating the Wisconsin experiment and the Smithsonian experiment with the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory spacecraft. Every group there was represented by three people at the table and three people sitting behind them. The people at the table were the legal expert, the engineering expert, and the scientific expert. Behind us were engineers who knew all the gory details. The discussion at lunch was, “Shall we break for 20 minutes so we can have lunch?” The answer was, “Yes.” And we all showed up again. Well, at 5:00 after eight hours of this meeting, when the meeting broke up, we heard one of the fellows who had signed in as John Jones of IBM chewing out the secretary that had sent him to the wrong meeting. And none of the nouns were any nouns that you’ll find in a dictionary! He thought he was at the right meeting, but he didn’t know what was going on. [Laughs]
That must have been amazing. Talk about nomenclature, right? Marvelous. Thanks for that. That’s cute.
Harvard College Observatory Bulletin #920, 1951, Harvard Mimeogram Series IV #1.
 ApJ 125 (127), 391-407.
 ApJ 125 (1957), 391-407
 Zirker, Whipple and Davis, in J. van Allen, ed. Scientific Uses of Earth Satellites (1958), pg. 23.
 Zirker, Ibid.
 Revised 1958, “Ultraviolet Stellar Magnitudes,” in James van Allen, Scientific Uses of Earth Satellites, 2nd revised edition, p. 157.
 Astronomical Journal 64 (1959), 50 (Abstract).
 See Box 11 FLW Papers SIA, “Astronomical Telescope in Space,” Davis, Whipple, Whitney. SIA AC 04-183
OAO-1 launched in 8 April 1966 but failed after three days.
Albert V. Baez, “A Proposed X-Ray Telescope for tb1 to 100-A Region,” JGR 65 (1960), 301a; A.I. Berman, ed., “X-Ray Astronomy,” Proceedings of a Conference, 20 May 1960, SAO.
Carlton W. Tillinghast, Jr.
 Director Goddard, 1959-1965
Davis, Deutschman and Haramundais Celescope Catalog of Ultraviolet Stella Observations Washington, D.C., Smithsonian, 1973
In Davis working file, NASM
IAU 1961 Berkeley “IAU Bulletin” (Curatorial File)