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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Robert Farquhar by David DeVorkin on 2008 July 22,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
In this interview Robert Farquhar discusses topics such as: family background and childhood; beginning his interest in aviation; joining the Army and fighting in the Korean War; doing undergraduate work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for aeronautical engineering; George McVittie; orbital dynamics and thinking about getting into cosmology; Sputnik; deciding to go to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to study astrodynamics; working at the RAND corporation; Sam Herrick; Robert M. L. Baker; Stanley Ross; John Breakwell; William Thompson; celestial mechanics; Lagrangian points; Harrison Hagan "Jack" Schmitt; National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); James McDivitt; Ari Shternfeld; working at Lockheed; University of California, Berkeley; going and teaching at the University of London; William Bonnor; Ben Lange; doing his Ph.D. at Stanford University; drag-free satellites; Ames Research Center; Goddard Space Flight Center; Bob Groves; Redstone Arsenal; Hermann Bondi; Apollo program; George Low; Norman Ness; Keith Ogilvie; Jeff Briggs; Joe Veverka.
This is July 22, 2008, and we’re in David DeVorkin’s office, my office, and Bob Farquhar is here. This is the fourth oral history session with you. You were just saying that Goddard got a new —
New Director, yes. He’s the former head of the Space Department at APL. His name is Rob Strain. He has a bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan College or University, I’m not sure which, in accounting, and that is his sole formal education. He had a job at Orbital Sciences, then he went to APL, and now he’s going to Goddard, and every time he’s been brought along by Mike Griffin, because his other big qualification is he’s a good golfer and he golfs with Griffin all the time.
I see. You’re telling me this because this is an example of the direction NASA is going?
Well, this is the way things are going in general. Yes, I’m very pessimistic about everything these days. Everything is now being taken over by corporate managers and so forth, and there’s no room for people like me anymore, I can see that. It’s becoming very obvious to me.
Well, didn’t you see the move from the previous one or two NASA administrators like Goldin and then Sean O’Keefe and then to Griffin as a move away from corporate in a way? Do you see Griffin as corporate?
Oh, yes. Oh, very definitely.
Oh, everything comes from Mike Griffin on down, you know, and everybody has to say yes or they’re out of there. Even some guys who were friends of his thought they were going to move up when he came down, but they didn’t agree with some of the things, and, bang, they were gone.
Is this what happened to Alan Stern?
Yes, actually, that is what happened to Alan Stern. If I wasn’t being recorded, I could tell you some more things about Alan.
Well, even if you are being recorded —
Okay, I’ll tell you anyway. Alan has got his eyes on the administrator’s job.
So we haven’t seen the last of him?
No, he’s been making contacts with the Obama campaign. I just heard that one yesterday. I already knew he wanted to be the next administrator.
I mean, did he have an ideological split with Griffin?
Yes, a little bit. Well, he came up with trying to penalize JPL for their overruns, and Griffin didn’t like the idea, so he got rid of him. Well, I guess Alan turned in his resignation.
So it was that serious?
Yes, it was in the press that Alan was going to take a certain action, and that same day Griffin put out a press release contradicting what he had said, so then he just decided, well, his position was untenable and he left.
Did you agree with Stern’s position on this issue?
Yes, I think I would, given the facts of the situation. I mean, he had the rug pulled out from under him. He’s trying to manage a program. Griffin is more of a micromanager than Alan Stern. Alan Stern is a micromanager, too, so that part isn’t good. On the other hand, he’s my micromanager. In other words, he’s a good friend of mine, so that makes it a little bit better.
Oh, I see, okay.
That was one of the reasons I left the New Horizons Project, because even though it’s an interesting program and everything, I had very little to say anymore because it all came from the top down, and then they had all kinds of review panels, it was too much for my style of running a mission.
Okay. Well, that’s very interesting as an introduction. I’d love to go on with it, but I think we’d better go back to the chronology.
At the end of the last session, session three, you were at the NASA Ames Research Center and then you went to the NASA Electronics Research Center. This is that short-lived thing in Cambridge.
Yes. When I was at Ames, I was an employee of the Electronics Research Center. I was their representative at Ames.
Right. When you were there, this is ’66 to ’68, ’69, approximately.
You were making proposals for the libration point communications satellite for Apollo.
That got the attention of the Goddard Space Flight Center people.
Yes, they actually came out to talk to me while I was at Stanford on a NASA fellowship, and Bob Groves was the name of the guy that came out there. They were going to put out an RFP, request for proposal, to do a systems study. Well, I had mixed feelings about it, because I hadn’t finished my thesis yet, and here you’re going to get about six or seven other contractors putting proposals in to do the stuff that I was already doing. So that part of it I didn’t like, but on the other hand, I liked all of the attention that it was getting.
But you said in the interview last time that the RFP sounded very much like your thesis.
Yes, well, it was part of my thesis. The guys from General Electric in Philadelphia won the thing, and they produced a report. I was in a race with them to get my thesis done before they put their report out, and I beat them by several months. So that was good, and they referenced all my work, I sent them a copy of my thesis, and so therefore my stuff got out first. That was important.
At this time, did you feel that Goddard was the place for you to go, or did you have other options?
Well, I was committed to going back to the Electronics Research Center.
Right, which you did.
Yes, I did, and soon after I got there, I decided that that wasn’t the place for me. But now I had moved all the way out there with my family and bought a house. I couldn’t just pick up and go. It’s not like the old days when I was a bachelor; I could always come and go as I pleased. So that added some stability, which I didn’t like. But I did start talking to the guys down at Goddard about how I could transfer down there, and eventually I was able to get the transfer in. That happened a few weeks before the people at the Electronics Research Center were notified all of sudden that the Center was going to close in a couple weeks, because I guess Nixon was getting even with Senator Kennedy and he wanted to close it because it was in his place and he was bashing NASA all the time. So Nixon thought, “Yeah, okay, fine, you don’t like NASA? I’m going to close up your Center out there.” That’s exactly what happened.
Now, were you a federal employee when you were up there?
So you had federal status, and this is just really a shift in your duty location.
Yes, that’s all it was.
Now, your first program work from 1970 to ’72, as you have on your inverse chronological sheet here that was in some of your original writing, you have that you engaged in studies of post-Apollo lunar exploration concepts. Could you tell us a little bit about how you got into that kind of work, who else was working in it, who you were working for and what your duties were?
I was out at Goddard, but the nice thing about Goddard at that time was people could go off on their own and be an entrepreneur, so to speak, and try to get business in various places, and I was working with a lot of people at NASA Headquarters in the Lunar Exploration Office. The Apollo Program was still going on, but they were looking to the future. What are they going to do later? And they had all kinds of plans to go back to the moon again, and they were doing systems studies and so forth, of how would they go back. They had contracts out to North American and various other big contractors on what would the vehicles look like, and they were talking about reusable vehicles this time rather than the Apollo way, which was just the throwaway. So I was very interested in that, and I came up with this rendezvousing at the L2 libration point of the Earth moon system and wrote some papers on that, and wrote a big TN [technical note] on it and so forth. I was still pushing for the far-side communications thing also. Then we were looking at an automated lunar program that would follow the Apollo Program if they didn’t have enough money to do the next phase of the human exploration, and it turns out that was becoming pretty obvious that there wasn’t going to be money around to do the second human phase, so there was more concentration on the automated program. But they still needed a communications link for the far side of the moon, so I was involved in that. But I put out this NASA technical note, and that was interesting because I discussed the use of the Earth moon L2 point and how you’d use a reusable transportation system to rendezvous there and what were the advantages, and also the business about the far side communications. I had photographs of the crater Tsiolkovsky in there, several of them, and was advocating that this was a good site for a future human mission. Then Jack Schmitt had the idea of landing on the far side of the moon, and so the thing was a little serendipitous that these two things were happening at the same time.
It was purely serendipitous?
Yes, right. I didn’t know what he was doing and I had no idea he was thinking about going to the far side. As a matter of fact, Gene Cernan didn’t like the idea that he was talking it up about the far side. He was very upset about that. But he did manage to get a hearing down at Johnson Space Center, and that’s when I was called down there to explain about how we could actually do this thing, and they brought some contractors in and so forth.
Were you briefed by any of your superiors at Goddard before you went down there to know what the Goddard message was or the Goddard line of argument was?
No, it happened very quickly. Goddard really wasn’t involved as far as the management was concerned, except for my local manager. He knew about it, and they asked me if I could come down, and I just talked to my branch head and said, “Hey, can I have travel to go down there? They want me to go down and give a presentation.” He said, “Oh, yeah, sure,” and he didn’t have to get the okay from anybody else. I was just going down there to explain to them about the technical details of how a communications satellite would be done for the far side. I didn’t even know that there were going to be any contractors down there at the time and that they had moved along that far and that this big briefing was set up for Jim McDivitt. I didn’t know that either. All I knew was I was going to go down there and talk to Jack Schmitt and/or some of the other people that were involved in the feasibility studies of this thing. The next thing I know, I get down there and I’m in this briefing with Jack Schmitt and we went through the whole thing, and then I found out there was going to be a briefing later that afternoon. It was a big deal. There were lots of people there and I remember they had a little sign outside of the meeting room that said what it was going to be, lunar far side landing and everything. I remember some of the other people coming in with me and he says, “That lunar far side landing, what’s this?” They were making fun of it, you know. It was like this was some kind of joke, you know. But then we got in there Jim McDivitt was taking it very seriously.
Did you have to file a trip report with your Goddard people when you came back?
No, I just wrote a memo to John Clark, who was the director at the time.
Right, and you told him what had happened?
Did you get any feedback from him, any kind of concern?
Yes, they were very concerned.
Yes, tell me about that.
I didn’t talk to John Clark personally, but he talked to my Division Head Fritz Von Bun. Well, his name wasn’t Fritz. He went by Fritz Von Bun. It used to be two words, but when he came to the United States, he wanted to be more like the people here, so he made it into one word, rather than Von Bun, as two separate words. He was a former German fighter pilot from World War II, a Messerschmitt pilot, he was telling me. So he was my big boss down there. He was kind of a tough guy to work for; he didn’t tolerate any nonsense.
Yes, I can imagine. So what was the issue?
So he was very concerned. Fritz Von Bun was in a staff meeting, and they had seen my memo. I mean John Clark had seen my memo, and he was very concerned that I may have committed Goddard to doing more than they were able to do. But the whole thing passed away very quickly because the idea was quickly rejected by NASA Headquarters saying, “No, it’s going to cost too much. We don’t have the money, plus it’s too risky,” etc., you know, that sort of thing.
No one like Clark or others were strongly in favor of it, looking at it as a large project that they may take on at Goddard?
Well, they didn’t have time to react completely. I don’t know how seriously they took it to begin with either, because it was just a possibility, and JSC was looking at this thing. But they didn’t know how serious they were, and by the time, within a week or so, it was clear that all the budgets were getting cut back. Apollo 17, it wasn’t clear whether they were even going to fly that mission, and so Jack Schmitt kind of backed away from it about a week or so later after that presentation. He had been working on it actively for about a month and a half, and I was involved in some of the conversations going back and forth. He was also working with Paul Lowman; he’s a lunar scientist, a geologist. I think he’s still working out at Goddard.
I might know that name. What were you doing then in addition to this? You were talking about the post-Apollo missions, the idea of a lunar orbit rendezvous, but it was really at the L2 point?
You were simply dealing with capability, the —
It was technical studies.
Purely technical studies. You weren’t considering why or how much material?
I wasn’t advocating anything, no. I was just putting out a technical study and quoting from some of the other reports of the studies that were being done by North American and other people. I think Convair was doing studies. There were a lot of contracts that were let out from Lunar Exploration Office, and I was involved with them, not so much officially, but I would go down there and they’d ask me to come down because I knew a lot about libration points, and not too many other people did at the time.
What was your day like at Goddard? What was a typical day? Where did you live, and how did you get to Goddard, and what would you do typically in an average day?
Well, I lived in Columbia, Maryland. My boss lived there, too. My branch head lived there, and he’s the guy who hired me, and he talked me into moving out there. It’s about a thirty-five- to forty-five-minute drive every day down the BW Parkway, nice pleasant drive. I had things pretty good. Nobody really told me what to do. I kind of did whatever I wanted to do. It was pretty good. And I guess Bob Gross thought that something would come of this. It isn’t as regimented as it is now, and our people have to have charge numbers to do anything. They give them very little extra time to do work on their own, or projects on their own.
But being in the federal service, you had to work up,a performance plan or something of that sort each year and say what you would be working on and at what level you were expected to work. Did you do any of those?
For the first year or so, I didn’t. I don’t remember having to do hardly any of that stuff, no. It was pretty freewheeling. I wasn’t on any flight projects. I was just doing studies, but it was mainly me going out and talking to people, and then they would say, “Oh, why don’t you look at this,” or something, and they’d let me do it. We had a lot of freedom in those days.
You were in a particular office. What was it?
It was in the Mission Operations Directorate, and they were involved with mission ops more than anything else. Then I was there studying all kinds of new things that they could get into, and I guess they had some kind of overhead type of thing or some kind of general thing that they could do some of this work, and I was given free rein, pretty much.
What contact did you have with people who were on projects at Goddard?
At that time, very little.
Nothing in space sciences?
No. Well, then, later in January of ’72 is when I got into that. They volunteered me to take part in a study that Norman Ness, who’s one of the main division heads at Goddard, wanted to pursue. He wanted to start looking at going to comets. I thought, “Oh, darn, I’m going to have to do some real work now. They put me on this task.” But I got there for the first meeting, and it was kind of fun because almost everybody was a scientist except me. It was interesting right away, and I got some ideas and started working on that, and that became a whole career in itself there.
Yes, it sure did. But did Ness ask for you directly, or did he go through Von Bun?
He went through Von Bun, and Von Bun thought, “Oh, here’s the guy I’ll put on it, because he’s not on anything else, any project,” you know.
You were basically doing special projects that were, in your own words, designed to be somewhat entrepreneurial to get different parts of NASA interested in new programs.
Yes. Well, they just let me do what I wanted to do, and I knew a lot of the people at NASA Headquarters, and I wormed my way in somehow and started talking to them.
Yet you weren’t talking about specific purpose missions. You were just talking about capabilities? Is that the way to talk about your technical studies? These are feasibility studies or requirement studies?
Well, I wanted to see these things happen.
Give me a few examples.
I was motivated by trying to put up the first libration point satellite, and the best possibility was to do this communications thing.
Yes, it was a communications thing as the first thing that one could think of doing from a libration point. But when that fell through, did you ever suggest what else would you do at a libration point?
Yes, well, that’s when I talked about all these post-Apollo things and I said, “Hey, if you do a libration point rendezvous, this is a good way to send things to and from the moon.” There was a lunar base study at the time, also, and I was involved with that. Yes, I’ve got some of the memos from those guys. I got the contractors interested in the thing, and they went and did some of their own calculations, and they gave me credit for everything. They had some presentations at NASA Headquarters, and they asked me to come down there at the same time. The NASA Headquarters guys liked the idea, so I got to know all the people in the Exploration Office down at Headquarters, some more than others, and they were always asking me to come down and present my ideas and so forth. Then, naturally, Goddard liked it because they thought, “Well, maybe this will be some business for us.” But I did it all on my own.
But you understand what I’m trying to get at. I can imagine somebody saying, “Wouldn’t it be great to put a Starbucks at L2,” you know, in other words, some particular purpose, and if you were talking to some of the people like — or just considering what’s around at L2 at the moment, you know, at this point where it’s getting a lot of notoriety with MAP and —
Well, now it is, yes.
Yes. But was there any discussion by any of the scientists at that time for the advantages of sending some scientific payloads to L2?
They never talked to you?
No. I tried to talk to them. It’s in the Journal of Astrological Science, some of the history is in there. I tried to convince people out at Ames when I was working at Ames that, “Hey, it would be really nice to put something at the Center.” There was one point where you could measure the solar wind as it’s coming in, and where it’s not disturbed, and you can then look at its effect on the magnetosphere. They said, “Oh, nobody would be interested in that.” These are space physicists. They just blew me off, you know.
Why do you think that’s the case?
They hadn’t thought a lot about it, and they thought I was talking a lot of nonsense, I guess. “Oh, you can’t put something there and leave it there. It’s unstable. So therefore it doesn’t work. It’s unstable.”
So they didn’t know enough about orbital stuff?
Yes, they didn’t know very much about it at all. Scientists still don’t, and I don’t know why they don’t, but most of them don’t know too much about orbital dynamics, not even the basic fundamentals. Then I talked to them about putting it back in the tail of the Earth, and they said, “Oh, that stuff is just a lot of random things going out there. Who cares?” But when I talked to Norman Ness about it, this is about ’71 or so, he was very interested. As I said in my book, and Norman liked what I said, he said, “It was immediately grasped by Norman Ness.” He liked that phrase “immediately grasped,” and that’s right, it was. I mean, he saw it right away, whereas some of the people under him, because I walked in — well, this is a long story. There was a project going on at Goddard called the International Sun-Earth Explorer, and there were three satellites. There was a mother-daughter pair that was in high-Earth orbit, looking at the fine structure of the magnetosphere. Then there was one more that was going to be in heliocentric space. Somebody asked me, “Wouldn’t you like to come down and see what other things we’re working on?” I think it was the section head that I had. His name was Bob Coady. He just died recently. I remember he brought me down there, and I thought, “Oh, well, okay, I don’t have anything else to do today. I’ll go down there with you to the meeting.” So he took me down to the project meeting, Jerry Madden was the project manager. Steve Paddock was their systems engineer or deputy project manager, I can’t remember. But he goes up and he’s outlining the whole thing on the blackboard. “We’re going to put this heliocentric spacecraft just over here to the side, just outside of this sphere of influence of the Earth, and we’re going to have it sit there where it can —.”
Sphere of influence?
Yes. So it was off on the side of the Earth, like in the Earth’s orbit, at about a hundredth of an AU away. Then I stupidly burst out, “I don’t think that’s going to work, Steve,” and he was kind of offended that I said that. He’d never seen me before. “Who is this guy telling me it won’t work?” Well, it won’t work. I mean, you can’t put something off on the side like that. You have to put it at the O1 point. If it’s off on the side, it’ll just drift all over the place.
Well, sure. But he didn’t know that?
He didn’t understand that, no. He’s still around.
Now, you’re saying this was typical of space scientists at Ames? Was it also typical of scientists at Goddard?
Keith Ogilvie is the main guy, he was pushing this heliocentric spacecraft to be off on side of the Earth or the other, for some science he wanted to do, and he had written a NASA TMX, X document, they called them, on this thing. It was a Goddard X document, and I still have a copy of it, about interplanetary something or other. Anyway, he wanted to do certain science with this thing as part of the ISEE program, and when I started talking about putting it at the L1 point, he didn’t like this at all. He still works out at Goddard now. He’s about eighty-two years old or something. I had many run-ins with him throughout the years. As a matter of fact, when I took it out of the halo orbit, he didn’t like that idea either, so he’s been upset with me all along.
Did he eventually understand the nature of these points?
No. Well, he didn’t want to move it there, and he wanted me to shut up about it, you know, and so forth. But I wrote him a memo over there, and then I figured, “Okay, I’m not going to get anywhere with Keith Ogilvie.”
Could you tell whether it was clear in the audience if the audience shared in the ignorance?
Well, this was one of the very early project meetings that they had where everybody was there, scientists, engineers, DSN types and so forth. Well, I didn’t say too much about it at that time, and then I went back and did some work and sent him out a memo or two saying, “Hey, this is where you want to put the thing.” Then I found out about the fact that you had the solar interference, and I talked to some JPL guys and then we got into the halo orbit thing. I said, “Oh, that’s no problem. We can go in this halo orbit.” I thought, “Hold it. Look, here’s the halo orbit has another use,” you know.
Well, that was so that you could see, quote, unquote, the satellite from Earth.
Yes, so you could get the information back.
This is sitting beyond the sun.
Yes, it’s right on line with the sun, basically, or close to it. Actually, there was some little wiggles there I won’t get into here.
Well, that was the same issue with the communications satellite. You wanted that in the halo orbit.
Yes, because that was on the other side of the moon. Well, people can understand this, because the moon is blocking the eye. But here, you’re looking at the sun. Well, it’s in between you and the sun, so why can’t you communicate with it? Because there’s too much noise in the background from the sun. So you have to have a halo orbit around that thing, too. It turns out it’s easier to get it into the halo orbit. This came later. Even other Dynamicists said, “No, it doesn’t make any difference. If you go right to the point or you go into the halo orbit, the Delta V to retro in there is the same.” I said, “That doesn’t seem right to me.” So I ran some cases, and, sure enough, it went down to zero if you made it large enough.
Now, this is early 1970s, and when you say you ran some orbits, what did you run them with? What kind of computers?
IBM? What kind of access did you have, like turnaround time and that sort of thing?
That took about a day sometimes. You get back these big sheets, with all kinds of numbers on them, and then I have to make my own graphs and everything.
Yes. But I’m just curious about the infrastructure there. Did you do your own programming?
I was doing some of my own programming then. Not all of it, but I did some of it. Then there were other programmers around, but I had to write down all of the formulas for them, and then they’d put it into the computer, into the FORTRAN language.
So you were using FORTRAN primarily?
How was the Computer Center set up there? There was a centralized Computer Center? And everybody used it?
So you used the same Computer Center that, let’s say, the scientists used.
No. They had different centers in different buildings.
Oh, okay. So you had a mainframe for your own building.
The Mission Operations people had their own stuff. The scientists had their own stuff. But there was some stuff shared. I don’t remember the whole thing. All I know is it went into a black box and somehow the paper would come out, and then I’d look at the answers and try something else.
I’m interested in getting your sense of how you interacted with the computer. You know, today the things are sitting on the top of ours desks, and we get instant turnaround time. But at that time, as you just said, it could be up to a day turnaround time.
Yes, or longer if it was big jobs. When I did first start messing around with the computers at all? When I was working at Lockheed, I guess, but then more so when I was doing my Ph.D. thesis because there I had to do all my own stuff. I didn’t have anybody working for me, and we had a Burroughs B5500 and I used ALGOL. I learned ALGOL, which wasn’t a bad language. And they had integration packages, so we didn’t have to do everything, and they had a whole program library, and you could access that. But you still had to write all the code to use these different packages.
Did you use what we used to call front ends? Did you have formal training in using computers?
How did you learn?
By doing it.
Well, I mean, like first at Lockheed but then at Goddard —
No, not so much at Lockheed. Just when I did my thesis work. I just have to go down to the Computer Center. Then one of the things that I always noticed down there is there were some people down there constantly. The other doctorate students were there all the time. They were at the Computer Center. I came to realize very quickly that if you’re spending all your time putting runs in and getting them back, you weren’t doing anything. You were wasting your time. I mean, you go down there when you need something, and you work hard on it, you get the answer, and now you go back to start writing. A lot of the stuff I did was analytic anyway, an awful lot.
So you weren’t doing numerical approximations and —
No, I did analytic approximations. I did power series and stuff like that. I’d want to get a graph of something, you know, and then I’d run a computer program so I could get all the points. I mean, I did a lot of calculations by hand.
So you didn’t have any Cal Comp equipment to do graphical work?
Yes, you could do graphical work. That was just starting then. That was about 1967 or so.
Oh, yes, right. Well, I’m thinking early. By early seventies, it was pretty available, wasn’t it?
Oh, yes, they had that, where you get these big printouts. As a matter of fact, there’s an artifact I got for the museum if they ever wanted it someday.
What do you have?
I got this big sheet. I had it up on my wall at Goddard when we did the IC3 mission, it shows the trajectory out there, and it’s got the halo orbit. It’s about this big, and then all around there, we’re just noting we’re going to put a TCM in there. I wrote down dates on there, all the way through, for about three or four years of the mission.
For the audiotape, basically we’re talking a very large piece of paper, like a poster.
It’s a Cal Comp plot.
And it’s the original?
Oh, yes, absolutely, because, if and when we ever get IC3 back, that sort of documentation should go with it.
I’ve even got a picture of myself pointing, showing where the thing is and so forth.
Oh, yes, absolutely.
Yes, that’s good stuff.
Okay. I’m just trying to get a flavor of what the place was like. Did you typically eat lunch with other people? Did you bring your lunch? Did you buy your lunch?
I very seldom went to the cafeteria. I usually brought my lunch, or I’d go down to the machine and get it. That’s what I do nowadays, even. But in those days, my wife packed a lunch for me.
But you didn’t eat with other people?
Well, I’d eat with my roommates, and when I was at Stanford, we were in a whole bunch of cubicles in this one big room where all the graduate students were. The famous guy with me is Brad Parkinson. He’s the guy that did all the GPS stuff. He put up the whole NavStar system.
But at Goddard on a typical day, would you meet informally with other people, using your lunch hour as a mechanism of communication, or was it pure relaxation, or did you work through lunch?
Oh, I worked through. I just worked all the time, yes.
Was that necessity or choice?
Choice. I liked what I was doing. I was doing things I wanted to do. I mean, nobody was telling me to do anything. It was working out pretty good. Yes, I’ve pretty much always had it this way, now that I think about it, you know. [laughs] That’s probably one thing, yes. It’s probably harder to do that nowadays.
Hard to say.
It would be almost impossible.
Well, people here have their choice. But it is a curiosity about how Goddard worked. Did you find that you were among people who you felt much more compatible with there than at Lockheed, let’s say, or Ames?
Well, there were a lot of guys there working on different projects, and so they had to go to different meetings. When I got on the IC project, I went to some of the meetings too, but actually working on the flight dynamics part of it, we were divorced a lot from a lot of the other meetings. I’d just tell the other guy, “I need this much fuel on here,” and so forth, and that was about it, and then they kind of let me go off on my own. I had to sell the thing to the scientists first. I had to sell it to Norman Ness and Keith Ogilvie, the guy who didn’t want to do this. He worked for Norman Ness, and you don’t argue with Norman if Norman wants to do something a certain way. Forget it. Shut up. [laughs]
Let’s then coherently go through how you and Norman Ness got together. You said it was basically on the Cometary Mission.
I’m trying to think what came first, the chicken or the egg here. I think I talked to him first of all about the libration point mission. I’m almost sure of that. Yes, because I remember calling my wife up, and I said, “Bonnie, guess what? I’ve sold the halo orbit mission,” because I knew after I talked to Norman I had him talked into it. It didn’t make any difference what anybody else thought. He’s a very powerful guy at Goddard. Well, he was a division head, but it was more than that. He was a very strong personality, and he was the first guy within NASA who ever made it to the National Academy of Sciences, and he had already been in at that time. So he was thought very highly of.
That carried a lot of weight at NASA.
Yes. He’s the guy who discovered the sector boundaries and the solar wind. He’d done a lot of things in the 1960s.
Later on he did other things, too. He’s still around, and he and I still communicate.
He’s up at the Bartol or is he retired?
He’s retired, but he’s still on Voyager. He has the magnetometer on there, and he and Ed Stone are good buddies. Well, by knowing Norm, then I got to know a lot of other scientists over there.
So you’d say Norm was the first person who you really interacted with as a scientist, for scientists that you got to know and work with?
I think that’s right, yes. Although I knew Paul Lowman early on, too. And that’s how I got to talk with Jack Schmitt, because he was a buddy of his.
Can you remember your first significant interaction with Ness and what you talked about?
We talked about where we going to put the IC3 spacecraft. Now, I wrote some memos. I’ve still got some of those. I’d have to look at the exact chronology of that to get it straight. I’m not at that point in my work yet.
But this should serve as a stimulus for you to find that, because I’d like to append that sort of thing to the interview tape. Or you can use it yourself.
Like I told you already, I’ve got to go back and sort out all my stuff by what I need for the different chapters. I do have all those memos so then I can figure out exactly when these things happened. I was working on that NASA TN in 1970, and I was really trying to get that out, and that had more to do with the moon than anything else. I was at Goddard in like December 1st of 1969, and I started right away working on libration point stuff, and I was working in several areas.
So you met Ness pretty quickly.
Not that quickly, but sometime in 1970 or ’71.
Because you move over to becoming the study manager for Cometary Explorer.
Yes, that’s in ’72 or ’73, even.
Well, you have it going from ’72 to ’75 in here, and so I’m interested in how that happened.
Well, that was because he started up this working group to — yes, I’ve got a lot of this stuff documented in some papers. It’s easier to go back and look there. But yes, because that first meeting took place in late January, like January 30th or 31st of ’72 with a whole bunch of scientists and myself. He wanted somebody that knew something about the dynamics as how we would get there, and he had the idea to do it with an Explorer spacecraft, which was unheard of in those days because to do a planetary-type mission or Cometary mission with an Explorer, you had to come up with something much more sophisticated to do a mission like this, and JPL was always coming up with things that cost too much. And Ness had the idea that he can do it a lot cheaper, and so this Cometary Explorer thing was one of the things he wanted to do. He came up with the idea for Pioneer Venus, and what happened was that, as usual, Goddard gave it away under some pressure maybe, and it went to Ames, and then it eventually went to JPL. It always seemed to go this way.
It seems almost counterintuitive that in order to justify doing a deep space or planetary mission, you’ve got to make the instrument more sophisticated and more multifunctional. Is that a characteristic of NASA? Because I would think that if you’re doing a deep space mission, you want to make sure everything works and so you want to make it as simple as possible.
They had to have a lot of redundancy and stuff like that. The argument JPL always used, because I was in competition with them, they didn’t want Goddard doing any Cometary mission, no way, no how, and that’s where this chapter “Comet Wars” comes into play, because we had a lot of rivalry, a lot of competition going on for many, many years. In the end, none of us got the mission. We didn’t do a mission. I one-upped them by taking IC3 and going off and doing it that way.
But JPL always put forth the argument that planetary missions have so much visibility that you can’t fail there because it makes NASA, makes the agency look bad, you see. So that’s how they could argue that it’s going to take more money to do these missions. That was their logic, their rationale.
But then how does the multiple-use design then mitigate against failure?
What multiple-use design?
Well, if you have six experiments, is it a success if only one of the six works?
Has it got success if two work?
A partial success, but everything had to work.
So wouldn’t it be more likely if you just send one payload out that it would work?
No, it’s too much trouble to send it out there. It cost a lot for the launch vehicle and everything else, and it takes a long time to get there.
So it’s that kind of economy that we’re looking at here.
Yes, because you’re not doing that much as far as cruise science. Cruise science got pretty dull in a hurry. It still is.
That’s very interesting. By “cruise science,” you mean taking data along the way?
Yes, right, yes. That wasn’t too much interest to the planetary scientists.
But it certainly was to people like Van Allen and John Simpson and people like that.
Yes, but missions did not sell on the cruise science.
All right. Okay.
You had to have a goal in mind. You had to go to a certain destination. The space physics guys were always arguing with the geologist as to what’s important and what isn’t. But comets are a little bit different. NASA and these guys were more interested in the solar wind interaction and this sort of thing, and that’s what we actually did on IC3, but we put a camera on some of the first studies that we did with this. I’ve still got all those project documents and everything else. You know, you have to put out a project plan and things like that, and I’ve got all that stuff. I’ve got to sort all that stuff out.
Well, if anything, this record is going to alert you as you read through it. I probably will ask you, you know, when you get to this point in the transcript, please go get that stuff and document it. So this will be a good organizer. Will you do it?
I’ve got some organizers here. [laughs]
I see, yes. Describe what the job of the study manager for Cometary Explorer was.
Well, they didn’t like me being study manager, by the way, because all the study managers usually came out of the Projects Office. But they had various studies going on at Goddard, and every week you’d go to the director’s office, and you’d have to give a status of what’s going on. This time they had a guy from Code 500, which had never happened before. Code 500 is the Mission Operations branches. I was about the first guy that ever did this from Code 500, where I was the study leader. This was strictly an engineering thing. These guys do what they were told. They’re not supposed to come up with any new ideas. All the ideas are coming from the Science Directorate. That’s how they usually worked. But I got to working with those guys early on, and that’s how I’ve been doing things. Like today, I was on the phone to Cornell talking to Jim Bell and trying to get him interested in becoming the principal investigator on this new mission I’m looking at, either to a centaur or to a Trojan asteroid, and we’re going to put it into the New Frontiers Program. But that’s how I operate. Then tomorrow I’m talking to the Orbital Sciences guys, and we’re going to have a meeting and we’re going to talk about what it’s going to take to build this thing, and can we do it within the budget of the AO that’s coming out and so forth. So I’m kind of like the Don King of the planetary science business, without the hair. [laughs]
Was it Norm Ness that made it possible for you to become the study manager? Did he want you as study manager?
Well, it wasn’t up to him. Because first they had a study manager for the one thing, and then this thing morphed into different phases. Somehow I got in there, though, later on. It wasn’t right at the start.
It would be, I think, important to know how that happened, because it was, as you say, unusual. I mean, you know, like in large organizations, you have people who are doing the daily work and then you have people doing advanced projects, and there’s usually quite a big firewall between the two, which is one of the big problems. Was that typical at Goddard as well?
Yes. They usually had people — they have certain people doing the advanced studies — and JPL is still this way — and then it’s turned over to the people who do the Phase B work. Then another whole group comes in to do the Phase C and D, and then after it’s launched, then there’s another group comes in to do all the operations. Whereas everything I’ve ever worked on, I’m there with the first idea, then I’m there all through the study phase, and then I’m there for the operations, too. So I carry it all from cradle to grave. I don’t give up. We had a big argument on the IC3 mission, because it was all fine for me to do all the basic work and everything else, but then now it’s going to get launched. Oh, well, then there’s another group within Code 500 who does the operations. I said, “No way. You’ve got to be kidding. I’m going to do it. I’m in charge.” So we had a big fight about that.
Was John Lindsey the same way? Did you know John Lindsey?
That name sounds familiar.
He was in the space sciences side. He might have passed away by the time you got there. He did OSO.
Okay. I remember OSO.
And he was absolutely amazing at keeping control over OSO and making it work. I mean, it basically died with him, I think.
Well, they had several OSO spacecraft.
Oh, six or seven of them. Yes. But the last few.
Yes, that was a clever idea. I remember the thing was it was a dual-spin satellite.
Yes, exactly right. So how did you bend the bureaucracy to be able to do this, to stay with the mission through the various Phase A, B, C, D?
Yes, it was hard.
I mean, what is the key? What was the key ingredient that you employed to make sure that happened? How would you describe it?
You have to work the politics, and I can see that the scientists were really in charge of things, and if you get them on your side, you’re a long way down the road. Then you go over to the Project Office, you get the project manager on your side. I sold it to Jerry Madden. That was the guy I sold it to also. But Jerry Madden liked what I said right away, and usually these project managers are pretty tough, and they don’t want to change anything, you know. But somehow he liked it. Yes, I got a couple of key guys who kind of bought what I said right off the bat, the project manager, Norman Ness, the division chief, he was the dictator of all these other guys. Nobody would cross Norm Ness.
Was he known as a dictator?
Well, everybody knew that you didn’t mess with him, especially all the people working with him. When Norm said do it a certain way, they damn well better do it this way.
What would happen to them if they didn’t? They’d be embarrassed or they’d disappear?
Well, he embarrassed people in meetings. As a matter of fact, Keith Ogilvie, I mean, you felt sorry for poor Keith Ogilvie at the meeting when he protested about the fact I wanted to put it up at the libration point. And then Norm Ness just lays into him and says, “Well, why wouldn’t you do this here? What are you stupid or something?” That’s the way he would really go after the guy, and Ogilvie would just sit there and take it. You couldn’t do much else. Besides, Norm was usually right. That’s the other thing.
But he was such a famous scientist at that time, not just within NASA. He was known pretty well. And at all the meetings he was like this, too.
So your various constituents, if you want to put it that way, in political terms, were the scientists. You got them on board. Then the Program Managers.
Yes. Also, the guys I worked for, Bob Groves, he saw that I was doing a lot of good things, he had a lot of confidence in me, and then I got to be known by the Director of Mission Operations Directorate, and he could see that these other guys all seemed to like me.
Who was that? There were several, probably.
John Mengel, I think, was the first guy.
Well, there were two John Mengels.
Okay. There were a lot of scientists there that I got to know. John O’Keefe? He also helped me out with the Jack Schmitt thing at the time. Well, I would make the rounds and talk. I’d get to know all these guys, and I was an entrepreneur. I didn’t sit around at my desk and say, “Well, what are they going to assign me to now?” I’ve never been that way. I’ve got my own ideas on what I want to do.
But you were in an operations group, Code 500.
Yes. But they did all the orbit work, all the trajectory business.
Yes, of course, that’s why you were there.
They did all the mission design work there. So that’s where it was located. Okay.
So you were doing your job, but there must have been a lot of maintenance that required your expertise as well. The big problem with people in daily operations groups, is that many of them are just as qualified, if not more qualified or more talented in doing advanced projects type stuff, but they can’t do it because of the daily workload. You know, you’ve got a daily deadline.
Was there ever any of that kind of kickback or feedback that said —
Well, I had some stuff to do when I got in the IC project, but I didn’t mind doing that, and I had to write a few memos and things like this, and then I had people helping me because then I got a budget, and it had these RTOPs, these research — I forget what the thing stood for. You would write these things up and you’d get money from Headquarters then to work on such and such. So I had Don Yeomans working for me on the one thing, because he was working at CSC at the time, and I thought, “Well, I need a guy to do Cometary ephemerides,” and here’s Don Yeomans, you know. He didn’t really have anything to do. But I got him a lot of money from NASA Headquarters and everything, and he worked at CSC, and, yes, that went on for about five years.
How did you find Don and others like him?
I can’t quite remember. But when I first got interested in this thing, I could see right away that one of the things we wanted to do was to get a good orbit for the comets, because a lot of papers had been written, and missions to Encke, and guys used elements out of a handbook, you know, and didn’t propagate them forward. Of course, the orbit changes completely, so they had missions that could never work.
Did they know what osculating elements means?
They didn’t understand a lot of stuff. They didn’t understand about the fact that comets have non-gravitational acceleration and some orbits change.
Well, Don understood that stuff.
Well, Don did his thesis on that. He did his thesis on Giacobini-Zinner. Hey, it gets even more Twilight Zone type of stuff, because I looked at Don’s thesis, and said, “Well, that’s interesting.” He gives credit to the person who typed his thesis, Marge Holmgren. That’s interesting, and he said she did a great job. Well, here I am on the West Coast, and Marge Holmgren typed my thesis, too. I was the first one she ever did, and Don’s was like the second one she ever did, and he’s at the University of Maryland. She had moved out here, and then she did his after that, you know.
Well, you know, a number of typists who can handle the old Leroy lettering sets and all the old equations things.
Well, it was all done on electric typewriter and everything.
But did you put in the equations in your thesis, or did she?
Oh, yes. I wrote them out, and then she typed them, and then I had to review them. God, it was a mess.
She typed them?
This is before computers.
Yes. Oh, yes.
Because we used to have to use Leroy’s in the early to late sixties. You know the Leroy machine, sort of a pentagraph?
I’m trying to think what it is. I heard the name.
It had a rigid grid that had all the symbols on it, and then you put a pen with a needle in it and ran that across, and you could produce that on the piece of paper with the ink.
No, we didn’t have to do that. She had all the symbols on her typewriter. They had different balls they could put in, you know.
Wow. Cool. Oh, that’s right, IBM Selectrics and stuff.
Yes, they had IBM Selectric, yes.
Oh, first class.
Yes, pretty much.
Just looking at it.
It wasn’t bad.
I mean, I had a master’s thesis with about a hundred triple integrals. I had to put every one of them in.
My Master’s thesis, I just did them by hand and just reproduced them.
Sure. Well, they wouldn’t let me do that. This had to be print quality. That was the school. But anyway, okay, so I’m building up now a picture of you’re working at Goddard and using your entrepreneurial techniques to begin becoming something. Even though you’re in Code 500, you’re beginning to do project management. That was clearly something you liked to do.
Did you ever receive any flak for that, though? Did anybody ever try to draw you on the carpet or draw your bosses on the carpet?
Oh, I got a lot of things. I got in trouble a lot, yes, for various things.
Give me a few examples.
— mathematicians who got into this stuff later on, into halo orbits and libration points and all this kind of good stuff, and they got a whole new jargon. They calculate things. They worry about invariant manifolds and dynamical tubes that the spacecraft will run down and so forth.
Yes, invariant manifolds, I’ve heard that, right.
Yes, invariant manifolds, and so here’s a whole book. But they’ve been ignoring any of my earlier work, which really gets me pissed off, because they basically are doing the same things. They come up with the same results that I came up with years before, but now they claim that it’s calculated a different way with dynamical systems theory, so therefore it’s all different, and they have an interplanetary superhighway and all this kind of stuff.
Who is in this category of new age sustramechanicers?
Well, these are the main culprits here. They’re all from Caltech, I think. Well, no, this guy now has moved to Virginia Tech. Gerald Morriston is the leader of the group, not Brian Morriston. Also Wang San Koon, Martin Lowe, and Shane Ross. This is their book. I just copied this the other day. Dynamical Systems: The Three-Body Problem in Space Mission Design. They’re trying to be relevant. If they just did this, that’s one thing. But no, now you have to have this in order to do this design. You can’t do these things without having their methods, so they talk about the Genesis mission and how they used all these invariant manifolds and all this kind of good stuff. But then lately I saw this book here is about three-hundred-and-some pages. Some history. “Discovery of Halo Orbits.”
That’s Section 6.2.
Yes. So, “The points of equilibrium along the line,” blah, blah, blah, let’s see, “have been known for over two centuries.” Euler LaGrange, right? “Their existence was known to pioneers of space flight in the mid-twentieth century but no application of them was proposed until 1950. At that time, Arthur C. Clarke talked about the translunar libration point would be an ideal place for relaying TV and radio broadcasts from Earth to colonies on the far side of the moon.” Well, I’d pointed that out. But he had it right at the point, so you couldn’t see it from the Earth, you see.
Okay. But that was if you had colonists. A decade and a half later, they got me finally. Look at this. I couldn’t believe it. It says about the communication link to the far side, named such a trajectory of halo orbit. So they are giving me credit finally, the bastards. They took forever. Then it goes on and on, and I published all these papers and so forth.
They also referenced your '68, '69, and '72 papers there.
Then they talk about the IC mission.
So are you telling me this may not be the most reliable history?
No, this is okay, but I’m going to add another whole chapter because they don’t have enough in here about it.
Well, is it just that, that there isn’t enough detail or that they’re getting something wrong?
No, they got it right here. This is all good.
Okay. Page 145, just again for the record.
Then they go on about the Barcelona group. This is another group of mathematicians that are doing all this work. They even mention me down here a little bit; they call my stuff as being classical methods, you know.
So you’re commenting on the fact that you’re considered to be a classical method. Isn’t that also called a pioneer?
Maybe. But it’s not — anyway, this is a diagram. It’s a pretty simple diagram that I made a long time ago.
Let me get it for the record here. It’s a blog by Shane Ross called “What is the Interplanetary Superhighway.”
Right. He’s one of the authors of this thing. This explains the thing. It’s a bunch of nonsense. These guys have come up with all this nice jargon and everybody’s picked up on it. I’ve seen it on covers of Science magazine. I can’t believe it.
Well, is there something wrong with the metaphor of a superhighway?
Yes. It actually takes longer. A superhighway is something you go fast on. It’s actually a very slow route between places and stuff. It’s a bunch of hype, is what it is, but they manage to convince people. But here’s the one thing I want to show you.
The idea of the winding tunnels and conduits. That’s what you mean.
Yes. They’re shown in here.
They visualize them. But these are equal potential services, right?
I don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.
They’re not physical?
They’re just trajectories, as far as I’m concerned, but there’s some kind of manifold that they float on.
Maybe it’s dark net.
But if I’m trying to go from Point A to B, I don’t have to compute a thousand paths out there and then pick one of them as being the optimal one. That’s what they do. And yet the way we did it, is somehow state as we just used an iteration technique. But no, we actually targeted back. We had a targeting program, so it’s all wrong what they’ve been saying.
Well, is it a question of computing power? They have computing power?
Yes, they have lots more. So they use it, but it doesn’t give them a better answer than what we got before. As a matter of fact, one of the things I’m going to show in my book, the Genesis flight path out to the halo orbit, if you overlay that with the IC3 flight path, they look exactly the same, because they are. There is no difference here, but these guys, they don’t understand it.
Well, is it they don’t understand or they have to make their own mark?
They conveniently overlook what has been done before, yes. They usually don’t reference it at all.
For what? For what reason?
Just recently because I’ve complained a little bit to them, now I see they’re starting to pick up on it. Now, see, this picture here —
This is Figure 2 on the blog The Interplanetary Superhighway.
Yes. But this is a figure I’d used in a lot of my stuff, and I see this figure appearing in these things over and over again. They never say where it’s from. So now what they’ve done, this is pretty clever, in this new book, Figure 5.5.2 is the same figure but notice there’s a difference except that they rotated it.
And so it’s different. Only for the purpose of making it different, so then they can say that it was theirs and not mine, you see. You’ve got to say something.
But you can see the rest of it is all the same, you know.
Yes, it’s just reversed.
And they changed the — these are LL2 rather than L2 or whatever is here.
Yes. So that means lunar libration. And EL is earth libration.
Yes. They changed a little bit of the stuff to make it different.
Well, at least they give you some credit. It says "NASA has a lot of experience with halo orbit missions.” By the way, is this Xeroxed from a book that’s published?
You can get an electronic version of this on the web.
Oh, that’s what that is. Okay. Yes, because it looks almost like galleys, not an actual print.
I don’t know if they ever published it, because I couldn’t get it on Barnes & Noble. They even referenced all kinds of my work in this thing. Which is good. But here’s the thing. Back to the Interplanetary Superhighway. This brief historical sketch that they talk — “The Interplanetary Superhighway is based on a mathematical concept known as invariant manifolds, the tubes. Invariant manifolds are part of dynamical systems theory, chaos theory, created by Poincaré and his celebrated study of three-body problem,” etc., “and then Carles Simo and his group at Barcelona were the first to apply this to space mission design, the seminal work for the Soho mission.” It was not used. Unfortunately, it was not used for the Soho Mission. But then it’s been used here. Then this is more on the Interplanetary Superhighway. [Farquhar’s phone rings]
I want to finish up with this blog. But first of all, you asked me to read this section, and there is something here that really is very strange. On Page 2 of 7, it says, “The work of Simo’s group on invariant manifolds and dynamical systems theory in the late 1980s gave rise to the question of whether the invariant manifold tubes of one planet might intersect the tubes of another planet to provide a means of transport between the planets.” What the heck does that mean? Does that imply some sort of wormhole or thing? I mean, it gives that kind of impression, but I know that’s not true.
No. What happens is that given all the perturbations that are going on, you can transfer things from one end of the solar system to the other, given each time. Things move around a lot. So these guys think that, “Oh, look what we’ve found. We’ve found a real cheap way to go between places.” Of course, it might take them a hundred years to go from one place to the other, and it doesn’t take any Delta V or anything else, any fuel. So this is such a great thing.
And they name it the Superhighway.
Yes. If they’re studying the natural motion of asteroids or something, yes, this is a great thing. What they’re doing is great for this type of work. But they’re trying to apply it to space missions, where you have to go there from Point A to Point B. You don’t want to take fifteen or twenty, hundred years to go from one place to another. You’ve got to get there, you know. They don’t understand this.
But they’re using terminology that would to a science fiction buff, who does not really know the orbital mechanics involved, that there’s something special going on.
This kind of person could be sitting in Congress or just about anywhere.
That’s right. And they buffaloed NASA on this stuff to some extent.
No. You know, they gave them all kinds of grants and everything. Martin Lowe works out of JPL, and he got all kinds of money from NASA Headquarters to do this stuff, and he says, “Look, I can go from here to here, and it doesn’t cost anything.” But it’s not a practical way to do things. But these guys don’t understand that. They’ve got a real scam going on here with this stuff. NASA gives them money and so forth and so on. I was going to write a paper just to expose them, but then I thought it’s not worth it. But you didn’t read the good thing they said about me on the last paragraph.
Oh, I didn’t get that far. On the bottom of that same page then — “The fact that the theory of invariant manifolds was used in the design of the Genesis trajectory in no way diminishes the work of Robert Farquhar and others on earlier La Grange point missions. He not only coined the name halo orbits, he convinced NASA to fly the historic first libration mission, ISEE-3/ICE,” and that’s what you’ve been calling the IC3 mission.
“He opened the door for the rest of the world to follow.” That’s nice. “Today libration points are not only accepted by the space community but have become a popular location for a great variety of missions. Many of these have been conceived of by Bob Farquhar. We are building on the work that he and his team began.”
That was good, so I’m going to put that in the book.
That’s very nice. Now, the question is, did they put that in after you wrote them the letter or before you wrote them the letter? Because you said you complained to them at some point.
Yes, I complained to Jerry Morriston, and we had some pretty nasty letters going back and forth.
And this is the result of that?
I think it might be, yes, from one of the guys, not from him, but from somebody that’s connected with that group.
Yes, but that’s very interesting.
But there are several of these groups around the world now. There’s one at Purdue headed up by Kathleen Howe, who worked at Stanford under John Breakwell, and so she used my thesis to try to go on from there, but never references me. She’s really something. I hate these people.
Well, what kind of community is this?
Yes, this is a strange community. Yes, I know this is. They don’t like me for some reason or other.
Is it just you or is this anybody?
It’s mainly me, I think, yes. Maybe because I try to take too much credit. This is what they try to think, or something.
I see. Has anybody told you that?
I complained to Al Diaz, who was then the director at Goddard, because they actually plagiarized some of the stuff that Dave and I did. And since that time, Tom Stengle, who is now the branch chief in Flight Dynamics, told all those guys not to reference any of my work ever, and so I complained again, and they decided, well, they’re not going to reference my work, but they put it in a bibliography at the end. I never saw a paper with a bibliography.
Oh, your own boys at Goddard.
Yes, right, guys who used to work for me, even.
That’s very interesting.
Yes. It’s bad. This is typical for this business.
Okay. Let me move from that to the phone call you just had.
Okay. Yes, that’s more fun.
Now, can you tell me who that was on the phone?
Yes. His name is John McCarthy from Orbital Sciences.
Now, it sounds like you are ginning up a project to go to an asteroid.
Yes, or to a centaur. We’re not sure yet. We’ve got two possibilities.
You said you probably have a P.I. now, Jim Bell. What is Joe Veverka’s role?
Joe is kind of the senior statesmen out there at Cornell. And he’s the P.I. on another mission I’ve got going on with Orbital.
Well, I’m trying to understand what your style is as an entrepreneur in this case. Basically, what you said on the phone call was that you dream up a mission, but there has to be a P.I., and you’re not it because you’re not a scientist.
So you basically go out there and you find somebody who’s willing to be the P.I.
I have a good network of scientists that I know, and for this kind of science. This guy, Jim Bell, was on the NEAR mission with me. He was part of the Cornell group.
Well, are you the only one who’s basically working in a Code 500 type mode or role that is going out there doing this kind of entrepreneurship?
There are not too many people I know of that are doing this. It usually starts with the scientists, and they come up with the mission that they want to do, and then they go and they talk to a mission designer like myself. And say, “Can you calculate a trajectory out here,” or do something, but I usually think of the whole thing myself as to what kind of spacecraft are we going to need and what kind of timing are we going to need, what objects should we go to, which ones are the most interesting and so forth. So I know a little science, and, see, I can understand what’s going to sell and what isn’t. We’re in a competition here, a big competition. There’s going to be other big groups coming in from JPL, from APL and so forth.
Were those groups created and put together by scientists or by others?
Usually by scientists. Usually start with the P.I., and he’s got an idea for a mission. With the New Frontier’s missions, though, they’ve got a set of missions that they have to do. They can’t just do anything.
So this particular one is design a mission to an asteroid.
There is about five or six things in there. One of them was to go to Pluto and/or KBOs and that ended up being the New Horizons mission. That was competed along with a lot of other things. Then there’s a mission to go to the far side of the moon, or going to the South Pole to the Aitken Basin.
So that’s something on the far side?
Well, it’s near the South Pole.
Well, I’ll look for it. But what I’m curious about is now NASA essentially issues these AOs “Announcement of Opportunity.” And they’ve been putting these things out for quite some time. Have you ever been involved in creating an AO?
I’m trying to think. When I was at Headquarters, I might have been involved in doing some of it, yes.
Have you ever been involved in providing input to an AO? Has your advice been ever sought out by anyone at NASA Headquarters saying, “Bob, we’d like to go to this asteroid,” or this comet or this whatever. “Is it feasible and what would it take and what would we have to put into the RFP to make it happen?”
Okay, it’s a little different than that.
How does it work?
Well, let’s see. When I started the Discovery Program at NASA Headquarters, which is where a lot of this stuff comes from, we decided we wanted to get cheaper planetary missions. Jeff Briggs and I worked on this to begin with. And later on this morphed into “faster, cheaper, better” with Dan Goldin. People put out the history as though… We just recently had a meeting in Huntsville called Discovery at Fifteen, and they were going to do the whole thing. What happened was that I ended up giving the keynote talk on the history of the program, and a lot of them didn’t know the history of the program, that we had two science teams, and that’s where the name Discovery came from. It came from Bob Brown from the Space Telescope Institute. So I was in charge of the program at that time. Jeff Briggs brought me in. I was working in Space Physics, and he said, “Well, how would you like to work in my side, too?” I still worked with Space Physics, but I came over there.
Because Jeff was in Planetary Science.
Yes. He was the head of that then. He’s still out at Ames, but he’s an emeritus guy now.
You began interacting with NASA in this entrepreneurial mode about when? In the late sixties or mid-sixties, do you think?
I really got started in the entrepreneurial mode when I wrote the first paper on the lunar communications satellite. That was ’66.
Well, my question was, was NASA using AOs at that time as well?
Yes, they used AOs all the time, Announcement of Opportunity, but that was mainly for the scientist to propose an instrument to go on something. They didn’t have whole missions as Announcements of Opportunity.
When did that start?
With the Explorer Program, they had it there for a while. Right? You could propose an Explorer mission.
An early Explorer, you mean?
Yes. Right. But then a lot of those were just assigned to somebody. The planetary missions started with the Discovery Program. This was the idea. We were going to try to bring that into the Planetary to lower the cost of the thing, and also then let people do things that didn’t come out of some big committee saying, “Here’s what we should do next.”
Well, that’s my question. How were the AOs generated? How would I go about finding out how the AOs were generated and to what extent scientists in the relevant disciplines had input to those AOs or whether it was really an internal NASA operation?
Well, the way that the Discovery thing was set up is you can propose to do anything, almost, if it fits within the budget. We put budget guidelines. We put some constraints on the thing at the beginning. Now it’s getting out of hand a little bit. Well, it evolves.
But what does NASA Headquarters do? How does it decide to issue an AO?
Well, you have to go through the chain of command there, and ultimately the guy that’s in charge of the space or the Science Mission Directorate then, which was Alan Stern recently, would say, “Yes, okay.” I mean, he’d sign off on it at the end.
But who would initiate AOs? Would the program managers?
No. It would come out of the different offices. If it’s a planetary one, it comes out of the Planetary Office.
And to your knowledge, do they employ committees to deliberate over what the AO would be?
No, it’s usually given to a couple people, and they’re given guidelines and it’s iterated back and forth, I mean, all the details of it. These are like legal documents. They have to have enough in there so that they don’t have to award the thing to anybody if they don’t want to.
Right. Sure. But these people who are given the job are people at NASA Headquarters.
Yes, they’re at NASA Headquarters.
Are they typically scientists?
Scientists, former project managers, whatever. They usually get a mix of people in there because all this stuff in there. It starts with the science usually, though. But the way the Discovery Program was set up, this was going to be set up to do planetary missions. They have to be certain category of things. Because I know the Genesis guys tried to get in there to begin with, and they were ruled then that they should go to the Explorer Program rather than to the Discovery Program, but they finally got in there somehow. They made it fit. But what we did to begin with was we said, well, these things can’t cost more than 250 million, something like that, counting launch vehicle and everything else. We said you can’t use a launch vehicle that was bigger than the Delta 2. That would keep the size small, you see.
Sure, that’s the cost constraint, yes.
Things like this, and you had to include DSN costs and things of this sort, and you had to have a principal investigator who’s responsible for everything. More complications as the first two missions didn’t work this way. They were kind of selected arbitrarily by NASA to go forward.
Now, what does that mean? Tell me about that.
They didn’t have the same competition they have now. When the AO goes out, there was like thirty-four proposals came in. They chose about three of them to down-select two in the end out of the three. So you had to go through several hurdles. But the first two missions, which were kind of prototypes for the program to see if it would really work was NEAR and Mars Pathfinder. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t competition, because JPL and APL competed to do NEAR.
To do NEAR but not Pathfinder. Pathfinder was only JPL.
Pathfinder — that’s another whole story here. And they chose to do that one first, but then it turns out that NEAR is going to launch earlier, so NEAR is the first mission in the Discovery Program, even though the other one was selected programmatically first.
We’re getting — it’s very interesting stuff.
We’re diverging but in very, very interesting ways, and I think this would be very valuable in the future, certainly to me, because I’m trying to understand how NASA as a funding agency influenced what I would call disciplinary change in astronomy in the sixties, seventies, and eighties. In other words, did astronomers change what they were interested in and how they would go about pursuing a particular question? Did they change their actual questions they asked, and whether they did or not, did they decide to use different methodologies for answering whatever questions they asked? And I’m not quite sure how I’m going to get into that, and I’m trying to probe it.
Yes. How does NASA do the things that they’re doing? How do they decide what they want to do?
And what’s been happening over many, many years now, they get groups, scientific groups at the National Academy of Sciences who do various studies to recommend a program for them. Here’s the big question, and then they get into actual missions where you should do this, and then they even prioritize these missions. And what they’ve been doing recently, they had decadal studies, every ten years. They do this stuff, and these are the most important questions that need to be answered, you know. But what the decadal study for the planetary missions did this last time, is they had all the important things we they to do. So these things come out as flagship missions. They categorize these are the things that cost like three or four billion dollars. And so these are things that are just going to be given to somebody to do when NASA finds the funds to do them. Then they have these things now which are called New Frontiers, which is an outgrowth of the Discovery Program, but missions costing more than the Discovery Program would. So there they have a smaller set of missions. These are all missions that the decadal study has deemed as being important. So there’s a set of missions there, but it’s a small set, about seven missions maybe. They think that these will fit in the budget for New Frontiers. Then they say also, “But we still want to do the Discovery Program,” and that’s open to doing anything you want, basically. So you just put it in and then it goes through several reviews and it’s finally winnowed down to a couple missions.
So the Discovery missions now are like what Explorer might have been in the seventies.
Yes, Explorer and Discovery things are the same cost, roughly, but the Explorer missions are in space science and small astronomy missions. And the planetary is all separate.
Is the Discovery.
Yes, that’s right. So the way you describe it, though, it sounds like the overall envelope of what are the important areas of the discipline to address is determined by the highest recognized most representative supposedly body of science in the United States. You’re saying yes? I mean the national —
I don’t always think they’re the best, most important things, but maybe they are.
Yes. But they are definitely community-based.
These decisions are made by a community, a larger group than, let’s say, a particular observatory or a particular person making a decision doing something.
Now, you’re sitting inside NASA, okay, and in a way, you are the antithesis to this kind of collective thinking.
Yes. I hate collective thinking.
All right. But the fact is though that you say, “Okay, I’m an Entrepreneur. I’m going to get a bunch of people interested in X.” But you are still subject to the AOs that come down.
Yes, now I am, yes. But with New Frontiers one of the things they put in there, “We would like to do a reconnaissance of the centaurs and Trojan asteroids.” That’s what they’d like to do. So that’s okay. That’s enough for me. But they don’t say how they’re going to do it. Are they going to orbit them? Are they going to ram into them and have them impact? I get to make all those decisions.
But orbit and ram are two very different missions. And you go out and find the P.I. who is interested in the ramming or the P.I. —
No, I come up with the mission first that I think is going to sell. I evaluate all the things. Now, you’ve got a cross cap you’ve got to fit in. What can be done? What clever way can you find to do all this stuff and make it fit in the cross cap? And then say you get involved with the launch vehicle, and now this particular one I’m looking at is using solar electric propulsion.
Well, in the case of NEAR, you came up with the idea that you were going to soft-land?
Well, I came up that after the fact.
What were you originally trying to do, just orbit?
Just orbit, right.
When did it become evident that you could soft-land, and was it your decision to do that?
Not my decision, but it was my recommendation. No, I couldn’t decide anything, but I engineered it so that they couldn’t do anything else except what I wanted to do.
So they couldn’t continue just to orbit?
No, what happened there was once again I worked with the scientists. I didn’t listen to the guys at APL. They didn’t want to land this thing.
APL did not.
Did the scientists?
Here’s what happened. The project scientist, Andy Cheng, who’s now the chief scientist at APL, very much against trying to land the spacecraft, and he’s the project scientist. The project manager, Tom Cofflin, nice guy, got so upset with me talking about landing, because I talked about it at a couple press conferences. He was so upset with me about that, called me in his office, because he heard that I was talking about it in the hallway to somebody. He said, “I don’t want to hear that ‘L’ word anymore.” He really got upset. I mean, we had some really bad words. I mean, it go so bad, I get pretty worked up sometimes. I seem like an easygoing guy, but I’m not. I was in his office, and I basically told him, I said, “Fuck you.” That’s how bad it was.
But I mean, I know we’re jumping all around, but NEAR was originally designed to be simply an orbiter. And then that would be the end of the mission?
As a matter of fact, no. It started out we were going to go to the easiest asteroid to get to, which is some little dinky thing about a kilometer. It was called Nereus and then I added things to it. I thought, “Well, this is kind of dull. Everybody’s been talking about rendezvous with the near-earth asteroid for a long time. What can we do to make it fun?” Well, it comes back again towards the Earth, I see how you can — after I rendezvous with it, and then I can target it back to the Earth and then use Earth’s swing-by to go to all kinds of different bodies. I put a paper out on this. They said, “Oh, quit talking about all this nonsense. We just want to do this basic mission.” Okay. But then I thought, “Who wants to go to this little asteroid? Let’s go to something big like Eros.” Now, how can we get there? Well, it’s a little harder to get to Eros. This one guy had a whole catalogue of all the Eros opportunities, and I thought, “You know, there was a C3 of about forty-something,” and that means I need a big launch vehicle or I won’t get much mass out there and it’s a big —
It’s a measure of the launch vehicle, of the energy of the launch and then how much weight. There’s a curve of spacecraft mass versus C3. C3 is the hyperbolic excess velocity squared. It’s something that they use.
Okay. That’s all I need to know.
It’s an energy that they use. And where did it come from? It’s in Moulton’s book. This is the origin of the C3 thing.
I know Moulton. That’s fine. I just never knew it as C3.
The launch vehicle people know nothing about where C3 comes from. All they know is why is it C3, why isn’t it C2? They don’t have any idea. But it’s in Moulton’s book. It’s in his textbook.
I’ll look at Moulton. Yes, I know Moulton.
Yes. I’ve got something on it. I can mail you the thing. The guy wrote a little history of it. Chauncey Uphoff wrote the history. He likes stuff like this. He’s another character. He died recently. So I’m looking at this guy’s table, you know, and it’s just straight flights out there, nothing fancy, just launch from the Earth and go out there and you rendezvous. But this is useful, because you’ve got this catalogue of opportunities. So then I’m looking at the one and I’m thinking, if you use a two-year delta-vega thing before you try to launch out there, I’ll bet that will cut down on the energy that’s needed to get to Eros and we can get this thing done within the Discovery Program. And sure enough, you know, we worked it out. It works. So then we pushed the Eros thing, and they said, “Oh, why do you want to go there?” Because it’s bigger than all the others, that’s why. So I talked to Joe Veverka, and I said, “Hey, we’ve really got to push them on this.” And Tom Cofflin didn’t want to do that at first, either. He said, “Oh, god, no, we don’t have enough time to do this thing.” But they eventually got it through, and we got the whole thing. That’s another whole story in the book as to how this whole thing evolved. So then we’re going out to Eros. There’s no thought about landing, and I had the idea that, “Hey, look, our rendezvous at the end of the mission is bring the spacecraft down.” I wasn’t even thinking about landing, necessarily, but bring it down slowly to the surface and take a lot of images as you’re getting in closer and closer and closer. That was the whole purpose of it. I mean, just landing for the purpose of landing and not doing anything, that’s kind of a stunt, and I don’t like to do stunts. A lot of people do, but I don’t like to do that. But then I thought if we actually landed, could we get some information after we landed and it turns out we could with the gamma ray spectrometer, which we couldn’t get from orbit, by the way. So I’m proposing all this stuff and mentioning it at press conferences, and there was some grumbling when I first mentioned it. But then later on, there was more than grumbling; they didn’t want me talking about that because they had other ideas. One of the things they wanted to do was to take the spacecraft and have it do gamma ray bursts for about another couple of years. They thought, well, this is going to be like a WPA project. Because then they could keep going and get more and more money for many years later, see? So naturally they didn’t want to end the mission, so that was a lot of the scientists’ motivation. Certain scientists down there. And Andy Cheng wanted to keep it going, so he’d be project scientist for a couple more years on a project, right? And Tom Cofflin wanted it because then APL could keep making money off of this thing. I thought, “Well, this is stupid. The mission is an asteroid mission. Come on. Why are we going to do something else?” This is kind of an extra thing that you could get out of the gamma ray and the x-ray spectrometer, is looking for things like this.
The way it landed, though, the spectrometer was actually looking at the surface.
Was that by design or that was the way it had to be?
That’s kind of the way it happened. But they still could have seen something anyway, so it wasn’t that big a deal.
Nobody thought we could communicate with it afterwards either. I know the main IRF person, Kate Reynolds, she says, “Why are we sitting around here talking about all this stuff? There’s no way in hell that you’re going to get anything from that low-gain omni on the top,” she’s telling me.
Yes, but Eros rotates.
Yes, but it rotates out of our vision. But we had it on there to begin with. It was going to be visible for a couple months anyway. But she just didn’t think that anything would be operating from that distance. We barely got any signal back, I mean very little, and we had to use a 70-meter dish in order to get it back. It’s amazing we could get it back then. But, they didn’t want me to talk about this landing, and when we went down to talk to Ed Weiler they saw my presentation and said, “No, no, you can’t show those last two slides,” we’re talking about landing. “No, you can’t show that. We don’t want to hear anything about that. I don’t want to hear the ‘L’ word mentioned.” So we’re going through the whole thing. We get done with the whole presentation, and then Weiler says, “Well, what’s going to happen with the spacecraft afterwards?” “Well, it hasn’t been decided yet,” we’re all saying, and I’m just sitting there, I’m not saying anything. He says, “Well, what about landing?” I said, “Oh, I’m glad you asked that question.” And I answered it. But we were going to get in anyway because I talked to Joe Veverka about it before, and he wasn’t going to do anything else but land, because he saw that that was the right thing to do.
So you had Joe sold, and Joe must have said something to Ed.
Joe is a strong personality, like Norman Ness. So you get these guys involved, and then you’re going to get things done.
So you get these guys as your constituents.
The same thing with the Mathilde flyby that we did on the way out to Eros. That thing didn’t come up until the critical design review a year before launch. That makes a great story also, because Tom Cofflin was saying — we’re having a big critical design review and everything, and I had Dave Dunham look over what asteroids are we coming close to. They had done it for me once, so we didn’t find anything interesting. But Dave went back and put in the real orbits for the things, not off the NASCOM file which are the orbits that are close to what you want, but when you do a big search, you don’t try to get the integrated orbits for the whole. So you’ve got to put the integrated orbits in, and we had missed this one. I thought, “Jesus, this is a big asteroid and it’s not that far off.” So then I had these guys working, trying to get it to work, you know. They could never quite get it to work the way we wanted to. It still took a lot of extra fuel and everything. So I mention this thing so at the critical design review, Tom Cofflin was there, I said, “You know, I think we can fly by this other asteroid.” He thought I was joking. He starts laughing about it. But I wasn’t joking.
Well, let me just, for the end of the interview say this has been a very interesting interview, a little bit disjoint, but since it’s all electronic, it’ll be fine. When we get all of this processed, though, I would like to move in this direction and find out more about the Lunar Polar Orbiter, and then we’ll do a whole session on IC3. Does that make sense to you?
Do you have a better idea?
Yes, I’d rather go by the way that the book is written.
Okay. That’s all right.
Like the Lunar Polar Orbiter thing, that was just something I did on the side, you know, didn’t get anywhere didn’t go anywhere.
Somebody might be interested in it.
That’s like LRO nowadays. Take a long time.
Okay. I will then go back to your original prospectus and pick up from there. How does that sound?
Well, I have a new outline. Didn’t I give you that thing? It’s got chapter four on the history. Yes, that’s it. So we didn’t finish some of these other things yet. Let me see. We did that. We did enough of that. This one, we did some of that.
So, chapter three and four.
Yes. It goes on for a long time.
Oh, no, of course. Yes, there’s plenty more.
Goes on a long time.
Okay. Fine. I will adhere to that one.
When you live too long, see?
No, no, no. Okay. Thanks a lot.