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Interview of George Paulikas by David Zierler on March 23, 2021,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Interview with George Paulikas, retired Executive Vice President of the Aerospace Corporation. Paulikas describes his birth country of Lithuania and his family’s experiences in World War II and the convoluted path that brought his family to the United States in 1949. He recounts his teenage years in Chicago and his undergraduate education, at the University of Illinois, first at Chicago and then Champaign-Urbana where he majored in engineering physics. Paulikas discusses his graduate research at UC Berkeley where he focused on plasma physics under the direction of Ken Watson, he describes his first job at Aerospace as a member of the Space Physics Laboratory, and he explains the historical origins of the corporation, and its key mission to assist the U.S. Air Force in the planning, development, acquisition, and operations of national security space systems. Paulikas describes his ascent at Aerospace as Lab Director and the emphasis on basic research that ensured his integration with the broader space physics community. He explains the circumstances of being named Vice President of the Laboratories, then Vice President of the Development Group, where he focused on planning functions future Air Force systems. Paulikas describes Aerospace as a Federally Funded Research and Development Center and he discusses some of the major projects at the corporation, including the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, the Space Transportation System, the creation of GPS, and its involvement in Reagan’s SDI program. He discusses his subsequent role as Senior Vice President of Programs and his focus on getting space launches right before he was named Executive Vice President. At the end of the interview, Paulikas reflects on how Aerospace responded to the end of the Cold War and its increasing emphasis on space exploration, and he emphasizes his pride in his record of mentorship.
Okay. This is David Zierler, Oral Historian for the American Institute of Physics. It is March 23, 2021. I'm delighted to be here with George Paulikas. George, it's great to see you. Thank you for joining me.
Delighted to see you.
Alright, so, to start, would you please tell me your title and institutional affiliation, or your most recent title and institutional affiliation?
I'm a retired Executive Vice President of the Aerospace Corporation. I retired 23 years ago, in June of 1998, but I still keep a title, I get a parking place, and continue to do some work for Aerospace.
George, a question we're all dealing with right now. For you, even in retirement. How have things been during the pandemic? Has it been difficult for you and your family?
Not particularly. We're introverts anyway, so we have become more introverted. I have learned a lot of new skills like shopping online, ordering meals to be delivered online, and shopping in-person with a mask on and my glasses fogging up. I've discovered that if I get to the local grocery store at 6 in the morning, I'm the only one there, and I have to find a cashier to check me out and take my credit card. But it hasn't been difficult. We've been particularly delighted to have support from our friends and neighbors who have done some of the shopping for us, who have provided us with extra masks when masks were scarce at first, if you believe such a thing. It's not been hard. It's just that after a while it's wearying, and the social interactions that we used to have have been drastically reduced. We're looking forward now, as in Los Angeles County things are looking better, and soon it will be possible to resume an existence that resembles normal life.
Are you fully vaccinated yet?
Yes, indeed. My wife and I are both fully vaccinated. In fact, I just exchanged emails with my colleagues, and a large fraction of the people that I used to work with have been vaccinated, so we're contemplating getting together again, if we can find a restaurant that will have us.
George, what's the one thing that you're looking forward to most to life getting back to normal?
I think, getting together with friends in an informal, casual manner, and hosting a few.
I'm with you on that. Well, George, let's take it all the way back to the beginning. Let's start, first, with your parents. Tell me about them and where they're from.
First of all, I am an immigrant, like many people in the United States. We arrived in the US in July of 1949. My parents were both Lithuanians, born in Lithuania, where I was born in 1936. At the time of my birth, my father was studying for his graduate engineering degree in structural engineering, and my mother was a schoolteacher. You could say that my mother helped put my father through graduate school. Joan helped put me through graduate school-so I am a second-generation male beneficiary of a marriage! I was born in 1936 in Lithuania, during a time of apparent peace, but that time of calm did not last very long. Life of our family after that became very, very turbulent. Life involved drastic changes of environment, changes of language. Living through the period before World War II, during World War II, and after World War II was nothing if not turbulent. Where do you want me to continue?
George, what were your earliest memories of World War II?
My earliest memory of World War II was actually a memory of a prelude of World War II. In March of 1939, the part of Lithuania that we lived in was seized by Nazi Germany. I recall that the Lithuanian emblem, the “Vytis”-a knight on a steed-in a recess on the front of the local post office, which I could see from my window, was being painted over. It was erased! That was March of 1939. My parents told me that there were parades with people shouting “Litauer raus! Juden raus!” (Lithuanians out, Jews out). My parents felt threatened. We left that part of Lithuania, now annexed to Germany, and moved into Lithuania proper, and stayed there until the Soviet occupation of Lithuania in 1940-1941. In the Spring of 1941, it was obviously time to flee again as my parents received word that our family was slated for deportation to Siberia. We left Lithuania and somehow—I do not recall how—got into Germany—my first memory is that we went through some sort of delousing procedure. This melted the caramels in my pocket resulting in gooey mess. So, life became a series of moves and changes. My language, which was initially Lithuanian and German, became German and Lithuanian, but the German predominated, because after 1941 we lived in Germany or countries under German occupation.
What was your family's ethnic background? Did you have German heritage?
We lived in a part of Lithuania that was bilingual by nature because the region was right on the border between Lithuania and Germany. My mother's ancestors were of German origin, having arrived in Lithuania in the late 1700s from East Prussia, we think, but she considered herself a Lithuanian, as did my father. Both of them were proud Lithuanians having come of age during the period of Lithuanian independence, 1918-1940, the first period of independence since 1795. The region where we lived until March 1939 was called Klaipedos Krastas by Lithuanians, Memelland by Germans, Lithuania Minor by the international community. The people were bilingual by nature because of the proximity to Germany.
George, obviously, you would have been too young to think about these things, and you would be lucky as a result, but was your sense that your parents and adults around them would have known about the Holocaust?
The first time that I heard about the Holocaust was from my parents’ guarded conversations in 1944. They described that people were being led into showers, presumably to take showers, but the outcome was quite different.
For you, as a boy, who were the biggest villains that you understood? Was it the Germans or was it the Russians?
The Russians rated a 10 on a scale of 0-10. The threat of deportation to Siberia only enhanced the feeling. The deportations of tens of thousands of Lithuanians to parts East, atrocities committed by the Russians during the 1940-1941 occupation of Lithuania added to the fear of Russia. Our family dodged the Russians in 1941 and again in 1944 and again, twice in 1945.The Germans were the lesser evil. The animosity between Lithuania and Germany dates back to the Middle Ages. The Teutonic Knights, proxies for German expansion, conducted what historians call the Northern Crusades. This was an attempt, endorsed by the Popes of those times, to Christianize the pagan Lithuanians. Two hundred years of intermittent warfare resulted, beginning around 1200 AD and ending in 1410 with the defeat of the Teutonic knights. This history is imbedded in all Lithuanians. There was also the occupation of Lithuania by Germany during World War I and the attempt by a renegade German army to halt the development of an independent Lithuania. While the German army was initially welcomed in World War II, soon a resistance developed. I recall one of our trips in 1943 in Lithuania was delayed because a train had been derailed by the Lithuanian resistance and we had to walk around the wreckage to continue our trip.
Was your family ever in danger? Were you personally ever in danger during the war?
As mentioned earlier there was the overwhelming danger and fear of being caught by the Russians, a fear which spanned years. There was the additional fear and danger being caught between contending armies during the war, as was the case in 1945. As we moved West from the approaching Russians in 1944, we wound up for a time living in an oil refinery, the Lobau oil refinery, near Vienna, Austria. Because oil was at the top of the target list of the US Air Force and the Vienna area contained four or five oil refineries and an oil shipment harbor, we were living in the bullseye from August to November 1944. We experienced more than a dozen air raids that were close enough to be “interesting.” One air raid in October 1944 came close to killing us.
Where was your family at the end of the war?
At the end of the war, that would have been May of 1945. We were in middle of Germany, in Thuringia, when the war in Europe was over. But that was a short stay because that part of Germany was assigned to become part of the Soviet occupation zone of Germany. So, soon thereafter, in June of 1945, by direction of General Clay, the military governor of the US Zone of Germany, the Baltic people, Latvians, Estonians, and Lithuanians, also Poles and Ukrainians, who having moved West in stages avoiding the Soviet advance and wanted to escape the Russians, were given the opportunity to be moved by the US Army to the western part of Germany. That's where we wound up.I met General Clay many years later when he was a Trustee of Aerospace but did not have the opportunity to thank him for his decision that saved us from the Russians.
How long was your family in the western part of Germany?
We left the western part of Germany, which was Bavaria, in 1949 coming to the US. So, you see, we moved, or were moved, from place to place to place between 1939 and 1949.I think we lived in 19 different places spanning Lithuania, Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Austria.
George, during these years, did you have anything that resembled a continuous education? Did you have what you'd say a normal childhood at all?
No, absolutely not. I went to Lithuanian schools, German schools, Lithuanian schools, German schools. There were long intervals of no school at all, times I actually enjoyed, being left to my own devices. It was not a normal childhood, but in a way, I was fortunate because I was young enough to view all that as an adventure. My relatives or acquaintances, who as children were just slightly younger than I, don’t remember anything. Some children slightly older than I were very traumatized by those experiences. I was lucky. When the war began, I was 3 years old, and when the war ended, I was 9 years old. The turbulence continued until 1949 at which time I was 13.
What happened in 1949? Where did your family go next?
The story here is complicated. My parents had sisters and brothers who had emigrated to the United States in the early 1900s. It became possible to communicate with them around 1946 or 1947. At that time, it became possible to think about emigrating to the US which was viewed as the Promised Land! The U.S. immigration laws were changing so as to accept refugees from Europe more easily. In 1948, consistent with the new laws, it was necessary for my aunts and uncles to guarantee to the U.S. government that we immigrants would not become burdens on American society. My aunts and uncles were very, very generous and kind people. Their means were minimal. These aunts and uncles had to sign affidavits that they would take on and provide for a family of strangers that they had never met or met only as babies. This generosity of spirit touches me even today, almost seventy-five years later. They prepared the necessary paperwork, and we got in line with thousands of others. Then we went through various stages of the immigration process which began in late '48, and ended in July 1949, when we got aboard the U.S. Army Transport, General Leroy Eltinge, in Bremerhaven and arrived in Boston on July 19, 1949.
Did you have any English? Could you say anything in English?
I had learned English both in German school and Lithuanian school, but it was a peculiar kind of English. The pronunciation I learned was more like the King’s English rather than American English. So, my first encounters with Americans, first US soldiers, and later people in the U.S. were a bit difficult, because they didn't sound right, and I could not understand them. I could read better than I could speak. I started American high school in September of 1949 and rapidly became fluent in English.
George, what were the career prospects of your father, or your mother, if she wanted to work outside the house? What could they do in America?
Let me tell you an interesting story. When the war ended and we were in the American zone of occupation in Germany, the refugees there made a great effort to learn English. In the Displaced Persons’ camp in Gunzenhausen, Germany, where we were for several years, there were courses in English taught by an Estonian lady, Aino Oni. I still remember her name! Father and mother enrolled in the class as did many others. My mother was more successful than my father in learning English. One of my first memories of the United States, once we were here, was taking my father to an employment office in Chicago, Illinois. The State of Illinois ran employment offices to help people find jobs. Father and I entered the employment office on 63rd and Ashland in Chicago. The official there asked my father whether he could read blueprints. I did not know what a blueprint was, and I asked my father, (Ka tas reiskia blueprint?) "What's a blueprint?" And father said (Sakyk kad moku), "Say yes." So, I said, "Yes." My father got a job in the steel fabrication facility in Chicago, where he worked for a few years. At times he worked two jobs. He later worked at other companies and ultimately worked his way up in yet a different company to be an engineer again. My mother did essentially maid service, cleaning offices in downtown Chicago for a while, later working for a Nabisco bakery in Chicago, a mile or so from our house. We never were out of cookies! Mother was never interested in a job that was of a professional nature. She involved herself in the Lithuanian community activities in Chicago. I recall that she worked with others on modernizing the Lithuanian language used in the Lithuanian Lutheran Bible. My father had an interesting technical career, travelling on engineering assignments. It took him a while to get to a professional status, but he got there.
George, where did you go to high school?
I went to Harper High in Chicago. That high school has now been closed. I particularly remember Mrs. Weeks, my first English teacher, for the gentle and kind way she helped me in English and Mr. Buehrer who was an excellent teacher of chemistry and physics and got me started thinking about atomic physics and, via E=mc2, the theory of relativity. I also remember Mr. Sommers who taught mechanical drawing. I liked that course very much and somehow talked Mr. Sommers in doubling the time I spent in class. Mr. Sommers then persuaded the powers-that-be to have this count as a major subject like English or Civics! My time with Mr. Sommers learning mechanical drawing yielded long term dividends. I got a summer job as a junior draftsman with the engineering department of Continental Can Company in Chicago. This job extended over my entire undergraduate years and, while helping my finances it also showed me the workings of an engineering department building hardware and what it takes to convert sheets of metal into intricately assembled cans. To this day I cannot resist looking at the metal seams of any can I pick up!
George, from all the dislocation, the lack of education, how well prepared were you, besides the English, when you got to the United States?
The thing you have to realize is that although I moved from school to school and from language to language, the Lithuanian Gymnasium and the German Gymnasium courses were very rigorous compared to an American high school. So, after I came to the U.S., except for the fact that I was deficient in English, I loafed through the first couple years of high school. In a German high school, you took Latin and English, German and geography and history and religion and algebra and geometry. There were no social activities whatsoever. You just studied. So, I was great at algebra. I was great at geometry. I was well prepared, except for English, when I got to high school in Chicago.
George, to fast-forward to your career, were you thinking in high school more that you would pursue interests in science or in business?
It was always engineering, because my father was an engineer. I wanted to be like my dad. I wanted to be an engineer. And of course, I was fascinated by airplanes, for good reasons and bad. I had learned to identify every German and every U.S. airplane during the war. I built and flew model airplanes. Aeronautical engineering is where I started college at the University of Illinois.
Now, the University of Illinois, just it was local, the tuition was right, it was close enough to home? Did that make the most sense to you?
Oh, that made a huge difference. I went my first two years to the Chicago Undergraduate Division of the University of Illinois. It was located on Navy Pier, a pier that extends far out into Lake Michigan. On stormy days the waves lapped against the classroom windows. It has since evolved into the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, a huge institution. At that time, it was a two-year school with ambitions. Tuition at Illinois in those days was 50 dollars a semester. I had a scholarship, so I paid zero tuition. And I commuted from home. It was actually a very good school. Of all the schools that I've been to, Illinois and California, I think the Undergraduate Division at Navy Pier in Chicago had the best teaching, simply because the faculty there were young men and women on the make. They were going to advance; they saw a four-year school evolving before their very eyes. So, they focused on teaching, and they did a super job.
George, what year did you start undergraduate?
Was the intention to do two years there, and then to transfer to Champaign-Urbana?
Yes, that was the intention, and that's what happened. So, in '55, I went to Champaign.
And you stuck with the engineering degree? That's what your major was?
Yes, except I switched from aero engineering to engineering physics upon transferring. I thought physics would be more interesting. The trigger was when my aero advisor would not let me add a course in atomic physics to my aero curriculum. I switched to engineering physics which was physics with a heavy dose of electrical and electronic engineering. Because aero engineering and engineering physics were both in the College of Engineering, the transfer was easily made.
Did you have concerns that you wouldn't be an engineer like your father once you switched majors?
No, the thought never crossed my mind. I wanted to learn physics. I don't want to use the term "do physics." I didn't know what the term meant. But I wanted to be a physicist.
What was so compelling and intellectually captivating about physics?
Just solving problems starting from fundamentals, which is slightly different than engineering, but it still involves solving problems. I like to solve problems, be these physics problems or crossword puzzles.
Did you see yourself more in theory, or more in experimentation?
I thought I was an experimenter simply because I had always built stuff beginning with an Erector set when I was 6. Later, at ages 7 and 8, I carved boats out of wood bark and sailed these on the placid waters of the harbor of Smalininkai, Lithuania where we lived for a time. I still have the scars on my hands where the pocketknife slipped now and then.
On that point, George, to sort of zoom out a little, politically, in the early and mid-1950s, this is the height of the Cold War, it’s the heart of McCarthyism. What was your family’s politics like? Did you talk about politics in the Cold War at the dinner table?
The conversation always returned to the latest push and shove between the US and the Soviet Union like the Berlin Blockade, the Berlin Airlift, the Korean War, the Hungarian revolution which failed. They believed that the deal Roosevelt made at Yalta, which assigned Lithuania to the Soviet sphere of influence, was the doing of Roosevelt. They voted Republican once they became citizens.
How'd they feel about McCarthy?
That's something that never came up.We had no TV at that time and missed all of the issues surrounding McCarthy.
And they considered themselves patriotic Americans.
They didn't understand what McCarthyism was. They just liked the United States. They thought the Soviets were bad, not just bad, evil! Communists were bad. That was their political philosophy.We became citizens as soon as possible. Parents voted straight Republican ever since.
When you graduated, George, what opportunities were available to you? What did you want to do next?
It was obvious that I was going to go to graduate school-that was the accepted course for a physicist. That was the direction in 1957. I married Joan Gross, my classmate from Harper High. Went to grad school at Illinois for a year on an Illinois physics Fellowship. Joan went to graduate school at Illinois at the same time on an Illinois Fellowship in history. We thought it was time for a change. The forte of the Illinois physics department was solid state physics which did not interest me. Now, in 1958, I was awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship which allowed me the freedom to choose a university to attend (providing they would have me!). Weather in Illinois was awful, so we came to California in 1958.
George, of course, this was right around the time of Sputnik. In what ways did the American response to Sputnik help your career and your ambitions?
That was enormously influential in the sense that I had always believed that the reach toward space was going to be an inevitable event, although I didn't quite understand how it would happen. I had since high school been an avid reader of science fiction. Read every issue of “Astounding Science Fiction” I could get my hands on. Watched every movie on space such as “Destination Moon.” Tried to see Sputnik passing over Champaign. Before Sputnik, there were substantial developments in the ballistic missiles going on, both in the US and in the Soviet Union. It was clear that going to work in space related science and technology would be very interesting.
Where in California did you transfer for graduate school?
Why Berkeley? What specifically was it, besides the weather, about Berkeley?
I think the reputation of the Berkeley physics department was probably the drawing factor.
Was there a particular professor that you wanted to work with?
No. No, it was just to go to Berkeley which seemed like an exciting school. Nothing complicated. It seems so simple in retrospect, but Joan and I did not debate the issue. We said, "We're going to California." We took the car we had, loaded most of our possessions on the rear seats of the car, put our cat on top of the possessions and drove to California with the cat on my shoulder behind me, looking out the windows. The cat enjoyed the trip!
What kind of physics did you want to do at Berkeley?
That wasn't clear to me. Initially, I thought it was going to be high energy physics, but then it became clear to me that that was already a field that was well established. The high energy physics in Berkeley revolved around a big accelerator, the Bevatron, with very large groups of people working together. Then there was the emerging field of plasma physics. Some of the work had just been declassified. So, I talked to various people. I talked to Owen Chamberlain, who was about to win a Nobel Prize, about working for him in high energy physics. Talked to Bob Brown who was doing cosmic ray physics. Talked to my friends who worked in various physics groups at Berkeley. I thought it would be most fun to work on something new, something just starting up, which was plasma physics at Berkeley. So, I went to work in a group led by Bob Pyle.
Was Bob your graduate advisor?
No, the advisory structure was strange in the following sense. Plasma physics wasn't considered real physics. High energy physics was real physics. Plasma physics was somewhere down in the pecking order. Bob Pyle, not being Professor of physics was not qualified to be my advisor. My “official” advisor was Ken Watson, a well-known theorist who was a full professor. He could be my advisor. Now, here's the funny thing. Here is a theorist advising an experimentalist. But the real advisors were Bob Pyle and Wulf Kunkel, another plasma physicist. Those are the people that guided me, together with Ken Allen, who was on loan to the UC Radiation Lab at Berkeley from the Atomic Energy Establishment in England. I would occasionally stop by to see Professor Watson to tell him what I was doing.
Did you stick with plasma physics for your thesis?
Oh, yes. Yes, I did. In fact, I was incredibly lucky because I found a problem waiting to be solved in plasma physics, namely looking at the stability of columns of weakly ionized gases in a magnetic field. That turned into a very fine thesis project and got me a degree. The ironic thing is that my thesis work, the direction of my experimentation, was greatly improved by the theoretical work of two Soviet scientists Kadomtsev and Nedospasov whose papers I read. My experimental results closely matched their theory. One interesting sidelight: In getting my experiment going we needed to clear out an area in, what was then Building 16 of the UC Radiation Laboratory, now called the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The building was a mess, full of ancient, dusty equipment surrounding a huge electromagnet which someone told me was a “calutron.” A crew had to back a flatbed truck into the building, which was done with much cursing and swearing, to get the calutron onto the truck and out of the building. Then, in moving electronics racks and workbenches, I discovered a pile of oddly shaped greyish metal bars, a few feet in length, a few inches wide and about half an inch thick with provisions to make electrical connections. Inquiring, I learned that these were silver buss bars associated with the just departed calutron. Calutrons, invented by Professor Lawrence at Berkeley in the early 1940s, ganged together in thousands at Oak Ridge during World War II, were used to separate uranium isotopes producing the U 235 for the Hiroshima atomic bomb. (The word “calutron” stood for CAL-ifornia U-niversity with the obligatory TRON attached). The shortage of copper during World War II forced the Manhattan Project to requisition 15,000 tons of silver from the US Treasury to make the electrical windings and connections for the thousands of calutrons at Oak Ridge. In organizing my lab space, I apparently encountered a bit of the history of the atomic age in the form of a few hundred pounds of silver buss bars and what might have been the last calutron. The pile of silver bars was soon moved to the precious metals vault. I could have snatched one of those bars and no one would have noticed. Could have had material for some nice silver jewelry for Joan!
George, what were some of the major questions in plasma physics at the time?
The questions at the time which still persist to this very day: How does one confine a plasma, heat the plasma to start thermonuclear reactions, and possibly, extract energy. That search continues. Now there's the international thermonuclear reactor experiment in place in which the United States is a participant. Although, the center of gravity for that experiment called ITER -the International Thermonuclear Reactor- is no longer in the United States. It's in Europe. The questions at that time, when I was in plasma physics, were challenging. It was a very fascinating field. However, it looked to me like it was not going to go anywhere in the near term in the sense of generation of energy. Now you have to appreciate that the space physics I did for many years after Berkeley was plasma physics in a different environment. Plasmas in the laboratory are quite dense and confined in volumes of the order of a meter. Plasmas in space are very rarified and occupy volumes measured in tens of thousands of kilometers. All the space above a couple hundred kilometers above the Earth is a plasma. Very different from laboratory plasma but still a plasma. Nature governs the plasma environment around Earth and throughout the Universe. Man can't do very much about it, just observe the plasma processes. So, what I did for the next sixty years after graduating, I was a plasma physicist, but in space, not in the laboratory.
George, I'll test your memory. Who was on your thesis committee?
There was Professor Ken Watson the Chair, from physics, Professor Alvin Trivelpiece from electrical engineering, Professor Walter Knight from physics, probably also Professor Wulf Kunkel. There must have been one or two more, likely from astronomy or astrophysics, but I do not remember.
George, after you defended, what did you want to do next? What opportunities were there for you?
There were a lot of opportunities working in plasma physics, but I decided that I didn't want to do plasma physics. I wanted to do something in space. So, I interviewed various organization. I interviewed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I interviewed at RAND, I talked to Aeroneutronic, General Dynamics, STL. I settled on Aerospace, for the simple reason, that it was a new corporation, a year old in 1961, just starting up and was expected to be heavily involved in space related activities. I had been drawn to novelty in my thesis work, drawn to novelty in moving to California. It is apparent now that my choosing Aerospace was a continuation of the process of being drawn to novelty.
George, did you ever consider an academic career? Did you ever look at faculty positions?
My brief experience in teaching was discouraging. One of my advisors, Bob Pyle, was associated with the nuclear engineering department at Berkeley. Occasionally, I had to substitute for him giving lectures on plasma physics. I discovered that preparing a good lecture was very, very difficult and took an enormous amount of time. I imagined that that was not the thing I really wanted to do, spend my life preparing lectures.
George, tell me a little bit about the origins of the Aerospace Corporation. Who started it?
The story there is complicated. As the ballistic missile work in the United States evolved, which began around 1954, the government entity responsible for the ICBM effort, was the US Air Force’s Western Development Division in Inglewood, California, led by General Schriever. General Schriever hired the Ramo-Woolridge Corporation (RW) as his technical advisors. RW contained a very skilled group of technical people. So, there was the Air Force, and there was the Ramo-Woolridge Corporation working as a team. The team was very successful. In a matter of a few years under the leadership of General Schriever this team developed and deployed a formidable ballistic missile force for the US. The Ramo-Woolridge Corporation wanted to do more than just be a technical advisor but wanted to get into the hardware business with likely higher profits. The Air Force believed there would be conflict of interest if an organization which is advising the government also builds the hardware which results from the advice. In the meantime, space systems were being developed, again under the direction of the Western Development Division and General Schriever, again involving the Ramo-Woolridge Corporation. The attempt to separate the hardware aspect of space systems from the space system advisory function led to the formation of Space Technology Laboratories, STL, which still was an element of Ramo-Woolridge—a subsidiary. That did not work. The problem was that the various companies like GE and Lockheed viewed that someone like STL doing hardware business while also advising the government was an obvious conflict of interest. The Congress of the United States became involved, examined options available and essentially said, "Go forth Air Force, form a non-profit corporation devoid of any hardware responsibilities, and go do that pretty soon." So, in June 1960, the Aerospace Corporation was formed taking 200 people from the Space Technology Laboratories as the nucleus of the new corporation. Aerospace was and is a California non-profit corporation created by direction of Congress and focused on providing technical support to the Air Force focusing on the ballistic missile and space efforts of the US.
Was your sense that the Space Race and the Kennedy Administration supercharged the Aerospace Corporation in terms of what it was able to do?
No, the supercharging part had already occurred because STL had already very substantial responsibilities. What was supercharged was the flow of money that was allocated to the development of space systems. This substantially increased. Aerospace benefitted by being born in an environment where there was a fair amount of funding available for the kind of work that Aerospace was chartered to do. Remember, at that point, before the Kennedy administration, the situation with space was very, very confusing. The Army and the Navy and the Air Force each had their own missile programs. These morphed into space programs, separate programs, which competed against each other. The Advanced Research Program Agency (ARPA) was also involved. It wasn't until Kennedy arrived in 1960-1961 that some rational order was established. It was a very confusing time, and it's hard to reconstruct the history. I lived through some of that, but I was but a baby. I was fresh out of school, so I only observed those things from a distance being an avid reader of “Aviation Week.”
George, was there a classified component when you started at Aerospace, in a defense contracting realm?
There was a classified component. I have an organization chart of Aerospace from August 1960 reflecting the space programs that were here at the beginning. There was the launch detection program MIDAS and the photo reconnaissance program SAMOS. There was a communications satellite program ADVENT, the treaty monitoring program VELA and satellite inspection program called SAINT. The early beginnings of some of the programs that we now know as NRO programs, also existed at the time of the formation of Aerospace. All these programs were moved from STL to Aerospace’s responsibility at the time of formation of the Corporation. The roots of most of the space programs that developed in the next few decades were there already in 1960.
What was your position, exactly, when you started?
I was a member of the technical staff, in a newly created corporation whose charter included a strong element of research. In the context of Aerospace’ overall mission this implied research in space related science and technology. For the organization I joined, the Space Physics Laboratory, this meant research on the space environment and the effects of the space environment on Air Force space systems. The people with whom I expected to work were experienced space physicists, Stan Freden and Steve White. They had done some of the earliest work in accurately measuring the characteristics of one element of space radiation, namely protons trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field. I expected to continue the work they had begun and extend it by flying experiments on satellites, experiments that would use new detector techniques.
“Member of technical staff” sounds a lot like Bell Labs. I wonder if there was a model there.
Yes, there was a model there. Some of the people that guided Aerospace, the members of the founding Board of Trustees, had been associated with Bell Labs in one way or another. There was definitely an attempt to emulate what had worked in successful technical organization such as Bell Labs. Being a “member of the technical staff” was considered to be a title of some distinction. No higher honor could be aspired to. I exaggerate, but only slightly.
George, in what ways was your graduate training relevant for the work you were about to do at Aerospace?
The graduate training in plasma physics was quite helpful. I had learned how charged particles in a plasma move in electric and magnetic fields. It was easy to understand how individual charged particles behave in space. It was much harder to understand the collective behavior of space plasmas. What was also helpful was that during graduate work, together with Bob Pyle, Selig Kaplan, Klaus Berkner, and others, I did some work that had to do with the atomic physics relevant to neutral particle beams that might be used to heat plasmas. Thus, I also learned nuclear physics techniques. That turned out to be very, very helpful when I was starting to build experiments to look at space radiation.Klaus Berkner, much later, became the Deputy Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Another question about the similarity to Bell Labs. Was there a basic science component to Aerospace? In other words, could you do research that wasn't necessarily connected to Aerospace's bottom line?
Yes, there was. The corporation took the view that a research component was going to be a very strong element in the Corporation. Ivan Getting, the first president of Aerospace, was a physicist, known for the Compton-Getting effect. Getting was particularly interested in having a strong research component. The laboratories of Aerospace, of which I was a member, were always treated very favorably by. We were the apple of his eye, let's put it that way. He was very favorably disposed to research. He was always interested in the work of the Labs, toured the Labs frequently, brought visitors to Aerospace to see what we were doing. For many years, there was very substantial funding for research and experimentation. I personally benefitted, of course, because we could do a lot of fun stuff, unconstrained to some degree by the realities of what was immediately applicable.
George, given that you were there right after the origins of the whole enterprise, what would you say was the overall mission of Aerospace Corporation, and how might it have changed in its first few years when you did join?
The mission was always the same, namely, to advise and assist the Air Force in the planning, development, acquisition and operations of national security space systems. Aerospace’s capabilities were based on science and engineering, supported by a base of research and experimentation. That did not change very much for close to ten years. The cancellation of a large Air Force program, the Manned Orbiting Laboratory in 1969, forced Aerospace to begin diversifying, moving out of doing only Air Force work, but still working only on problems of National importance. The diversification was encouraged by the then Secretary of Defense, Melvin Laird. Secretary Laird wanted to apply the talents that were resident in Aerospace and other corporations like MITRE and Lincoln Labs, to meet broad national needs. That began a change. At one time, in the late 1970s, Aerospace may have had as much as 15% of its business in non-Defense Department related work, work still judged to be of benefit to the Nation. The fraction of non-Department of Defense related work has varied over the years.
George, a very broad question, before we leave the 1960s altogether. What was the impact of the Vietnam War on the Aerospace Corporation culturally? Did it affect the day-to-day, and what were your feelings during those years?
The answer is the effect on my work was minimal. The Aerospace culture did not change. Some of the Air Force officers who we worked with, particularly the pilots, were deployed to Vietnam and returned. I found out, much later that, Air Force meteorological satellites supported the air war over Viet Nam providing cloud-cover data. We, in the Aerospace labs, were to a high degree, insulated. There was still the very intense concentration on the development of complicated space systems. The Corporation's and the staff's attention were focused on development and operation of space systems. We were still in a race with the Russians although after Apollo 11 landed on the Moon there was the sense that we won.
And what about you personally? What were your politics as they related to the Vietnam War?
I wasn't paying attention. I was busy. When you have an almost 24/7 job, and you have a family you are very busy. The period '64 to '68 or so, the height of the Vietnam War, to me is just a blur. I recall that we had seven launches in 1965. Between launches and data analysis and family there was not much time for anything else.
On that point, how did your job change from those first few years, in terms of your promotion and your increasing responsibilities?
I kept doing my technical work and research work from the time I started Aerospace in '61, until '68, when I became lab director. I was now responsible for close to 100 people. That changes your outlook on life. Until '68, my time was really spent in the laboratory, building experiments, flying them on satellites, looking at the data, flying experiments again, just going through a cycle of successful developments of experiment. Launch failures, which were distressingly frequent in the early days, were not the only way to destroy space physics experiments. Getting to launch posed its own hazards, or, to paraphrase Zero Mostel, “A funny thing happened on the way to the launch pad.” We have had detectors dropped onto hard surfaces from a sufficient height to dent thick copper hemispheric shields, experiment electronics were once fried to a crisp brown color by a runaway thermal cycling chamber, one of our experimental boxes was damaged beyond repair in a handling mishap. Stories I heard during my years in space experimentation have it that spacecraft have been skewered by errant forklifts, have been doused by sprinkler systems gone awry in high bay facilities and fallen from nominally secured handling fixtures. Such is the life in experimental space science! I was involved to some degree, starting in 1964, advising on the planning of future National Security Space Systems. I worked on the RFP-the Request for Proposal for the missile early warning program now called DSP (Defense Support Program). The first DSP was launched in 1970 and we celebrated the 50th anniversary of this program last year. The work on DSP, then and later, drew on my experience in space radiation and data and knowledge that I and my colleagues had obtained studying the space radiation environment. Two of my alumni, Barbara Ching and Dave Gorney were Aerospace Program Directors of DSP in later years.
So, between those years from '61 to '68, before you became lab director, what are some of the most significant scientific accomplishments you were involved in?
One thing that I neglected to mention is that the near-Earth space environment that had been measured and understood to some degree, when I started Aerospace. That environment was drastically altered by a nuclear test in 1962 called STARFISH. It was a 1.4 megaton bomb exploded at 400 kilometers above Johnson Island in the Pacific. This explosion changed the near-Earth space environment totally by injecting a huge flux of energetic electrons into the Earth’s magnetic field where they were trapped. In effect, an artificial radiation belt was created. The energetic electron flux was more than ten thousand times higher than before STARFISH. No one had predicted this effect. To the consternation of many, a number of satellites were damaged by the increased radiation in space. So, the first thing to do was to try and understand what that radiation was, where it was and how long it was going to be around, and what its effects were. From '62 to '68, I and my colleagues and many other scientists concentrated on studies of this artificially created radiation. The Soviet Union also conducted nuclear tests in space. Progress in understanding artificially created radiation belts was very rapid. Many laboratories were involved. I particularly recall Joe Reagan and his colleagues from Lockheed and Welter Brown for Bell labs. For us, the Air Force made space available on three Thor-Agena launches whose primary purpose was to carry CORONA reconnaissance satellites into orbit but had some room available into which we could fit our radiation detectors. We practically commuted to Vandenberg Air Force Base, 175 miles away from Los Angeles, from August to December of 1962. All launches were successful and we learned a great deal about the characteristics of this new radiation belt. The spatial distribution of the radiation was measured. We also found that the energy spectrum of the trapped electron closely resembled what would be expected to be the energy spectrum of electrons resulting from beta decay of fission products. In addition, we did what was the initial impetus for our research-improve on the Freden and White measurements of trapped energetic protons. This we did. Together with Stan Freden and Bernie Blake we mapped the distribution of energetic protons near Earth. But there were moments. Recall that October 1962 was the time of the Cuban Missile crisis. While at Vandenberg we heard President Kennedy address the Nation. Nearby our Thor-Agena was being prepared to launch a CORONA reconnaissance satellite to fly over the Soviet Union, presumably to gather information about military preparations there. There were some macabre discussions on the launch pad as to whether Vandenberg or Los Angeles would be the target of a Soviet missile strike. Just a momentary digression. We were too busy preparing our detectors to fly, and there was no 24/7 news coverage telling us about our impending doom. Around 1962-1963 it also became clear that in order to understand the radiation belts, one needs to go to higher altitudes, particular to the geosynchronous orbit. One of the annoying features of space radiation research at low altitude is the intermingling of temporal with spatial variations of the radiation flux. At the synchronous orbit, those two can be decoupled to a degree. Forrest Mozer, one of the first members of the Space Physics Lab at Aerospace, had a plan in 1960-1961 to fly radiation detectors on the Army’s geosynchronous ADVENT communications satellite. That program was canceled. With the help of the Air Force Office of Aerospace research (OAR) we were able to make an attempt to measure space radiation at the geosynchronous orbit with a spacecraft named OV2-3 in 1965. Unfortunately, the mission failed as the spacecraft did not separate from the Titan III booster. Our proposal to NASA to fly radiation detectors on ATS-1 was successful and flew in 1966. So, from '61 to '68, we were measuring the artificial radiation belt and its consequences, but also at the same time trying to expand our knowledge of the radiation belts in general. We were doing at least two things simultaneously.
George, another question on the Bell model. That is, at Bell Labs, the scientists there were very well integrated with the academic community. They would go to the same conferences, publish in the same papers. Was that your experience at Aerospace, working at the cutting edge of this research?
Yes, it was, and that's how I met Lanzerotti.
Lou Lanzerotti and I both had experiments on ATS-1, which was the first geosynchronous satellite to make really good measurements of the radiation in the geosynchronous orbit. This happened in 1966.The tight physical, thermal and electronic constraints allocated to the several experiments on ATS-1 resulted in admirable teamwork among the several Principal Investigators. I still fondly recall working with Lou Lanzerotti, Paul Coleman, John Winkler and all of their colleagues more than 50 years ago. ATS-1 was a goldmine of research results. We discovered, for example, that sometimes the solar wind so compresses the Earth’s magnetosphere that ATS-1 flying in geosynchronous orbit at an altitude of about 36,000 km was, at times, in interplanetary space. We also discovered, to our surprise, that energetic protons emitted by the sun had relatively easy access to the geosynchronous orbit. The Earth’s magnetic field was a very leaky shield. The rich harvest of data about trapped electrons and solar protons distracted us from a more systematic study of the environment. Returning to systematic studies later with the launch of our experiment on ATS-6 in 1976, we found to our surprise a very pronounced correlation of the fluxes of trapped electrons with the passage of interplanetary magnetic field sector boundaries and the presence of high-speed streams in the solar wind. Our results were widely cited and quoted. Thirty years were to pass. Then, in 2011, in a gracefully entitled paper “Paulikas and Blake Revisited,” and some revisit it was! Geoff Reeves and colleagues from Los Alamos, using a much superior set of data from seven satellites, spanning two solar cycles, greatly improved on our findings. This is how science progresses!
What were the circumstances leading to your promotion as lab director in '68?
The Founding Lab Director, Bob Becker, was promoted to Associate General Manager of the Laboratories Operation. Becker’s new organization included five laboratories at that time.
Did you welcome that? Did you feel like you were ready at this point in your career to take on the administrative responsibilities?
I didn't really think hard about it. I thought this looks like a pretty good job. I will have additional interesting things to do. The salary is better.Nice corner office. Reserved parking place. There were also two other developments, both of which I welcomed. First, an effort associated with the then classified PROGRAM 417, later known as the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) was transferred to my Laboratory. This provided the scientists and engineers in my lab almost immediate access to spaceflight opportunities. DMSP, flying in an almost polar orbit was wonderfully suited to make measurements on space radiation and auroral physics. We also now had a way to test new ideas in space with applications potential. The second development which I welcomed was that as Laboratory Director, I was invited to attend weekly reviews covering the activities of Air Force satellite programs. These programs were managed by the Aerospace Vice President for Space Programs Walter Leverton. This a job I would have ten years hence. Leverton’s responsibilities encompassed Aerospace groups working on communication satellites and early warning satellites and two groups working on NRO programs. Walter Leverton, a skilled and experienced program manager, was a physicist and something of an entertainer. His monthly reviews were designed to review progress but also probe deeply into problems and anomalies of the moment seeking root physical cause. These reviews also drew a crowd, being inevitably standing room only events. To me, it was a series of weekly lessons in space program management, failure analysis and the physics of failures, lessons I learned to treasure very soon.
Did you stay on with your science at all? Did you keep up with the research?
No, that gradually faded away. For one thing, when you're lab director, you don't want to be in a position of competing against all the other people in your laboratory. If you're lab director, you control the resources, and you could direct the lab toward your particular interests. I did not want to do that. The lab, at that time, consisted both of the radiation belt measurements, and consisted of a group doing upper atmospheric physics, a group doing laboratory atomic physics and there was also a group looking at solar physics. So, there were four groups in my organization at that time. What I came from was one of the four, so therefore, I was going to be very, very careful to not favor my old group with resource allocation, which is really what you do when you're a lab director.
Just to give a sense of the overall org structure of Aerospace, who did you report to, and who were your direct reports?
My boss was the vice president of the Laboratory Operations. I had four department heads working for me, but I reported to the Vice President Laboratory Operations.
And who were those four department heads? Not the names, necessarily, but just the structure of the lab, the kinds of science that they did.
One did what I used to do, namely radiation belt physics. One did physics of the upper atmosphere, namely density and composition variation. The other one did atomic physics in the laboratory, laboratory aeronomy, trying to understand the physics of the atmosphere and the ionosphere.There also was a group doing solar physics.
George, what was Aerospace’s involvement in the Space Race generally, and with the Apollo program with NASA? Was there any contact there?
There was the space race in public, namely Mercury, Gemini and later Apollo. There were also NASA’s unmanned science missions to the Moon and the planets. Aerospace had responsibility for the technical verification of the readiness for launch of the Air Force rockets and spacecraft. For example, the Gemini flying on a Titan II, and the Mercury flying on an Atlas involved rockets that had Aerospace technical involvement. Just the rockets, not the actual capsule. On Gemini and Mercury, there was a great deal of involvement related to the Atlas and Titan II launch vehicles. On Apollo there was only minimal involvement of Aerospace. Then there was the mostly invisible space race involving Air Force unclassified and classified mission which is where Aerospace had a very large involvement. The Air Force space programs were the principal focus.
George, was the moon landing one of those days that you'll never forget?
Absolutely. I remember the day well. There was the landing, something of a nail biter, and a bit later I remember watching a man coming out of the lander, backwards on a short ladder and stepping onto the Moon. Neal Armstrong.
Did you feel in some indirect way, at least, that you contributed to this overall American effort?
Yes, there was that feeling. Interestingly enough, I personally contributed a little more to Apollo 13. That was 1970. Recall, that was the one that almost didn't make it. The issue there was that in order to use the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) as a lifeboat, the astronauts had to get out of the well-shielded command module into the LEM during most of their return to Earth. The LEM provided only minimal radiation protection for the crew. The problem was that if there was a solar storm, or just some disturbance in the Earth’s magnetic field and the radiation in space was highly enhanced, their health would be endangered if they were in the LEM at the time. They would have to get out of the LEM and into the better shielded command module which, unfortunately had a limited life support system. So, the question was of how space radiation was behaving at that time. I was asked if I could help see what the space radiation was at the time that the astronauts were coming back from the moon. We had data from ATS-1 coming in in near real time. Data from the geosynchronous orbit can give you a feel for what the radiation in the outer magnetosphere of the earth is like. And I looked at our data and said, "Oh, yeah, it's okay. Not a problem, guys. Come on home." Simple as that.But I had a feeling that I was participating in a grand adventure.
George, what was the overall budgetary environment like, going from the high days of the '60s and the Space Race and the moon landing, onto the 1970s, where the United States, in a post-Nixon, post-Vietnam era, had very different priorities with science and space?
What had happened after the blossoming of the Space Age, which was in the early '60s, there was a period of substantial growth until the '70s. When the early '70s came around, budgets shrank drastically, programs were canceled, and the opportunity to fly experiments in space decreased dramatically, from being able to fly four or five times a year to being able to fly once every now and then, every few years. So, it was a substantial difference in terms of the access to space. When you're doing space physics, you've got to get into space. So, there was a substantial contraction of the opportunities, which was very noticeable. But what happened was people became more ingenious, got more effectiveness out of whatever budget was allocated. So, the contraction was not as drastic as you might have imagined.
George, how long did you stay as lab director?
Let's see. I was Lab Director from '68 to '81. 13 years. I probably hold the record as the longest tenured lab director at Aerospace. Lest you think it was boring, there was a huge technological revolution going on at that time. While the job title was the same, what I was doing was very, very different, in that the technological revolution, the development in electronics went from discrete electronics to microelectronics. Computing went from Marchant mechanical calculators, to HP-35 pocket calculators, to minicomputers. There was a constant technical change revolution that you had to cope with, in terms of what the lab equipment was like, what you had to buy, what you could surplus, the kind of experiments you could do that made sense in the context of this evolving technology So, it was very exciting but also quite painful and uncertain, because you never knew what was going to happen next. So, from '68 to '81, while I was lab director, the ground under my feet shifted dramatically.
How well did you adjust to these changes, would you say, looking back?
Looking back, considering the possibilities, reasonably successfully. The Laboratory was successful. We were able to attract excellent people. We were able to continue good scientific work in all the fields that I mentioned. Our people went to scientific conferences and held their own against the other scientists coming from academic institutions NASA, Air Force laboratories and industry.
What would you say were your greatest accomplishments during your tenure as lab director?
Developing successors. My alumni did very well. At some point, I quit taking pride in my own accomplishments and started taking pride in the accomplishments of the people I hired, or brought along, or stole from somebody else. Developing the people, and letting them do their own thing with only a modicum of guidance was what I was most successful at.
George, on the political side in your role as lab director, would your experience change with the shifting political winds in Washington, from Nixon to Ford, from Ford to Carter, Carter to Reagan? Did you feel these things in that role at all?
Only in the budgetary sense. The cancellation of the MOL program in 1969 after Nixon came in had a dramatic effect. The other changes of administration were less noticeable I discovered that when a new administration comes in, it takes them about a year to figure out what's going on. So, it wasn't like there was a huge change each time an Administration changed It would be a year later, and you discovered you had a smaller budget than you had the year before. It was a smooth; problems came and problems went. Various silly bureaucratic things would change, but in general, it was fairly smooth and not particularly visible. In other words, it was far less shocking and dramatic and traumatic than what you would experience while reading the press of those times.
What about Aerospace's changing involvement with the U.S. military? How did that change over the course of your time as lab director?
It didn't really change a great deal. It was always, the Air Force was the number one customer. During the various changes we just described, Aerospace also tried to develop connections with the NASA, NOAA, DOE, and the elements of the scientific establishments in the military such as the Air Force labs and NRL. So, it evolved slowly, but the Air Force was always the number one customer, occupying 85-90% of the attention of the Corporation.
What about the National Reconnaissance Office? What involvement did you have with the NRO?
The NRO we dealt with in the early years was an integral part of the Air Force. The NRO came in various species in those days, as you probably know. The part of the NRO that we worked with most closely was the Secretary of the Air Force Special Projects, SAFSP, SP for short. That association dates back to the beginning of the NRO, and the beginnings of Aerospace. That association continued, and evolved over time, and, if anything, grew over the years.
What happened for your next position in 1981?
In 1981, I was promoted to Vice President of the Laboratories. Vice President of the Laboratories now included four distinct laboratories. There was space physics, which was me, there was electronics, there was material sciences, and there was Chemistry and Physics. So, I had four laboratories working for me at that time. The laboratories were the physical science elements of Aerospace which was principally an engineering and program office-oriented corporation. I was now a corporate officer, involved with other corporate officers in setting policies for the Corporation and also speaking for and representing the Corporation in many technical matters within my expertise and the expertise inherent in the Laboratories.
As you said, one of your greatest accomplishments was grooming your successors as lab director. Who, ultimately succeeded you in that role?
The guy who succeeded me in that role wasHugh Rugge, who was one of my department heads at the time. He succeeded me as Vice President of the Laboratory sometime later. Do you notice the chain there?
How long did you remain as Vice President of Laboratories?
I was Vice President of Laboratories for four years, and then I became Vice President of the Development Group at Aerospace Corporation. Now, Development did not mean raising money. Development meant the development of new ideas and new technologies. That was my job. At that point, I had maybe 900 people working for me. Development Group included both the planning functions for future Air Force systems, the NRO programs for which Aerospace was responsible, the Laboratories, and some Air Force technology development activities supported by Aerospace. So, it was a large portfolio of activities which kept me very, very busy.My tenure as Group Vice President /Development started very poorly. There was the Challenger failure in January 1986 which halted the Shuttle program. There was a TITAN III failure at Vandenberg Air Force Base in April of 1986 which destroyed “my” HEXAGON reconnaissance satellite. It was clear that there would be no Shuttle launches from Vandenberg. Thus, all of the programmed launches form Vandenberg would have to be accommodated on Titan IIIs or other launch vehicles. Some of these were NRO spacecraft now under development, thus it was crucial to adapt these spacecraft to the new launchers, and quickly! Since the vibration, acceleration profiles and load paths of the Shuttle differed markedly from those of the Titan family, major reengineering efforts of many spacecraft would be required-and immediately. Jokingly, I called this redirection of efforts at Aerospace and at the spacecraft contractors “the full employment act for stress analysts.” My colleagues in Aerospace’s Programs Group responsible for launch vehicles would have to work overtime to return the Titan III to flight and develop the Titan IV.
George, at this stage in your career, I wonder if it would be a good place to ask you to explain a little bit about Aerospace's status as an FFRDC, a Federally Funded Research and Development Center. Can you talk about the origins of that arrangement and how it affected both the operations and the culture of Aerospace?
Some time after the end of World War II and well into the Cold War, the government discovered that it had a number of technical organizations which were supported by government funds. that didn't fit the ordinary mold. They were neither universities, nor industry. There was MITRE, there was Lincoln Lab, there was Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Applied Lab, there were the weapons laboratories-Los Alamos, Sandia and Livermore and there was the RAND Corporation. In 1957 National Science Foundation established a category of institutions called FFRDCs. The name kept changing. Initially, it was FCRC for DoD related institutions, FFRDC for others. Eventually all were called FFRDCs. These corporations, and other organizations, some of which are loosely associated with universities, have a special status. They have long-term trusted relations with the government and long-term missions. They cannot compete, except to form another FFRDC. They would have to be governed by a set of rules. The FFRDCs, are in general, freestanding, or operated by a corporation at an arm's length distance. The degree of independence from the government is an important element. The long-term stability is an important element. The ability to “call ‘em as you see ‘em,” in other words, giving advice to the government agencies that these might not necessarily like, is one particular aspect of an FFRDC. Those particular constraints governed Aerospace right from the beginning. FFRDCs come in several species-there are the Research and Development Laboratory FFRDCs such as Los Alamos, Lincoln Labs and others, there are the Studies and Analysis FFRDCs such as RAND’s Project Air Force and the Center for Naval Analysis and others and then there are the Systems Engineering and Integration FFRDCs like Aerospace and MITRE. There are also other organizations called UARCs-University Associated Research Centers. To a physicist, in the first approximation FFRDC=UARC, but there are some differences. Early on, limits were placed on how much money Aerospace and the other DOD FFRDCs could take from the government. It was called the FFRDC “ceiling.”This has been a source of grief for Aerospace for many years, particularly from 1990 to 1997. Ceilings were established by DDR&E. The problem was the “ceilings” were only vaguely related to the expected workload and responsibility levied on the DOD FFRDCs. As the DOD budgets shrank 1990-1997, the Aerospace FFRDC ceiling shrank more rapidly. See my grey hairs?
In what ways does this status hamper, or not, Aerospace's interest in working with non-government entities, or even non-American entities?
You know, I can't really answer that question because matters have evolved since I retired. But, at one time, working with non-government entities was very difficult. Then, it became easier under special circumstances. If Aerospace could do something, and it was in the long-term interest of the United States and in the interest of the Air Force, that would be acceptable. For example, even as we speak, Aerospace is involved with the United Kingdom in communications satellite development. We did that about 30 years ago on a British program called Skynet. That program ended but the interest in the UK in space activities persisted and Aerospace’s relationship with the UK in space activities has resumed. The arrangements of working with industry are, to some degree, flexible, and they have evolved in recent years. I know that there have been times when, with the request of the Air Force and the government, we have assisted private companies in work that was of interest to the government.In the early 1990’s the Orbital Sciences Corporation was developing a rocket called Pegasus using its own funds. Dropped from a B-52, the rocket could put small payloads into low Earth orbits. There were a number of difficulties in bringing Pegasus into operational status. The Air Force was a potential user of Pegasus, The Advanced Projects Agency (ARPA) was involved. The Government asked Aerospace to help resolve such difficulties as Pegasus and Orbital Sciences were having. The difficulties were overcome; Pegasus turned out to be a success.
George, I want to go back and ask about a few particular major projects at Aerospace and ask about your involvement or your understanding about that. So, going all the way back to your very beginning, what was your involvement at all with the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, for example?
The Manned Orbiting Laboratory was a classified NRO program, which was a very large effort. Aerospace had a very large stake in terms of manpower involved, and I personally did not know anything the technical details of MOL. I knew there was a Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, that it was to be launched on a Titan IIIM, the M standing for MOL, but I didn't know any of the technical details. When it was canceled, there was a traumatic shock to Aerospace, simply because it was a very large program involving many people at Aerospace. Because it was canceled at the beginning of the fiscal year, it was very difficult to handle the decrease in budget within the budget remaining for that fiscal year. There was a layoff of a number of people. Since that time, of course, the various details of the MOL have become public, but at that time, it was a highly classified project. You knew there was a MOL, you knew it was going to fly on a Titan IIIM, it was going to use a Gemini capsule to house the pilots and that's about it.
If you can talk about this, and if you can't, I'll totally understand, but in what ways did Aerospace have facilities that were appropriate for classified work? Were there SCIFs? Was there a classification and a badging system?
Aerospace, except for spaces accessible to the public, you need to have a badge or be escorted. There were and are SCIFs and special security access arrangements. They existed from time immemorial, ever since I can remember. As the facilities evolved and as the security environment evolved access to Aerospace facilities has changed. Now, during the COVID pandemic, access is even more limited.
Going into the 1970s, again, George, what about the Space Transportation System, or STS? How did that start, and what was your involvement?
That was a decision made that one size would fit all. One launch vehicle, the space shuttle was to carry all government payloads into space. Aerospace, as an institution, said, "Yes, we will follow orders and do the best we can to support but we think it's a dumb idea." And Aerospace's involvement was substantial. I really was not involved, personally, but I do recall there were large groups of engineers who supported the effort, technically, in various ways. All of the spacecraft planned to fly on expendable launch vehicles like Titan or Atlas would have to be modified in some ways to meet the Shuttle environment. Much work to do! At the same time, people were skeptical that the shuttle itself was a viable concept. Here is a way I thought about it at the time: The shuttle is a rocket, it is a spacecraft, it is a reentry vehicle and it is an airplane. It is difficult enough to build any one of these components separately, now you have all of the components together, interacting. The reflight rate is very, very ambitious. And there will be people on board! Wow!
What about Aerospace's involvement in the origins of a Global Positioning System, or the technology that would create GPS?
GPS sprang from the remarkable synergism between Dr. Ivan Getting, President of Aerospace and Colonel (and PhD) Brad Parkinson. One of the early features of Aerospace, a feature that lasted for years, was that there was a huge planning organization called Systems Research and Planning Division, SRPD. All manner of concepts for space-based activities were examined, among these were navigation systems. That planning organization, through a series of evolutions, developed a space base navigation concept called Program 621 B which had some of the features of GPS. Getting, who used to sail the foggy waters of New England in his earlier days and depended on LORAN and lighthouses, was intimately familiar with navigation and guidance systems. Being President of Aerospace, he was in a position to advocate and support 621 B. Earlier, the Navy had developed the TRANSIT system, which was actually flying, and the Navy was working on an improved system called TIMATION. The Army was also working on system called SECOR. In 1972, the DOD established a joint three-service program, Army, Navy, and Air Force. Colonel Brad Parkinson was appointed program manager with the job of working out a program acceptable to all military services. In 1973 Parkinson led a team that developed a program which combined the best concepts and technologies available. This resulted in what we now know as GPS. There was opposition to GPS in various quarters. Getting with his vast numbers of high-level connections in Washington, provided the “top cover” for the program in Washington, as they say in the Air Force. Brad Parkinson ran the program office and got the system built and working.GPS succeeded. In 1992 the Collier Trophy was awarded to the GPS team consisting of Aerospace, the Air Force, the Naval Research Laboratory, Rockwell International and the Federal Systems Division of IBM. This was the team Parkinson built. In 2003 the Draper Prize was awarded to Ivan Getting and Brad Parkinson. In March 2004, after Getting’s death, the Air Force launched a new member of the GPS constellation with a plaque mounted on the satellite, a satellite that will remain in orbit for a thousand years. The plaque reads Lighthouses in the Sky Serving All Mankind Dr. Ivan A. Getting 1912-2003
I wonder if you might explain, what was it about Aerospace's unique area of expertise that it would make its contribution so fundamental to the creation of GPS?
It was possible in that Aerospace had a broad range of technical capabilities, based, by 1973 or so, on a vast experience with space systems. The beauty about Aerospace and the pleasure of working at Aerospace is there are smart people all over the place. If you ever wanted a question answered, all you had to do, in old days, was find a phonebook, and go through the classified part of the Aerospace phonebook, literally the “yellow pages.” Three phone calls and, you could get your answer. So, the combination of expertise in space systems and electronics, Getting's personal interest as President to steer the people, made it possibly to coalesce a team under Parkinson's leadership, and evolve GPS. Which was, by the way, quite controversial. The Air Force didn't want any part of GPS for a long time. They kept canceling it. The Defense Department liked it. The Air Force did not.
Why? Why that distinction? What was the Air Force's problem?
More satellites mean fewer airplanes. GPS was competing against other priorities. There were doubts about the feasibility. Putting all data from all satellites onto one frequency seemed like magic. When you start talking general relativity corrections to clocks on satellites, that sort of sends people off to the side. The Defense Department had a more global view and development of GPS proceeded.
That's funny. George, in the Reagan Administration, how did Aerospace get involved in the Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI?
There were obviously space elements to SDI. There was technical support, but questions about the overall feasibility. We had tried to build complicated space systems before, and knew the difficulties. There was technical support to assure that, at least, the elements which were really evolutions of systems that we had been working on before were feasible. We were going to do our best and give our technical judgment. For example, there was something in the '60s called BAMBI, Ballistic Missile Boost Intercept, which then was revived as Brilliant Pebbles within the SDI program. Many of the ideas that were inherent in Star Wars had been thought of and discarded twenty years earlier. These were revisions and improvements of what was being thought about and talked about. There was a substantial effort, and we gave it our best shot to see what could be done.I was personably skeptical. I had seen, almost firsthand, what one high yield nuclear detonation in space, STARFISH, could do, what surprising unpredicted secondary effect there were. The SDI x- ray laser concepts involved many nuclear detonations in space.
What did Aerospace contribute? Was there laser research that was happening at Aerospace?
Aerospace, historically—in fact, one of the labs that I used to run in the olden days was involved in laser work. We had substantial laser effort to the point that we couldn't do it in El Segundo because of physical space limitations and safety issues. There was a facility we set up at Edwards Air Force base to test a reasonably high-powered laser. Not megawatt lasers, but kilowatt lasers. Some of that work morphed and transitioned into the work that was being done on lasers by STL, I believe, down the coast at San Juan Capistrano. I don't remember any of the details, but yes, there was some effort in high powered lasers.
George, you said you were VP for four years. That would put us at 1985. What did you do next?
In '85, I became a Senior Vice President of Programs, which now had all of Air Force satellites, the satellite control facility and all of the Air Force launch vehicles and both East Coast and West Coast launch ranges—Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg, I had to worry about launch vehicles, which is a scary thing. I had been a satellite guy my previous twenty years. Now, I had to learn all about the failure mechanisms of launch vehicles, and the Air Force insisted that for every launch, Aerospace verify readiness for launch. My signature, or the president's, my boss's signature, would go on the dotted line before launch.In addition, in the Aerospace scheme of those days, the Senior VP /Programs was also the de-facto COO, the Chief Operating Officer. I now had the job of staff manpower planning, within the limitations of the FFRDC “ceiling” for the entire corporation, and meeting with the Commander or Vice Commander of the Space and Missile Center to discuss and resolve top level issues affecting the work Aerospace was doing for the Space and Missile Center. The one piece of good news was that the launch vehicle issues of 1985 and 1986 had, by and large, been resolved. The Titan IIIs were flying again, East Coast and West Coast. Titan IIs, refurbished ICBMs and converted to space launch vehicles were flying. Delta IIs were in the stable of available launch vehicles. Atlas II was coming along. The Air Force and Aerospace team led by the Colonel later General Lester Lyles and Aerospace’s Joe Wambolt was able to launch six GPS satellites and thus build up the GPS constellation before and during the first Gulf War. The bad news in 1990 was the beginning of the reduction of Aerospace staff because of “ceiling” limitations, reductions that continued until 1997.
After you flattened the learning curve on moving from satellites to launch vehicles, what were some of the greatest technical challenges with making sure that launches were done right?
Pay attention to detail. Follow procedures and precedents. Do not rush, do not make last minute changes without very, very thorough review. Don't cut corners. Listen to the skeptics in the room particularly the lower-level people, the young people. They are the ones who know what is really happening. The launch process was actually very complex, very detailed. The process had over time stabilized so that there were excellent, tested processes and procedures in place, and making sure that every voice was heard, and every possible anomaly was fully explored and resolved. If there were any concerns, preparations for the launch were stopped. It was a chastening experience, to be responsible.
George, what interface might you have had with the weapons laboratories?
Like Los Alamos and Livermore?
Only the fact that two of my alumni were associate directors of Los Alamos. Again, you're judged by your alumni. No, the answer is, we did not have any direct interface with them. That's not quite true, because another part of Aerospace which used to do ballistic missile work, and I lost track what they were doing—no, but during my time as Senior Vice President, the answer is no.
How long did you stay in that position as SVP?
When I became Executive Vice President, I stayed in the Programs VP job for a bit to make the transition to that job easier for my successor. As Exec VP, together with the President, we tried to keep the Aerospace ship of state upright and steering straight. I had the pleasure of working for Pete Aldridge, who was the former Secretary of the Air Force and also former Director of the NRO. He was a space guy.He knew launch vehicles and satellites. Had trained to fly on the Shuttle when it was to be launched from Vandenberg. Also, as Secretary of the Air Force, with great foresight, he had the Air Force buy ten CELVs—Complementary Expendable Launch Vehicles—to back up the Shuttle. Note the word “complementary.” That was a politically correct word to keep the Shuttle supporters from getting excited. The Air Force did buy ten such launchers which were to become Titan IVs.
Tell me about Aldridge. What was he like as a person?
He was a great person to work with and work for. He was energetic, always good for fun. He delegated responsibility. He recommended to the Board that I be promoted to Executive VP, the first in the history of Aerospace. He took care of the outside stuff and I took care of the inside stuff. We had a modus operandi that was easy for me to work in. He also reduced the bureaucratic work. He forced a revision of the policies and practices of Aerospace, which Aerospace had inherited from STL, who had inherited it from Ramo-Woolridge. So, there was 50 years of undergrowth that needed cleaning out. Very astute politically as you might expect from former Secretary of the Air Force.
Coming from the Air Force, what assets do you think Aldridge brought to this position?
Enormous respect. The Air Force generals didn't quite know how to deal with him as President of Aerospace. The Commander of the Space and Missile Center Lieutenant General Ed Barry asked: "What do we call you? Do we call you Mr. Secretary, or do we call you Pete?" “Call me Pete,” was the answer. He brought enormous respect. Because if we had a controversial decision to make, and Aldridge was briefed on it, and he said this was the way Aerospace believed we should go, there was very little debate.He was easy to brief because of his engineering and space background.
George, of course, these were the years of the winding down of the Cold War. What was your perspective on these things, and how was Aerospace affected as a result?
We had to lay off a lot of people. A more unpleasant job than handling launch failures is laying people off. Aerospace tried very hard to preserve its core capabilities and maintain the quality of the work that we did. The more pernicious effect of winding down the Cold War was on some of the contractors who lost a lot of capability in the process. So, you take that much money out of the budget, you take many Air Force civil servants and officers out of the picture. These retired—these people, the civil servants, do important work in quality control and inspection processes. The manpower shrinkage resulted, in my opinion, in a number of launch failures, because we—the collective WE—just weren't able to pay attention to everything.
George, it might sound like an obvious question, but what exactly is the linkage between the end of the Cold War and the budgetary shortfalls? Isn't there still a Russian nuclear threat? Isn't there a Chinese nuclear threat?
Remember, you're now talking about ancient history. We're talking about the end of the Cold War. That was 1989, 1990. And so on. The budget reductions—really reductions in the Aerospace FFRDC ceiling—continued until about 1997. So, that is ancient history. The people have changed, the times have changed, the threats have changed. The Evil Empire is gone, but the Evil Empire 2.0 in the form of Putin is there. The Chinese are there, so you know, it's a different ballgame. I must say, I'm not really comfortable in my understanding what's going on.
The budgetary cuts, was your sense that it mostly came from Congress, or that it was the Air Force directly that was making these decisions that affected Aerospace?
You're talking about the period between, say, 1990 and 1997, or '98.
When you have this painful job of having to fire all these people.
Yes, that was the period between '90 and '97. I think that was a case of everybody had to give at the office, that means the Department of Defense had levied cuts across the board. It was really a Department of Defense decision which got passed down to the Air Force, and the Air Force then had to make allocations, however they could. So, it was a Department of Defense decision to reduce the Aerospace FFRDC ceiling. We tried to understand and project how our budget would go by looking at the various government budgets. The best correlation was that Aerospace's budget—really the “ceiling”—tracked the total DOD budget. It's the total DOD budget. Not the Air Force budget, not the part of the budget allocated to space systems. The total DOD budget. It was irrational in that the allocation of money for the development of space systems, particularly the NRO portion, had actually increased—there was more work for us but our manpower was reduced because of the DOD mandated decrease of the Aerospace FFRDC ceiling.
To what extent did Aerospace's contribution to space exploration, to the International Space Station, to Cassini in the 1990s, to what extent did that make up for at least part of the budgetary shortfall coming from the military?
The only thing we did with Cassini is that we launched it on a Titan IVB. It was an Air Force launch, despite what NASA will tell you. This was to be the second launch of a Titan IVB. There was a variance from expected performance during the solid rocket’s ignition on the first launch of the IVB. Pete Aldridge and I and our Launch Vice President were very concerned. We recommended to delay the launch to make sure that the issue that concerned us was resolved. Lockheed Martin was beating up on Aldridge saying we needed to launch. And with good reason. Cassini to get to Saturn needed to be launched through one of a very constrained set of launch windows. This was because for Cassini to get to Saturn, Cassini needed to execute a series of gravity assist encounters with Venus and Earth and Jupiter. We said, "No, we’re not going to launch until we believe the risk is acceptable—that means low—because the possibility of an on-pad failure destroying the pad and the Cassini mission was frightening. The launch was delayed, the problem was fixed, and Cassini went to Saturn. International Space Station, minimal involvement in that. Aerospace did not have much involvement in the ISS at all. The real problem was the Air Force budgetary cuts in the 1990s. The budgetary cuts affected the various programs that the Air Force was flying. The Aerospace budgets for GPS, and DMSP, and DSP, and the other programs. They all were going down as the Aerospace FFRDC ceiling was going down, and that was a problem.
So, this puts us at 1997. You're Executive Vice President. What do you do next?
Well, I'm going to retire next year. By '97, the decrease of the Aerospace ceiling had flattened out. As I remember, '97 was the first year there was even a slight uptick. I don't know what happened after that. By '97, we had absorbed all the pain. We had retained to the capability of the staff as best we knew how. We had shrunk the workforce tremendously, and that was the story.
Were there conversations in the 1990s about existential threats to Aerospace, that it might not be a viable organization?
Yes, there certainly were, and there were considerations of what to do next. What was happening was not only was the space budget and the DOD budget shrinking, but the whole economy wasn't doing all that well either. The outgoing tide was lowering all boats. So, it wasn't like there were a lot of other green fields you could explore. There were discussions of that. There were talks about dropping our status of an FFRDC, getting out from under the seeming ever-lowering “ceiling,” merging with another company and going out and competing. This would have been traumatic. I opposed that because we didn't have the workforce mentally conditioned to compete. We would have needed to do total brain transplant on a large fraction of 2300 engineers and scientists. And I thought that would never work. But fortunately, before any real damage was done, we recovered, and Aerospace has done well ever since.
So, you were able to retire at somewhat of a high note. You didn't leave when these concerns were at their worst.
I was retiring on an upswing note. Let's put it that way. Not a high note, but an upswing note. I had a very fine retirement. The best retirement, I think, of any Aerospace corporate officer of all time. Lieutenant General Roger DeKok, Commander of the Space and Missile Center came and said some nice things, Congresswoman Jane Harman, our representative in the House came and said more nice things. Pete Aldridge said some nice things. We had a great party! To cap it all, the NRO awarded me their gold medal, Aerospace named an area surrounded by Aerospace buildings the Paulikas Mall. Very touching. I still can’t believe it and feel greatly honored.
Was your timing related at all to the difficulties that Aerospace went through in the 1990s?
No, Aerospace said that if you're Vice President at age 62, you retired.
Oh, so it was easy for you.
It was easy, and it was actually a very sensible arrangement because you could tell who was going to retire when, who were some of the candidates who might succeed you, you have time to prepare your successors, the Corporation and the people know change is coming. Get ready for it, guys and gals. It was very good. It was an excellent system. At age 62, except for special cases, where some people might go a little earlier and some people might go a little later. But almost all of us Vice Presidents retired about 62.
62 is young, though, George.
I know, that was the argument. After I left, it was changed to 65. I think it's changed to an option at 65. But yes, I think the Board of Trustees realized exactly what you're saying. That's too early to kick these guys and gals out.
Not only that, but I wonder if your family, knowing how hard you'd worked for so many years, if they're wondering, what's George going to do all day? Did you have a plan post-retirement?
No, I didn't have a plan. In fact, Aerospace had another delightful characteristic. Aerospace tried very hard to preserve its corporate memory. When you retired you could come back as a casual employee doing tasks as these were requested by the Corporation. So, I walked out the door one day as Executive Vice President and walked in the door the next day as Executive Vice President, Retired Casual. I did work on projects that were to some degree of continuation what I had been involved in. Not the administrative stuff, but I could continue to do some of the technical stuff.
Oh, so what did you get back into? What did you do after all those years?
I don't remember in detail. Some of these were classified programs. I could pick and choose what I wanted to do. If I didn't want to do that, the Corporation was not in danger. So, I did various things. But I had more time to serve on national level committees, with the Space Studies Board, with its NASA associated activities. Things like that.
Did you stay on top of plasma physics during all these years at all?
I still read that people try and repeat and improve on my thesis experiment, and I keep in touch and keep reading some of the journal articles related to what I knew about plasma physics in those days. And, of course, I keep up with the space science activities in radiation belt physics as well as the programs that I was involved with as a member and Vice Chair of the Space Studies Board.
George, you've done so much, post-retirement, in the advisory world. What have been some of the organizations that you've served on that have been most meaningful to you?
Most meaningful? Number One: I served with General “Rosie” Rosenberg and Brad Parkinson and a number of other GPS experts on a GPS Independent Review Team (IRT) for 19 years, would you believe. The committee, under the leadership of Rosenberg and Parkinson made a number of recommendations that have served to improve the GPS System. Number Two: my service on the National Academy Space Studies Board. That's been a pleasure. I was on it for many years. I served as vice chair for six years, trying to guide the decisions that NASA makes in space science investments. That was fun. We had a lot of smart people, working on important problems, I kept learning. Worked on shaping planetary missions, and missions to the Moon. That was fun.
What about paid consulting work? Did you ever pursue any opportunities, either with the government or in the private sector?
No, service in the private sector would put me in a perceived conflict of interest. I was very conscious, as retired Executive Vice President of Aerospace, that my role would be perceived as possibly taking my Aerospace and Air Force and NRO derived knowledge and exporting it. I have not taken any consulting agreements with the private sector. On the other hand, I agreed, as noted earlier, to serve on the Space Studies Board and the GPS IRT. The National Academy paid my travel while on duty for the Space Studies Board. No other compensation except the psychic rewards coming from working with smart people on interesting problems. The Institute for Defense Analyses, IDA, a fellow FFRDC, paid for my involvement with the GPS. Again, working with smart, dedicated people on important problems.
George, what about your capacity, in retirement, as a mentor to the up-and-coming generation of scientists and engineers?
You know, I’m still an Aerospace casual employee, and Presidents and Vice Presidents of Aerospace of recent vintage have asked me to come in and chat with them about various issues related to the Corporation. I must say, my alumni have done well. Three of the four Executive Vice Presidents of Aerospace who succeeded me were all my alumni.
George, of course, your status now is much different, but the fact that you’re still connected to Aerospace, the fact that you still can go in—not, obviously over the past year—but just going back to your affiliation with Aerospace, going back all the way to the beginning, in what ways has Aerospace changed, and in what ways has remained true to its original mission?
Aerospace in toto remains true to its original mission. There’s been an attempt to broaden out its technical reach to serve other elements of like, NASA, for example. There’s a great deal more involvement with NASA in various capacities. The people at Aerospace, note that there has been about a two-generation turnover—the people right now are a hell of a lot smarter than we were when we came in. They’re all computer savvy, they all talk a language that I have a hard time understanding. So, there’s a focus that remains the same. Getting a rocket to launch on time, with minimal risk, is still as important as ever. So, that continues. Providing sound advice to the government is as important as it’s ever been. But the space business has now grown and expanded tremendously. GPS is now a global utility, and the various technologies that came out of the space business have proliferated into the commercial world. In addition, Aerospace is now a distributed corporation, with far more locations across the US, although the core is still in El Segundo. So, it's a very different environment that people work in now. I'd hate to go back. I couldn't do it.
Well, George, now that we've worked our way up to the present, I'd like to ask one retrospective question about your career, and then we'll end with a question looking to the future. That is, between the science and the administration and the way that your career has blended both, what are you most proud of?
My successors and my alumni! The people who came after me. Whether they stayed at Aerospace, went to Los Alamos, went to universities, wherever, I have alumni all over the place. And they came out of my original Space Physics Lab between '68 and '81.The other items I am proud of is how I managed the declines in the Space Physics Lab budget after the MOL cancellation and the total Aerospace ceiling declines from 1990-1997. In war, it is said, the most difficult task is keeping a retreat from becoming a panic and a rout. I did that, but succeeded only with the help of many people.
Now, I know you're going to tell me to go track them down and ask this question to them, but I'd like to ask you. Given their success, what can we learn from your style as a mentor, given all the great things that your successors have gone on to accomplish?
First, hire people who are smarter than you. By the way, I am poaching the quote here, because Ivan Getting used to tell us that when he was President of Aerospace. Hire people who are smarter than you. Give them the freedom to do things on their own. Constrain them to some degree so they don't do truly stupid things. There are a lot of ingenious people around who will try to do stupid things, and some of these things may not be all that stupid. So, give them the freedom to explore, to try and learn for themselves as they explore. Tell supervisors and leaders, as these develop, for them to take care of their people for then their people will take care of them. Make sure they talk to each other and those around them and make sure they communicate with their communities. Communities broadly defined. Make sure they communicate with the external world. In a closed, somewhat inbred corporation, such as Aerospace is to some extent, be sure that they can talk to the outside world.
George, last question, looking to the future. Obviously, we're not in the prediction business, but I wonder, using your powers of extrapolation, to go all the way back 60 years, to now, right? 1961. What do you think the future holds both for Aerospace and the larger research area and industries that it represents?
That will to some degree be driven by global geopolitics. What's different now is that the United States is but one player in a more complicated world than was the case when I was younger, and there was only the Evil Empire. So, the country has to do more in the sense of being flexible. The other thing that the US has to do, I believe, is to continue to invest in science and engineering. It's very encouraging to see that the STEM program has a great deal of support at various levels, both locally as well as nationally. To keep that going is important. Keeping the society as open as it was and as mobile as it was when I was young. I thought nothing of packing my wife and my cat and myself into a car, and driving across country to a job, to a new place, a new environment. I think, if we can preserve that, we'll be in good shape.
Well, George, on that note, it's been a great pleasure spending this time with you. I'm so glad we connected through our mutual friend, Lou Lanzerotti, and I'm so glad we'll be able to include your stories and perspective in our collection. So, thank you so much.