Notice: We are in the process of migrating Oral History Interview metadata to this new version of our website.
During this migration, the following fields associated with interviews may be incomplete: Institutions, Additional Persons, and Subjects. Our Browse Subjects feature is also affected by this migration.
Please contact [email protected] with any feedback.
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Martin Schwarzschild by Spencer Weart on 1979 July 19, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/4870-4
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Life of his father, Karl Schwarzschild; father's scientific relationships in Göttingen (Felix Klein, David Hilbert); move to Potsdam, 1909; relations with Potsdam and Berlin scientists (Albert Einstein, Karl Sommerfeld); father's Jewish background concealed. M. Schwarzschild's youth in Göttingen and Berlin; early education, interest in astronomy and mathematics. Undergraduate at Göttingen Universität (Hans Kienle, Richard Courant, Neugebauer), 1930-1933; graduate work at Gottingen Observatory, 1933-1935; his reaction to Nazism. Introduction to astrophysics (Arthur Eddington), interest in stellar interiors and stellar evolution; contacts with other astronomers from Gottingen Observatory (Otto Heckmann, Kienle, Rupert Wildt); comments on general relativity; interest in pulsating stars; leaves Göttingen, 1936. Postdoctorate at Oslo (Svein Rosseland); Jan Oort, Ejnar Hertzsprung; mechanical analog computer for computations in astrophysics and celestial mechanics; comments on development of theory of stellar interiors, 1939-1950. To Harvard College Observatory (Harlow Shapley), 1938; C. Payne-Gaposchkin, Bart Bok; comparison of European and American observational style, social scene; Barbara Schwarzschild's difficulties as female astronomer; contacts with S. Chandrasekhar and other astronomers. Tour of the United States; visits Mt. Wilson Observatory (Wilhelm Baade, Rudolph Minkowski, Edwin Hubble, Milton Humason), 1940; Shapley's relationship with Mt. Wilson staff. Harvard (Fred Whipple), 1938-1941; Shapley as a leader; astronomy summer school at Harvard; work on Cepheid variables in M3 (Bok, Chandrasekhar); overall impact on Schwarzschild of Harvard period. Columbia University (Jan Schildt, I. I. Rabi), 1940-1942; difficulties there; origin and funding of Thomas Watson Astronomical Computing Center; discussion of cosmology in the late 1930s; contacts with physicists (Enrico Fermi). In U.S. Army, 1941-1945; enters as private, teaches math to recruits; refuses invitation to Los Alamos; transferred to Aberdeen Proving Ground, dissatisfaction there; to officers training school, does bombing analysis for Italian campaign. Work relating to stellar interiors and evolution, 1938-1946; nuclear energy source ideas (Hans Bethe, Fermi); Eddington, Gerard Kuiper, Chandrasekhar, G. Keller; German astronomers during World War II (Ludwig Biermann). Discussion of wife's career and her role in his career. Early ideas about red giants (Öpik, Herman Bondi, Fred Hoyle), 1946-1950. Work on acoustic wave energy transport (R. Richardson, Gold); work on chemical composition differences in stellar populations. To Princeton University (Spitzer, H. N. Russell), 1947; Project Matterhorn (start of bomb and fusion projects); relationship with Russell. Stellar evolution work in the 1950s; computer work (John Von Neumann, Richard Härm), mid-1950s; collaboration with Allan Sandage evolving a stellar model, 1952; computing towards red giants; observational cluster work, 1951; ages, metallicity, and the Big Bang; beginnings of "astrophysical" cosmology. Evolution theory after late 1950s; effect of computers on theoretical progress; relation of evolution theory to cosmology; general comments on his work in stellar evolution; interactions with Robert Dicke; views on cosmology, general relativity. Need for better solar convection work leads to use of balloons (James Van Allen); post-Sputnik funding; on cooperation with industry and engineers; Stratoscope II (Bob Danielson, Spitzer). Years advising the National Science Foundation, President's Science Advisory Committee, 1959-1976, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Von Neumann), to 1969; The International Astronomical Union, 1964-1970; American Asronomical Society, 1967-1973. Informal advisor to various observatories: Kitt Peak National Observatory, Mt. Wilson-Palomar Observatories, Carnegie Southern Observatory. Recent work on galactic structure. Reflects on importance of ethical standards; his feelings about religion and nature.
Before we get into the institutional things, there are a few questions that we ask everybody, about cosmology, sort of questionnaire type questions. So even though cosmology isn't strictly your field, I'd like to ask you — how well do you feel that the Big Bang Theory is established?
I think the way I would put it is; if you accept general relativity as right, in the original form as Einstein proposed, without the so-called cosmological term (which he added later, and regretted) if you accept general relativity in its basic form, then I would feel the Big Bang theory follows fairly directly. Given, mainly, the observations of the expansion, but much strengthened by the observations of the cosmic radiation background. How much I should stress that "if" — I'm no specialist at all; all one can say is that tests during the last decade have added checks on general relativity, and not one has come out against general relativity within the errors of observations. The effects are small, so it's not what I would call proof of general relativity, but I think it has a high likelihood. Whenever I teach, in an amateur-way, cosmology, I teach it on the basis of general relativity.
I see. How have your views on this changed over time? Have there been any periods when you had more doubts than you have now?
I think I would have stressed that "if" more, because prior to the last decade, the tests were weak. I was quite interested in those tests and have followed them, mainly the Mercury perihelion movement and the apparent movement of star images at eclipses, and was very aware of the weaknesses of the tests. But in the last decade, by modern techniques, the precision has just increased so enormously that I think my emphasis on the "if" is much decreased. Personally, I would be terribly surprised if general relativity was fundamentally wrong. But minor modifications might come; I wouldn't be so surprised. But I would be surprised personally if they were strong enough to change the Big Bang Theory. In the Big Bang Theory of course, whether the open universe or closed
— that's another question —
— is quite a separate question. And I also feel that the question whether "bouncing," as it is often called — avoidance of a true mathematical singularity — is or is not possible, that is not settled.
What do you feel about these questions? Do you tend to think that the universe is open or closed? or bounces?
As to the bouncing, I have no knowledge. I understand that now people are convinced one has to understand the interaction between general relativity and quantum mechanics, of which I understand nothing. And I have no particular emotional preference. With regard to the open versus closed, again, there I'm a little bewildered why I have so little emotional preference. I feel quite comfortable with either. At the moment there are a number of indications towards the open universe, purely observational indications. I think the indications are not entirely ignorable, but also far from decisive.
I see. Tell me, during the fifties, you must have had discussion with Hoyle and others about steady state theory. Did you find that attractive or convincing?
No, but I think that probably was largely a psychological reaction. The way Hoyle tends to present his theories is not the way to persuade people like me. It's too dogmatic, and my purely personal reaction tends to be negative. I felt, for example, that the work we did regarding the low abundance in heavy elements of old stars was not a disproof of Hoyle, but it gave a bit more weight towards
— the wrong direction for Hoyle, yes, right.
Not in an absolute sense, but in any case it was a necessary phenomenon for the Big Bang Theory. It was less obvious, in Hoyle's theory. Therefore, I consider that as another one of those, by themselves weak, cosmological hints.
OK. Well, I don't want to press further on cosmology because we have so many other things to cover. I find it usually is better to abandon trying to do things chronologically when one gets into the postwar period. It's better to take up each sphere of activity separately, although obviously one leads into another. Let's start closest to home and talk about Princeton and the building up of the department here and so forth. I wanted to start by asking if you can think back, even before you came to Princeton, on your immediate reaction when the war ended. Can you recall what your feelings were about the future of astronomy at that time? Was it back to business as usual, or had the war seemed to make some difference?
I think I was quite convinced that technical developments during the war would make a very big difference. I think two items that were directly war-connected made enormous difference for astronomy, it was quite clear; one was developments in photoelectric detector technology. The big word was 1P21.  That was an enormous step.
You knew about that already, right after the end of the war?
Right after the end of the war, because Barbara (Schwarzschild) came out of the MIT Radiation Laboratory, and she was terribly well acquainted with it. I had not heard of it at all. I remember well that when we built the first new photometer at Columbia for plate measurements, I was quite sure that one should go to a good reliable thermocouple, because photocells before the war were terribly tricky to handle. And Barbara told me about this new one. I asked her, how many multiplication stages has it in it, and she said, I forget now, seven or nine. I said, "That cannot be reliable." Actually, she was so convinced that I was technically mistaken that at the next occasion that the scientist Professor Nottingham, under whom she had worked in the Radiation Laboratory, was in New York, she made sure that we invited him for dinner so that he and I could talk about the 1P21. And that sealed my conviction. So that point was immediately clear, that suddenly, photoelectric photometry would become a major tool — not just the tool of a few specialists, like Dr. Stebbins and Dr. Whitford and later Dr. Kron, as it had been before the war. The other war development was the computer. They would make an enormous difference for theoreticians. I did not foresee how much it would eventually also do for observations.
But clearly it was of value for theoreticians.
Right. On the side of the means, the change was clear.
Did you foresee any change in funding patterns?
No. I was extremely little acquainted with all that.
That's interesting. I get the impression from talking with other people that physicists in the Radiation Lab and other places immediately recognized that there was going to be a change, and the astronomers, who had not normally been working in these very large places, didn't foresee the kind of change.
That may very well be. In my personal case, I was just, in the Army.
So I would have understood nothing of that. And I had never been acquainted before. Also, immediately after the war at Columbia, Professor Schild, who was quite conservative in general, did not try to exploit the early opportunities, so I was quite unaware.
I see. No foreseeing of a change in the climate.
No. That came only after my first Washington commitments to serve in NSF panels, the standard panels. Then of course we starting thinking that way.
We'll get back to that. OK, so then you came to Princeton, but first, one brief question. You also had offers from other places. I suppose the Cal Tech one or Mt. Wilson, I'm not sure which the offer was from — Cal Tech and Mt. Wilson or was it just Cal Tech?
No, it was at Cal Tech, but it was really connected with both. Because you know, the two institutions, Carnegie and Cal Tech already had their agreement of a common observatory. The two observatories had one director. Since the 200-inch was clearly getting into operation, Cal Tech needed to build up its astronomy section of the physical sciences division, in a concrete way; everybody agreed it didn't make any sense to have a 200-inch and not to have a staff right at Cal Tech, and particularly to start a graduate school, which hadn't existed at Cal Tech. I was asked to head the group at Cal Tech, which from the teaching point of view would be essentially independent of the observatory and belong strictly to Cal Tech. From the observing point of view, I would be just a staff member of the combined observatories.
Exactly the position which Jesse Greenstein took after I said no.
I see. I think you discussed somewhat in your last interview why you decided to work in a place like Princeton. I have a question. In an interview you gave with Bert Shapiro a while ago, you mentioned a meeting (I'm not sure if it was at this time or before the war) when the allocation of the time on the 200-inch was discussed, and particularly how much time Hubble would get?
It sounds like a very important meeting. Perhaps you would tell me a little about it?
Right. It was on one of those regular visits, every second year, summer and fall, that we spend in Mt. Wilson, after I'd come to Princeton. The 200-inch was nearly in operation and the decision of major programs and time distributions came up. The question was whether Hubble should be given roughly half of all of the observing time, and particularly the valuable dark time, to use for counts of nebulae — not for new spectra, in particular everybody agreed the search for higher red shifts should be pushed hard at the 200-inch. But the question of counts to fainter magnitudes was the real great time consumer, if the large program that Hubble had laid out would be OK'd.
I see, because you'd have to take many hours of exposure to get the very faint ones.
Right, to cover enough fields, and very long exposure to go to the bottom. I do not know why Bowen, who was then the director, asked me to join this one afternoon meeting. It was actually I think in Hubble's house. I'm not quite sure who was there, but Bowen as the director definitely was there. Baade also was there. Probably Humason, I'm not sure. In any case, Hubble and Tolman. Again, I do not know why Bowen asked me. I was obviously interested, and I think reasonably well acquainted with Hubble's work, and I think by that time I knew a reasonable amount about photometry of that type of object. And I had listened to a variety of outside people and their opinions, so maybe that was the reason why Bowen called me in, but to me it came quite as a surprise. It was an extremely difficult meeting. I think some sense of personal tragedy was very much in the minds of all of us. The outcome was a decision right that afternoon, that Hubble would not be given that time.
Was this after his first heart attack? Was it partly because of his physical problems?
No, the decision was made entirely on the scientific judgment that one could not define on photographic plates the magnitude of galaxies on an objective enough base so that the counts would mean anything.
It was entirely that most of us did not believe that we knew how to carry it out in such a way that it really would do what it was aiming for.
That's still a problem, in fact.
So it was not from any diffidence about getting the velocity-distance relationship, or cosmology in general.
No, not at all. Indeed, the search for higher red shifts was very much emphasized, even though in some sense, of course, the magnitude problem raises its head also there. But you don't go as faint; you couldn't take spectra that faint.
It's not a decision for let's say spectroscopy, or galactic work as against cosmology?
No. Not at all. It was just the problem of, after you have the counts, what can you possibly securely do with it? I remember at that meeting being unbelievably impressed with the human quality of Tolman. Tolman's role that afternoon, after he slowly saw which way the decision would go, how to make it psychologically possible for Hubble to accept, was entirely magnificent. And I think Baade, who could express himself if he wanted to quite straightforwardly, that afternoon felt that it was so serious a personal matter, he was extremely fine too. Any criticism was put in very, very objective and cautious and fair terms.
How did Hubble react finally?
Very much like the gentlemen that he was. With no emotion during the meeting.
It was one of those occasions where the whole afternoon is extremely quiet, but everybody knows what is going on and how important it is. And to me, it sticks in my mind, quite particularly, by way of — even though I did not feel particularly friendly towards Hubble personally, I did realize how wonderful it was that Tolman, who very much I think liked and admired him, could make it psychologically possible.
I see. It was clearly a very important decision.
Did you play any role, were you asked for your opinion?
I'm nearly certain but I can't remember any details at all.
I see. You just participated in the discussion.
Well, that's very interesting. I'm particularly interested in the whole question of how telescope time is divided. It's more important than dividing up the funds, in many ways, especially with the 200-inch of course. Did you ever sit in on any other meetings at which 200-inch time was allocated?
I cannot recall any.
And this was, isn't that right, a very big decision.
Yes, this wasn't one of their regular quarterly meetings.
I see. OK, back to Princeton then. I find at the time you and Spitzer came here, the staff had Russell, who was retired, Stewart, Pierce, Merrill. Was Rosseland still on the staff when you came? I'm not sure.
No, Rosseland's decision to go back indeed made the directorship open. Otherwise he would have been the natural successor to Russell.
That, and Chandrasekhar saying no, opened it for Lyman Spitzer. The second position was always open.
I see. Chandrasekhar was here as a visiting professor, but then he decided not to take the chairmanship, is that how it worked? I believe he was here briefly as visiting professor.
He was here for half a year with the visiting title under Russell before the war. And after Mr. Spitzer was here, he was one of our first guest professors for a spring term.
I see. I know he brought in a number of people. He brought in Baade, Stromgren, Hoyle, Greenstein, just in a few years, and a number of others.
That was a regular program of spring visiting professors, who gave us a series of lectures each.
This was set up by you and Spitzer?
Spitzer, me being happy about it, and together we decided whom we should try.
I see. Now some questions about how relations went on here at Princeton. Of course your department has changed a lot, has grown and so forth, so the questions have to do with how it was at the beginning when you first arrived, and how it's changed since then. So for the first question, what about seminars, or other places where the staff exchanged ideas about research?
The staff was then four people, Spitzer and myself, the youngsters just come, and J. Q. Stewart and Newton Pierce on tenure, as associate professors, from Russell's time. Stewart had already switched essentially, into applying scientific statistical methods to the social sciences, and did practically no astronomy any more. The contacts for departmental matters with him were extremely small. He gave the one non-professional course, Astronomy 202. But otherwise, after a very short adjustment period, which was a bit difficult, I feel that he really supported Lyman (Spitzer), at least in the passive sense of not objecting to anything that Lyman did. I felt very, very grateful to him for that. Newton Pierce was much more active in astronomy. He felt himself the successor to Dugan. He wrote on eclipsing variables, and had quite strong opinions of what needed doing, and there were every so often some difficulties, but not of an overwhelming kind. After a year or two, we learned how to handle each other. So the frictions became quite small, quite fast. I personally was enormously surprised how bitter both of them were about Russell. Russell, as somebody to visit and get inspired by, was one thing, a marvelous thing. Russell at home, to have to daily work with or rather under, must have been a terribly difficult fate. And Russell would not have the vaguest idea how he in fact suppressed his immediate surrounding. He would have been so surprised.
That's very interesting. Is that why Stewart went outside of astronomy, do you suppose?
In part. In Stewart's case there was I think a more specific item. When Russell did the first work on interpreting the strengths of the lines in the solar spectra, and got the first abundances in the sun, Stewart got very interested in the radiation transfer problem for lines in stellar spectra, and started writing some papers on what is now known as the curve of growth. The way I understand it, Stewart in his mind prepared one very important manuscript, the next major step. And Russell advised him not to publish it, that it was premature, incomplete or otherwise not (good). Under Russell, you had to follow Russell's advice. Then, just a couple of years later, the first big paper of Unsold on exactly what topic came out. Russell was terribly excited, seemed to remember nothing of Stewart's work, and went ahead. And that, the way I understand it, was really such a blow to Stewart, who was a young scientist, that his interest in astronomy just disappeared.
OK. Now, tell me a bit about, as the department grew larger, how did the interactions go?
It did not really grow larger all that fast. It was Newton Pierce's premature death that made the first opening possible. I do not remember the details of appointments.
No, I don't have them listed here. I notice that there was not much growth during the fifties. It was really after that, that it started to grow.
Right. There was one very great disappointment that we had. Lyman did appoint a young person from Harvard, Uco von Wijk, as assistant professor I presume. He was intellectually just brilliant, but he turned out to be, I think one must say, lazy. He did entirely fascinating work but he would not publish.
This is one reason Princeton has many assistant professors who don't stay.
Yes. That was a particularly unhappy case, because von Wijk, in my assessment, in strict brain power, could run circles around me. Indeed, he succeeded in one work, the development of what is now known as the third integral for the motions of stars in our galaxy, well ahead of anybody else. We could not persuade him to publish it, because he felt unsatisfied that he could not prove the convergence of the development. Then three years or so later Contopoulos published quite independently a paper and became an internationally famous astronomer.
And Uco's lack of publication became of such a magnitude that Lyman had to eventually terminate his assistantship.
I see. Speaking more generally, where and how have the staff exchanged ideas about research, in the fifties when it was small, and in the sixties and seventies? Places where people would get together to talk about research?
The normal time was luncheon.
No, not necessarily. It depends very much whom you're speaking of. I had luncheon with Lyman roughly once a week, in any case. I do not remember how early the weekly departmental luncheons were introduced, but I think quite early. And during those luncheons no administration, no politics or anything, nothing but science was discussed. That is again typical of Lyman.
It was by decision.
Yes, and right from the beginning he was so strong a figure that his preference for that luncheon once a week dominated. And those luncheons have continued. Now they are held at the Institute (for Advanced Study), because they permit us to use the boardroom, and those luncheons are of the kind that there's only one discussion. That is, it does not break into smaller groups.
I see, it's a small enough group.
Now it is quite often 25 or so, but it's understood that these luncheons are for a common and only one discussion, so that it cannot break up into the little groups that it does on all the other days when we have luncheon together. I think it takes special persons, like Lyman and now John Bahcall.
So there will be a topic for the day? Or somebody brings something up?
Usually the idea is to find out just the morning before who might have something interesting to report, either from a trip, or from some personal contact outside, or his own work. Usually it's two, three or four items that get discussed, and often the people are asked just before lunch.
By the chairman?
Whoever runs it. It used to be always Lyman. Now it is more often John Bahcall.
I see. That's very interesting, I don't know of any other place that has it quite like that.
No. It's quite different. I remember, after several of the Mt. Wilson people had been here for a while, they also decided on a luncheon. But they did not have a sufficiently strong single leader, and did not realize that you need a room where everybody can hear everybody, even if the group is large.
I was going to say, at the Athenaeum it doesn't work that way.
No, you've got to have a separate dining room. For many years, we had it in a small separate room that we could reserve, when there was a little restaurant in the Firestone Library in the university.
That's very interesting. I'm always interested in these mechanisms. They're sometimes more important than the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL, I think.
Yes, you're entirely right. I was particularly impressed how important this early interchange, long before publication, really is. When I was in China (recently), they were extremely well acquainted with anything that had reached print. And it made us realize that we were just automatically roughly a year ahead of anything in print, by word of mouth, isn't that right, or preprints or such means.
I see. So visitors were coming to these things too?
Oh, the moment a visitor appears, he is warned that he should eat very fast, the moment he sits down, wait for nothing, because he will be —
— called on —
He will be called on, very shortly.
I see. Has there been very much after hours socializing?
It very much depends on the individual person. In very many cases, some of the staff members are extremely close personal friends, with their families. But not necessarily the whole group.
I see. Has there been much discussion, clearly not at these lunches, but has there been much discussion in the department in general of subjects outside astronomy — biology, philosophy, politics? Or just the ordinary talk you'd find anywhere?
I would say again, that depended very much whom you're thinking of. If you think of Lyman, in a general way, scientific and personal affairs were in the foreground. But with the younger people — for example when Barbara and I were stronger and younger ourselves, we made fairly sure that we had everybody from the observatory, including the college students at least twice a year, at our house, irrespective of how near we felt to them, plus all the visitors that came. And then we would range over politics, philosophy —
I see. What about during the McCarthy period, the fifties, were there any strong political effects here in the department?
Nobody that I can remember at the moment was personally affected. Of course, as citizens, many of us were trying to be active. Beginning to write letters —
— but nothing specifically affecting the department as such?
No. There was one case in the university, a young physicist, I think. Bohm was his name.
That sounds right. Yes. He was called to one of those hearings and used the Fifth Amendment. The University administration decided to terminate his appointment, clearly because of that; there was no subterfuge at all. And the faculty became very upset. I had no idea what one could do about it. I was very little acquainted at that time how you can get around a big university. But Lyman in his practical way, without doing much talking, formed a small group of leading professors, and succeeded in getting from the administration (including the trustees) the promise that no such dismissal would occur without involvement of an appropriate faculty committee — in the future. Nothing happened. But it's one of these, for me, very educational experiences, to see that Lyman would not try to avert that one case, because that would have been overt criticism that the then administration could hardly accept, but rather look immediately to the future.
I see. And to the structure.
Right. So that as a small facet that came into my education, was extremely useful for my later activities in Washington.
That's very interesting. I think the Bohm case is one of the numerous notorious cases, actually, in the McCarthy period.
Barbara and I felt strongly about it. We knew Bohm somewhat, not terribly well, but we had him at our house together with a few other people — to demonstrate to him that we thought he was right.
Just by inviting him, and not discussing particularly politics, but —
— right, not to exclude him.
Well, it was more than that. We never had him before in our house. It was a clear personal demonstration by Barbara and me, to him, how we felt.
OK. You mentioned how Russell used to check the papers, and I wonder, since Russell's time, did anybody regularly check papers from the department before they were submitted for publication?
Well, I certainly was in the habit, for many years at the beginning, to give any manuscript, before sending it to the journals, to Lyman. In part, I think, that was my upbringing. There was no question in my student time: the idea that anybody would send a paper not approved by the director, to be published, was unthinkable. Lyman often explained that it was really not necessary, but his comments were practically always persuasive. It was such a natural safety device, as long as he had the time to critically read it. This became more difficult as time passed.
The practice has decayed at many places with the volume of papers.
OK, to get back to the instruction end, strictly speaking; did you teach any courses that were particularly new or important to the department, do you think?
I myself? No. Lyman and I immediately decided that we wanted a graduate school — a small one, but an active one, which had not been the case under Russell. We decided on four one-semester courses that would each be given once every two years, so that in the two years before the general examination, each student could and would take those four one-semester courses. Which is a very small amount of total straight astronomy courses, but we both felt very strongly that they should take most of their courses in the physics department. In these four courses, we could cover what then was the basics of modern astrophysics. He gave two and I gave the other two. That was so for quite a long while.
There were also some courses like navigation, meteorology, and so forth. You had, nothing to do with those?
No. The meteorology I think disappeared after the war, right away. I'm not sure it even was given —
— it was still given in 1949, or still offered, at any rate.
I think it was offered, but not given.
We always carried more courses than we ever intended to give.
That's the problem the historian faces in trying to figure things out by the university catalogs.
Yes. To find that, for each semester, there's a separate little publication, which says "given this semester" or "not given this semester." And the meteorology I don't think was ever given after the war. For navigation, both Stewart and Pierce were quite actively interested, and had done a lot during the war. If I remember right, they continued giving the navigation course for at least some number of years.
I see. Did you have any particular students that you'd like to mention?
My memory is very short, and I think I would feel somewhat uncertain that I could recall the most important of those to whom I personally felt the closest. In a general way, I had a very happy time. It was a very small but increasingly well selected group of graduate students, and I enjoyed the contact with the graduate students enormously. For many years, we did not do anything for the undergraduates, except that one course that Stewart gave.
The basic astronomy course.
Under J. Q. Stewart, it became famous as a "gut course," I have to admit, and he knew it and did not mind.
I see. Have you ever taught the elementary astronomy course?
Exactly the last four years. You realize, you are now talking to a retired professor? I have retired this first of July.
Well, well, well. I'm glad you kept your office. But up until then you were teaching the basic course.
For the last four years. Before that, Bob Danielson, a very close colleague about whom I would like to say more when we speak about Project Stratoscope, gave it for ten years. I think he directly succeeded J. Q. Stewart but of that I am not absolutely sure. But with regard to undergraduate students, I have two young staff members, Jack Rogerson, who is still with us, and George Field, who was assistant or even associate professor here, I never can quite remember the exact status of them. They felt that we really should also educate professional astronomers on the undergraduate level; we called them the Young Turks. With their enthusiasm, we felt they were right, and there again, a cautious program was set up — again, they selected four one-semester courses, quite similar actually to the four basic courses for the graduate students, and again in a two year cycle. So that during their junior and senior years, they could at all times take one astronomy course. And that was decided upon. By that time the department was a little larger, and had more active people. We all participated in these courses. From then on, I probably taught only one of the four graduate courses and one of the undergraduate courses, for many years.
Tell me, what do you think is it that attracts undergraduate to take astronomy?
Astronomy has a peculiar fascination. It's like asking why a painter paints, or why a musician is a musician. I think there is an inner human spur, an urge towards some abstract endeavors, quite beyond those that cover material needs, that just exists. And some people, if they can, will devote their lives to them. I think astronomy is such a small but powerfully emotionally attractive endeavor. I think it is, among the sciences, one of the clearest as not related to being useful in a material sense, and in that sense, I love to use astronomy as posing the question of whether such human endeavors, that have very little likelihood of really contributing towards human material needs, are justified — particularly when the question of public funding comes up.
Why do you suppose people do support astronomy, public funding, philanthropy?
For the same reason for which the Acropolis was built. I do not believe in the picture of the so-called common man wanting nothing but material satisfaction. Obviously, the question of straight hunger dominates the life of a person, and there's just no question that minimum material needs, when they are not fulfilled, dominate a person's soul. There are a small percentage of exceptions. But for the majority at the moment, I think the minimum material needs are fulfilled, and the joy and urge toward these more abstract aims, of which humans are capable, both emotionally and intellectually, come to the fore. I don't think that you can give a clearer definition of why somebody wants to become an astronomer. Of course, for many an astronomer, he can point to a special event where that obsession, if you want to call it that, really took its origin. But for many of us, that is not the case. And for me, I haven't the faintest idea why I ever wanted to become an astronomer.
Are you concerned about the public's attitude toward astronomy, the way it's changed in time?
Yes, I am, and I think that is a persistent problem. I think during the Apollo decade when funds came very easily to astronomy, many of us, including myself, very strongly neglected our public relations, in that positive sense of letting a larger portion of the people around us participate in the excitement and the joy of astronomy. I can document it quite clearly. Before the Apollo period, I accepted practically every invitation for speaking to a high school science club, to amateur groups, and I gave easily once a month a public lecture. I followed any invitation of that kind and they were always many. But then when large research funds, became suddenly overwhelmingly possible, I for one said no to many such invitations, because I had to choose. And I think we fell into the habit of neglecting sharing our joys and excitements with the larger public. I think we have much to catch up, from that point.
Are you responding again, giving public lectures and so forth?
I do accept, but by now I am much more out of the limelight and there's a younger generation, and therefore invitations come much less, but I've been very happy to have had these last four years at least the opportunity within Princeton to do that. It was very exciting, but also extremely strenuous.
I see. I suppose before we leave Princeton, we should talk also about the more recent things you mentioned, that you'd been on some university-wide committees since 1970. Can you tell me about those, particularly as they relate to astronomy?
May I put it in a somewhat more general frame? Fairly soon after the war, I think I realized that I ought to put something of the order of 10 percent of my energy and time into activities that were beyond my immediate research and teaching, which were my obvious commitments. And since then, starting slowly, largely with NSF panels, I think I have persistently been involved. And the sequence — more as it happened than that I chose it that way — was a decade of very strong work in Washington, then a substantial period with strong commitments to the International Astronomical Union and the American Astronomical Society, and then major university committee assignments, of which Lyman had kept me free until quite late. Then I told him that I —
Maybe it would be logical to come back to the university committee assignments after — why don't we then, not go back and forth quite so much. Why don't we then talk first about the Stratoscope, then government, then IAU, and then get back to the university? First the Stratoscope. Why don't I just ask you to tell me about it. Just tell me about how you got started in it, first, and then the most important points.
The Stratoscope started this way. As we discussed already in the previous session, I had actively become interested in the problems of convection, because from the stellar evolution research it became clear that convective envelopes played a major role in the understanding of stellar evolution and the understanding of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram.
Right, and your work with Richardson and so forth.
Right. It was one of the summers I was working with Richardson, trying to get work on the convective turbulence on the surface of the sun, that I got very discouraged because the earth's atmosphere spoiled the definition to a degree that it became I think very apparent that even choosing the best Mt. Wilson photographs accumulated over years, one did not have the definition to show the main part of the convection with sufficient sharpness. I came back from Mt. Wilson, and I remember that extremely well. At that time Van Allen was here for one year, working with Lyman on the Matterhorn B. project, the fusion or Stellerator project as we called it then. During a lunch with Lyman and Van Allen, when I complained bitterly about the hard fate of the astronomer sitting under this miserable atmosphere, and what I had not been able to do at Mt. Wilson, Van Allen in his friendly boisterous way said, "Oh, you astronomers just should get off your traditional ways and send your telescopes up in balloons. We cosmic ray physicists have done it for a decade or two, with quite complicated instruments. You are just too ground-bound." Lyman got very excited at that possibility. He himself was then deeply committed on the Stellerator project, and could not do it even though his dream of sending an instrument up on a satellite was fully developed by that time. But satellites were not yet ready at that time. So, I was interested.
The idea of a balloon had not occurred before that?
No, not to Lyman and me, that I can remember.
I don't know whether you were there at all in 1937, when at Harvard Saha gave a colloquium, where he talked about the possibility of sending a balloon up to the stratosphere. Did you know about that?
For astronomical purposes?
For a solar spectrum, I believe.
You didn't know about that.
Actually only later I was told that my father had made an attempt, on a German Zeppelin, to make a solar observation.
Your uncle of course was familiar with ballooning also.
Yes, indeed, my mother and her sister were in Gottingen, the two first ladies to go up in a balloon.
Oh, is that so? Did that have any possible connection with the Stratoscope?
No, I don't think so, even though my mother gave me a terribly lively description of it. For her, that was a very great event. That was before she was married. But then, I felt that this undertaking of a telescope hanging from a balloon really took an experimentalist, and I did not feel qualified. So for something like a couple of years, I tried to persuade experimentalists that that was really what needed doing in solar physics. But nobody would buy this, as is normally the case — everybody likes to follow his own ideas. And then, with great enthusiasm, I would not say at all pushing but very active enthusiasm, Lyman suggested, "Why don't you try?" And that is how Stratoscope 1, which was for solar observations only, and direct photographs, not spectroscopic, came about. That was before Sputnik. Getting funding was extremely difficult, and there Lyman was the decisive factor. That was the first time — no, I'm not that sure whether my theoretical computations were already funded from Washington before; I do not remember. But in any case, this was the first time that we actively, for a particular project in research, went to Washington for funds. Jack Evans, who was already then I think the director of Sacramento Peak Observatory, which he started, was also enthusiastic. I think the first funds came actually through Jack Evans from the Air Force.
I see, Air Force Geophysics.
Right, I think so. The way we went about it was to have a contract with Perkin-Elmer to build the telescope, and with a laboratory that later became the main instrument branch of Ball Brothers —
The Colorado lab.
Right. They built the guidance, because they had already built some pointing devices for those early rockets, for Friedman and Tousey and Rense in Colorado and a couple of others. Actually, the ginball system with a pointing device, and the telescope (only a 12-inch telescope with a film camera got together only) in Minneapolis, where a balloon firm had taken a contract to fly it. I mean, quite an amateur way of proceeding altogether; the whole setup, when you look from the present point of view, was fantastically primitive.
Rather than giving it all to one firm and letting them coordinate it, for example.
Yes, and in any case — to-get the two pieces together in the lab, to make sure that they worked together, as a minimum.
I see. This didn't happen. They were just put together in —
— in Minneapolis, and hung on a gallows, isn't that right, to see that it would point. Of course it didn't point for quite a while. I was quite desperate, and it took three weeks to make it work, which shows how little I knew about those things. But it did actually work. During that summer of '57 we had either three or four flights, thousands of photographs, one every second if I remember right, for two hours, Mostly with nothing, but a few frames of entirely superior quality. Jack Rogerson, who has been a graduate student here, was brought by Lyman from Mt. Wilson to work with me on that project. Very soon after that first season, by the way — '57, you know, ended in the fall with Sputnik.
So the first Stratoscope flights which were the first off-the-ground astronomical results of that type, of course, were pr-Sputnik. Of course, the moment Sputnik happened, the money started coming enormously easier.
How did you first notice that change, by the way?
That moment, you see, so few were ready to do anything, we could just ask. We still had to carefully write up what we wanted to do, and everything was done orderly, but there was no noticeable difficulty. By that time NASA must have been formed, within a year later of that time, '58 perhaps.
Yes, about that time anyway.
And then Lyman put in a proposal for what is now called Copernicus (satellite). We agreed that Jack, with his first balloon experience, should switch to that. And for the balloon experiments should continue until the rocket and particularly the satellite would fly. We always looked at the balloons, as an exercising ground, for scientific results, before the satellites. All of which took more time than we then thought.
By the way, I think of Jack as a real instrument designer. Did he play any role in the design of these things?
Not so much, because I think he was not yet here at the initial design of the Stratoscope. But then in the execution of that first season, he played an entirely decisive role. Then Bob Danielson was asked, and did come to us, and he had a lot of ballooning experience as a graduate student under Ed Nye. And therefore he immediately took a very active role in modifying Stratoscope I so that one could actually select which piece of the sun one could point to. He was interested in sunspots, and Jack was interested, even though he was not full time with us any more, in the limb of the sun. I continued to want better time sequences of granulations. So that improved Stratoscope I was then flown for four flights, in the summer of —
'59, right. There Bob Danielson played a very big role, and Jack Eddy joined us, just for the flight series. That was the end of Stratoscope I. We did not know what else we could do with it.
By the way, clearly the results were very valuable for the convection problem. I wonder, did they also help you on your general evolution work?
Well, they seemed to me to confirm a suspicion of what might govern the convective cell sizes, or the mixing lengths, as one would put it in Prandtl's terms, at that time. And in that sense, they made me a little more confident on how to proceed.
I see. So it was a confirmation —
Yes. Though in another sense, the way they actually looked came as a complete surprise to me. Not the sizes so much but the way they are. They looked, much too orderly. And indeed, when I saw the first negatives, I thought we had made the same mistake that I thought the famous French solar observer had made I don't know how many decades earlier, who had gotten two plates, that were still wet plates, it was that early, in Meudon, which some people thought were the most perfect plates obtained of the sun from the ground. I always was convinced that that cellular structure was impossible. When I saw that structure dominating all of our good frames, I thought that we had made a similar mistake. But then it became quite clear.
Because of the regularity of the cell network.
Yes. Indeed, I think I'm in print saying, before that, that that is not the way the sun could look.
So it gave much thought and strengthened my interest in convective problems, which I had followed but not on the observational side.
Tell me also — particularly this early experience was your first experience of working with industry. How did you find it, working with industry, Perkin-Elmer for example?
Well, in the early years, my contacts in Perkin-Elmer were entirely through Roderick Scott, who was a quite leading member already then of Perkin-Elmer. He had been a graduate student at Harvard in astronomy at the time I was a post-doc there, and we liked each other and knew each other well. Therefore my work with Perkin-Elmer didn't have a character — and Perkin-Elmer wasn't so big — of working with an industrial firm. And in many ways, the same was also true of the Colorado laboratory. It was Rurrel Nickey, whom I had known before, with whom I worked, a very bright and insightful engineer. So in that sense, I wouldn't describe it as at all you know, working with industrial firms, in that sense. It was much more personal relations. Indeed, jokingly, the contracts officer, particularly later on, always said whenever we would write a contract with a firm, that it isn't a contract, you know, Perkin-Elmer vs. Princeton and vice versa; it is a contract to protect both the Perkin-Elmer corporation and the Princeton trustees against the combined forces of the Perkin-Elmer engineers and the Princeton scientists. And I think that was a good description. (Laughter)
How did you find working with these engineers? It's, different from working with a typical technician in an observatory?
Well, no, I would not say that the difference was large, with real bright and stimulated engineers, who were very fast just join the common aim. I mean, like Roderick Scott and later on Harold Hemstreet and others. So I did not feel at all out of contact. When it came later on, with Stratoscope II, to having occasionally to deal with the high administrators, who maybe much earlier had been engineers but really had quite switched in their attitudes, then I found that the aspects were quite different — but not impossible to achieve accommodation.
I want to ask you some questions about Stratoscope I. There was a government project called Moby Dick and other things, which never really flew, I gather to send a balloon over the Soviet Union, and take pictures with a telescope looking down. Did you ever have any relations with that program?
Of course that was very classified. My impression was that there was a quite large program of balloon overflights over the Soviet Union. In fact, I don't know whether it was Moby Dick, but I know that at one certain time, certainly there were dozens and dozens of balloons and peculiar pieces of cameras distributed by, what is it, the naval research effort?
Naval Research Labs?
Not the labs, no.
ONR. And it wasn't so hard to figure out that this was a secret balloon project. I think it was superseded with the U-2's. The connections were, in any case, particularly in the U-2 case, very tight, because Rod Scott was the lead engineer at Perkin-Elmer to build the cameras for the U-2's. He spent quite some time in Turkey. Now, he could not tell me anything about it, even though I sort of roughly knew what he was doing, but it made me feel very comfortable that, without breaking any classification, any benefits from his experience that he could channel personally into our work, he would. So even though I never had any clearances or personal contacts with these highly classified projects — except in connection with PSAC panels later on, but not in this work — I sort of tried to make sure that there was enough contact with people who were active in classified projects so that we would not be far behind.
I see, you would get the technical benefits.
You never did any classified research then?
No. After Hiroshima, a little while after, I decided that I was so bewildered by the basic problems caused by that event, that I would stay out; and I did stay out. I did get clearance for Lyman's half of the Matterhorn project, but that we discussed last time.
Right, and for PSAC. No doubt you were approached, because you did have background in reconnaissance and so on?
Right. But I made it very clear that — and without, you know, taking all that strong a stand, I felt so uncertain about it, that I did not want to go actively into that field. I wouldn't describe myself even then, you know, as an anti-militarist, or anything that definite. But I was sufficiently bewildered, and convinced about that particular act of dropping the bombs, the way that they were dropped, that I did not want to get involved.
I see. I wondered; I noticed that you were at Cal Tech in the summer of '51, and I sort of assumed that you were drawn into the Vista Project and all that. But no. If you were not an atheist, you were enough of an agnostic not to join the church?
That is a nice parallel.
Tell me about Stratoscope II, then.
Both Lyman and I got very enthusiastic — because real satellites for astronomy were still some years downstream — to make one appreciate step in the ballooning. Again, in part, as preparation for the satellites, and in part for its own scientific aim. There, I feel in afterthought that I made a bad decision. It was quite clear, and I remember that I went over that: a larger mirror to do high definition work, not on the sun now but on night objects, that was the option that I decided on, with Lyman's active support. The other possibility would have been to go into solar spectroscopy. That I considered technically too difficult, and that I think was right.
— Put a spectrograph onto the —
Yes. But the third possibility was to go into the infrared. Now, John Strong at Hopkins had gotten interested and had started flying infrared equipment. However, he was badly delayed and his whole efforts were decreased in results by his being persuaded that one should go in a manned way on a balloon. There had been very large pressures on me to go the manned way.
Pressures from where?
Quite particularly from ONR, who was by that time our lead sponsor, in Washington. They had one famous balloon pilot who had some high altitude records.
But why should they care whether you sent it up manned?
Well, you know, from the non-scientific side, it has a much greater appeal. You get more into the newspapers.
But I felt that it just introduced complications. I actually, however, agreed to make an exception — we spent one of our vacations in North Dakota, in Rapid City, while John Strong was preparing a manned flight. Nothing could have convinced me more. It was absolutely dominated by the safety to the persons involved, and the scientific considerations were pressed so far into the background. As to choice, I made a wrong estimate, I'm convinced now. The infrared was technically much meatier. The detectors were already available, or at least reasonable detectors were available for the near infrared. The pointing accuracy required was much smaller, and it would have been scientifically much more effective to do that. But I made the other choice.
I suppose at the time, most people didn't realize how many infrared objects there were and what you could learn from them.
No. But I was interested from the theoretical side in red giants, for example, to get the spectra out to 2 1/2 or 3 microns, and I knew the main radiation was there. So there were, even quite close to me, things that were guaranteed. Well, we didn't make that decision. We made the decision to stay with the high definition photograph. Danielson was enthusiastic with regard to planets. He was very interested in them, and I of course in nuclei of galaxies, and other objects. But the requirements for that strained the technology of that time extremely much. Very many people were convinced that one or two hundreds of a second of arc pointing accuracy was quite unachievable. I was convinced that it was achievable. But it was very, very much harder, and we had many failure flights. Many, three in all. It was very hard. As a whole, now, in afterthought, I would describe it as at best marginally worthwhile. I think only then if you add the experience that through the design of Stratoscope II (and experience with it, but mostly in the design) it pushed our knowledge, and it proved the feasibility of that pointing accuracy, which was entirely essential for the immediately following satellites.
I guess one still has no higher resolution on the Andromeda nebula nucleus, aside from radio things.
No. But the efficiency of Stratoscope II was terribly low — the number of observations compared to the funding. On the personal side I also should say that Bob Danielson showed himself, both as a scientist and instrumentalist and as a person, magnificent. Even though I had, except for the last two or so flights, the title of being the principal investigator, that was a formality to insure continuing support. In fact, much earlier, really, the lead fell into Bob Danielson's hands. The two of us operated in a way in which we divided the various areas in a quite clear fashion, and the trust between us was such that we did not at all check on each other. There was minimum of duplication. All the general decisions, of course, we did together. For example, our trips to Perkin-Elmer we usually did not do together, because we would speak to different engineers anyhow, and to the degree that we would meet the same engineers it would have been a waste of time.
That's very interesting. (Pause to discuss lunch plans) So we'll go on for about another half an hour. Copernicus I guess is next.
Right. I myself was never officially active in Copernicus at all. Obviously I was extremely strongly interested and therefore I had persistent discussions with Lyman and with Jack Rogerson, who was the leader of that young group in Copernicus (but others too, like Don Morton). By the way, I should also say that Lyman took an extremely active role, though never recorded, in Stratoscope I. He enjoyed Stratoscope I no end, I think.
Not only getting the funding, but in the scientific process?
Oh, very much. And the technical side of it. He just enjoys technical problems. Indeed, Barbara maintains, and I think she's quite right, that Lyman, after a day's work at the Stellerator, would start thinking about Stratoscope I. Before the first flights he'd phone me around 10 o'clock: "Martin, have you thought of this or that?" And of course I hadn't. And then I couldn't go to sleep. (Laughter) But his influence on all my work was very strong. Mine on Copernicus was I don't think entirely negligible, but very much smaller.
In that sense, Copernicus has played a very big impact on the department and through that on me.
How so? You mean, in terms of the people that have been brought in, that sort of thing? How has it had an influence on the department?
Well, yes, by the people that were brought in; of course it's a much bigger project, and therefore a number of astronomers were brought in. And also some engineers in the detector group. But that was for future use. But when it started to work, the scientific excitement was unbelievable. The atmosphere in which you work, is it not right, when you have at all the ability of enjoying the successes of those around you, then whenever something goes right, it moves you and your work. I mentioned these, so to say, organized luncheons. But all through the years, whoever wants to, goes to lunch together, most any day, and therefore, you would hear the latest Copernicus results, after Copernicus was up. In fact, in spite of all my NASA work and therefore the persistent invitations to participate, as a member of Washington, the major Apollo shots, I never actually did go there — not for snootiness sake, but because it was quite an effort and quite a loss of time. But for the firing of the Copernicus rocket, I did go.
I see. Well, shall we move on to Washington or are there more things about the Stratoscope?
I do not think so. I think I can just summarize that I am terribly happy that the opportunity did arise for me to actively participate in the early phases, and I think I feel quite proud about Stratoscope I. I feel far less, certain about Stratoscope II.
I see. Well, the National Science Foundation, then. You were there more or less when NSF was getting set up. I'm particularly interested in how NSF decided to support astronomy.
I fear that I really had very little of an overview. It was my first participation in national administrative affairs. I think I took my first assignments to the Astronomy Panel I think that was the first one but that I'm not quite sure about as the assignment read, and learned very little about the general structure and the total question of national funding. I took the assignments of priority sorting, and the specific things that they assigned to the Astronomy Committee (or whatever it was called) of the NSF at that time, rather verbatim. I did become very actively interested in exactly how that specific type of work should be done, how a good committee of outside advisors can work or how it can be made to be just a rubber stamping of previous internal decisions. As the functioning of where I was involved, I did develop very strong opinions.
Tell me about that — how it started, how it changed over time?
Well, it was very clear very fast that you are given what I would call the authority of advising, but no authority of deciding. To make the advisory role at all worthwhile, you've got to be given certain advantages that give your advice weight. One of those, for example, I have always very strongly maintained, is that the advisory committee must be chaired by one of the outsiders.
What do you mean by outsider?
Well, one of the advisors who does not belong to the agency, to whom they give advice.
For example, in NASA, I refused to serve on the NASA astronomy panel as long as the chairman was the astronomy head of NASA. The moment that happens, as an outsider, the chances that you really can express yourself are just greatly diminished. I developed slowly (not as early as that) also a very strong feeling that you should document your advice; document in the sense that it should be verbatim decided at the end of the meeting and go into formal minutes. That the formal minutes should be there, which is not always the case. And that if major advice is not followed, at the next meeting a short description, not a discussion but a description where the government agency tells why it wasn't followed, should be given to the panel — not for discussion, but so that there was some responsibility toward the advisory committee from the agency.
You learned this because in the beginning these things were not followed.
Not always followed, and it could be quite quite disappointing. And I also developed, I think, a very strong belief that if you want to be effective (except in quite low level committees where the advice sought is quite specific and clear-cut, like for example, priorities for a sequence of proposals, but for anything more important) you have to be ready to commit yourself for more than three years. You just cannot find your way in the setup and the personalities involved, and also even among your colleagues reach some level of consensus, in a short time. When it comes to broader policies, things move slowly. Later on, it was terribly clear. You could talk for three years in one direction, if you had a picture of yourself that you had really thought through and adjusted to the circumstances, just make sure that once a year at least you talk on the specific point and make it clear so that it could be understood. But don't expect that it will be accepted, and don't drive anybody into a corner. Before you know it, the fourth and fifth year, somebody else, from the government, will give you a lecture that you thought you had given earlier. So over the long run, I think that I felt very comfortable with it. In the short run, you've just got to make up your mind, you will not see any effects. You've got to learn how to behave. It's a challenge, I think, in the long run. But that does not apply to these specific NSF panels.
You were sorting, proposals and so on.
What NSF panels did you serve on?
Only astronomy and computers. The computer panel was set up from von Neumann's urging and I served I think for a couple of years.
So you're really speaking more from your experience with NASA than the NSF?
The NSF ones were my first training, and a smaller thing. There I saw how a really strong outsider like von Neumann, and an ingenious outsider, what influence he could have. But he also knew how to adjust himself to the government.
Do you feel you were effective, that astronomers in general were effective in NSF in affecting the direction of the programs?
Yes. But not just through the astronomy panel, I think; some of that was done at higher levels of NSF.
I see. What have you noticed about changes in the way NSF funds people over the years?
Well, the main issue of course is the national observatories.
Yes. I'd like to talk about those as a separate issue later.
Right. Otherwise, I have not followed it in detail. In a general way, I think NSF has, within the means and very much, over the decades, played a remarkable role. It had something to go by, and that was the wartime experience. The ONR really played sort of a transition role, isn't that right, and set I think very fine patterns.
So if you sent in a proposal now, you wouldn't feel it would be treated that differently from one you sent in 20 years ago? No, I see.
But that is a feeling based on a relatively limited experience.
Did you ever have an important grant application turned down by NSF?
No, I do not think so. NSF was one of the three main sponsors of Stratoscope, and of course, that was the biggest in money of any of my proposals. That was cut in its later years quite badly. It was not turned down. But Bob and I decided it was time to close it. I have been cut a little, for example, in computing funds but practically always after telephone discussions. I'm ready to adjust myself. I've never been really cut without a very reasonable discussion, so I'm convinced. If anything, my worry tends to be, and is increasing now that I'm getting older, that people tend to like me and that I may be in an improperly favored position, and have been also in the past.
On the basis of personality.
Yes. Generally people tend to like me, and you cannot get that completely disentangled from objective scientific truth.
It probably makes you more effective on something like the Stratoscope, where you had to bring a lot of people together.
That is right. But there is also the danger that I am being given a little more funds than may be entirely right. And particularly, I'm a little worried that as my scientific ability decreases, I will be improperly fairly treated. (Laughter)
Well, there are many people who would like to have that problem. Let's turn to NASA. I know you served there but I'm not sure about the sequence of it.
I belonged to a Space Science Panel of PSAC.
The Space Science Board?
No, I never served on the Space Science Board of the Academy. No, this was a Space Science Panel of PSAC, the President's Science Advisory Committee. I was never on PSAC itself. I served there eight years, largely during the Apollo period from '59 to I think '67, and then switched to a NASA committee, the Astronomy Missions Board, and served there from '67 to '69.
I see. We should talk about PSAC first then.
During this period, you were not otherwise serving on NASA panels or boards?
No. I'm pretty sure that that is exactly true. It turns out to be, combined, exactly the decade I had set myself. I have observed a little that there comes a time when the so-called ten percenters, the outside advisors, eventually really become administrators and lose their approach from the research side, and gain another type of approach.
OK, tell me then about the Space Science Panel.
One of the first assignments that I got, and that was in a small group of engineers and scientists, a total of four or six selected out of the panel and the space technology panel, was an assignment that I remember very much because of course it came very early and came well formulated. President Eisenhower asked his science advisor, and I think that was the first President's Science Advisor, Kistiakowsky,  to get him a report in — I forget the time, but it wasn't all that long, something on the order of two months — should we go to the moon? Why should we go to the moon? If we did go, how much money would it cost? And when will we get there? I was flabbergasted by the very clean questions, but also by the impossibility, I thought, of answering the questions. The engineers, who by the way were entirely fascinating to me, did come up with a dollar and time estimate, which turned out amazingly good. As for the question, should we go and why should we go. This group was not really properly made up. It was I think quite clear, certainly in my mind, and Hornig's (who later became the President's Science Advisor, and maybe already then was on PSAC, I don't quite remember, and who was also on the committee). I think it was quite clear in our minds that purely for science's sake, that type of an undertaking could not possibly be justified. In the formulation of why we should go, and that we should go, I think I did play an appreciable role — for this report, which was of course only one of dozens of inputs to the White House. I thought very hard, and felt that after Sputnik, if we ignored that challenge, which I felt was not a militaristic challenge but really a challenge to our technological capability at large — if we left it alone, we would never have the self-esteem, to ourselves. We would go down a very uninspiring path, that I fear we had been sliding into, since the successful end of World War II. The social programs, though they had started by that time, had not become really national driving issues, so that I felt the nation really needed something to sit it up. I very much hoped that the Apollo project could become sort of a driving edge, in a much wider sense. But particularly what I hoped it would do is boost the educational system in the country, but also, drive the technology further. That was a terribly exciting assignment. It was written and presented to Eisenhower, but I think both Eisenhower and Kistiakowsky from what I heard later, were fairly set against the Apollo project. But the papers were transmitted to Kennedy, and Kennedy made the decision, very much in the same spirit.
Yes, very much on those grounds.
I have no idea whether he in fact read that report. There were so many other inputs. And also I think it was a point of view that many reasonable people might take.
Was there much disagreement on the committee, or did people generally agree on it?
There were so few people, and the engineers didn't want to have anything to do with those two questions, whether we should go, and why we should go — but obviously they were entirely needed for the other part. They were enthusiasts, naturally, for a technological challenge, so in that sense — this small group, which was really an ad hoc committee drawn out of two PSAC panels —
Who was the chairman, by the way?
It may have been Hornig. And since he was a Princeton professor, he and I took the planes down together, so he and I had very many discussions on these things. It gave me a terribly exciting early beginning. Then as it developed, I slowly got my feet on the ground. I remember Kistiakowsky, who knew me from war work and who worked at Aberdeen for a while, and always was terribly friendly towards me; he gave me some stern lectures that abstract ideas on this are not sufficient for making pragmatic decisions. His lectures were just right for me, to really watch more what did work, and how to influence people, and to learn. That gave me this attitude, that you had to restrict your activity to somewhat limited areas, and then really learn the lay of the land, and be patient. But my total experience was that if you once accept the picture that a large society moves slowly, and a large government moves slowly, and even an organization of the size of Princeton University doesn't move that fast — if you once accept that as a fact, that you will not change, and therefore do the pushing after you have made your own picture of what the ideal should be, so that you can push in a consistent way, and not just react to this year's emergency, this month's emergency, but react on your own picture, then the number of things that eventually go, more or less, in directions which you consider compatible with your thinking, is really I think very encouraging, at least in my experience.
It's surprising, I gather, how things do eventually come out.
Yes. I remember one very lively item, reasonably early. The PSAC panels problem was preparation for the overall plans for what then was called OAO,  that is the major astronomical satellites. There were three proposals. And NASA headquarters had developed a plan that at least the three stellar ones, the night time ones, should all be put on one common platform. That, from my experience by that time which Stratoscope I and II, was terribly wrong and terribly risky. This idea, you know, of a platform. They could not yet free themselves from the on-the-ground mentality. They wanted to first get a stable something on which you put the telescope. Already from the ballooning it was quite clear you wanted to get rid of any stable platform if you could, and use the natural stability of a body in orbit. That if you wanted to get the rotation of the telescope to freeze, use its own inertia — well, there are minor forces, but you should use that as your basis. That developed into a very strong fight. The Space Science Panel completely agreed with the point of view that the instruments should be flown separately, and presumably in sequence; we realized that we could not fire three at once, and it would not have been wise — whatever mistakes you find from the first, the next attempt should benefit. But the headquarters people of NASA dug their heels in very, very hard, and that was sort of a test of power of PSAC "meddling" in NASA technical matters. Eventually, this panel persuaded Kistiakowsky to try first to persuade the administrator of NASA. When he didn't succeed, we asked him to go to the President. The President, after a very short description by Kistiakowsky, whom I think he very much trusted, just said, "Report to me in no later than a month that the decision has been reversed." That of course was an order. Then of course, there was one session. Kistiakowsky, Purcell, and I — the physicist Purcell was then the head of the Space Science Panel — had an appointment with NASA, the head administrator of NASA and his deputy —
— who was that, Jim Webb yet?
No. Was his name Glennan?  He was from Case. He had been president of Case; I'm not that sure what his name was. But I never will forget that session; he was so furious, that for roughly two hours his arguments had just nothing to do with the case at all. But Kistiakowsky and Purcell kept extremely calm, very reasonable. A wonderful lesson to me. I was shaking in my boots; I kept entirely quiet, being by far the junior member there — there — only as an astronomer, the astronomer in this case. After a while, the administrator calmed down a little more and then Kistiakowsky turned to me and urged me to describe the astronomical considerations. The administrator knew from the beginning, but he had to calm down first, knew that he would have to do something, and just told his deputy (who was I think Dryden then) that maybe he should look into it.
And that was the end, as far as we were concerned. There was just no question, Eisenhower having given that order. An item in that connection which confirmed one of my pictures was that a few days later, I got a call from Nancy Roman, the astronomy head in NASA headquarters, who informed me, "Well, Martin, you got your way. Now, you tell me, in what sequence should I schedule the three proposals? Because you know darned well that I will have very unhappy customers and particularly whom I might put last." Now I had thought — again, I can only re-emphasize, it's one of the necessary parts, to be effective you've got to be ahead in your thinking if you have a plan.
You had expected this.
Yes. It was quite clear it would be a major difficulty, a political difficulty. And it just happened that in my mind the sequence was extremely clear. You go from the technically easiest to the technically most difficult, and also scientifically, it turned out, you go from simple, you know, from the photometric survey in the ultraviolet, to low dispersion, to high dispersion. I knew that that endangered Lyman's high dispersion proposal, in case the project would be abandoned; and as a matter of fact, it nearly was, at one time.
It was almost dropped, you mean.
Almost dropped. But that was the only logical sequence. Nancy Roman accepted that as sort of an objective criterion, and the two, the technical and the scientific, happened to go together, so that there was no argument.
Tell me, during all this affair, did you have much interaction with the people whose experiments were in question, or others in the larger astronomical community who were concerned? Did they feed into PSAC? Did they sort of lobby with you?
I'm not aware that they lobbied with me. But I was in steady contact with oodles of people.
I see. Did these people, in the community, generally in agreement that the thing should be split up?
I really think they didn't have all that strong an opinion. And there I think Lyman's plan, by way of pushing the ballooning and then starting thinking we really had a clearer picture.
And Lyman you know was thinking of these things even before the Stratoscope.
So he was in agreement with you on all of this?
I see. Maybe we ought to take a break now and get back to NASA later? After lunch, now. Onward with PSAC, which is where we were.
Right. There is perhaps one period, one item that I was directly involved in, in connection with the Apollo Project, which was not at all easy but very fascinating to me. That was when in the early preparatory phases, these unmanned Rangers that were to be the first (lunar) landers had a whole series of failures. The scientists, geophysicists, and astronomers, were very eager to get instruments on the moon that would telemeter data back that was scientifically terribly interesting. That was a natural development. As the failures occurred, the question came of whether they — not in themselves, but the attention paid to the scientific instruments to work — detracted too much from the main aim, the engineering and the landing and finding landing spots for Apollo. And since there were not many scientists very closely connected with this type of research on this panel, it became natural for me to play the role, at a critical moment, to just throw practically everything scientific out, and first insure that the Rangers would land.
Why should it fall to you? You're not directly, connected with lunar work.
No, but there were very few scientists in this group who were close enough, and I think had a wide enough range, and also thought of, what do you call it, civil courage? The companion piece to patriotism in war.
— to take a strong stand. Actually, I got a little opposition, outside the committee. I remember Urey once, whom I knew quite well, quoting me very hard and saying, "Well, finally we know who is eliminating all our instruments." And I was entirely open with them. My feeling was that they wouldn't get any science and they would endanger a national project, with very severe consequences nationwide, and would also cut our science. So there was again, I think, was a role where the human training of my life and the complications of my life, starting with the death of my father and its consequences, and then the Nazi complications, had made me think more about standing on my own judgment and not being afraid of it. And proceeding where I think I had more training, so to say, than most of the others who had had a more straightforward life. I don't want to take too much credit. You've got to be clear that the voice of any single person in these decisions is only one input. But of course the moment a scientist who is rated high enough to be on that kind of a panel makes a strong plea in such a direction, that's terribly likely to be taken by the administrators and the technical people. Therefore I knew in some sense, the moment I said it, strong and loud, I immediately had responsibility for what happened.
Were there any other decisions that you took that seemed important to you?
There were terribly important technological decisions made, and for quite a while actually the science panel and technological panel were combined, the two space panels, and were only one, but in those, of course, I played practically no role.
I see, questions about orbital rendezvous, that sort of thing.
That wasn't your specialty, so to speak.
No. I stuck, I think, to the idea that I would pick on a subject or views for which I really had a developed background, and concentrate my energies on that.
I see. By the way, do you know how you were picked to be on the panel?
I haven't the vaguest idea.
And how did it happen that you left?
I left in '67. Before '67 1 don't know exactly when, there was an ad hoc committee, the so-called Ramsey Committee, on which I was. It was a short ad hoc committee to plan the scientific input in the lunar and planetary areas, and the rest of astronomy — how the scientific community should feed into NASA, and back. For the lunar and planetary area, a so-called Lunar and Planetary Missions Board was proposed and accepted, as the main overall advisory input. For astronomy, the Ramsey Committee suggested (Leo Goldberg played the leading role on the astronomical side) to form an inter-university corporation, to whom NASA would give appreciable authority, not just for advice, but to some degree also for priority decisions. Nothing happened for about a half a year. Leo Goldberg and I got together over the phone and decided to ask Webb, who was then the (NASA) administrator, for an appointment with the two of us, and he gave it to us. We said, "What's happening?" We had a very long discussion with Webb and a couple of deputies of his, and he said, "Are you ready to come once a month to Washington for the next half year, with the aim of ending up with something, either the proposal of the Ramsey Committee, or something that fits it? It was clear that NASA was very hesitant about the proposal of that much transfer.
That much transfer of authority.
Yes. Leo and I said yes, we had six monthly meetings, partly with Webb and partly with his next layers down. It ended up with an agreement, not on this much authority transfer, but on an Astronomy Missions Board. That was formed then, with Leo Goldberg as chairman. Leo's and my role in this undertaking were quite typical, with me being the second one, but the louder one.
As you mentioned over lunch, by not being the chairman, you were much more free to offer criticisms.
Actually I think Webb learned to like me very well, even though I interrupted him — which was absolutely necessary with Webb if you wanted to get anywhere, and you had to have a very loud voice to do that.
You mean, just to interrupt him, you had to raise your voice.
To shout. And then the Astronomy Missions Board was formed, with Leo as the chairman, and I joined. I decided that I should not be inside NASA and also in PSAC. So I asked to be relieved from the PSAC panels, and spent the last two years of my decade in NASA.
Tell me, during this period, when you and Leo were going down one day, why did it take so long? What was going on between your meetings that would have any effect?
I think in fact that it sort of forced NASA to discuss, with as much time as they could devote to it, how much could they do? In steps it became clear that a form of an organization that really had more than advisory authority — (I call it advisory authority because I think, if it's a good advisory group, it must have certain authority in the sense of having the right to access to the relevant data in a real open form, and also to hear what happens with its advice, and other practical things like the chairman being from the outside and so on) — NASA just felt they could not go beyond that. And I think Leo and, I by and by, understood it. They then decided in their minds how far they could go, and the results was the Missions Board.
I see. You would go down and make a proposal, they would say they could do this and not that, and then a month later, they would have had more discussions within themselves, you would go down again. Meanwhile, you and Leo would be having discussions with people in the astronomical community?
To some degree. Not too much. This was really an example where, I think, two people who were accepted in the community of space astronomy could quite effectively represent the community. In fact, if the two of us hadn't done that, nothing would have happened.
There would have been no Astronomy Missions Board?
I don't think so. And I think it was quite clear that this other proposed organization was unacceptable to NASA, so I don't think anything would have happened. But it lasted only two years. During the two years, for me, two items happened that were entirely fascinating. The one was, what was the next highest priority in astronomy, now in the sense of excluding lunar/planetary? The NASA definition of astronomy. And even though the Missions Board was made up of all branches of astronomy, and therefore the initial ideas of priorities were completely discordant within it, it took less than those two years to really establish a consensus. The consensus that developed was on the next highest priority, which was not the only question, but was a question — there was one major report after a year and a half or so to really set a longer-range pattern. I remember, one came out for high energy X-rays, gamma rays, after the three OAO's in the visual and ultraviolet. And it was very fascinating, as an example, that there was no consensus, no agreement, for the first half year. Going roughly, I don't know, once a month or so, for one or two days. And of course there were many fire fighting, distracting items, from the longer-range planning. But that working together eventually led, I think, to a really wholehearted next major item, and that brought the HEAO's about — event though it may look timewise so long apart, that you forget. It's very encouraging. I don't think that you can humanly expect very diverse elements, in a shorter time, to come to a consensus. Of course, any decision of a committee, or board of a committee, based on a vote is no good. It's good only if everybody in his mind says, "I will stand behind it at least as the next top priority item." It can be achieved, but it cannot be achieved fast.
So you too came to agreement on this as the next priority.
Yes. Indeed, I was very easily persuaded that that was right, because I was very aware of the visual situation — Copernicus being prepared here, isn't that right. In fact, it was very funny, because the two high energy men, Kraushaar and Herb Friedman, were not at all very effective in their way of speaking. Friedman is marvelous and broad, but is very hesitant to speak up, speaks very quietly and not at all forcefully. And Kraushaar, when he gets excited, stutters, in such a way that it is embarrassing to him, and he speaks little. So after a while, when in my own mind I had decided what I felt should be the next priority, I made it a point mostly to sit beside Herb Friedman. Because we knew each other quite well, and he would just whisper in my ear, "This is wrong, or "This is so," and I would say it loud. I just played the role of the voice of somebody — well, through my filter. But that was after I was convinced personally that that's what it should be. Again, I'm exaggerating my role, but I'm just describing it the way it —
I'm only asking you about your role. I ask other people about their roles.
Right. And the second item that had really, to me, a very unhappy end, was when the post-Apollo planning had to come to an end; indeed it was already terribly delayed. The two Missions Boards together got more and more suspicious that the NASA administrator, who was then the successor to Webb (and I forget his name, that must be a Freudian slip) and a couple of other people in NASA, got far too ambitious plans. By that time I think the rest of us, even astronomers, realized that the country was going with vehemence into quite different and very strong directions. The civil rights movement was in full swing, and the Vietnam War was becoming a real issue. The country was not ready to do what they wanted. Then Vice-President Agnew was appointed chairman of a three man committee; the head of NASA was the second one and George Miller, the head of the Manned Space Flight Center at Houston, was the third one, appointed by the President. They wanted to go the manned way to Mars, right then and there. And both Missions Boards asked, again and again, for what we called loan alternative of lesser means." Because we just didn't believe that the country was ready, and indeed I think many of us said it was wrong. I quite definitely felt that the country was in so different a state than when the decision to go to the Apollo Project was made, that the Mars mission seemed to me entirely wrong. The ten years of major space activities, that I'd set for myself, came to an end, and very soon thereafter, actually, the Astronomy Missions Board was disbanded, in a complete discrepancy between the Missions Board and the administration. But of course, that administration didn't nearly —
— but you had already resigned before that.
Yes. Well, my last meeting was one where the discrepancy came entirely into the open. I remember that one with great bitterness, because I think the administrator (whose name I honestly can't remember — it was a very short name but I still can't remember it). I don't think was totally honest with us. He maintained, "Oh, don't get so excited, this is only a first draft." But he told us that in fact the final report had to be in in two weeks later. You know that can't be the truth. That type of planning you don't alter in two weeks. And they had no second alternative, that we had asked for.
Had you presented a definite second alternative?
No; in detail, that's very difficult to do purely from the outside. We asked for certain goals of a lesser kind, but the Missions Board were scientists, not including engineers.
Goals that could probably be met by unmanned means?
Not necessarily all unmanned. We were quite enthusiastic, for example, for what we called not manned but "man-serviced" ideas. And in many ways what's now happening is kind of close. We didn't envision it exactly necessarily in that form, but the concept of an instrument normally being unmanned, and gone from the ground, but being man-serviceable from aloft, that was quite a strong concept that we knew at that time.
I notice when you were writing about Stratoscope, I think in the Smithsonian bulletin,  you said that you certainly didn't find men necessary for scientific results, yet you felt — in this case I think you were speaking as much about space as about ballooning — that men were necessary in order to attract the funds that would make that technology possible.
That was for the space undertaking.
Well, you spoke about that in connection with ballooning at that time. But it seems that you had space in mind. And I wonder, does this still remain your view, that there has to be some manned component?
Yes. Somehow, the direct involvement of man just gives an emotional base that is so much broader and stronger, that if you leave that entirely out, I think it will not proceed. And therefore, I was very actively trying to think exactly what actions one could effectively use men for, for real scientific complicated instruments, without relying on man permanently, all the time there, and becoming a bottleneck. Of course, I think the normal and quite natural attitude of the NASA manned side was to over-estimate what man could accomplish. Indeed, very often, if you really came, you know, to what they called "the time-line of a day of an astronaut," they expected him to do more than what they would have expected of a person on the ground. Therefore I was terribly afraid that man would become a bottleneck, if he wasn't used in a special quality that was hard to do otherwise.
I see. Well, tell me, overall, how effective do you feel the astronomers were in NASA?
In a general way, I think, not astronomers only, but the scientists had quite an effective role, and a role quite often broader, in the sense of national interest, than you would think offhand. It's just the fact that you get a selection of people sticking it out long enough to have any effect and, that selection goes to those who like to think in terms, not just of their narrow disciplinary, interests, but of the broad interest. I mean, people like Purcell and Hornig.
Yes. Well, anything else about NASA, or about your work with government in general?
Since that time I really have had, except for one emergency assignment, practically no further Washington assignments. In fact I try to avoid them. The one emergency assignment was when —
Sac Peak — yes, I remember —
Yes, and that was just one month's very hard work.
Hard work, to do what?
Sac Peak's funding had originally been from the Air Force, and a by law, the title of which I don't remember anymore that could not be maintained. In the case of Sac Peak, it was postponed unusually long. But then the point came when the Air Force just told Sac Peak, on a certain day we have to send you firing notices. NSF and other agencies had been involved, and there was, as I found out by and by, a whole sequence of committees who just had passed the buck, and in what I feel was a very irresponsible fashion. Both the scientific and the Washington administration people, I think, just didn't have the courage to come to a decision. Until it fell into the lap of the NSF, to make up their minds to either be, as it was called, the lead agency, to run Sac Peak — not necessarily without any help from other agencies in funding — or to close Sac Peak. To make up their mind, they felt they needed a scientific outside ad hoc committee. The head of NSF called me up one day and asked me whether I would chair it. I knew Sac Peak quite well, and I knew people there. So I really were and had been very interested in it; indeed, they had achieved, just a little before, from the ground, pictures of the sun that were entirely competitive with Stratoscope I — a decade or more later, but they had then — a magnificent program. So I said "Yes." Under the condition that the official assignment would be what he said originally. Namely, "what if NSF can't find extra funds? If the answer is, Sac Peak should be preserved, tell us where else to cut the money?" It dragged out two weeks, before finally we agreed on a formal written one, because he didn't want to put that in that brutal but realistic way. But I insisted.
That's what the others had avoided.
I think so. But only if he gave me that assignment could I proceed in a way that would really answer the question. And another thing that also took quite some persuasion was for him to give me the permission to telephone the other agencies, and to really find out what the different levels of the other agencies' attitudes were. Because they were all completely contradictory reports that I got, within the first two days. That took a few days before he said yes. But then the cooperation was extremely fast, and they gave me a big telephone allowance. At that time, you know, the law of openness, the Sunshine Law, had been in — it turned out that we could have only one meeting, because we had to announce when there is a meeting; it had to be a public meeting, and the time delay after the announcement was such that it was one day before our report had to be in, to prevent the firing notices to go out. That made it absolutely clear that all the decisions had to be done without meetings, over the telephone, which I think is one of the examples where idealists don't realize that the Sunlight Law very often can drive the actual process even more into secrecy.
That's right, there's no minutes, there's no correspondence, there's no record of any of those conversations that you must have had.
Yes. And that month I spent essentially on the telephone. Just discussion after discussion. First to get the committee together. That took maybe five days or something like that. And then, all the telephone calls to the agencies, to find out what their attitudes really were. There were just absolutely amazing misunderstandings between Washington headquarters, and the next step down.
In NSF, or in the Air Force?
No, the worst misunderstandings were in ERDA.  The Sac Peak people, you see, had never gone high enough to find out what ERDA for example really thought, what headquarters thought. They had great sympathy with the next level, and then it turned out that what that level thought ERDA could do, was in complete disagreement with the headquarters — and the headquarters had talked to NSF, and that is why the Sac people and the NSF people had stories that had little to do with each other. But there again, by just insisting on conditions that made an honest job possible, that honest job was possible. The hardest decision then was, and I didn't see how I could get around it, to just plain ask the five directors of the major, the most funded, solar American observatories, to make a statement about the question: "If necessary, will I give up 10 percent of my solar budget, if that's the only way of preserving Sac Peak?" And I urged them terribly strongly to get together, because only if they had a unanimous Yes or No would there be a clear decision. They behaved in just an absolutely marvelous way.
Did they put this in writing?
They actually met, and they could meet, because they were no government committee. I mean, it was just by my asking them to appear at the planned meeting, which they only after a long while did. They agreed, and I asked specifically in a formal request that they would answer that question. If the answer was Yes, to give in full detail the consequences of what they would lose in research. The end was that all of them came to the decision to say Yes, and that second part gave them then the possibility to really show the bloody consequences. But of course, their Yes, with the description of the consequences, made the decision. That was a very short time, but terribly strenuous.
An extraordinary experience. In fact, NSF found the money elsewhere?
No, a good portion of the money comes from NSF, but there are major contributions from other agencies.
I mean, NSF did not have to cut the other solar observatories to that extent?
Well, exactly, that is very hard to say, but nothing like 10 percent.
That's extremely interesting. I'm interested not only in the results but also in the mechanisms by which some of these things happen; certainly totally different from anything that would have happened even in 1950, let's say.
Yes, entirely different. But I think, again without trying to brag, it is an example where avoiding the responsibility is a natural reaction of the previous committee and agency decisions, to let it come to this point, where it was necessary to come to a decision with that extreme measure. It just shows how passing the buck is unbelievably common. It's just plain having the courage to force people to face the question openly, not with anger but just to accept the situation as it really is, and all agree formally to address the question as it is. It's very fascinating, I think, as to the character of humans, and I don't think we have too proud a record. Was it Bismarck who said, "Zivilcourage gibt es selten"? — "Civil courage is rare" -in contrast to military courage. And again, I think I would have been a stodgy scientist, if it hadn't been for the events that forced my life in a way that was hard at times, but ended extremely happily.
Let's move on now; I guess the IAU (International Astronomical Union) is the next question.
IAU and then the AAS (American Astronomical Society).
The IAU comes first.
Right. I think they overlapped a little. I have been very enthusiastic in the IAU, and I enjoy the meetings. I get an awful lot out of meetings. Astronomy is a small field, and international exchange is just terribly important. For example, in stellar evolution, the total number of people involved is so small that if you would limit yourself to just national intercourse …
Too small, yes
So, by a process that I do not know the details of, except the formalities — there is a nominating committee — I was chosen as what they call a vice-president. There is sort of a tradition that there be an American vice-president, among the vice-presidents, is it six or nine, I forget now. Just like there is always a Russian one, on the other side — it's distributed more or less geographically. And so for six years, which meant two three-year periods — there is a general assembly every three years, that's a normal six-year term — I was on the executive committee.
Beginning, when was this?
I'm not absolutely sure, but I think it was from 1963 to 1970, but that may be a bit off.  The executive committee normally met once a year, whether there was a general assembly or not. I found that work interesting. It was not terribly demanding, most of the time — not all that much to do between meetings, and the meetings were roughly a week, once a year. The style of the IAU, at any rate during that time, was very traditional, fairly held tight in a group of outstanding astronomers, but also astronomers interested in, shall we call it, disciplinary power. But the international experience was new and fascinating to me. Things like Roberts' Rules of Order just don't exist, and are not known outside the Anglo-Saxon world — which of course I knew from my German time, but I didn't realize that the French had no equivalent. I do not feel that I had any major influence on that group. It met too rarely, and that kind of an organization is unusually hard to move. Of course, the moment you have an international organization, it's much harder, much harder to move. Also, they had the habit of electing presidents essentially by the nominating committee, where election was quite pro forma. They were quite old and just didn't have the straight stamina to attack beside the things that needed doing, so to say the annual things to attack the questions of longer range changes and that was quite a handicap. It sometimes gave one the opportunity, just by having been younger, and having more stamina, to make things come out your way. Indeed, I must admit that on a couple of occasions, when decisions were taken in the morning that I felt were really wrong, I asked the chairman immediately after lunch for a return to that topic. Because the committee, executive council I suppose it's called, had the European habit of a very heavy luncheon, with the American habit of not having a siesta afterwards but working immediately after. So, one third of the committee, the older third, would be essentially asleep, or at least dozing, so that you could get things reversed. It's not the nicest way of operating, but I must admit to having used that a couple of times. One of the really interesting parts to me was, I tried very very hard — and this was during the thaw of the Cold War — to try never, when things came to a vote, to vote against the Russian vice-president. And on that, I had a 100 percent record. But again, trying very hard to find out what the topics would be. And not all you know are on the formal agenda or are predictable. Some things suddenly come up. With the Russian vice-president Ambartsumian (Severny, Director of Crimean Observatory), whom I knew through both the three-years personally quite well, I'd have discussions about it, and see how one could approach it so that one ends up in a way that both can vote for. Or when something came up unexpectedly, or I'd just overlooked something, then after the discussion had gone a certain way, and it was clear there was the danger of not coming to something that both sides, the Russian vice-president and I, could vote the same way on, the usual technique is to ask whether the subject could be tabled until either the next morning or after lunch, and then we'd get together. That was very encouraging. Of course it was a small group, isn't that right, of people who had strong common grounds just in their profession.
There must have been difficulty for example over some of these China questions.
No, the China question was before I got there. China was already out. But there were difficulties about one military project in Vietnam to illuminate the whole battle area — that I remember was quite a complicated subject. But there, actually, I think Swings was then president when that came up, and it came up rather suddenly. Ambartsumian was then either vice-president or past president, in any case the leading Russian there. Swings (Belgium) sent Ambartsumian and me out and said, "Come back in ten minutes with a wording you both like." And Ambartsumian and I both very fast understood each other's absolute necessities, and found that there was a very clear key point that we could agree on, that properly formulated, would not prejudice the discrepant areas of discussion.
Did the project West Ford come up? The needles they put in orbit?
I was not on that committee. There I was in Washington on one of the very short emergency committees — after the IAU, in Berkeley, had made a terrifically strong statement against it. And I think the factual statements were just plain wrong, and we knew that they exaggerated that one experiment. I don't remember the details, but in any case, I was called in with a smaller group of people for two days to discuss that matter. We spent the first day just getting the key military administrators who were dreadfully angry with the IAU, calmed down. Then the next day, we could discuss what actions to take. The key point was that the government would go ahead with that first pilot experiment but would stick to Kennedy's promise that any further experiment would be discussed with the astronomers prior to being decided on. So actually the situation, I think, was already quite under control, and I think there, the scientists did not behave well. We under-estimated the intentions of the military and thought therefore with half-truths one could get by. But the military had as bright a youngster as Irvin Shapiro, and therefore was very well informed on the scientific side.
I see. To get back to the IAU, just in general, do you feel that the IAU has changed much during the postwar years? Has it changed not as much as it should have?
It has not changed very much, with one exception. It sponsors many more specialized meetings outside the General Assembly. That I think is good and very effective, for the heavily research involved astronomers. But it leaves out the people from institutions that are not the top leading research people generally, and it leaves out whole countries that are not top research sources in astronomy. Therefore I feel very strongly that the General Assemblies are very important, to satisfy this overall need. In contrast with people like Oort, for example, who became quite doubtful whether the general assemblies should be maintained. But I really think that the opportunity for a larger group to come to an assembly, even if their contribution is not active — what they bring back, the indirect contribution astronomy that they make in their country at home, I think is worth it, very highly.
I think stressing that point, and therefore having more invited review papers, without discussion, and running the technical scientific discussions in much smaller groups, much more is parallel (sessions) has gone somewhat in that direction. While I was there I think the number of invited review papers was increased by one or two. But maybe not enough. Actually, I was invited to be the president of the IAU, a few years after I had ended that term. It was very tempting. Well, it tickles your ego, to be invited. But I felt that I did not want to accept that position if I could not be a stronger driving force, to adjust the IAU to the needs that I felt it should fulfill. It was a little too late, I think, for me; my energies could not be up to it. There was also another consideration, which I had already informally mentioned on an occasion — I don't remember whether my name had been jokingly mentioned for the future — that I felt it was wrong to consider for such IAU positions too frequently Americans born and educated outside the country: that the next American president should be born American. I did not press that issue when I was asked, but I said No.
I see. Well, OK, how about talking about the American Astronomical Society, and particularly when you were president, of course.
Right. That was actually five years, with the last two years as president, the year before as president-elect, and the two years before that as vice-president, of which there are always two.
Actually, the three years before I served as president were somewhat more active on my part because Whitford, who was the president before me, and filled one additional year, the last year of Stromgren (because Stromgren moved back to Denmark in the middle of his term) — Whitford was not at all well during that time. In the years he spent in Australia, and he had over-worked himself on behalf of the Lick Observatory in a very bad way. In that sense, a lot more activity fell on the president-elect or the senior vice-presidents before that; on me. Also, I was very actively interested, and I felt that I was still young enough and had the energy. That was an exciting assignment from my point of view. During those five years an awful lot of things happened at the AAS — none that I am aware of of my invention, but all needing somehow to be led through. One of the first things was that some groups, some branches of astronomical research, were quite dissatisfied with the organization, and wanted the Society somehow to sectionalize, like the Physical Society. Leo Goldberg, for example, said that if he can't have a section or division or whatever you call it for solar astrophysics, he will form Solar Society. Then there was another group, the high energy astrophysicists, many of them coming from physics, you know X- and gamma-ray and part radio astronomers — who also felt not satisfied the way it was. There was a very serious threat. The Physical Society thought of forming an Astrophysics Section. And that, I felt, really had the potential of separating the most exciting modern part of astrophysics out of the Society. I don't think it was only a pride on the side of the Society — it would be a splitting up of our field, that by subject must interact very vigorously. We moved to form divisions, but not such society divisions as the Physical Society has; the way we then put it was that divisions should cover only those fields, in which people not brought up in the traditional astronomical path played a major role. That defined the areas better, so that not everything was formed into divisions. Then there was quite a battle, to give the divisions maximum autonomy, which the more conservative people in the council of the Astronomical Society didn't want to give.
Autonomy in terms of orientation of meetings or what?
Yes, running their own meetings, and also regarding their finances. I felt they should be getting a very large degree of freedom, because I felt fairly confident they needed the parent society quite strongly in any case, for all sorts of practical reasons, and that even if they tried in general to misuse the freedom, in fact they would find it impractical. That, I think, has worked out, and for example the drafting of the bylaws essentially was done here. The executive office of the Society, for many many years, was here in Princeton. The executive office was established by Lyman (Spitzer) and the first executive offices were here —
Over in the old observatory building.
Right. So, Hank Gurin and I really did the background work. On bylaw questions, and Barbara is an extremely good parliamentarian, and can think of very good ways of solving problems. That was, I think, the first thing. The next item, if I remember, was a Young Turk revolution who felt that our way of electing officers was too old-fashioned and rather autocratic. Don Osterbrock was one of the leaders. In a general way, I very much agreed with it. I saw some, practical difficulties in some of their proposals, but by and by compromise, again very much over the telephone was established. It was quite difficult to get the more conservative members of the council, including some of the officers, persuaded that it could work that way.
Again, more over the telephone than in the actual meetings?
The actual meetings played a reasonable role. But as usual, even at the meetings, I would go there ahead of the council meetings and practically get to the council members, making appointments well past midnight, so that I had everybody alone or by twos in my hotel room before the council meetings, so that they would already have much of an understanding. Though the meetings played a role, but telephone preparation, and then a long night's work before the actual meeting. And that is where, as I say, the stamina comes in. Then you come into the meeting, isn't that right, with the topics already discussed with the key people, and of course, with all the Young Turks who were not on the council, that had to be done.
They had to be talked to.
And before the meetings.
Then the transfer of the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL. That was done sort of by an understanding with Chandra (Chandrasekhar), who had wanted to terminate his editorship there before, and had been told by Chicago University that most likely, if there was no other Chicago member qualified to be the editor, then the university did not want to be the owner of the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL. Both Chandra and I felt that the AAS was the most logical new owner, if the Society would organize itself so that it was safeguarded against any financially faltering by the ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL, and vice versa. Chandra then decided to set his editor retirement time to be in the middle of my presidency, so that essentially we handled it entirely together. But there again I had to write-the bylaws, draft them, and get them accepted — on condition that a satisfactory contract with Chicago University of ownership transfer would occur — and get them through the council, and through the membership meeting, before the final transfer could be agreed upon with Chicago. Because Chandra would not agree if I didn't bring the formal assurances of proper organization, including a reserve fund that couldn’t be touched for other purposes and other quite sensible precautions. There I got terribly much good advice from some of the people who were versed in the running of the Physical Society. Phil Morse was a marvelous advisor on those points, because they had very severe financial problems, just a few years earlier, with the PHYSICAL REVIEW. So that went through, and then finally —
Did you have opposition, from people in the Astronomical Society, to taking over the ApJ?
No. But much opposition to go into these very detailed safeguarding bylaws, that I think safeguarded by both sides.
I see, maybe there were some provisions that seemed too harsh or whatever?
And these were overcome by argument and by vote and so forth?
Yes. I think the vote was always the last thing. I never let it come to a vote if there wasn't an overwhelming consensus. I mean, there's just no point; these big issues, isn't that right, cannot be decided by a marginal council vote.
I see. Then the next step was the contract.
Yes. There, Chandra was absolutely marvelous. He felt that I had secured the ApJ in the hands of the AAS. The chief point there was a big reserve fund, that Chandra had already accumulated, that of course was owned by Chicago University.
But from income of the ApJ. And at the last moment, the economic situation starting to get tight, Chicago University had serious second thoughts that that fund should go with the ApJ ownership to the AAS. But there Chandra was entirely decided. That was a meeting, I think, of Chandra, the secretary or treasurer of the Society, and I, and the provost and a couple of other Chicago people. There was one moment when the provost made a proposal that would not move the fund, or not the whole reserve fund, over. I just said that this was quite contrary to my previous understanding, and at the moment I did not know how to react because it changed the picture so drastically. Chandra moved that the meeting for the moment be adjourned, and then, I think he went straight to the president of the Chicago University and settled it.
So, there again, the highly human element of Chandra and myself being extremely close —
Yes. So, from that point on?
There was only one other major issue — at least, I have not reviewed this, that I remember — that I knew would have to be faced. But I thought I had done my share, in the previous issues, not to have to fact that too, and therefore had tried not to let it come up. That was the Annie Cannon Prize to the woman astronomer of the highest contribution. At an earlier meeting, I remember Leo Goldberg, who sat in as ex-president at the council, said that this kind of prize, with set condition, was out of date. Bart Bok, who originally came from Harvard and had worked with Annie Cannon very closely, and admired her — so did I — got extremely excited, and said that he will not participate in the termination of the Annie Cannon Prize. Well, nothing needed doing, but I did get a letter from Bok in which he formally stated this was his position, "Not — over my dead body —" By the way, those files all went to the AAS files.
In that case we have them. No, we don't have the ones from that recently — AIP has the older AAS files.
I just hoped that I wouldn't have to handle that problem too. I'd like to emphasize, that whole sequence of events all occurred right in five years where I sort of had to take the most active role, because of Whitford's not being at all well. It was not of my making. Indeed, I think it shows very clearly that I'm not an innovator or inventor but I can see when others bring problems —
I would say that a lot of societies were having strains in that period.
Right. And I think we really got through with it very well. But this issue was forced by the Cannon Prize Committee, proposing the council accept that the prize should go, the next one, to Margaret Burbidge, and Margaret Burbidge saying "No." For the reason that she did not want a prize as a woman astronomer. The feelings ran extremely high. I was then president. The moment I received Margaret Burbidge's letter, I realized that I had to make up my mind either to proceed with the regular procedure and ask the nominating committee to come up with another name (which, in some sense, by the bylaws would have been the most proper) or not to do that, and propose that the council appoint a committee to come in with an opinion on the issue. And I decided that at that time to just proceed would degrade the prize in a way that would only muddle up the situation worse than it already was.
The poor woman who would get it next would be in a terrible spot.
Yes. Right. I could not see how one could proceed. Therefore, I took the responsibility to not do what maybe would have been the most regular thing, and to put it to the council to appoint a committee. There was more fury about that than I had imagined, particularly from the older members, most particularly those who had got the Annie Cannon Prize. Then a fairly young committee, including some young women astronomers, was appointed. They had a terribly hard time, and in fact, nearly gave up. But a relatively young astronomer, Preston, who was the chairman, said, "Martin, give us a bit more time" during the council meeting to which they should report that day," and at the end of the council meeting, we'll come with some proposal." There was one black astronomer (Ben Peery? That's right) who in some sense probably understood the feelings better. They came up with a marvelous proposal, that it be made a research grant to a woman astronomer, not a prize but a research grant, and that the giving of the research grant will be transferred, and the funds will be transferred, to the office of the National University Women's Organization. That was, I thought, a brilliant idea. I think Peery was essentially responsible, though the rest of the committee was extremely positive. And that is what went through. So it was a very active period and really a terribly satisfying period. Very bleak days in between, but things by and large went right, and you saw that you could do things, and get through these crises without their becoming major crises.
That one I think I enjoyed, but it was at the edge of my energy, and absolutely convinced me that doing the same for the IAU was beyond my time.
OK. To switch the field again, when the national observatories got set up — particularly Kitt Peak, but national observatories in general — did you play any role in that?
No. Not at all. Quite often, people, individuals would discuss things with me, you know, and just as a highly interested and compassionate listener. But I was in no way —
— no particular role —
None whatsoever. For example, Leo Goldberg came to me, when the directorship was offered him, to discuss it. And Victor Bianco, whom I knew very well. In that sense, I think I sort of was there. McMath talked at length with me, but not really for advice, just for support, the enthusiasm, the outside view. I never had anything that I would call a responsibility.
Tell me, you've been a guest observer at both Mt. Wilson and Palomar and Kitt Peak. I wonder if you could comment on changes in and evolution of the role of guest astronomer?
At Mt. Wilson, the role of the guest astronomer was of course a role as a guest. He had really no rights at all. One was entirely on the receiving end, because they had no obligations. Which was not at all depressing. However, it had one condition implicitly, namely that you could not think of doing anything that was too close to the work of any staff member. That really cut you out from some of the things that you might want to do most. I think Lyman and I always found things that we were excited about, and they didn't want to do or didn't do. But there were also, I remember, other cases where staff members sat on a subject and we couldn't touch it.
I see. Was this sort of explained to you, or did you just know it?
I think one understood it. I think Lyman and I sort of knew — and discussed it also — that it didn't seem nice to ask to use plates taken by a staff member, if they weren't at least three years old. I mean, some form of politeness and non-interference, with what was a gift from them, it was a magnificent opportunity, isn't that right, that they didn't have to give you. That's quite different at the national observatories. They are funded for giving outsiders an opportunity, and in that sense, the feeling is very different.
When you were a visitor at Kitt Peak, did you feel there were difficulties between the staff and visiting observers at Kitt Peak? Did you have any of this feeling?
Not personally. I was on the so-called visiting committee for one term. I forget, three years or something like that. Then of course I was much more involved. But as a visitor myself, I observed on Kitt Peak only during three months of a sabbatical leave, if I remember right. I went there and was terribly friendly received by everybody. Jack Harvey and I really got fully into discussions only while I was there, and in many ways, it was Jack Harvey's time. I was not really a visiting observer in that sense.
I had no experience in the regular way you see. Only on Cerro Tololo —
Yes, I was going to ask
There Ted Williams and I asked for observing time, and the committee said, "No." Because the new photoelectric instrument of ours was, they felt, still not sufficiently de-bugged to give valuable Southern time to it. We didn't ask for the big telescope, but the 60-inch. But the director, Victor Bianco, from his small allotment of time that he can decide, gave us the necessary nights. That was fantastic. The staff there is of course much smaller, and very much dominated by the spirit of Victor Bianco. They were terribly friendly to us. But there the situation was different; two of the key staff members were former Princeton students, whom Barbara and I had known very well (Barbara didn't go down with me). So the situation there was much more of a personal kind. And the Chileans reacted to my sense of humor and gay but driving spirit terribly well. Indeed, at the end, they kidded the dickens out of me, but cooperated in an unbelievable way. So my experiences at the national observatories were quite irregular, and terribly pleasant.
I see. Have you had any involvement with the Carnegie Southern Observatory, and particularly when they were working on the funding and so forth?
One, very complicated, occurrence. Horace Babcock held those plans terribly close. I knew nothing about it. They had applied, and had nearly been assured, the Southern telescope by I don't know which foundation.
The Ford Foundation.
Ford Foundation, right. And then the Ford Foundation got a new head, I cannot remember his name.
Yes. I see. And I suddenly got a telephone call from him, asking me what I thought about this. I could tell him that I knew nothing about it, and therefore could answer only in generalities. I had obviously thought about the general question of national observatories versus others, and heard the pitches on all sides. So I told him that if he wanted to look at it from the most capable staff of observational research astronomers, the Pasadena group, I felt, was the top one. But I would be very unhappy if funding that would prevent getting the four-meter national observatory on Cerro Tololo. I said that, to my way of thinking, had first priority. Then, a new instrument for the Pasadena group, and a new instrument for the California astronomers up and down the coast, were the next priorities. All I know is that the foundation decided not to fund the Pasadena group, and I think it made a major contribution to the national observatory. I felt terribly caught. I told Horace at the next occasion that I saw him, that as long as he played it that close to his chest, it put other people whom the foundations might ask into terrible positions, and you never know what comes out. I think they have learned a lesson. In any case, I have gotten copies of their proposals since then.
But I have slowly to get out of that circle of those who are most asked.
All right. Is there anything in particular we should say about other cases that were difficult? One is the Yerkes case. Stromgren was here in '57, you may have talked about, it with him. And another was Harvard. There were difficulties there, both when Shapley was under attack, and also later after his retirement. You always had close ties with Harvard. I wonder, is there anything about either case that you were particularly involved in, or want to make comment on?
Now, with regard to Harvard, I was never asked for formal advice. I obviously heard the stories from both sides. Personally we know the Boks extremely closely, and Bok was Barbara's main teacher and the best man at our wedding, and a marvelous advisor for my early days in this country. But on the other side, I think I also realized that his width in modern astrophysics was not that large, so that I could well understand the other reasons. And I talked very much with Cecilia Gaposchkin, and other people. But I really was not involved in it, in any way at all. The main participants told me their stories, but didn't ask me about anything. With regard to Stromgren, I think, the only thing that I can say is that when he considered coming here, or being invited by the Institute for Advanced Study, he wrote me and asked what the aspects were. We knew each other reasonably well; indeed, quite well. I wrote him a letter that I meant to be as persuasive as possible, because I felt that he was very unhappy in his position at Yerkes, which did not give him any happiness, and I didn't see any way out of the situation for the Yerkes people, the rest of the Chicago astronomers. And I thought he might well be very happy here, with plenty of opportunity to do what he wanted to do, including observing. So I felt very strongly that he should take the offer. And it was the first astronomical appointment at the Institute, and would strengthen us. No question but what I really feel, from all points of view, it was right. So I wrote him a very strong letter, which was the only action that I had. Stromgren mentioned that I acted quite decisively in this matter. But again, that was a personal interaction.
I wanted to ask you. We've had the Yerkes story from various points of view. I just wanted to ask you about it.
Well, I of course knew both Chandra and Bengt Stromgren. I suppose it was just a locking in of characters.
Yes, we've heard about it from several people. Well, I wonder if you have noticed any significant changes in the pattern of authority in astronomy? Obviously not since you were in Germany but, let's say, since you came to this country, since the thirties the pattern in observatories, the ways senior people would talk at meetings, refereeing, and so forth?
In fundamentals, amazingly little. I think it shows the basic story, that if a person is wise, both as a scientist and in relations to people, situations can be enormously affected by individuals whether done in old-fashioned autocratic ways, or done just by wise leadership that gets accepted, happily. That is persistently so, and if no such person exists, somehow, the organizations muddle through. Sometimes there are blowups, but then, there are blowups historically and there are blowups in modern times, and occasionally you see a phenomenally prolonged time of effectiveness and happiness. I think that basic character hasn't changed. Of course, oodles of forms have changed. I mean, the advertising of positions, makes the external features very very different. And occasionally, I think, has positive concrete consequences.
People are now not hired as much through the network as they used to be?
At least, I think, occasionally candidates come up that might just have gotten forgotten. I think it's rare, but I think there can be cases. There's one little item that might not be on your agenda, I would like to —
— I'm really coming to my closing questions.
That is, how I've been looking at what I'm doing in the present years. I had to face that, about three years ago, when I knew that my long-time collaborator, Mr. Harm, (was retiring). He was not an independent scientist but has really made my effectiveness in research into stellar evolution enormously higher than I could have done without him, or with a sequence of students (which I had too). This steady person who could code our programs and assist in many ways was enormously effective. The luxury of having him, by Lyman organizing my contracts, so that Richard (Harm's) time always could be there — just affected that period very much. But he's older than I am, and his retirement came up two years ago. Obviously I had to decide, before that, what I wanted to do. I decided that I was very much in a narrow groove, and could not contribute any more to the theory of stellar evolution, competitive with very fine and innovative groups elsewhere. I decided that I would stop that work entirely, at the moment that Richard Harm retired. I have done that. I quite consciously tried to find a field where one could contribute, assuming that one would not have any bright ideas. Because I think that is a very fair assumption, at my age. … I had in mind, some examples of first-class scientists who tried, in their more advanced years, a problem of too great difficulty, too basic nature and therefore completely excluded themselves from any effectiveness on astronomy. It happened that I had become quite interested in the structure of standard galaxies. To some extent I have always been interested and have done some work, a little paper here and there, but more recently before that, I had a more active interest. It really started by the observations on Stratoscope II, the very last flight or the next to the last flight, on the nucleus of the Andromeda nebula. I drifted, with a couple of students, into that field, and investigated a little further. That field seemed to have two sides to it: a very strong new observational push going on, and rapidly increasing; and on the dynamical side, not the astrophysical but the dynamics of stellar systems side, some very gifted mathematical astronomers. Many of them coming actually from celestial mechanics — the three body problem and the like — but some also coming from the dynamics of our galaxy, like Contropoulos and the third integral and that whole school. But it seemed to me there was a hole in between that didn't take any inventiveness, only computational experiments that might take the new data from observations, just make numerical models, and see what happens. Not necessarily in these giant so-called N-body calculations, where you take a terrific number of stars and just use Newton's laws, and make quite gigantic computations, but other approaches — distinctly numerically, simply not proving anything but indicating what might be.
So that's what you have all around on your desk now.
I noticed computer outputs with contour lines.
Looking at it in the nuclear region primarily, or the whole galaxy?
Not necessarily the whole galaxy, but more than the nucleus. You know, there are classical integrals to the motion of a body in a potential. And there are too few classical integrals if the potential is complicated, and are there non-classical semi-integrals. It is apparently a difficult abstract mathematical field, but the hints of what actually happens, it seems possible to get from computations. I bring this up to indicate what my thinking is, how I am trying to behave in a somewhat more restricted unambitious form, and without innovative ideas, in these years when I am still not totally out of research, but where I think I have to adjust my research to the state of me. And this far, I have been extremely happy with that very conscious choice of stepping, in some sense, down, but not out.
We have a sociologist who's been working with us. He's interested in why astronomers change from one field to another. I can give him this as an example.
But this was a very conscious choice.
Yes. Well, that's what he's particularly interested in. Tell me, a couple of final questions. One is, did you ever consider going back to Germany? Were you ever asked postwar?
You mean, for good?
Well, to take a professorship or whatever.
Yes. I was asked, oh, I don't know, five or ten years after the war, a couple of times. There's never been any question in my mind to say Yes. To my mind, to go back to a country that you have voluntarily chosen to fight against, in a major war, is an impossible psychological situation. I would not know how to behave. And I think the German university officials who asked me just didn't think through how they and their colleagues would behave. So, yes, in those years, I was asked, and my answer was completely definite. There was never any doubt, indeed from the moment that I decided that I would go into the war if this country would go into the war, I knew that I would foreclose going back to Germany, in my own mind.
I see. Other questions — what have been your main activities outside of astronomy? Outside the university? Any particular avocations?
Oh, Barbara and I, ever since we were married, have really had a sequence of hobbies, all outdoors. During the academic year that takes mainly the form of tending to our back yard, which we just love. We are not flower growers, but we love to be outdoors.
Vegetables, you mean?
No. Actually, in the last decade or so, mainly our interest has gone to bird watching, and in a sense not necessarily looking for rare birds, but really, the habits of birds. Our whole back yard is arranged for birds. We have collected minerals in our stronger times, when we could swing sledge hammers and the like, and have had vacations in places specifically for that, like New Mexico, where we collected agates and fossil wood and other things. And we have gone on skiing, and in particular, snow shoe vacations. But that's earlier. For the last 15 years, I think, our central hobby has been entirely birding. In the sense of, on our three-week summer vacations, going to a place that was selected for birds. And then settling at one place, finding the local bird experts, getting their advice, and then really watching just a few bird colonies or a few nests, in the way of getting acquainted with their characteristics. To my mind, it doesn't have to be birds, but just a convenient animal that you can really watch in more detail. It's just unbelievable, how much I think it helps you to not expect from humans too overly much. It reminds you that humans are animals, and much more complicated in their behavior than you off hand would expect. Without anthropomorphizing, I think you really get a much more balanced feeling for people. Besides, Barbara and I just love to be by ourselves outdoors, and the birds have brought us to magnificent places. We have been three times to Iceland. The last time it was an extremely desolate, magnificent, but you know pretty, very harsh part of Iceland. With rare exceptions, we couldn't talk to anybody, but somehow, by just friendliness, we got quarters. So the outdoors, as a recuperation, has been terribly important. Barbara has insisted that we take three weeks vacation, and I fully agree with her. But she has put it the most strongly: "Three weeks vacation counts only as vacation if it's 100 miles from the nearest relative or from the nearest astronomer."
That's appropriate. OK, you see I'm trying to get a little more picture of you as a whole human being. Do you have any religious affiliation or any strong convictions?
Formally we are members of the Unitarian Church. We practically never have gone to church. That was true for Barbara and me separately, before we were married, too. But I do not think that that means religion is a strange field for us. I doubt that, in the stern sense, I should be classified as an atheist. Both Barbara and I have extremely strong feelings as to the ethics we want to follow. We are not missionaries, yet we have very strong ideas.
Sort of a Kantian internal moral direction?
Yes. Not in a wholly stern sense. As I say, not in the sense that we feel this is the only moral or ethical standards that one can apply. But to live by moral standards, I think, is a very strong element in both our feelings. And I think not necessarily exactly ours, but to have some ethical pervasive basis, of that need I am sufficiently convinced, to make it quite clear to my students and indirectly to teach — not my ethical standards, but —
— but standards.
Now, this is ethics. But what do you think of this universe that you've been studying all these years?
If you are asking with regard to my feeling of the possibility of the existence of a god, I would say that, quite specifically, the strong development in human feelings of the good and the bad, whether people agree or not — if you want to call the origin of that character of humans, "god," then I would believe in god. If you want to make something more definitive out of god, I guess I do not believe.
More broadly in terms of the outside, the stars and so on, not in a religious sense, but just how do you feel about it? What are your feelings toward this universe? In the very broadest sense?
I have a hard time to answer. I think that, in an emotional sense, if you take the universe also to include nature here on earth ...
That's right …
I would feel that it is an essential part of my life to be away from humans and to be in nature. Not necessarily connected with the astronomical part of nature. Even though one never knows to just what degree, subconsciously, that is connected. So the non-human part of the universe does play, professionally as emotionally here on earth, a very large role for me. But I could not really express it in terms of the universe as a whole. I mean, that is too close to my profession, isn't that right?
Yes, I think you have expressed this already, I understand. OK, well, perhaps we should stop here.
Model number for widely used photomultiplier tube.
Caltech faculty club where astronomers have lunch.
Office of Naval Research.
President's Science Advisory Committee.
The first advisor was James Killian (1957-1959), followed by George Kistiakowsky —
Orbiting Astromical Observatory.
T. Keith Glennan.
"Astronomical Photography from the Stratoscope," Smithsonian Report, 1963, pp. 323-329.
Sacramento Peak Observatory.
Mansfield Amendment, forbidding armed services from funding nonmilitary research.
Energy Research and Development Agency (forerunner to Dept. of Energy).