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Headquarters-Center Relations in Science

While working out arrangements for cooperation with the Office of Manned Space Flight, Newell and his staff also had to establish working relationships with the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC). In early 1963 MSC's only experience with science had been the visual and photographic experiments made on the first three Mercury orbital missions.17 These somewhat hurriedly improvised "experiments" produced some useful data, but mainly they served to show that people could conduct scientific exercises in orbit.18 They also showed that both scientists and engineers had much to learn about each other's objectives and methods. One result was that MSC acquired a reputation among space scientists of being at best indifferent and at worst hostile toward scientific investigations.19 Eugene Shoemaker, always an enthusiastic supporter of manned space flight, was "utterly dismayed" by the attitude of the MSC representatives at the Iowa summer study: "we don't need your help; don't bother us." This experience led Shoemaker to agree to spend a year at NASA Headquarters to try to establish a lunar science program; unless someone concentrated on that task, lunar science might never get done at all, because "there was no planning for it [and] no program for it."20

Some of MSC's indifference to science was the predictable consequence of the formidable development tasks the center faced and its intense concentration in 1962 on learning to operate in space. But Newell felt that the Houston center's engineers and managers (also engineers, for the most part) simply did not appreciate what space science and manned space flight could do for each other. Houston had no scientific research under way; the few scientists who worked there were mostly inexperienced in research and served almost entirely in support roles, providing data to the engineers. Newell spent considerable effort in 1963 trying to create a more receptive attitude toward science at MSC.21 One of Shoemaker's first accomplishments after he came to Headquarters was to persuade MSC to expand its small Space Environment Division, a branch of the Engineering and Development Directorate that existed mainly to collect environmental data affecting the design of spacecraft and mission plans. One geologist joined the division in 1963, and a team of specialists from the U.S. Geological Survey was assigned later that same year. Their functions were to set up a research and training program in geology, develop a model of the lunar surface for use by the spacecraft designers and mission planners, assist in the evaluation of lunar scientific instruments, and develop plans for geologic field work on the moon.22

Lunar surface science, though important, was only part of the larger question of manned space science, and Newell, looking ahead to the earth-orbital flights of Gemini and Apollo, wanted to establish a place for science on those missions as well. The agreement worked out between Newell and Brainerd Holmes for developing experiments called for the appropriate manned space flight center (usually MSC) to oversee the development of experiment hardware once the basic design had been worked out by the Office of Space Sciences. As OSS saw it, this would require more scientific competence than the Houston center had. Up to mid-1963 MSC's concern for experiments had been limited to assuring that they fit into the spacecraft and the flight plan and did not compromise a mission, a task carried out by an Experiments Coordination Office in the Flight Operations Division.23 Now, OSS saw a need to establish what would amount to a space sciences division at Houston. Discussions with MSC produced agreement that the Space Environment Division would be the nucleus of the prospective science branch.24 The Office of Space Sciences and the Manned Spacecraft Center spent the rest of 1963 defining their relationship. Newell firmly maintained his office's responsibility for all of NASA's science programs, while MSC occasionally displayed reluctance, to say the least, to accept direction from Headquarters.25 In the old days of NACA the field laboratories had enjoyed considerable independence in the conduct of their programs, and all of MSC's top managers were old NACA hands. At times they seemed inclined to insist on running their programs their way, including the science. But by the end of the year MSC had agreed in principle to set up a scientific program manager on Director Robert Gilruth's immediate staff, and Headquarters and center elements were beginning to work out a description of that person's responsibilities.26

17. Loyd S. Swenson, Jr., James M. Grimwood, and Charles C. Alexander, This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury, NASA SP-4201 (Washington, 1966) , pp. 414-15, 418, 443-45.

18. For a discussion of the integration of experiments with the Mercury flights, see Lewis R. Fisher, William O. Armstrong, and Carlos S. Warren, "Special Inflight Experiments," in Mercury Project Summary Including Results of the Fourth Manned Orbital Flight, May 15 and 16, 1963, NASA SP-45 (Washington, 1963), pp. 213-19.

19. The author found this impression to be rarely if ever documented but pervasive among space scientists and others interviewed. It seemed to be most persistent in the minds of scientists who were not associated with the manned programs over long periods of time; those who worked closely with MSC engineers in developing the Apollo science program came to feel otherwise, for the most part. See author's interviews with P. E. Purser, Mar. 10, 1983, E. M. Shoemaker, Mar. 17, 1984, and H. H. Schmitt, May 30, 1984, and Loyd S. Swenson's interviews with A. J. Dessler, May 16, 1971, and E. H. King, Jr., May 27, 1971, tapes in JSC History Office files. Those who understood the engineers' problems and accepted the manned lunar landing program as the driving force of the entire space program tended to be more sympathetic. Scientist-astronaut H. H. Schmitt felt the scientists' expectations of the engineers were unreasonable: "look what they [the engineers] were trying to do, for crying out loud: they were trying to land on the moon! . . . [As late as 1968] there was not an engineer . . . who could prove that the lunar module was going to be able to fly to the moon [land and return]." (Schmitt interview.) During Mercury, the many foreseeable (and unforeseeable but expected) problems of developing spacecraft and operations caused engineers to be intolerant of any exercise not essential to the lunar landing that might in any way imperil the crew or the engineering and operational objectives of a flight.

20. Shoemaker interview.

21. Newell to Gilruth, Feb. 15, 1963; Wendell W. Mendell, interview with Swenson, Feb. 11, 1971, transcript in JSC History Office files; Newell to A/Mr. Webb, Mar. 16, 1963.

22. King interview; Gilruth to Thomas B. Nolan, Mar. 29, 1963.

23. MSC Circular 19, "Establishment of the Mercury Scientific Experiments Panel," Apr. 18, 1962; MSC gen. mgt. inst. 2-3-1, "Manned Spacecraft Center In-Flight Scientific Experiments Coordination Panel," Oct. 15, 1962; MSC tech. mgt. inst. 37-1-1, "In-flight Experimental Programs," July 18, 1963; William O. Armstrong, interview with James M. Grimwood and Ivan D. Ertel, Jan. 24, 1967, transcript in JSC History Office files.

24. Fryklund to SD/Deputy Director, "Memo from J. M. Eggleston About a Facility at MSC to House the Space Environment Division," July 24, 1963; Newell to M/Assoc. Adm., "Facility at Manned Spacecraft Center for the Space Environment Division," July 31, 1963.

25. Newell to Gilruth, "Manned Space Science Division Supporting Research and Technology Tasks," Nov. 21, 1963; Fryklund, "Discussions at Manned Spacecraft Center on September 19, 1963," memo for record, Sept. 27, 1963; Fryklund to Dr. Robert Voas, Oct. 11, 1963; Paul R. Brockman to SM/Acting Director, "Manned Space Science Project Management," Nov. 8, 1963; Brockman to SP Gutheim, "Weekly report," Nov. 22, 1962; Willis B. Foster to Assoc. Adm. for MSF, "Apollo Scientific Guidelines," Dec. 19, 1963; Brockman to Gutheim, "Weekly Report," Dec. 6, 1963.

26. Foster to Richard Mize, "Weekly Report for Week of December 16," Dec. 20, 1963.

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