[vii] The twentieth anniversary of the landing of an American on the surface of the Moon occasioned many bittersweet reflections. Sweet was the celebration of the historic event itself, and sweet to space enthusiasts was President George Bush's call for a new era of human space exploration-back to the Moon and on to Mars. Bitter, for those same enthusiasts, was the knowledge that during the twenty intervening years much of the national consensus that launched this country on its first lunar adventure had evaporated, and foraging for funds to keep going seemed to have become a major preoccupation of the old guard that had watched over that adventure.
Less apparent was the fact that the final act in another human drama was taking place: a generation of men and women who had defined their lives to a large extent in terms of this nation's epochal departure from Earth's surface was taking its leave of the program they had built. Would they, or their work, be remembered? Would anyone care? As the historian for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, I had the responsibility of attempting-attempting, because the task could never be fully done-to capture the essence of their lives and careers. Those who worked "on the front lines" of what I have called, after William James, a "moral equivalent of war," have had their quirks and genius memorialized in the agency's lore. Many have had their organizational and technical trials recorded in the narrative histories produced by NASA. More recently, and with great success, Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox, in Apollo: The Race to the Moon (Simon and Schuster, 1989), have combined the human and technical sagas of the designers, flight operators, and project managers who made Apollo happen to weave an arresting tale of a unique moment in our history.
But history also gathers up in its sweep many ordinary people, not only those who give orders and do combat at the front lines, but those who slug it out and otherwise endure in the trenches. If our memory of the Apollo era neglected those ordinary people, that memory would be incomplete, and we would have done an [viii] injustice to the true nature of life over time. Thus, the lives and careers laid out on the pages that follow have been drawn from hours of conversation with a variety of people: they are my best approximation of the "average" NASA engineer of the Apollo age; some did remarkable things, while others just filled in the pieces. It soon became apparent, however, that even the most "average" of them were part of a story that was larger than the Apollo story itself, much less NASA's story. What happened to them over the course of their careers was part of the undertow of what happened to this country during the post-World War II era and the 1960s.
This book would not have been possible without the willing and good-natured participation of fifty-one NASA engineers who gave freely and openly of themselves during my extensive interviews. It is to them that this book owes its first and greatest debt. Not all have had their stories fully retold here, simply because several had similar stories to tell. Nathaniel B. Cohen, my supervisor at NASA when this project was conceived, supported it enthusiastically. A veteran of one of NASA's original aeronautical research laboratories, Nat Cohen has been a firm believer (to my benefit) that to manage a scientific or scholarly program well, one must continue to be an active researcher. Nat also patiently read the first draft of the manuscript, trying to save me from embarrassing errors here, taking issue with me there, but always in an encouraging way. A. Michal McMahon, who served as associate historian in the NASA History Division for two years during the early phase of this project, did half of the interviewing and contributed much through his insightful and well-informed observations on the engineering profession, interview topics, and how the interviews might best be interpreted. Lee D. Saegesser, NASA archivist, to whom virtually every researcher of space history owes a debt, tirelessly found and delivered to my desk mountains of folders and publications without which I would have been unable to fill in the details that are typically lost in interviews. Marion Davis prepared many of the transcripts, edited them, and provided bibliographic support. Patricia Shephard, administrative assistant for the NASA History Division, stood watch over my time in a way that would be the envy of any corporate executive.
Gil Roth, Carl Praktish, David Williamson (all NASA veterans) and Richard P. Hallion read the manuscript and returned detailed and stimulating comments and criticisms, as did Howard E. McCurdy. Howard's own study of NASA's evolving organizational culture led him into some of the same thickets through which I was traveling; he has shared hours of conversations on the subject of NASA, federal bureaucracies, American politics, and American society in the postwar world. Many other colleagues responded cheerfully to questions over the telephone, or reviewed portions of the manuscript. If, notwithstanding their help, errors remain, only I am to blame.
Sylvia D. Fries
[ix] My most heartfelt acknowledgement I have reserved for the last: this fifty-one men and women of NASA's Apollo era engineers who gave generously of their time and something of themselves so that their experiences might be shared with others. It is to them that this book, with deep appreciation, is dedicated.