[xvii] In writing this book, I am indebted not only to the many talented and caring people who have helped my project in one way or another in the past seven years but also to a seminal event of my adolescence that has fed my adult interest and colored my historical perspective on what I now see to have been "the spaceflight revolution" of the late 1950s and 1960s.
People all over the world have their personal stories to tell about what they were doing and thinking when they first spotted a mysterious object in the night sky. For many, these stories involve Sputnik because it was the first man-made object to be observed. But for those, like myself, who were too young to be stargazing in 1957, the stories often involve the Echo balloon, NASA's first communications satellite. Stories about both objects may indeed relate to Sputnik because it was our hysterical reaction to the Soviet satellite that tempered our feelings about objects in space for some time to come.
For me, the memory of my first satellite sighting is still vivid. One sultry evening in mid-August 1960 while I was serving as the batboy for my brother's Little League team in Fort Wayne, Indiana, something unusual and a little unnerving took place. About halfway through the game, I noticed that fans in the bleachers were no longer watching the game, but instead were standing, looking at the sky, and pointing at something. When our team was in the field and my batboy duties were temporarily over, I found my mother in the crowd and asked her what the fuss was all about. She said she had heard someone in the crowd call it "Echo." She reassured me that it was nothing to be afraid of, as it "belonged to us."
But who exactly was "us," I wondered? To an eight-year-old in 1960, "us" meant human beings or "earthlings"; "them" meant "aliens." I was glad to hear from my mother that the bright little light that I now, too, spotted moving so slowly yet perceptibly in the heavens did not mean "they" were coming to get me, but I was still concerned. Even at eight, I was informed enough about what was going on in the world to know that "us" and "them" also meant something else almost as sinister as earthlings versus aliens. "Us" meant "Americans" and "them" meant "Russians," and somehow I knew that it was better for us to have put something up into the sky for the world to look at than it was for them to have done it. Whether I knew that they in fact had already done it some three years earlier, I really cannot say. I do remember being so entranced by the man-made star that I had to be told more than once by the coach of our Little League team to "get my head in the game" and go out and pick up the baseball bats.
[xviii] The next night, as soon as it started getting dark, my entire family headed to the backyard to look for Echo, only to find that parents all over our neighborhood were leading their children to hunt for the artificial star. This time my feelings about the bright dot of light moving so clearly across the sky were more positive. We were moving out into space. Like the morning paper had said, Echo was "the visible symbol of American creativity for all the world to see." In the next several weeks, a number of library books about space would come home from school with me. For me, too, a spaceflight revolution had begun.
As I grew up, so did the American space program. As a second-grader, near the end of the school year that followed the summer of Echo 1, I sat on the wooden floor of a gymnasium with all the other kids in my school and watched shadowy black-and-white television pictures of the suborbital flight of Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard. Gus Grissom's suborbital flight came next; I watched it at home while on vacation that July. Then came John Glenn's historic orbital flight in February 1962 and a return to TV-watching from telescopic distance on the school gym floor.
After that, my memory of NASA's space missions is cloudy and does not sharpen again until December 1968, when with the crew of Apollo 8, my family and I spent Christmas Eve circling the lunar sphere, seeing awe-inspiring pictures of the moon's surface, and listening to the astronauts conclude their TV broadcast with "Merry Christmas and God bless all of you-all of you on the good earth." I also clearly remember July 1969, when the Apollo 11 lunar module Eagle landed on the Sea of Tranquillity and Neil Armstrong took that first "small step but one giant leap" onto another heavenly body.
These wondrous events of the space age made a big impression on me, as they did in one way or another on nearly every human being alive at the time. But no space event ever surpassed that first sighting of the Echo balloon, glittering like a diamond over the baseball field.
For a while, mostly on warm summer evenings, I continued to look for Echo and for other objects moving mysteriously through the sky. But gradually, I lost almost all interest in space. A child of the Age of Aquarius and the Vietnam War, I wondered, like so many others did at that time why, if we could put a man on the moon, we couldn't do so many other things. Only much later would I begin to look up again, seeking Echo, perhaps trying to find lost innocence and youth. Little did I know in 1960 that 30 years later I would reexperience the orbits of Echo and write a detailed history of the satelloon's genesis, as I have in chapter 6 of this book.
Whatever the object of fixation, be it Sputnik or Echo, stories like mine represent an illuminating cultural expression of the young space age. It was with our stirring personal experiences of these moving little lights in the night sky that the spaceflight revolution began. As one young Canadian girl wrote to NASA in 1968 in a poem entitled "To a Falling Star," on the eve [xix] of Echo l's falling back to its destruction into the atmosphere, "Thanks for making me look up."
Many times, in thanking all the people who have helped in the research and writing of a book, an author waits until the end of the acknowledgments to thank his own family for their love and support. But in this case, I want to thank my family first. My wife, Peggy, and my two children, Nathaniel and Jennifer, have been last too many times in the seven years it took me to research and write this book to be last once again. I was away from them and at NASA Langley in Virginia for most of every summer from 1987 to 1993 writing this book. This means we all sacrificed and missed each other a lot. Summertime experiences my wife enjoyed with the children at our home in Alabama, she enjoyed alone. I only heard about them in our many long-distance telephone calls. When my children are grown-up and gone from home, I am sure I will regret what I missed with them even more intensely.
I would also like to thank Charles and Robert Stanton. I spent my summers from 1987 to 1993 in their respective homes in Hampton, Virginia, and I enjoyed those times (especially the golf games) tremendously. I am sure that Charlie and Bob heard much more about NASA history than they ever cared to, but they never let on. My friendships with Sharon Buchanon and Rick Thompson while at Bob Stanton's also kept me from being too lonely, as they were a regular part of my Hampton "family." Dr. Fereidoun "Feri" Farassat, a remarkable person and accomplished acoustical scientist at NASA Langley, was also a valued companion. I have learned a great deal from him about science and technology, but what I most cherish is his friendship.
Steve Corneliussen, a talented writer from Poquoson, Virginia, who edited my book Engineer in Charge and who then became one of my closest friends, has contributed immensely to my perspective on aerospace history and life in general. Over the years Steve has given me constant, generous encouragement and good advice. I regret that he was so busy with his work at the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility (CEBAF) in Newport News, Virginia, that he could not serve once again as my book editor.
But how lucky I was to have Kathy Rawson, of Williamsburg, Virginia, edit this manuscript. Kathy has done many wonderful things for this book, turning an overly long and in some essential ways ailing manuscript into a much healthier one. Her consummate professionalism and her friendly words of encouragement inspired me to keep working for our book's improvement. In particular, Kathy prodded me in her gentle way to rewrite what was originally a weak epilogue.
As Kathy has told me, many other people associated with the Research Publishing and Printing Branch at NASA Langley came together as a team [xx] to see this book to its completion. In particular, I wish to thank Lynn Heimerl, who supervised the entire project, and Mary McCaskill, the branch head, whose strong support for NASA Langley's major investment in the production of this book is sincerely appreciated. Others involved at RPPB that I would like to thank individually include Nancy Sheheen, who oversaw the editing and typesetting process; Linda Carlton, who formatted and typed the majority of the book; Peggy Overbey, who took over the typing for the homestretch; and Sybil Watson and Mary Edwards, who diligently proofread every page.
I also want to thank the staff of the Floyd L. Thompson Technical Library at NASA Langley for their strong support of my project, notably H. Garland Gouger, Jr., Jane Hess (retired), Sue Miller, Sue Seward (retired), Susan A. Motley, and George Roncaglia. Also, the Photographics Section at Langley, under Alton T. Moore, performed yeoman's service for this book by providing excellent prints of its many photographs. I am particularly indebted to Frederick D. Jones not only for doing much of the photo lab work but also for giving me access to a number of pictures from the early days of Project Mercury, many of which he took on his own time with his own camera.
Without the generous support and personal interest of Richard T. Layman of the Facilities Program Development Office, who has been in charge of the history program at NASA Langley since the late 1970s, this sequel to Engineer in Charge surely would not have been written. Dick has been constantly available to help me access historical materials and to solve problems associated with my work in the Langley Historical Archives. Dick himself started work at Langley in the early 1960s, and his insights into the center's history proved very helpful.
A. Gary Price and J. Campbell Martin of Langley's Office of External Affairs have also provided tremendous support over many years for my work as the Langley historian, as have Richard H. Petersen and Paul F. Holloway, the Langley center directors during the years I prepared this book. I came to know "Pete" Petersen particularly well and wish to express special thanks to him for his genuine interest in what history books such as mine can offer to NASA management and the public at large.
And then there are the "NACA Nuts," the dozens of men and women whom I first got to know while researching Engineer in Charge and came to know even better while investigating their metamorphosis into "NASA Wizards." I wish I could mention all of them by name but must focus on the few whom I have come to know the best: John V. Becker, William Boyer, Clinton E. Brown, Norman Crabill, Charles J. Donlan, John E. Duberg, Macon C. "Mike" Ellis, Robert R. Gilruth, Richard Heldenfels, Jane Hess, Robert Hess, John C. Houbolt, Vera Huckel, Kitty O'Brien-Joyner, Abraham Leiss, Axel T. Mattson, William A. Michael, Mark R. Nichols, W. Hewitt Phillips, Edward C. Polhamus, John P. "Jack" Reeder, Joseph A. Shortal (deceased), William Sleeman, Israel Taback, Helen Willey, [xxi] Herbert A "Hack" Wilson (deceased), Richard T. Whitcomb, and Charles H. Zimmerman. To those with whom I talked about Langley's history but have failed to name, please accept my apologies and sincere thanks. Getting to know all of you was the best thing about writing this book.
I need to single out Edgar M. Cortright, another Langley director (19691975) and a major player in the history examined at the end of this book, and thank him for the long and comprehensive interviews. Dr. Cortright withheld very little from my tape recorder, and for that I sincerely thank him. I hope he feels that I have treated his time and his achievements at Langley fairly.
Laurence K. Loftin, Jr., the author of this book's foreword, also deserves a special acknowledgment. Over the course of my 14 years as Langley's official (and unofficial) historian, Larry has spent hundreds of hours with me, talking about the history of airplanes, NACA research, and the transition from the NACA to NASA. Much of my perspective about all these things has been shaped in my conversations with Larry. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude, not only because he has saved me from some major technical and historical blunders but also because he and his wife, Agnes, came to treat me over the years almost like a son. Much of my appreciation for what it means to be an engineer comes from the time I spent with Larry.
I cannot fail to mention the help and encouragement given to me freely by my colleagues in the Department of History at Auburn University, a department for which I have been serving as chairman since my election in 1993. A faculty workshop in 1991 took a very critical look at an early draft of my first chapter, thus resulting in a major revision. My colleague, William F. Trimble, who is one of this nation's preeminent historians of naval aviation (and who stays abreast of the history of space exploration), offered a valuable critique of chapter 8 on the genesis of the lunar-orbit rendezvous concept. Major Roy F. Houchin (USAF), one of my doctoral students at Auburn, read a few of the chapters and offered some critical insights. Others in my department whom I have bothered regularly with reports on my work include Guy Beckwith, Lindy Biggs, Anthony Carey, J. Wayne Flynt, Larry Gerber, W. David Lewis, and Steve McFarland. I thank them for being splendid colleagues and good listeners.
Two people at Auburn University that I wish to thank for finding the means and the tolerance to support me in the carrying out of my research projects are Gordon Bond, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and Paul F. Parks, University Provost. Before becoming my Dean, Gordon Bond was my department head in history, a job whose difficulties I appreciate now more than ever, since taking on departmental administration myself. Also, without the assistance of an unbelievably hardworking and talented administrative assistant, Jane Dunkelberger, I am afraid the job of the department chairman might have eaten me alive. Jane did an especially good job keeping people away from me in the hectic weeks when I just had to work on this book to meet its deadlines.
[xxii] Other scholars outside of Auburn University also offered critical evaluations of all or part of my manuscript. In particular, I wish to thank Virginia P. Dawson of Case Western Reserve University and Michael Gorn, former chief historian of the Air Force Systems Command and current historian of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for providing very careful and constructive reviews of the entire manuscript. Also, Richard K. Smith, one of the venerable sages in the study of American aviation history, gave the first three chapters a stern critical reading.
Finally, I have been fortunate beyond any reasonable expectations to have had the enthusiastic support of Roger Launius, chief historian for NASA. Roger allowed this book project a high degree of independence. Apparently, he trusted that I could produce, and he had faith that the people at NASA Langley had the ability and judgment to take my book from start to finish without too much management from Washington. I hope the result is a book that he will be proud to say was published in the prestigious NASA History Series.
Finally, I thank you, the reader, for picking up such a big book and giving it more than a passing glance. For you, I have given it my best.