Unless you are a sailor, a shepherd, or otherwise occupied outdoors at night, the great sweep of the heavens is almost surely less familiar to you than it was to your ancestors. Hazed, light-polluted skies and indoor occupations mean that the firmament is observed infrequently; when it is observed, it is diminished by the rosy glow from a neon light or a shopping mall aurora.
This was not so for previous generations. In their skies, the ancient constellations silently wheeled like a great stellar clock, marking the hour and the season. The absence of backscattered light and pollution allowed the stars to shine brightly even to a casual observer. Among the changeless, mythic patterns appeared even brighter, uniquely tinted planets moving strangely through the stars, carrying undecipherable messages of fortune, love, and war. The silver Moon, its phases repeating like a stately morality play, long ago acquired associations with hunting, harvesting, love, curiosity, and lunacy. From the time that man became man, the skies have been watched with wonder and awe. As optical instruments became available, men turned them skyward; new concepts and new techniques have always been directed toward the unsolved mysteries of the heavens.
Exploration seems to be in our genes. As they developed the means to do it, men explored the perimeter of the Mediterranean, past the pillars of Hercules, to the sentinel islands off the continent. On land, trudging with extraordinary hardiness through deserts and snow-clogged passes, men traveled as far as their abilities and leadership permitted. If you trace on a globe Xenophon's account of Cyrus' campaigns or the incredible feat of Alexander, who thrust his way from the Mediterranean to India, you must marvel at what armies of men-with cavalry, supply trains, even companies of war elephants-managed to accomplish two and a half millennia ago, under skilled and charismatic leadership. These were no summer campaigns. A  Macedonian trooper who fought with Alexander might have been gone from home for 20 of the most arduous years a man could know.
Nor was simple conquest the sole force behind these forays. On their return, men of Alexander's guard found they had become honored and wealthy citizens, respected in their communities, revered as wise and prudent captains. Many newly subdued lands were a treasure trove, and not the least envied possession of the returned adventurer was his knowledge of exotic lands, river crossings, mountain passes, barbarian tactics, queer foods and languages, and the curious cities and customs of faraway people.
We tend now to think of exploration in a restricted sense-as a scientific, often geographic, expedition, an athletic activity pursued by specialists dressed in fur parkas like Schackleton's or in solar topees like Livingston's. The connotations are overly restrictive if they fail to allow for great tidal movements like the waves of people from Asia that periodically flowed west and south, or for the Scandanavians who crossed the Atlantic in numbers centuries before Columbus. These waves of venturesome people were of a higher order than the random movement of nomads seeking fresh forage. The northern seamen, whose exploits were recorded by poets and genealogists rather than by historians, left us scant knowledge of how they accomplished repeated North Atlantic crossings around 1000 A.D. They must have been skilled sailors to traverse one of the world's most hostile oceans in open boats, making headway against prevailing winds, navigating in precompass days with a primitive latitude technique subject to huge inaccuracies We must conclude that for some of the species, long and perilous passages were no real deterrent to the exploring imperative.
It is no wonder, then, that the capability of sending instruments into space, and the possibility of venturing ourselves to Earth's nearest "sentinel island,, revived the age-old instinct to explore. A handful of intellectual scouts, mainly theoreticians, had examined the idea of space travel. But the dream lay buried until it was aroused by the beep of Sputnik's beacon, which carried all the sudden urgency of a firebell in the night. So imperatively did it sound that the United States awoke from its trance and, in little more than a decade, became a contender for world leadership in space. The events of those days, and the people who made them happen, are our concern.
When NASA was established in 1958, almost precisely a year after Sputnik's signal, it was assembled from diverse organizations. At the nucleus was the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), a middle-aged  organization with three highly competent research laboratories. To this nucleus were added complements from the Naval Research Laboratory, the Air Force Missile Systems Division, and, somewhat later, an Army Ballistic Missiles group and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, all government entities with experience in space-related technologies.
Looking back on the formation of NASA, I recall many discussions and articles that were written about how our nation might muster the leadership and develop the capabilities needed to expand into the new frontiers of space. Their obvious association with missiles and rockets made it seem logical that the military organizations of the Air Force, the Army, and the Navy should be involved, along with their industrial partners, who had been designing and building weapons. One worry of several of us who had worked as military contractors was due to the transient nature of management assignments in the military and to the somewhat unpredictable nature of their policy making where technical matters were concerned. A more significant worry to national leaders was the implication of involving military organizations in the development of the space frontier. To the surprise of many, the merits of establishing space activities as a purely civil venture led to the development of an organizational entity and a program to pursue peaceful space activities "for the benefit of all mankind."
The announced plan to build the new organization around NACA evoked mixed reactions. Many military leaders and supporters were bitter and predicted poor results from assigning leadership and management responsibilities to a relatively unsung research organization. Even though the aerospace industry held NACA in high regard for its research contributions, many felt that the shy, unassuming image that had been a trademark of NACA would not lead to the bold, aggressive programs thought to be needed. Thus, when the announcements were made that gave the new NASA clear control over areas that had been dominated by the military, many believed it would be only a short time before a power struggle would result in the reaffirmation of military leadership.
Fortunately, the NACA heritage proved right for the time. The impressive collection of 8000 dedicated scientists, engineers, and administrators had been working effectively for years on matters closely related to the challenges of space. Knowledge and tools with which to begin the tasks of planning and implementing space activities that would establish the United States as world leader were ready. Perhaps one of the greatest qualities of NACA that could not have been thoroughly appraised in advance of this  challenge was a direct by-product of a successful research organization-a certain humility that recognized the need for gathering skills from industry and military circles, without relinquishing leadership responsibilities. NACA researchers were accustomed to searching out contributions that had been made by others and building on them; NASA administrators set about the development of the new organization in the same way. The process was facilitated by an unusual section in the Space Act that gave the NASA Administrator discretionary authority in selecting high-level personnel without the constraints imposed by Civil Service appointment processes. The hiring of 260 "excepted position" scientific, engineering, and administrative personnel began immediately, to complement the NACA transferees and other government employees reassigned from defense organizations.
The Langley, Lewis, and Ames centers had a remarkable array of talent and facilities that were already working on the fringes of space when Sputnik flew. In conjunction with research on high-speed flight, Langley had field operations at Edwards Dry Lake in California and an aggressive rocket launch program in full swing at Wallops Island, Virginia. These field activities were supported by groups who had developed instrumentation, tracking, and data acquisition capabilities that were immediately brought into play. At the time NASA was officially formed, almost 3000 rocket launchings had been made from the beach at Wallops, and about twice that many from research aircraft. Even though many of these rockets were small compared with those needed for launch into space, the vagaries of rockets and the requirements for tracking, telemetry, and data processing were all basic enough to provide a wealth of experience that would be brought into play.
Sounding rockets used to conduct aerodynamic research had become multistage vehicles long before orbital flights were made. Robert R. Gilruth headed a team conducting flight research that included many of the principals who later established the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. Edmond C. Buckley, by then Chief of the Instrument Research Division at Langley, was to become the new Associate Administrator for Tracking and Data Acquisition at NASA Headquarters. Robert L. Krieger, who had been involved in the management of activities at Wallops from the very beginning, was named Director of the Wallops Flight Center and remained to continue his lead role for 20 more years. Research engineers, including Clifford Nelson, would become key figures in the Lunar Orbiter and Viking projects.
Being primarily dedicated to propulsion activities, the Lewis center harbored much talent for launch vehicle development and operations. Jet  propulsion had been oriented more toward high-speed aircraft than toward missiles, but the principles were the same and many researchers had experience directly in line to advances in rocket propulsion. A noteworthy example is the basic effort that had already been underway on the uses of hydrogen as a fuel. Many studies concerning practical aspects of handling hydrogen, plus a healthy respect for its potential, prepared Lewis personnel for a significant role in space after the opening gun had sounded. They also had a premier knowledge of pumps, seals, high-pressure machinery, and materials that could be called on for immediate advances in rocketry.
Not all the changes from aeronautical research to space technologies had come easily, for good researchers possess a dedication to a line of effort that persists through thick and thin. It was often the foresight of leaders and their ability to redirect researchers to promising new fields that brought changes. John Sloop once told about being reassigned from research on spark plug fouling to beginning efforts at Lewis on rocket research. He knew the problem of plug fouling to be important (it still is, for reciprocating engines), and he thought his research was about to produce a breakthrough. Even though he obediently began to work in the new area on official duty time, he continued to work after hours on his own until he was finally ordered to stop for the sake of his health. His work with hydrogen-fueled engines led to major research results, and in 1960 he was assigned to NASA Headquarters, where he performed a key leadership role in advanced research and technology activities until his retirement. His most recent contribution is an authoritative took documenting research and development activities on liquid hydrogen as a propulsion fuel during the critical period from 1945 to 1959.
The efforts of the Vanguard program to launch a minimal satellite for the International Geophysical Year and the exhortations of zealots like Wernher von Braun, at work on Army missiles, had evoked similar stirrings at the Jet propulsion Laboratory. JPL, an offshoot of the California Institute of Technology, had developed the JATO rocket concept during World War II to aid aircraft takeoffs, and had later done pioneering work on the guidance and control of tactical missiles. Under the leadership of William H. Pickering, who became Director in 1954, JPL became a national center of excellence in electronics and control technologies, and its scientists and engineers set their hearts on the Moon and the planets.
Bill Pickering had come to the United States from New Zealand. He received a degree in electrical engineering and a Ph.D. in physics from the California Institute of Technology. He taught electrical engineering at  CalTech during World War II and later moved to JPL to work on telemetry and instrumentation for missiles. At the time of Sputnik he began promoting the idea of lunar missions as a logical step beyond simpler Earth orbit flights.
Robert J. Parks, destined to become a key figure in the space flight program, was hired by JPL in 1947, following Bill Pickering's suggestion that the area of guidance and control could become an important part of JPL's future and that they should have an expert in the field. Getting the rockets to fly, although quite an accomplishment, was clearly not enough. Flight control, tracking, and data acquisition methods had to be developed. The guidance and control systems used at JPL, although considered state of the art at the time, now seem almost quaint. Bob Parks recalls that he monitored a contract let by JPL to the Sperry Corporation to adapt aircraft autopilot equipment for use on missiles. Tests were conducted using pneumatically driven gyros with pneumatic pickoffs, amplifiers, and servos on what would become known as the Corporal missile. This direct modification of aircraft-type hardware required the storage of high-pressure gas and did not prove to be a good solution for missiles. Parks eventually became JPL's lead man on planetary programs; in addition to his regular, quite demanding, assignments, he has been called on to rescue faltering projects, and has done so on numerous occasions with great success.
T. Keith Glennan, who had served for about 19 years as President of Case Western Reserve University, was appointed the first Administrator of NASA by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Hugh L. Dryden, long a wise and honored NACA leader, was named Deputy Administrator. As the years revealed, both were happy choices. Together these men shaped an organization that the United States, indeed the world, learned to respect.
Perhaps because Glennan came from Cleveland and already knew the competent people at the NACA Lewis Research Center (and surely with the concurrence of Dryden), Abe Silverstein, the Associate Director of the NACA Lewis facility, was chosen to be the first Director for Space Flight Programs This, too, was a fortunate selection, because in the few years he spent at NASA Headquarters, Silverstein played a dominant role in forging the programs and practices and assigning the people that have guided NASA from the beginning Abe had-and still has-some unusual qualities that never fail to impress (or bewilder and alarm) those who come in contact with him.
Watching Abe deal with presenters of technical briefings, I was often reminded of a story my grandfather had told me about encounters between  armadillos and smart (or dumb) hound dogs in Texas ranch country. Even his experienced hound dog, cocky from successful confrontations with coons and skunks, was baffled the first time or two he ran up against an armor-plated armadillo, which would retract into its shell and present a smooth, hard surface too large to bite. All a dumb hound dog could do was to bark his frustration. But this smart, experimentally minded hound discovered that if he flipped the armadillo on its back, there were chinks in the underbelly armor that allowed him to make short work of the miscreant.
On several occasions in the 1950s I briefed Abe and others during wind tunnel tests at Lewis (I was with North American Aviation at the time). It didn't take me long to learn to respect Abe's uncanny insight and unusual style. Fortunately, I was able to answer his penetrating, sometimes intimidating questions without being flipped on my back, but over the years I have seen Abe flip unwary or unprepared briefers and mercilessly rip them open; it was sometimes the only chance they ever got. Abe's was a style that could make enemies, especially of the careless and slovenly, but all who came to know and respect his quick and forthright judgments gave him a lifetime of loyalty.
Another NACA researcher I learned to like and respect during the same period was an engineer, Edgar M. Cortright. Ed was conducting research at Lewis on supersonic inlets and nozzles similar to those we were developing for Navaho propulsion systems. During my visits to Lewis we became acquainted professionally through discussions of related work.
Abe Silverstein brought Ed Cortright to Washington soon after NASA was chartered, to become a principal member of the Headquarters staff. He was involved in developing the series of weather satellites that included Tiros and Nimbus and what would become the synchronous-orbit class of satellites. Ed was also responsible for lunar and planetary programs, which at the time centered around Pioneer and Able missions that had been started under the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). His first new lunar project, called Ranger, was to become the reason for our fateful reunion and a new career for me.
My contacts with Ed and Abe began again in 1959 when I was working for the Chance Vought Corporation as an advanced projects engineer. During company-sponsored studies on a four-stage rocket vehicle designed for launching small scientific payloads, I made several visits to Washington to discuss proposals and to integrate NASA requirements into our planning. These visits occurred at a time when expansion of the NASA Headquarters  staff was underway, and Ed asked me to join the NASA team as head of lunar flight systems, which I did in March 1960. We were to work closely during the next 20 years, certainly the most memorable of my life.
Important decisions were being made in those early years involving matters at a higher level than programs and plans. Glennan and Dryden made a first-rate team, complementing each other almost perfectly, and both were fully aware of the research process. Dryden had personally made many fundamental aeronautical contributions and had for many years studied the impact of research on society. Glennan was the epitome of a judicious, prudent, and skilled senior executive. Becoming leader of a new organization with a once-in-history challenge, and assembling a team of several powerful yet diverse groups was no easy task. Judging the true qualities of people was one of Glennan's greatest assets as a strong leader. Years later he confided to me that he was always privately skeptical of Wernher von Braun's glowing presentations, but von Braun's giant launch vehicles always worked.
It is my view that Glennan and Dryden are to be credited with much of the Constitution-like wisdom written into the so-called Space Act of 1958, with its clear assertion that U.S. activities in space be conducted openly and that their results benefit all mankind. Although openness became a hallmark of NASA programs, outsiders may not realize how close we came to going the other way. As most technologies had evolved from missile developments, industry and military officials were accustomed to strict security classifications. Making new technical knowledge widely available was a startling idea, not immediately congenial to defense/industry representatives. But our administrators, after dealing with both classified and unclassified activities for many years, concluded that openness was fundamentally important to scientific advances and to peaceful uses of space. Hugh Dryden told me that he thought scientific openness would be worth far more toward long-term progress than the perishable, uncertain benefits of security that might be achieved by short-term containment. At the time, this position was about as easy to defend as the Ten Commandments; however, I am convinced of its merit today.
The administrative marriage of NASA and JPL in 1959 provided JPL with its long-dreamt-of opportunity to explore the planets, but not without some trauma. JPL had successfully participated in the launch of Explorer 1, the first U.S satellite to achieve orbit. Under contract to the Army and the sponsorship of ARPA, JPL was also working on Pioneer flights to the vicinity of the Moon. Thus, it was no wonder that Bill Pickering and his staff felt that  JPL had come into the NASA family as a partner, not simply as a contractor, nor even as an analog of the NASA research and flight centers. That ambiguity, combined with a strong esprit de corps and a sometimes prickly pride, caused JPL personnel to resent some of the managerial and organizational directions that NASA administrators deemed appropriate. In spite of JPL's enviable string of successes in space, there are some who believe that JPL efforts would have paid off earlier had its leaders been more willing to accept team assignments, recognizing NASA personnel in their lead roles instead of as competitors.
It was into this environment that I came, assigned a principal responsibility at NASA Headquarters for dealing with JPL. Fortunately, I had become acquainted with several members of the staff while conducting tests at JPL's supersonic wind tunnels for the same Navaho missile program that had also taken me to Lewis. Harris M. "Bud" Schurmeier, Frank Goddard, and others I had worked with were now key figures in space activities and remained staunch allies and friends throughout the years.
In the last year of the Eisenhower administration, NASA's leaders indicated that preliminary planning for manned space flights, active work on communications and meteorological satellites, and Ranger missions to the Moon represented a balanced portfolio of sufficient breadth. When, as a "new boy" in the office, I asked Ed Cortright why NASA had no planetary plans beyond Pioneer 5, he told me that the planets were excluded for the present, until activities already begun were moving toward success. My job at the time had nothing to do with the planets; such missions were assigned to Fred Kochendorfer, another Lewis transferee who was to become Mariner Program Manager. Still, I believed we should be planning planetary exploration in support of a well-rounded space program.
To those of us with an eye on the planets, policy wasn't the only problem. We simply did not have a launch vehicle for planetary missions. To achieve the high velocities needed for Earth escape and planetary trajectories would require multistage vehicles that did not exist at the time. An Atlas/Centaur combination might do, but the Centaur stage, with its high efficiency hydrogen-oxygen engine, wasn't far enough along for anyone to be sure when, or even if it would come into useful being. Still, a few at Headquarters and many kindred souls at JPL felt that the space program was incomplete with no planetary missions in preparation.
Our opportunity came a while later as a result of new policies announced by the launch vehicle program office. Launch failures had been demoralizing , and as a way of ensuring that vehicle development was complete before Commitment to expensive and conspicuous payloads, officials succeeded in Convincing the NASA administration that it made sense to devote the first 10 launches to development purposes. von Braun was a persuasive proponent of this approach, and Saturn development proceeded on this basis, with test launches carrying dummy payloads of water and sand.
One argument we offered for planning piggyback planetary missions on Centaur vehicle development flights was that evolutionary development experience was important for spacecraft too; furthermore, both spacecraft and vehicle engineers needed experience in integrating spacecraft to launch vehicles. Both benefits would come relatively cheaply by piggybacking on the Centaur development flights, since the vehicles needed the mass of a payload, dummy or real, for a proper test.
Conditional approval was given for our proposal, and planning began in earnest for planetary missions. It was possible to launch a vehicle to Venus only at 19-month intervals and to Mars every 26 months if we used minimum-energy trajectories, which were all we would be capable of for years to come. Long-range predictions of exact opportunities were made; these were truly firm dates, immune to tampering for the convenience of politicians or administrators. While this immutable quality was an extra challenge to the development problems, it was also a blessing that relieved project planners of the need to justify a particular target date for scheduling and budgeting.
As a condition of hitchhiking on vehicle test launches, we agreed that our spacecraft might be launched at any time and in any direction that suited the launch vehicle test requirements. Thus, flights would not necessarily occur when the planetary launch window was open. We willingly agreed to this condition, not unaware that if we produced a spacecraft on schedule for its mission, the launch vehicle test would be geared to the planetary opportunity if at all possible.
Thus, the Mariner program got its start. By late 1960, plans began to take shape for matching two Centaur test launches with a Venus launch opportunity in August 1962. A Mars opportunity would occur a few months later; therefore, as many as four planetary launches on test flights were possible in 1962.
The infrequent launch opportunities made production-line spacecraft manufacture desirable, so that two spacecraft could be launched at either opportunity. Design studies suggested that for trips inward toward Venus and  outward toward Mars, a somewhat standardized spacecraft "bus" would serve if it were fitted with adaptations of standard solar arrays, antennas, and the like. A NASA requirement plan was established, and JPL studies were begun for the multipurpose Mariner spacecraft, designated Mariner A and Mariner B, with A planned for Venus and B for Mars. The size of the Mariners was determined by the Centaur capability, and each had a gross weight on the order of 1250 pounds, depending on the mission energy requirements. The first flights of these spacecraft were planned for Centaur development launches 7 and 8, so there was hope that vehicle "infant mortalities" could be avoided.
During the spring of 1961 we lost confidence that the launches would take place the following year. Centaur was rumored to be in trouble: not on schedule and perhaps not even feasible. Part of the difficulty was that Centaur was linked to Saturn rocket developments at Marshall Space Flight Center. Like Saturn upper stages, Centaurs were to use hydrogen-oxygen propellants. However, Centaur requirements were entirely different from those of Saturn; Centaur was intended for military missions, for synchronous-orbit communication satellite missions, and for planetary missions. Furthermore, the transfer of Centaur liquid hydrogen development responsibilities from ARPA to NASA was affected by the requirements for committee coordination and jurisdictional wrangling. The combination of these factors made Centaur very problematic.
Through contacts with Donald Heaton, Centaur vehicle manager, I received inklings that Centaur was in deep trouble, so deep that the Venus launches planned for August 1962 were threatened. A short time later, on a visit to JPL concerning the Ranger program, I talked with Dan Schneiderman, who had been involved in planetary spacecraft design studies when the Vega stage was being developed. I found my way to his small basement office and discussed the possibility of using an Atlas/Agena to launch a planetary spacecraft. At first Dan was highly skeptical that the 400-pound payload Agenas could carry would be at all adequate for a mission. But Dan had a wonderful knack of thinking positively about a challenge, a characteristic I was to see at work many times in the years to follow. He examined the results of previous studies and concluded that it might be possible to build a spacecraft for an Atlas/Agena launch that could carry perhaps 20 pounds of scientific experiments to Venus.
Armed with this information, I returned to Washington. Within a few days a meeting between the Administrator and the Director of Launch Vehicle Programs took place, and, because our programs depended so heavily on Centaur, Abe Silverstein, Ed Cortright, and I attended. The meeting produced a formal position by Wernher von Braun that Centaur's future was totally uncertain. We left the meeting with the clear understanding that our centaur-based planetary missions were postponed indefinitely.
While walking down the hall after the meeting I mentioned to Abe Silverstein the results of my chat with Schneiderman and asked whether it was possible to consider flying a modified Ranger on an Atlas/Agena during the 1962 Venus opportunity. He thought for a moment and then said, "I guess Glennan said that we won't be doing planetary launches on Centaur-he didn't mention flying Agena." I knew this was Abe's way of telling me to go ahead without formally giving me authority to do so, but I felt comfortable with this degree of approval from him. I immediately called the JPL people to tell them of the indefinite Centaur delay and to encourage rapid preparation of a plan for a substitute Venus mission using Ranger hardware.
Of course I was helped by the knowledge that JPL was aching to begin planetary missions and that a minimal payload could be carried. JPL snapped at the opportunity, appointed a high-caliber team (Jack James was the Project Manager and Dan Schneiderman was the Spacecraft System Manager), and had a proposal outline ready on August 28, 1961. The Mariner R, so called because it was made from Ranger hardware, would have a high probability of a single launch in August 1962 and a possible second launch if all went well. While this would affect the Ranger schedule, delaying it slightly, the proposal included suggestions on how this could be done without major compromises. Since Cortright and Silverstein had already informally approved the idea, it was with record-setting swiftness that NASA gave formal approval to JPL in early September 1961 for two Mariner R launches to Venus in July-August 1962.
In the 11 months that remained before the launch window opened, JPL had to design, build, test, and integrate two spacecraft for an entirely unprecedented mission. It also had to develop the complete tracking, data acquisition, and operations capabilities needed for a long-term, deep-space mission. So innocently hare-brained an effort would not be approved today, and experienced planners probably would not propose it. From 3 to 5 years would be needed, assuming that parts of the system had flown before. (It now takes 5 years to do almost anything.) Not knowing that the proposed mission was almost impossible, we laid out a plan, reprogrammed funding and hardware, and went ahead and did it.