LUNAR IMPACT: A History of Project Ranger

Part I. The Original Ranger


In 1960 Jim Burke found himself enmeshed in the project-wide organization and management imbroglio, and drawn increasingly away from spacecraft affairs at JPL. More and more time was required to define and hammer out project requirements and responsibilities among the participating organizations. Solving such questions as who would provide needed launch equipment, the type, and when and where it should be delivered often proved as frustrating for the project manager as trapping quicksilver with one's fingers. But the recognized risks in the management side compounded other, less obvious technical risks associated with the new and unproved spacecraft.


Even as NASA and JPL selected contractors to make components for the spacecraft in mid-1960, questions of weight threatened plans for the Ranger Block II final design. The difficulty suddenly appeared in the form of revised Atlas-Agena performance figures. Original pre-injection trajectory calculations-from launch to the second bum of the Agena-had been obtained by NASA from General Dynamics-Astronautics, the Atlas contractor, at the beginning of Project Ranger. They had been used at JPL in determining spacecraft weights and for computing post injection trajectories-from the second burn of the Agena to the end of the mission. On July 11, Lockheed submitted new ascent trajectory figures through the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division in Inglewood, and these figures contained a significant discrepancy: they specified 34 kilograms (75 pounds) less weight available for the Ranger lunar spacecraft. 1 To determine the reason for the difference in figures between General Dynamics and Lockheed, Burke ordered an immediate investigation and, pending the outcome, directed Schurmeier's Systems Division to take all reasonable measures to lighten the spacecraft short of removing planned equipment. 2

The uncertainty over spacecraft weights could not have occurred at a worse .time. A firm launch schedule for Ranger had just been issued by NASA, committing the two engineering test vehicles to fly in July and October 1961, and the three lunar missions in January, April, and July of 1962. 3 Far more disturbing than that, planning for the final design of lunar spacecraft to meet this schedule was well underway, and could not continue in an orderly manner if the engineers did not know the weights they had to work with. The test spacecraft needed only some 300 kilograms (675 pounds), and were not adversely affected, but the lunar spacecraft needed the entire 360 kilograms (800 pounds) that the Atlas-Agena B had been projected to carry to injection. The capsule subsystem alone weighed 135 kilograms (300 pounds). Nevertheless, the critical disparity in trajectory figures was not soon resolved.

The trajectory problem, like other launch vehicle management problems in 1960, was nourished by the still unsettled state of project management. At the outset, NASA and the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division had failed to designate a single organization to perform all of the trajectory computations for Ranger missions. With the new performance figures disputed, Lockheed's participants on the Agena B Coordination Board urged that they be given this function. JPL representatives Cummings and Burke, reluctant to delegate this important work and skeptical of the Lockheed calculations, opposed such a move. The question remained in the hands of the Board as summer turned to fall, and fall to winter. Meantime, without a single set of confirmed trajectories, the allowable weight of the Ranger lunar spacecraft remained in limbo. 4

While the question of Ranger trajectories deepened the paralysis of the Agena B Coordination Board, JPL lightened the bus chassis for the lunar spacecraft as much as possible. Magnesium replaced aluminum in covers, tubes, and fittings. Engineers shaved the thickness of structural members, and directed that minimum size wire and lightweight insulation be used in the power subsystem. As an extreme measure, Cummings ordered holes drilled in the electronic boxes to save a further few ounces, and parts of the craft began to resemble Swiss cheese. Projections of the total weight expected for this machine nevertheless remained above the limit of 325 kilograms (725 pounds) specified by Lockheed, and by fall Denison had added his own reservations to the weight question. The Aeronutronic capsule subsystem, he informed Burke, would probably exceed the 135-kilogram, (300-pound) limit.

Believing the Lockheed calculations questionable, Burke delayed ordering any major changes in the final design. To members of the Agena B Coordination Board, he made the point abundantly clear in October: the Lockheed data could have been revised downward "somewhat arbitrarily by the Air Force," he declared, "and may not represent the true capability of the [Atlas-Agena] vehicle." Discord over who would prepare the complete lunar trajectories, he continued, made it impossible for JPL to obtain a set of definitive trajectory calculations and to clarify the divergence in performance figures previously computed for the Atlas-Agena B by General Dynamics and Lockheed. 5

Despite prodding, two more months elapsed before the Ranger participants agreed even to a statement of work for preparing trajectories. Signed by JPL, the Air Force, Lockheed, and the NASA Agena office in Huntsville, the document was issued on December 14, 1960. It called for the pre injection trajectory to be computed by Lockheed in accord with JPL-furnished specifications. The post injection trajectory would be prepared by JPL. Finally, a third party, the Space Technology Laboratories (STL) would integrate the two trajectories and generate accurate firing tables under a separate Air Force contract. 6

This compromise did not actually provide the "definitive trajectory calculations" JPL needed to determine a final weight for Ranger. Moreover, STL could not promise the final set of trajectories for six months-hardly in time for the launch of Ranger I - and that was contingent upon receiving the JPL and Lockheed pieces of the work. Decisions on the Block II final design and weight could not be postponed much longer. On January 11, 1961, JPL engineers agreed on the placement and way of mechanizing the last outstanding item on the lunar spacecraft. The low-gain antenna would be located above the survival capsule, mounted on a boom to be swung away from the spacecraft, permitting ejection of the capsule subsystem near the moon. 7 For Burke in the Ranger Project Office, a further delay on a decision of final weight of the lunar machine would amount to a decision not to meet the Ranger 3 launch date in January 1962. Time had run out.

Burke and Cummings faced two uncomfortable choices. They could slip the lunar flight dates month-to-month at the possible expense of seeing the Soviets win more lunar laurels-while hoping for an increase in weight from the definitive set of STL trajectory calculations-or they could freeze the spacecraft design at the lightened weight specified in the Air Force-Lockheed figures regardless of any allowable increase that might eventually be found, thus permitting the project to remain on schedule. The Soviets helped Burke and Cummings make up their minds when, on February 12, 1961, they launched a 450-kilogram (1000-pound) spacecraft on a flyby trajectory past Venus. This spacecraft possessed three-axis attitude control, oriented solar panels, a high-gain dish antenna, and made use of an earth parking orbit-all of which Ranger was supposed to have demonstrated (Figure 26). Though the mission was destined to fail, the Soviet attempt at a deep space mission that JPL claimed as its own keyed Ranger participants to a "pinch-hitter's" state of mind.


Fig. 26. Venera 1

At the Laboratory, Jim Burke nailed a picture of his Soviet competitor, Venera 1, to the wall directly in front of his desk. Next to it he pasted an old proverb: "The better is the enemy of the good." He would call that aphorism to the attention of those proposing design changes that involved major delays. Design changes would continue to be minimized, delays prescribed. And while there was some sentiment in Silverstein's office to postpone the Ranger flights, it was strongly resisted at JPL. Pickering, Cummings, and Burke were saying with former NASA Administrator Keith Glennen that schedule "postponements should be viewed with concern, not regarded as normal procedure." 8 In the face of the Soviet challenge, flight schedules for Project Ranger remained firm. The lunar spacecraft would necessarily have to shed more weight.

Four days after the launch of Venera 1, though still distrusting Lockheed's performance figures, Burke notified the Systems Division that "...we must begin removing items from the spacecraft." Original plans to include a redundant set of attitude control gas jets had already been abandoned. Now Burke instructed Schurmeier to remove the backup low-power transmitter and its battery, as well as a set of engineering instrumentation gyroscopes (to be used to determine initial sun-earth acquisition rates) and their associated equipment on all the lunar spacecraft. In addition, he asked that the Systems Division "review the entire instrumentation schedule and remove a portion of the [engineering telemetry] equipment so as to save weight at the expense of creating a higher-risk situation," and "continue to insist that the capsule, which is currently overweight, must meet its weight goal of 135 kilograms (300 pounds) or not fly" on Ranger. 9

Burke announced the decision to other project participants a few weeks later at the ninth meeting of the Agena B Coordination Board. At an anticipated 330 kilograms (730 pounds), Ranger 3 would still be somewhat heavier than available performance figures allowed. Nevertheless, Burke insisted, "JPL believes that the allowable weight may turn out to be more like 355 kilograms (790 pounds)." 10 In April 1961, still holding to this opinion, the Ranger Project Office "froze" the final design of the lunar spacecraft at the reduced weight. 11 Additional equipment would be stripped from these machines only in the event that STL confirmed the available trajectory calculations. No more equipment would be removed on the strength of suspect figures.

In fact, as Burke had surmised, no weight reduction campaign had ever been necessary. To his superiors at JPL, Burke glumly reported that an additional 74 kilograms (164 pounds) were available for Block I and 52 kilograms (116 pounds) for Block II spacecraft, resulting in confirmed total weights of 371 kilograms (824 pounds) and 378 kilograms (841 pounds), respectively. This increase in allowable weight was, he explained, simply "unexploitable at this late date." 12 When assembled in the fall, Ranger 3 weighed in at 327 kilograms (727 pounds). Rangers 1 and 2, already at Cape Canaveral, each weighed 304 kilograms (675 pounds). For these particular planetary spacecraft, all options for improving reliability through redundant features had been irretrievably lost. The road to Ranger, recognized as a high-risk avenue from the management standpoint in 1960, had been paved with still graver technical risks in 1961 because the spacecraft was lightened to meet an erroneous weight limitation. 13


Between June 1960 and August 1961, while the Ranger officials in Pasadena wrestled with the various problems of project management and spacecraft weights, Rangers I and 2 were fabricated and tested. In performing these tasks, JPL followed the pattern of missilery that relied on preliminary engineering flight missions to test the entire space and ground components of the system. 14 For these first Ranger flights, however, JPL employed three versions of the spacecraft to validate the final design: a spacecraft mockup, a thermal control model, and a proof test model. 15 Engineers used the mockup, constructed in July 1960, to confirm the mechanical aspects of the spacecraft, including cabling and the layout of equipment. The thermal control model was then assembled and tested in a 2.7-meter (6-foot) diameter vacuum chamber, where conditions in outer space could be approximated. Though lacking active electronic components, this model held equipment containing resistors and other equivalent heat-producing sources, and perfected the design for passive thermal control.

The proof test model would be as nearly identical to the actual flight articles as possible but subjected to tests above the performance and stress levels expected during the actual flight of Rangers I and 2. As the name implied, the proof test model was used to shake down the design. All of the unforeseen and undesired characteristics that appeared here in testing could be isolated, identified, and corrected before assembly of the Right machines began. This particular test program, though more severe, essentially duplicated that planned for the flight Rangers. But most important were the qualifying tests of each component and subsystem undertaken by the JPL technical divisions, and systems tests conducted by the Systems Division (Figure 27).


Fig. 27. Ranger Block I Proof Test Model and Nose Shroud Mockup

Although each spacecraft test was important, the systems tests were crucial. Missiles had previously been tested at the subsystem level at JPL, then assembled and launched at White Sands in a test of the system. The idea of testing the total spacecraft system prior to flight was new. This preflight check corresponded as nearly as possible to all of the mission phases planned for Ranger, and was divided roughly in two: mission sequencing and environmental tests. First, by means of elaborate test consoles, cables, and radio-frequency links, engineers exercised the proof test model, flight spacecraft, and scientific instruments through their complete sequence of operations from launch to end-of-mission. Commands would be sent to the space machine, events monitored against expected performance, and discrepancies rectified by repair or replacement of parts (Figure 28). Second, environmental testing meant evaluating the spacecraft in the specific conditions encountered at launch and in space operations. Here, the spacecraft was first mounted on a large "shake table." Such a table, weighing hundreds of kilograms, vibrated the spacecraft at various amplitudes both in horizontal and vertical planes, approximating conditions to be expected during ascent atop the Atlas-Agena B. To test its thermal design and performance in a vacuum, the spacecraft, less solar panels, was suspended and operated inside the 2.7-meter (6 foot) diameter vacuum chamber. As in the other qualifying tests, its conductors monitored or commanded appropriate functions by means of wire cables and test consoles.


Fig. 28. Ranger 1 in Systems Test Complex

Thorough testing of the spacecraft, however, required facilities beyond those available in 1960. A missile assembly building, used in JPL's programs for Army Ordnance; doubled as the spacecraft assembly and mission sequencing test area. Next door, another small building housed the shake table and small vacuum chamber to be used for the environmental tests. With modification, these facilities could serve the immediate needs of Project Ranger in makeshift fashion; they would, nevertheless, be inadequate to accommodate other NASA lunar and planetary spacecraft scheduled to be assembled at the Laboratory in 1961 and 1962.

With the test procedures established in 1960, NASA and JPL officials completed plans for the necessary facilities. By July, contracts had been issued for the construction of (1) a spacecraft assembly facility to be used for assembly and functional tests; (2) an environmental laboratory, for shock tests and testing on larger shake tables and in the small vacuum chamber; and (3) adjacent to the environmental laboratory, a cylindrical building to house an eight-story, 7.5-meter (25-foot) diameter, vertical vacuum chamber in which the complete spacecraft could be tested on simulated missions to the moon and planets. Contractors completed the first two of the new facilities in mid-1961, in time to accommodate the Block II spacecraft. But the large vacuum chamber, because of problems encountered with the artificial solar heat and light sources, would not be placed in operation until November 1962. None of the five Ranger spacecraft could be tested there. Thus, the importance of Ranger's first two test flights was emphasized. They would serve as engineering missions in the vacuum of outer space to provide equivalent data on flight performance that could not otherwise be obtained in available ground test complexes.

In Silverstein's Office of Space Flight Programs, JPL's progress on the entire project, including Ranger testing, was monitored and evaluated against NASA guidelines by Oran W. Nicks. Born and raised on a ranch in the southwest in the dust and depression of the 1930s, Nicks took an intensive two-year course at Spartan College of Aeronautical Engineering in Tulsa in 1942 and 1943; then, after service with the Army Air Forces, worked his way to a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Oklahoma in 1948. First with North American Aviation on the West Coast, later with Chance-Vought Aircraft in Texas, he held a succession of increasingly responsible positions. In March 1960 he joined NASA as Chief of Lunar Flight Systems (Figure 29). Circumspect, disciplined, and practical, Nicks possessed an instinct for fathoming complex situations rapidly and accurately. The technical advances required to achieve Ranger's lunar objectives, he believed, warranted more cautious reflection and a less open display of confidence and self-assurance by his JPL colleagues. Technical prospects aside, from past experience he could be sure of one thing. Regardless of their Caltech credentials, the informality of JPL project personnel and the casual attire they sometimes sported in meetings at Lockheed and Cape Canaveral provoked unfavorable reactions among the colonels and generals of the Air Force who were expected to make room for NASA's Ranger.


Fig. 29. NASA Lunar Flight Systems Chief Oran Nicks

Beyond different backgrounds, James Burke and Oran Nicks differed in their attitude towards schedules and testing. For Burke and his associates, meeting schedules and costs-even if it meant lightening the spacecraft and removing tardy or overweight scientific experiments-assumed first importance. Reliability would be achieved through the sound design of the hardware. Testing necessarily had to be compressed to fit the NASA schedules within available facilities. 16 Nicks, less inclined to accept the swift schedules established in response to the Soviet challenge, was more disposed to slip flight dates, even at the risk of increasing costs, if he believed it was required to ensure that scientific experiments got on board, or more adequately to test and qualify spacecraft components. 17 And if Burke reasoned in 1960 that the JPL project office ought to direct Ranger activities in the absence of a viable project management structure, Nicks became convinced that that office had to be more responsive to directives from NASA Headquarters, which, after all, paid the bills and was ultimately accountable to the Congress. 18

Nicks might remain skeptical and differ with Burke on the test philosophy and importance of schedules, but actual experience in qualifying Rangers 1 and 2 for flight further heightened confidence in the soundness of the systems test procedures and the spacecraft design among the project engineers-heightened it at least until the question of sterilization arose.


With the first earth satellites in orbit late in 1957, Detlev W. Bronk, the president of the National Academy of Sciences, openly expressed interest in a subject heretofore discussed quietly among biologists. Would the Chairman of the Earth Satellite Panel of the U.S. National Committee for the IGY, he inquired, act as chairman of a planning committee to organize a symposium on the prospects for biological research in space, and of detecting possible low-order life forms on other celestial bodies in the solar system? He would indeed, and the Academy was joined by the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the National Science Foundation in sponsoring a symposium held in 1958. 19

Before planning had progressed very far, however, one member of the life sciences fraternity expressed a formidable reservation. In a private memorandum circulated in January 1958, Professor Joshua Lederberg, Chairman of the Department of Medical Genetics at the University of Wisconsin, cautioned that earth organisms aboard spacecraft that landed on celestial bodies might reproduce, making it impossible forever to discover and examine indigenous extraterrestrial life forms. 20 The issue was debated in the National Academy of Sciences, then before the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), which established a special committee to study the question. That group adopted sterilization as an important policy, and urged both the United States and the Soviet Union to implement measures to avoid introducing earth organisms on other bodies in the solar system. 21

Thus, in September 1959, even before Project Ranger officially began, NASA Administrator Keith Glennan received a letter from the National Academy of Sciences advising the space agency to adhere to the ICSU policy and sterilize United States space probes. 22 If he did not foresee all of the ramifications spacecraft sterilization might entail, Glennan did appreciate its importance for science and the prestige of the nation. With his approval, on October 15 Silverstein issued an initial guideline to all NASA field centers. "As a result of deliberations," the directive read, "it has been established as NASA policy that payloads which might impact a celestial body must be sterilized before launching." Center Directors were informed that "of the several means of sterilization proposed, NASA considers the use of ethylene oxide in its gaseous phase as the most feasible agent at this time." 23

As a target of biological interest, the moon was considerably more doubtful than any of the inner planets. Scientific opinion, nevertheless, was divided. 24 If there were ice or water trapped somewhere beneath the surface, microorganisms, insulated by the material above, might exist there. On that chance NASA Headquarters included lunar spacecraft under the terms of the directive. First in line for detailed application of the NASA sterilization techniques, as a prototype unmanned planetary machine, was Ranger. 25

Problems of weight and mechanical "bugs" were one thing for Ranger's engineers. Unfamiliar worries about real live bugs was something else again. To sterilize surgical instruments, one simply boils them in water and keeps them in an autoclave until ready for use. But how would they sterilize a 326-kilogram (725 pound) spacecraft and keep it sterile from Pasadena to the moon? To be sure, bathing a spacecraft in toxic ethylene oxide gas would drastically reduce the number of organisms on exposed surfaces; however, the gas would not necessarily reach bacteria between joints or trapped in electrical potting substances. While this treatment might decontaminate a machine, it could not guarantee sterility. JPL investigators suggested "one chance in ten (perhaps a hundred) of a viable organism remaining on the probe [as] an acceptable infection tolerance." 26 To attain that goal it would be necessary to heat the components, or perhaps the entire machine. Even then full sterility might not be achieved.

Without firm specifications on the degree of spacecraft sterility desired, JPL established procedures believed to be consistent with expectations of reliable equipment performance. George L. Hobby, a research biologist in the Space Sciences Division, was placed in charge of this work. Together with Burke, in April 1960, he formulated plans to sterilize the three lunar spacecraft. 27 The plans called for a three-step operation embracing fabrication, assembly, test, and transportation. All components, including the lunar capsule subsystem components, would be assembled, then subjected to heating at 125 C (257F) for 24 hours. This was a compromise of sorts, because at temperatures and times above these levels, electrical equipment often failed, while below these levels some organisms were found to survive. The sterilized components would then be assembled and the machine tested in a segregated area in the new spacecraft assembly facility. All surfaces joined during assembly were to be cleaned thoroughly with alcohol. Finally, shipped to Cape Canaveral in a controlled environment and after completing final prelaunch tests, the entire spacecraft would be "soaked" in ethylene oxide gas inside the Agena nose fairing. Theory held that once the machine was rendered essentially sterile, any subsequent contamination would be on its surface and exposed to the lethal gas.

On May 25, 1961, a date coinciding with the distressing resolution of final allowable weights for the Block II spacecraft, Cummings submitted JPL's suggested program for sterilizing these vehicles to NASA. It conformed to the plans made in 1960 but noted that exceptions would need to be made for certain heat-sensitive parts. 28 NASA Associate Administrator Seamans approved this program in June 1961 in time for the assembly of Ranger 3. 29 Without question, sterilizing spacecraft would be an expensive, new, and unusual demand upon the project-and another burden for Burke, who, in listing 16 competing requirements for Ranger, put reliability first in priority, sterilization fourteenth. 30


Meantime, further difficulties for Burke cropped up in reconciling the experimental ambitions of space scientists with the engineering -requirements of the Ranger machine. in accord with NASA General Management Instruction on the "Selection of Scientific Experiments," April 15, 1960, Headquarters exercised final authority, through a Space Sciences Steering Committee, over what experiments would fly on NASA vehicles. Subcommittees, arranged by discipline, with membership drawn from scientists at Headquarters, field centers, and the universities, evaluated and recommended experiments to the Steering Committee for authorized flights. The Committee-with Newell as Chairman-reviewed and approved these recommendations, then submitted the proposed experiments to Silverstein for final approval. Once the experiments were selected, field centers assisted in fabricating and qualifying instruments, integrating them in a spacecraft, and processing the data returned from them. The experimenters were thus expected to work closely with the field center space science division and project office in realizing flight objectives, and in analyzing and publishing the findings. 31 But the management instruction did not specify the precise relationship between the experimenters and the field centers, neither for NASA flight projects generally nor for JPL and Project Ranger in particular.

Burke and the engineers assigned to Project Ranger at JPL could agree with Newell, Hibbs, and Schilling on the ultimate role of Ranger as a scientific mission-specifically, one to investigate the moon for planetary science. Burke dealt directly with JPL's space sciences chief Hibbs on matters of science and the spacecraft; Hibbs, in turn, worked out details with the individual experimenters and supported them in designing, fabricating, and qualifying their instruments for flight. Burke pledged Hibbs his full support and commitment to the lunar goals; Ranger would fly for planetary science. 32 But Burke elected to insulate himself as much as possible from the interested experimenters and focus his attention upon the project organization and technology. To him, the demands of organization, of developing the Atlas-Agena vehicle, the spacecraft, the tracking net, and flight operations procedure all had to be met first so that the scientific goal could be realized. The technology, including even the technology to accommodate the experiments-had to take priority over the science.

Burke and his fellow engineers, all the same, could by no means ignore the science on Project Ranger. The complement of scientific instruments affected nearly every aspect of the Ranger machine, from the center of gravity to calibrated magnetic characteristics. The space science instruments occupied volume, added weight, consumed power, produced heat, and demanded data handling and instrumentation that might otherwise be given over to redundant engineering subsystems and telemetry in the spacecraft. The project team did plan for and deal with these complications day to day as the spacecraft design evolved. Their efforts, however, required a delicate balancing between project science and engineering. They proceeded without disruption only so long as NASA's basic list of approved experiments remained unaltered. But the scientists themselves were not easily dissuaded from proposing alterations to a list on a mere scrap of paper, especially since, as the first, large, completely stabilized spacecraft scheduled by NASA for launch into deep space, Ranger, offered rare research opportunities for experimenters.

On April 13, 1960, shortly before Burke froze the final design of the two test vehicles, a delegation of scientists from the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory and the Sandia Corporation paid a visit to Pasadena. They came to explore prospects for placing a Vela Hotel experiment on board the Ranger Block I spacecraft. Vela Hotel was the code name for a project managed by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC); it sought to develop a satellite-borne X-ray and gamma-ray monitoring system that could detect above-ground nuclear explosions. In theory, its successful operation hinged upon the absence of a natural background source of certain X-rays. Experiments first had to be conducted to determine whether the sun was a source of microsecond bursts of such X-rays, and the AEC scientists were eager to fly their experiments at the earliest opportunity. 33

Informed of their Mission, Burke received the scientific delegation at JPL with grave misgivings. He showed his visitors the Ranger spacecraft, described the flight system, and gave them material concerning the scientific experiments and telemetry system. Patiently, he explained that science for Rangers 1 and 2 had already been approved by NASA, and that "no additional experiments could be accommodated in the program as now planned." The Los Alamos and Sandia scientists were, of course, "welcome to examine my results [obtained] with our instruments." 34 Far from dampening interest among his AEC guests, Burke's cautious briefing substantiated their expectations of the spacecrafts capabilities. They understood that Ranger, pointed at the sun as a major reference in space, was just right for Vela Hotel. NASA Headquarters determined science policy; Headquarters might consider more science for Ranger.

Two days later Army Brigadier General A. W. Betts, the Director of ARPA, dispatched a letter on the subject to John F. Clark, Schilling's deputy for the Planetary Science Program. Betts moved quickly to his point: "Since both of these [Ranger] vehicles are scheduled to penetrate the regions of space of prime interest to Project Vela Hotel (outside the trapped radiation fields), it is requested that as much space, weight, and telemetry as possible be made available so that detailed planning and design may be initiated immediately." 35 Clark discussed the issue with Schilling, Newell, and Silverstein, and General Betts received a qualified answer. NASA asked that the AEC submit a proposal explaining how Vela Hotel would be incorporated in the Block I spacecraft. Should the experiment turn out to be impractical, it might then be refused. On May, 3, 1960, the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory and the Sandia Corporation complied. Recognizing the design of the NASA spacecraft to be well advanced, the proposal aimed at minimizing interference. The AEC experiment would consist of a primary battery power source, two radiation detectors, a data handling and logic module, and the necessary packaging and shielding. 36 All in all, with some reshuffling of equipment on Ranger, adding the experiment appeared to be entirely feasible.

In early June Cummings summarized JPL's evaluation of the proposal for Silverstein's Lunar and Planetary Program Director, Edgar Cortright. The 5.4 kilogram (12-pound) Vela Hotel experiment, Cortright learned, was technically compatible with the test spacecraft. 37 Within the Laboratory, Burke notified affected division chiefs that "it is probable we will the requested to incorporate the experiment." He directed them to begin altering the design for just such an eventuality. Taking these steps now, he declared, "will ease the pain of incorporating it considerably. 38 On June 29 Silverstein approved the new experiment on Rangers 1 and 2. 39

Besides Vela Hotel, there was one other change in the complement of scientific instruments planned for Rangers 1 and 2. 40 NASA dropped plans for the vehicle charge experiment in May, and substituted a small engineering friction experiment in its place. Conceived by members of JPL's Materials Research Section in the Engineering Mechanics Division, it would measure the coefficient of friction in the vacuum of space of various metal discs rotated at a few revolutions per minute by a small electric motor. 41 Engineers expected the information derived from this experiment to prove valuable in the design of bearings and gear surfaces for future space machines. But it was not, strictly speaking, a "scientific" experiment. At JPL, Burke and Hibbs gave preference in design, operations, and data handling only to scientific instruments. Accordingly, they established the following priority among experiments to guide project engineers: (1) solar plasma detector, (2) magnetometer, (3) trapped radiation detector package, (4) ionization chamber, (5) cosmic-ray telescope, (6) Lyman alpha scanner, and (7) micrometeorite detector. 42 Last, and not listed, was Vela Hotel. The entire array of experiments for the Ranger engineering test flights was now complete (Figure 30). 43


Fig. 30. Scientific Experiments on the Block I Spacecraft

If the experience with Vela Hotel proved "painful" to Burke, it also left him skeptical of Headquarters' true commitment to Ranger schedules and of its appreciation for the engineering demands of the project. To Burke, Newell's science staff appeared entirely too willing to hazard launch schedules and defer demonstration of the spacecraft technology in favor of still more science. "This difference in viewpoint," he explained to JPL Deputy Director Brian Sparks, "adds vigor to the technology-science controversy and encourages undisciplined efforts by our own [JPL] science people to get Headquarters to order us to wait for them if necessary. " 44 Presiding over the birth of a new spacecraft, Burke began to view his scientist-clients as overly enthusiastic members of the family-waiting anxiously outside the delivery room with bat and glove, eager to play ball with the infant machine before it was able to crawl, let alone run.

A few weeks later, in August 1960, Burke's suspicions were aroused again. Effects of the discrepancy in ascent trajectory calculations on the weight of the lunar spacecraft had just turned that design effort into an engineer's nightmare. What was more, contract negotiations had broken down at Lockheed over the reduction in NASA's order for Agenas. Project schedules appeared threatened across the board. At that moment scientists at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory and Sandia Corporation produced a new recommendation: they wished to fly a Vela Hotel experiment on Rangers 3, 4, and 5. 45

The Ranger Project Manager received the document with incredulity. Vela Hotel had nothing whatsoever to do with the moon. Not a single planetary scientist associated with the lunar Ranger would endorse the new proposal if it meant that his own lunar experiment might be compromised, much less if it were eliminated. Having seen Rangers 1 and 2 reworked to accommodate the AEC experiment, Burke had no desire to repeat that exercise on the trouble-plagued Block II spacecraft. Several other experiments, in fact, had been recently suggested for these lunar machines by scientists at the Goddard Space Flight Center. Should they now be combined with Vela Hotel and approved by NASA, the ensemble would consume 9.5 precious kilograms (21 pounds), not to mention power and telemetry support.

After conferring with JPL's Lunar Program Director Cummings, Burke wrote to Cortright at Headquarters and told him that the problems of weight, packaging, power, and space prohibited accepting this AEC proposal. 46 Cummings also urged that the Goddard science proposals not be considered for flight on the lunar Rangers. 47 Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory received a copy of Burke's communication to Cortright. Made aware of the seriousness of the situation, and failing to obtain support among other mission scientists, the scientists in New Mexico withdrew their proposal. 48 For the rest, Cortright, the aeronautical engineer, concurred with Cummings. Further experiments would not be considered on the lunar flights that involved the important midcourse and terminal maneuvers.

Engineers qualified the original lunar experiments approved by NASA's Space Sciences Steering Committee without serious delays. The 3.6-kilogram (8 pound), single-axis seismometer developed under the guidance of Frank Press, Director of Caltech's Seismological Laboratory, and Maurice Ewing, Director of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory, was basically a magnet suspended in a coil by a spring, and restrained radially so that it responded only to motion parallel to its axis. Tested to withstand a 3000-g impact force, floated in a viscous fluid inside the survival sphere, it would assume a vertical position in response to lunar gravity after the capsule came to rest. 49 Although its designers did not anticipate significant tectonic activity on the moon, the detection of microseisinic activity would significantly contribute to man's understanding of the thermal character of the lunar body, as well as indicate the existence of crust, core, or both, and the density distribution with depth. 50

James R. Arnold, a chemistry professor at the University of California at San Diego, first suggested the gamma-ray spectrometer for Project Ranger. 51 After approval by NASA, Arnold developed the instrument with Ernest C. Anderson and Marvin A. Van Dilla of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, and Albert E. Metzger of JPL. The heart of this device, a scintillation detector capable of measuring natural radioactivity emanating from lunar surface material, was mounted on the end of a telescoping 1.7-meter (6-foot) boom. Uranium, thorium, and potassium emit gamma-rays (very energetic X-rays) in radioactive decay. They are also among the elements that are enriched towards the surface of a planetary body by differentiation if the temperature below the surface has exceeded the melting point of the rock any time in the body's history. By detecting these gamma-rays, it would be possible to determine the degree of differentiation that had occurred on the moon's surface-and, therefore, whether the surface material had formed by meteoritic accretion or volcanic eruptions. The instrument turned on four hours after launch and extended on its boom shortly after the midcourse maneuver, would establish background counting rates (caused by proximity to the spacecraft) to a high degree of accuracy, and also provide the first direct measurement of an interplanetary or cosmic gamma-ray flux, if one existed. It would continue operating until the lunar seismometer capsule ejected at 24 kilometers (15 miles) above the lunar surface, at which time the spacecraft was expected to tumble, throwing its high-gain antenna out of lock with receiving stations on earth.

The 5.9-kilogram (13-pound) television camera completed the list of experiments first approved for the lunar mission. Activated 4000 kilometers (2500 miles) above the moon, the camera would transmit high-resolution pictures of the approaching surface until the lunar capsule was ejected. JPL awarded the Radio Corporation of America the contract to develop the vidicon sensor, based largely on that firm's experience in the field, particularly with the cameras for the Tiros meteorological satellite. The Space Sciences Division at JPL fabricated the f/6 aperture optical telescope with a 102-centimeter (40-inch) focal length, while RCA produced the slow-scan vidicon with its deflection and focus coils, and the supporting electronics package. 52 Under the best of viewing conditions on earth, the largest optical telescope could obtain a surface resolution of 300 meters ( 1000 feet) on the moon. The last of Ranger's anticipated 100 pictures, taken at 47 kilometers (29.5 miles) altitude, would achieve a resolution of approximately 3 meters (10 feet) or better with a 200-line system, and provide planetary scientists the first closeup pictures of the lunar surface. In October 196 1, NASA's Space Science Steering Committee appointed the experimenters who would analyze and interpret the data to be returned by the television camera: Gerard P. Kuiper, an astronomer and Director of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona; a geologist, Eugene A Shoemaker of the U.S. Geological Survey; and a chemist, Nobelist, and prime instigator of NASA's unmanned lunar program, Harold C. Urey of the University of California at San Diego. 53

One more scientific experiment added to the lunar missions in early 1961 caused hardly a ripple of concern in Burke's project office. Not so much added as devised, it involved using in a new way the existing radar altimeter, which was designed to function as a range meter to trigger separation of the lunar capsule assembly from the spacecraft bus at a predetermined height above the moon. No plans existed to telemeter this radar data from the spacecraft to the earth. Walter E. Brown, head of the Data Automation Systems Group in JPL's space Sciences Division, examined the radar altimeter in March 1961 and prepared a memo urging that the Ranger encoder be modified to permit telemetering the radar data to ground stations. He averred that "the correlation between the optical [TV] data and the Ranger 3, 4, 5 radar reflectivity data will provide information about the dust or surface layer." Specifically, such information on the properties of the lunar surface could include its density, conductivity, and the thickness of the layer, useful information for scientists and the Surveyor soft-lander scheduled to follow Ranger. 54

An associate of Brown's, Harry Wagner, soon formulated a relatively simple method for feeding the radar data into the telemetry system in such a way that it would not interfere with information being transmitted from the gamma-ray spectrometer. That satisfied James Arnold, who of course had no desire to turn off his experiment in favor of data from the radar altimeter. With all hands pleased at this outcome and with no weight or space penalties threatening the spacecraft, Burke approved the necessary modifications to the telemetry system. 55 Members of Newell's Space Sciences Steering Committee agreed as well, and NASA accepted the radar reflectivity measurement as a new experiment a few months later, naming Brown principal investigator (Figure 31). 56


Fig. 31. Scientific Experiments on the Block 11 Spacecraft

By the end of 1961, at NASA Headquarters and at JPL, Rangers 3, 4, and 5 were set as lunar missions expressly for scientific purposes. But the production of Atlas-Agenas, the trajectory squabbles, the miscalculated weight of the lunar spacecraft, and the unusual testing and sterilization procedures fully occupied James Burke. He thus viewed the re-determination of the scientific experiments for Rangers 1 and 2 as a gratuitous and vexing exercise. And he was more than ever determined to insulate Ranger from what he considered to be "undisciplined efforts" by the scientific community to interfere with established schedules and with the efforts needed to perfect the spacecraft bus, launch vehicle system, and flight operations.

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Chapter Four - Notes 

The hyphenated numbers in parentheses at the ends of individual citations are catalog numbers of documents on file in the history archives of the JPL library.

1. JPL Interoffice Memo from Victor Clarke to James Burke, subject: "RA-3, 4, 5 Performance, " July 14, 1960 (2-562).

2. JPL Interoffice Memo from James Burke to Harris Schurmeier, subject: "Ranger Weight Control," July 19, 1960 (2-2389); JPL Interoffice Memo from S. Rubinstein to Distribution, subject: 11 RA-3 Spacecraft Weight Reduction Program" August 1, 1960 (2-2530).

3. NASA PMP Chart 11-0, dated August 10, 1960, citing Official NASA Flight Schedule of June 15, 1960 (2-968).

4. In future, NASA Headquarters ordered a change in trajectory management procedure. See NASA Headquarters Memo from Robert Seamans to NASA Headquarters Staff and Field Center Directors, subject: "Launch Vehicle Characteristics," December 7, 1960 (2-2097).

5. Minutes of the Sixth Meeting of the Agena-B Coordination Board, October 13, 1960, p. 4 (2-486); see also, JPL Interoffice Memo from C. G. Pfeiffer to James Burke, subject: "History of the Atlas/Agena Trajectory Management Problem," January 16, 1961 (2-2195).

6. JPL Interoffice Memo from C. G. Pfeiffer to All Concerned, subject: "Ranger Guidance and Traectory Sub-contract to STL" December 14, 1960 (2-1060).

7. JPL Interoffice Memo from M. R. Mesnard to Distribution, subject: "RA345 Omni-Antenna, " January 12, 1961 (2-1099).

8. TASA memorandum from T. Keith Glennan to Operation Heads of Headquarters Offices and Directors, NASA Centers, subject: "Further Comments on Monterey Conference," March 20, 1960 (2-323); see also, letter from T. Keith Glennan to William Pickering, June 17, 1960 (2-1236). If the issue ever reached his desk, James E. Webb, the new Kennedy appointed NASA Administrator who was pledged to excel in astronautics, undoubtedly concurred.

9. JPL Interoffice Memo from James Burke to Harris Schurmeier, subject: RA-3 Weight Situation," February 16, 196 1, p. 2 (2-563).

10. Minutes of the Ninth Meeting of the Agena-B Coordination Board, March 1, 196 1, p. 7 (2-491).

11. JPL Interoffice Memo from James Burke to Distribution, subject: "Ranger Project Review Meeting for May 3, 1961, " April 2 8, 1961 (2-1114).

12. JPL Interoffice Memo from James Burke and Gordon Kautz to Brian Sparks, subject: "Ranger Project Status Report No. 9," June 5, 1961, p. 1 (2-1314).

13. See unsigned document, "Probability of Ranger Success vs. Spacecraft Weight," February 22, 1961 (2-2529).

14. Flight tests would not be used again in NASA's unmanned space program, although they continued to be rigorously applied in NASA's manned space program-except that no science was included.

15. Later in Project Ranger, other models were added in the test cycle, a dynamic test model and a design evaluation model among them, not considered here.

16. JPL Interoffice Memo from James Burke to All Concerned, subject: "Ranger Test Philosophy," June 13, 1960 (2-2522).

17. See James Burke's review in JPL Interoffice Memo from James Burke to Brian Sparks, subject: "Project Manager's Remarks for Senior Council Meeting," August 24, 1962, p. 2 (2-2540).

18. See Oran Nicks' review in NASA Headquarters Memo from Oran Nicks to Abe Silverstein, subject: "Analysis of JPL Headquarters Relationships and Recommendations for Improvements," October 6, 1961 (2-332b).

19. A Review of Space Research (Publication 1079. The Report of the Summer Study conducted under the auspices of the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences at the State University of Iowa, June 17August 10, 1962. Washington: National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council, 1962), pp. 10-11.

20. Later, Professor Lederberg's cautions appeared in an article "Moondust,"

Science, Volume 127, 1958, p. 1473.

21. A Review of Space Research, pp. 10-13.

22. Cited in Charles M. Atkins, NASA and the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences (Comment Draft, HHN-62. Washington: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, September, 1966), pp.108-109 (5-53).

23. NASA memorandum from Abe Silverstein to Harry Goett, subject: "Sterilization of Payloads," October 15, 1959 (2-1930).

24. Cf. the representations of Carl Sagan in Proceedings of the Lunar and Planetary Exploration Colloquium (North American Aviation, Inc.), Volume II, No. 3, p. 46; and Harold Urey, Volume I, No. 3, p. 31.

25. James D. Burke, "The Ranger Spacecraft," Astronautics, September 1961, p. 25; and the testimony of Oran Nicks in United States Congress, House, Committee on Science and Astronautics, Investigation of Project Ranger, Hearings before the Subcommittee on NASA Oversight, 88th Congress, 2nd Session, 1964, No. 3, p. 65.

26. Richard W. Davies and Marcus G. Comuntzis, The Sterilization of Space Vehicles to Prevent Extraterrestrial Biological Contamination (JPL EP 698. Pasadena, California: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, August 31, 1959), p. 13.

27. JPL Interoffice Memo from James Burke to All Concerned, subject: "Sterilization," March 8, 1960 (2-994); JPL Interoffice Memo from George L. Hobby to Casper Mohl, subject: "Sterilization Procedure," April 26, 1960 (2-997); JPL Interoffice Memo from George L. Hobby to Manfred Eimer, subject: "Spacecraft Sterilization," April 27, 1960 (2-998).

28. Letter from Clifford Cummings to Robert Seamans, subject: "Procedures for Sterilization of Ranger A3 Spacecraft," May 25, 1961 (2-1119); see also, JPL Interoffice Memo from Rolf Hastrup to Distribution, subject: "Ranger Sterilization Program, " May 24, 1961 (2-11 18).

29. Letter from Robert Seamans to William Pickering, June 26, 1961 (2-1705).

30. "Functional Specification Ranger RA-3, RA-4, and RA-5 Spacecraft Mission Objectives and Design Criteria," in Ranger Spacecraft Design Specification Book, Spec. No. RA 345-2-1 10D (Pasadena, California: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, August 8, 1962), p. 3 (2-1095e).

31. NASA Management Instruction No. 37-1-1, subject: "Establishment and Conduct of Space Sciences Program-Selection of Scientific Instruments, " effective April 15, 1960 (2-447); John Naugle's testimony, "Management of Space Science, "' Program Review: Science and Applications Management (Washington: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, June 22, 1967), pp. 48-50 (2-757); SSSC membership cited in NASA Circular 73, May 27,1960.

32. Interview of Albert Hibbs by Cargill Hall, October 2, 1972, pp. 23-24 (3- 595); see also, James D. Burke, "Engineering Aspects of the Ranger Project, " July 9, 1962, p. 2 (2-1363).

33. V. L. Filch and L. M. Lederman, "Vela Hotel: Comments on Simplified X Ray Detectors for Interim Use, " Institute for Defense Analyses, Jason Division, January 24, 1961 (2-490).

34. James Burke, conference report, "Visit by Los Alamos and Sandia People," April 14, 1960 (2-478).

35. Letter from A. W. Betts to John Clark, April 15, 1960 (2-481a).

36. "A LASL-Sandia Proposed Vela Hotel Experiment for the Ranger A-1 and A-2 Probes," Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, Sandia Corporation, May 3, 1960 (2-479).

37. Letter cited in the letter from Abe Silverstein to William Pickering, subject: "Vela Hotel Experiments for Ranger I and 2 Spacecraft," June 29, 1960 (2-480).

38. JPL Interoffice Memo from James Burke to Distribution, subject: "Vela Hotel Experiment for RA-1 and RA-2," June 7, 1960, pp. 2-3 (2-1038).

39. Letter from Silverstein to Pickering, June 29, 1960 (2-480).

40. See Table II in "The Vega-Ranger: Where Planet and Sky Science Meet," Chapter Three of this volume.

41. Space Programs Summary No. 3 7-3 for the period March 15, 1960, to May 15, 1960 (Pasadena, California: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, June 1, 1960), p. 5.

42. "Mission Objectives and Design Criteria, " in Ranger Spacecraft Design Specification Book, Spec. No. RA12-2-IIOA (Pasadena, California: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, November 1, 1960), p. 4 (2-1094b).

43. The instruments are described in Scientific Experiments for Ranger I and 2 (JPL TR 32-55. Pasadena, California: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, January 3, 1961); see also, Albert R. Hibbs, Manfred Eimer, and Marcia Neugebauer, " Early Ranger Experiments, Astronautics, September 1961, pp. 26-27.

44. JPL Interoffice Memo from James Burke to Brian Sparks, subject: "Visit by Dr. Glennan, " July 22, 1960, p. 1 (2-519).

45 "A LASL-Sandia Proposed Vela Hotel Experiment for RA-3, 4, 5, " Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, Sandia Corporation, August 19,1960.

46. Letter from James Burke to Edgar Cortright, September 9, 1960 (2-1078).

47. Letter from Clifford Cummings to Edgar Cortright, September 16, 1960 (2-1424).

48. Letter from R. F. Taschek to Edgar Cortright, September 14, 1960 (2- 1079). The Vela Hotel Program did continue using other space vehicles, eventually resulting in the very successful system that became operational in the mid-1960s.

49. F. E. Lehner, E. O. Witt, W. F. Miller, and R. D. Gurney, Final Report, A Seismometer for Ranger Lunar Landing (Seismological Laboratory, Pasadena, California: California Institute of Technology, May 15, 1962).

50. Frank Press, Phyllis Buwalda, and Marcia Neugebauer, "A Lunar Seismic Experiment," Journal of Geophysical Research Vol. 6 5, October 1960, pp. 3097f; also R. L. Kovach and Frank Press, Lunar Seismology (JPL TR 32- 328. Pasadena, California: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, August 10, 1962).

51. James R. Arnold, "Gamma Ray Spectroscope of the Moon's Surface, Proceedings of the Lunar and Planetary Exploration Colloquium, Vol. 1, No. 3 1, October 29, 1958.

52. Lunar Impact TV Camera (Ranger 3, 4, 5): Final Engineering Report (AED R-2076. Princeton, New Jersey: RCA Astro-Electronics Division, November 15, 1963).

53. NASA Summary Minutes of the Meeting of the Space Sciences Steering Committee held on October 16, 1961 (2-1215).

54. JPL Interoffice Memo from Walter Brown to Distribution, subject: "Ranger 3, 4, 5 Radar Data, "March 27, 1961, p.1 (2-111 lb).

55. JPL Interoffice Memo from M. R. Mesnard to James Burke, subject: "Method of Commutating Radio Altimeter Reflectivity Data for Telemetry on RA-345, "April 28, 1961 (2-1113).

56. NASA Summary Minutes of the Meeting of the SSSC, October 16, 1961 (2- 1215); see also, H. E. Wagner, Scientific Subsystem Operation: Ranger 3, 4, 5 (JPL TM 33-80. Pasadena, California: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, February 3, 1962); and Scientific Experiments for Ranger 3, 4, 5 (JPL TR 32-199. Pasadena, California: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, December 5, 1961).

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