Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science

[451] The reader has seen that the narrative of this book consists of two interwoven themes: space science itself and the activities of institutions and individuals who created and carried out the space science program. For space science the most important sources are professional papers in scientific journals, published proceedings of technical meetings, and treatises and texts dealing with space science. For the other theme a most important source is the records and files of organizations and individuals working in the program.
I naturally drew heavily on NASA records and publications. In particular I examined in detail 43 boxes of notes, letters, memoranda, reports, and formal papers that formed part of the files I had used in the Office of Space Science and Applications in managing the space science program. These records are now in the National Archives, Federal Record Center, Suitland, Maryland, accession 255-79-0649. Running sequentially through the 43 boxes is a series of numbered folders each devoted to a specific subject or time. The NASA History Office has a catalog showing the organization of these records.
In references for this book I have used notations as in the following example: NF13(193). NF is short for "Newell Files." The 13 is the box number, and the number in parentheses is that of the folder in the designated box.
Secretaries in the Office of Space Science and Applications maintained a rather complete set of files. Thus, in addition to papers originating within the office, there were also copies of key documents the originals of which would naturally be kept in other offices of the agency or in other agencies, such as the National Academy of Sciences, Office of Science and Technology, and U.S. Weather Services. Indeed, one of the great values in this set of records proved to lie in the leads it gave to many different sources of space science material.
At times, of course, papers important to the space science narrative were not to be found in the NF collection. If such a document was both of special interest and likely to be difficult to reacquire, a copy was placed in additional boxes (NF40, NF41, NF42, NF43) of the same accession number.
Several portions of the NF collection were especially pertinent to this book. In box NF28 are stored notebooks I kept during my government service, both with the Naval Research Laboratory and with NASA. Although these are likely to be more useful to me than to someone else, [452] anyone should find them helpful in tracing the course of space science activities-particularly as seen from NASA Headquarters. Many of the notes were records of problems and issues, statements of NASA policy, decisions of NASA's top management, work assignments, and reminders of actions to be taken. As a record of such items the notes are quite comprehensive, but they are incomplete in that the follow-through on the resolution of problems and issues, the completion of work assignments, and the effectuation of requested actions are not recorded. The missing information must come from other documents, particularly the official files of NASA and other agencies.
The chronological files (boxes 11-12, 24-27) of the collection reveal the actions emanating from the office of the associate administrator for space science and applications. These reflect a large number of the difficulties and challenges faced by the science and applications programs, but the reader is cautioned that they rest upon a much greater wealth of detail to be found in the division files of those who managed the programs in lunar and planetary sciences, geophysics, astronomy, the life sciences, etc. The bias of the NF files is, of course, toward the overall office level.
The correspondence between NASA Headquarters and its centers, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, shows the mixture of cooperation and tension internal to the agency that characterized the space science program-indeed the whole space program. The same sort of cooperation and tension is seen in exchanges with other agencies such as the Space Science Board, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Commerce.
Much of my responsibility in NASA concerned external scientific relations of NASA-with the National Academy of Sciences, the international Committee for Space Research, the American Geophysical Union, and the Space Science and Technology Panel of the President's Science Advisory Committee, for example. As a result the NF collection is quite comprehensive with regard to these relations, and my notebooks contain a great deal on them. One exception was the file on the Rocket and Satellite Research Panel, where for some reason much of the record was lost. Because of the central role the panel played in the early history of space science, as described in chapter 4, I borrowed the official files of the panel from the executive secretary, George Megerian, who kindly granted permission to copy them for NASA's files. These copies, with copies of additional papers from the personal files of William Stroud and Nelson Spencer, both members of the panel, provide a comprehensive record of the panel's activities from its founding in 1946 through its last technical session in 1960. NASA's copies of the panel files are stored in boxes NF40 and NF41. Although I drew a moderately detailed overview of the panel's activities from these records, a comprehensive history of the Rocket and Satellite Rearch Panel is still to be written.
[453] Many secondary references are frequently cited in the text. Quite useful for background is the NASA Special Publication (SP) series. Considerable detail on NASA's budget, manpower, organization, and facilities is given in NASA SP-4012, NASA Historical Data Book, 1957-1968 , vol. 1, NASA Resources, by Jane Van Nimmen and Leonard C. Bruno with Robert L. Rosholt (Washington, 1976). Additional details on NASA's first years can be found in Robert L. Rosholt, An Administrative History of NASA, 1958-1963 , NASA SP-4101 (Washington, 1966). Some of NASA's activities as reflected in public announcements, the news media, and other similar sources may be traced with the aid of a series of annual chronologies, Astronautics and Aeronautics , issued by NASA's History Office (SP-4004 through 4008, 4010, 4014-4019) starting in 1963. Similar chronological data for years before 1963 can be found in Eugene M. Emme, Aeronautics and Astronautics. An American Chronology of Science and Technology in the Exploration of Space, 1915-1960 (Washington: NASA, 1961); Aeronautical and Astronautical Events of 1961 , Report of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, 87th Cong., 2d sess., 7 June 1962; and Astronautical and Aeronautical Events of 1962 , Report of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, 88th Cong., 1st sess., 12 June 1963. NASA's "Pocket Statistics," issued monthly by Headquarters, provides a variety of statistical data, including a record of NASA and Soviet launchings, the characteristics of space launch vehicles, and general budgetary information. The International Programs series, published by NASA's Office of International Affairs, gives details of NASA's international program.
An almost overwhelming wealth of detail can be found in the records of NASA's hearings before the agency's authorizing committees in the House and Senate. The hearings cover every aspect of the NASA program, both technical and administrative. Investigative hearings such as those into the Ranger failures and Centaur troubles bring out not only the kinds of difficulties NASA had to overcome in the space science program, but also the searching scrutiny under which the work had to be done.
For the space science theme, as stated, the principal sources are the technical literature. Many of these sources are cited in the chapter references, particularly those for chapters 4, 5, 6, 11, and 20. Because of its great breadth, space science finds its way into a wide variety of publications. Some, however, stand out and should be of special interest to anyone who wishes to delve into the subject. The Annals of the International Geophysical Year, 48 vols. (London: Pergamon Press, 1957-1970) give much of the early space science work. Especially informative is volume 12, which has the papers presented at an international symposium held in Moscow under the auspices of CSAGI, the international Committee for the International Geophysical Year.
[454] Because so much of space science dealt with investigation of the earth, the Journal of Geophysical Research quickly became a favored medium for many space researchers, as did the Journal of Atmospheric and Terrestrial Physics . Many papers appeared in the Physical Review , particularly papers dealing with cosmic rays. The Journal of the Optical Society of America and the Astrophysical Journal were natural outlets for astronomical topics such as solar spectroscopy.
For quick publication of results, Nature was often used. NASA also worked out an arrangement with the editor of Science for publishing preliminary results from especially significant missions rapidly, within a week or so. At particularly productive periods, as during Apollo lunar missions, a significant proportion of Science was devoted to space science topics. One can trace a great deal of the space science program in its pages. Later, when Geophysical Research Letters was begun by the American Geophysical Union, it was also used for brief communications on early results of space science investigations.
Space Science Reviews (Dordrecht-Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Co.) and the references cited therein provide an excellent means of developing a detailed picture of virtually any space science discipline one might want to pursue. Books of the Astrophysics and Space Science Library series, also published by Reidel, give extensive treatments of specific areas of space science, such as the magnetosphere, solar physics, or x-ray astronomy. An enormous amount of information is contained in the published proceedings of the Apollo lunar science conferences sponsored annually by the Johnson Space Center, the first in January 1970. For space life sciences, one can get a good start with Biology and the Exploration of Mars , edited by Colin S. Pittendrigh, Wolf Vishniac, and J. P. T. Pearman, National Academy of Sciences- National Research Council publication 1296 (Washington, 1966); Elie A. Shneour and Eric A. Ottesen, compilers, Extraterrestrial Life: An Anthology and Bibliography , ibid., publication 1296A (1966); and a compendium prepared jointly by Soviet and U.S. scientists: Melvin Calvin and Oleg G. Gazenko, eds., Foundations of Space Biology and Medicine , NASA SP-374, 3 vols. (English version, Washington, 1975).
The specific sources indicated above are but a small sampling of the available literature. One does not want for detail and in-depth treatments of individual areas. But the kind of overview of the whole field of space science that asks the broader questions of how existing paradigms were affected by the research and whether any scientific revolutions were forced, by space science results is another matter. As an aid in preparing chapters 6, 11, and 20, in which I have addressed myself to such questions, I sent out a questionnaire to more than a hundred leading space science investigators. I hoped to learn how the scientists themselves felt their fields of research had been affected by space methods, and whether in their view any scientific revolutions had occurred. More than 60 responded, in varying [455] detail. Their answers provided considerable additional insight into the subject and were helpful in the writing of chapters 6, 11, and 20. But there was more in the responses than could be included in only a few chapters of this book. My treatment must be considered sketchy. The answers to the questionnaires are filed in box NF43 under the following headings: atmospheric research, ionospheric physics, particles and fields, geodesy, lunar science, planetary science, meteors and cosmic rays, solar physics, astronomy, and exobiology.
Finally, the NF collection contains most of my articles and talks from the beginning of the sounding rocket program in 1946 through the 1960s. I did not usually cite these papers, preferring to use other sources. But one can trace in them the growing knowledge produced by the space science program, and also many of the major issues encountered in the space program.