Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science

[250] The Goddard Space Flight Center and NASA Headquarters, only half an hour's drive apart, were connected by close ties. Between the two staffs, many personal associations dated from the days of the Rocket and Satellite Research Panel and the sounding rocket and satellite programs of the International Geophysical Year. An easy relationship existed from the very start of the center. John Townsend-who served as acting director of the center until the permanent director, Harry Goett, formerly of NACA's Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, took over-had been associated with John Clark and the author at the Naval Research Laboratory. For many years Townsend had been the author's deputy in the NRL's Rocket Sonde [251] Research Branch. Harry Goett and Eugene Wasielewski, whom Goett brought into Goddard as associate director, had long been acquainted with Abe Silverstein from the days of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. These friendships served to mitigate the divisive forces between head, quarters and field, but were not enough to avert an ultimate break.
Harry Goett assumed the directorship of Goddard in September 1959. As was his nature he quickly entered personally into every aspect of the center's work. From his first day until he left, he kept in close touch with every project. As an untiring battler for the center and his people, Goett endeared himself to his coworkers. He was a warm, emotional person who showed a deep interest in the men and women working for him, and on both sides a deep affection developed.
In the first weeks and months of NASA's planning for its program, many center people had been drawn into headquarters working groups to help get things under way. But as center project work grew, these assignments, which tended to persist, began to interfere with center duties. Finding Goddard people still working on headquarters tasks a year after NASA's start, Harry Goett began to protest that his personnel should be relieved as fast as possible of these additional duties. On the other hand, center people's taking part in headquarters planning was advantageous to the center. Both organizations tried to keep center participation within reasonable bounds.
As Goett, Townsend, and their people built up Goddard and launched their initial projects, program managers were developing their own methods of keeping themselves and their superiors informed. Simultaneously the Congress was increasing its demand for detailed information, which it was incumbent on headquarters to supply. As the requirements for reporting increased, project managers complained that they were spending too much time with program managers and in preparing reports, time that would be better spent in getting on with the projects. In mounting crescendo Goett complained to the author and his deputy in the headquarters space science office, Edgar M. Cortright, that headquarters managers were getting in the way of center management. Goett urged that headquarters people keep their hands off project management.
While agreeing in principle with the Goddard director, Cortright and the author strove to get him to see that in the existing climate of continuing congressional scrutiny, keeping informed was an important part of headquarters work. That, space science management insisted, was an absolutely essential part of the program manager's job, but not to usurp the project manager's duties or to interfere with his work. Cortright and the author urged upon their people great care in working with the project managers to avoid any kinds of action that would undercut, or appear to undercut, the project manager's responsibilities and authority. It was no [252] advantage to the program for any project manager to feel that his responsibilities had been in any way lifted from his shoulders.
Headquarters was far from Simon pure in these matters, unfortunately, and there was considerable justice in Goett's complaints. The natural urge to meddle plus the incessant pressure to keep informed led many program managers to get into the project business. Sometimes this led to strong adversary relations between program and project managers; at other times to close "buddy-buddy" relations. Both situations caused problems for center management and called for continuing attention.
By the fall of 1962, Goett found the situation so disturbing that he felt impelled to complain openly at a NASA management meeting held at the Langley Research Center that headquarters got too much into projects and should stick to program management. His barbs were aimed not only at space science managers, but also at those responsible for applications programs and for tracking and data acquisition. He felt that there was not enough contact between the center director and the associate administrator.13 Goett also felt he did not have enough contact with the author. The last complaint stemmed from the mode of management the author had adopted, about which a few words are in order.
Being a scientist, the author felt it wise to name as deputy an engineer whose training and experience would complement his own. Edgar M. Cortright, an aeronautical engineer with considerable research experience in the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, filled the bill very nicely. An implication of this philosophy of organization was that he deputy should be more than an understudy, more than just someone to it in when the principal was away. Rather, the deputy should take responsibility for important aspects of the top management job that came within his sphere of expertise. This was the arrangement agreed on between Cortright and the author. Cortright would handle engineering matters, which meant oversight of much of the project work, dealing with contractors, and a great deal of the relations with the space science centers. The author would work on program planning, advisory committees, and most of the space science program's external relations including those with the Academy of Sciences, the scientific community, and the universities. Such an arrangement had worked well at the Naval Research Laboratory, where John Townsend's engineering and experimental bent had complemented the author's theoretical background. Moreover, in addition to providing the top level of management in the office with talents and experience complementing those of the director, it was an effective way of providing a deputy with substantive work and to continue his professional growth. A deputy with nothing more to do than to wait around for the principal to be away must find life deadly dull, unrewarding, and stultifying.
[253] Under this arrangement, problems of the kind Goett was wrestling with would normally have been taken up by Cortright. But Goett was not willing to deal with a deputy. As director of the Goddard Center-even though the author was meticulously careful to support agreements Cortright worked out-Goett felt that he should deal directly with the principal in the office for which the center was working. Under the circumstances the author took special pains to make it clear that he was available to Goett at any time, yet expressed the hope that Goett would work with Cortright in the normal course of day-to-day matters.
The strain caused by the project-management versus program-management conflict took increasing amounts of time and attention. A great deal of the time spent with Goett was devoted to this problem. John Townsend, Goett's man for space science matters, pointed out that if a program manager had only one project under way in his program, then it became very difficult to draw a line between program and project, and the pressure on the program manager to get into project management was overwhelming. Townsend recommended that programs be put together in such a way that a program manager would have several projects to deal with. Under such an arrangement a program manager could no longer give the single-minded attention required by a project, and should find it much easier to confine himself to program matters. Cortright and the author agreed and tried to avoid single-project programs.
Goett pointed out that it was not just the cases in which program and project managers were at odds that gave trouble. When the two got along well together, often they would team up to promote their project over other projects which the center management-taking into account existing constraints on dollars, manpower, and facilities-might judge to be more appropriate. Thus, program and project managers working hand in glove for their own projects-perhaps to enlarge them or to extend them beyond existing commitments-were not always working for the best interests of the center.
Goett was most disturbed to have program managers, in the name of keeping in touch, attend meetings with outside contractors. Even if the headquarters people came with the determination to keep their mouths shut, contractors' representatives had a penchant for tossing questions to the headquarters representatives, with the implication that that was where the final word would lie. And when headquarters people did volunteer comments, their comments tended to take on more weight than the word of the project manager. These difficulties became even worse when the headquarters man was technically more competent than the project manager-which Goett didn't feel could happen very often. In that case the project manager tended to defer to the headquarters person for decisions [254] and recommendations that the project manager should make himself, an the contractors were easily confused as to who was calling the shots.
Goett's solution to these problems would have been to keep program managers away from project management meetings, and especially away from meeting with contractors. Considering the program manager's basic responsibility to see to the health of his program and the corresponding need to keep informed-a need that was enhanced by the growing amount of attention given by congressional committees to NASA's programs and projects-Goett's solution was not acceptable. Cortright and the author spent a great deal of time trying to get Goett to appreciate headquarters' needs and to agree to some middle-of-the-road way out of the dilemma. A written description was prepared of the distinction between program management and project management, and the author committed himself to ensuring that his program people understood the bounds of their authorities and responsibilities. But the author also insisted that the way be kept open for headquarters people to keep adequately informed. Goett was not satisfied. In a letter to Associate Administrator Robert C. Seamans 5 July 1963, he outlined some of the problems as he saw them.14 Shortly thereafter, on 26 July 1963, the Office of Space Science and Applications proposed a revision of NASA Management Instruction 37-1-1.15 In Appendix A were specific definitions of program and project. The instruction made the point that the headquarters job concerned itself with program matters primarily, while project managers normally were at field centers. On 5 November 1963 the author wrote Harry Goett on the subject of headquarters-center relations.16 The letter outlined agreements that it was hoped had been reached to keep headquarters people properly informed, without undercutting the center's position with contractors. But matters continued to deteriorate.
Complaints were not confined to the center side. In a talk given to a number of managers of space science and applications projects, at Airlie House near Warrenton, Virginia, the author spoke on relations between program managers in headquarters and project managers in the centers.17 By giving what was viewed by headquarters people as too much emphasis to the rights and prerogatives of project managers, the author drew forth some howls from the former. On 30 December 1963 the staff of the Office of Space Science and Applications met to discuss relations with the Goddard Space Flight Center's.18 Program people complained that Goddard seemed to be waging a war to keep headquarters at arm's length. It was difficult to find out about contractor meetings in time to attend. Although Goett had stated that headquarters should keep itself informed by means of the reports it received, still Goddard habitually did not turn in reports on time. The center was being too independent in formulating its plans for supporting [255] research-i.e., the general background research of the kind all centers undertook in support of their project work. Program chiefs felt a need to specify reporting requirements for this supporting research, since most of the money for such research came from portions of the budget for which the program chiefs had responsibility. Another complaint concerned Requests for Proposals, documents which centers sent to potential contractors asking for bids on work that the center wanted done. Program people were required to follow the progress of such RFPs through the headquarters paper mill and to assist in expediting their progress. It was important, therefore, for them to keep in close touch with the formulation of the work statements that would go into the Requests for Proposals. Yet the center appeared to be making it difficult for the program managers to keep in touch. The Interplanetary Monitoring Platform project was considered an illustration of the center's intentions in this regard. Since a decision that program people would attend "working group" meetings of projects, Paul Butler, manager of the IMP project, had ceased to hold working group meetings. Instead he held what he called "coordination meetings" with his staff, which headquarters people were explicitly told they were expected not to attend.
While the managers in the Office of Space Science and Applications were most intimately involved in the day-to-day relations with the center, the problems also had the continuing attention of Webb, Dryden, and Seamans. Concerned about overruns and schedule slips in NASA projects, the Administrator's Office noted that many of the bad examples were Goddard's.19 As general manager of the agency, Associate Administrator Seamans maintained pressure on the Office of Space Science and Applications to correct the deficiencies. Although Seamans had known and worked with Harry Goett since 1948 and admired him very much, Seamans could not accept Goett's insistence that headquarters leave Goddard to its own devices. As Seamans wrote years later:
... it was essential if NASA was to continue to receive Congressional support, that we tighten the management of our projects in order to keep costs and schedules closer to plan. We could not, in the public interest, take it on faith that Harry Goett was doing all that could be done to manage these projects properly. It was necessary for NASA Headquarters to have direct access to a variety of management data as was the case with other NASA centers. I kept Dr. Dryden and Mr. Webb fully informed of the Headquarters/Goddard relationships and of important issues.20
But the problems did not end. Discussions with Goddard management seemed to elicit too much explanation of why it was in the nature of things for schedules to slip and not enough desire to change matters. The Goddard [256] scientists especially could not see why there should be any urgency about adhering to a schedule if additional work would produce a better experiment. As for the experiments, usually there was no reason why they should be done now rather than later, unless, of course, they had to be timed to coincide with some natural event. But NASA's record of doing what it said it would do on time and within cost was important to those who had to fight for the agency's appropriations. Schedules and costs were most visible to a carefully watchful Congress, and for years NASA continued to feel that it had to sell itself. Besides, it was just plain good management to estimate costs and schedules correctly and then keep to those estimates.
Whatever opinion the Administrator's Office might have had as to who was the more to blame for the strains caused by projects versus programs, the apparent unresponsiveness of the center on tightening up project management overshadowed the other concerns. Both Associate Administrator Robert Seamans and his deputy, Earl Hilburn, pressed continually for better performance. But when, in a stressful meeting with Seamans, Goett took such a rigid position that he left no maneuvering room for headquarters, the associate administrator decided that Goett had to go. With the concurrence of both Webb and Dryden, on 22 July 1965 Seamans removed Goett from the directorship and replaced him with Dr. John F. Clark, who had been chief scientist in the Office of Space Science and Applications.21
It was a traumatic experience for Harry Goett and for others. The author found it a most unpleasant duty to go out to the Goddard Space Flight Center to meet with key managers and inform them that their director was being replaced. Goett was beloved of his people; he had been a conscientious, hard-working, imaginative director, under whose regime the center had achieved most of the space accomplishments of NASA's first few years. Goett himself had played a key role in establishing a productive relationship with the academic community. Those accomplishments were, of course, the real story of the Goddard Space Flight Center, not the struggles over how to manage. It was tragic that Goett's obsession over one concept of headquarters-field relationships-born perhaps of his past experience in the NACA-made him unable to appreciate the new climate in which NASA had to operate. It was unfortunate that the author was unable to work out some accommodation that would have kept Goett at the Goddard helm. Harry Goett s departure was a distinct loss to NASA.
Not having Goett's flair for the controversial, John Clark projected a more pedestrian image for the center. Yet under his administration, Goddard continued its record of successful space science and applications flights. The problems remained, and both center and headquarters had to work continuously to keep them under control. But both sides approached the problems with a better understanding of each other's needs. In short order Clark was telling headquarters where to head in, and headquarters [257] was pressing him to get on with the job of better resource and schedule management.
The difficulties experienced by the Office of Space Science and Applications with the Goddard Space Flight Center occurred in various forms and varying degrees with all the other centers. The task of finding ways for headquarters and field to work together harmoniously and effectively is never ending. Nor is it to be expected that tension between headquarters and field will ever disappear. Should this happen, one or the other will probably not be doing its best job.