SP-4213 THE HUMAN FACTOR: Biomedicine in the Manned Space Program to 1980

 

11

Toward an integrated life sciences program

 


[
174]

Charles Conrad, Jr., is upside down pedaling the bicycle ergometer with his hands.

Charles Conrad, Jr., is upside down pedaling the bicycle ergometer with his hands.

 

[175] Responding to external criticisms of its biomedical capabilities, to the need for improved coordination among its life sciences components, and to the requirements of the space program of the 1970s, NASA management announced a reorganization of its life sciences programs in December 1970. This included the integration of biomedical (manned flight-oriented) programs within a single office and the centralized coordination of all life sciences programs. It eliminated the long-standing division of space biology, biotechnology-human research, and space medicine into separate directorates, and established a new office, the NASA Division of Life Sciences, to coordinate all life sciences research and development. Located in the Office of Manned Space Flight, this division had direct responsibility for all life sciences activities directly related to manned spaceflight. Its director also had responsibility for coordinating life sciences activities remaining under the jurisdiction of other program offices: exobiology, which was integrated with the planetary programs division of the Office of Space Sciences; aeronautical medicine, under the jurisdiction of the Office of Advanced Research and Technology; and occupational medicine and environmental health, under the Office of Administration at NASA Headquarters.

This reorganization reflected a major change in space program priorities. It recognized the need for fundamental research in biology and medicine in support of extended duration manned flights, the integrity of the biological and medical sciences, and the value of centralized coordination of life sciences programs. However, it continued the practice of giving life sciences directors responsibility without authority. The new office lacked program-office status and did not create a top management position for a life scientist. Although he was responsible for centralized [176] coordination of all life sciences activities, he was subordinate to the administrator for manned spaceflight programs and could not make life sciences program decisions without the concurrence of this administrator At the same time, he was subordinate to the administrators of the program offices having direct responsibility for life sciences activities under their jurisdiction.

Therefore, the effect of the decision to reorganize the life sciences pro grams did not indicate a major change in management's perception of the life sciences or in the role and status of the life sciences within the space program. It simply reflected management's recognition of the need to change the organizational relationships and responsibilities of the life sciences programs and adjust to the priorities and requirements of the space program of the 1970s.

 

THE REORGANIZED LIFE SCIENCES PROGRAM

Throughout the 1960s, NASA's top management did not act as if the agency had a pressing need or a major program requirement in the life sciences. As a result, an integrated life sciences program under the direction of a high-level administrator was not established. Several considerations underlay this attitude. First, NASA was not primarily a science agency. Its program obligations encompassed, in addition to space science, applications, technology development, space hardware design and development, and mission operations, and demanded a form of organization and management that reflected space program objectives and capabilities rather than scientific priorities alone. Management viewed recurrent demands for a centralized life sciences program as misguided efforts to force NASA to function as a scientific research agency similar to the National Institutes of Health.1

Second, life sciences investigations in space could not be conducted without a heavy investment in technology-launch vehicles, satellites, space capsules, biological and medical instrumentation. It would be more cost-effective to link each life sciences activity with related engineering and operational activities within program offices-for example, to place space biology in the same program office with other space sciences, so that biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology, and so on could share the same engineering and operational capabilities.2

In budgetary terms allocations for life sciences research, development, and flight programs were small relative to the overall agency budget. A single life sciences program office could not hope to develop independent engineering and operational capabilities or to provide sufficient research grants and contracts to build an effective program and to attract academic and research-oriented life scientists. Such scientists in manage [177] ment's view, could seek support from agencies like the National Institutes of Health' which had more money to offer and did not require grantees and contractors to grapple with time-constrained programs and the development of complex instrumentation.3

This attitude prevailed in 1968, when the Life Sciences Study Task Group presented its recommendations for an integrated life sciences program, and it underlay Associate Administrator Homer Newell's decision to bypass the group's recommendation. Newell believed that NASA Administrator Thomas Paine and Deputy Administrator George Low would refuse to endorse the recommendations. 4

NASA management was not alone in its opposition to an integrated and centralized life sciences program in 1968. Many life scientists in NASA, particularly those involved with the space biology (biosciences) program, shared this opposition. Orr Reynolds, director of bioscience programs in the Office of Space Science and Applications, doubted that space biology could survive within an integrated life sciences program. He was certain that in an integrated program stressing applied research, bioengineering, and manned operations, basic biological research would lose out in the competition for funds and flight space.5 Reynolds's superior, John Naugle, associate administrator for space science and applications, also believed that space biology had much to lose and little to gain from integration. Moreover, Naugle believed that the Office of Space Science had unique capabilities in unmanned spacecraft development and operations which were particularly important to biological investigations in space. Its space biology program had a viable flight project, Biosatellite, which allowed space biologists to conduct biological investigations without competing for flight space He doubted that the Biosatellite Project would survive within an integrated program.6 The directors of space medicine and biotechnology and human research favored integration, and the reasons for their support justified Reynolds's and Naugle's opposition. Although J. W. Humphreys and Walton Jones saw the value of a space biology program, both believed that closer coordination among basic biology, human research, biotechnology, and space medicine would strengthen the agency's capabilities in the area of biomedical support for manned spacefIight. 7

In the short space of two years these attitudes changed, and both top management and life scientists within NASA supported the establishment of an integrated life sciences program. The major factor in this shift was the change in space program priorities. By December 1970 the major objectives of the Apollo program had been achieved, and the life sciences research and development aspects of the only remaining approved manned program, Apollo Applications-Skylab, were essentially complete. NASA lacked a mandate to proceed with an advanced manned program [178] comparable to Apollo and beyond the approved manned flights of Skylab President Nixon (who wanted a reduced, multiple-objective, science oriented space program for the 1970s) and Congress (which was losing interest in the space program) reduced the financial support for the space program and severely limited NASA's space program options. These constraints forced NASA to reassess its priorities, emphasizing unmanned planetary explorations, limited Earth-orbital manned operations, and research and development in support of unspecified and unapproved advanced manned programs. The change in emphasis shifted attention from manned operations and qualifying man for spaceflight to the design and development of a relatively short-duration, recoverable and reusable Space Transportation System (the Space Shuttle). Plans for manned operations in the 1980s would depend on the success of the Shuttle.8

This shift in priorities generated a subtle shift in NASA's management philosophy. Although manned spaceflight remained the focus of the space program, research and development in support of advanced manned programs would replace manned operations as the primary responsibility of the manned space program. In the absence of approved manned programs beyond Skylab, advanced research and development and manned flight operations had the same objectives, and there was no longer any need to make a distinction between the space-oriented research and technology development activities of the Office of Advanced Research and Technology and the Office of Manned Space Flight. There was also no longer a compelling reason to separate the activities of the human research and biotechnology directorate from those of the directorate of space medicine. An integrated biomedical program was now consistent with the agency's space program requirements.

Reductions in manned spaceflight activity were paralleled by increases in the field of planetary exploration. By December 1970, NASA had the engineering and operational capabilities for unmanned explorations of Mars, Venus, and the outer planets and congressional and executive authority to proceed with such flights. As a result, planetary exploration eclipsed lunar exploration as a major program objective. Since NASA did not have the authority to undertake manned exploration of the planets, unmanned capabilities assumed new importance, and the unmanned, science-oriented program of the Office of Space Science gained in importance relative to that of the Office of Manned Space Flight.

The shift in space program priorities and the emphasis on two objectives-unmanned planetary exploration and research and development in support of long-duration manned spaceflight-changed the agency's requirements in the life sciences. First, as noted before, it was no longer necessary to separate human research and clinical medicine or to give medical operations priority over biomedical research and development.

[179] Second, the shift gave impetus to exobiology and, in so doing, established a distinction between the life sciences that were directly or indirectly supportive of manned spaceflight and those that had strictly scientific value. Finally' the agency no longer had to support an independent program of biological investigations in space. Most of the effort of the biosciences directorate in the 1970s had been directed toward exobiology or the investigation of biological phenomena with a bearing on manned spaceflight. Lacking the funds to support an exclusively biological flight program and program requirements for pure biological research, the agency could dispense with its biosciences program.

Yet, for reasons that are not clear, NASA's management apparently believed that it required an external review to justify changes in the administration of its life sciences programs. Accordingly, Homer Newell asked the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences to form a committee to review the agency's requirements in the life sciences and to make recommendations concerning the organization and management of its life sciences programs. Chaired by H. Bentley Glass, a biologist at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, the committee issued its findings and recommendations in September 1970.

The committee's report, like all previous external reports on NASA's life sciences programs, found the agency deficient in basic science and fundamental biomedical research. It urged NASA to design a life sciences program for the 1970s that would give priority to exobiology; fundamental and clinical research in human biology and space biomedicine" for the purpose of laying the scientific foundation for qualification of man for long-duration spaceflight; and terrestrial applications-transfer of biomedical knowledge and technology derived from the space program to Earth-based medicine.

The Glass committee warned that it is folly to expect any major improvement in the implementation of goals and in the development of the life sciences within NASA" unless the agency accepts the necessity for' a thorough-going reorganization" in the 'administration of its life science programs. It proposed several major organizational changes To draw external life scientists into the program planning process and to prevent life sciences directors from exploiting life sciences advisory groups for biopolitical purposes, NASA should disband the advisory committees that served the three life sciences offices. In their place, the agency should create a permanent life sciences advisory board "at a high administrative level." The board, whose members would be drawn from life scientists who had no ties to NASA, would review programs on a continuing basis" and "recommend policies and priorities."

Second, NASA should create 'a new Office of Space Biology and Medicine" with authority over all life sciences programs. The director of [180] this office should have authority equal to that of the program office administrators, should be either an associate administrator for life sciences or a deputy associate administrator within the office of the NASA associate administrator, and should be empowered to implement a reorganization of life sciences programs along disciplinary lines (space biology, human biology and medicine, exobiology) rather than in accordance with programmatic functions.9

The Glass committee's report basically endorsed the space program objectives announced by President Nixon. In contrast to President Kennedy, Nixon declined to set a major manned goal as the primary focus for the space program Rather, stressing austerity and balance, he called for a space program that would give equal weight to space exploration, space science, and terrestrial applications of space technology.

NASA adopted, in principle, the recommendations of the Glass commit tee. It established a Life Sciences Advisory Committee composed of life scientists who had no ties to NASA and made this committee advisory to the associate administrator It gave recognition, if not organizational legitimacy, to the life sciences disciplinary fields, and it combined all life sciences activities, save exobiology, in a single office Exobiology remained within the Office of Space Sciences because its objectives were more compatible with the planetary science division of that office than with those of the other life sciences. The remaining life sciences fields-space biology, human research, biotechnology and space medicine-were all directly or indirectly supportive of the manned space program.

The most significant exception to the Glass committee's recommendations was the formation of a life sciences office at division rather than program-office level. NASA management chose to make the new integrated life sciences office a component of the Office of Manned Space Flight rather than a separate program office for several reasons First, the new office did not encompass all life sciences. In management's view, exobiology, occupational medicine, and aeronautical medicine had objectives and priorities that were not compatible with those of the other 'life sciences; none of the three had a role to play in support of manned spaceflight, and all played critical roles in their respective program offices. Second, since the major components of the life sciences program would contribute directly or indirectly to the long-range requirements of the manned space program, it made sense to conduct the integrated life sciences program in the context of the overall manned space program. Finally, there was no good reason to create a deputy administrator for the life sciences in the associate administrator's office. This would set a precedent that could lead to other activities and components demanding their own deputy. Moreover, such a position was unnecessary since the Life [181] Sciences Division director was authorized to communicate directly with the associate administrator and since the Life Sciences Advisory Committee was established as an advisory body of the associate administrator's off ice.

It was in this context that Deputy Administrator George Low announced the reorganization of December 1970. The relevant directive established the "NASA Director of Life Sciences'' and granted him "responsibility and authority to oversee the total NASA life sciences program." The director had functions and responsibilities on two separate levels." As head of the Division of Life Sciences in the Office of Manned Space Flight, he was responsible for developing an integrated biomedical program to support the manned spaceflight effort. In this capacity he was expected to "provide biomedical flight operations support" and 'direction of all life sciences research and technology programs" in the areas of "biomedical research, bioscience research, life support and protective systems, man-machine integration, advanced bioinstrumentation, and related flight experiment definition." As life sciences director, he was responsible for developing "an integrated life sciences program and the separate programs in exobiology, aeronautical medicine and occupational medicine environmental health." In this capacity, he was expected to represent all the life sciences to the external scientific community, recommend persons to fill "key life sciences positions," and keep the Administrator apprised of "the conduct of the entire NASA effort" in the life sciences. Most important, he was responsible for preparing and proposing a single integrated program plan and budget for all the life sciences.10

In issuing this directive, Low reflected on the space program priorities described before. The old biosciences program would be eliminated, he said, because "budgetary restraints" and space program priorities necessitated giving "low priority" to life sciences activities that were not "directly related to man" or did not meet the requirements of the planetary program. Rather, the requirements of the manned program necessitated integration of man-oriented biological and medical activities within the Office of Manned Space Flight and allocation of exobiology and planetary quarantine efforts to the planetary program of the Office of Space Science and Applications.11

By December 1970 the earlier opposition of certain life scientists to the organizational alignments and responsibilities within NASA was no longer evident The reorganization proposed by Low was consistent with the views of space medicine director Humphreys and biotechnology and human research director Jones as it would tie together biological investigations, human research, and clinical medicine and link them directly to the manned spaceflight program. The reorganization also was now acceptable to most space biologists. The separation of exobiology from the [182] manned spaceflight life sciences assured them that they would have a field of purely scientific research and would not experience organizational dislocation.12 Further, with the abandonment of the Biosatellite Project, the biosciences no longer had a flight project to support their research interests. Indeed, the quality of bioscience investigations had come under fire from the NASA Administrator and the associate administrator for space sciences, who felt that the bioscience experiments flown on Biosatellite were exploratory rather than scientific in nature and did not justify the expenditures involved, and believed that the biosciences program would benefit from integration into the biomedical program of the manned spaceflight office.13 Finally, shortly before the announcement of the reorganization, the chief life sciences opponent of an integrated life sciences program, Orr Reynolds, announced his resignation In his own view, this removed the main impediment to life sciences program integration.14

Although the announced reorganization did not implement the Glass committee's recommendations for independent program status for the life sciences' appointment of a life scientist to a top management position, and retention of the inflight biological experiments program, it met the spirit of the committee's recommendations and there were no further criticisms from the scientific community at that time. The reorganization acknowledged the integrity of the life sciences as they are related to man and affirmed the traditional view among biomedical scientists that basic research in biology and medicine should not be divorced from clinical medicine. And as a corollary, the reorganization implied acceptance by NASA management of the traditional approach to biomedical research, namely that fundamental research in biology and medicine should precede, or be closely coordinated with, research on man. Finally, the reorganization enhanced the role of academic life sciences in the space program and provided for increased input from, and more efficient utilization of the advisory capabilities of, academic life scientists. The several uncoordinated committees that had been advisory bodies to the old life sciences directorates were eliminated and replaced by a single life sciences advisory committee. Authorized to advise the NASA associate administrator, this committee provided some semblance of high-level life sciences input and coordination.

 

THE INTEGRATED NASA LIFE SCIENCES PROGRAM, 1971-1975

The reorganization of 1970, though it did impose coordination of the biomedical programs and eliminate much of the internal factionalism that had existed, did not lead to a truly integrated life sciences program. The [183] so-called integrated life sciences program was in truth a fractionated program with its major elements, biomedicine and exobiology, assigned to separate program offices. Moreover, it had the same administrative defect that had hindered the life sciences program since its inception in 1960-responsibility without commensurate authority.

The director of life sciences faced the same practical administrative problems that had confounded and frustrated the Life Sciences Directors Group and the director of the Office of Life Science Programs. The management instruction that authorized and defined his position made him responsible for overseeing all aspects of the life sciences program. Through guidance, review, and recommendations" he was to coordinate and integrate the research and development budgets and program plans of the several components and effectuate an integrated overall program.15 However, he lacked the authority to fulfill these responsibilities. As a line officer in the Office of Manned Space Flight, he was directly subordinate to the administrator of that office and on a level of authority below that of the program office administrators who had jurisdiction over the other life sciences elements. Like the chairman of the Life Sciences Directors Group, he could create an integrated life sciences program only if he had the support and approval of four separate program office administrators. Although the directive that authorized and defined his position authorized him to make recommendations directly to the associate administrator, he could not disregard the desires and interests of the manned spaceflight administrator or tread on the authority of the other program office administrators. Indeed, the relevant management instruction stated clearly that in carrying out his responsibilities he should be ever mindful of the line responsibilities" of the program office administrators "over the people working in life sciences" under their jurisdictions.16

Because of this administrative arrangement, the life sciences director encountered frequent difficulties as he sought to carry out his responsibilities. Forming an integrated life sciences research and development program posed a major problem since he had direct authority over a relatively small part of the total budget. Within the Office of Manned Spaceflight, he had authority to formulate the biomedical research and development budget. As far as the remainder of the life sciences budget was concerned, his authority was limited to coordinating, reviewing, and making recommendations. If disagreements arose in the course of budget preparations, he had no authority to resolve them. Resolution of such disagreements rested with the program office administrators and top management.17

This weakness in the director's authority was aggravated by the reality that in the early 1970s the biomedical programs were no longer receiving [184] the major share of life sciences research and development allocations Exobiology, which had been poorly funded in the 1960s, grossed the lion s share of life sciences allocations in the 1970s. In FY 1973, for example about 80 percent of the total life sciences budget lay outside the director s immediate jurisdiction. (Table 3 shows the FY 1973 budget in terms of activity and responsible office.)18

The range of offices involved in formulating the various parts of the total life sciences budget suggests the magnitude of the problem the director faced as he sought to formulate an integrated budget. This situation led one observer to conclude that the life sciences program, rather than being integrated, was' hampered by fragmentation of elements," and that the Director of Life Sciences lacked the degree of authority required to carry out this responsibility.19

Limitations on the director's authority were also evident in program planning. The director had responsibility for effecting an integrated life sciences research program, that is, one in which the research projects supported by the several life sciences components were devoid of duplication and overlap, complementary where necessary, and actually addressed to the agency's requirements Toward this end, he was authorized to review research plans and projects proposed by the several offices and to make recommendations related to these proposals to the associate administrator. However, because he had less authority than the program office administrators and was directly subordinate to the manned spaceflight administrator, he was constrained in the exercise of this authority.

Complicating this problem, program administrators and life sciences administrators outside the Office of Manned Space Flight were concerned about the life sciences director's objectivity. They viewed him more as a line officer in that office than as the agency's chief administrator for life......

 

Table 3. Integrated NASA Life Sciences Program Budget, FY 1973

Activity

Office

Allocation

Percentage of Total

.

Life support and protective equipment

MSC DLS a

$10.2 M

14.0

Skylab

MSC DLS

8.0 M

11.1

Medical and biological research

OMSF DLS

10.7 M

14.9

Human factors and bioinstrumentation

OMSF DLS

4.6 M

6.4

Aeronautical life sciences

OART

3.0 M

4.2

Medical applications and technology utilization

OART

2.2 M

3.1

Occupational medicine and environmental health

HQ administration

4.6 M

6.4

Planetary biology

OSSA

3.9 M

5.4

Planetary quarantine

OSSA

2.2 M

3.1

Viking b

OSSA

(22.6 M)

(31.4)

a MSC DLS = Manned Spacecraft Center Directorate of Life Sciences.
b A small part of this planetary program was associated with life sciences.

 

 

[185]..... sciences. These administrators-and probably the manned spaceflight administrator as well-assumed that the director would give priority to manned spaceflight plans and projects when making recommendations concerning the integrated life sciences program. This assumption was based in part on the fact that the first life sciences director planned to use Office of Manned Space Flight standards and procedures for reviewing all life sciences research proposals and urged the other program officers to use that office's project review procedures in preparing their research program plans. Naturally, the administrators of the Office of Space Science and Applications and the Office of Advanced Research and Technology were reluctant to abandon their own procedures, which they had used before 1970, and they suspected that the application of manned spaceflight standards and procedures to the review of all research proposals in the life sciences would convey an advantage to the Office of Manned Space Flight's own sciences division.20

Whether this assumption was justified is difficult to determine. It is certain, however, that the nature of the administrative arrangements for integrating the life sciences may well have disposed the life sciences director to favor the life sciences component of the Office of Manned Space Flight. The research program of that office's life sciences division was his own program and the one for which he was directly accountable. Moreover, he was in a relatively weak position to make recommendations on the total life sciences program that were not acceptable to his boss, the manned spaceflight administrator. Finally, the background, experience, and allegiance of those who were appointed to the life sciences directorate undoubtedly biased them in favor of the Office of Manned Space FIight.

Both of NASA's life sciences directors between 1971 and 1975, J. W. Humphreys (1970-1972) and Charles A. Berry (1972-1974), were flight-oriented clinicians who held key positions in the manned spaceflight office before their appointment. While both recognized the importance of basic research in biology and medicine and supported the goals of the other life sciences, neither had significant experience or interest in fundamental research. Humphreys, whose career had been primarily devoted to the practice and teaching of surgery, was the Office of Manned Space Flight director of space medicine from 1967 to 1970. He had been an Air Force flight surgeon before joining NASA. Berry had served as head of medical operations at the Manned Spacecraft Center from 1962 to 1972, as a member of the Mercury aeromedical team from 1959 to 1962, and as an Air Force flight surgeon before joining the space program. In short, the reorganization of life sciences programs placed responsibility for integrating all the life sciences components in the hands of men who were by experience disposed to favor the objectives, priorities, and standards of [186] the Office of Manned Space Flight, which had authority over only one of the life sciences components.21

Whether justified or not, the administrators of the other offices-Space Science and Applications and Advanced Research and Technology-were unwilling to place their trust in the objectivity of the life sciences director Shortly after the reorganization of 1970, they decided, without consulting the director, to adopt new standards and procedures for reviewing project proposals, which they employed rather than those recommended by the director. In spite of the director's objections, they used their own procedures for the FY 1972 budget Subsequently, they agreed to some modifications, but only after negotiation among the program office administrators. The life sciences director was impotent to resolve this problem, even though resolution was essential to the fulfillment of his responsibilities. This, and other comparable situations, led the chairman of the Life Sciences Advisory Committee to complain to NASA Associate Administrator Homer Newell that the director of life sciences could not be expected "to discharge his functions in a fully effective fashion" so long as "decisions are being made and programmatic actions are being taken without [his] knowledge and concurrence." The only solution to this problem, in his view, would be "further consolidation" of the life sciences program. 22

The life sciences director also was hampered by bureaucratic inertia. In order to gain internal support for the reorganization of 1970, NASA's top management had had to provide assurances to the affected life sciences administrators and staffs that the reorganization would not cause serious disruptions of existing organizations, loss of authority for key personnel, or disruption of personal and organizational relationships. Every effort would be made to ensure that 'established relationships" were maintained.23 At the same time, Civil Service regulations prohibited significant changes in the responsibilities and authority of individual employees without congressional approval or strong justification. Consequently, the reorganization proceeded with the misunderstanding that, insofar as possible, organizational arrangements would remain intact when transferred and no key administrators would suffer loss of authority.

In practical terms, this meant that the life sciences administrator had to create an integrated life sciences program responsive to the agency's requirements and priorities in the 1970s, while using key administrators and staff personnel whose philosophies and perceptions were formed during the quite different space program of the 1960s. Although the primary requirement of the manned space program of the 1970s would be fundamental biomedical research in support of advanced manned flights, the life sciences director was forced to rely on administrators and staff who had not worked in terms of an integrated life sciences program. For example [187], the new program depended on a reorientation of the life sciences program at the Manned Spacecraft Center toward basic biological and medical research and away from applied research, biotechnology, and mission operations However, the life sciences director at NASA Headquarters had to work with an individual appointed to the Manned Spacecraft Center life sciences directorship who had a degree in the physical sciences, no training or research experience in the life sciences, and a career that had been devoted entirely to development and evaluation of life support systems. While this individual had performed exceptionally in his various capacities and was a highly respected administrator, he was not qualified through experience to direct an organization expected to focus on biological and medical research.24 This made it very difficult for Humphreys and Berry to establish the type of research-oriented program recommended by the Glass committee and envisioned at the time of reorganization.

By late 1972 NASA Administrator James Fletcher and Deputy Administrator George Low were dissatisfied with progress in the development of the Life Sciences Program. Disturbed by negative comments from the Life Sciences Advisory Committee and their own convictions that life sciences director Charles Berry had not developed a headquarters life sciences research component and had not kept top management apprised of developments within the life sciences program, they began to question whether these problems stemmed from the nature of the organization or from the individuals involved. While both agreed that"the person in the job is more important than where he is organizationally situated," there seemed to have been a lack of awareness of the administrative constraints that made it virtually impossible for the life sciences director to do his job.25 Both Humphreys and Berry were forceful and assertive individuals, capable and experienced administrators, and respected members of the NASA community, yet neither succeeded in forming an effective and viable life sciences program.

 

TOWARD COMPLETE INTEGRATION

In early 1973 Fletcher appointed Dr. William Barry as a special assistant to conduct a review of the agency's life sciences programs. The ostensible purpose of this review was to determine their adequacy for the Space Shuttle program, but the fundamental reason was his desire to know whether problems in the management of the agency's life sciences program derived from administrative arrangements or from the capabilities of the individuals involved. In effect, both purposes were complementary and related to the same question: What arrangements are most consisten [188] with the fulfillment of the agency's requirements in the post Skylab space program?26

Barry presented his findings to Fletcher in February 1974. The primary weaknesses in the program, according to Barry, were those that have already been discussed-and had persisted from the start-fragmentation of programs, responsibility without commensurate authority, bureaucratic inertia. In regard to the last of these, he concluded that the age and longevity in office of key administrators engendered conservatism in the management of the program and precluded innovative and imaginative approaches to solving the problems peculiar to the space program of the 1970s.27 Although the old biosciences, human research-biotechnology and space medicine directorates were supposedly integrated into the Office of Manned Space Flight division of life sciences, in practice integration was never effected. Within the division of life sciences, biology and medicine were in separate branches, each staffed by carryovers from the old programs; consequently, the biology and medicine programs, though in the same office, were not truly integrated. Those responsible for managing the bioresearch division (biological sciences), he believed, maintained the old bioscience orientation in which biological research was conducted for purely scientific reasons and without regard for the requirements of the manned spaceflight program. Likewise, the bioengineering and medical research branches continued to function as if they were the old biotechnology-human research and space medicine directorates, rather than as integrated units. This, he believed, was due to the fact that key administrative and staff positions in the new organization were largely filled with persons who had been with the agency since the beginning of the space program.28

Moreover, although space medicine was essentially a specialized branch of environmental medicine and the space medicine and occupational medicine-environmental health branches had many common concerns, the reorganization made no provision for integrating the latter into the life sciences division This resulted from the conservatism of the life sciences administrators, who had grown within a program in which space medicine and occupational medicine were totally segregated. Barry contended that in the Shuttle era, with its emphasis on space transportation and on utilization of space passengers who were not drawn from test pilots, occupational medicine and environmental health would assume increasing importance.29

These observations led Barry to conclude that NASA was in need of a life sciences organization in which the director had substantial authority and "a youthful, middle-management point of view."30 However, the problems, he said, were not limited to headquarters, but extended to the centers as well. Reiterating the findings of the Life Sciences Study Task [189] Group in 1968, the Maggin-Bell Study of 1967, and the Bollerud report of 1966 he found that communications between the life sciences offices at Johnson Space Center and Ames Research Center were minimal and that duplication of efforts remained a serious problem. 31 He also noted a marked contrast between the capabilities of the two centers. Ames, in his view, was under the direction of a highly qualified scientist, Hans Mark, who was also an excellent administrator and who had built on Ames's already excellent ties" with local universities. By contrast, Johnson had "an obvious lack of scientific leadership," and virtually no ties with major universities Among the deficiencies that he observed at Johnson Space Center were key life sciences administrators who had no professional credentials in the life sciences, severe 'fragmentation' of the life sciences (12 separate branches), an overabundance of veterinarians, and a tendency to depend on life sciences support from personnel drawn from life sciences agencies outside NASA.32 The irony in this, according to Barry, was that the center least qualified to support biomedical research in support of manned spaceflight, Johnson Space Center, was the agency that NASA Headquarters looked to for primary biomedical support for advanced manned programs, while the center best qualified to provide this support, Ames, was generally overlooked by headquarters insofar as biomedical research was concerned.33

Barry concluded that these arrangements were totally inadequate for the Shuttle-or any other-era, when the major issues of important future significance" would be (1) technology development to support the search for and identification of extraterrestrial life," (2) 'defining the physiological parameters for space shuttle scientist-passengers, and developing appropriate selection techniques," and (3) definition, preparation, and coordination of payloads for the Space Shuttle."34

These considerations, Barry contended, justified reorganizing the NASA Life Sciences Program. First, he recommended that occupational medicine-environmental health be integrated into the life sciences program and that the life sciences office divide its activities along the following lines: aerospace medicine and biology, bioenvironmental engineering, and occupational medicine-environmental health. Second, he urged that NASA establish the directorship of life sciences as an independent office, separate from the Office of Manned Space Flight and "reporting directly to top management" This directorship should have "independent budgetary authority" and independence of the program office associate administrators.35 Third, he recommended that all the headquarters life sciences components be consolidated within a single office and placed under the jurisdiction of the life sciences director. Finally, he urged that NASA reorganize the life sciences activities at the centers. The life sciences elements at Johnson Space Center, he said, should be fully in [190] tegrated into a single office and placed under the direction of a research oriented scientist. The life sciences director at Johnson should have responsibility and authority for developing the fundamental biomedical research capability required for the Shuttle era. Ames life scientists engaged in basic biological and medical research and research in bioengineering should be transferred to Johnson, while Ames should remain the center for exobiology and aeronautical life sciences research. 36

Barry's report reiterated findings and recommendations that Fletcher had received from the NASA Life Sciences Advisory Committee over the preceding two years.37 However, these recommendations were never fully implemented, for their complete implementation was not considered practical. Any effort to make a major shift of personnel and facilities from one center to another would have been thwarted by internal and external opposition. Moreover, even if there were solid evidence that old-line life sciences administrators were retarding the growth of a truly integrated life sciences program, those administrators could not have been easily removed from their positions.

Nonetheless, Fletcher recognized the need for some improvements. He and his deputy, George Low, had been dissatisfied with the pace of the life sciences program under the direction of Charles Berry. Although they did not question Berry's capabilities, they doubted his commitment to the creation of an expanded and diversified life sciences research program.38 Berry's background in mission-oriented medicine and lengthy experience with space medical operations may have made it difficult for him to appreciate the value of fundamental research in biology and of basic medical research that was not mission oriented.39 Moreover, with Berry as NASA Headquarters life sciences director and Richard S. Johnston as director of life sciences at Johnson Space Center, the two most important (traditionally, at least) life sciences administrative positions were held by persons wedded to the Manned Spacecraft Center-Johnson Space Center mode of mission-oriented biomedicine.

In an effort to inject new life into the headquarters life sciences office, Fletcher acted on one of William Barry's recommendations. Barry had suggested that Johnston be replaced by David Winter, or that Winter be appointed headquarters life sciences director. Winter, a medical scientist and clinician and specialist in neurophysiology, was at the time deputy director of life sciences at Ames and had no background in manned spaceflight operations. Fletcher accepted Barry's alternative recommendation and appointed Winter director of life sciences at headquarters in September 1974.

Fletcher made no further changes in life sciences organization until September 1975, by which time he had determined that a major reorganization of all headquarters programs was in order. He believed [191] that a reorganization would effect 'a more logical realignment of responsibilities as we move into the Space Shuttle operations." He identified these responsibilities as launching space vehicles and conducting shuttle operations and planning for 'the science to be performed on these flights." This necessitated closer coordination among the research, development, and operations off ices at both headquarters and the centers To achieve this coordination, he abolished the old program offices and created two associate administratorships, one for headquarters administration and one for centers administration Within the jurisdiction of the former, he placed three program offices-one for aeronautics, one for space transportation systems and operations, and one for space sciences The space transportation systems office assumed most of the responsibilities of the old Office of Manned Space Flight and had primary responsibility for development of Shuttle systems and conduct of Shuttle operations The Office of Space Science received responsibility for planning the scientific activities of Shuttle operations.40

This broad reorganization led to a change in the organization of the life sciences and one that met the spirit, if not the form, of the organization recommended by Barry and others. By creating the position of associate administrator to coordinate the activities of the centers and by removing the centers from the jurisdiction of individual program offices, Fletcher essentially met the spirit of Barry's recommendation. In theory at least, the basic research conducted by Ames life scientists would be closely coordinated with the efforts of the Johnson life scientists-and without any major relocation of personnel, facilities, and programs. At the same time, the existence of an associate administrator responsible for program office coordination should ensure effective coordination among life sciences research, development, and operations at headquarters without the need for a high-level life sciences administrator. Finally, by making a distinction between spaceflight development and operations and space science, Fletcher created a framework for integrating all the life sciences within a single office. Fundamental research in biology and medicine and definition of life sciences payloads for Shuttle flights now clearly fell within the purview of space science, and the life sciences office was placed under the jurisdiction of the Office of Space Science. In addition, because the Shuttle flights were expected to carry passengers in addition to the flight crews, occupational medicine and aeronautical medicine were added to the life sciences office.41

This reorganization was authorized 18 months after the termination of the Skylab program and 3 months after the Apollo-Soyuz flight, which was in effect the last American manned flight in the mode that had begun with the first Mercury flight and that had reached its apogee with the first manned lunar landing. The reorganization, in terms of both overall and [192] life sciences administration, symbolized a major shift in the space program orientation and management approach. The old mode of spaceflight in which missions were conceived in the same terms as the testing of experimental aircraft was over and a new mode was emerging. Spaceflight as a mode of transportation and a medium for commerce would replace spaceflight as a means of testing the envelope", expendable space systems would be replaced by reusable ones; and the experience of spaceflight would no longer be limited to a few uniquely qualified, highly selected individuals. This shift in orientation had significant implications for NASA's life sciences

 


The Skylab vestibular function experiment tests the crew's susceptibility to motion sickness in the Skylab environment.

The Skylab vestibular function experiment tests the crew's susceptibility to motion sickness in the Skylab environment.



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