by Pamela E. Mack
For many scientists and science and technology policy analysts, the cancellation of the Superconducting Supercollider project in 1994 served as a symbol of a fundamental change in public and congressional attitudes towards Federal funding for large science and technology projects. At minimum, government funded big science and big technology were not likely to continue to grow at the pace that characterized the Cold War era. Politicians in the United States seemed to have turned against funding very expensive research and development projects without clear, practical goals, probably because they believed such projects tended to take on a life of their own and require more and more funding. In the eyes of most policymakers, funding for innovation in science and technology could no longer easily be justified by the promise of great benefits from the new technology, both because such promises were viewed skeptically and because policymakers believed that budgetary pressures precluded even worthwhile new programs unless they directly saved money for the government.
Even before the trend started to turn, historians of science and technology had made important steps in understanding the development of big science and big technology in a number of different institutional settings, and the changing current climate can give new perspective. Scholarly interest in "big science" arose out of the perception of scientists in the 1950s and 1960s that the experience of doing science had changed in a fundamental way (at least in some fields) because of the increasing prevalence of expensive instruments and large externally funded research projects. Engineers did not experience a parallel shift of similar intensity; they already had experience with large government-funded projects (such as dams). But, at least in some fields, engineers working on large-scale, government-funded research and development did experience a shift to a particular new kind of big technology. For example, at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration this "big technology" involved large projects with a high political profile, quite different from the systematic research into fundamental design parameters that characterized the "engineering science" approach typical of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics before the war.1
Most historians studying big science and technology have focused either on basic science (particularly high-energy physics) or on military research and development.2 Obviously, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and its predecessor organization, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), provide another important example. The leaders of NASA during the Apollo program realized that they were pioneers in large program management as well as in space travel, but there has been little integration of the larger background to that story or systematic attention to the role of large project management in the issues NASA has faced since Apollo.
The NACA and NASA provide an opportunity to study changes in the pattern of major research and development projects over a significant span of time in a government context quite different from the Department of Defense. The chapters of this book discuss a series of case studies of notable technological projects carried out at least in part by the NACA and NASA. The case studies chosen are those projects that won the National
2. For references to the big science literature, see below; for a discussion of how the study of large technology fits into broader historiographical trends in history of technology, see John M. Staudenmaier, "Recent Trends in the History of Technology," American Historical Review 95 (June 1990): 715-26.
The Collier Trophy provides a way of selecting a series of case studies of projects that can be compared over a fairly long span of time. This volume covers projects that received their awards from 1929 to 1994. From the point of view of scholars who have studied government support for science and technology, this span of years covers three important periods. The period after World War I saw limited experimentation with the role of the government in supporting research most importantly in the form of engineering science. The period during and after World War II saw an explosion in the government role in science and technology, with another burst after Sputnik. Finally, a reevaluation of science and technology as public goods started from one side of the political spectrum in the late 1960s and took on new momentum from the other side in the 1980s. From the point of view of the rise of big science and technology, the projects in this book take us through a period when budgets, the number of people and organizations involved, and bureaucracy dramatically increased for most NACA and NASA projects. Not all the later projects covered in this book were large by the standards of their own time, but even the smaller ones, such as the Manned Maneuvering Unit (chapter 13) or the Fuel-efficient Turboprop (chapter 14), took form in an environment of political and bureaucratic pressures that had developed in NASA because of its role as a big-technology agency.
The series of case studies included here present some of the most successful projects in the history of the NACA and NASA. Each illuminates the development and limitations of big technology at these agencies as an example of the larger phenomenon of the development of engineering science and big science. The work of Walter Vincenti and James Hansen has made aeronautical engineering in general and the NACA, in particular the standard example of engineering science.4 While historians have used high-energy physics as the standard example of big science, NASA has some claim to the role of standard example for big technology (using patterns that to a considerable extent were set by the NACA). Apollo-era NASA Administrator James Webb certainly sought to make that claim by writing a book on Space Age Management: The Large-Scale Approach, and the idea had enough public resonance to turn the phrase-"If we can send a man to the moon why can't we... ?"--into a cliché. 5 Apollo did not provide the model for the future that Webb had hoped, but NASA continued to grapple in a very public way with the problems of conducting large-scale technology-development projects that required support from diverse interest
4. See chapters 1, 3, and 4 and Walter G. Vincenti, What Engineers Know and How They Know It: Analytical Studies in the History of Aeronautical History (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990).
5. James E. Webb, Space Age Management: The Large-Scale
Approach (New York, NY. McGraw Hill, 1969). See also Leonard Sayles
and Margaret Chandler, Managing Large Systems: Organizations for the
Future (New York, NY. Harper and Row, 1971). The "If they can send
a man to the Moon" cliché eventually evolved into a joke; in Philadelphia
in the late 1970s a business called Hong Kong Custom Tailors advertised
with the line: "If they can send a man to the Moon why can't they make
a suit to fit me?"
groups.6 The case studies in this book illuminate some of the key issues of big science and big technology, including the role of politics, the management of large enterprises, the relationship between basic research and research and development for practical ends, and the declining role of the individual leader or inventor.
The Collier Trophy
The Collier Trophy is the most prestigious award for aerospace achievement in the United States, and the recipients of the trophy have long been proud of the recognition the Collier Trophy brought their activities. While the projects covered in this volume would deserve study whether or not they had won the Collier Trophy, a volume focused on the winners of a particular award should give some attention to the history and character of that award. In fact, the history of the Collier Trophy and its parent organization, the National Aeronautic Association, provide a unique perspective on prizes for scientific and technological achievement.
The United States has had and still has a number of aviation and aerospace organizations, ranging from booster groups to professional societies. The National Aeronautic Association fits somewhere in the middle of that range. In turn, its prize is shaped by the composition of the committee that awards it and by a series of rules, in particular that the prize be given for an achievement in the preceding year, While the Nobel Prize is usually given for an accomplishment whose significance has been proven by years of experience, the Collier Trophy represents an almost concurrent evaluation of an achievement (like the Pulitzer Prize, it sometimes lacks the wisdom of hindsight).
In its early years, the National Aeronautic Association and its predecessor organization, the Aero Club of America, sought to foster American aviation in all its forms, and therefore both served as a booster club and advocated an increasingly professional approach to aviation.7 The Aero Club of America was formed by members of the Automobile Club of America in 1905, just two years after the first successful flight by the Wright brothers. The model of the Automobile Club led the Aero Club into such activities as training and licensing pilots and lobbying the Federal government to give more attention to military aviation during the build-up to the United States' entry into World War I. 8 As aviation expanded during the War and the club suffered from divisiveness it tended to lose its central role. Its members responded by negotiating a series of mergers with other clubs, starting with a merger with the American Flying Club in 1920.9 In 1922, a merger with the National Air Association (NAA) led to a new name, the National Aeronautic Association, and new bylaws that emphasized promoting aviation and lobbying for uniform federal regulation of the aviation industry.10
7. William Kroger, "For Greatest Achievement: The Story Behind American Aviation's Most Prized Award," National Aeronautics, December 1944, pp. 15, 18, 26.
8. Bill Robie, For the Greatest Achievement: A History of the Aero Club of America and the National Aeronautic Association (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993), p. ix. The federal government took over pilot licensing from the club (at the club's urging) in 1926.
9. Ibid., p. 100.
10. Ibid., p. 103-05. The leadership of the new organization was dominated by industrialists, though none were at the time primarily employed in the aviation industry.
Because of changes in the parent organization, in the 1920s and 1930s the Collier Trophy came to be awarded more often to organizations rather than individual inventors. The U.S. Air Mail system won the trophy in 1922 and 1923 for its safety record and for night flying, the Army Air Service won in 1924 for the first flight around the world, and the Aeronautics Branch of the Department of Commerce won in 1928 for the development of airways and air navigation. The NACA won its first Collier Trophy in 1929 for developing principles for the design of improved engine cowlings. This new pattern of awards reflected the merger of the Aero Club of America into a new organization, the National Aeronautic Association, which put a much greater emphasis on promoting government sponsorship and regulation of aviation. Between the formation of the National Aeronautic Association in 1922 and 1944, eleven Collier trophies listed government agencies or corporations as the first or only recipient, and four more listed organizations along with a key individual.14 Orville Wright objected to this pattern in a 1944 letter that called for a return to the pattern of awarding the trophy to individuals for specific inventions. 15
12. Robie, For the Greatest Achievement, p. 83, quoting from the Bulletin of the Aero Club of America, 1912. The trophy was originally named Aero Club of America Trophy. It was called the Collier Trophy from 1922, when the Aero Club became the National Aeronautic Association, but the name was not officially changed until 1944. The bronze trophy was the work of sculptor Ernest Wise Keyser, a former Student of Augustus Saint-Gaudens who had also sculpted the memorial of Robert Collier's father. The resulting trophy represents the triumph of man over natural forces; it weighs 525 pounds and is now on permanent display at the National Air and Space Museum. Kroger, "For Greatest Achievement," p. 18.
13. Sperry won two Collier Trophies, in 1914 and 1916. In the eyes of his biographer, these did not compare in importance to the prize he won for his aircraft improvements in air international Competition for Safety in Aeroplanes held in France in 1914 or to the John Fritz Medal awarded to Sperry by the leading engineering societies of America in 1926. Thomas P. Hughes, Elmer Sperry: Inventor and Engineer (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971), pp. 199-200 and 307-08. In part, this is because aviation was not Sperry's first priority, but it also reflects the limited prestige of the Collier Trophy at a time when the United States had fallen behind other countries in aviation.
14. For a complete list of Collier Trophy winners see Robie, For the Greatest Achievement, pp. 229-36.
15. Wright's letter is quoted at length by Alex Roland, Model Research: The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, 1915-1948, 2 Vols. (Washington, DC: NASA SP-4103, 1985), 1:351 (note 36). Wright comments that "An examination of the list of recipients since that time will reveal that after the N.A.A. came into possession of it the awards have been mostly to U.S. government bureaus and to manufacturing companies instead of to individuals. This, no doubt, is due to the fact that individuals have more modestly [sic] than bureaus and corporations, and that individuals do not have the 'brass' to seek the award, while bureaus and companies have no lack in that respect." Roland comments that "Wright was seventy-two when he wrote that letter, just four years from death, but he was not senile and he was not a bitter old man. He was simply the patriarch of aviation, free to call a spade a spade."
The NAA appointed a new committee each year to select the Collier Trophy winner. The President of the Association nominated the members of the selection committee, often including previous winners. The nine members of the 1943 committee give a sense of the interests involved: Grover Loenig, advisor on aircraft of the War Production Board (WPB) (chair), Dr. George W. Lewis, Director of Aeronautical Research for the NACA; William R. Enyart, President of the NAA (ex officio); Gill Robb Wilson, aviation editor of the New York Herald Tribune; Major Lester D. Gardner, chairman of the council of the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences; Roger Wolfe Kahn, a famous private pilot; Laurence P. Sharpies, chairman of the board of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association; William P. MacCracken, Jr., general counsel, and William P. Redding, the treasurer of the NAA.16 By the 1990s, the selection committee had grown to thirty to forty members, but continued to represent leaders of all facets of the aerospace industry. 17 The varying types of projects receiving awards covered in this volume suggests that the character of the selection committee tended to vary somewhat on the basis of the interests of the NAA President and the Association. The Collier Trophy should therefore be understood as a reflection of attitudes and priorities in the community of aviation enthusiasts and those employed in aerospace-related work in industry and government. It did not have as much built-in protection from bias and short-term fads as the Nobel Prize, but those involved in the Collier award process valued very highly the prestige of the trophy and sought to preserve that prestige by choosing appropriate awardees. The trophy had little to back up its significance except for its long history and the tradition that it was awarded by the President of the United States; its importance rested on the luster of the winners.18
The NACA, NASA, and Government Research
The projects whose stories are told in this book provide a series of case studies of changes in the research and development process in a government setting over the period from the 1920s to the 1990s. They fit into a story of increasing government support for science and technology through one particular government agency, which like all organizations and people has been shaped by its own unique history. A brief survey of that history provides important background for any attempt to draw broader conclusions.
The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) helped set the precedent for government funding of research and development in twentieth century America, a precedent that represented a very significant change front nineteenth century assumptions. Even in the nineteenth century the Federal government had provided Support for research
17. The current practice is that the President of the National Aeronautic Association extends about sixty invitations to participate in the selection committee, and the committee is composed of whatever number accept the invitation. Most of those invited are members of the Association; presidents of the Air Clubs affiliated with the National Aeronautic Association are automatically invited. The members of the selection committee meet in person, and after discussing the recommendations and entries vote by secret ballot on that year's award. Telephone interview with Jill Baucom, Administrative Assistant, National Aeronautic Association, December 15, 1995.
18. A large monetary award or a more important sponsoring organization would have given the trophy a more objective source of prestige, Instead, the Collier Trophy maintained its status as the "most prized of all aviation honors in the United States" by tradition alone (the quote is from Robie, For the Greatest Achievement, p. x).
The NACA was only one of a number of organizations created as a result of lobbying by scientists and engineers for a new government role in research and development in World War I. 20 The NACA got off to an early start; President Wilson signed the Naval Appropriations Bill that created the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in March 1915. The scientists, engineers, and enthusiasts who had lobbied for the bill for more than four years wanted government funding of aeronautical research to allow the United States to catch up with rapid developments in Europe, where the possibilities of the Wright brothers' invention had sparked more interest than in the United States. The legislation did not pass until the outbreak of war provided an additional push, and the bill did nothing more than create an advisory committee and provide it with a small appropriation. The NACA their set out to invent its own role.21 In its first few years, the new Committee played a significant role in the wartime coordination of industry and used some of its small budget to sponsor research at private institutions. Its leaders made the building of a new laboratory their highest priority, despite considerable opposition .22 The laboratory at Langley Field, in Virginia, established the NACA as a Federal research agency despite its title as an advisory committee. After the war ended, debates over the role of the Federal government in supporting and regulating aviation created considerable uncertainty about the future of the NACA. In the end, other aviation related functions --regulation and the sponsorship of infrastructure-- were assigned to the Department of Commerce, leaving the Committee with research as its central role.23
At the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, dedicated in June 1920, NACA scientists and engineers set out to establish the place of the Federal government in peacetime aviation research. The laboratory provided fairly up-to-date facilities: a wind tunnel, an engine-dynamometer laboratory, and a general research laboratory building. A series of conflicts between personnel at the laboratory and the NACA Headquarters in Washington, DC, tended to dominate the concerns of the leadership, but technical personnel had the equipment they needed to do worthwhile research.24 The laboratory developed a focus on aeronautical principles in order to take advantage of its wind tunnel facilities and to avoid competition with the military services (which wanted to maintain control of testing and setting specifications for new aircraft designs for military missions), the National Bureau of Standards, and industry (which had facilities for engine research).25 The NACA found a niche not only in its choice of research program but also in how it approached research problems: "The strength of the NACA seems to be that it had the luxury of pursuing incrementally over a long period of time
20. For a survey of the impact of World War I on science. see Daniel J. Kevles The Physicists: The History of a Scientific Community in Modern America (New York, NY. Alfred A. Knopf, 1978), pp. 102-54.
21. Roland, Model Research, 1:24-25.
22. During the war years the NACA spent more than half its total budget on building its laboratory rather than on immediate war-related projects. Roland, Model Research, 1:30-31, 46.
23. Ibid., ch. 3.
24. Ibid., 1: 80-87.
25. Ibid., 1: 87-89.
As aviation technology became more complex in the late interwar period, the NACA found itself sponsoring not only research on components and design parameters, but large-scale research and development projects. World War II brought a return to more practical concerns (see chapter 2, for example), but with the greater emphasis on government-funded technology characteristic of the war years, it also provided the NACA with broader experience in large development programs and some push to take bigger risks.29 Perhaps most notably, members of the aviation community saw supersonic flight as the next step, but making that step required both theoretical research (chapter 5), wind tunnel testing (chapter 4), and actual building of experimental aircraft (chapters 3 and 6). Those experimental aircraft were no longer prototypes of new military aircraft, but were designed solely for research purposes. The NACA therefore found itself in the business of contracting with industry for the design and manufacture of radically new vehicles. The X-15 project in particular (chapter 6) differed little in scale and scope from space projects of a few years later. The increasing sophistication of the technological challenges chosen by the NACA was leading the agency toward a project organization typical of big technology even before funding became politicized.
NACA leaders felt some uncertainty about this transition from a role that centered on basic research and problem solving to one centered on taking responsibility for large projects, and they did not push to take a major role in space research in the period before Sputnik. 30 The agency's budget had not grown with its role; it depended on partnerships with the Department of Defense for the funding of large projects, such as the X-15. While the NACA did not initially move to seize the new opportunities opened by the launch of Sputnik in October 1957, those opportunities proved significant and a unique confluence of circumstances soon thrust the NASA into the center of the Sputnik response.31 If the ,American people demanded that the United States meet aggressively the challenges of the Soviet Union, President Dwight D. Eisenhower at least hoped to keep that effort out of the hands of the Department of Defense, whose mission he wanted to keep aimed at national security.32 He assigned the problem of what to do about space to his science advisor, and Killian immediately turned to the NACA as a possible alternative to Department of Defense
27. Munk had earned two Ph.D. degrees from
the University of Göttingen, one in engineering and another
28. Roland, Model Research, 1:89-98.
29. In particular, the NACA was criticized
because the United States lost the wartime race to develop a jet aircraft.
See Edward W. Constant II, The Origins of the Turbojet Revolution
(Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1980).
30. Roland, Model Research, ch. 12, particularly 1:288.
31. Ibid., 1: 290. Roland reports that the subject Of Sputnik did not arise at the NACA annual meeting held less than two weeks later.
32. See Walter A. McDougall.... the Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1985), ch. 6, for a discussion of Eisenhower's motivations.
In February 1958, the President's Science Advisory Committee recommended that the NACA be expanded into a new civilian space agency. NACA leaders found themselves and their vision of how a research agency should operate given second place in the new organization. This marginalization started when Eisenhower assigned an executive branch team to write the necessary legislation. The Bureau of the Budget had long wanted to reorganize the NACA's committee structure, and insisted that the new agency be organized hierarchically with an administrator appointed by the President.34 NACA leaders had assumed that the new agency would continue a traditional NACA pattern by seeking research assignments and funding for cooperative projects from the military services, but Congress wanted space projects to be defined by NASA, not the Department of Defense.35 Eisenhower and his advisors had similar interests and insisted on a division of space activities between NASA and the Department of Defense instead of cooperative projects on the model of the X-15. The President's Science Advisor James R. Killian, Jr., finally stepped into a deadlocked discussion in which the NACA and the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency were trying to divide the space program. Killian insisted that all space activities without a clear military mission be assigned solely to the new National Aeronautics and Space Administration.36 This decision committed the new agency to a focus on large projects rather than research into basic principles, suddenly completing a transition that had been in its early stages with projects like the X-15.
Not all of the new agency took on the new style, but most of the attention of its leadership and the public went to the space race in the 1960s. Hesitantly under the Eisenhower administration, and then with a surge of confidence after Kennedy's decision to go to the Moon, NASA leaders shaped the agency towards the pursuit of large research and development projects whose justification lay as much in national prestige and a belief that space was the new frontier as in specific scientific and practical objectives.37 The Mercury project (chapter 7) represented a mix of old and new constraints and opportunities, but the decision to go to the Moon gave NASA a few years of high priority, generous funding, and public support (chapter 8). The flush years of the early 1960s depended on congruence between the space program and perceptions of national needs; they did not represent support for a space program for its own sake. That congruence made possible the success of Apollo under the inspired leadership of NASA Administrator James E. Webb, a fine manager and a master of the delicate maneuvering necessary to exert leadership from an administrative position.38 But it left NASA in an unstable position, identified with a relatively short-lived national agenda item rather than with a permanent mission.39
34. Ibid., 1:294-95.
35. McDougall, Heavens and the Earth, argues that this sentiment was strongest in the House of Representatives, and that Senator Lyndon Johnson supported the Pentagon's claim while publicly arguing for the peaceful uses of space (p. 173).
36. Roland, Model Research, 1:296-99. See also James R. Killian, Jr., Sputnik, Scientists, and Eisenhower: A Memoir of the First Special Assisiant to the President for Science and Technology, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1977).
37. See for example, W. Henry Lambright, Powering Apollo: James E. Webb of NASA (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995) and McDougall, Heavens and the Earth.
38. Lambright, Powering Apollo, pp. 8-9. Lambright's introduction is a wonderful explanation of the fundamental issues of leadership that arise in executive agencies, which in theory are supposed only to carry out policies set by the President.
39. Lambright argues that the congressional consensus in support of Apollo lasted "barely two years," Ibid., p. 9.
The old models became increasingly problematic in the 1980s. Starting with President Jimmy Carter's efforts to cut back big government, NASA leaders found themselves under pressure to commercialize or privatize more operations. At first these pressures had little effect; an emphasis on the routine operation of the Space Shuttle as a "space truck" perhaps represented a new way of thinking for the agency, but the shuttle accident made it clear that the vehicle could not fully fill that role. Both the Challenger accident and the problems of the Hubble Space Telescope led to significant criticisms of NASA management, and to changes in management structure to address the pressing problems that had been identified (chapters 15 and 16). These immediate changes fed into a push for broader changes; starting in the early 1990s the leaders of NASA began to explore alternatives to the big science model. NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin's call for a "faster, better, quicker" way of doing business involved not only criticism of the old large-project model but also an attempt to develop an alternative.
Big Science, Big Technology
The changes that took place in the NACA and the NASA form part of a larger pattern that historians call the rise of big science. The case studies covered in this book give a sample of projects over the key period for the development of big science. They do not represent classic cases--the classic case for big science is usually high-energy physics-- but they widen our understanding of how government support and increasing project size affected the research and development community well beyond the borders of physics. These cases show both the strengths and the limitations of the "big science" approach; in fact NASA may be one of the first agencies where people have begun to be aware of the limits of bigger and bigger projects and to explore alternatives.
41. Bruce L. R. Smith argues that a broad consensus in support of federal funding of research and development disintegrated in the second half of the 1960s tinder criticism from both the left and the right. See Smith, American Science Policy Since, World War II, ch. 4, particularly pp. 75-76.
42. The classic critique of the space shuttle for not living up to the exaggerated promises that had been used to gain approval for the project is Alex Roland "The Shuttle, Triumph or Turkey?" Discover 6 (November 1985): 29-49.
Ever since Derek J. De Solla Price published Little Science, Big Science in 1963, historians have used various concepts of big science as one basis for trying to understand how the practice and character of science have changed in the twentieth century.43 Our understanding of big science has developed significantly in more than thirty years, and, in addition, we have begun to explore qualitative as well as quantitative effects of scale on technology as well as on science. Some historians of technology object to lumping big technology with big science, arguing that big technology has its own independent history, with close ties to big business. But in the case of government support for research, the confusion between science and technology starts not in the minds of historians writing about the projects but in the minds of the policymakers and scientists who shaped and advised these projects. NASA leaders regularly referred to the agency's success in the conduct of "big science" even when the projects involved aimed at technological rather than scientific ends, and in many NACA and NASA projects, technological and scientific ends were irrevocably intermixed. The NACA and NASA research projects stories told in this book show some of the complexities of this relationship between science and technology.
Looking at science first, the simplest argument makes World War II a turning point in the rise of big science. The development of large telescopes and a few other large scientific instruments before World War II trained some leaders of the scientific community in administration of large scientific projects. They, in turn, put their experience to use in a series of very successful weapons-development projects during the war. By the end of the war, the military services had come to believe that they needed to continue to support basic scientific research, and significant progress had been made towards a consensus that the Federal government should support large research projects for civilian purposes. Scientists who had been involved in wartime projects hoped for continued government funding, and while they lobbied for civilian funding agencies such as the AEC and NSF, they also worked out a compromise of interests with the military services to get funding from the Department of Defense on terms that most scientists found agreeable.44 Once new funding mechanisms had been worked out and the start of the Cold War had restored a sense of urgency, government funding for scientific research moved into another growth phase. This gave a significant number of scientists (at least in certain fields) an opportunity to work on a new scale, managing large budgets and tackling scientific problems with expensive instruments and teams of investigators who might all be listed as co-authors on a single scientific paper. These changes affected not just the conduct of scientific, research on certain questions, but also what questions scientists asked; some fields of science came to focus on questions that could only be answered with big instruments. These changes in science transformed universities; they became dependent on Federal grants and contracts as the major sources of research funding for basic science.45
More detailed studies of post-World War II science and technology have revealed a more complex picture. Even in physics, big science represented a choice of styles and organizational approaches, not an inevitable response to particular discoveries in high-energy physics.46 Other fields of science felt the effects of big science less, and small science
43. For the early history of the term "big science," which actually dates back to the late 1950s, see James H. Capshew and Karen A. Rader, "Big Science, Price to the Present," Osiris (second series) 7 (1992): 4-18.
44. See, for example, Daniel Greenberg, The Politics of Pure Science (New York, NY. New American Library, 1967) and Kevles, The Physicists, ch. XXII.
45. For the university side of the story good places to start are Stuart W. Leslie, The Cold War and American Science: The Military-Industrial-Academic Complex at MIT and Stanford, (New York, NY. Columbia University Press, 1993) and Ronald L. Geiger, "Science, Universities, and National Defense, 1945-1970," Osiris (second series) 7 (1992): 26-48.
46. Peter Galison and Bruce Hevly, eds., Big Science, The Growth of Large Scale Research (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992), pp. 3-8.
attitudes survived even in some areas where big instruments were used.47 Big projects not dependent on a single instrument took on different characteristics than those organized around one piece of hardware, and the degree to which the research was focused on science or technology and was goal-oriented or curiosity driven made a tremendous difference in the character of big projects. NASA could not be compared directly to a federal physics laboratory; the scale may have been similar but the mix of goals was different.48 But most kinds of big science and technology shared certain common themes involving the relationship between science and technology and the problems of public relations, administration, and funding.49
In the case of the NACA arid NASA we can identify certain characteristics of big science and big technology that form clear, though by no means uniform, trends. First, NACA arid their NASA became increasingly caught in a web of bureaucratic arid political obligations. The kinds of popular projects that might become Collier Trophy winners had to provide political or bureaucratic capital to the agency or its supporters, not just research results. Without that note, they stood little chance of being recognized for "outstanding achievement." Second, larger projects required more complex formal organization to keep control of the details. Individual leaders and innovators became less important, and the planning process became more important. Third, research and development projects became more complicated in fundamental ways over this period. More and more different kinds of expertise went into a single project, and the developers of technology were often no longer in close communication with the users. Fourth, the experience of researchers and the approaches they took to their research changed as projects grew larger and more bureaucratic. Fifth, attitudes towards funding research changed, though not just in one direction. Before World War II the emphasis was on practical results, while after the war basic research became more acceptable. A shift away from willingness to support basic research for its own sake occurred around the time of Apollo, with a new emphasis on cost-benefit calculations but also more willingness to fund projects on the basis of popular support.
Any government agency must cultivate bureaucratic and political support in order to survive, but as projects got larger and more expensive (or budgets got tighter) that process shaped more arid more of what the NACA and NASA did. The NACA had served its constituencies carefully (mostly by providing practical results) to maintain political support, and the very creation of NASA served political ends at least as much as science and technology. NASA did very well in the 1960s because a growing emphasis on the space race expanded the agency's political and popular support, but that support put the agency into the Washington power game to a greater extent than the NACA had usually experienced. This trend accelerated with the end of Apollo, because the winning of the race to the Moon brought not a reduction in political pressures, but a more complex web of constituencies as NASA leaders sought to cobble together enough support to continue a large-scale space program. In the 1970s and 1980s, NASA had to play bureaucratic politics and look for new ways to serve political agendas in order to maintain a program on anything like the scale established for Apollo.
47. For some examples of other fields of science see Arnold Thackray, ed., Science After '40, Osiris (second series) 7 (1992). For a discussion of how big science was not inevitable even in high-energy physics see John Krige, "The Installation of High-Energy Accelerators in Britain After the War: Big Equipment but not "Big Science," in Michelangelo DeMaria, Maria Grillia, and Fabio Sebastiani, eds., Proceedings of the International Conference on the Restructuring of Physical Science in Europe and the United Slates, 1945-1960 (Singapore: World Scientific, 1988).
48. For a comparison between high-energy physics and space programs (not only in the U.S. but also in other Countries) see John Krige, ed., Choosing Big Technologies (Geneva, Switzerland: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1993).
49. Capshew and Rader "Big Science" provide one useful thematic introduction; I take my themes partly from their discussion of Alvin Weinberg's warning that the three diseases of big science are "journalitis, moneyitis, and administratitis" (p. 5).
NASA's human space flight programs also represented significant challenges in the development of large-scale management.50 Apollo was an overwhelmingly large and complex program, but the Space Shuttle introduced further challenges by requiring both technological innovation and routine, long-term management control. Not all NASA projects in this period were large (see chapter 14 on the fuel-efficient turboprop), but the space program became increasingly identified with large, spectacular projects that got public attention. The agency and its contractors became accustomed to a technological style that they sometimes called big science, though it had more to do with technology than science. In particular, they preferred programs to build one or two large satellites, or a large platform carrying many sensors, over projects that would launch many small satellites, each carrying one or two sensors (probably somewhat less capable than those a large platform could support). Even when astronauts were not involved, these relatively large and complex programs required many layers of management, paperwork, and checks and counterchecks, to control a system that was too complex for a small group of people to keep track of and which needed extremely careful risk management because of the public embarrassment of large failures. 51 Individual leadership was harder to exert on projects of this scale, and the planning process tended to become an increasingly political negotiation.
Large, involved projects dependent on outside political and bureaucratic support also became fundamentally more complex because they had to serve many masters. Researchers in space science complained particularly vocally about this change, because they assumed that space science projects should be conducted in whatever manner would best serve the interests of scientists. A project like the Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission served the scientists using the instrument but, in addition, NASA achieved important political ends through its success (chapter 16). The inevitable conflicts of interest sometimes irked the science community, especially as Congress set the agenda for space science in such missions as the Grand Tour (chapter 11). Projects with practical goals raised even more fundamental problems, particularly for an agency as focused on research and development for its own sake as NASA. In the cases of Landsat (chapter 10), and the fuel-efficient turboprop (chapter 14), NASA successfully developed technology to do the job, only to find that the intended users were not as interested as had been predicted. In the first case, the problem lay in part in NASA's technology transfer efforts, but in the second case changes in economic parameters and issues relating to public opinion kept the new technology from being put to effective use.
Within these projects, the experiences of scientists and engineers had also undergone a fundamental change. The individual inventor had almost disappeared from view, though individuals might still invent small parts of large, complex systems.52 Teamwork and the ability to provide intellectual leadership while not having control over the entire project became critical skills. Government funding made possible projects that would probably never have received funding in a corporate research and development laboratory because the total cost was too high or the payoff too uncertain or too far in the future. Pressure for quick results, while very real, could be less intense than in other settings.
50. Lambright, Powering Apollo, is a good place to start for this issue.
51. In the 1990s a new generation of advocates for small satellites developed this critique of what they perceived as a NASA Culture of bureaucratic control and large-scale programs. The impact of this challenge to the old way of doing things is not yet clear, but it has already had sonic impact on the congressional committees that oversee NASA's budget and on the leadership of the agency itself. For a good example of the critique, see John R. London III, LEO [Low-Earth Orbit] On the Cheap: Methods for Achieving Drastic Reductions in Space Launch Costs, Research Report No. AU-ARI-93-8 (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, October 1994).
52. The decline of the individual inventor and the rise of complex systems in the corporate world has been laid out by Thomas P. Hughes in Networks of Power and in American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm (New York, W. Simon and Schuster, 1989).
Finally, big science and technology shaped and were shaped by changing attitudes towards the relative roles of basic and applied research. In the period before World War II, government funding required practical justifications, but the NACA found a niche for less goal-driven research by pioneering work in engineering science, exploring some of the fundamental parameters of flight. World War II made the Federal government more willing to fund basic research in some fields, particularly in physics where exploratory research had proved its military value most clearly, NASA certainly funded more basic science than the NACA because its mission included space science, but that scientific research formed a relatively small part of a large agency. When NASA took in the national goal of putting people in space it committed itself to a vision that was not centered on basic research.53 Outside factors reinforced this tendency. Starting in the late 1960s, critics of the space prograin, some of them in the Executive Office, began to demand cost-benefit analyses for at least some space missions (see chapter 10). This change resulted from the space program's lower political priority and from a larger trend towards demanding tighter justification for government sponsored research. In particular, the Mansfield amendment in 1970 prohibited the Department of Defense from funding basic research with no military purposes.54 However, by the 1990s the trend had split: Congress seemed to favor projects that were unabashedly basic science (at least if they were not too expensive) or those that would clearly save the government money (though then the question arose of why private industry couldn't do the job) . 55 The tension between basic and applied research and between research and development and routine operations was complicated by a constantly shifting environment.
We can also see in the projects covered in the last few chapters of this volume the beginning of a challenge to the big science model. The return to flight of the Space Shuttle (chapter 15) and the Hubble Servicing Mission (chapter 16) represent successful recoveries from failures caused by management problems, not just inevitable bad luck. The failures showed some of the limits of big science, and the recovery efforts involved at least in part attempts to change the big science style of operation (for example, the role of individual leadership in the shuttle case, chapter 15), Since the early 1990s NASA has met significant criticism not just for bureaucracy, but for assuming that large projects are the best way of achieving any end. Studies of such concerns as lowering the cost of launch vehicles have concluded that "to achieve this goal, it will be necessary to bring about major cultural changes within the aerospace community."56 That particular study pointed out that cheaper systems are not necessarily smaller, but changes such as mass production and a greater tolerance for failure represent major changes to the big science, big technology approach. A new NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin, appointed in April 1992, established as one of his initiatives "A shift away from the pursuit of big science and engineering programs toward 'faster, better, and cheaper' ones."57 It is too soon to know whether this represents the beginning of the end of the dominance of big science, but its values are certainly being questioned in a new way within NASA.
53. Many scientists have criticized NASA's emphasis on putting people in space as being a waste of money from a scientific point of view. For examples of the perspective of scientists, see Heiner E. Newell, Beyond the Atmosphere Early Years of Space Science (Washington, DC: NASA SP-4211, 1980) and Steven G. Brush, "Nickel for Your Thoughts: Urey and the Origin of the Moon," Science 21 (1982): 891-98, as well as ch. 11 and 16 and their references.
54. For an analysis of the Mansfield amendment as part of a larger trend, see Smith, American Science Policy Since World War II, pp. 81-82.
55. Committee on Earth Studies, Space Studies Board, National Research Council, Earth Observations from Space: History, Promise, and Reality (Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 1995), pp. 102-103.
56. London, LEO on the Cheap, p. 149.
57. NASA Federal Laboratory Review, "Executive Summary,"
located at http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/fed-lab/exec.html,
March 20, 1996.