SP-4302 Adventures in Research: A History of Ames Research Center 1940-1965

 

PART II : A NEW WORLD OF SPEED : 1946-1958

[219] 1954-1957

 

9

The Environment

 

[221] IN all technical fields and particularly in aeronautics, the years between 1954 and 1957 were characterized by rapid growth and even more rapidly expanding horizons. The stimulus for such developments arose not only from the exciting prospects of things to come but also from a worried concern over the impressive technical developments in Soviet Russia. National leaders recognized that we were in a technical race that could have the gravest consequences. Indeed, NACA Chairman James H. Doolittle pointed this out to Congress in January 1957 and implied that the leveling off of NACA's appropriations over the past few years was scarcely a rational response to the challenge from Russia.

Mach 2 fighters and bombers were now a reality. A research airplane, the North American X-15, was being designed to fly at Mach 5 or more. But the military services were devoting an ever-increasing fraction of their budgets to guided missiles and, in 1955, President Eisenhower assigned the highest priority to the ICBM project. Before the period was over, two ICBM's (Atlas and Titan) had been authorized as well as three IRBM intermediate-range ballistic missiles (Thor, Jupiter, and Polaris).

The eyes of aeronautical scientists, however, were turning toward space. The Bell X-2 research airplane had reached an altitude of over 126,000 feet in 1956 and the X-15, when completed, was expected to go more than twice as high. During the 1955-1957 period, the Air Force pushed its Aerobee-Hi sounding rocket to 193 miles. Russia, still earlier, announced that its rockets had reached 240 miles. Moreover it was clear that the huge rocket motors being developed for ballistic missiles would be capable of putting a small test body into orbit around the earth. The possibility of launching a series of earth satellites as part of the International Geophysical Year operations had been discussed in scientific circles and on July 29, 1955, President Eisenhower announced plans for the launching of an earth satellite. The following day the U.S.S.R. announced similar plans. The race between the United States and the Soviets to launch the world's first satellite was clearly on, but [222] not until late in 1957 was it revealed that the winner was Russia. Russian Sputnik I was successfully launched on October 4, 1957; and Sputnik II, carrying a live dog, was launched on November 3 of the same year.

The immediate environment of NACA during this period had one very bleak aspect. It concerned the severe disadvantage at which NACA found itself in the keen competition for technical manpower. The national demand for engineers and scientists had mushroomed beyond all expectations and the supply, particularly of those with above-average qualifications, was exceedingly short. The demand stemmed partly from the fact that the country was in the midst of a scientific explosion and partly also from the widespread use by the military services of research and development contracts. The aircraft companies and other research and development organizations were busily expanding their technical staffs, and new research and development groups were trying to get established. All were in the manpower market, bidding up salaries well beyond those which the Civil Service Commission would allow NACA to pay.

NACA's activities had recently been restricted by manpower quotas imposed by Congress but now, because of the low salary scale, the quotas, low as they were, could not be filled. Not only that, but NACA was losing senior staff members, key men, owing to the attraction of the much higher salaries offered by industry. Men like Charlie Frick and Bill Kauffman were lost by Ames during this period. Had the loss not been so painful, Ames might have felt flattered that NACA-trained men were so much desired by industry. NACA fought hard to improve its salary position but, while making some gains, it never achieved equality with industry. Thus the organization continued to operate under a severe manpower handicap.


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