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


Part III: THE LEAP TO SPACE : 1959-1965





Project Management and Other Technical Activities


[489] THE common practice in laboratory research had been for the engineer who planned an experiment to serve as the project manager and the coordinator of required support activities. The support activities, however, were rather small in scope, involving mainly the branch and division, and seldom reached outside of the Center. In space-flight research, the supporting role became of such overwhelming magnitude, scope, complexity, and cost that a special NASA-wide project-management team was required to deal with it. The scientist-experimenter, who certainly could not be expected to launch his own spacecraft, was now freed of extraneous distractions and allowed to remain the specialist he generally preferred to be. But space-project management was a new class of activity-not exactly research, yet closely attuned to research requirements. Made to order for engineers, it was the kind of integrative, multidisciplinary task in which the engineer, as a professional type, often reached the peak of his achievement.

NASA space-research programs were planned and organized by the Headquarters program offices with the advice and counsel of the scientific community. When a decision had been made to proceed with a specific program or project, the research centers of the nation, or the world, would be invited to submit proposals for experiments to be undertaken in the program. The competition was keen and often 5 or 10 times as many experiments were proposed as could be carried in the spacecraft. The experiments to be carried would be selected by a scientific advisory panel or steering committee established by the program office at NASA Headquarters. Overall supervisional responsibility for the program would be retained in Headquarters, while active management would be assigned to a project-management team located, ordinarily, at one of the NASA research centers.

The general function of the project-management team was to organize and coordinate the diverse activities involved in (1) the selection and procurement of booster rockets, (2) the design and procurement of spacecraft, (3) the integration of the experiments with the spacecraft, (4) detailed mis-[490] -sion planning, (5) the launching of spacecraft, (6) tracking and data acquisition by the worldwide NASA network, and (7) the recovery of spacecraft -if such was planned. The acquired data were ordinarily turned over to the experimenter for detailed analysis and publication largely as he saw fit

Not only had each of the elements of support to be successfully completed, but all had to be brought together at exactly the right time for integration into a smoothly functioning whole. Timing was often an agonizingly frustrating matter especially, as in the Biosatellite project, where a diversity of carefully prepared plants and animals had to be assembled in the spacecraft at precisely the right moment and in exactly the right condition. Experiments with living creatures could easily be devalued or completely ruined by any significant delay in the hour of launch. Wheat seedlings and larvae, for example, had to be in the right state of development, and frogs' eggs had to be fertilized just hours before launch. In addition, of course many of the life forms had to have their own special air-conditioning system the animals had to be regularly fed, and means had to be provided to deal with, and possibly chemically analyze, the excrete. Attention had to be given even to such seemingly minor matters as to whether the teeth of the rats would grow so long during the tests that they would chew holes in the feeding nipples. It was not too much to say that the physical scientists at Ames were learning a great deal about animal research. The life scientists were a little amused.

Space-project management required broad experience, management ability, and very steady nerves. Robert Crane, a man eminently suited for the task, had earlier been appointed Assistant Director for Development, an office which held responsibility for most of the space-project management activity at Ames. Crane was calm and capable, quite equal to managing either the Development Directorate or the whole Center. He was ably supported by Charles Hall, manager of Project Pioneer, and Charles Wilson, manager of Project Biosatellite. When the Development Directorate was formed, the Ames management, always mindful of the unfair competition basic research would suffer at the hands of glamorous space operations, enjoined Crane from draining off the manpower and research effort of the research directorates at the Center. Crane therefore found it desirable to establish, within his own directorate, a systems-engineering division. John Foster became head of the new division. Although his staff was painfully limited in numbers, Foster, through the extensive use of contracting, was able to provide the often unique equipment systems required by the Development Directorate as well as the systems engineering effort needed for the design of such equipment.

In view of the attitude of Ames management toward hardware development and space operations, Bob Crane's new directorate began with something of a handicap. The handicap was augmented by the circumstance that [491] both the Pioneer and the Biosatellite projects came under the Headquarters office of Space Science and Application (OSSA), whereas the Center as a whole came under the Office of Advanced Research and Technology (OART). Some degree of organizational incompatibility thus prevailed.

Bob Crane had expected that the project work being carried on at Ames would benefit not only his own Development Directorate but also the research directorates at the Center. He hoped that the space projects would provide something of a focus for the otherwise fairly indefinite pattern of basic research. And he felt that the technical support of the research directorates would be of great help to his activity. Bob's hopes had not in 1965 been fully realized. Within the Ames operation, the project work was treated with a friendly indifference. This attitude prevailed in Project Pioneer and particularly in Project Biosatellite. The indifference of the Life Sciences Directorate toward the Biosatellite project was somewhat surprising and rather disappointing to Crane. The only experiment the Life Sciences Directorate had proposed for the Biosatellite was a relatively minor frogs' eggs experiment and this had been submitted by the Exobiology Division, the activities of which also came under Headquarters OSSA. It appeared that the Life Sciences Directorate, in common with the other research directorates at Ames, was firmly wedded to the laboratory where one's research could proceed at the desired pace and be kept under close personal control. Some experiments, of course, had to be performed in space, but as long as the bulk of research remained to be done in earthbound laboratories, many scientists were reluctant to forsake these familiar and productive haunts for the glamorous but uncertain realms of space.




Not all project-management work at Ames came within the jurisdiction of Bob Crane and his Development Directorate. In 1963 a small group of Ames men had participated in an airborne (DC-8) research expedition to observe a solar eclipse along its path of totality, which lay in Canada. The group included Sheldon Smith, of the Physics Branch, and Ray Torrey, of the Guidance and Control Systems Branch. As participants in the expedition, this pair, with the aid of others at the Center, developed and built a rather unique gyro-stabilized camera for photographing the eclipse from the expedition's airplane. A description of the camera is given in the July 1964 issue of the ISA Transactions in a paper entitled "A Stabilized Automated Camera for Airborne Eclipse Photography," by S. M. Smith, M. Bader, R. A. Torrey, and M. E. Henderson.

The photographs of the eclipse obtained with the camera were quite good and the experience of the expedition gave Smith, Bader, and others the idea that Ames should have an airborne research laboratory of its own. Such a laboratory, it was felt, would provide ready observational accessibility [492] to astronomical and other events occurring, sometimes on short notice in remote parts of the world. The idea of the airborne research laboratory was approved by Ames and Headquarters management and was shortly implemented by the procurement of a Convair 990, four engine, jet transport airplane.

In May 1965, during the International Year of the Quiet Sun, a group of 38 scientists took off in Ames' new airborne laboratory to join other groups traveling by land, sea, and air to witness another solar eclipse-this one reaching totality in the South Pacific. The operation was coordinated and managed by Mike Bader. The airplane on this occasion carried the Ames eclipse camera as well as 13 other experiments provided by 4 foreign observatories or universities and 9 American organizations. The eclipse observations made on this occasion were very successful. As they were made from a high-speed airplane flying at high altitude, their value was the greater because (1) the period of totality was prolonged by following the path of total eclipse, (2) a greater range of wavelengths was observed owing to the altitude of the airplane, and (3) the background light around the eclipsed sun, normally produced by light diffusion in the atmosphere, was much reduced because of the altitude of the airplane. The reduced background light made it possible to observe the solar corona out to a distance of 12 solar radii, whereas from the ground the corona appeared to extend to only about 3 solar radii.

As the eclipse mission came to an end, the participants, by common agreement, selected the name "Galileo" for the airplane which had served them so well. The name was chosen in honor of the well-liked Dr. Guglielmo Righini who, on the mission, represented the Arcetri Observatory of Florence, Italy. NASA Headquarters quickly approved the name, and Brad Evans wrote a letter to the mayor of Florence.

Not long after the eclipse expedition, another occasion arose to use the Galileo. This occasion was the discovery, in October 1965, of the Ikeya-Seki comet. Hurriedly an expedition was arranged to observe the comet during perihelion, which was best observable in an area 150 miles northeast of Hawaii. Fred Drinkwater was pilot and Mike Bader was again project manager. Of the seven experiments carried on this expedition, four came from various NASA Centers and three from other American sources. The experiments involved a variety of spectrographic measurements as well as white-light photography. While some of the spectrographic observations suffered from a lack of light intensity, the white-light photographs were very good and were the only photographs obtained of the comet at perihelion.

The eclipse and the comet expeditions convinced Ames management of the value of an airborne research laboratory and, as 1965 ended, plans were being made to intensify the exploitation of the Galileo.


Sheldon M. Smith and eclipse camera on NASA 1965 Solar Eclipse Expedition

Above: Sheldon M. Smith and eclipse camera on NASA 1965 Solar Eclipse Expedition. At right [below]: Photograph of solar corona taken during NASA 1965 Solar Eclipse Expedition.


Photograph of solar corona taken during NASA 1965 Solar Eclipse Expedition.




The eclipse and the comet expeditions represented but a small part of the project-management activity at Ames, which mainly centered in the Pioneer and the Biosatellite projects. The Ames group directing the Pioneer project numbered over 40 people, was headed by Charlie Hall, and in-...



Dr. Michel Bader in Eclipse Expedition airplane.


Galileo astronautical research airplane, a modified Convair 990.

Galileo astronautical research airplane, a modified Convair 990.


....-cluded Howard Matthews, in charge of flight operations and data processing; Ralph Holtzclaw, spacecraft systems manager; Herbert Cross, scientific experiments manager; and Robert Hofstetter, responsible for launch vehicles, launch operations, and trajectory analysis.

"Pioneer" was a name applied by NASA to a class of deep-space [495] research vehicles to which numbers were assigned only after a successful launch. Most recent of the series, Pioneer V had in 1960 demonstrated NASA's ability to send commands to a spacecraft at distances of over 22 million miles. A block of four Pioneer space flights, designated A, B, C, and D, had been assigned to Ames management with the implication that more might later be added. The cost of completing the four missions was estimated at something over $40 million. These funds would mostly be spent on hardware contracts. Douglas and Aerojet-General would provide the Thor-Delta booster rockets, and the Space Technology Laboratories would build the spacecraft in which the experiments would be carried. The experiments would be provided by various scientific organizations, the launching would be managed by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and the tracking and data acquisition would be accomplished by means of the NASA Deep Space Network operated by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Pioneer A was scheduled for launching into an elliptical solar orbit having a period of about 310 days and a perihelion distance from the sun of about 77 million miles just inside the orbit of the earth. Its 140-pound, spin-stabilized spacecraft, made up of 56,000 separate parts, would carry 35 pounds of instruments to implement six carefully selected experiments. Most of the experiments were concerned with studies of the sun and its emanations. The sun was, indeed, a very promising subject for study because, other than the earth, no celestial body was so important to man.

One of the experiments in Pioneer A was to be a solar-plasma probe provided by John Wolfe of the Ames Space Sciences Division. In addition, there would be a plasma cup detector provided by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; a radio-propagation detector provided by Stanford University; a magnetometer supplied by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; and a cosmic-ray anisotropy detector provided by the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest. Inasmuch as faint interplanetary magnetic fields were to be measured, extreme care was exercised to ensure that the spacecraft was magnetically clean. Further precautions in this matter were taken by mounting the sensor of the magnetometer at the end of a 5-foot boom.

Finally, on December 15, 1965, after a heroic preparatory effort, Pioneer A was launched. The spacecraft, soon to be designated Pioneer VI, successfully achieved the planned orbit around the sun and shortly flight information began flowing into the Pioneer Control Center which had been established at Ames. The instruments appeared to be working very well; indeed, by the end of the year, it was clear that Pioneer VI was providing very important new knowledge about the sun and its emanations. Having demonstrated their competence, Charlie Hall and his associates were already turning their attention to Pioneer B, scheduled for launching in the summer of 1966.



Pioneer VI launch (left). Artist's conception of spacecraft by Space Technology Laboratory (right).

Pioneer VI launch (left). Artist's conception of spacecraft by Space Technology Laboratory (right).




The responsibilities of the Biosatellite project management group were generally similar to those of the Pioneer group. The Biosatellite group of more than 70 people was, in 1965, headed by Charles Wilson. Included in the group were Bonne Look, manager of spacecraft systems; Dale Smith, manager of experiments and life systems; and Don Warner, manager of the clinical, biochemistry, and vivarium section under Smith.

Contemplated in Project Biosatellite was the launching of a spacecraft, carrying living plants and organisms, into an earth orbit of from 160- to 180-mile altitude. The purpose was to determine the effects of a space environment, principally weightlessness and radiation, on living matter. The results, it was felt, would be scientifically interesting, if not practically useful, and hopefully might shed some light on problems that man will encounter....



Charles A. Wilson, manager of Project Biosatellite.

Charles A. Wilson, manager of Project Biosatellite.


...in space. As of 1965, six Biosatellite flights had been scheduled: two of 3-day duration, the first to be launched late in 1966; two of 21-day duration, to be launched in 1967; and two of 30-day duration, to be launched in 1967-1968. Beyond that, the Biosatellite group hoped it might win approval from Headquarters to launch biology experiments in an Apollo-size vehicle-perhaps as an auxiliary payload on a regular Apollo flight.

The Biosatellite spacecraft and experiment hardware were being built by the General Electric Co. under contract with Ames. From Cape Kennedy, according to plan, the spacecraft would be launched into orbit by a thrust-augmented Thor-Delta booster. No attempt would be made to completely stabilize the spacecraft, but excessive rotational velocities would be nullified by gas jets. Inasmuch as a large part of the data would come from photographic records or postflight examinations, a serious attempt would be made to recover the spacecraft intact. Recovery, the responsibility of the military services, would be effected if possible by snatching the spacecraft from the air as it descended on parachute. Failing that, the specially equipped recovery airplane would attempt to snatch the spacecraft from the sea. A final recourse would be recovery by surface vessel.

The selected experiments, including one contributed by Richard Young of the Exobiology Division, were being provided by a variety of agencies including Dartmouth College, the University of California (both the Berkeley and the Los Angeles institutions), the University of Southern California, Colorado State university, Texas Woman's University, Texas Medical Center, the Institute of Cancer Research, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and North American Aviation, Inc. Over 170 experiments had been proposed but fewer than 20 were accepted. The two 3-day flights would carry 12 or 13 experiments; the two 21-day [498] flights, three; and the two 30-day flights, also three but on a single animal subject.

The intended purpose of the 3-day flights was to determine the effect of weightlessness, radiation, or a combination of the two on plant and animal life. Inasmuch as the spacecraft was not expected to enter the Van Allen radiation belts, an artificial, strontium-85, radiation source was to be provided in the capsule. The radiation experiments were to be placed at appropriate distances from this source.

Answers were to be sought in the 3-day flights to such questions as whether the limbs of a pepper plant will continue to grow upward; whether the roots of a wheat seedling will grow downward; and whether frogs' eggs will hatch into normal frogs or two-headed monsters. The frogs' eggs experiment was one that Richard Young had tried, without much success, in Gemini III and was planning to try again in Gemini VIII. Frogs' eggs, it was believed, had a heavy end which, under the influence of gravity, established the orientation of the egg. If during a certain stage in the egg's development, the egg was deliberately turned heavy-end up, a two-headed frog would result. The question of interest therefore was whether this unfortunate condition might occur naturally in a weightless environment. The 3-day flights were also expected to show whether radiation, or the combined effects of radiation and weightlessness, would produce genetic changes in spores, larvae, wasps, fruit flies, or spiderwort herbs or would affect the rate of proliferation of virus in bacteria.

Of the three experiments to be carried on the 21-day flights, one was to observe the occurrence of histologic changes in human-liver tissue during an exposure to weightlessness. Another was to observe the effect of weightlessness on the growth pattern of a fast-growing plant of the cress family. Still another, the most difficult, was to determine the effect of weightlessness on the gross body composition and metabolic rhythms of rats. For this purpose, eight adult rats, wired for telemetry transmission of body temperature and muscular activity, would be carried in the spacecraft. At the same time, a larger control group of rats on the ground would be subjected as nearly as possible to the same environmental conditions-except for weightlessness- as those in space. Providing control groups and establishing baseline conditions for animal subjects used in research was no small task.

The sole test subject of each of the 30-day flights was to be a 15-pound pig-tailed macaque from southeast Asia. The tests were expected to show the effects of prolonged exposure to weightlessness on brain function, cardiovascular function, and bone density-a demineralization was expected. The monkey to be chosen for a particular flight would be selected from hundreds; his body composition and organ functions would be thoroughly documented before flight, and he would be trained to eat pellets pulled....



Above: Artist's conception of 3-day mission with monkey in Biosatellite spacecraft. Left [below]: Air retrieval of Biosatellite performed by Air Force.


.....from a tape on a rotating wheel, to suck fluids from a tube, and to carry out certain functional or psychological exercises.

Although a rather pampered animal, the monkey would, nevertheless, have to endure a number of indignities such as having his eyeteeth pulled out (to avoid bite hazard to handler), having several electrodes permanently embedded in his brain with clip-on terminals projecting from his skull, having catheters installed in his main blood vessels (as well as in his bladder for the removal of urine), and having a form-fitting "butt plate" attached by screws to his rump bones to hold him in place and to facilitate the collection of feces. In addition, there would be leads inserted between his ribs to transmit electrocardiograph readings, and thermocouples and pressure sensors would be attached at various points on his body. His food and fluid intake would be carefully metered, his excrete would be chemi-[500] -cally analyzed, and he would be expected to sit still for 30 days carrying out psychological exercises for which he had been trained. The least of his worries, presumably, would be whether the Air Force would miss when they tried to snatch him from the air on his return to earth. A second trip would be too much to contemplate.




The often-asked question of what good it would do to land a man on the moon was sometimes answered by proponents of the plan with the remark that the value might come less from landing on the moon than from learning how to get there. They were in such cases referring to the expectation that the tremendous outpouring of scientific and technical effort required to solve the practical problems involved in getting to the moon would result in the development of new materials, equipment, techniques, and processes which would have broad application throughout industry and a major impact on the economy of the Nation and the world. While one might be forgiven for believing that it was human curiosity rather than byproducts which accounted for our going to the moon, there was certainly much truth in the theory.

This was so clear in 1962 as to lead the NASA Administrator to take steps not only to facilitate the transfer of technology but also, and very importantly he felt, to document it for ready referral. He assigned the task of expediting the process to the Headquarters Office of Applications, which shortly arranged for the appointment of Application Officers at each of the research Centers. The activity was given a still higher priority in 1963, and made more pointed, when in the course of a major reorganization of the Headquarters establishment, a separate Office of Technology Utilization, reporting directly to the Administrator, was formed. Subsidiary Technology Utilization (TU) Offices were established at each of the Centers, and the whole spinoff operation was greatly accelerated. At Ames the appointed TU officer was George Edwards. He operated with a full-time professional staff of two or three, but with the assistance of individuals (numbering 50 or 60) in the research branches who served as TU representatives.

Formally stated, the objective of the NASA Technology Utilization program was to transfer to the public domain those scientific and technical results of the aerospace effort which potentially have other uses-in industry, business, medicine, education, and in the various agencies of Federal, State, and local governments. The specific tasks of the TU organization were: (1) to identify potentially useful innovations generated in NASA research centers or through the activities of its contractors; (2) to expedite the preparation of descriptive material, photographs, related and supporting evidence that would be helpful in the application of the innovation to other fields (here the patent status of the innovation would be determined....



From left to right: Darrell G. Brekke, patent counsel, and Hirschie J. Johnson, chief counsel.

From left to right: Darrell G. Brekke, patent counsel, and Hirschie J. Johnson, chief counsel.


....and indicated); and (3) to promptly bring the innovations to the attention of possible users by suitable publication of descriptive information.

In operation, the procedure might, for example, start with the development of a unique instrument, such as Vernon Rogallo's momentum balance, in one of the Ames research branches. The instrument would be noted by the local TU representative and identified as being potentially useful to others. The TU representative would bring the matter to the attention of George Edwards and his staff, who would examine the instrument with regard to its general usefulness, discuss the patent aspects of the case with a patent counsel at Ames, and then prepare a summary of the innovation and send it to the Headquarters TU Office in the form of a "Hash sheet." The idea proposed in the flash sheet would be evaluated both by Headquarters and by a private technical agency retained for the purpose by NASA. If approved for dissemination, a thorough description of the innovation would be published in any one, or more, of several forms.

The forms adopted for TU publications include: a Technical Brief, dealing with items of small scope; a Technology Utilization Report, dealing with important single subjects; a Technology Handbook, describing processes; and a Technology Survey, reviewing a whole technical field. One example of the TU Report is SP-5007, which originated at Ames and is entitled "Measurement of the Heartbeat of Bird Embryos With a Micrometeorite Transducer." This report describes an instrument capable of measuring the thousandth part of the momentum of a grain of salt that has dropped half an inch. The published information about the instrument generated consid- [502] -erable interest in industrial and medical centers and it was not long before the commercial production of the instrument was being planned.

From all NASA Centers, the total number of flash sheets submitted to the Headquarters TU office for evaluation in 1965 was 2589. Of these, 1116 were accepted for publication. Comments on the NASA TU program in the technical press had earlier been critical but in 1965 were turning to praise.

The principal problem faced by George Edwards in his TU operations was a shortage of manpower. This problem had been aggravated by the necessity of digging out ideas from often indifferent contractors as well as by the heavy influx of inquiries about TU innovations. Also, Edwards and his staff were often major contributors to technical conferences such as the one on "Space, Science, and Urban Life" sponsored jointly by NASA and the Ford Foundation and, with the cooperation of the University of California, held in Oakland in March 1963.