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


Part III: THE LEAP TO SPACE : 1959-1965




People and Events




ALTHOUGH Ames was fairly well isolated from the organizational turmoil in Washington, it was obliged to reorganize and redirect its efforts to cope with space-age responsibilities. New areas of space-related research had to be covered and, inasmuch as no increase in staff had been allowed, it was necessary to consolidate and reduce some of the Center's older, aeronautical activities. It was not, however, until December 31, 1959, more than a year after NASA was founded, that the first major organizational change was made at the Center. This organizational event was preceded by certain important personnel shifts of a localized character.

On August 31, 1959, Harry Goett, Chief of the Full Scale and Flight Research Division, left Ames to become Director of the new Goddard Space Flight Center. His going, though a big gain for Goddard, was a great loss for Ames. Fortunately there had developed at Ames a cadre of extremely able young men from whom vacancies could be filled. Goett's former position was filled by Charles W. (Bill) Harper, who had been chief of the 40- by 80-Foot Wind Tunnel Branch. Bill, a sports-car racer by avocation, had displayed a high level of technical ability and leadership at Ames. In research he readily distinguished the kernel from the chaff and pressed on toward the target with exemplary vigor. The success of his leadership was further assured by his pleasant, debonair, personality. Harper's former position, in the 40-by-80, was taken over by Woodrow Cook.

Another loss to the Center, fortunately temporary, occurred in the summer of 1959 when Dean Chapman left Ames for a year of study at the University of Manchester in England. This opportunity was afforded by the Rockefeller Public Service Award which Chapman won for his outstanding work on spacecraft reentry trajectories.

The major organizational changes made at the end of 1959 were principally concerned with the research divisions. The changes included (1) the appointment of Harvey Allen to the position of Assistant Director, parallel-...



Charles W. Harper.

Charles W. Harper.


...-ing that held by Russell Robinson; (2) elimination of the Theoretical and Applied Research Division; (3) the granting of divisional status to aerothermodynamics research; and (4) the formation of a new Vehicle Environment Division, under Alfred Eggers, to deal exclusively with problems of spacecraft design and operation.

As noted, the assumption, by Ames, of new space-research responsibilities necessitated a consolidation and a curtailment of some of the older aeronautical research activities. Moves in this direction by early 1960 included the following:


(1) In November 1959, the 10- by 14-Inch Supersonic Wind Tunnel Branch was disbanded and the tunnel reassigned, for use as required, to the 3.5-Foot Hypersonic Wind Tunnel Branch.
(2) The 14-Foot Transonic Wind Tunnel Branch also was disbanded late in 1959 and the tunnel reassigned, for use as required, to the 11-Foot Transonic Wind Tunnel Branch (Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel Division) .
(3) The 7- by 10-Foot Wind Tunnels Branch was disbanded earlier and the two tunnels reassigned on a standby basis to the 40- by 80-Foot Wind Tunnel Branch.
(4) The remaining six non-Unitary wind tunnels were combined into three branches.


Most of the changes so far mentioned are reflected in the abbreviated organizational chart for January 1960. The chart, however, does not reveal the formation, in December 1958, of the Ames Manned Satellite Team, headed by Alfred Eggers. The responsibilities of this team were (1) to consider the design problems of a manned satellite, (2) to propose a practical....



Organization Chart (Research Division details) of Ames Research Center, October 1960.

Organization Chart (Research Division details) of Ames Research Center, October 1960.


[320] ....system for such a satellite, and (3) to recommend research programs necessary for the development of the proposed system. This very influential group, which in June 1960 was reconstituted under the leadership of Alvin Seiff as the Ames Manned Lunar Mission Team, was instrumental in setting the manned lunar mission 1 as a NASA goal. As reconstituted, the team was organized as follows:


A. Seiff, Chairman; C. A. Syvertson, vice chairman; M. H. Mead, guidance and control; G. A. Rathert, piloting, simulation, bioengineering; A. L. Erickson, launch vehicles; G. G. Edwards, landing; B. Look, parachutes; H. Hornby, rendezvous, propulsion; G. A Smith, guidance techniques; S. F. Schmidt, trajectories, control; G. Goodwin, heat transfer; C. A. Hermach, materials; A. C. Charters, meteoroid damage; and C. F. Hansen, physics.




Once the excitement over the initial Space Age developments at Ames began to fade, a certain restlessness in the Center's staff became evident. Don Wood retired and Alex Charters resigned in March 1961. Alex's position as chief of the hypervelocity ballistics range was filled by Tom Canning. A little later Fred Hansen, chief of the Physics Branch, resigned and the vacancy thus created was filled by Michel Bader, who had come to Ames from Caltech.

On April 19, 1961, Don Heinle, Ames test pilot, was killed in the crash of an F-101 at Edwards. Reportedly, his plane got into a flat spin from which he was unable to effect a recovery. Don was well liked at Ames and had made many contributions to the Center's flight research. His passing was a sad loss.

In August 1962 Bradford Evans replaced Dan Wentz as Information Officer. A month later Red Betts retired and his position was filled by Raymond Braig. Also, late in 1962, R. T. Jones departed from Ames on an extended leave of absence to work with an eastern research group on the development of an artificial heart.

The period 1961-1962 was also marked by a number of organizational changes. Early in 1962 Arthur Freeman was given the title "Assistant Director for Administration," but his task remained essentially unchanged. He had held the same position longer than anyone else at the Center except Smith DeFrance. NASA management was impressed with the need for ensuring that new devices and ideas developed for space operations be quickly brought to the attention of industry for possible application in other nonspace fields. To further this purpose, an Applications Officer was appointed at each NASA center. At Ames the position was assigned to George ....




Daniel S. Wentz and Bradford A. Evans, Public Information Officers.

Daniel S. Wentz and Bradford A. Evans, Public Information Officers.


....Edwards, who for a time thereafter carried on the applications work while continuing to act as head of the 12-Foot Pressure Wind Tunnel Section.

The scope of the Ames research operation was considerably enlarged in August 1962 when a Space Sciences Division was formed. The new division, assigned to Harvey Allen's directorate and headed by Dr. Charles P. Sonett, was the first Ames unit established primarily for the purpose of carrying out experiments in space. Sonett had perhaps had as much experience in devising space experiments and instruments as anyone else in the country. As an employee of the Space Technology Laboratories, Sonett had worked for a number of years on Air Force space probes. More recently, he had been connected with the NASA Headquarters Office of Space Sciences. Because of manpower limitations, the Space Sciences Division at Ames grew much more slowly than Dr. Sonett had hoped, or expected, and by the end of 1962 had not increased much in size. First member of Sonett's staff was John Wolfe, who had been working with Michel Bader, in the Physics Branch, on solar-plasma probes. Another early staff acquisition was John Spreiter, who was appointed head of the Theoretical Studies Branch of the new division.




One of the most important organizational changes at Ames was the starting of a life-sciences activity in February 1961 with the arrival of Dr. Richard S. Young. Two weeks later Young was joined by Dr. Jiro Oyama. Dr Young was then connected with the new Office of Life Sciences Programs which, under Dr. Clark Randt, had been established in NASA Headquarters Randt's office had developed an interest in biological experiments to be carried out in space by means of satellites (e.g., Project Bios) and a laboratory was needed in which some ground experimentation could be performed prior to flight. Such work, they decided, could be done at Ames. This was the mission of Drs. Young and Oyama. They established their first...



John H. Wolfe and Richard W. Silva (top left), Dr. Charles P. Sonett (top right), Dr. Richard S. Young (bottom left), and Dr. Webb E. Haymaker (bottom right)

John H. Wolfe and Richard W. Silva (top left), Dr. Charles P. Sonett (top right), Dr. Richard S. Young (bottom left), and Dr. Webb E. Haymaker (bottom right)


....biological research facilities in a small penthouse atop the instrument research building. At this stage, Dr. Young was not a part of the Ames organization. He received administrative support from the Center but reported to Dr. Randt.

Prior to Dr. Young's arrival at Ames, NASA Headquarters considered [323] the establishment of a major NASA life-sciences activity at Ames Research Center and other sites. Ames was of interest because of the well-known biological centers and scientists located in the San Francisco Bay region; another reason for the tide's turning in favor of Ames may have been the human-factors aspect of the Center's flight-simulation activities. This item might not have been effective had it not been for the enlightenment and persuasion which reportedly was offered to Dr. Randt by his friend Dr. Harald Smedal. Dr. Smedal, a captain in the U.S. Navy Medical Corps, had earlier become interested in the flight-simulation work at Ames and had joined the Center's staff.

The decision to establish a life-sciences research activity at Ames was made in November 1960, 2 but further action was delayed until the next spring when Drs. Young and Oyama became the first members of the Ames life-sciences organization. Walter Peterson, the first Ames staff member to be associated with the new activity, was appointed Administrative Assistant to the Assistant Director for Life Sciences. The latter position (Assistant Director for Life Sciences) was filled in July 1961 by Dr. Webb Haymaker, internationally known neuropathologist who at one time had been president of the American Association of Neuropathologists. Appointed as Dr. Haymaker's deputy was Dr. G. Dale Smith. A month before Dr. Haymaker's actual arrival at Ames, in November 1961, the Biotechnology Division of the Life Sciences Directorate was formed under the direction of a new man at Ames, Dr. Siegfried J. Gerathewohl. Its task was related quite closely to the flight-simulator work at Ames, and members of the Center's staff were available to form an operating nucleus for the new unit.

Despite the fairly good start made in organizing the Biotechnology Division, the Life Sciences Directorate was in a continuous state of turmoil for the next 2 years. As is often the case with new research organizations, little was accomplished during this period. The October 1962 Organization Chart is representative of the conditions prevailing.




Manpower problems at Ames were acute. The Center had not been permitted to augment its staff to handle the new research responsibilities that had been thrust upon it. Some of the new fields of research required training and experience of a kind which the old NACA staff at Ames did not possess. Disciplines involved in life-science research were obviously outside of NACA's experience and, even with respect to the physical space sciences, training of one kind or another would be required.

The Government Employees Training Act of 1958 was of some help. This Act allowed selected Government employees time off from their work....



Walter 0. Peterson.

Walter 0. Peterson.


....to attend university courses when these would significantly improve their ability to serve their employer. In pursuit of this opportunity, Ames staff members took courses at local schools. At Stanford University, the Center's longstanding cooperative arrangement remained in force and, as before, a number of Ames employees, notably John Spreiter, Harvard Lomax, and W. J. Kerwin, taught courses at the university in the aeronautical and space sciences.

Ames found some small relief from its manpower miseries in the postdoctoral fellowship program of the National Academy of Sciences. This program, funded by a grant from NASA, was not intended to solve NASA's staffing problems. Its purpose, rather, was to allow selected scientists from the international community to work in NASA space-research centers and thus gain experience that would be useful to them and the countries from which they came. The candidates were carefully screened and given assignments for one year which under favorable conditions might be extended to a second or a third year. The postdoctoral fellows, as they were called, were mostly very able men who often made substantial contributions to NASA's research effort and who, in some cases, later accepted regular employment at the Center. Dr. Cyril Ponnamperuma, the first postdoctoral fellow to serve at Ames, arrived in the summer of 1961. An extremely able research man, Dr. Ponnamperuma later joined the permanent staff of the Center's Life Sciences Directorate.

Still another arrangement that provided some slight relief for Ames manpower shortage was an agreement reached between NASA and the military services whereby graduating college students in ROTC were allowed to....



Organization Chart (Research Division details) of Ames Research Center, October 1962.

Organization Chart (Research Division details) of Ames Research Center, October 1962.


[326] ....spend their required two years of service in NASA rather than in the military. Quite a few men came to Ames under this arrangement.

These programs were valuable but unfortunately did little to solve the pressing manpower problems at Ames. The remaining avenues for dealing with these problems were: (1) curtailment of some of the less important work at the Center, and (2) the letting of contracts with outside agencies to carry out both routine and research tasks. Contracts could certainly be let for some of the routine services that absorbed the Center's manpower. Such services included training, routine computing, equipment maintenance, architectural design, and operation of the mechanical and electrical auxiliaries of the research facilities.

The letting of contracts for research was another matter. NACA and Ames had always favored the development of in-house capability for research work. But times had changed. Through oral persuasion and manpower squeeze, Headquarters was forcing Ames to move in the direction of research contracting. The Life Sciences Directorate clearly and with good reason would use contracting to accomplish many of its research objectives. The Space Sciences Division, which, because it was new, suffered most keenly from the manpower shortage, would also be forced to follow the contract route, at least for routine services such as computing and for supporting research and development work. A new day for Ames was in the making.




With the founding of NASA, all of the old NACA report series were discontinued, as was NACA's practice of holding frequent inspections and technical conferences. Numerous meetings were held by NASA but few bore much resemblance to the old NACA technical conference. The establishment of a new report series was undertaken soon after NASA was founded but was not implemented until July 1959. In the interim, research reports issued by NASA were given a simple designation consisting primarily of the date of issue and a letter symbol indicating the Center of origin. A typical designation for a report issued during this period was: Memo 2-19-59A, where the A stood for Ames.

Of the several report series established in July 1959, the three main ones were designated by three letters followed by a serial number. The assigned designations were:


TM X-000 (replacing NACA RM series)

TN D-000 (replacing NACA TN series)

TR R-000 (replacing NACA TR series)


TM X series reports, like those of the old RM series, were classified if required but those of the other two series were unclassified. In addition to [327] these three report series, there was a CR series for contractors' reports and an SP (Special Publication) series of NASA publications.

While NASA clearly held the right to publish the work of its staff and its contractors, it generally denied neither group the privilege of first publication of unclassified information in non-NASA media. And since outside publication often satisfied the agency's requirements, the results of NASA-financed research often did not appear under NASA report covers. Many NASA research men, particularly those operating in the new life-science and space-science fields, preferred to publish their papers in professional journals. Often new NASA test results were first presented at a meeting of some technical society. NASA men were in much demand as speakers at such meetings and some NASA research men made their way in London, Istanbul, New Delhi, and Tokyo as easily as they did in San Francisco. Within the world's scientific community, space research was providing the bonds of a common interest and a vehicle for increasing international collaboration.

The stigma which NACA once attached to public-relations activities was, in the new NASA environment, completely missing. Brad Evans thus entered Ames employ as a first-class citizen with a very important job to do. The job required a man with a broad knowledge encompassing, at once, a reasonably good understanding of the technically complex work being done by the Center and an understanding of the almost equally complex aspects of information transmission. Moreover, the job required political "sawy" and a fine sensitivity in human relationships. Often the blunt, obscure language of research engineers had, through Brad's good offices, to be softened and clarified for public consumption. The contributions of the public-relations man, the information specialist, were appreciated in these days.

1 The team proposed a series of manned flights reaching ever closer to the moon but not an actual lunar landing.

2 Decision cited in letter from Dr. Clark T. Randt, Director, Office of Life Sciences Programs, to Dr. S. J. DeFrance, Director, Ames Research Center, dated Nov. 15, 1960.