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


Part III: THE LEAP TO SPACE : 1959-1965





Space Project Management


[389] SPACE-RESEARCH undertakings were tremendously complex operations requiring the close cooperation of many diverse groups, each with its own interests and responsibilities in the project. Inasmuch as the task of coordinating these operations for a particular project was enormous, it is not surprising that a form of activity called "project management" was brought into use. Project management could only loosely be called research; and during the early days of NASA, important people in the management of NASA felt that project management was not a proper activity for Ames. Nevertheless, at both Headquarters and Ames there were many who felt differently and under the pressure of these individuals the Center moved into the project-management field. The movement was at first very gradual and slightly traumatic.

Ames' first space-project work, led by Harry Goett and Bob Crane, was a study of the possibility, or feasibility, of meeting the precision requirement (1/10 second of arc) of an attitude-stabilization system for the proposed Orbiting Astronomical Observatory, OAO. The study was later extended to the proposed Nimbus meteorological satellite, which also required a precise pointing system. These studies resulted in the preparation by Ames of specifications for the stabilization systems for both OAO and Nimbus.

While the OAO work was under way, Ames asked NASA Headquarters for permission to assume technical responsibility for the OAO project. The request must have been made with the strong urging of Goett and Crane for it was known that troth DeFrance and Allen were opposed to the Center's undertaking project work; Robinson was neutral toward it, and Parsons was only mildly favorable. In any case, the Ames proposal was not well received in Washington. With the full concurrence of Dr. Dryden, Ira Abbott of Headquarters replied with a strong suggestion that Ames stick with research and leave project work alone.1

[390] One might have imagined the project-management matter to be settled by Abbott's instructions but by 1960 Alfred Eggers, who had recently been made chief of a new Vehicle Environment Division, had become very much interested in the research possibilities of a solar probe. At the same time, Charles Hall, his assistant division chief, was promoting the solar probe as a project to be managed by Ames. In June 1960 Eggers formed a committee of Ames research men to consider and make proposals on the solar-probe project; and late in 1961, backed by the committee's findings, Hall on two occasions discussed the project with Headquarters groups. Headquarters thought the project too ambitious and, according to Crane, recommended as an alternative the development of a small, cheap interplanetary probe. A few years later the adjectives used in this connection seemed a little naive.

The Space Technology Laboratories, having heard of Ames' interest in a small interplanetary probe, submitted a proposal for such a device. Ames considered the proposal and early in 1962, with the concurrence of Headquarters, awarded STL a 3-month study contract on the probe. In June 1962, armed with material obtained from the STL study, an Ames group headed by Smith DeFrance and John Parsons headed for Washington to sell the project to Headquarters. The attitude of Ames management toward such work had obviously changed considerably-whether from internal or external pressure, it was not clear. In any case, DeFrance and Parsons requested permission to undertake the management of the interplanetary probe project. Approval was not immediately forthcoming but was granted, in November, with the proviso that the Ames manpower outlay for the project be limited to 25 or 30 people. The first name chosen for the project was PIQSY (Pioneer International Quiet Sun Year), but this was soon reduced to "Pioneer."

In 1961 Ames engineers had become interested in still another project, this one having to do with the effect of the environment of space on living animals. The interest arose out of a study, made by Ames at the request of Headquarters, on the feasibility of sending primates (monkeys) aloft for periods of 14 days in leftover Project Mercury capsules. At this time, it should be noted, Dr. Richard Young had but recently arrived at Ames to conduct certain biological studies in preparation for the launching of Project Bios. Bios was an early NASA space biological experiment the launching of which, as it later developed, was unsuccessful. Although NASA had in November 1961 included a monkey named Enos in its second Mercury orbital flight (MA-5), the United States was substantially behind Russia in space biological research, at least as far as orbital-flight operations were concerned. There was thus, at this time, an obvious need for the United States to expand its efforts in this field.

Carl Bioletti had assembled a group of 10 or 12 people at Ames to make the monkey-flight study that Headquarters had requested. The results [391] were submitted to Headquarters early in 1962, at which time an intense argument broke out between the Air Force and NASA as to whether NASA should now be allowed to enter the human-factors or life-sciences area of aerospace research which heretofore the military services had so thoroughly dominated. This argument, in which Bob Crane was involved for several months, was finally resolved in a favorable way for NASA, and NASA then proceeded to establish its Life Sciences Directorate at Ames.

By the time the jurisdictional argument was settled, NASA had received numerous proposals for space biological experiments from universities and other research agencies. Bioletti's group was asked to review these proposals and to determine the feasibility of incorporating them in a spaceflight program designed specifically for biological research. In carrying out this mission, Carl and some of his group visited all of the 30-odd people, or agencies, who had made the proposals to see exactly what was required. He found that the most of the proposals involved small test specimens or short test periods and were incompatible with the 14-day monkey test. If the proposed additional tests were to be carried out, it appeared that a second satellite-booster system, selected especially for these tests, would be required. A search for the system best adapted to the new requirements was undertaken in the fall of 1962.

In October 1962, Ames was officially assigned responsibility for Project Biosatellite.2 This project encompassed the first biological research work which Bioletti's group then had under consideration. With the establishment of Project Biosatellite and Project Pioneer in the fall of 1962, the Center was well launched in a project-management activity.

Even before the establishment of Project Biosatellite, Ames had become involved in flight biological research. The Center in 1961-1962 had assumed payload responsibility for certain flight tests aimed largely at determining the effect of cosmic rays on the brains of animals. The animals in these tests were monkeys, hamsters, and beetles that were carried in balloons to altitudes of up to 25 miles. Four launchings were made, the first in July 1962.

1 Stated in a report prepared by Crane for presentation at Pioneer seminar at Ames on Nov. 24, 1965. Report describes early history of some of the Center's project-management activities.

2 As stated in letter from NASA Headquarters to Ames Research Center, attention Dr. Smith J. DeFrance, Oct. 26, 1962. Letter signed by Edgar M. Cortright for Homer E. Newell, Director, Office of Space Sciences.