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


To Smitty DeFrance

The laboratory he founded bears the stamp of his integrity



Dr. Smith J. DeFrance, Director of Ames Research Center from 1940 to1965.

Dr. Smith J. DeFrance, Director of Ames Research Center from 1940 to 1965.






[ix] NASA's Ames Research Center completed its first 25 years and experienced its first change of leadership in 1965. That juncture suggested that the story of those eventful years should be written.

We were especially fortunate to engage Edwin P. Hartman to write this story. During most of the period covered, his principal official duty had been to observe and report to NACA and NASA management the whole spectrum of aeronautical and space activities and developments in the western United States in industry, government, universities, and the Ames Research Center. He had been in an ideal position to evaluate Ames activities and relate them to contemporary events. His written reports in that period had attracted attention to his skills as a keen observer and perceptive reporter.

Hartman's academic training was as an engineer. At Marquette University he earned a professional mechanical engineer degree, and later at California Institute of Technology, a master's degree in mechanical engineering.

From 1930 to 1940 Hartman engaged in aeronautical research as an engineer at NACA's Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. There he worked with the men who were sent to California in 1940 to establish the Ames Research Center. In 1940 he was appointed NACA Western Coordination Officer in charge of the NACA's fledgling Western Coordination Office. Though it was never a part of Ames, Hartman's office was at first housed in the temporary building from which initial construction of Ames facilities was being supervised. Later, his office was moved to the Los Angeles area. In 1960 Hartman undertook what was to become a four-year tour of duty as NASA Senior Scientific Representative in Australia. A few months after he returned to the United States in 1964, retirement gave him freedom to accept the writing commission.

Ed Hartman's qualifications for writing this book were complemented by those of his wife. Miss Jean Kinsley, a fellow employee at the Langley Laboratory as editor of NACA reports, became Hartman's wife in 1939. When Hartman undertook his west coast assignment, Jean became his secretary. Ed Hartman's staff was small, so his wife-secretary served as an assistant. Thus, Jean, too, was constantly alert to aeronautical and space activities and to the fortunes of the Ames Research Center. Her career prepared her [x] well to serve as her husband's secretary, critic, and assistant in writing this book.

The author's close, professional, personal observations of the events and developments as they took place strongly influenced what he has written. The opinions and judgments expressed in this book are wholly those of the author and were curtailed by NASA in no significant degree. He was given freedom to choose the content, style, format, and organization of the material presented and to make his own interpretations. The manuscript has been reviewed for factual accuracy by some 30 NASA personnel familiar with various phases and aspects of the history.

We, at Ames, feel that this book reflects accurately and sensitively the Center's first quarter-century. We feel that this true story is a tribute to Ames' Director throughout that period, Dr. Smith J. DeFrance.



Director, Ames Research Center





[xi] DURING the past few decades the pace of research has been such that the story behind important research developments often has been lost-inundated and rendered quaint by the outpourings of more recent and more sophisticated research activities. It is not, of course, the research results that are lost, for these facts are safely recorded in technicaljournals. What is lost is the connective tissue of background conditions, motivating influences, and human experiences that tie the cold facts together and invest them with additional dimensions of warmth and meaning. Research scientists, a forward-looking lot, show a remarkable indifference to this loss and appear quite content as long as their work is brought to the attention of their scientific peers through the normal professional channels.

Research management, on the other hand, takes a somewhat more humane view of the situation. Out of consideration for the public interest, and with a certain pride of accomplishment, the management of a research agency will, in some instances, go to some trouble and expense to ensure that the story of the agency's past activities is told-and recorded for posterity. Such motivational factors are responsible for the present work.

The present document, which I have called a history-though it certainly was not written for historians-was prepared for and at the request of the NASA Ames Research Center which, in sponsoring the project, acted with the encouragement of NASA Headquarters. It is an account of the establishment, evolutionary development, and activities of the Ames Research Center covering a period characterized by unprecedented scientific and technological revolution. The writing of this book about the Ames Research Center was undertaken with considerable pleasure by one who for many years was employed by the Center's parent organization NASA and, before that, NACA; who had closely followed the Center's growth from the beginning; and who was personally acquainted with, and who held in some affection, the members of its founding staff. These facts are given to alert readers to the presence of bias and the inaccuracies stemming therefrom.

It should be emphasized that this work is a history only of the Ames Research Center. It is not a history of the U.S. Government, of NACA or NASA, of other research centers, of the military services, of industry, or of world events. Information on these peripheral subjects is introduced [xii] merely to provide the reader with a generalized feeling for the local and world environment in which the formation and subsequent activities of the Ames Research Center took place. The background material provided is notably incomplete and in some instances reveals the bias of the NACA/NASA community at the time the events took place. Frequently, also, it reflects the personalized viewpoint of the author who was a close observer of many of these events.

In writing the Ames story, I have tried to convey the correct impression of prevailing conditions, influences, and associated events, but I am aware that, with respect to details, many unintended inaccuracies arising from omissions or from erroneous inferences or implications may have crept in. Owing to the secondary, impressionistic role played by the background material, these suspected faults have been tolerated and documentation has, for ease of reading, been held to a minimum. Indeed a major effort has been made to restrict the physical bounds of the book without sacrifice of essential material.

The preparation of the Ames history required the close cooperation of many people. In NASA Headquarters I would like to cite Dr. Frank Anderson, Jr., NASA Deputy Historian, and Mr. John L. Sloop, of the Office of Advanced Research and Technology, for their tolerance of an engineer-author who appeared bent on flouting every rule of conventional history writing and for their great help in preparing the manuscript for publication. At Ames the contributors were too numerous to be listed; nevertheless I would like to acknowledge the tremendous support provided by Manley Hood, the calm and understanding history-project monitor. Other notable contributors were Gerald Nitzberg, John Parsons, Russell Robinson, Colleen Garcia, Mildred Emel, Carol Tinling, and Mildred Macon.

Of great value, also, was certain information about the early days of NACA received from Dr. John F. Victory, first employee and eventually Executive Secretary of that organization. In the preparation of the sections on general environment, reference was frequently made to two documents: one, Aeronautics and Astronautics 1915-60, by Dr. Eugene M. Emme, NASA Historian; the second, An Administrative History of NASA, 1958-1963, by Robert L. Rosholt.

In particular I would like to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of my wife, Jean, without whose skillful and sustained effort in matters pertaining to editing and manuscript preparation this book would never have been completed.