SP-4304 SEARCHING THE HORIZON: A History of Ames Research Center, 1940-1976






[199] The words aeronautical laboratory evoke images of a bygone era. Ames Research Center today bears little resemblance to the institution that was built so hurriedly on the eve of World War II. The changes that together worked such a transformation were separately no more than gradual and rational accommodations to the changing world. The center's leaders actively sought some of the changes; others came unavoidably from increasing size, complexity, and diversity. For the most part, managers made change work in the center's favor. Such an ability is obviously essential in the long term for a successful research institution. The Ames that Smith De France built, outstanding as it was, could not have prospered indefinitely with its original characteristics. Though the body of this book has dealt with many of those changes as they occurred over almost 40 years, a comparison of Ames in 1976 with the Ames of the 1940s might be useful as a summary. Because the introduction of project management was perhaps the most significant single change of all, that topic will also be discussed in this final chapter.




In 1945, after five years of frantic construction, Ames remained unfinished. Indeed, it still bore the appearance of any large-scale construction job. Landscaping was nonexistent. The newly finished 40- by 80-foot wind tunnel loomed at the northwestern boundary, dominating the scene and highly visible from the Bayshore Highway. Much empty space remained; it would gradually be filled up as more and more facilities were built. In 1945 there were 16 buildings on the 0.4 km2 of the laboratory.1

By 1976 the land area had tripled and more than 50 buildings were in use, not counting additions to earlier facilities and temporary accommodations provided by trailers. To the wind tunnels and laboratories had been [200] added ballistic ranges, flight simulators, two libraries, a separate cafeteria, a building to house computer facilities, helium storage tanks, a holding facility for life-sciences animals -an array never dreamed of when the first wind tunnels were constructed. Mud had long since been supplanted by lawns, evergreens, and a maze of sidewalks and roads.

In 1945 the main research tools were wind tunnels, supported by a few research aircraft. Wind-tunnel speeds ranged from 425 km/hr in the 40- by 80-foot wind tunnel to Mach 3.4 in the 1- by 3-foot supersonic tunnel. Facilities looked much like those at Langley or Lewis-which was only to be expected, as all three laboratories dealt strictly with aeronautical research.

By 1976 the divergence of research had made each research center unique. Wind-tunnel speeds now reached Mach 15. Aircraft had long since achieved speeds unimagined in 1945, and research was no longer particularly dedicated to achieving higher speed. Instead, take-off and landing characteristics distinguished some of the research aircraft; others had unusual altitude potential or stability characteristics. Heat had become a crucial issue in research. High-speed aeronautics, merging into astronautics, had encountered and resolved reentry heating problems, and arcjet facilities made possible high-temperature testing of aerodynamic shapes and materials. Supporting the wind tunnels, ballistic ranges, and simulators in flight research were not only a selection of aircraft, but also computational facilities for the mathematical attack on aerodynamic problems.

In addition to aircraft that supported aeronautical research in traditional ways, Ames also possessed aircraft that were used as laboratories, or platforms from which to conduct experiments. The Convair 990 was used in photographic surveys, as were the high-altitude U-2s. The C-141 Starlifter was an astronomical observatory, bearing a 92-cm telescope. As well as being an object of research, flight had become a tool of research. In addition to the increase in range and sophistication of aeronautical and astronautical research tools, the biological and chemical laboratories used by the Life Sciences Directorate made Ames unique among NASA's research centers. By 1976 Ames could not possibly have been described as an aeronautical laboratory.




As with facilities, Ames personnel had become much more diversified as years passed. Originally, researchers had all worked either in wind-tunnel research, flight research, or theoretical aerodynamics. In the shops, machinists and woodworkers made wind-tunnel models to researchers' specifications and test equipment for use in the tunnels and aircraft. A small management [201] staff and a few clerks kept the ratio of "direct labor" to "support labor" high. There were no contractors, hence no contractor personnel, at Ames in 1945. The work force approximated 800, with an operating budget of $8 million.2 As all veterans would attest, everyone knew everyone else.

In 1976, with approximately 1600 civil servants plus 1200 contractor personnel at Ames,3 the situation had changed completely. The diversity of research facilities was matched by a diversity in research personnel. To the aeronautical engineers had been added physicists, biologists, chemists, astronomers, geologists, mathematicians, medical doctors, and planetologists. Most of the work done originally by in-house machinists and model builders was now contracted out, to be done off the premises. Contractors had also become responsible for the maintenance of much equipment.

During World War II, Ames had been hard pressed to keep an adequate staff. The personnel shortage was not a question of budgets, but of locating and retaining qualified persons. In the early years most of the Ames staff was drawn from relatively few sources. Some engineers had transferred from Langley while Ames was being built, but many of the research staff had been hired out of graduating university classes, largely from schools west of the Rockies. By the 1970s, however, Ames was more cosmopolitan. Researchers were still hired directly out of school, but the school was as likely to be in the East as the West. Both research and management personnel were hired from other NASA centers; they were also likely to leave Ames for jobs at other NASA installations. In addition to the greater movement of employees within NASA, Ames now gained personnel from industry, university faculties, and the military. The possible sources of personnel had increased immensely, along with the scope of research. If the researchers were no longer as tightly knit professionally as they had once been, that advantage was offset by a wider outlook and a new cosmopolitanism within the organization.

A similar change occurred within management. In 1945 Ames managers came from only one source - Langley. The three top administrators - De France, Jack Parsons, and Arthur Freeman, the administrative officer- had a common background, having spent their whole careers in the NACA. The research division heads-Don Wood, Harvey Allen, and Jack Parsons- were still largely exempted from administrative duties and worked almost full time in research. By 1976 managers came from a variety of sources and brought with them a much wider range of experience. The director had been in management positions in academia and at another national research laboratory. The head of one research directorate had been born and educated in Great Britain; another was a former academic who had built a new university's biology department; a third, while spending almost his entire career at Ames, had nevertheless done research all over the world. The director of administration had had a long and wide-ranging career in industry. Many in [202] management positions had held Sloan fellowships, which gave business and financial training to promising young managers. Reflecting the new career flexibility, management changed greatly over short intervals of time, as some individuals moved on to other government positions, both in NASA and with other agencies. Some retired in mid-career to take up teaching positions. In 1976, though 20-year veterans were not rare in research and management, many of the staff had been at Ames only a few years. The flow of personnel through Ames had increased from a trickle to a stream, widening the center's frame of reference with each arrival and departure.




By 1976 Ames had a variety of facilities and personnel because research was no longer conducted within a single discipline. Through the 1950s the center had been concerned only with high-speed and low-speed aeronautics. The problems within the field remained recognizable to anyone working anywhere in aeronautics. In 1943 Harvey Allen, who was to become one of the foremost researchers in high-speed aeronautics, was a major contributor to the design of the 40- by 80-foot wind tunnel that was used only for low-speed work. By 1976, however, even an engineering genius of Allen's competence could not participate technically in all the Ames work. That increase in research range was accompanied by many changes: large budgets, contracting out, intricate relationships with outside organizations, and project management. A long-term Ames researcher and administrator observed, "We not only changed our business totally, but our way of doing it."4

Management had remained relatively simple through the middle 1950s. In 1945 De France, with the aid of Jack Parsons, had almost complete autonomy over the laboratory. The posts of assistant director did not yet exist. There were three research divisions. A financial officer was in charge of the accounting records, but De France controlled the budget and decided where the yearly monetary allotment was spent. Because all Ames personnel were civil servants, personnel problems were straightforward. There was a clearly visible line between management and research and an equally clear boundary drawn around Ames-Washington was far away, and management carried on without much interaction with NACA Headquarters. The general philosophy was "Give us the money and leave us alone."5 If funds were available, Ames usually got its requested financing and was pretty much left alone to use the funds in its own manner.

Financial management presented a very different picture by 1976: more money, more management, more institutional structure. Ames no longer controlled its own budget. Flexibility in the use of available funds had [203] greatly diminished. As Dean Chapman noted in 1982, "In De France's day, he would get some money for [Ames] and the freedom to use it. Today, money doesn't even really come to the center; it comes through program Offices for a specific program or project."6 Bookkeeping had become complicated in the extreme, and by the late 1960s financial management had become a cross that even directorate heads had to bear. Jack Boyd had lived through the slow growth of financial complexity within the research directorates. In the early 1960s, working under assistant director Russell Robinson' Boyd's job had been reasonably straightforward, because directorates were still uninvolved with financial details. In the late 1960s and 1970s, this situation changed dramatically. As a research assistant to Allen during his center directorship and as a technical assistant to Leonard Roberts in the Aeronautics and Flight Systems Directorate, Boyd handled many of the myriad details of financing with which the center and its research directorates had become entangled.7

Management also faced several other new duties. One concerned contracts and contractors. Not only did decisions have to be made at various levels in selecting contractors, but their work then had to be monitored, and disagreements and deadlines had to be dealt with. Contractors had to be kept aware of the larger research picture. The Procurement Division was responsible for many of the routine and legal aspects, a function it had not had in 1945. Another consideration was dealing with Headquarters and the other NASA installations on a daily basis. As only one element in an agency that addressed a huge assortment of research and development needs, Ames had become interdependent with the other installations, and with Headquarters, in ways that had not existed previously.

In the old days Ames personnel seldom went to Washington to fight for threatened programs. Decision processes had not involved researchers. By the early 1970s, though, Ames Director Hans Mark depended on physical presence to aid campaigns for programs and funds, and the "red-eye special" flight from San Francisco to Washington was familiar not only to Mark and his directorate heads, but also to researchers who were often called upon to take their causes to the top NASA hierarchy.

That Ames was no longer insular in its affairs was also reflected in the managerial side of new relationships between Ames and numerous other organizations. Project management, as exemplified by the Biosatellite and Pioneer, demanded a new type of management (see below). In addition, however' there were the relationships with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Army Air Mobility Laboratory, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency. On a more individual level were collaborations between Ames researchers and their colleagues in universities and other state and federal agencies. Separate offices sometimes managed these interrelationships, but Others were dealt with on lower levels within the directorates themselves.

[204] New research and management demands were reflected, naturally, in the organizational framework of Ames. Comparing the 1945 and 1976 organization charts (app. A) shows only one new research directorate, though the range of research had increased significantly. Most of the change was in the administrative and bureaucratic hierarchy that became unrecognizable by 1945 standards. Not only was there a separate directorate for research support, but the administration directorate had also grown to encompass five divisions. As already observed, new offices that dealt with other agencies, Headquarters, and various elements of the outside world had appeared. Where there had once been only one formalized link - De France-outward to the NACA Washington office, there was, by 1976, an intricate set of relationships extending to other government agencies, industry, the military, and universities.




As the physical aspects of Ames changed over the years, so too did the working atmosphere and the research process. Many long-term Ames employees commented on the changes, the cumulative effects of which were dramatic, though perhaps unlikely to be noted by outside observers.

For example, safety practices became more stringent. In the 1940s and 1950s, Seth Anderson was a flight-research engineer studying stability and control characteristics of various aircraft. In those days, and especially during World War II, problems were attacked more directly, with less regard for formal procedures. Solutions were suggested and tested, and the reports were written up promptly. Sometimes the whole process took only two or three months. Today, similar work might take two years. Though an engineer-observer, not a test pilot, Anderson flew some of the 60 to 70 types of aircraft tested at Ames during the war.


We didn't have enough pilots, so it was a chance for me to help fly some of these vehicles. It was a more hurried type of testing that today would be considered unsafe; in the early days we went along as observers and engineers to run the test equipment. When [duct] tests were conducted on the P-51 wing in the 16-foot wind tunnel, the actual airplane was mounted in the tunnel with the wing tips cut off.... It was tested with one of the engineers in the cockpit at speeds up to 500 mph. [Duct rumble was both an acoustic and a structural problem. Its onset and intensity were most accurately sensed by a person in the cockpit.] We never do that now . . . because of the safety aspects.8


[205] The circumstances of Ames's birth indeed influenced its early atmosphere, and conservative testing procedures may have been occasionally sacrificed during World War II. Other Ames veterans, commenting on wartime flight testing, noted that urgency was underlined by heavy battle casualties. Risks were relative.9

Another interesting change, perhaps more a reflection of personality differences than anything else, was the shift in the day-to-day relationships between researchers and Ames management. Researchers had little contact with De France, who relied on either Parsons or his assistant directors Robinson and Bioletti (after 1950) to keep him in touch with what was going on in the wind tunnels. Though De France was certainly available if one needed to see him, the line of communication from researchers to administration generally did not extend all the way to the director of Ames. This situation changed under Harvey Allen. Having spent most of his career in research, Allen refused to give it up as director of the center. Because his interests and talents were so diverse, he involved himself in technical discussions in a way De France and Mark did not. Veterans recalled,


You never used to see De France as a researcher. Harvey used to have areas that he was really interested in, because he did some of it himself [and] never really got out of the research game, so you tended to see Harvey a bit more. [It was] on a peer level though, less of a supervisor. 10
Allen spent a sizable fraction of his time just wandering around, sitting down and talking to people about their research, how it was coming along, etc. You'd see him do that in the afternoons when he finished his other work. 11


With Hans Mark, managerial involvement in the research life of Ames was a conscious policy by which he informed himself of the technical details of work in progress and evaluated researchers and their achievements. It was, as one scientist recalled drily, a far cry from the "kind old founders of Ames. If you were good, you looked forward to the reviews. If you weren't you dreaded them. They were not unlike oral reviews for the Ph.D."12

The difference in managerial practice among the three Ames directors illustrates another process that began in the late 1950s and gained momentum over the next 20 years. For better or worse, researchers before 1960 had been successfully insulated from the realities of life. Financial, bureaucratic, and competitive elements of the center's work were of no direct concern to them. Ames veterans varied greatly in their explanations for the shift, as they did when attempting to pin down the change chronologically. All agreed, [206] however, that their jobs had become more complicated and all attributed those changes to financial factors, either growing or shrinking funding. It seems apparent that both the boom of the early 1960s and the subsequent retrenchment after Apollo influenced the Ames mode of operation, making life more difficult for researchers. Some saw the growth of the NASA budget as the crucial element:


In the early days, when the total NACA budget was $40 million, there was little scrutiny of how the money was spent, in part because there weren't engineering specialists at Headquarters. We didn't have serious problems in dealing with Headquarters because the research funds were relatively small. When large funding became available for special projects, a much closer rein was needed to justify expenditures.13


Another researcher added:


Early in my career [the 1960s] there was more bureaucracy than later. Progress reports were required by NASA Headquarters, [and we spent a lot of time] giving research talks to Headquarters visitors. That [later] relaxed, and perhaps part of the reason it relaxed was that travel money got scarce.14


Contrastingly, some Ames researchers saw the bureaucratic detail and finance problems stemming from cutbacks, rather than from the growth of funds and programs. Interconnected to financing complexity was a gradual shifting of control to NASA Headquarters. As Dean Chapman remembered,


One of the changes took place beginning in the late 1960s. There was so much money in the Apollo years-there was money to do anything that it was important to do. When the money began to get tight [things changed] .
I can remember starting to do something without [a Research Authorization], without [a Research and Technology Objective and Plan]. You'd just do it, then write a report. The only discussion you had as a research worker was with your supervisors. Now you have to work with Headquarters directly, to persuade them to divide the money for this or that project, to specifically earmark the money, etc.15


[207] Robert Nysmith, later an administrator at NASA Headquarters, recalled Mark's reviews as pivotal in making the researcher aware of both budget restraints and competitive elements:


I. . . can't remember worrying about such things under De France and Allen [when I was a researcher] . I figured that those guys knew what they were doing. If I needed a piece of equipment I'd go and cry and beg to my branch chief, and if he [couldn't] get it, [I'd] jury-rig something that would get the job done. I'd worry about a paper I was going to present, or something I [was] trying to figure out, but [not the funding details]. I'm afraid the system now requires the researcher to be more worldly. I get that feeling when I talk to researchers -they're worrying about things I never used to know existed.16


Large-scale, time-limited project management with precisely defined goals (such as Pioneer, to be discussed below) did not exist when Ames was founded; but the process by which even the more traditional research was carried on changed in the interval covered by this book. The new complexities-relations with external agencies, cooperation with external researchers, reliance on contract support services, participation of more academic disciplines, additional controls on money, elaborate decision-making methods changed significantly the way researchers went about their daily activities. One common effect of many of the changes was to decrease the center's self-sufficiency, as a 40-year veteran noted in 1982:


The center used to be self-contained. If you wanted something made in a shop, we had a shop where you could go get it made. Now, there are large numbers of support service contractors, and shop work is sent out to get done. There are lots of things where it seems to me the center simply can't respond the way it used to.17


The use of contractors has changed the relationships Ames has with other organizations and the mode of operation within the center itself. There are two underlying reasons behind the development of contracting at Ames. First, the increased scope of research made it impossible for Ames to produce all the components or to employ permanently all the specialists it needed. Second, financial considerations made contracting necessary. A contractor might-or might not-be able to do a given job cheaper than civil servants could. But contracts are of fixed duration, whereas civil servants are hired indefinitely. Further, Congress usually was more willing to provide money for contracting than to raise civil-service ceilings. The whole question has ramifications that merit reflection.

[208] In much the same vein as Dusterberry, Robert Nysmith described the changed research scene at Ames in terms of the development of shop contracting. His perspective illuminates a series of changed relationships:


We started undergoing manpower reductions [in the late 1960s]. A conscious decision was made to take the cuts in the support areas and protect the professional positions. As a result the character of research started to change.
One of the fond memories I had as a researcher was that of encountering a problem in my task and seeing the need for a piece of equipment. I'd sit down with a sketch, make up a work order, and take it to the branch chief. He'd sign it, and I'd go off to the . . . head of the machine shop. He'd say, "Yeah, go talk to Joe," and Joe would say, "OK, you want to wait?" or "I'll have it tomorrow morning," or "Why do you want to do that?" Maybe right then and there we'd change the sketch. He'd understand what I wanted it for, and what it was supposed to be used on, and in fact when I went and used it, half the time [the men in the shop] would come over to watch it. [The shop machinists] were an integral part of the research project.
Now . . . the researcher makes up a job order [which is let] out on contract to a job shop. It may take two weeks to a month to get it back, and then it may not be right.


Such delays meant that a researcher had to have several tasks under way at once. Then, when one was stopped by the lack of equipment, the researcher could work on another.18

On a larger scale, contracting a great deal of work, especially on major research projects, turned some researchers into contract managers, sometimes costing them their research roles. Dean Chapman noted, "It's in many cases an irreversible process. You can't go back, there's too much to catch up with in research. " Research capability in aeronautics was frequently traded for project-management capability, with many of the best researchers becoming space-oriented managers. "Aeronautics was left without a full distribution of good researchers, and though that's shifting now, we still don't have the capability that existed pre-Sputnik, in that there were specialists in aeronautics, men who knew their fields better than the people in industry.19 Harry Goett, speaking from his experience both at Ames and at Goddard, said much the same thing:


If you get more money, you also get more people from the outside. You may still be doing good research, but your researchers become program managers, supervisors. And any good researcher, after three years of being a program manager, is out of the research business and is a program manager.20


[209] As contracting caused the researcher to proceed more often piecemeal, so too did the scope of the research that was undertaken. For the typical job at Ames in 1945, all the workers involved with it were at the laboratory. Even when Ames and Langley were pursuing similar studies, they worked independently, with researchers periodically comparing their respective advances. (An example is the transonic research of 1946-1948, described in chapter 2.) By 1976, however, researchers typically were interacting; with colleagues all around the country,21 and often a research project was a collaborative undertaking with other NASA centers, industry, and the military. The effects were obvious: while professional ties were strengthened and horizons widened, while the range of research involvement was extended, it was also possible for one's own research to be lost in the larger effort. The change almost certainly affected the researcher's perception of his work, though exactly how can scarcely be described precisely. But older Ames personnel noticed:


There was no question whatsoever that under the NACA, aerodynamics and in-house work done by NACA people was top dog. Then NASA came along, and [Ames] became part of a [much larger] organization . . . and the prestigious stuff moved away from those traditional NACA laboratories and over to the Goddards and Marshalls end Johnsons, who had the money.22


The shift to big programs, where the prestige was, also shifted the relationships between Ames and industry and the military. Goett said the NACA


had a doctor-patient relationship with industry. [If] North American won a contract with the Air Force, within a very short time North American would be up here [asking advice. As we now contract with industry], the situation is reversed. Industry is not going to admit what [it] doesn't know. It becomes a situation of "Give me $10 million and I'll do it."


What happened was that NASA evolved into a developmental agency as much as a research organization.


When NASA started out, it was the Air Force that had the trucks - the Atlas, the Titan-that we used to launch our payloads. Now NASA is building trucks for the Air Force,23


Goett observed drily as he considered the Space Shuttle and its implications. NASA became, instead of a seller of advice, a buyer of goods and services [210] from the very industries it had once advised. Many Ames personnel viewed the change as unfortunate:


The thing that bothered me [was that] when NASA started you could tell immediately . . . that we were different. . . because we had an operational role instead of just a research role. The minute we [assumed] an operational role, somebody was trying to sell us something, and instead of coming in and telling us what their problems were, they came in and told us what their solutions to [our problems were] ,24


All these changes at Ames-from small to large budgets, administrative simplicity to complexity, self-sufficiency to large-scale interdependence, research to development and operations - are illustrated in the advent of project management. Project management, in a way, is as representative of NASA as basic research was of the NACA. Ames's striking triumph in project management, Pioneer, illustrates many of the contrasts between old and new.




Strictly speaking, Pioneer was four separate projects, of which Ames was responsible for all but the first. The process by which Ames acquired the management of Pioneer, the problems involved in project management, and the ways in which Ames successfully directed the missions indicate the different issues that the center faced under NASA.

The first Pioneer project (five vehicles launched between 1958 and 1960) had been planned for the International Geophysical Year by the Advanced Research Projects Agency. Both the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency were assigned execution of the launchings. When NASA was formed, it inherited the probes, which were then launched by the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division (Pioneer 1, 2, and 5) and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (Pioneer 3 and 4). Those launched by the Air Force were developed by Space Technology Laboratories, Inc., the company that eventually became TRW Systems Group, the prime contractor for most of the later Pioneers. Pioneer 3 and 4 were developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a NASA contractor and launched by the Army.

The first little Pioneers were quite successful. Pioneer 1, launched in October 1958, returned data on the Earth's magnetic field and micrometeorites for 48 hours, which was a good record at the time. Pioneer 3 in December [211] confirmed the existence of the Van Allen radiation belts. Pioneer 4 launched in March 1959, and Pioneer 5, launched a year later, were NASA's first solar satellites. Both sent back invaluable information on radiation and magnetic fields.

Pioneer 6-9, managed by Ames, were identical spacecraft designed to explore the interplanetary medium, charting the characteristics of the magnetic fields, cosmic rays, high-energy particles, electron density, electric fields, and cosmic dust. Approved in November 1962, the spacecraft were launched between December 1965 and November 1968. TRW Systems Group was the prime contractor. Launched by Thor-Deltas from Kennedy Space Center and tracked by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory with the Deep Space Network, the four vehicles provided Ames with the experience to continue the Pioneer series when interest mounted to explore Jupiter.

Pioneer 10 and 11 were also relatively low-budget interplanetary vehicles. Approved in 1969, these two spacecraft became one of NASA's most interesting and visible projects, conducting investigations of the interplanetary medium beyond Mars, crossing the asteroid belt, and studying the environment and atmosphere of Jupiter. Pioneer 11 was designed with the flexibility to continue on to Saturn, as it indeed did. TRW Systems Group was again the prime contractor. JPL provided tracking support, while Lewis Research Center and Kennedy Space Center were responsible for launch-vehicle and launch-site support.

Pioneer Venus was approved in 1974 and launched in 1978 to investigate that planet and its environment. Pioneer Venus is outside the chronological scope of this narrative, but it too was a logical follow-on mission for Ames and within the tradition of small, relatively inexpensive spacecraft that characterized the previous Pioneers. Goddard Space Flight Center did preliminary studies for the mission, but the mission was reassigned to Ames. Hughes Aircraft Company was the prime contractor.

The process by which Ames became involved in project management illustrates the growth and development of research ideas, the NASA decision-making process, and far-reaching changes in Ames. The narrative of events, once Ames won approval for Pioneer 6-9, furnishes a fascinating glimpse of the maze of considerations that constitute project management. It was a world very different from that of a small research laboratory.25

In 1958-1959, soon after NASA's inception, Al Eggers, chief of the Vehicle-Environment Division, became interested in the idea of a solar probe. One of Ames's most imaginative researchers, he had also been involved in the lifting-body work of 1956-1957. Eggers, like Harvey Allen, [212] had so many ideas that it was impossible to follow up many of them, but the probe was to be pursued. Charles Hall, then Eggers's assistant, recalled:


Al was very interested in broadening the research of the group he had. He had no doubt that there would be a solar probe and [wanted to investigate what we] would need to do it. He had people in all the little branches working on various aspects of a solar probe, not just [within] his division, either.26


Asking Hall to organize the paper details and to coordinate efforts, Eggers started an informal study group to consider the idea. People from various Ames divisions worked on elements of the problem:


R. T. Jones, Charles Hermach, John Dimeff, Michel Bader-it was easy to get people from other divisions. We laid out an outline of what we thought the study should be. We finished the study in early 1961, it worked out pretty well and we had had a lot of fun doing it.


At Eggers's suggestion, De France turned the study group into the Solar Probe Committee. At this point, Hall began to push for an attempt to interest NASA in the idea. Though Eggers wondered if refinements to the study were needed, Hall wanted to "see if anyone would let us build this thing. It's one thing to say you can build something on paper, and another to actually go out and build it." The committee, led by Hall, presented its findings to the NASA Headquarters Particles and Fields Committee, which was then meeting at Stanford. That group seemed interested, and Hall and Eggers were urged to take the idea to another Headquarters committee. At this point, as Hall remembered it later, he was aware that Ames was flirting with project management. "When I told Al we should put up or shut up, I think I knew what we were into. When we went to Washington, though, I think De France still thought it was a research deal."

In Washington, after initial committee interest, Hall was able to see Edgar Cortwright, then deputy director of the Office of Space Sciences. Cortwright, while impressed with the preliminary study, said he didn't feel Ames had the management experience to do a solar probe, but suggested a small spacecraft interplanetary project, something the Particles and Fields committee had also been interested in. "He told me Ames was the last place he thought would be interested in project management work," Hall observed, "but asked if we'd be interested in the interplanetary project." While still in Washington, Hall met with Cortwright's staff to draft possibilities, assuming Ames approval was forthcoming. Back at Ames, Hall and Eggers received De France's approval to proceed with the interplanetary project.

[213] Over the next few months, a preliminary study was done by Space Technology Laboratories (later TRW Systems Group). The management of the study was informal. "In those days," as Hall recalled, "it wasn't any big deal; you could almost write the contract requirements in a letter." The eventual result was a study document produced by TRW, and the next step was approval to go ahead from NASA Headquarters.

De France heartily endorsed Pioneer, which is somewhat surprising given his conservative outlook. He himself had been out of research for a long period and was of a generation that had never heard of project management. His assistant directors, Harvey Allen and Russell Robinson, feared that project work would rob the rest of the center of manpower and were hesitant about proceeding. De France's approval was crucial. "People are always surprised; they ask me, 'How did you get Pioneer when De France was against it?' He wasn't against it, he was for it!" Hall recalled. About to depart for Washington to seek final Headquarters approval, the group met to discuss plans. Associate Director Jack Parsons was there, assuming he'd be standing in for De France, when to everyone's surprise De France announced his intent to go by train and meet the rest of the group there. Hall saw, in retrospect, De France's presence as probably decisive:


Bob Seamans asked De France, "How does Ames feel about this, Smitty?" and De France said, "Ames is behind it 100%." You know, he was so well respected at Headquarters . . . that when he said 100%, that just about sold the program. So we did get approval based on that meeting.


Ames received tentative approval for Pioneer in June 1962, and final, formal approval in November. Hall was put in charge of the project and set about establishing a project office. In January 1963, to provide more institutional structure to the Pioneer and Biosatellite projects (Ames had acquired the second project also) the Development Directorate was formed under Robert Crane. Within it, both project offices and a new division, Systems Engineering, were established. With an eye to advance planning, Eggers was made the head of another new directorate, that of R&D Analysis and Planning. These new organizational arrangements, as well as the later creation of the Mission Analysis Division under Clarence Syvertson, were effective evidence that Ames was looking to its future in a new way, and that formal advance planning was becoming more and more essential.

The technical and scientific achievements of the Pioneer spacecraft are well documented elsewhere. More pertinent to this study are the management aspects of the project. At first, the Pioneer project office was completely out of the mainstream of activity at Ames. Hall's small group occupied some cubicles in what was then the cafeteria. But Hall insisted that [214] continuous close communication among the project elements, both at Ames and on contract sites, was essential, and one way he accomplished this was by physical proximity. As he recalled, "I had a hard time convincing the Ames contracts people they ought to be in the same building; they didn't want any part of that."

Another initial problem was assembling a staff. Ames researchers, it appeared, had been happy and excited doing feasibility studies for Pioneer, but when it came to becoming part of the formal project, they were less certain they wanted to participate. Hall later explained,


You know, . . . there was so much enthusiasm during the study, I figured that when we got the go-ahead for the project, people at the lab would beat down the doors.... The project was approved, and by God, I didn't hear from anyone! So I started calling up some of these people, and most of them turned me down. They didn't want to do project work. Ames in those days had a very university atmosphere; they didn't want to have their research sullied by the outside world.


Eventually, however, with the support of Bob Crane as assistant director of development, Hall formed a staff, many hired from the outside, and Pioneer became a bona fide project in search of contractors.

It is generally recognized that one of Hall's outstanding characteristics as a project manager was his ability to make a close and constant assessment of contractors and their performance throughout the project. Crane's successor found Hall "extremely thorough and technically knowledgeable on the project; he didn't let things slip through him.... He didn't ignore problems, and he kept close tabs on the contractors at all stages."27

Before the prime contractor was chosen, Hall and his group had demonstrated that alert pragmatism. While trying to decide among the four main competitors, Hall's team visited the companies on a whirlwind tour from Los Angeles to Ann Arbor and Philadelphia and back. The trip's findings changed the competition order and convinced Hall of the importance of actually visiting potential contractors to observe their operations. One of the competitors


had top-notch equipment and no one who knew how to work it.
Their group was small and very inexperienced, trying to get into the business. I don't really know how you get into the business, [but] it would have been a disaster if we'd picked them.


No matter what the contracting method, or who the contractor was, there were bound to be difficulties at some stage of the relationship. For [215] Pioneer 6-9, proposals were received, and after competition the spacecraft contract was awarded to TRW. For Pioneer 10 and 11, TRW was selected without competition, using sole-source justification. Both methods have drawbacks in producing accurate cost proposals. Competitive-contract proposals tend to be lower, sole-source contractors may be more realistic in their estimates. On Pioneer 6-9, for example, the original proposals based on the preliminary study resulted in a sizable spread between TRW and Hughes Aircraft Company, the principal competitors. Later, added technical details and further refinements in the bidding narrowed the margin and the proposals became almost identical in C<JSt. The initial difference, as Hall observed, was partially a product of the different accounting methods used by the two companies, which made it difficult to assess who had made the more realistic bid. It taught him a valuable lesson.


[Since] TRW and Hughes had different accounting systems, it was impossible to get figures [based on our] system, since they had their own. You have to go along with the contractor's organization to get real data.... It's easier to adjust your own thinking than to adjust theirs.


TRW received cost-plus-incentive contracts for Pioneer 6-9 and Pioneer 10 and 11. Costs were $64.3 million for the first four and $94.7 million for the latter two.28 Overruns were kept to a minimum through a system that provided automatic checks on the various interacting components of the project; but even so, numerous contract changes drove costs up from the original estimates. Still, the two series are examples of economical project management, with controlled costs and sensible trimming of nonessentials that kept a technically sound project relatively inexpensive for what it accomplished.

Like any large NASA project, Pioneer relied on many interdependent elements, including the Deep Space Network, which would track and communicate with the spacecraft around the world via stations from California to Australia. In addition, there were the components of the spacecraft itself, the experimenters' instruments, the launch vehicle, and launch operations. The Pioneer project office sought to participate in all interactions between the various elements and to give close attention to all problem areas. Weekly staff meetings among the organizational elements and periodic reviews by Ames and by NASA Headquarters assured that difficulties were spotted promptly Spacecraft were reviewed and checked out by the project office at the Redondo Beach, California, factory to eliminate later possible problems at the launch site. Even more important, the project office kept personnel at the spacecraft contractor's facility to stay on top of problems. Because of the constant surveillance, and because of a team of technically....




May 1973. Pioneer 17 being unloaded at Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral) prior to launch. (Pioneer 10 had been launched in March 1972.)

May 1973. Pioneer 17 being unloaded at Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral) prior to launch. (Pioneer 10 had been launched in March 1972.) Note the relatively small size of the Pioneer spacecraft and the reusable packaging protecting it, both typical of Pioneer's thrifty budgeting.


[217] ....alert monitors from the Pioneer office, many potential disasters were averted.

Even so, there were tense periods. On Pioneer 10, a potential calamity was discovered when the four radioisotope thermoelectric generators, the sole power source, were tested. Pioneer 10 was to be the first spacecraft powered solely by these devices, and they were essential to the mission. During the tests, the power source degenerated much more rapidly than anticipated. Hall insisted on a complete investigation, and after a sophisticated series of tests, Teledyne Isotopes, the contractor for the generators, discovered that moisture trapped inside the capsule containing the radioisotope material was affecting the nuclear reaction. Even more serious, the complicated chemical process was causing the protective casing surrounding the radioactive material to become brittle, so that it would shatter under minimal strain. Teledyne, working against time, changed the moisture-absorbing....


1972. An artist's rendition of Pioneer 10 spacecraft flying over Jupiter's surface.

1972. An artist's rendition of Pioneer 10 spacecraft flying over Jupiter's surface. Pioneer 10 reached Jupiter in December 1973 after a flight lasting over 20 months.



[218] ....insulation material, and the crisis was over. As Hall observed, however, such a crisis five months before the scheduled launch date was too close for comfort.

The 50-odd personnel of the Pioneer project office were aided in their task by another element new to Ames. As already noted, because of the technical unknowns and the scope of the project, as well as the financial commitment, much advance planning and selling had to occur. With the first Ames-managed Pioneer series, the task was made somewhat easier because NASA Headquarters, though interested in a solar-probe project, also had interplanetary exploration ideas. Work continued on the planning for the solar probe, with Howard Matthews and others doing advanced studies on possibilities, until the U.S. and Germany agreed to a joint solar mission. Meanwhile, through the efforts of Robert Crane, at the time head of the Development Directorate, Ames acquired the Pioneer Jupiter project. Initial studies had been conducted by Goddard Space Flight Center, but because Goddard was already over-committed, and because Pioneer 6-9 were about completed, Ames was assigned the Jupiter project, which would become Pioneer 10 and 11. While Hall's office dealt with the demands of that immense undertaking, the Development Directorate, by now under John Foster, planned for the future as it fought to sell Pioneer Venus to both Ames management and NASA Headquarters. The system worked well, but in the case of Pioneer Venus, obtaining final approval for the project was a lengthy and frustrating process. For Ames, it was another new aspect of large-scale and long-range programs that contrasted strongly to the more traditional mode of funding it was accustomed to. Project management, like increased bureaucracy, brought worldliness into the center.29

Even though Pioneer did not interact much with the more traditional research at Ames, the example of project planning, as well as management, forced many outside of Pioneer to become aware of a world where aggressive salesmanship was necessary. In 1975, when Foster retired, the Development Directorate was abolished. Biosatellite no longer existed, and no further large-scale planetary project was envisioned. Pioneer was placed under the Astronautics Directorate, where research and project management rubbed shoulders to the dismay of Astronautics Director Dean Chapman, who estimated that Pioneer and the other projects took 80-90% of his time.30 The amounts of money involved and the complexity of the interacting elements made project management out of place in the research directorate.

Assessing the Pioneer projects, participants identified many crucial elements in their success. Characteristically, Hall called attention to the technical strengths of the contractors, the project personnel, and the researchers, as well as to the "luck" that produced scheduling miracles and eleventh-hour solutions to near-disasters. Perhaps, too, there was a realistic awareness of the limitations of the project that kept goals and estimates sensible.



December 1973. Hans Mark, Director of Ames (left), and James Fletcher, NASA Administrator (right), brief the media and visiting scientists during Pioneer 10's encounter with Jupiter.

December 1973. Hans Mark, Director of Ames (left), and James Fletcher, NASA Administrator (right), brief the media and visiting scientists during Pioneer 10's encounter with Jupiter.


Foster, naming what he considered the crucial factors for Pioneer's success, added that the science experiments were well planned, that Headquarters support was excellent, and that the contractors were reliable. Assessing Hall's role, Foster, who had urged that Ames enter space research, paid him an observant colleague's compliment: "We used to have a saying, We can't give Charlie any more people to help him, because he doesn't have time to do their work!' He knew every system on that thing; his deputies were just extensions of himself."31

For some reason, Pioneer seemed to catch the imagination of the country Perhaps it was the idea of the small spacecraft - and all the Pioneers were relatively small vehicles-being guided and controlled from Earth on a move-to-move basis, instead of being preprogrammed. Perhaps it had to do with the distances Pioneer 10 and 11 traveled to Jupiter and Saturn, or the suspense of crossing the asteroid belt. Perhaps the media Caught the camaraderie of the Pioneer 10 and 11 team, as a result of Hall's....



December 1973. Charlie Hall (in striped shirt), Pioneer project manager, and Ames, TRW and academic members of the Pioneer team reflect their mission's success during Pioneer 10's Jupiter flyby.

December 1973. Charlie Hall (in striped shirt), Pioneer project manager, and Ames, TRW and academic members of the Pioneer team reflect their mission's success during Pioneer 10's Jupiter flyby.


....stand-up meetings, where a first-thing-in-the-morning exchange of information kept everyone informed during the periods when planetary encounters were imminent. Whatever the reasons, the Pioneer projects added a visibility to Ames that contrasted dramatically to the center's earlier profile as an aeronautical laboratory. Charlie Hall, remembering his own career as a research engineer, compared research with project management:


Research is more relaxed, more of an individual activity. You have more control.... There is not as much outside pressure.... [In project management] there are [frequently] influences over which you have no control but [which] are having very strong influences on your project. You run up and down the wall trying to find out what you have to do to circumvent these influences. . . . Project management is a team effort, so you have to organize the thing so you do work as a team.... In research, if you don't [221] plan right, you just veer off a little to one side or another, it's no big deal. In the project I always felt I was working six months from now; I might not know what was happening today, but I knew what would be happening six months from today, because I had to plan it so I knew we would act there.
... you don't see that type of thinking necessary in research.... In research you don't even have to worry about tomorrow if today's going all right, because whatever happens good today is going to lead you in the right direction tomorrow. In project management you have to stay far ahead, to make sure the [things] you're doing today will get the work done in time....


In both the technical sense and in terms of the interested public, the Pioneer series was a project of which Ames could be proud. Hall, however, perhaps characterized a new Ames, as well as Pioneer, when he reflected on the differences between the older basic research and the newer project management, for the center faced the influences, challenges, and deadlines of the outside in ways unimagined in 1940.

Looking at the institution over a forty-year span, what is striking are the many outward changes that have occurred - physical expansion; research diversity and sophistication; complexity of management; daily intrusion of bureaucracy; desired involvement with other institutions, groups, and agencies; and cooperative projects and programs requiring closely coordinated responsibilities shared among a number of agencies and institutions. Initially, one might suspect that these adaptations to a changing context are what have kept Ames as healthy as it is. Further consideration produces an equally striking observation-in what is perhaps the most essential area, Ames has not changed greatly. From the beginning, the laboratory/ research center has had a very strong sense of itself that was supported by the intellectual capability and imagination of its personnel. That, in the final analysis, is the crucial ingredient in the health and productivity of the center, and an ingredient that must be conscientiously protected and encouraged.


Chapter 10. Research Center Instead of Aeronautical Laboratory


1. John Parsons, Chief, Construction Div., to Smith De France, May 1945. 74-A-1624, V-4823, SBFRC.
2. Edwin P. Hartman, Adventures in Research: A History of Ames Research Center,1940-1965, NASA SP-4302 (Washington, 1970), app. A, p. 515.
3. Ames Personnel Office.
4. John W. Boyd interview, 23 July 1982.
5. Ibid.
6. Dean R. Chapman interview, 28 Apr. 1982.
7. Boyd interview.
8. Seth B. Anderson interview, 5 Feb. 1982.
9. Comments by John Dusterberry and Charles Hall, Jan. 1983.
10. Robert W. Nysmith interview, 27 May 1982.
11. Chapman interview.
12. Dell P. Williams III interview, 27 May 1982.
13. Anderson interview.
14. William L. Quaide interview, 27 May 1982.
15. Chapman interview.
16. Nysmith interview.
17. John C. Dusterberry interview, 21 Apr. 1982.
18. Nysmith interview.
19. Chapman interview.
20. Harry J. Goett interview, 3 Dec. 1981.
21. Quaide interview.
22. Geott interview.
23. Ibid.
24. Interview of Steven E. Belsley by Walter Bonney, 24 Sept. 1974.
25. I am grateful to John V. Foster and Charles F. Hall for their assistance in providing me with information on the Pioneer projects. From 1969 to 1975, Foster was the director of development, responsible for the Pioneer Project Office at Ames. Charles F. Hall was the Pioneer project manager from 1962 to 1979.
26. Charles F. Hall interview, 10 Aug. 1982. Subsequent quotations in this chapter, unless otherwise attributed, are from this interview.
27. John V. Foster interview, 19 July 1982.
28. J. Richard Spahr and Charles F. Hall, The Pioneer Projects Economical Exploration of the Solar System, NASA TM X-62,481, Ames Research Center, Sept. 1975, p. 1.
29. Some of the details in the process were described by John Foster,
19 July 1982.
30. Chapman interview.
31. Foster interview