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





[71] The period 1957-1959 was a transition in American aeronautics. Ames was very much affected by the events that propelled the country into the space age, though at the time technical and administrative developments seemed to produce little change in the work or atmosphere of the laboratory. For those who had been employed there since its beginnings, however, Ames had become very different.


AMES IN 1957


By 1957 Ames had grown immensely, was much more complex organizationally, and in a way was perhaps not as exciting as it had once been. The mid-1950s were a quiescent time before the advent of major changes that would transform the institution in the 1960s. Researchers who left Ames in the 1950s perhaps left because they found the challenges less exciting than during the war or in the immediate postwar period, when transonic problems were confronted. Another problem was comparable pay; industry succeeded in luring some engineers away from the NACA.

Though still a stimulating place to work, Ames in 1956-1958 was almost too established. In some respects its very successes created a certain complacency often characteristic of a mature research organization. 1 Its reputation established early and its niche in the NACA hierarchy secure, Ames continued, under the firm hand of De France, to run smoothly. The growth of personnel was slow, the addition of more sophisticated facilities was steady' and the laboratory functioned efficiently with little red tape. As one former administrator at Ames recalled, "Smitty used to like to keep as few men at the top as possible, to save most of his forces for creative research."2 Though the research challenges had shifted and size had brought Unavoidable administrative complexities, Ames continued to produce excellent research contributions with completely in-house personnel and little [72] bureaucracy. Those who had watched the laboratory change over its first 15 years of existence would be astonished at what the next 15 would bring.

The organization of the laboratory illustrates the degree to which it had expanded since the 1940s. De France, as director, still retained direct control, aided by Jack Parsons, the associate director. In 1957 there was only one assistant director, but he was aided by two technical assistants. Parsons also had a technical assistant. The assistants, while taking some of the research expertise burdens from the associate and assistant directors, also represented another level of bureaucracy between the researchers and the administrative decision-making of De France.

Reporting directly to De France was the budget officer, as had always been the case. The administrative, instrument, research, technical services, and engineering services divisions also reported directly to Parsons or De France. De France had acquired the beginnings of what would become a public affairs office, though in 1957 it consisted of only one man, called the information specialist. Hired from Langley, he provided requested information on Ames to outside organizations and the surrounding community. It is easy to imagine that De France recognized the beginnings of public relations as a necessary evil. Reputedly, the new man was refused a secretary when he first arrived, on the grounds that he didn't need one. Once the outgoing correspondence on his desk piled up to eye level, De France took the hint and a secretary was provided.3 De France was thrifty with public funds.

The nonresearch divisions had increased their branches and complexities as Ames grew, and the same was true of the research divisions. The research divisions, reporting to the Assistant Director Russell Robinson, reflected changes within the field of aeronautics as well as intricate relations with industry and the armed forces. The Theoretical and Applied Research Division, still under Donald Wood, had by 1957 added a machine computing branch. Primitive computers had been used at Ames from the very beginning, but by the end of the 1950s the glorified adding machines were being superceded by computers that could undertake much more complicated tasks. The machines were to bring with them greater organizational complexity, since their increased sophistication invited more elaborate record keeping and finer breakdowns in financial planning.4

In the Full-Scale and Flight Research Division, under the direction of Harry Goett, the flight operations, flight research, and 40- by 80-foot tunnel branches had been joined by three others: low-density tunnel, heat-transfer tunnel, and dynamics analysis. The new tunnels had been needed to deal with the new aspects of flight at high altitude and supersonic speed. Both were useful in investigating heat transfer to flight vehicles from laminar or turbulent boundary layers, the effects of heat transfer to the vehicle, and the effect of boundary-layer heating on skin friction. Earlier tunnels having proved too small and limited in scope, funds had been obtained in 1951 to [73] build two new tunnels an 8-inch low-density tunnel and a 10- by 10-inch heat-transfer tunnel. The tunnels were housed in a new building adjacent to the 12-foot pressure tunnel, enabling the borrowing of supplementary air power from existing compressors.5 When the new tunnels were completed in 1954, the old ones were shut down. Eventually, formal ownership of the old heat-transfer tunnel passed to the University of California at Berkeley The 1- by 3.5-foot tunnel was deactivated and eventually dismantled and the 7- by 10-foot tunnels, seldom used, were operated by the 40- by 80-foot tunnel section. The new low-density and heat-transfer tunnels became ever more important as research grew in the areas of boundary-layer studies, skin friction, and aerodynamic heating.

The dynamics analysis branch, the other new addition to the Full-Scale and Flight Research Division, held the components of important future Ames research. Using newly procured analog computers, the branch marked the beginning of Ames's research in ground-based flight simulators. Crude early studies left much to be desired, but by 1957-1958, Harry Goett was encouraging his dynamics analysts to plan more sophisticated simulators. This natural extension of high-speed flight research, which studied the handling of qualities of aircraft under specified conditions and pilot responses to flight conditions, was to dovetail easily into simulation studies as high-speed flight became flight into space and pilots became astronauts. It is argued that the United States did not enter the space race until it had begun; but studies undertaken in the years immediately preceding Sputnik and the formation of NASA would be directly applicable to research needs once that race was in progress. The NACA may be criticized for its lack of dynamism in pushing for more space research funding, but it cannot be faulted for failing to move in the right directions in its last years.

The High-Speed Research Division under Harvey Allen had also gained new branches by 1957. In addition to the earlier facilities, the division had acquired the 2- by 2-foot transonic tunnel, which replaced the dismantled 1- by 3.5-foot transonic tunnel. It had also added a hypervelocity ballistic range branch, which had evolved from a growing concern with aerothermodynamic research. As research in the heat-transfer tunnel was a product of concern with the heating of vehicles at higher altitudes and speeds, so too was ballistics research, which was useful in stability studies. (Aerodynamic stability could not easily be studied in wind tunnels, since models were by necessity firmly fixed in place. An exception was the supersonic free flight tunnel.) The hypersonic ballistics range was made possible by the lightgas gun, developed by a group of researchers working under Alex Charters, who had come to Ames from the Aberdeen Proving Ground's ballistics ranges. The gun launched a test model on a charge of highly compressed helium. Gunpowder-powered rifles generally could not launch models faster than 2,135 m/sec, whereas Charters's early helium and gunpowder combina-[74] -tion attained speeds of 3,965 m/sec. (Subsequent light-gas guns produced speeds up to 9,150 m/sec.) The light-gas gun was first tested in Ames's Janus range, a gas-filled cylinder only 21 ft long, built in the first stages of ballistics research.* The NACA then approved a much larger range for the light-gas gun, to be located near the Janus range in a new building on territory originally reserved for a seaplane towing basin. Such a research tool was no longer much in demand, and in any event, Langley already had one. The new range was in use by 1957. 6

A fourth major research division had been added by 1957. This division managed the wind tunnels constructed under the unitary plan: the 8- by 7-foot supersonic tunnel, the 9- by 7-foot supersonic tunnel, and the 11-foot transonic tunnel. An operations branch coordinated the running of the tunnels and scheduled tests for the military, industry, and universities. The unitary plan tunnels were much in demand, and placing them in a separate division was an administrative necessity.

Although a fourth research division had been added, the range of research had also greatly expanded and many areas of research still overlapped between divisions. The problems that could have resulted were avoided, or at least alleviated, by routine and informal exchange of information between divisions. To the extent that all the research engineers were aware of their colleagues' projects, all research benefitted.7

The last NACA inspection was in 1958, when a big space effort was about to be mounted. No one should be surprised that Ames emphasized to its distinguished visitors the work that was most obviously related to problems of spaceflight. The booklet presented to attendees described high temperature shock tubes, used to duplicate the high temperatures encountered by a satellite on reentering the Earth's atmosphere. Attention was given to particle accelerators, which directed oxygen and nitrogen particles traveling at speeds of 9,300 km/hr at various metal surfaces. The purpose was to study the erosion effects, or surface pitting. Ames also emphasized its studies on stability control for satellites and its investigations of satellite equipment that would perform tasks of measurement, observation, and directional control. Space vehicles, the various methods of propulsion, reentry problems, and landing problems were named as projects under study. The heating problems of high-speed, high-altitude flight were narrated, and attention was drawn to the hypervelocity ballistic range and the atmosphere-entry simulator. The new pebble-bed heaters, which made possible the study of aerodynamic heating on larger models, were proudly described.8

It is interesting to compare the inspection booklet of 1958 with the more balanced treatment accorded Ames research of the period by Edwin [75] Hartman's history of the laboratory. While the inspection sought to emphasize the space-oriented direction of Ames research - indeed, that of the entire NACA Hartman makes clear that the space-connected research was part of a continuum that had logically followed the increase in speed and altitude. Equally important was research into problems of lower speeds and altitudes. While the NACA was insisting on its ability to lead the new space agency and was therefore underlining its many contributions in space-related research, Ames and the other NACA laboratories were also pursuing less dramatic projects, such as the V/STOL studies, which would be of importance long into the space age.

Two research projects of 1956-1958 deserve particular attention. The first was the Air Force's Dynasoar project, an intriguing and farsighted design to put man into space. It illustrates the combination of research ideas some from the military, some from the NACA, in the search for solutions to the problems of upper-atmosphere flight. As the next step beyond the X-15 research airplane, Dynasoar was to have been rocket-launched and powered to the upper limits of the atmosphere. Then it would glide, being equipped also with wings-hence the designation boost-glide vehicle.

At Ames, Harvey Allen, Alvin Seiff, and Alfred Eggers were involved m some of the many advisory groups that worked with the Air Force, investigating the possibilities of the idea. Allen's earlier ballistics work had interested him in the boost stage of the project, while his blunt-body work had also involved consideration of reentry.

Ames had already produced, in 1955-1956, a study on the alternatives under consideration for high-speed, high-altitude, manned flight.9 Three general directions seemed feasible: a ballistic missile combined with a nonlifting reentry body; a boost-glide vehicle, such as Dynasoar; or a supersonic airplane with greater speed than had yet been produced. The Ames study, which influenced Air Force commitment to the Dynasoar project, suggested many advantages for the boost-glide idea. Compared to a ballistic vehicle, boost-glide gave greater lifting ability and a high lift-drag ratio. This would allow it to achieve greater range for a given initial boost velocity. Being able to control its angle of attack gave control over the rate at which the vehicle would heat, while maneuverability was an advantage in landing the vehicle. The boost-glide vehicle could be kept in the atmosphere or boosted beyond it, opening further possibilities for variation in the concept. The study participants visualized a vehicle with blunt, highly swept wings, hoping to control the reentry heating problem by controlling the rate of descent.10

In 1957 the Air Force initiated Project Dynasoar, and Ames personnel were to remain involved until the project was abandoned in 1963, when attention turned instead to a manned orbiting laboratory. Dynasoar illustrates a very successful civilian-military collaboration that used the results of [76] research already initiated to provide a possible answer to very practical problems posed by military needs. Though the project itself was eventually dropped, the boost-glide concept was important to future research.

At the same time, Ames engineers began their own research on lifting bodies. This work grew out of the old problem of reentry heating, combined with the additional problems that accompanied manned flight. It was necessary to control, by some method, the hurtle through the atmosphere that produced such tremendous heat acting upon the flight vehicle. As one of the main researchers explained, "the idea really was to get enough drag ratio into the entry body to permit it to move laterally."11 This characteristic would control the rate of deceleration during reentry. Clarence Syvertson, one of the earliest researchers involved, described the evolution of the lifting-body research that eventually resulted in the M2F2 reentry vehicle:

The Dynasoar . . . was conceived to be a manned vehicle. But the experience that Al [Eggers], Harvey [Allen], and others had gained in the study of ballistic missiles indicated. . . that there....


1962. Model of an M-2 lifting body being tested in the Ames Atmospheric Entry Simulator.

1962. Model of an M-2 lifting body being tested in the Ames Atmospheric Entry Simulator. Obviously, reentry heating would be a problem for the M-2; the tests illustrated the areas of most intense heat and the airflow patterns around the lifting body.


[77] ....would be advantages of having a manned vehicle that didn't have wings, that didn't have a lot of surface area you had to protect from entry heating.... if you could find a way to combine ... Iift and high drag, lift to reduce the decelerations under reentry, . . . and bluntness to keep the heating problem under control,... you'd have something that would be fairly attractive.12


Early studies produced the M-1 shape, considered but not chosen for the Apollo vehicle. Work on the M-1 and Dynasoar led to development of the M-2 lifting body, a shape that had been studied for some time before NASA was created. As Syvertson remembered, "at the first meeting of the Center directors that we had, we prepared a demonstration model and a little pitch for Smitty [De France] to use when he went to it. It was based on the M-2 and we were pretty well along."13

In designing the M-2, the researchers first determined the lift-drag ratio necessary to permit the body to move laterally between two paths. Having arrived a, that, a shape was calculated that would produce that ratio. The original shape was subsequently modified to make the lifting body landable. The shapes that were produced were imaginatively named:


One they called the African Queen . . . because it had a retractable wing that popped [out] on the back end and when it was up it looked like the boat . . . that Humphrey Bogart and Katharine....


1969. An M-2 F-2 lifting body in flight at Edwards Air Force Base, with an F-104 in chas

1969. An M-2 F-2 lifting body in flight at Edwards Air Force Base, with an F-104 in chase. The lifting body remained an attractive concept in the assortment of spaceflight possibilities for a number of years.


[78] ....Hepburn had used in that movie.... Finally, they came up with . . . boat-tailing the back end of the body, making the top surface shape somewhat like an airfoil and putting the vertical fins on as end plates. That was known as the Cadillac version because it looked like the tail fins on a Cadillac at that time. From that evolved the M-2. 14


Ames was an early proponent of the lifting-body idea for use in spacecraft. As space ventures became more complex, after the formation of NASA and the first efforts in space, the idea became ever more attractive. A major advantage was that it permitted a wider entry corridor, thereby simplifying the navigation task. Providing control over heating and acceleration, it would also widen choices for landing sites, making possible a solid-earth landing. Ten years after the first work on lifting bodies began, Ames collaborated in the building of a low-speed prototype.15

Both Dynasoar and the lifting bodies illustrate the cross-fertilization that often occurs in research, when ideas or findings from one investigation are successfully applied in another. The involvement of Ames engineers in Dynasoar influenced Ames's own work on lifting bodies. The lifting-body research was a logical progression of building upon past knowledge, and though not specifically mission-oriented at the time, was undoubtedly part of the 29% of Ames's research that the NACA categorized in 1957 as "space-related."16

The thin line drawn between space-related and non-space-related aeronautics is similar to that drawn between civilian and military concerns in the field. Though the NACA had always stressed its civilian purpose and character, its inception (as later that of Ames) coincided with a military crisis. Because the line was a thin one, Ames was often brought into the news in connection with military matters.

Though the NACA had always been noted as a government agency that did a lot with a small budget, money was a real problem until the advent of NASA. At times the money issue was taken up as a political refrain, such as in 1952 during the Korean conflict, when a congressional candidate used Ames as the focus of a patriotic campaign speech:


In [this laboratory] may be found the solution to the problem which faces every mother and father within the sound of my voice who has a boy in Korea or one who may eventually land in Korea. Tyranny must be suppressed and all that we hold dear in life is at stake in our efforts to stem the rising tide of communism.... As I walked through those laboratories and saw those scientists at work on intricate model parts, I thought to myself, that man at that bench may be the one who will save my two older boys, now [79] approaching draft age, from the fate so many boys are meeting in Korea. If so, the $25,000,000 currently being spent for a new laboratory out there will be a small price to pay and I as a taxpayer will gladly meet that expense.17


The unitary-plan wind tunnels, to which the speaker referred, had greatly increased the capacity for testing at Ames. But Ames faced, in 19561958, another paralyzing problem. Manpower was lacking and had been ever since Ames had existed. By 1956 the laboratory was truly suffering from its inability to keep pace with industrial salaries, and it had lost a number of important research minds in the mid-1950s as a result.18 The military suffered much less, for most of its aeronautical research was done by contracting with the private sector, and funds were available for contracting. In early 1956, Representative Charles Gubser brought up the problem on the floor of the House of Representatives. Though campaigning for funds for the entire NACA, he used Ames as an example, since the laboratory lay within his district. During his speech, he quoted extensively from a letter he had solicited from De France.19

De France focused on the government pay scale and how it affected both the obtaining and the retaining of high-quality professional personnel at Ames. At a time when scientific and engineering graduates were in short supply, industry was outbidding the government, "making it increasingly difficult for us to recruit college graduates and virtually impossible to recruit the outstanding graduates." In 1955 Ames had been able to recruit only 33 professional graduates, none of them in the upper portion of their classes. The reason, he held, was the disparity between the starting salaries that industry offered and the government pay scale. Ames could not even compete with the pay scales of state and local government.**

De France then took up the problem of retaining professionals. After citing specific offers from industry to Ames personnel in 1956, he observed that the offers had averaged a 50% increase. During the year Ames had lost 13 engineers to industry. Although losses had as yet been light, he thought they would increase. As De France saw it, the major advantage that the NACA had traditionally offered professionals had been the environment in which they worked. Not only were the NACA's research facilities unparalleled, but researchers had enjoyed colleagues of eminence and an easy association with nearby universities. In the case of Ames, Stanford's proximity had been a real factor in the laboratory's ability to retain its research complement in the face of more lucrative offers from industry.

[80] The director of Ames foresaw a gloomy future, however, predicting that once the salary discrepancy became too wide to ignore, even the most loyal of his staff would resign. He urged that the crisis be "forcibly" brought to the attention of Congress, reminding members that the same conclusions had already been drawn by one of their own commissions.20


By 1957, Smith De France (seated) could well be proud of the laboratory he had built and shaped. In an almost jovial mood, he examines an award marking his 35 years with the NACA, while Associate Director Jack Parsons looks on.

By 1957, Smith De France (seated) could well be proud of the laboratory he had built and shaped. In an almost jovial mood, he examines an award marking his 35 years with the NACA, while Associate Director Jack Parsons looks on. Meanwhile, Ames continued with high-speed aerodynamic research that eased America's entry into the space age.


Any picture of Ames in the immediate pre-NASA period contains contrasts. On the one hand, much research that was to be essential to the early space projects was being produced at the laboratory by a band of scientists and engineers who had obviously remained actively and enthusiastically involved in their work. On the other hand, some researchers had left the laboratory for greener pastures, and it was expected that more would go. For a 15-year-old institution, Ames was still relatively free from the bureaucratic arteriosclerosis that often appears after the first years of growth are over. Ames had, however, become considerably more complicated than in its [81] earlier years, and this had perhaps been an element in the resignations of Some of the original Ames employees, men who remembered the first days of excitement and unstructured but effective management. Ames faced serious challenges in 1957, but also had many strengths, both in the quality and range of its research facilities and in its personnel.




The NACA as a whole faced many of the problems that Ames had to deal with on a smaller scale. One was money. In his 1957 report to Congress, Chairman James H. Doolittle observed:


Modest increases in appropriations for research have been largely offset by rising costs, so that the amount of research accomplished relative to that required has been diminishing when it should be increasing. In addition, the current pay structure, fixed by law, makes it more and more difficult to retain irreplaceable top rank research scientists and engineers.... The general level of the NACA research effort compared to that of the Soviets [has] lessened when it should be increasing. Thus, America's relative position in aeronautical science has been deteriorating. There is an urgent need at this time for a genuine increase in the level of research effort.21


The NACA had reason to complain. The preceding decade has seen major changes in the way aeronautical research was conducted. Before World War II, the NACA had been the major institution involved in basic research in the field. The war had temporarily deflected its research laboratories into specific problem-solving connected to wartime demands. After the war, the NACA intended to return to basic research, but the environment had changed. Industry and the military, especially the newly created Air Force, also began major research efforts. Where once only the NACA Owned truly sophisticated facilities that could be used on a wide range of problems, now aircraft companies and military research establishments (particularly the Air Force's Tullahoma facility) could conduct research along the same lines as the NACA. Cooperation and collaboration certainly existed among the various groups on a practical level, but the NACA had become only one of several aeronautical research groups. All factions felt the urgent need to mount a national space effort and an equally urgent desire to be in the forefront of that effort. Competition naturally existed, especially between the NACA and the Air Force, each attempting, especially during [82] 1956-1957, to achieve leadership in the race for speed and altitude. The Air Force's Dynasoar project and the Ames work on lifting bodies were different approaches to the problem.

In the period immediately preceding the launch of Sputnik in 1957, one of the NACA's strengths was its low-key reputation and its history of steady contributions to aeronautics. In the civilian arena, it had been preeminent for over 40 years. De France was a fitting representative of the agency - serious and professional, perhaps conservative, but undeniably effective.

The NACA had been planned as an "independent federal agency." The original members of the Committee (from the War Department, the Navy Department, the Smithsonian Institution, the Weather Bureau, the Bureau of Standards, and some from outside the government) were appointed by the President on the basis of their aeronautical interest or expertise. Unpaid and reporting directly to the President, the Committee elected its own chairman and appointed an executive committee, which managed day-to-day activities. Technical committees and subcommittees kept abreast of needs and developments in the various areas of aeronautics and advised where the NACA s modest budget might best be spent. Shortly after its formation, the Committee had appointed a paid director for research. As such, George Lewis had run the NACA almost single-handedly over 20 years. He had been succeeded in 1947 by Hugh Dryden, who had attained scientific prominence at the Bureau of Standards. Lewis's style had been direct and effective. His hand always on the tiller of the smaller organization and operating in less complicated times, he had remained directly involved in all aspects of the NACA, from research to congressional lobbying. Hugh Dryden was very different, and the tone of the NACA changed when he became director. Teamed with Jerome Hunsaker, the chairman of the NACA until 1956, Dryden had sought to revitalize the organization in order to meet the many postwar challenges. Administratively, Dryden's assumption of command meant the regulariz.ation of many procedures that had been as highly irregular as those at Ames. Where Lewis had been single-handed and forceful, Dryden was bureaucratic and methodical. His improvements were many, but his image was decidedly undynamic.22

The NACA had experienced other changes that eroded its prewar image of disinterested professionalism. By 1957 industry's influence on the technical committees and subcommittees had blurred the NACA's nonpartisan reputation, though in fact evidence of conflicts of interest were lacking. In 1957 the Army was admitted to the Main Committee of the NACA over stiff opposition by some members.23 At the end industry and the military were filling nearly 70% of the technical committee and subcommittee memberships, a far cry from their minimal representation of earlier years.24

[83] Though the NACA had been stressing the need, since the end of World War II, to return to basic research, this aim seems to have been impractical. As industry and the military exerted more influence over the NACA and undertook active research projects of their own, the NACA became involved in a series of investigations stemming from industrial and military sources. By the late 1950s over half its work was generated by specific military requests,25 and industrial requests were not insignificant. Thus by 1957 the NACA was in many ways a service institution. Though its research contributions had been many, it was less independent than formerly-and perhaps less farsighted because of its lessened independence.

The statistics were impressive, however. With a budget of over $100 million and 8,000 employees, the NACA had, aside from its headquarters organization, five research installations. Besides Langley, Ames, and Lewis laboratories, it also maintained the High-Speed Flight Research Station at Edwards Air Force Base and the pilotless aircraft research station at Wallops Island, Virginia. The NACA would be a strong contender for a leading role in the national space program, even though its unique position was less clear-cut than it had been in its earlier years.




The International Geophysical Year, a cooperative endeavor proclaimed for 1957-1958, demonstrated the competitive aspects of space-related research. As the IGY was being planned in 1954, Wernher von Braun, of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, had proposed a satellite project. He argued convincingly that such a project was feasible, and a joint Army-Navy effort, Project Orbiter, was initiated. The Air Force too had developed a satellite proposal, and by the end of 1954 a three-way rivalry among Army, Navy, and Air Force was under way. The endorsement of a satellite by the international committee for IGY in late 1954 only reinforced the conviction, shared by both military and civilian scientists alike, that launching an artificial satellite was both possible and necessary.26

When the plans of the three military branches were reviewed, the Navy plan, which used a Viking rocket with two additional stages, was favored. The Air Force plan had been eliminated because it could interfere with ICBM development, an early example of the clash between science and military necessity in the U.S. space program. Over Army objections, the Navy plan was approved in September 1955 and Project Vanguard was authorized.

From the beginning Vanguard suffered from the Eisenhower administrations commitment to economy and the determination of the Department of Defense to give first priority to the development of military technology.

[84] The Army, though it had lost support for the Project Orbiter plan, did not abandon its Redstone booster. By the summer of 1957, the Army Ballistic Missile Agency had used a Redstone-Jupiter C missile in a launch that clearly demonstrated the feasibility of orbiting a satellite. As the Navy's Vanguard continued to falter, the Army pressed for authorization to begin a crash satellite program of its own. The DOD, determined to consider the satellite purely scientific, refused to approve Army involvement, since it would be using military-mission hardware. Lt. Gen. James Gavin, the deputy chief of the Army Office of Research and Development, had his knuckles rapped several times for continuing the campaign.27

The administration continued to give the satellite program low priority and to maintain that the United States was not in a race with the Soviet Union for the first launch. As the summer progressed, there were numerous hints that a Soviet attempt was imminent. On 4 October 1957 Sputnik was successfully launched into orbit, and the administration began a months-long attempt to minimize its significance.

The reaction of the American public put the Republican administration in an awkward position. Public opinion saw Sputnik as a political and military victory for the U.S.S.R. and questioned why the United States had allowed itself to be beaten. The administration temporarily denied the military significance of Sputnik and repeated that the United States was not in a race. Eisenhower maintained that his national security apprehensions had not been raised "one iota."28

Though Eisenhower and his administration kept a calm front for some months, it was clear that a major effort in space had to be mounted. Ordering a stepped-up missile program, the administration consulted a number of advisers on the best course to take. As one scholar has observed, "Sputnik signaled the reappearance of the scientists as important members of the national political system, but with uncertain objectives."29 Two competing approaches were available. One assumed that the importance of space lay in the military superiority it might give to those who could operate there. The other saw major scientific significance in space exploration, viewing the challenge as technological rather than military. Several organizations contended for management of the new space program.

Needless to say, the DOD considered itself the prime candidate for leadership, and in February 1958 the Office of the Secretary of Defense announced the formation of a new agency to direct and coordinate "certain advanced Research and Development projects"; the Advanced Research Projects Agency had the explicit mission of developing space projects.30 ARPA was an interim arrangement to handle space projects until the administration had decided upon the final form the national space program would take. As might have been expected, the DOD continued to argue against the wisdom of a civilian agency's controlling the space program.

[85] DOD was not, however, a monolithic institution. The services, retaining their distinctive interests on the issue of space exploration, presented three Solutions to the question.31 The Navy was embarrassed and discouraged about the Vanguard project, which had experienced two launch failures and numerous setbacks before a successful launch in March 1958. Not seeing space as either militarily essential or a naval preserve, the Navy seemed quite content to maintain a low interest in space research. The Project Vanguard director stressed the need for a centralized space effort, whether within DOD or not.

The Army favored a centralized military agency -ARPA. If space research were spread out among the services, the Army believed the Air Force would remain most influential, even though the Army's launch of Explorer 1, the first American satellite, gave the Army real standing in the contest.

Among the services, the Air Force had the strongest claim for leadership: space was only an extension of the Earth's atmosphere, its traditional domain. Also, the Air Force had been involved in space research for 20 years, though most of the work had been classified and was therefore not publicly known. With what seemed a clear prerogative in space, the Air Force was unwilling to surrender its interest to ARPA. From the beginning, therefore, ARPA was only one contender among many.

Meanwhile the administration had been bombarded with proposals by civilian groups. One of the major ones was submitted jointly by the American Rocket Society and the Rocket and Satellite Research Panel, a prestigious group of scientists and engineers from inside and outside the government. The panel, at the time headed by Dr. James Van Allen, had been involved in rocket research since the late 1940s.32 The proposal supported a civilian National Space Establishment for research and exploration, separate from DOD but to be supported by all three services. DOD should have complete control of all military space matters. The assumption that the civilian and military aspects of space could be easily separated proved to be too optimistic.33

As might have been expected, the NACA had also been much involved in the question of the national space effort. Though the NACA's reputation had been made in aeronautics, and though the NACA retained a commitment to research in low-speed, low-altitude aeronautics, its involvement in space research, whether independently or as part of cooperative ventures with the military, had been growing steadily. If the NACA had no part in the emerging space program, it would lose importance; but leadership of the new program, which promised to be massive, would change the institution drastically. As a small, committee-run agency with a dubious organizational structure, the NACA was not administratively equipped to assume leadership of the space program. Dryden knew this and polled many of the younger [86] NACA personnel, soliciting advice concerning the NACA's future.34 They were strongly in favor of the NACA pressing on for a strong role in the space program.

The result was a proposal of 14 January 1958, the "Dryden Plan" as it came to be called. The director of the NACA called for a cooperative space effort involving DOD, the National Academy of Science, the National Science Foundation, and a greatly expanded NACA. The NACA Main Committee, enlarging on Dryden's proposal, called for a doubling of the NACA staff over three years, as well as a doubling of its yearly budget.35




The NACA was supported in its proposal by two other groups. One was the President's Science Advisory Council, which had already decided that a civilian agency must control the space program, lest scientific objectives he subordinated. One of the members of the council, and undoubtedly influential in its recommendations, was James Doolittle, the NACA chairman. The Bureau of the Budget (BOB) saw enlarging an existing institution as cheaper than creating a new one to manage space activities. Another factor in BOB support was probably the NACA's reputation as a relatively low-budget, high-productivity organization.36

By March 1958 the administration was drafting legislation to create a civilian space agency based on the NACA as the nucleus. In April, as the legislation that would create NASA went before Congress, the NACA and DOD discussed the reassignment of some military space projects to the new civilian agency.37 The projects under the sponsorship of the newly created ARPA were transferred to the civilian agency, including Project Vanguard, which had been wrested from the Navy, and various plans for lunar probes.

The National Aeronautics and Space Act passed both houses of Congress on 29 July 1958. As with most legislation, the end product was a compromise that attempted to answer objections voiced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House had been skeptical about the NACA's ability to function as the base for the new agency, because of the NACA's conservative character and close involvement with past military projects. The Senate, on the other hand, feared that the new agency would usurp the military exploitation of space and wanted a clearly delineated distinction of authority.38 Influential in the Senate position was Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson, who had led the Democratic attack on the Eisenhower administration for failure to anticipate Sputnik with a more dynamic space policy. In the end the Act contained clauses that asserted DOD supremacy in military space matters and provided for a National Aero-[87] -nautics and Space Council to coordinate aeronautical and space activities among all agencies of the government. The council would contain government administrators, military advisers, and private citizens. Thus Congress hoped to provide for space activities in both civilian and military arenas while reducing duplication of effort.

Before the Act went into effect on 1 October 1958, an administrator had to be chosen for NASA. Though many had assumed that Hugh Dryden as director of the NACA would automatically head the new agency, he evidently appeared too conservative for Congress.39 The nomination went to T. Keith Glennan, at the time president of Case Institute of Technology. Dryden was named deputy administrator, a crucial position dependent on technical expertise. Both men were sworn in mid-August. The appointment of the outsider Glennan was to be a factor in the transition of the NACA into NASA, and in the acceptance of the new regime by NACA personnel.40

On the face of things, the transition was smoothly accomplished. NASA acquired not only the ARPA projects, but lunar probes and satellite projects originally begun by the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA). The Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Cal Tech, part of the Army's missile development program, was transferred to NASA in late 1958, when NASA also gained access to ABMA's Development and Operations Division, von Braun's talented team, without prior Pentagon approval. With Project Vanguard NASA also acquired the personnel from the Naval Research Laboratory who were attached to the project. By the end of 1958, NASA personnel numbered 8,420.41

At Ames the 1 October conversion was accomplished without fanfare. De France issued a typically restrained memorandum documenting the transition from NACA to NASA, from Ames Aeronautical Laboratory to Ames Research Center. When NASA's first organizational chart was issued in January 1959, Ames found itself, along with Langley, Lewis, and the High Speed Flight Station, under the authority of the associate administrator for aeronautical and space research.

*The Janus range had been named after Charters's light-gas gun, which ejected a reaction piston from the rear of the driving tube as the compressed helium, bursting into the launch tube, fired the model.

** While the government offered $4,345 and a GS-5 grade to graduates with bachelor's degrees industry was offering roughly $4,860. For outstanding graduates, competitive bidding among industrial firms pushed the starting salaries to $5,700.


Chapter 4. The Formation of NASA, 1958


1. This observation is based on conversations with a number of older employees.
2. Russell G. Robinson interview, 30 Sept. 1981.
3. The story was related by an Ames employee present at the time.
4. See chap. 3. Alan E. Fayé interview, 1 Apr. 1981.
5. Edwin P. Hartman, Adventures in Research: A History of the Ames Research Center, 1940-1965, NASA SP-4302 (Washington, 1970), pp. 186-187, 262-263.
6. Ibid pp. 195, 234-235.
7. this observation has been made by many employed at Ames during the period.
8. The description of the 1958 Ames inspection is drawn from the inspection program and booklet issued at the time. The booklet emphasizes the entire NACA much more than earlier editions, perhaps because the NACA at this time was fighting for a]l possible influence in the forming of the new space agency. Edith Watson Kuhr files, Ames Research Center.
9. Alfred J. Eggers, Jr., H. Julian Allen, and Stanford E. Neice, A Comparative Analysis of the Performance of Long-Range Hypervelocity Vehicles, NACA TN 1382, 1958.
10. Hartman, Adventures in Research, pp. 267-268.
11. Clarence A. Syvertson interview by Walter Bonney, 25 Sept. 1974, NASA History Office, Washington.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid.
15. Hartman, Adventures in Research, pp. 252-253.
16. Robert L. Rosholt, An Administrative History of NASA, 1958-1963, NASA, SP-4101 (Washington, 1966), p. 29.
17. Speech by Arthur L. Johnson, candidate for Congress from the 10th District, on Radio KEEN, 7 May 1952. 63-A-224, box 6630, SBFRC.
18. Hartman, Adventures in Research, p. 221.
19. Congressional Record, 26 Jan. 1956, extension of remarks of Hon. Charles S. Gubser of California in the House of Representatives.
20. De France was quoting a report of the Subcommittee on Research Activities, part of the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government, made in Apr. 1955.
21. James H. Doolittle, letter of submittal, 1 Oct. 1957, 43rd Annual Report of the NACA, 1957 (Washington, 1958).
22. See Alex Roland, "Research by Committee" (unpublished manuscript, Apr. 1980), Chapter 10.
23. Ibid., p. 415.
24. Ibid., p. 417.
25. Ibid., p. 417-418.
26. Enid Curtis Bok Schoettle, "The Establishment of NASA," in Sanford A. Lakoff, Knowledge and Power: Essays on Science and Government (New York: The Free Press, 1966),pp. 164-173.
27. Ibid.,pp. 171-172
28. New York Times, 10 Oct. 1957, p. 1.
29. Lakoff, Knowledge and Power, p. 181.
30. Ibid., p. 197
31. Ibid., pp. 199-213.
32. See Homer E. Newell, Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science, NASA SP-4211 (Washington, 1980), pp. 34-36, for a brief history and description of the Rocket and Satellite Research Panel.
33. Lakoff, Knowledge and Power, pp. 215-216.
34. Rosholt, An Administrative History of NASA, pp. 34-35.
35. Lakoff, Knowledge and Power, p. 234.
36. Ibid., p. 238.
37. Rosholt, Administrative History of NASA, p. 38.
38. Lakoff, Knowledge and Power, pp. 247-249.
39. See Rosholt, Administrative History of NASA, pp. 40-41, and Lakoff, Knowledge and Power, p. 247.
40. See chap. 6.
41. Rosholt, Administrative History of NASA, p. 48.