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






[91] The establishment of NASA ultimately transformed the character of Ames Some of the changes came slowly and surreptitiously; only over a period of years would older NACA personnel realize how the laboratory had changed as they noted, for example, the differences between long-duration topical research and the new, mission-oriented projects. Project management-goal-oriented and time-limited-was a product of NASA's mission to assure American supremacy in the space race and, after 1961, to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. Project work was also the result of the political constraints placed upon the agency. Not only did announced goals need to be met, but NASA had to justify itself as it proceeded toward them. The political overtones and the pressure to perform on a strict time schedule made project work quite different from the older kinds of research, which had been at least potentially open-ended and less constrained by hard and fast deadlines.

Other changes noticed at Ames resulted more directly from the higher budgets and larger physical size of the center, which were accompanied by several new complexities. NASA Headquarters originally did not differ much from the old NACA scheme of things. A few more personnel were interspersed in the line of command, perhaps, but since in the early months of NASA many old hands remained in still-recognizable positions, the transition began smoothly. But administrative and organizational changes in the early years soon redefined Ames's relationship with Headquarters, creating more labyrinthine routes to any final implementation of decisions. This was not so much a specific NASA problem as it was the problem of any new, large, and rich organization that was responsible to elected representatives of a reasonably sophisticated population. In short, it is hard to conceive how NASA could have embarked upon its gargantuan task without a great increase in bureaucratic complexity.

Ames was perhaps a passive recipient of some of the change that NASA bestowed. There was no way to avoid either increased administrative entanglements or task-oriented research. The research center adjusted to [92] such changes gradually, in some cases with grace, in some cases awkwardly. But in other instances Ames management actively attempted to reshape the center according to the new demands and interests. In establishing the Life Sciences Directorate, it is very evident that top Ames management saw the addition as a potential transfusion, endowing Ames with another resource to bolster its faltering aeronautical investment. The Life Sciences Directorate represented a positive response on the part of De France to a changed environment, and though its grafting onto the existing institution was a difficult process, life sciences seems to have been a much-wanted addition to Ames, at least on the part of the Ames administration.*




In July 1959 NASA Administrator Glennan appointed Dr. Clark Randt, a former colleague at Case Western Reserve University, as his adviser for life sciences Space presented both a new medium for bioscientific research and a new set of physical demands on human trespassers. In the early stages of Project Mercury, the first U.S. manned space project, NASA cooperation with DOD left responsibility for human factors with the Air Force, but Glennan felt it was important to define NASA's own long-term interests in the life sciences.

Drawing further on the academic community, Glennan formed a Biosciences Advisory Committee, on which Randt sat as NASA's representative, to advise on NASA's life-science needs and possible ways to meet them within the framework of the agency. Over the next six months, under the chairmanship of Dr. Seymour Kety, the committee studied the existing relationship between NASA and DOD, evaluated the demands that space operations would place on NASA in the life sciences, and composed a report with very specific recommendations for a course of action.

The January 1960 Kety Committee report deserves examination, because many who were drawn into NASA's life-sciences efforts regarded it as a solid document for future planning, agreed with its basic assumptions, and believed that its recommendations needed to be acted upon. First, the committee identified three major areas in which work was needed:


[93] 1. Basic biologic effects of extraterrestrial environments . . . and identification of complex organic or other molecules in planetary atmospheres which might be precursors or evidence of extraterrestrial life;
2. Medical and behavioral aspects of medicine and biology as related to manned space flight; and
3. Medical and behavioral scientific problems concerned with more fundamental investigation of metabolism, nutrition, etc., in space equivalent situations.


As is evident from the distinctions drawn in the report, the committee believed NASA needed far more from life sciences than simply operational support for manned spaceflight. The first category dealt with bioscientific questions that were not necessarily human-related, and the third category, though dealing with human responses to space, defined medical, phychological, and behavioral issues in a much more general manner. As the committee saw it, NASA had the opportunity to involve itself deeply in the larger questions of life-science research in a space environment. In the same vein, the committee urged the establishment of a central facility to guide and carry out research in the three areas of inquiry. Both Goddard Space Flight Center and the National Institutes of Health were named as possible sites for such a facility

Administratively the Kety Committee made equally specific recommendations. NASA was urged to establish a Life Sciences Programs Office reporting to NASA's head administrators and not subordinate to the existing program offices (the Office of Launch Vehicle Programs, the Office of Space Flight Programs, and the Office of Advanced Research Programs), which were under the direct control of the associate administrator. The Kety Committee believed that as a program office itself, life sciences would contribute to and cooperate with the other three program offices as an equal partner.

The internal organization of the life-sciences program was to be arranged according to the three areas of investigation that had been defined. Interestingly, the Kety Committee specified intramural and extramural sections of the office, the extramural section being that concerned with outside contract research. A clear distinction was thereby postulated between in-house research and contract research, though as life sciences evolved, especially at Ames, this distinction would not hold. The program, as the committee saw it, would be weighted heavily toward in-house work. Advisory committees drawn from outside NASA would guide the intramural program, and maximum integration with universities and academic colleagues would be sought.

The Kety Committee's firm belief in a broad program with authority and resources to deal with both present needs and future dc mends was [94] clearly stated even as it paid lip service to NASA's immediate space effort, Project Mercury. In concluding its comments concerning the intramural activities of the life-sciences program office, the committee stated: "The present research effort . . . within NASA appears to be concentrated upon a single specific goal, exemplified by Project Mercury, at the possible expense of broader, more remote, but fundamental aims. It is important that the biomedical aspects of the Project be placed squarely under the jurisdiction of the Office of Life Sciences and that it be coordinated with other aspects of the Life Sciences Program."1 The report concluded with budget estimations and the plea that NASA commit itself to holding its own against life-science activities in the armed forces, especially the Air Force, already linked with Project Mercury. Money could not be used skimpily; the initial effort must be undertaken with an eye to a sturdy foundation.

The Kety Committee made several truly wise observations. First, the three areas of recommended investigation paid due recognition to immediate, short-range needs, while clearly naming long-range necessities. Second, suggesting program status for life sciences, they sought to avoid the competition for control of life sciences that later ensued among the original program offices, competition that created administrative chaos and weakened the program as a whole. Finally, by drawing a clear line between in-house and contract domains, the committee made it potentially easier to create a solid base of research that was the agency's own.

Administrator Glennan accepted the committee's report in late January 1960 and seemed to endorse the recommendations. As Congress was proving sticky in authorizing certain of NASA's funds for FY 1961, Glennan postponed announcing the establishment of the Life Sciences Programs Office until after the House of Representatives had completed its hearings. Funding was diverted from research money already authorized, and with little congressional cross-examination, the new office was added to NASA's three existing program offices.2 Not surprisingly, Clark Randt was named head of the office. As one Ames life scientist put it, "Life sciences was grafted onto NASA as a whole, almost as an afterthought."3

Almost from the beginning, the Office of Life Sciences Programs ran into difficulties. Randt found Glennan reluctant to commit the funding; and staffing originally promised. Selecting the site for the life-sciences research facility involved endless wrangling. Perhaps even more maddening was the slow erosion of authority within his own office. When Randt sought involvement in Project Mercury's biomedical aspects, as the Kety Committee had recommended, he ran into firm opposition from top NASA administration and from the Office of Space Flight Programs, which controlled Project Mercury. Randt's campaign for biomedical responsibility in post-Mercury programs had a similar result. It was obvious that Randt and his office was regarded as trespassers in territory already claimed by other program offices.

[95] Thwarted in his attempts to implement what he had considered a clear mandate from Glennan, knowing he was unsupported by Deputy Administrator Dryden, and unable to gain the ear of the new NASA administrator, James Webb, Randt resigned a year after he had become the head of the Life Sciences Programs Office. The office itself lasted only five months longer.




During the first years of NASA's existence, all three former NACA laboratories attempted to revise their facilities, expertise, and-perhaps- images to better compete in the new environment. Though continual lip service was paid to NASA's being built on the foundations of the NACA, managers at the laboratories must have felt a bit overwhelmed by the dramatic changes to what had been a low-key operation. NASA in rapid succession acquired Vanguard,** the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Pasadena, and von Braun's missile group at Huntsville. The new Goddard Space Flight Center grew like a mushroom. Even those among the old hands who wholeheartedly embraced the new circumstances must have been struck by the size and diversity of the new agency. Harry Goett, who left Ames in 1959 to become Goddard's first director, recalled, "That was one of the biggest changes I had to get used to, from [having] 150 guys working under me, [making deals that involved] $100,000 to [closing] a $10 million . . . deal in an afternoon. . . at Goddard. The difference was that Goddard had a $400 million budget, and Ames [under NACA] didn't."4

The centers responded in varying ways. Lewis Research Center entered space-age engine research immediately, making a relatively smooth transition from old demands to new.5 Langley's Space Task Group, which had been formed under the NACA, quickly assumed a position of prominence as the developer of Project Mercury, NASA's first major effort. Though the Space Task Group was later transferred jurisdictionally to Goddard and then physically to Houston, its Langley origins aided that center's shift to space-related work.

At Ames, the old awareness of geographical separation from NASA Headquarters may have recurred. The period of adjustment is still remembered as awkward by those who had to make major career shifts or risk seeing their areas of expertise become, at least temporarily, backwaters. One Ames research engineer said that the transition


[96] did bother some of us who weren't interested in getting into space work. As soon as the 1958 change was made, everybody was supposed to focus on space; people in the Flight Research Branch were asked to list ten items of space-research potential, and if you didn't, you were not well received. Some of us felt that although it was great to move into space, what about aeronautics? It shouldn't stop; there were still plenty of things to do, and we were still interested in doing aeronautics. That transition was hard for some of us. We were being pushed, by higher forces, to make space contributions.6


Harry Goett, who had gone from low-speed aeronautical research into early flight simulation work-which would become space-connected-was one of those who urged Ames management to get a piece of the space action. Years later he remembered sympathetically how the change had demoralized some aeronautical engineers who saw themselves upstaged by the heavily publicized space projects: "I used to tell them myself, 'Look, the fundamental boundary-layer stuff you've been working on, or this or that, is still just as important as it ever was, but you're not top dog anymore.' "7

Eventually aeronautics at Ames would reestablish itself successfully, partly through the continuing work done on V/STOL aircraft, partly through the questions raised in the late 1960s regarding the feasibility of the supersonic transport. In the early 1960s, however, flight research using simulators kept the Full-Scale and Flight Research Division from sinking into complete disfavor while providing a link between aeronautics and astronautics by focusing on the human factor in both. Flight simulation research, with increasingly sophisticated equipment and subtlety of investigation, was one Ames response to the new demands for space-oriented research.

Another area in which existing work helped ease Ames into space research was the automatic guidance and control of aircraft. As Ames researchers became more deeply involved in the electronics of automatic control, their research became increasingly applicable to the control of satellites. This expertise would help Ames acquire both the Biosatellite and Pioneer Projects. Familiarity with automatic control problems gave some Ames engineers greater flexibility in meeting the new research demands. It was probably a factor in the selection of Goett to be director of Goddard.8

Though the ability of the center to bend its ongoing research toward space applications helped its standing at Headquarters in the early NASA years, the overwhelming impression at Ames was that NASA was an eastern operation, with most of the exciting activity taking place in the East. Ames needed some singular element that might inject new vitality into the center and distinguish it from other NASA installations. De France was well aware that Ames needed to move with the times, and in early 1960 he began an [97] active campaign to convince NASA Headquarters that his center was the best place for a new life-sciences research facility. In this, as Jack Boyd, later associate director of Ames, theorized, he was probably encouraged by Harvey Allen:


Harvey knew we couldn't stay as narrow as we had been, and I think he wanted to give us a broader base, in whatever direction we could go, and I think he saw that life sciences was going to be important.... we had [already] gotten into simulation, and simulation became an important part of life sciences. If Allen hadn't supported it, I don't think it would have happened as fast.9


Far from being thrust upon Ames, life sciences was actively sought by De France, which should be remembered when considering the many problems life sciences subsequently created there.

De France lost no time in establishing his claim to the facility recommended by the Kety Committee. The week after Glennan established the Life Sciences Programs Office in March 1960, he traveled to the West Coast to meet with De France and tour Ames. The new life-sciences program crept into the conversation. De France immediately busied his staff, preparing an unsolicited report pointing out the "many advantages present in our area on which the program might draw."10 On 11 March, he sent the finished report to Glennan.

The lengthy report makes very clear how badly De France wanted the research facility. While most of the correspondence out of Ames under De France's leadership was dry, to the point, even understated, this report was at times almost florid in praising the unique set of facilities and talents that might be useful to NASA's life-science needs. The report named researchers at local universities and laboratories who were working in areas of general interest to NASA. Institutions mentioned included Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley, the Palo Alto Medical Center, San Jose State University, and the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory. While much of the research carried on under the auspices of these institutions would certainly dovetail well with NASA's needs, a retrospective reading of the Ames report leads one to question whether any area with several respected universities and some miscellaneous research facilities could not have produced a similar list.

In arguing the relevance of its own facilities and work, the Ames report made a much stronger case. Weightlessness experiments had begun. A series of preliminary studies on pilot behavior and restraint systems had been completed Simulation studies on stress experienced during flight had been undertaken in cooperation with the Navy, and the report suggested that the simulators could also be used in time-cycle-change research. The Physics [98] Branch might help with radiation studies, and the Instrumentation Division would prove generally useful in life-sciences research. The concluding arguments stressed the economics of using available land and buildings at Ames, the lure of neighboring industry, and the lovely climate. A copy of the report found its way to Clark Randt's desk.

The arguments that Ames pressed were all perfectly valid reasons for locating a life-sciences facility at the center, but it seems clear that the report was composed hurriedly. While attempting an objective delineation of what was available at Ames and in the surrounding area, the report did "protest too much."

In April Russell Robinson discussed Ames's case with Clark Randt in Washington. Randt told Robinson that "only one NASA center will cover this area joining life sciences and the physical sciences, and that Ames is in the best position to acquire the responsibility." Calling Ames work in simulation and centrifuge studies biotechnics, Randt asked that proposals for a research program in biotechnics be sent to him. Robinson came away cautiously hopeful that Ames would be the choice for the facility. 11

By summer 1960 the competition for the facility had narrowed to Ames and Goddard. Glennan was reputed to favor Ames, perhaps because of his earlier idea to turn Ames into the manned spaceflight center. There was a political hitch, however; the life-sciences laboratory was generally expected to be located close to the manned spaceflight center. That location had not yet been chosen, and there seemed to be strong congressional objections to placing it in California. This difficulty put the choice of Ames into jeopardy.12 In addition, there was still the idea, mentioned by Randt to Robinson in the spring, that the main life-sciences research facility should be near Washington, to keep close ties with the Office of Life Sciences Programs. 13

By fall Ames seemed to have been bypassed in favor of Goddard. De France could not have been happy when he received a copy of the proposed Life Sciences Ten Year Plan. Ames was not mentioned in it. Instead the plan urged construction of "a Life Sciences Research Facility for integrated life science activities within the Goddard Space Flight Center."14 Headquarters seemed to have chosen the eastern option.

What occurred between September and November is unclear, but once again the tables turned. In early November, Clark Randt came to Ames and announced that the life-sciences research facility would be built there. It had been decided "not to await or depend on the final location of the manned spaceflight activity that will evolve from the present Space Task Group."15

With the good news, Randt also explained some intricacies that would haunt the new directorate. As a memorandum summarized the discussion:


[99] Dr. Randt pictured the various phases of life science work as shown below, indicating overlapping areas, and by the dotted line, a natural boundary between research effort and development effort. As will be noted, research effort is to be carried out at Ames and the development effort at Space Task Group or its successors. 16


As everyone concerned was to find out, where overlap began and ended was moot. In addition to the grey area which conceivably both Ames and the Space Task Group could claim, there was another potential difficulty. Obviously, the STG would be more immediately interested in directed research than in basic research. Would that create tension between the two groups? Other elements of the memorandum appeared problematic, and in a way they actually foreshadowed some of the major difficulties Ames would face in the next several years.


Dr. Randt pictured the various phases of life science work as shown below, indicating overlapping areas, and by the dotted line, a natural boundary between research effort and development effort.


The relationship of the Ames life-sciences group to the rest of Ames and to NASA Headquarters was not to be straightforward. Headquarters cautioned that "no firm commitments on integration with Ames be made at this stage," but suggested that the head of the life-sciences group there be responsible to De France for operational matters and to the Office of Life Science Programs for direction and management of research programs. Thus from the beginning it was foreseeable that life sciences might not fit smoothly into the life of the center. One of the members of Randt's visiting group, stressing the "importance research biologists placed on an academic atmosphere," underlined the difference between "the superficial appearance of an academic atmosphere and the actual attainment of an atmosphere of considerable freedom."17 Here was another indication that life sciences might become something very different from the older research organizations at Ames.

With this somewhat tentative and cautious beginning, the Ames Life Sciences Directorate came into being.




[100] In early 1961 Congress approved funds for the life-sciences facility at Ames, and in July Dr. Webb Haymaker, a noted neuropathologist at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, was chosen to head the facility. Haymaker did not arrive at Ames until late 1961, and in the meantime the Office of Life Sciences Programs had been abolished. By the time Haymaker took charge at Ames, NASA's life sciences had been divided among the Office of Space Sciences (OSS), the Office of Advanced Research and Technology (OART), and the Office of Manned Space Flight (OMSF). The same November 1961 reorganization placed all the NASA centers under Associate Administrator Seamans.

NASA's problems in initiating an efficient life-sciences program stemmed from a number of factors - competition among the program offices for control of life sciences within their own spheres, the difficulty in convincing, Congress that a major effort in basic life-sciences research was needed, the different outlooks on the issue by senior NASA officials, and the academic tone of the advice given by the Kety Committee and Randt. While that advice may have been sound, implementing it within the existing frame work of NASA proved almost impossible. There was no obvious place to graft life sciences onto the existing NASA tree. Over the next few years. study groups and individual consultants would analyze the snags in the organization and attempt to develop real solutions to end the turmoil.

In March 1962 Bernard Maggin of the NASA Office of Programs chaired a life-sciences working group that produced a lengthy report on the ills of the program. The recommendation was to place life sciences "programming capability at the Headquarters level to make possible real coordination among the life science elements controlled by the three program offices." OART was named as a likely office to take responsibility for that coordination. The group also recommended that "reasonable technical capability in the field" was to be centered at Ames and NASA should proceed with the construction of the life-science laboratory, making it possible of Ames to double that staff, from 81 to 160, between 1962 and 1963.18 Though NASA acted on some of the recommendations, it did not allow OART to coordinate work in other program offices, and lack of direction continued to plague the whole program.

In early 1963 Dr. R. W. Gerard, from the University of Michigan, was asked to evaluate the Ames life-science program. In the course of his evaluation (see below), he criticized the whole NASA life-sciences program, making many of the same points that his predecessors had. Later in the year Dr. Eugene Konecci, head of the Biotechnology and Human Research Division within OART, conducted yet another study of life sciences at Ames.

[101] Understandably, Konecci was most concerned with what he saw as inadequate attention to applied research that would directly support manned spaceflight The failures Konecci identified at Ames, however, reflected Washington's continued failure to provide clear directions in research, as well as the center's resistance to pressure from outside sources -- including NASA Headquarters. 19

Konecci's criticisms, while partially valid, reflected also the continuing struggle within Headquarters to define exactly what NASA required from life sciences, to decide who was to do what, and to set priorities. Just as Konecci was concerned with human factors, so managers of OSS might argue that NASA was not devoting enough effort to space biology and exobiology.20 The next year, still another survey of the program produced the Life Sciences Directors Group, headed by the director of space medicine under OMSF, Dr. W. Randolph Lovelace. As had been true with past attempts at workable solutions, true coordination remained out of reach; competition continued to create confusion.

In 1969-1970, having received sets of similar recommendations for almost 10 years, NASA made yet another try. The most important measure was the appointment of a single life-sciences director, responsible for coordination of the entire program. Most life-science elements would be under his direction; those located under other NASA groups would be under his review for coordination within the entire program.21 The change was intended to improve communications between life sciences and the NASA administration, as well as the outside scientific community.

The man picked for the director's position was Dr. Charles Berry, who had been in charge of the medical program for Gemini and Apollo. Highly successful in this positron, he was well known in NASA's upper echelons. Although Berry would have his difficulties, his access to top officials would be helpful. Though his own interests were in the manned aspects of Apollo, at least some of the life scientists in the other areas believed his appointment was, on the whole, advantageous.22

Under OMSF in 1970, the life-sciences office was transferred to 0SS in 1975 Although no change in program content was intended, it is not surprising that biomedical problems received a lower priority in OSS than they had enjoyed in OMSF.




In the early 1960s, an observer might well have concluded that life sciences and Ames were not ready for each other. The difficulties were diffuse, some stemming from tangible problems of logistics, some much more subtle. The result was multiple tensions.

[102] From the beginning, the problems that beset life sciences at Headquarters were reflected at Ames. One of these was lack of leadership. Webb Haymaker, though appointed in July 1961 to head the new life-sciences facility, did not arrive at Ames until near the end of the year. Therefore it was not until the beginning of 1962 that he was really familiar with the job. With a program barely defined and with vigorous competition among the interested parties in Headquarters, any director would have found the task formidable, but Haymaker proved an unlucky choice. A strong administrator was needed to shape the Ames program, build a strong relationship with De France and the rest of Ames, and bargain with Headquarters for an important place in the overall scheme of things. Haymaker was unsuited for the role.

The new director, a research-oriented academic, was determined to continue with his own work, studying the effects of cosmic rays on the brain. Flying primates on balloons, Haymaker was often absent from Ames retrieving his experiments or involved in the time-consuming work of brain tissue analysis. In a situation that called for a leader with an overview of the whole directorate, Haymaker built a strong research team in the neurosciences, his own field, but left his subordinates to manage other areas. Strong-willed and determined to go his own way, he soon ran afoul of De France, equally strong-willed. As a colleague expressed it retrospectively, "De France was really intolerant of managers who didn't manage."23 The absences of Haymaker and the more orthodox style of his immediate subordinate, Dale Smith, tended to create a dichotomy of administration that newly hired researchers found maddening. Less than two years after he was appointed, Haymaker stepped down from the directorship, though he remained at Ames as a research scientist. After a search of several months, Dr. Harold Klein, then head of the Exobiology Division, agreed to become the new director in January 1964.

Klein proved an effective head of the ailing program. Formerly head of the biology department at Brandeis University, he had originally joined the Ames staff while on sabbatical from his academic post. The challenge of building a smoothly running, well equipped, and productive organization from scratch was not new to him, since Brandeis itself was barely 14 years old. As department head, Klein had been heavily involved with planning facilities, recruiting staff, and raising funds. Realizing that new directorates, like new departments, do not run themselves, Klein attended to day-to-day responsibilities.

Another problem was the set of expectations with which many life scientists arrived at Ames. As originally envisioned by the Kety Committee, NASA's life sciences was to be strongly rooted in the academic community The appointment of Haymaker, an academic, and the subsequent hiring of the Ames life-sciences staff produced a group of researchers largely drawn [103] from universities. Haymaker and his staff believed that the atmosphere in the directorate would be much the same as at the universities they had left

This was not true, and the differences manifested themselves in numerous frustrating ways. Freedom to select one's own research problems is a great attraction of academia, and the biologists, chemists, and physicists who arrived at Ames expecting to pursue their own interests exclusively soon found that NASA's needs did not necessarily correspond with their own interests; schedules sometimes forced them to curtail unfinished research and move on to other topics. The civil servant's time clock was an irritant. Academics are noted for irregular working habits and hours, but the research center began the day promptly at 8 and ended it at 5. De France, used to the regulated hours and work habits of a career civil servant, balked at keeping the new life-sciences library open on weekends. He disliked professional seminars during working hours for what he regarded as extracurricular self-improvement.

Another handicap was the lack of centralized facilities, important both for work and for constant interaction with colleagues. Universities routinely locate laboratories and offices close together. Ames management, remembering the laboratory built in the midst of a national emergency and the shoestring budgets on which it had long operated, regarded such niceties as less than essential. Harold Klein spoke of the early difficulties:


One of the things I wanted to do first was to get my motley crew into one location-they were spread out all over the place. Eventually there was to be a central research laboratory, but I didn't want to wait. So we did a very unorthodox thing-we . . .rented a building on Charleston Road and built some beautiful laboratories. We were down there a couple of years. I had to argue with De France to do it.... Later, [after I became head of the directorate] we got our central building, [and] I wanted to have a library in it. De France was adamant we weren't going to have a library because Ames already had one. Over the library I threat-ened to quit. De France finally gave in and we got the library.24


The newcomers encountered other obstacles to easy integration with Ames The lack of direction in the life-sciences program left the boundaries of the original three divisions, exobiology, environmental biology, and biotechnology, unclear. Life-sciences funding came from two program offices in Headquarters; this caused a certain inflexibility in transferring money within the directorate, a handicap other Ames directorates did not have. 25

To add to the tension, the 1963 attempt by E. B. Konecci, as head of OART's Biotechnology and Human Research Division, to concentrate on applied research in support of space operations left the space scientists....



1964. Dr. Harold P. Klein, Director of Life Sciences, explains a fine point to a visiting congressman.

1964. Dr. Harold P. Klein, Director of Life Sciences, explains a fine point to a visiting congressman. Klein, who headed the directorate for 20 years, built Life Sciences into one of Ames's strongest research areas.


....feeling abandoned by Headquarters. In the early years interaction between life sciences and the astronautical and aeronautical directorates remained minimal, reinforcing both the life scientists' sense of isolation and the puzzlement of most everyone else as to what "they," in the white coats. were doing.

The 1963 Gerard report, which De France dismissed angrily as the product of Gerard's wounded feelings at being left out of Biosatellite discussions, appears to have been a sound analysis of the general malaise of the life-sciences program, both within NASA as a whole and specifically at Ames.26 Proceeding from the general to the embarrassingly specific, the report probably did not reveal much that the life scientists did not already know firsthand.

Gerard's findings only underlined the larger unsolved questions within NASA Headquarters regarding life sciences. On the question of basic research versus applied research, Gerard urged, as had other academic critics, that NASA build an in-house capability that went beyond immediate needs. On the delicate balance between research "anarchy" and set-problem solving, he seemed to address De France: "The Life Sciences Directorate of Ames Research Center, presumably the entire Center, is not intended to be a [105] university-like mosaic of independent scholars and investigators, each pursuing his own intellectual interests; but neither is it intended to be an assembly-line problem-solving factory."27

Gerard differentiated between independent and task-oriented research calling for more specific guidelines on who was to be detailed to what projects. He placed the blame for vagueness just as much on Washington as on Ames higher management. Reviewing project by project the research being supported at Ames, Gerard's general impression was that much of the work was either toe> imprecisely defined or was not immediately recognizable as sufficiently valuable to merit further support. The program was floundering, and the life scientists were frustrated.

Gerard's report, while it was the first analysis that dealt specifically with Ames, was not singular in its revelations. The problems it defined were those of newness, growth, lack of leadership and direction, and gaps between expectations and realities. Time solved some of the problems with Headquarters, but those of conflicting jurisdiction remained. Over the following years Harold Klein bridged many of the early differences between Ames management and life-sciences personnel. As the new director of life sciences at Ames saw it, he helped to open the center to a more flexible mode of operation, as well as to make the work atmosphere less frustrating for his staff.

The latter half of the 1960s and early 1970s found life sciences progressing in a much more organized fashion. The organization, after its early traumas, steadily established its reputation as an important segment of NASA's research strength. During Apollo, Ames supported Houston in many of the biomedical areas and became heavily involved in the chemical and biological analysis of lunar samples. During Project Viking, Klein headed the biology team which planned experiments on Mars and analyzed the resulting data. As valuable research began to appear, the life-sciences directorate, by the end of 1965 housed in its own research facility, slowly came into its own part of the Ames community.




For the young researchers who joined the life-sciences activity in the mid-1960s, many of the early problems were not particularly evident.28 The new laboratory helped to strengthen feelings of integration within the directorate itself and to establish life sciences as a permanent and tangible entity at Ames. In the halcyon years of relatively plush funding, Klein gathered equipment and facilities with an eye to the future. By the 1970s, Ames had an impressive array of sophisticated research tools, including human and animal centrifuges, electron microscopes, mass spectrometers, a variety of [106] well stocked laboratories, and a life-sciences library that could compete with those in academia. The equipment-buying policy, "loading us up wherever I could find a nickel," Director Klein recalled,29 made it possible to continue to attract excellent staff, lured by research equipment better than that at most universities. The situation was similar to that of the prewar NACA which had possessed the best assortment of aeronautical research tools in the country, and thereby attracted fine research talent. Dr. Harold Sandler of the Biomedical Research Division told a story familiar to Ames since its earliest years:


I came from the University of Washington, trained in cardiovascular disease and physiology. I'd been drafted and sent to the Naval Air Development Center at Johnsville, Pennsylvania, which had the largest human centrifuge. I [used it to study] how the heart functions under gravitational loads.... After I went back to the University of Washington and research funding was hard to come by, I got a phone call from an [acquaintance] at Ames, who told me there were research opportunities here-there was a centrifuge here -would I be interested? I came down and took a look; they had all the elements I'd been working with at Johnsville.30


As the directorate built up its staff, it reorganized itself according to, changing research needs and directions. Originally research had been organized along the three lines of inquiry defined by the Kety Committee. Hence the original divisions were biotechnology, environmental biology, and exobiology. Because life sciences was a small directorate-at its largest it held approximately 180 people -organization within divisions remained relatively simple, focused around areas of study rather than facilities, In contrast to the early Ames divisions, which had been organized around wind tunnels. Over the years, the divisions and branches were rearranged a number of times. Though in many ways the same basic structure continued to exist, the new names and relationships reflected changing focuses within both Ames and NASA.31 During 1963-1976 the Life Sciences Directorate at Ames was under the authority, successively, of OART, OMSF, and OSS. The organizational changes at Ames reflect the differing interests and priorities of the three program offices. Though Ames learned to live with the somewhat tenuous organizational arrangements, the original problems present when the NASA life-sciences program was in its infancy in 1960-1962 remained factors in the life of the Ames directorate.

The arrival of life sciences at Ames was unfortunately timed. The old aeronautical laboratory was in the midst of other drastic changes-the shift to space research, the introduction of project work, the new presence of [107] large numbers of contract workers, and the growing complexity brought on by increased budgets and the necessity of political rationale.32 It is not surprising that white-coated biologists, chemists, and doctors caused tensions.

A continuing problem, especially difficult to deal with during the Apollo years, was the division of duties between Ames and the Manned Spacecraft Center at Houston. The conflict began in 1960 when Randt attempted, unsuccessfully, to wrest the biomedical work associated with Project Mercury away from the Space Task Group. The complex issue, seen retrospectively, was really three-sided. The first was simply that of authority: the Space Task Group considered that its responsibility-manned spaceflight-included all aspects of that job, including the biomedical ones. Life sciences managers, both at the program office level and later under OART, contested this view. The problem was never really resolved over the years, despite the shifts in organization and attempts at bureaucratic solutions.

The second aspect of the conflict was philosophical. Life-science managers at Ames saw their efforts in terms of the original Kety Committee's plans for a strong in-house research facility. Though obviously life sciences would help solve problems related to humans in space, Ames researchers constituted a pool of talent involved in a variety of continuing quests relating to space and the life sciences. In this view, Ames's place under OART made sense. OMSF and Houston, however, tended to think of life sciences as a support team for Project Mercury or Apollo or whatever manned project demanded support. OMSF sometimes sponsored investigations in competition with OART. As Klein remembered, "During the years Ames life sciences was under OART, OMSF was doing life-sciences research work too, but they weren't calling it life sciences. They got into research OART was supposed to be doing, siphoned off research money from [other parts of their program] and did their own research."33

Eventually, a rough line was drawn and Ames concentrated mostly on animal research, leaving Houston the human research. Where Ames was also involved in human research, it was responsible for coordinating its efforts with Houston's. Here was the third element of the conflict in the Ames Houston relationship. The two life-science groups were very different in tone Ames research was geared to long-term goals and general scientific curiosity; Houston was dominated by the overwhelming operational demands and frantic activity surrounding manned spaceflight. Driven by political pressures to accomplish well publicized goals, Houston was bound by time limits that Ames did not feel. A sense of urgency made the Texas center impatient and unwilling to leave the development and finished products up to another center. Houston's insistence on doing much of the biomedical work was, from Ames's perspective, insulting.34

The organizational arrangement of life sciences at Headquarters was a continuing handicap to Ames. Klein thought it perhaps was the biggest [108] problem his directorate faced over the years. Interested in supporting; that aspect of Ames's work closest to their own fields, the program offices, as they took turns controlling Ames, kept the center struggling to offset what it perceived as an imbalance in research emphasis. Klein recalled,


Working under OMSF, the problem was that they were interested in manned spaceflight. They would listen attentively to us when we talked about our work in manned-spaceflight research and would tend to turn a deaf ear when we talked about aeronautics or exobiology. Now we're in OSS. They don't do any manned spaceflight, so when they go to Congress [for funding], they aren't going to emphasize those problems.35


In spite of slow progress toward understanding and accommodation the dealings of life sciences with the other two research groups at Ames remained in some ways as tenuous as its position within NASA as a whole. To this day there is a certain distance between the life sciences and aeronautical engineers. In many ways they go about their work differently. One example was publication. By training, aeronautical engineers did not publish technical reports until data had been checked and rechecked; life scientists, by contrast, published initial research results that might be rapidly outdated, adjusted, or even disproved.36 It was the difference between a "finished product" attitude and a "work in progress" approach to publication.

For those engineers who had spent much or all of their careers working under the iron hand of De France, the life scientists must indeed have appeared to be a motley crew of revolutionaries. Perhaps the difference in tone between the engineers and life scientists was less a difference in their disciplines and more that between the university and the civil service. When the directorate was formed, the old NACA atmosphere fostered by De France was still very much present, and it is easy to imagine the mutually jarring effect the two groups had on each other. Under De France, for example, it had been forbidden for anyone under the rank of organizational director to sign an outgoing letter without approval. *** Though De France was necessarily concerned with individuals making unapproved commitments or statements, the rule was ridiculous to the life scientists, many of them former members of university faculties. Klein claimed:


We helped to make possible a more academic environment here. A lot of things we now take for granted at Ames we first punched [109] through in life sciences, like . . . signing your own letters, having in-house research seminars.... We chipped away at a very closed, constrained organization.37


Life scientists and their different research methods, organizational needs, and procedural expectations undoubtedly furthered the process of change at Ames, and in this were aided by other new influences. The growth of contracting, with contractor personnel at the center continuously, was one. Also important was De France's retirement in 1965. Harvey Allen, the new director, had always been vigorously involved in research. Because his personal style was anything but bureaucratic, the new elements at the center found him approachable.

In some areas, however, life sciences would never be in quite the same category as the rest of the research center. Where aeronautics and astronautics overlapped in facilities and funding, life sciences remained largely apart. Physically, life sciences also remained both small and separate, comprising less than a tenth of the center's manpower and occupying only three buildings. Perhaps, as the head of the Biomedical Research Division remarked, life sciences at Ames would always be an island, having little to do with the rest....


1962. Flight Research and Life Sciences combine efforts in experiments such as this one involving the 5-degrees-of-motion centrifuge, which studied pilot response to various motion patterns.

1962. Flight Research and Life Sciences combine efforts in experiments such as this one involving the 5-degrees-of-motion centrifuge, which studied pilot response to various motion patterns.



1978. In this bed-rest study, conducted by Life Science researchers, the female subject is being tested on the effects of weightlessness and the ability to perform specified tasks in space.

1978. In this bed-rest study, conducted by Life Science researchers, the female subject is being tested on the effects of weightlessness and the ability to perform specified tasks in space.


.....of the center;38 but if that is true, the directorate also came to be accepted by Ames as being a valuable component of its research strength.

As Ames gained its early reputation through crucial research, so did life sciences. Not only was the work proving essential to manned spaceflight, but aeronautical researchers also began to make use of the resident expertise to support aeronautical research. Interrelationships developed between life scientists and engineers involved in the human-factor aspect of aeronautics. Here, flight research questions and motion simulators dovetailed with tile biotechnology division's interests, and cooperative projects were born. During the Viking mission to Mars and the later Pioneer mission to Venus, exobiologists and researchers in astronautics collaborated to plan and implement experiments. The growing involvement of life sciences with the areonautical and astronautical segments of Ames was demonstrated in 1973 by the creation of the Flight Experiments Office within the life-sciences directorate. 39

In the biomedical research areas, outside connections with contractors and university research teams brought Ames into prominence outside the immediate NASA framework. The Biomedical Research Division at Ames tended to follow research directions that had potentially far-flung applica-[111] -tions. Because of this, the research reached a wider audience than the more specific, applied research connected to space projects. Devices for measuring intercranial pressures, microcatheter developmental research, and bed-rest studies brought Ames into interaction with a whole new segment of the scientific community.

The Aviation Safety Reporting System Office, within the Man-Vehicle Systems Research Division, proved to be another important avenue to the outside world. Heavily funded by the Federal Aviation Administration, the new office investigated reports of near-misses in flight. Attempting to identify crucial elements in pilot stress and examining physical factors of accidents and near-accidents statistically, the office has developed an extensive bank of information. Because any participant or witness can anonymously submit information, the office has become well known as a neutral consultant, a case of a highly visible and obviously pragmatic application of research to benefit the public.

The life sciences, especially biomedicine, touched more lives and excited more everyday interest than did aeronautics and astronautics. Some dramatic episodes - probably not representative of the directorate's real strengths-brought Ames and NASA fascinating and positive publicity. One such episode occurred in 1968, when a holdup victim was shot in the head. Surgery was impossible; by subjecting the patient to a 6-g force in the Ames centrifuge, however, a bullet fragment was shifted slightly, to a position where it would be less dangerous.40 At least twice, physicians at the local hospitals borrowed pressure suits from Ames-suits similar to those worn by the astronauts-to bring persistent hemorrhaging under control.41

Such dramatic episodes, if ironic when viewed in the context of, Ames's 40-year history, also confirmed the wisdom of seeking new research missions Ames under De France, like the NACA under George Lewis and Hugh Dryden, had shunned publicity and had seen no need to seek approval or fame outside a narrow circle of professionals who were already convinced of Ames's importance. Yet by 1960 Ames management had recognized the need to reach a wider audience, if only to keep pace with the colorful space activities that brought NASA overwhelming support in the 1960s. Life sciences brought the center out of its narrower environment and helped to modernize its personality. But the institution paid a price that may not have been foreseen: De France's laboratory was radically transformed into a real research center.

The difficult birth of the life-sciences program at Ames is significant in another way. Many of the problems that beset the directorate within Ames also beset Ames in the larger NASA context. Just as life sciences saw itself an "in-house research facility," so Ames had enjoyed just that identification throughout the NACA years. Under NASA, both found themselves frequently cast in the role of problem-solvers for the space effort, a role that [112] both resented. Basic research is a slow process of fits and starts, wrong turns, and much rethinking of problems. It seeks understanding, before solutions, and generally does not respond well to the pressure of fixed deadlines. For both the life-sciences academics and the aeronautical engineers used to the NACA's frugality, NASA's commitment to fast problem-solving with big budgets, though admittedly necessary in the new age, was close to sacrilege. For some the transition was easier than for others, but for all it was a major change, and one that was only gradually accomplished.

*Although heads of the major research groups were called Assistant Directors, and had been since the early 1950s, the term "directorate" did not appear on organization charts until the mid-1960s. Whereas Harold Klein was originally called Assistant Director for Life Sciences, he later became, in the same job, Head of the Life Sciences Directorate. For simplicity, I use the term somewhat anachronistically.

**Vanguard was transferred from the Navy to ARPA (DOD) in May 1958, a holding action pending the formation of NASA, which absorbed Vanguard at the outset in October 1958.

***A concession had been won by Pioneer Project Manager Charles Hall earlier. Hall had received permission to sign all Pioneer outgoing mail and to receive incoming mail directly, "unheard of at Ames in 1962." Hall interview, Dec. 1982.

[113-114] SOURCE NOTES

Chapter 5. The Life Sciences Directorate


1. "Report of the NASA Bioscience Advisory Committee," 25 Jan. 1960, p. 15. Life Sciences Directorate, Historical Files of Dr. Harold Klein.
2. See John Pitts, "The Human Factor: Biomedicine in the Manned Space Program" (unpublished manuscript, 1981), chap. 3, pp. 81-83, for details on the establishment of the Life Sciences Programs Office.
3. Harold P. Klein interview, 24 Feb. 1982.
4. Harry J. Goett interview, 3 Dec. 1981.
5. see chapter 6,p. 120.
6. Seth Anderson interview, 5 Feb. 1982.
7. Goett interview.
8. this is Goett's opinion, as he reviewed the shifts and changes in his own career.
9. John W. Boyd interview, 23 July 1982.
10 Smith J. De France to T. Keith Glennan, 11 Mar. 1960, 70-A-1261, V-4817, SBFRC.
11. Russell G. Robinson to De France, 21 Apr. 1960, ibid.
12. Pitts, "Human Factor," chap. 3, p. 97.
13. Robinson to De France, 21 Apr. 1960.
14. "Office of Life Science Programs Ten Year Plan," 15 Sept. 1960, p. 25, 70-A-1261, V-4817, SBFRC.
15. Ames to NASA Hq., "Proposed Life Sciences Research Center," 10 Nov. 1960, p. 2. Life Sciences Directorate, Historical Files of Dr. Harold Klein
16. Ibid., p. 3.
17. Ibid., p. 9.
18. "Report of the NASA Working Group on Life Sciences," Mar. 1962, pp. 29 ff.
19 See E. B. Konecci to De France, 3 May 1960, suggesting that Ames needed to align itself better with OART program objectives, and 1 June 1963, regarding the spring 1963 survey of life-sciences activities, NASA Hq. History Office.
20. Homer E. Newell, Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science, NASA SP-4211 (Washington, 1980), chap. 16. Newell, at one time head of NASA's Office of Space Sciences, has written an excellent chapter on the difficulties that NASA's lifescience program encountered.
21. Ibid., p. 281.
22. Klein interview.
23. Ibid.
24. Ibid.
25. Edwin P. Hartman, Adventures in Research: A History of Ames Research Center, 1940-1965, NASA SP-4302 (Washington, 1970), p. 404.
26. See R. W. Gerard to De France, 20, 21 Feb. 1963, and the accompanying letter from De France to Assoc. Admin. R. C. Seamans, Jr., 21 Mar. 1963. One of De France's obvious objections to the Gerard report was concern that its circulation would make the task of replacing Haymaker more difficult. Life Sciences Directorate, Historical Files of Dr. Harold Klein.
27. Gerard memorandum to De France, 21 Feb. 1963, pp. 3-4.
28. Both Dr. Harold Sandler, head of the Biomedical Research Div., and Dr. Alan Chambers, head of the Man-Vehicle Systems Research Div., recalling their early years at Ames, remembered that though they were aware of difficulties, they felt unaffected by handicaps in their own work.
29. Klein interview.
30. Harold Sandler interview, 3 Feb. 1982.
31. For the progression of organizational changes in the Life Sciences Directorate, see app D.
32. Edie Watson Kuhr interview, 27 Apr. 1981.
33. Klein interview.
34. This aspect of the Ames-Houston relationship was described by Melvin Sadoff of the Biomedical Research Division in an interview, 29 Jan. 1982.
35. Klein interview.
36. Walter Vincenti interview, 12 Dec. 1980.
37. Klein interview
38. Sandler interview.
39. Dir. Hans Mark to Ames organizational dirs., "the Flight Experiments Office," 5 Nov. 1973.
40. Ames Astrogram, 18 Nov. 1968.
41. The first incident took place in Sept. 1969 at the Stanford University Hospital; the second, related to the author by Dr. Alan Koslow, then resident surgeon at the local Veterans Administration Hospital, occurred in the spring of 1980.