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





[115] As we have seen, the addition of the Life Sciences Directorate at Ames was a direct result of the transformation of the NACA into NASA, and one that was traumatic for Ames in a number of ways. As life sciences personnel brought new expertise to the center, they also weakened the community of interests that had been a source of strength. And the new directorate was only one of the radical changes occurring at Ames during NASA's first decade.

That NASA would bring great changes to the old laboratories was perceived from the first, and the NACA, whatever its shortcomings, had inspired great institutional loyalty; many employees had spent their entire careers working for the NACA. They were convinced that its conservative and thrifty qualities, as well as its committee form of organization, were far preferable to a large agency, where politics might replace solid professionalism and feasibility studies might kill daring research schemes before they had a chance to be tried. Many NACA employees were leery of NASA at the beginning, even though they recognized that the NACA had been caught in an increasingly difficult situation, struggling between fixed appropriations and expanding requirements.

NACA veterans, reminiscing years later about the old organization, continued to stress the quality of the work done under its sponsorship and the quality of men hired. Clarence Syvertson, remembering his early years at Ames, recalled that Associate Director Parsons "looked over in detail every single man we hired in those days, so far as his record was concerned. I know if I proposed to hire someone he didn't think was quite up to snuff, he let me know it right away.''1 The character of the NACA was seen as exemplifying that of its leaders, from Ames to Dryden. Old employees felt strongly about the institution, stressing the "basic honesty and integrity and the efficiency."2 As another veteran remembered, "Everything was honest and straightforward, or we didn't do it. We never would have thought of anything except the most straightforward honest approach to all the contracts and to all the relations with industry, and everything we did."3

[116] That the NACA was honest, straightforward, and nonpartisan was firmly believed by many of its employees. Yet another conviction was that the very structure of the old NACA had been decisive in creating an organization in which there was no "hanky panky." Vannevar Bush, describing the evolution of the National Science Foundation, had praised the NACA form of organization, in which the director was responsible to the Main Committee:


We had an excellent organization in the old National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, a board made up of military officers and other government officials, plus citizens appointed by the President, which selected a director and reviewed his operations. When this was transformed into NASA it took the form [of a director appointed by and responsible to the President]. I think this was a mistake and said so at the time, for I have great sympathy for a director who stands alone before the public and Congress. But the men who organized it did not agree with me.4


The same sentiment was echoed by others, including James Doolittle the last chairman of the NACA.5 Manley Hood, who had been at the laboratory since 1940, spoke for his colleagues many years later:


A lot of us feel [that NASA should have been set up as the NACA had been]. We had as a Board of Directors, for free, the best brains we could find, and we had in addition to those . . . the technical committees and technical subcommittees, and membership on those committees was sought after by a lot of different people. A lot of the members . . . were industry people, and they brought the industry viewpoint to those of us in the research job and a lot of them were military and there was a good angle there.... we had good friends all around. Industry was our good friend because we supported them with the research results they needed.... during those years we were not their best customer, as NASA became later. We weren't important as a customer, so the relationship was easy to maintain on a fair, honest, ethical level.6




Old NACA employees were immediately annoyed because Hugh Dryden had not been appointed head of the agency. Respect for Dryden was high, and his reputation as a scientist was renowned. He had never been a politicking promoter of the NACA, leaving that to Executive Secretary John [117] Victory, a master at the task. Dryden saw his job as directing research and development, and at that he had been highly efficient. His strongest supporters could not have called him an exciting leader, however; and Dryden had appeared stodgy to many of those planning the NASA organization. He had made only modest projections regarding what could be quickly accomplished in space. Even worse, he had referred to Wernher von Braun's proposal for a 250-kilometer manned space shot as akin to shooting a lady out of a cannon,7 an unfortunate remark since von Braun's charisma had always found supporters on Capitol Hill. By personality and training incapable of promising more than he could deliver, Dryden was simply too low-key for the head NASA position. Dryden's final failing, however, was that he was a Democrat. Since NASA had been set up with the administrator reporting directly to the President, it naturally followed that the new post was a political appointment, changing with presidential administrations.

T. Keith Glennan, the new NASA administrator, was a staunch Republican. The political flavor of NASA was, from the beginning, a bitter pill for old NACA personnel, who had proudly believed that the NACA was above politics.8 Many Ames employees saw the appointment of Glennan as a fair indication of the evils of political agencies, as opposed to nonpartisan committees. Before James Doolittle had become chairman of the NACA, academics had always headed the Committee; and Doolittle could claim a long and impressive association with aeronautics and an apprenticeship served on NACA committees. Glennan, a complete outsider, was sarcastically referred to by some as "that Hollywood man from the movies."9 The epithet was only partially true, but Glennan had absolutely no experience or technical training in anything remotely resembling aeronautics.

With an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, Glennan had indeed worked for the motion picture industry, specializing in sound systems. During World War II, he had headed the Navy's Underwater Sound Laboratories; after the war he had served on the Atomic Energy Commission As president of Case Institute of Technology, he had an excellent reputation for management and had vastly improved the reputation of the school. His supporters hoped he could provide the energy needed to launch a vigorous agency. He was hardly only "the man from Hollywood," but to professionals whose careers had been molded by men like Ames, Lewis, and De France, he appeared suspect. For old-timers at Ames especially, far from Washington and not especially sympathetic to political realities, Glennan's appointment seemed ludicrous. 10

Glennan's insistence on creating the post of associate administrator did nothing to dispel distrust at the laboratory. The new official would be a general manager for NASA, to coordinate programs and to relieve Deputy Administrator Dryden of some management pressure. The idea stemmed from Glennan's experience on the Atomic Energy Commission, and against [118] almost unanimous opposition he succeeded in having the position established by early 1959, when NASA issued its first organization charts.11

To critics at Ames, the new post seemed an unnecessary complication. Management under the NACA had been simple. Laboratories merely reported to Gus Crowley, Dryden's subordinate. The decision-making process had been relatively straightforward; and the laboratories had been left a good deal of independence on many matters. This had been even more true of Ames than of the other laboratories, both because of the distance factor and because of the respect in which De France was held. The appearance of an associate administrator suggested that, in general, there would be much more management from Washington in the future.

And specifically, the new post removed the laboratory one step further from the NASA administrator.12 Though Ames, Langley, and Lewis still reported directly to Crowley, now the director of aeronautical and space research, Crowley reported to the associate administrator. The laboratories no longer had as direct a line to the top as they once had, and bureaucracy took another step forward. Furthermore, the field installations that had been designated part of the space effort-Beltsville (later Goddard Space Flight Center), the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, von Braun's Huntsville group, Wallops Pilotless Flight Station, and Cape Canaveral-reported to the director of spaceflight development. This administrative arrangement split the laboratories, making communication among them more difficult. The old simplicity of organization was disappearing, and in the first months of NASA the prospect must have been disquieting at Ames.

Two more developments over the next decade would change Ames significantly Under the NACA, the laboratories had functioned primarily as research institutions. Though the development phase of research often followed almost automatically as work progressed, emphasis was on the investigative process, whether the research was basic or applied. When Ames scientists and engineers had done specific problem-solving for industry or the military, the developmental stage of the project was usually left to the organization that had requested help. The NACA had been knowledge-oriented, not goal-oriented. NASA was different, being charged with developing, constructing, and operating space vehicles. NASA had the authority to contract out work to other government agencies, industry, or individuals. 13 The agency had a goal, exploitation of the space frontier. A new vocabulary emphasized the change in orientation: research centers had "projects," "project responsibilities," "missions"; new employees were welcome "on board." The specificity of NASA's reason for existence immediately. added a more urgent aspect to the developmental phase of research. As projects grew ever more sophisticated, the developmental aspects grew ever more complicated.

[119] The second development was large-scale contracting. In the NACA, most work had been done in-house by civil servants. The goals of NASA made this impossible, because some tasks were one-time assignments not requiring permanent staff, and because NASA did not have within its organization the specific capabilities needed to get certain jobs done. By 1962, 90% of NASA's work was done under contract.14 The same year, Ames awarded contracts totaling $14.4 million, only 2% of NASA's total contracting commitments but still an impressive amount.15 Over the next decade, Ames found its administrative burden greatly increased by contracting. The financial management, monitoring, and coordination of contracts involved even the researchers in administrative duties from which they had largely been free in the past.16

The tendency toward more extensive contracting helped change the collective personality of Ames. In 1958, permanent employees numbered 1406. By 1968, there were 2084 employees,17 along with a substantial increase in the number of contract employees working at Ames. By this process Ames was gradually divided between in-house and contractor employees, a split that mirrored the larger split Ames seems to have felt between itself and the headquarters organization full of new people. Those who were at Ames under contract could not feel the same sense of identification with the research center that its permanent staff did. At the same time, the old Ames employees felt a strong distinction between themselves and outside contractors. The appearance of contractor personnel at Ames, "outsiders" to the old NACA staff, is one of the frequently mentioned changes brought by NASA.18 The feeling among Ames employees that they were part of a community with certain inbred standards of work and conduct had been inspired by De France and further nourished by uncomplicated lines of administration. Everyone knew everyone else and most of the staff seemed to have believed firmly in the excellence of the parent institution. This feeling of community began to be undermined as the presence of contract employees became impossible to ignore. Seen as temporary, even though their employer's contracts might be almost indefinite in length, contract employees were indeed aware that they were crashing uninvited into what had been a tightly knit organization. In the eyes of many of the older staff, the invasion of contractors effectively destroyed the personality of the old Ames.19




The growing complexity of Ames and the need to regroup some projects for the sake of efficiency led to a major reorganization at the end of [120] 1959. The changes reflected the tendency toward classification by goal rather than by related research areas. This was to be the first of several major reorganizations in the next few years, as the place of Ames in the NASA hierarchy unfolded and the center's major areas of commitment became clear. The 1959 changes, while extensive, were more a realigning than a major upheaval. A similar process was going on in all the old NACA laboratories. Two years after NASA's establishment, the changes were described and analyzed in one of the professional journals, using Lewis Research Center as an example.20

At Lewis, one of the major factors in the ability to convert from aeronautical concerns to space research was the flexibility of facilities. The changeover was accomplished in less than three years, with little extra spending. The old altitude wind tunnel, for example, was converted into a giant vacuum chamber and used for reentry studies on the Project Mercury capsule. Another factor was foresight in planning research programs that allowed for elasticity. A program in missile propulsion that had been begun in 1956 was easily converted to additional space work as rocket development advanced. In this same period, Lewis also shuffled and reshuffled its research teams to meet the new needs. Old teams were in some cases broken up, and new teams were constructed to create new combinations of expertise. Individuals were retrained. Rather quickly, the old NACA laboratory converted itself to new tasks. Flexibility in facilities, research capabilities, and staff expertise made the transition possible. In 1956, 60% of Lewis's work had been on airbreathing engines for manned aircraft; in 1960, the work was 73% space-related.21

A similar process was being accomplished at Ames. The 1959 reorganization was the beginning of a transition in administrative lines of command designed to accommodate future demands on the center. Specifically, the distinction between research that was primarily aeronautical and that which was space-related became sharper. This had been tacitly true previously, in the distinction between the Full-Scale and Flight Research Division and the High-Speed Research Division, but the new organizational tendencies underlined this.22

Since 1954 one assistant director, Russell Robinson, had been aided by two technical assistants. With the 1959 changes, Harvey Allen, who had been in charge of the High-Speed Research Division, was made an assistant director, and the two high-speed, space-oriented divisions were placed under his supervision. Thus the importance of space-related research was proclaimed and a greater distinction made between the disciplines.23

Allen's old High-Speed Research Division was recast as the AeroThermodynamics Division, with new branches organized more by task than by facility. The division included the supersonic free-flight wind tunnel branch, the heat transfer branch, the fluid mechanics branch with the 1- by [121] 3 foot supersonic tunnels and the 2- by 2-foot transonic tunnel attached, and the trisonic aerodynamics branch with the 6- by 6-foot supersonic tunnel attached. Space-connected pieces of the old high-speed division were recast as part of the Vehicle Environment Division under Al Eggers. This division, which reported to Allen, was composed of a physics branch, an entry simulation branch, a structural dynamics branch, the 3.5-foot hypersonic wind tunnel branch, and the hypervelocity ballistic range branch. Two of the old high-speed tunnels-the 14-foot transonic tunnel and the 10- by 14-inch supersonic tunnel-were deactivated and their personnel reassigned.

Assistant Director Russell Robinson now had three divisions under his supervision. The Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel Division was unchanged, but the Full-Scale and Flight Research Division was renamed the Full-Scale and Systems Research Division, signifying another change in direction. The division had lost the heat-transfer branch to the Aero-Thermodynamics Division because of its space-related uses, but had gained a guidance and control branch. As regrouped, the division was composed of the following branches: 40- by 80-foot wind tunnel, flight and systems simulation and operations, dynamics analysis, and guidance and control. Harry Goett, who had long headed the full-scale division, had by 1959 become head of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. The new division chief was Charles Harper who had worked under Goett.

Ames had suffered another loss in its low-speed division, reflected in the loss of "flight research" from the division's title. In 1959 NASA Headquarters had moved most of Ames's flight research to its Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base. Ames retained the V/STOL research, because the 40- by 80-foot wind tunnel was necessary for the work. The decision was not happily received at Ames, where oldtimers saw their realms of research and reputation being blithely reassigned even as the center was being forced to embrace fields in which it had no previous experience. The loss of flight research must have been a particularly bitter pill, since the deicing work done in that branch had not only been Ames's very first work, but had also gone far to establish the reputation of the young research institution Indeed, the transfer was a real handicap to Ames's continuing involvement in areas requiring flight research support, including high-speed flight dynamics, variable-stability aircraft, and man-machine integration.

The third division under Robinson, the Instrumentation Division, also reflected the growing need to coordinate and centralize activities to serve new research needs. Instrumentation had previously been organized separately from the research divisions, and had reported to either Parsons or De France. In the research divisions, a certain amount of instrumentation had been done ad hoc as the need arose. The organization of a separate instrumentation division was an attempt to coordinate this area of research [122] more efficiently. Years later one of Robinson's technical assistants, Manley Hood, observed that the NACA had been


slow in developing a group that could do real sophisticated instrument work.... We depended on the simple little instruments like I worked on in my first year down there. They served up to a point, but I think we were slow in getting to the real kind.... I think it was only when we got in NASA that we got real fine instrument groups.24


From the beginning, the Instrumentation Division was well differentiated with branches concentrating in vehicle instrumentation research, facilities instrumentation research, electronic machine computing, and mechanical and electronic instruments, another illustration of the growing need t<' define much more closely the boundaries of research.

The administrative, technical services, and engineering services divisions still reported directly to the associate director or director, but this too would change over the next few years. As administration grew more complicated, the organization charts would reveal a greater differentiation among the non research segments of the laboratory, a symptom of growing bureaucracy.

Though Glennan was NASA administrator only a little over two years, Ames's future was much affected during that time. The decision to place a life-sciences research group at Ames was made during his administration. In late 1958 a Manned Satellite Team was also appointed from among Ames personnel to consider design problems and propose a practical system for . satellite, at the same time recommending a suitable research program. The team was headed by Alfred Eggers, who had already been working on lifting bodies for some time. Glennan later revealed that he had wanted to convert Ames into a manned spaceflight laboratory,25 and the manned satellite team. in all likelihood, was connected to the conversion. Nothing came of the scheme, but Eggers's team, and later the Ames Manned Lunar Mission Team under Alvin Seiff, were influential in planning the Apollo program.

Administrative flux was to continue at Ames for some time. The lifesciences group brought its own administrative problems as it attempted to build a solid research unit, and the established divisions of the laboratory were also rearranged over the next few years. The next important change came in August 1962, when a separate Space Sciences Division was established and placed under Harvey Allen. The new division had only one branch at first, theoretical studies. Staffing proceeded slowly, with much work continuing to be contracted out because of the lack of personnel.26 The division was headed by Charles Sonett, who had been at NASA's Office of Space Sciences.

[123] Sonett was the second major Ames appointment from "outside"; Webb Haymaker, appointed to head the Life Sciences Directorate, had been the first. As the laboratory expanded both in personnel and in research directions, the trend was to continue, further weakening the homogeneity of the old NACA staff. The development was unavoidable, given the complexities of administration and the expanding fields into which Ames was moving, but it further diluted the personality of the laboratory even as it lessened the isolation that Ames had experienced during the NACA years.

Dramatic organizational changes continued so that by January 1964 Ames's organization chart was barely recognizable when compared to one of the late NACA period. Three major developments are striking.

First, the tacit division between conventional aeronautics and space-related studies had been made explicit -Harvey Allen had been named assistant director for astronautics. The new title only underlined the change made by the establishment of the Space Sciences Division. Allen's colleague Russell Robinson, the assistant director for aeronautics and flight systems at the time, recalled that he had questioned the establishment of the Astronautics Directorate, feeling "it caused too much of a distinction to be made between the two aeronautical areas. Research areas are always overlapping; the creation of an Astronautics Directorate blurred this fact."27

Creation of the directorate was a logical progression of events that had begun a decade earlier with Allen's blunt-body concept for nose cones. High-speed aeronautics had involved space research for years, as witnessed by the 1956-1964 lifting-body work, the creation of the Vehicle Environment Division in 1959, and the simulation work begun in the late 1950s. Especially with the loss of a major portion of its flight research, Ames had to carve new research territories. Establishment of the life-sciences group and the formal differentiation between aeronautics and astronautics were conscious moves on the part of De France to maintain the position of the research center in a rapidly changing environment.28 In the case of life sciences, the departure from Ames's past work was radical; the move into astronautics, while less drastic, indicated that Ames would be increasingly involved in development work.

The 1958 Manned Satellite Team and the 1960 Manned Lunar Mission Team were precursors of later project work, the second major development of the 1958-1965 period. Immediately following the formation of NASA, Ames had tried to obtain responsibility for the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory planned by Headquarters.29 Top Ames leaders were split on the issue; De France and Allen had mixed feelings on the wisdom of getting involved in project work of any sort. Headquarters vetoed the proposal, but in 1960 Ames again moved toward project management. Alfred Eggers, who had been one of the major researchers in the earlier lifting-body work-and who [124] by 1960 was head of the Vehicle-Environment Division under Allen-began investigating the possibility of an exploratory solar probe.

The collaboration of Eggers, his Assistant Division Chief Charles Hall, and a few others produced a 1961 proposal for a solar probe project to be managed by Ames. NASA Headquarters was still lukewarm to the thought of Ames taking on major projects because of their lack of experience in project work, but after a study by an outside contractor on a smaller, interplanetary probe, De France and Associate Director Jack Parsons took the proposal to Washington to make a case for the Ames project. In November 1962 Ames received permission to proceed with what became known as Pioneer, a series of interplanetary probes.

The Pioneer project, or series of projects, would reestablish Ames as a crucial part of NASA. Without considering here the technical history of the project (chap. 10), a few observations are worthwhile. First, De France's decision to campaign actively for the project in Washington marked a change from his earlier doubts about Ames as a manager of large space projects. He was probably responding to both outside pressure to make Ames more useful to NASA and inside pressure from younger staff members who recognized that the center must not only bend with events but actively seek new spheres of influence. It was a measure of De France's excellence as an administrator that, after an entire career devoted to aeronautics and the administration of an aeronautical laboratory, he could embrace the new proposal and lend it the weight of his reputation. The mere concept of Pioneer was an interplanetary distance removed from De France's 139th Aero Squadron of 1918.

Second, as originally conceived, Pioneer was a much more modest project than it eventually became. Not only was Headquarters seemingly reluctant to make a major commitment, but Ames itself still lacked the necessary manpower. The project was approved in 1962 with the stipulation that no more than 30 people be assigned to it, a measure of the limited commitment.30 As time passed, Ames continued to promote the project in Washington, successfully urging additions to the original undertaking - another major change from earlier years. With less money at stake and few political overtones, the NACA had granted research authorizations with much less fanfare, and they could often be expanded with no further formalities.

Charles Hall, who had played a leading role in developing the proposals for Pioneer and became the project leader, was an example of the successful transition from aeronautics to astronautics made by many of the Ames staff. Employed at Ames since 1942, Hall's early career had been in low-speed aeronautics. He had worked on the P-38 dive problem and on P-51 stability and control tests, both accomplished in the busy 16-foot wind tunnel. In the late 1940s he had been involved in research on wing planforms and had tackled the problem of submerged inlet design. In the mid-1950s he had been responsible for the development of conical camber on wings to reduce [125] drag due to lift. In 1957 Hall was branch chief of the 6- by 6-foot supersonic wind tunnel, and with the 1959 organizational changes became the assistant division chief, under Eggers, of the Vehicle Environment Division.

Apart from his ability to move competently through a wide range of aeronautical research problems into what would become space research, Hall also displayed another talent that would be increasingly necessary to the research institution, that of planning and managing on a large scale. Over the 18 years of Pioneer, Hall proved to be a highly effective manager. The talents necessary were far removed from those needed in research and involved a whole new set of problems, ranging from the coordination of the many contract proposals connected to Pioneer to the management of huge sums of money and the dovetailing of various research teams.

Early in 1963 Ames also acquired a second major project, Biosatellite. The project grew out of a 1961-1962 study made at Ames, in which monkeys were to be tested for the effects of two weeks in orbit. As interest in biological experiments in space grew, a long-term project also grew around proposals submitted by a variety of research institutions and universities. When authorization was received, Carlton Bioletti was appointed project manager. More heavily funded than Pioneer, but beset from the start by conceptual and management problems, Biosatellite nevertheless was to perform many experiments for outside institutions over the years. Early in the project, Ames built a 50-foot-diameter centrifuge to aid in testing the monkey subjects, another piece of equipment that would in time be used for a variety of purposes.

The two projects acquired by Ames within such a short period necessitated yet another reorganization of the center in 1963. Involving facilities, management problems, and research groups that differed from those associated with Ames's existing research divisions, the new projects were placed under a new directorate, Development. To provide the new equipment needed, a Systems Engineering Division was organized under John Foster and attached to the Development Directorate. Forced to contract for much of its equipment and personnel, the directorate was from the beginning rather isolated from the research divisions. Because of the personnel shortage at Ames, there was a constant effort to keep civil servants out of project work and save them for the old research divisions; Biosatellite employed about 70 Ames personnel, Pioneer around 40. Though Robert Crane, the assistant director for development, hoped to create a symbiotic exchange of ideas and personnel between the research divisions and the Ames-managed projects, it would seem interdependence was less than it might have been. The result was another schism of the research center's staff.

Finally the 1964 organization chart revealed yet another contrast between the ways NASA and the NACA worked. Under the NACA, research was decided upon in a number of ways, but usually it was a natural progres-[126] -sion stemming from ideas that promised to be exciting, like those of Harvey Allen, or from ongoing problems that needed solving, like those of transonic choking or heat transfer. NASA, however, had taken on the major task of putting a man on the Moon by the end of the decade, and this required not only large-scale centralized planning to accomplish the intermediate steps, but planning on the part of the research centers as well. Under NASA, advance planning became a conscious effort to generate research in specific directions that would fit into NASA's larger plans and make the most efficient use of Ames's facilities and personnel.

To this end another new directorate was formed, Research and Development Analysis and Planning under Alfred Eggers. Eggers had been in charge of the 1958 Manned Satellite Team and had also been responsible for organizing the early solar probe proposals that resulted in the eventual assignment of the Pioneer project to Ames. The new directorate was short-lived. When Eggers was transferred to Washington, the Headquarters-inspired Mission Analysis Division absorbed the directorate's functions. Under Clarence Syvertson, the new division undertook task analysis, while budgetary planning was handled by a Programs and Resources Office. Despite the 1963-1966 juggling of names and lines of authority, one thing was clear: the necessity for institutionalized planning and management represented further Ames involvement in the pre-research process, a distinct change from the years of low-budget, ad hoc feasibility studies, often with no paperwork at all.

In the same vein the administrative duties that Arthur Freeman had handled since 1940 now had grown to a directorate with four divisions. Freeman was still in charge, but the differentiation of duties underneath him bespoke the growth in bureaucratic complexity. The financial details of the laboratory, for example, which Ferril Nickle had once handled on a scratch pad, were now divided between the Planning and Resources Office and the Fiscal Division. The increasing need for standardized procedures and computerized record-keeping did not necessarily make for financial clarity. Alan Fayé, a technical assistant to Assistant Director Russell Robinson at the time, recalled that although "every penny came to be justified with voluminous paperwork [no one] knew for sure what funding had been spent, what was still available, or where additional funds might be found."31

The new organizational relationships tied Ames to NASA Headquarters with transcontinental red tape. The changes were necessary, given the variety of research being undertaken, the center's supportive role in the space mission, and the vast increase in funding. Whether unfortunate by definition or only by implication, increasing complexity in administrative processes was an unavoidable part of growth and diversity. Adjustment to the new environment was not easy, however. For an institution that had operated successfully for decades with comparatively little complexity and bureaucracy, [127] unhampered by the political handicaps suffered by so many government-funded institutions, the 1960s were a difficult period.




A description of Ames prepared at NASA Headquarters in 1962 illustrated the new role the center was to play as a research institution. Ames was moving steadily into goal-oriented research, and NASA's primary goal was manned spaceflight and a lunar landing. Though aeronautics continued to hold its own with V/STOL studies and supersonic transport feasibility investigations, astronautics was much more visible as a research field during the....


1961. One of the early reentry heating simulators.

1961. One of the early reentry heating simulators. Ablation studies conducted here gave researchers new data on the behavior of various materials under reentry conditions.


1971. The gas dynamics laboratory during an experiment's run.

1971. The gas dynamics laboratory during an experiment's run. Researchers check conditions of the experiment and data being produced.


....period. The description illuminates the new alignment of research: "The principal mission. . . is basic and applied research on aerodynamics of reentry vehicles, flight control of space vehicles and aircraft, and space environment physics. Ames conducts flight research into vertical and short takeoff aircraft problems, and landing problems of the supersonic transport."32 Estimates attributed 45% of Ames research to entry and environmental physics; 25% to aeronautics; 20% to guidance, control, and navigation; 8% to life sciences; and 2% to space sciences.33 As the 1960s progressed, aeronautics would continue to play a secondary role in research, while space sciences would increase its toehold.

[129] A fair measure of the changing directions at Ames can be seen in the frantic spurt of building in the early and mid-1960s. At NASA's inception in 1958, Ames was considered to be worth $80 million. By 1965 its research facilities were valued at $175 million.

Building of new facilities paralleled new research directions, and one need was for facilities that could simulate reentry speeds and temperatures. In the early 1960s a hypervelocity research laboratory and shock tunnel were built. In 1965 the 3.5-foot tunnel, whose pebble-bed heater had never worked well enough to operate the wind tunnel at the speeds for which it had been designed, was modified to operate using other gases, thereby simulating the Mars and Venus atmospheres. At the same time, a Mach 50 helium tunnel was completed, as was a hypervelocity free-flight facility that contained three separate testing devices. A new impact range was also built in the early 1960s, and in 1965 the speed of 11,300 m/sec was achieved in it. The impact range was used very successfully in meteoroid impact studies.

Out of the need to reproduce the extreme heat to which a space vehicle would be subjected came research into efficient arcjets and their subsequent construction. The arcjet tunnel uses a powerful electric arc to heat pressurized air which, when released, flows through a supersonic throat and test section en route to an evacuated receiving chamber. Refinement produced higher and higher temperatures. In 1962, because of the success in attaining temperatures high enough to be useful in reentry research, a gasdynamics laboratory was built. By the late 1960s nine arcjet tunnels were operational at Ames.34

Flight simulators, which had captured the interest of Harry Goett in the late 1950s and were now to prove as useful in space research as they had been in flight research, were also advanced during the 1960s. From the rather crude pitch-roll chair, which simulated motion cues to the pilot about two of the axes of an airplane, Ames advanced to the "five-degrees-of-freedom" motion simulator. In addition to pitch, roll, and yaw, there was motion along vertical and horizontal axes, the simulator cab being on the arm of a centrifuge. The simulator was constructed cheaply, in the old NACA tradition, out of bits and pieces of equipment from other projects. The 1961 simulator was further improved two years later, becoming a "six-degrees-of-freedom" simulator. Another inexpensive flight simulator was the vertical testing machine that was to prove useful in V/STOL and helicopter research. Ingeniously, the vertical testing machine was installed on the outside of the 40- by 80-foot wind tunnel, making use of both its height and its supporting framework. The apparatus cost $170,000, a pittance in comparison to the amounts being spent on much of NASA's test equipment, and NACA veterans continued to be proud of being able to use their imagination to get the most out of their money.35

[130] Flight simulation was further enhanced by use of visual simulation. Using computers to program takeoff and landing characteristics of various aircraft made it possible to present a pilot with a screen upon which cockpit views were shown. The pilot could thereby go through the motions of control using an instrument panel and the visual simulation picture, both connected to a computer.

It was a safe and inexpensive way to create realistic conditions on the ground. A landing approach simulator, built in 1962, was to be used extensively in flight training during supersonic transport research. In the early 1970s, when the Anglo-French Concorde was in its final test stages, the flight simulators were used in determining certification criteria. Ames pilots were exposed, via the simulators, to the Concorde's handling characteristics.


1965. Practicing landing approaches <<flying>> a double-delta-wing SST in a flight simulator.

1965. Practicing landing approaches "flying" a double-delta-wing SST in a flight simulator. Such studies test the flight characteristics of aircraft t still in the design stage and also monitor pilot performance while making landings.


[131] When an Ames pilot was give n control of the airplane during one of the early flights, he was able to land it routinely with one engine dead. Simulator training had so conditioned the pilot that a potential emergency became routine, even though he had never flown the aircraft before.36

Hypervelocity, arcjet, and flight simulation facilities comprised the major portion of construction in the 1960s, but there were other important additions also. In 1965 a space environments research facility and a structural dynamics laboratory were built to simulate conditions in space and the forces acting on spacecraft. In 1965 the Life Sciences Directorate gained a major research laboratory, and in 1966 a spaceflight guidance laboratory was built. Physically, the research center became much denser, as new buildings were inserted wherever there was room.

The major problems connected to spaceflight focused on speed, the heat generated by speed, and control of the vehicle during flight. Ames's facilities lent themselves to research in these areas in a number of ways. Early in the 1960s, for example, models of the Mercury and Gemini capsules were tested in the hypervelocity free-flight facility, where airflow patterns were studied and stability experiments were performed. In 1962 flight simulators and Apollo capsule models were used to test spacesuit designs. Under flight conditions, astronauts tested the suits' mobility, efficiency, and comfort, as well as the ease with which the instrument panel was operated.

The center's changed position within the parent organization was well illustrated in the case of the Apollo guidance system, development of which began in 1962. Responsibility was apportioned in a manner foreign to the NACA scheme of things, but necessary in the complexities of a lunar landing mission. Massachusetts Institute of Technology had been awarded a NASA contract for the design and development of a prototype guidance system. In supporting MIT, Ames was given the task of working on midcourse and Earth-entry guidance. In particular, Ames computers were used to work out trajectories and correction factors for speed, angle of descent, and shape of the reentry body.

The problem of reentry heating of spacecraft presented a variety of related questions. An early realization was that the heating problem was twofold: Not only would convective heating occur as the spacecraft reentered the Earth's atmosphere, there was also a problem of radiative heating caused by the high temperature rise in the air disturbed by the vehicle's shock wave. Radiative heat increased dramatically in the case of blunt bodies, which Allen had shown years before to be effective in controlling convective heating.37 The research question lay in the trade-off between the two shapes to minimize undesirable effects, blunt body to control convective heat, missile-shaped to control radiative heat.

Crucially connected to the heating problem was ablation, the process by which heat is absorbed through melting, evaporation, and sublimation.

[132] By coating a surface with an ablative material, much heat can be dissipated before the primary structure is affected. The arcjet facilities proved most useful in the study of how ablation proceeds and what materials work best especially because of the relatively long test times they made possible. As with his blunt-body work of the early 1950s, Harvey Allen and his colleagues went far toward solving the heating problem for high-speed reentry spacccraft by adopting a cone shape.38 Making the tip of the cone of a continually renewed ablation material solved much of the heat problem.

The study of ablation led Ames to meteoroid studies in the 1960s. By studying the materials of which meteors were composed and by calculating flights and landing patterns of meteors, researchers hoped to learn more not only about high-speed heating but about the composition of other planets and the space environment in which meteors are produced. Work on ablation was to lead Dean Chapman, later head of the Astronautics Directorate, to his long study of tektites, glass pellets that have been found at various places on the Earth's surface. Bringing aerodynamic theories to the study of tektites, Chapman developed a hypothesis on their origin based on study of the heating patterns displayed by the pellets' shape and calculation of their flight speed. The origin of tektites, he suggested, was the Moon.39 The tektite hypothesis provided a new perspective on the materials composing the Moon, and the forces that produced its craters. The tektite research became a prominent example of the thin line between applied and basic research and a happy reminder that a scientist can, with imagination, move back and forth between the two.




In the fall of 1965 Smith De France, who had built, molded, and directed Ames with a firm hand since 1940, retired. Those who arranged his retirement dinner seemed to recognize that it marked the real passing of an era. Old NACA colleagues and associates from industry and the military were invited; the group represented De France's aeronautical connections of 45 years. The dinner was well attended, the testimonials respectful and restrained, and De France's remarks showed how touched he was by the efforts on his behalf.40

De France had enjoyed many advantages in his direction of Ames. He had started with a small group of engineers, many of whom he had known for years. The new employees were young, Ames was typically their first position, and De France was able to influence and mold them along with the laboratory. The times were on his side also, as World War II and the postwar rush into jet propulsion and supersonic flight created an atmosphere of [133] urgency, even crisis, which kept morale and standards high. The tradition of NACA autonomy helped him maintain independence and keep bureaucracy to a minimum. By the mid-1950s, De France's imprint on Ames was so firmly established that increasing numbers, complexity in research and bureaucracy, even the eventual absorption into NASA, had left the laboratory with a personality that was distinctly his own. As an early Ames employee observed, "De France not only built Ames, he was Ames."41

De France's Ames had a sense of itself, its standards, and its ability to control its own affairs. Still largely staffed with former NACA employees, many of whom had been there for most of their careers, Ames remained in many ways a closed club of veterans attempting to retain their standards, independence, and sense of community against the press of the future. If De France had been conservative and straight-laced-and he was-he had a conscientious, tightly knit, and productive laboratory to show for it.

The time was past, however, when De France could move happily with the future. He had not been active in aeronautical research since the 1930s, and since that time aeronautics had become an entirely different field. Even more important, however, was the difference in atmosphere and tone that came with NASA. Ames had been slowly growing in personnel, facilities, and research activities from the beginning, but with NASA came a leap in all these areas in a very short time, bringing all the problems and intricacies of large-scale budgets and management. Project work, mission support, and contracting were radical changes, and it is to De France's credit that he actively campaigned for the Life Sciences Directorate and for project work like Pioneer. He left a laboratory that ran successfully for some years on momentum he created.

De France's successor was Harvey Allen, who was admittedly more happy as a researcher than as a center director. Where De France had been respected, Allen was loved. Where De France had been a rather stern figure, the bear-like Allen exuded good will, intellectual inspiration, a raucous sense of humor, and an unending interest in everything. He had been at Ames since 1940, owned a vintage Dusenberg, was a gourmet cook, a lover and player of classical music, a Perry Mason fan, and an amateur archaeologist. He was also a documented genius, without a doubt one of the reasons Ames had enjoyed such success both in its research and in its congenial atmosphere. Allen in the Dusenberg picked up a new secretary who had asked for a ride to work, not knowing he was the director of the center; Allen, with his endless circle of friends, called a dentist in Palo Alto searching for something to use as a special epoxy for one of his experiments; Allen could be found at home on weekends recoppering teakettles while conducting a Beethoven symphony on the record player.

Ames under Harvey Allen ran much as it had under De France, both because De France's personality had been strong and because devotion to [134] Allen kept morale intact. Many colleagues attested that Allen had not particularly wanted the job, but had taken it to keep the directorship from going to an "outsider," someone from NASA Headquarters who did not have a sense of the place.42 There was evidently a strong feeling on the part of many that Ames needed a sympathetic member of the family at its head, someone who wouldn't introduce changes too traumatically and who would help preserve the character of the institution.

Allen did just that, and with a strong administrative staff, Ames almost ran itself under his directorship. He spent much of his time in research and took as little part in management as he could, always threatening to quit when the red tape became too entangling. His well-known distaste for the....


1966. Harvey Allen as Director of Ames explains the all-axis flight simulator.

1966. Harvey Allen as Director of Ames explains the all-axis flight simulator. Wind tunnel testing, flight simulator tests, and actual aircraft flight tests complemented each other in providing various routes to needed research information. Eventually, computational fluid dynamics would simulate wind tunnel tests, reenforcing tunnel test results and providing another avenue of information.


[135] ....necessities of administration and reluctance to interrupt research for trips to NASA Headquarters were very likely factors in the displeasure felt toward Ames by Washington.43 He retired early in 1969, unwilling to tolerate increasingly complex management demands or to confront the unavoidable reduction-in-force choices everyone knew were approaching. The early deaths of three of his close friends at Ames-Bob Crane, Jackson Stalder, and Ralph Huntsberger-had also contributed to his unhappiness. Following his retirement, Ames's future was bleak for a time; there was even talk of closing the center, an idea that never got beyond sober speculation (see chap. 7). Some saw the possibility of the closing as a direct reaction by Headquarters to Allen's benign neglect of management. Whether this was true or not, both the rumor and the reaction to it at Ames underlined the rift between the center and NASA Headquarters. Like De France, Harvey Allen recognized that the new directions Ames needed to proceed were better followed under different talents. His retirement was a further severance with the past.

[136-137] SOURCE NOTES

Chapter 6. Ames during NASA's Golden Years, 1958-1969


1. Clarence Syvertson interview by Walter Bonney, 25 Sept. 1974, NASA History Office.
2. Manley Hood interview by Bonney, 23 Sept. 1974, NASA History Office.
3. Ibid.
4. Vannevar Bush, Pieces of the Action (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1970), pp. 65-66.
5. Walter Bonney, in interview of Hood.
6. Hood interview.
7. Enid Curtis Bok Schoettle, "The Establishment of NASA," in Sanford Lakoff, ed., Knowledge and Power: Essays on Science and Government (New York: The Free Press, 1966), p. 247.
8. This reflection has been expressed by NACA veterans as one of the important differences between NACA and NASA.
9. Many NACA employees who watched the transition from NACA to NASA still have little regard for Glennan.
10. J. C. Hunsaker, former chairman of the NACA, criticized the new regime in a letter to Carl G. Holschuh of Sperry-Rand, 2 Nov. 1959. J. C. Hunsaker File, folder 1, series 3, record group 255, National Archives. In a 1965 speech before the Wings Club, Hunsaker continued to object to the form NASA had taken. J. C. Hunsaker Papers, NASA History Office Archives.
11. Robert L. Rosholt, An Administrative History of NASA, 1958-1963, NASA SP-4101 (Washington, 1966), pp. 49-50.
12. Ibid., p. 48.
13. NASA Act of 1958, As Amended, and Related Legislation (NASA, Office of General Counsel, 1 July 1969), p. 7.
14. Jane Van Nimmen and Leonard C. Bruno, NASA Historical Data Book, 1958 1968, vol. l, NASA Resources, NASA SP-4012 (Washington, 1976), p. 5.
15. Ibid., p. 257.
16. This has been frequently mentioned as a continuing problem associated with a high level of contracting. The problem is still a complaint of both Ames management and researchers.
17. Van Nimmen and Bruno, NASA Historical Data Book, 1: 11.
18. This element, noted unenthusiastically, has been mentioned by all pre-1958 employees interviewed.
19. This feeling has been mentioned frequently by both in-house staff and contractors.
20. "How an Aircraft Laboratory Leaped into Space,"Business Week, 4 dune 1960, pp. 98-100.
21. Ibid., p. 100.
22. NASA release, 9 Nov. 1959; Director's Memorandum, 5 Nov. 1959.
23. See Edwin P. Hartman, Adventures in Research: A History of Ames Research Center, 1940-1965, NASA SP-4302 (Washington, 1970), p. 318. 24. Hood interview.
25. Rosholt, Administrative History, p. 214; T. Keith Glennan interview, 18 Jan.1964.
26. Hartman, Adventures in Research, p. 326.
27. Russell G. Robinson interview, 30 Sept. 1981.
28. This has been mentioned by many of those involved in administration at the time.
29. Hartman, Adventures in Research, p. 389.
30. Ibid., p. 390.
31. Alan Fayé interview, 1 Apr. 1981.
32. NASA Field Installations, 1962 (Washington, 1962), p. 24.
33. "Ames Generates Basic, Applied Knowledge, " Aviation Week and Space Technology, 2 July 1962, p. 100.
34. Hartman, Adventures in Research, pp. 336-338, 422-424.
35. The $170,000 price of the vertical testing machine is one of the most widely quoted figures around Ames and has become part of the center legend.
36. The story is another oft-told Ames anecdote, related to the author by many employees.
37. For a detailed description of the problem, see Hartman, Adventures in Research, pp. 366-378.
38. H. Julian Allen, Alvin Seiff, and Warren Winowich, Aerodynamic Heating of Conical Entry Vehicles at Speeds in Excess of Earth Parabolic Speed, NASA TR R-185, 1963.
39. Hartman, Adventures in Research, pp. 381-385, 469-472.
40. See "De France Retirement" folder, in 75-A-1324, 21896, box 5, SBFRC.
41. Walter Vincenti interview, 8 Aug. 1980.
42. Many colleagues of Allen's have mentioned this fact.
43. This opinion is widely held among Allen's contemporaries.