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






As all federal historians know, there is no lack of documentation within the bureaucracy. Indeed, the problem lies at the other extreme: archival material in federal record centers is overwhelming in quantity, at times also bafflingly difficult to pinpoint in specificity. While I found it relatively easy to locate files on programs, records that were often more helpful -specific offices and divisions, financial records, facilities, personnel- were more difficult to uncover.

Records pertaining to Ames fall into two categories: those that date from the NACA period, from 1938 to 1958, and those that pertain to Ames as part of NASA, from 1958 to the present. The NACA records belong to the National Archives and Records Service; NASA records remain the property of the agency. Both groups of records, however, are found in the San Bruno Federal Record Center, about 24 km south of San Francisco. The records are for the most part open to authorized scholars. The bulk of documentary material used in this book comes from this collection. A useful guide to the Ames records for the NACA period is William H. Cunliffe and Herman G. Goldbeck, "Special Study on the Records of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics,"July 1973, NN-572-13.

Ames Research Center maintains a current and well organized file on all records retired to San Bruno. By consulting a shelf list at Ames, boxes that looked potentially valuable were requested from the San Bruno Federal Record Center. I found it more efficient to have boxes sent down to Ames itself, since retrieval from the archives sometimes resulted in long waits in its reading room. At Ames, boxes could be examined and those that proved useful could be retained for further work. From over 60 file cartons, I retained about 30 that proved to have useful material. In the early period especially, files that contained useful material were quite clearly differentiated by file-folder title; thus, "General Correspondence, Ames, 1939-1941" and "Construction of Facilities, Ames, 1940-1945," etc., immediately caught my eye. For the NASA period, the proliferation of material seems to have resulted in a shelf list that is more difficult to interpret. One is not sure, when ordering "Jet Propulsion Lab, 1973," exactly what one will receive-will the file document Ames's relations with JPL; will it deal only with JPL's activities; will it document any problems arising in the Ames-JPL relationship, or must one track such issues through correspondence files? These questions, of course, are faced by any historian doing [286] work in any field. For recent federal history, however, the mystery element seems especially acute.

Ames has retired much of its research information and its administrative paperwork. For the most part, these files were not useful for my purposes. I searched instead through files pertaining to policy, organization relations with Headquarters, personnel regulations, and various technical committees and planning groups. Correspondence files of administrators identified many of the major concerns at Ames during various periods, often providing complete exchanges of correspondence on a particular issue over a period of months or years. Boxes in the NACA series 70-A-1261, 74-A-1624, 75-A-1324, and 76-A-1382 were especially useful. For the NASA period accession series 255-77-0020, containing 60 cartons, was most useful. The Records Management Office at Ames was extremely helpful in aiding my search and in speeding record retrieval from San Bruno.




I was greatly aided in my work by the fact that Ames, with an eye to its recent history, had already collected much information on the 1965-1977 period. Gathered and categorized by Edie Watson Kuhr, an Ames veteran who had been at the center since its early years, the four file drawers of information plus additional publications was a very valuable source that eased my task immensely. Mrs. Kuhr was extremely helpful in pointing me in the right direction.

The Ames Research Center Library contains a number of important holdings pertinent to this study, among them a complete set of NACA Annual Reports, containing both financial and administrative information and reports completed during the year. Equally important are a complete set of Technical Notes, Memoranda, and Reports, the research products for which the NACA existed. NASA continued these series.




The National Archives has a small collection of NACA material in the Center for Polar and Scientific Archives, which is in the Main Building. In this collection there were several pertinent files, including transcripts of speeches. In addition, there is an extremely useful biography file (series 3), containing substantial material on William Durand, Smith De France, George Lewis, William Moffett, and Jerome Hunsaker, among others. The material [287] varies widely in quality and quantity; the files on Hunsaker, for example, fill almost 20 correspondence boxes. A useful guide is Sara Powell, "A Preliminary Inventory of the Textual Records of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, "June 1967, NM-86. The inventory was not distributed, but can be consulted at either the National Archives or the NASA History Office Archives.




Material in the NASA History Office Archives varies in substance and completeness. There is much that is valuable in the small archives, and the material dates from the NACA's earliest years to the present. The NASA History Office archivist is extremely knowledgeable and helpful.

There is much information on the various NASA offices and field centers, as well as unexpected collections of personal correspondence among key NACA figures. For the early period of Ames's history, I made much use of personal correspondence files. An extensive biography section contains material not only on NACA and NASA personnel, but on others important in aeronautics and astronautics. Interspersed within the biography files are a wealth of photos, in some cases, I am sure, located more easily here than in a larger archive. Some biography files contain the transcripts of interviews obtained by previous historians. These were sometimes invaluable.




If an institution has a distinct atmosphere or personality of its own, and Ames does, that atmosphere comes from its leaders and its personnel. Since I attempted to identify those qualities that distinguish Ames and to analyze their origins, I found one of my most valuable sources to be interviews with past and present members of the Ames staff. In some cases the interview was conducted over several sessions. I usually taped the interviews; if this was not possible I made extensive notes during and after the interview. By talking to many people who were influential in the center's history, I was able to expand the documentation I already had and, in some cases, to fill in gaps of knowledge the documents did not provide. When carefully balanced, documentary evidence and oral history interviews complement each other, providing a blending of perspective between that of the historian and that of the historical participant. Talking with my interviewees gave me a depth of [288] understanding not possible by relying solely on documentary evidence. The interview tapes are now located in the NASA History Office.




More general sources used included newspapers, professional journals, and secondary monographic sources. The San Francisco Chronicle, the Palo Alto Times, and the San Jose Mercury proved useful, though in the early years they proved by their omissions that the NACA's profile was indeed low. Aeronautics and Astronautics, the journal of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, was valuable for its technical information, as was Aviation Week and Space Technology for a more general perspective on the field. The annual NASA chronologies, Aeronautics and Astronautics, are valuable as references for NASA history; their indexes are both thorough and well organized. Robert L. Rosholt's An Administrative History of NASA, 1958-1963, NASA SP-4101 (Washington, 1966) provided good guidance through the maze of early NASA administrative evolutions.

Finally, mention must be made of Edwin P. Hartman's book Adventures in Research: A History of Ames Research Center, 1940-1965. Although the present monograph differs in intent and style from Hartman's study, his original research and perspective on Ames was invaluable, providing a firm foundation for later work. Hartman's book, more technically focused than this study, gives a detailed treatment of the major areas of Ames's research during its first 25 years. In many ways, the books complement each other, the present book carrying the narrative past NASA's first years into the present context of research directions and management concerns.

A number of other monographs proved useful. Though not separately discussed here, they are cited in the source notes.