Interviewee: Dr. Robert Seamans
Interviewer: Mr. Martin Collins
Location: Dr. Seaman's office, MIT, Boston
Date: November 2, 1987
TAPE 1, SIDE 1
MR. MARTIN COLLINS: Last time we concluded the oral history interview with a discussion of how you came to work at RCA, some of your initial experiences there, and how you started the Airborne Systems Laboratory. As a starting point, one of the interesting things I want to follow up in that interview is, you mentioned briefly Art Malcarney, and that after Doc Draper, he was one of the more influential individuals on you, as a person or an engineer. I wonder if you might follow that up a little bit, and tell me how Malcarney was important to you.
DR. ROBERT SEAMANS: Well, Malcarney was important in a number of ways. First, I hadn't been at RCA very long, before he became the executive vice president responsible for what was called defense electronics products. Ted Smith had been in charge, when I accepted the job. But not long after that--I can't remember the exact date--Malcarney stepped into the position, so approval of capital expenses, for example, had to go to Art Malcarney. He had to be fully supportive, of a new building or something of that dimension or it just wouldn't happpen.
When we started in, we rented space from Waltham Watch Company, but not too long thereafter, we outgrew that space, and it was decided that we would have a new facility. I can't quite remember whether we discussed the development of that facility or not, but it was not without some degree of trauma, and it was thanks to Art Malcarney that it came out as well as it did. And actually it wasn't a bad facility. Then, as these things go, they ebb and flow, and it ebbed pretty badly, at one point, so that we needed to take on some form of additional work.
The program that Art Malcarney shifted from the Camden area up to this Burlington operation had to do with the automatic checkout of the Atlas missile, something called APCHE [Automatically Programmed Checkout Equipment]. It was right at the forefront of the technology of the day, to have something that would be automatically checked out. We'd go through a whole wide variety of parts of the missile system, and see if the voltages were correct, and if they all were correct, then you say you're ready to fire. But it was automatic rather than manual, as everything had been in the past. So through the eyes of that project, I got a good view of how Art Malcarney ran this fairlylarge RCA endeavor, that included not only what we were doing, not only the automatic checkout that I've mentioned, but the so-called BMEWS, Ballistic Missile Early Warning System, that was located in Alaska, and Scotland and Greenland.
Art came up through manufacturing; he was one of the "can-do" kind of people. He wanted to get the products out. I'm not sure whether I discussed what happened at one point, when the whole Atlas program, of which we in Burlington only had a small part, the automatic checkout, got behind schedule, and the Air Force obviously got on top of RCA to do a better job. Art moved right out to Vandenburg Base in California. He rented a trailer there and he lived and worked in the trailer and he'd have staff meetings that would start at 5 o'clock in the morning. He'd go right through the day, good long days in order to get things going.
The classic example of this to me was when there was some part that was needed, out there at Vandenburg, and he called a rather senior person at RCA, in the New Jersey area, and said, "I want that part out here tomorrow morning and I want you to bring it." This person felt, well, he couldn't--you know, after the phone call, thinking about it--he couldn't really mean I was supposed to actually get on a plane and hand deliver it out there. So what he did was to make arrangements with American Airlines, that he would take the box with the part in it down to American Airlines, and he arranged for somebody at the other end to take it off the plane, in Los Angeles, and then have a car available take it to Vandenburg. Well, unfortunately, some bad weather caused the airplane to change its routing, and the part was not delivered in Los Angeles at the prescribed time, and consequently did not get to Vandenburg, and then it finally turned out that the guy who was supposed to hand deliver it was still back in Camden, so Art Malcarney just picked up the phone and fired him. I don't claim that that's the way I want to operate, but there are some lessons there, on what I'd call pretty hard ball management, that were very interesting to observe.
At the same time that he played, real hard ball and people all knew it so they snapped to attention, he could be very thoughtful about management, and at the time--that Kennedy went to Congress to say that the time had come to "take longer strides" in space by landing men on the moon--we in NASA were faced with the question of, how should we organize to carry this out? I told Jim Webb about Art Malcarney, and how I valued his judgment, and we already, I think both Jim Webb and I knew Rube Mettler and maybe one or two others. So we invited these individuals to come in to the old Headquarters of NASA for an afternoon of discussion. We went through with them the fact that we had about a dozen centers and many more projects. We explained how we proposed to work with industry, and how we might put thepieces together.
Jim Webb was very impressed with Art Malcarney, and thought that he made the most substantive and thoughtful remarks of anybody there, which pleased me very much, since I was responsible for getting him. Then later on, when we were looking for the person to head the program I suggested Brainerd Holmes, who had worked for Art Malcarney. Jim Webb and I together called Art Malcarney. Art said, "I'll make him available to you. I'll be sure that he comes down so that you can have discussions and talk with him, but I'm going to do everything I can to keep him at RCA." And Jim Webb thought that's just the right approach.
Then later on, when Brainerd stubbed his toe, (I'm not sure how much we've discussed that, but it was necessary to make a change), and the only way you could make a change really at that time was--unless you want to have a gigantic upheaval and so on--was to have the individual that you want to have step down actually have a job available, so they can say that they've been working in the government so long and they think they've done their job and now they plan to do something else. But what was the something else? Again, we called Art Malcarney, and he was terrific, and he tried to get Brainerd to come back to RCA. As it turned out, Raytheon heard about it, and so the problem was solved another way. But the combination of this--he was tough, he looked tough, he came up the hard way, and he could be rough on people if he felt they weren't responsive. He could be quite the other way if he felt they were doing everything they could, and he'd sit down and think through what their problems were. He could see the big picture of organization. All the things I've mentioned made me admire Art Malcarney, even though like all human beings, he did have a few flaws.
COLLINS: Well, for someone in your position as a manager of a laboratory initially, were you able to get a sense of how he developed the big organizational picture? I mean, clearly he had a lot of different complex technical projects going on at once, in the defense electronics products division. Did you get a sense of how he was able to handle this larger job? From your place in the organization?
SEAMANS: I guess the answer is, probably not really. I saw him deal with specific issues. I saw him deal with the engineering union for example. The engineers at RCA in the Camden area were all unionized, and that created very difficult problems. I saw how he dealt with those. But as far as his planning of all of the different product groups that reported to him, probably four or five, and how he interrelated them, how he staffed them, I guess I'd have to say I didn't really see too much of that directly. He had a person who worked for him named Joe Hertzburg who was very instrumental in the marketing side of things, which tended to tie in with the planning. I mean, you had to know what kind of majorprograms were coming over the horizon, and then think how if RCA actually was able to get some major contract, who should be in charge if it, which one of the divisions, or should they set up a whole new division? All that sort of thing. I think Art worked very closely with Joe Hertzburg on some of those issues.
COLLINS: On things that may have directly related to your area of expertise in the company, were you involved in the planning process in some type of formal way?
SEAMANS: Let me first give you a little more detail on how I got started working for RCA. This has been discussed already to some extent. The contract number, I couldn't think of it last time, was 28007. The production contract that RCA had to build fire control systems for fighter aircraft, was being done as a second source. They were a second source to Hughes Aircraft. This is a common thing, as you know, for the government to not want to become completely dependent on one company who could then hold them up for ransom, but to have a second source so they can play one company against another, and develop some competition.
In that contract, it said specifically that RCA could spend, I can't give you the exact amount, but a fairly substantial amount of money, ten or fifteen million dollars at least, to come up with a new type of fire control system that would have greater performance, be more reliable and so on, than the Hughes system that was being produced by both Hughes and RCA. That's what I was brought in to do.
RCA did not really have the capability in the Camden area, which was responsible for the production of this equipment, to develop a whole new more advanced system. And I guess they were having some difficulty with the Air Force, because they weren't proceeding as rapidly as they should. They were tending to make small perturbations and make product improvements but not really come up with something brand new. So that was a sufficient challenge to me and the group that was formed here, to take a bold approach.
We went for a Doppler radar rather than the conventional radar, and a digital computer versus an analog computer, that were both the cutting edge in those days. Those were two of the major innovations that we were pioneering in. After we'd been proceeding along this line for a relatively short time, like six months, RCA found that the Canadians were about to develop a fire control system for a plane called a CF-105, Canadian Fighter 105. So all of a sudden, when we were really just getting started with the Air Force development and I'd just left MIT, I was called in to help market RCA's capability, to develop the whole electronic package for the CF-105.
COLLINS: In other words, to win the contract.
SEAMANS: To win the contract. And to start with, we didn't have anything--we had all the different hardware production that was
going on for the US Air Force, but obviously we couldn't just go and sell the Hughes system, you know, to the Canadians. So we had to come in with some new elements, but we could not, in the time scale the Canadians had, use all of the developments that were still in the breadboard stage up here in Waltham. So I got very much involved in the planning of the system that would be presented to the Canadians, and then of course we had to write the proposal, and we in Waltham helped on that.
Then when they actually had what they called the final part of the competition, it involved Hughes and ourselves--and I'm not sure if anybody else was involved, any other company actually going to Ottawa to make the presentations, and I was called in, not to give the whole presentation but to give quite a bit of it to the general officers in the Canadian Air Force. We won the contract. And so all of a sudden, instead of just having one development, we actually had two major developments going on here at Waltham.
COLLINS: Do you have an idea of how it was decided that that was the contract that RCA should go after?
SEAMANS: Well, I don't really know. But here's the way RCA thought about possible news. They had a system of probability. They'd say, there's about a 10 percent chance we might get this one, and they'd try to look at what the competition was, and 50 percent on this, and we really know how to do this one, that's a 90 percent, and then they'd also price what they thought the value of each one of these was, and they tended to take the product of the two in order to decide what to go after. We tried to convince them that that wasn't always a good way to do it, because if you only have a 3 percent chance of getting something that's worth a couple of billion dollars, it can look very attractive, and yet it's a loser because you're not going to get it, if your chance is only 3 percent.
That was the marketing part of RCA. That was the Joe Hertzburg part. Then we had a marketing person up here; not when we were a lab, but after we became a division, we had somebody called Ralph La Montague who was a former colonel in the Air Force, who was brought in to help in just the kind of thinking I've tried to describe in simplistic form. When our laboratory grew, really by the two big contracts that we, RCA, ended up with, from what had been a nucleus in part, the laboratory here at MIT, of you know, 150 people and maybe 80 of those came to RCA, and then we added and added people so we were up around a thousand people, and it looked as though we were going to get into some production--clearly it was more than a laboratory, and that's when the new building was started on.
We'd actually become a department, which means we had a general manager, and you'd have a mirror image of what you had at the next level up. You'd have marketing and you'd have a financial officer and a chief engineer, and a manufacturing manager and so on. I knew Art Malcarney well enough to know that he just had to be wondering, who should be the general manager of this new division? Since I'd started the operation, I knew they must be thinking of having me as the general manager. So I went to see him and said that I really felt that we had our hands full with all of the engineering and development going on, and just to let him know that it would not trouble me if they brought in somebody who had a lot more RCA experience in all of these areas as a general manager.
You know, he must have felt somewhat concerned that if they brought in somebody and I was no longer the boss of this operation in this area, I might be very disturbed about it. I told him, that's what he ought to do. So we got started. It's slippped my mind now, but they did bring somebody here to head up the operation who actually came more from the marketing side of things rather than the financial, manufacturing or engineering. It wasn't long after that that we dedicated the new building. The governor came out for the dedication, and by then, John Burns was the chief executive officer of RCA, and he came up for the occasion, and we were off and running in quite a different kind of operation than we'd originally had when we were strictly doing development work over in the Waltham Watch.
COLLINS: So if I understand your comments correctly, RCA had never before produced, as a working item, a complete fire control system.
SEAMANS: Not of anything like the complexity that they were trying to develop on this contract with the Air Force, or for the Canadians.
COLLINS: And especially for the Canadian contract, did you have a concern that RCA would be able to pull it off, with the research and engineering capabilities that had developed up to that point?
SEAMANS: Yes. I felt, though, that they had, very extensive manufacturing capabilities, and they had a lot of very capable engineers. But it was spotty. I guess the concern that I had, trying to think back on those days, I worked directly for someone called John Woodward, and he in turn worked for Malcarney. John Woodward's department was really in Camden, and it was much more difficult to get good people working, good technical people working in Camden than, say, up here or in a place called Moorestown which is about 35 miles outside of Camden, where they did all the BMEWS work.
But you had to have confidence in the overall management,that there would be a sufficient flow of people around, that there would be sufficient capability to manage something like this. These things have to grow, when a program gets started and you get into different areas; you have to have the confidence that the organization will be able to adapt and bring in the right people at the right time to get the job done. Well, it was true that a lot of the elements right in the Camden area were not topflight technical people, to compare with the kinds of people that you'd find at Ramo-Wooldridge or Hughes, some other companies that we were competing with.
COLLINS: We talked a little bit, in your initial coming to the laboratory, about some of the, not problems, some of the strengths of getting really good personnel into the company. Was this a continuing kind of concern of yours?
SEAMANS: Yes. RCA is the only company I've ever worked for, so I can't really compare, but it was very bureaucratic, at the lower reaches of the organization. When you dealt with a Malcarney, you could get things done. When you dealt with a John Burns or when you dealt with Elmer Engstrom--Elmer Engstrom was the senior vice president for engineering, in New York. He's a member of the Academy, National Academy of Engineering, and I saw little of him, but whenever I did and I'd tell him about some of the problems that I saw, he'd be very helpful.
But part of the RCA set of issues related to Sarnoff--you know, Sarnoff was a man with tremendous vision, and he would see things like TV or get a Zwarikin to work on it. Then came color TV, and CBS almost ran away with the ball on that one, and they just barely were able to pull it back. They made use of the Sarnoff Laboratories which were in Princeton, for their really top level scientific endeavors. But frankly, the people in Princeton didn't have great respect for the engineers in Camden. But over time, we were able, in Waltham, to get to know the laboratory people and to work pretty effectively with them.
There were other problems at RCA. I'll give you one other one--one of the keys to making a big step forward in fire control was to have a power tube for the radar that was not available commercially, and you'd naturally expect that within a company like RCA, which is the communications business, which has, you know, industrial products and so on. So, I don't quite remember where the division was that was developing new tubes, but we went there--I think it was in Pennsylvania but I'm not quite sure--to see if they would work with us to come up with what could be a big improvement, which would give us a better chance of being successful in our fire control development.
They said, "We're not interested in working with you. We can make much more money with industrial products and commercial products, where we can make a profit of 20, 25 percent. You know,we work with you, and the government pays let's say an 8 percent profit, and we'll have to split that between your division and our division. There's no incentive for us whatsoever to work with you."
So those are the kinds of things you'd run into, and you'd have to try to get to Malcarney or somebody to see if you could force them to be more cooperative. I think in that case we weren't successful.
COLLINS: It relates to what some people call corporate culture. You highlighted a couple of the problematic aspects of RCA, but let's think about the Draper Laboratories. Stark Draper had a particular kind of philosophy about how you conducted a research enterprise, in the MIT setting. It has very distinctive elements that related to Dr. Draper that guided the whole activity of the laboratory. Did you ever sense any kinds of guiding assumptions, if you will, about how research and development ought to be done at RCA? There must be some aspect--apart from say Sarnoff's vision--that helped make RCA a success, some sense of common purpose that imbued the organization, that made it successful.
SEAMANS: Well, this will sound more negative than what you're looking for, but RCA did not use, or used in a very limited way, any of its corporate funds for government purposes. The new building, for example, that was put up out here in Burlington was actually done on a lease-back arrangement, so RCA itself didn't have to put any capital into it. As long as the Defense products were developed with a minimum of resources derived from the corporate structure, and at the same time, turned in a reasonable profit, the overall corporation would be very pleased. But in no instance that I can remember did RCA put up substantial funds for the kind of work that we were doing.
Now, I think the one exception to that, and I'm not too familiar with it, they started a division right next to the Princeton laboratories which was responsible for some of the early satellites. The Tiros meteorological satellite, for example, was developed by RCA, and the group that did that was spun right out of the laboratories, and they looked at that as a premier effort. They looked at it as something that would bring credit in a proper way to RCA. They may very well have helped on some of the financing of the facilities for that purpose.
I don't think that what I'm saying about RCA is unique to RCA. I think you'll find that most companies that have a split personality, that are partly working on government contracts and partly on consumer industrial products, will tend to limit the amount that they put into the government side of things. One of the reasons they might do it is the thought that there's going to be spinoff from defense over into the commercial and industrial, and from my limited experience there at RCA, I find that that's avery difficult thing to do. Even though we were working on new computers for aircraft, it was very difficult to find a way to use this new technology over on the other side of the house. What we were doing for the government was designed for very specific applications. It had to have very specific, had to meet very very tough environmental conditions, and cost was not the primary determinant in carrying out the design.
COLLINS: Defense Electronics Products must have been a pretty sizeable chunk of RCA activity in that time.
SEAMANS: It definitely was. I can't quite recall what the overall corporate figures were, but it wasn't overwhelming. In those days, RCA was selling darned near all the color television sets that were being produced. Of course, they ran NBC. That was part of the operation. They still had a radio business, although to be competitive they were just starting to have the radios made in Germany and Japan, even at that time. They had the big component divisions that I've already mentioned. There were a lot of other elements, but particularly the BMEWS contract tended to increase the dollar value of the business in Defense Products to a point where obviously the president of RCA was well aware that there was a lot going on. But whether that came to 30 percent of their total business or on that order, I don't exactly know, but it was in that ballpark.
COLLINS: I don't know whether you can add anything, but as a further way of indicating what I was after, to take another example--say, in the case of AT&T, there's been a couple of factors which have been highlighted as suggesting a kind of corporate culture at AT&T, and that is that even if they were a monopoly, they always emphasized quality and customer satisfaction as a kind of ethic that pervaded the organization, and also a cooperative attitude with local and national governmental entities. And when they shifted over from a monopoly situation to a deregulated one, these things actually worked against them, because they didn't have quite the proper frame of mind to compete in an unregulated environment, in the best possible way. So what I'm saying is, these were the underlying assumptions about their corporate behavior, corporate activity, and I was wondering whether there was anything in your experience at RCA that you might identify in that sense?
SEAMANS: Just bearing out what you're saying about AT&T, since they've had to divest and so on, they've been running a program right here, within two blocks of where we're sitting, headed by Professor Donovan of the Sloan School, to try to develop a different frame of mind among their key people, to get them to think more in an entrepreneurial way than they have in the past. You know, it's a good question. I'll try to think of what the real ethic was at RCA.
I would say that it was very hard to get the Camden part of RCA, really enthusiastic about working at the cutting edge of technology. It was a company that was pretty well satisfied if they could turn out a good product, a good piece of communication equipment, but they weren't about to be trailblazers. That was very different from the spirit down at Moorestown, where they really took on an awfully big job, with that BMEWS, and they really had some top people out there, including, you know, Brainerd and Dave Shore and a bunch of others who really ran that place.
We were in a position where, up here, we worked through the Camden technical side of things, and as I say, it tended to be more, to me, stodgy kind of engineering. A person named Clarence Gunther was the chief engineer for that whole division, and he was a very sound, but somewhat pedestrian technical person. And it was very hard to get him very excited about working on an advanced new kind of a stable platform, or whatever it was that we might think was important. And you couldn't expect that an Art Malcarney, sitting at the next level up, would be--he couldn't take on Clarence Gunther's engineering judgment all the time. I mean, he had to rely on him.
And so, we would find, sitting up here, that we'd have good ties with the laboratory's scientific people and so on at Sarnoff Labs, and we had a lot of good ties with the people out there at Moorestown, and to some extent with the Astro Division I guess it was, that was working on the Tiros satellites. We had better rapport (with them) than we did with the next level above us down there at Camden.
TAPE 1, SIDE 2
SEAMANS: So I guess you could say that Sarnoff himself was an entrepreneurial individual of the first water, and there were plenty of good strong vestiges of that in parts of the company, but when it got down to the nitty gritty within the Camden part of the operation, it was pretty much "steady as she goes" engineering.
COLLINS: Let me be clear. This was, the Camden operation was what Malcarney presided over.
SEAMANS: Yes, well, he presided over that, but he also presided over Moorestown and ourselves. I'm really thinking of the engineering part of Camden.
COLLINS: I guess, a two part question. One, was it your interest in moving from MIT, establishing this laboratory, to continue in cutting edge technology? The second part of it is, is that something that you would have discussed with Malcarney, or did you ever have a sense that he also was interested in seeing RCAkeep a vigorous presence in this kind of activity?
SEAMANS: Well, I guess, first, take my own side of it. I really enjoyed working with Doc and the things going on here at MIT of an advanced nature, and could have stayed here for another, I don't know how long, 35--maybe I used up about a third of my professional career here. Then I thought, do I really want to stay here for my full professional career? The answer was, no. I wanted to go do something else, see what the world was like, and my expertise was in advanced development, but I was interested to see other parts of the professional world as well, and not just to be involved in advanced development for the rest of my professional life. But I obviously had to make use of that in getting into other areas. I mean, obviously I couldn't leave here as a developmental engineer and educator, and suddenly become a financial whiz on Wall Street. You have to build on what you have.
But as far as Art Malcarney was concerned, I'm not sure I ever really discussed the issue with him quite as directly as your question, but he was for basically making defense electronics products as important an element at RCA as he possibly could, from the standpoint of both profits and quality. You can see that from all the time he put in helping us at NASA, he was definitely interested in the United States and doing all he could to help the country, and he recognized that you couldn't keep the country competitive unless you brought in new technology. I guess it was Sarnoff's speech that pointed out that the products--this was when I arrived at RCA, that RCA was selling more than 50 percent were not available ten years previously. You have to keep moving ahead if you're going to keep being competitive. And Malcarney understood that.
COLLINS: Did you have, in your activities in the laboratory, any formal kind of connection with the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System project? Or was it just kind of a collegial thing, where you knew what was going on?
SEAMANS: No. We did not have any direct tie with this big project that Brainerd Holmes was responsible for. However, after we had some cutbacks in the program, both the Canadian program as well as the U.S. Air Force program, we took on other work, such as the automatic checkout for Atlas. We also looked around for areas where what we had been doing might apply to other things. This was a time when anti-ICBM was becoming much more of a concern than it had been in the past. How could we stop large numbers of warheads that might possibly be raining down on top of us? This is during the period when Sputnik had just gone up. Questions arose about the kind of satellites that might be flying overhead, and the kind of defenses that might be developed against them? I think the person's name was Johnson who was in charge of looking at anti-ICBM, as well as the so-called satellite threat.
We obtained a contract which was called SD-1. It was the first contract that had been let directly out of the Secretary of Defense's office, and it was called SAINT, Satellite Interceptor Project, and RCA was to study this in all of its ramifications, and we in Massachusetts were given the responsibility for doing it. Obviously, if you're going to go up and intercept a satellite, or if you're going to try to intercept an ICBM, you've got to know where they are and where they're going.
This got us into a direct tie with the BMEWS project, which was set up just for the early warning, with preliminary tracking, but not for the detailed, not for the fine-grained tracking that would be required for interceptor purposes. So that was the one time that we worked with Moorestown. Since our group up here was responsible, I ended up working with Davie Shore, a name I've already mentioned, on the BMEWS project. But it wasn't to help them, it was because they had an expertise that was valuable for the study that we were doing.
COLLINS: You mentioned somebody named Johnson?
SEAMANS: He was in the Secretary of Defense's office. I'm trying to think who was Secretary of Defense then. It was Tom Gates, I guess.
COLLINS: This isn't the same Johnson who was a counsel over there at NASA?
SEAMANS: No. That's Johnny Johnson. I can't think of this other Johnson's first name. Kirkpatrick is the name of the guy who ended up as the general manager up here, of our RCA division when it became a division.
COLLINS: So what was the course of the SAINT project then?
SEAMANS: Well, it turned out that we believed, with all the work we did, that the tracking radars that were used on the BMEWS could also be used for the purpose of satellite interception. We went down and gave a presentation to the Department of Defense, and we were rather suspect when we pointed out that the radars that we happened to produce at RCA could also be exactly what was needed for this new program. The Department of Defense, however, did establish a development program which was called SAINT, and RCA, after I left, was the contractor for that program.
It was subsequently cancelled, not because of anything that RCA did, but it was decided by McNamara that rather than fly an interceptor course, and end up co-orbital with a Soviet satellite, we could inspect them, see what they really were by flying alongside or behind or you know, moving around them. Then,if it was felt to be any kind of a threat, to destroy it--and that is somewhat like, we believe, the system that theSoviets were working on at that time, where a satellite would be tracked and then another one would come alongside.
If my memory's correct I think there was one occasion where suddenly, instead of having two side by side, there was some debris and just one left, or maybe it was just debris. Anyway, McNamara decided that we really didn't need to have anything as elaborate as that, and better that we have a system that could be deployed immediately. That was the reason for the project out on Johnson Island in the Pacific, where a ballistic missile, I'm not quite sure which it was, whether it was the Atlas, Titan or the Thor.
One of those three was selected anyway for the purpose of waiting until the orbit of the satellite was more or less directly overhead, and then just shooting off the missile and using a nuclear warhead, blow up the satellite. A hammer and tongs approach to the problem. And that system sat there, on Johnson Island. It was manned on a full time basis until, I believe I'm right on this one, I think it was until I became Secretary of the Air Force and we dismantled it.
COLLINS: But the idea of the SAINT program was to intercept the satellite with another satellite?
SEAMANS: Yes, and to have sufficiently good tracking and so on, with the BMEWS kind of systems, so that you could bring them right alongside. It obviously tied in with the technology that we'd been working on with the Air Force. It obviously tied in with the kind of thing I'd been doing back here at MIT.
COLLINS: Was the potential threat seen as the Soviet using a satellite as a platform for nuclear weapons, or was it also related to reconnaissance?
SEAMANS: There was fear in some quarters that the satellites might be used for bombardment purposes. But that really wasn't the real threat. I mean, a lot of de-orbiting has to be done for bombing from space. You don't fly toward a target when you're directly overhead drop the bomb and have it come straight down. So it was much more the threat of reconnaissance, and it was really not so much fear on our part of what the Soviets might do, but it was really related to the fact that we could see the importance of satellites to us. If they had an interceptor and we didn't, they could knock ours out and we wouldn't be able to retaliate, so it was almost a retaliatory device.
COLLINS: Yes. That's very interesting history there. Just to be clear, to round off our discussion about RCA, I'd like to quickly step through the outline, your positions there and the history of the laboratory and what it evolved to by the time you left RCA.
SEAMANS: I'll do my best.
COLLINS: So if you would just sketch out, when you came there in 1955, you came in as the manager of the Airborne Systems Laboratory.
COLLINS: Then your resumé indicates you were chief systems engineer for the Airborne Systems Department.
SEAMANS: That's when we moved over to the new facility, and we got set up with a general manager. We became a so-called profit center. We had a marketing manager and a production manager, and that's when Bill Kirkpatrick came up to be the general manager and I reported to him.
COLLINS: So the title change in your position was just a reflection of the organizational change in your unit. You became a division because you brought in so much business.
SEAMANS: Yes, and I still had the same people reporting to me that had been reporting to me before, but other departments were added, the marketing of course being one, the manufacturing being another, to form a total division.
COLLINS: How did you relate to this new organization that was around the laboratory, if you will? Did you work with the marketing people, with Bill Kirkpatrick? How did your job change in that sense?
SEAMANS: Well, of course, much more of the job was oriented to this locale. When I'd been the manager of (or director of) the laboratory, my boss was sitting in Camden, so I was spending a lot of time going back and forth to Camden. Once we had the division here, a lot of my time was then spent working with the general manager, working with marketing, working with manufacturing, and not as much with other parts of RCA. It was up to the general manager to take on a lot of those headaches, which was another reason I felt quite comfortable in not becoming the general manager.
COLLINS: At this point clearly you had moved away from the kind of work you'd done at MIT. You were experiencing a different part of the scientific or technical world of work. Were you enjoying this more managerial type activity, as opposed to working on advanced development yourself?
SEAMANS: Well, it was part of the process that I wanted to go through, of getting a better understanding of the world at large, but it was not a role that I really wanted. I could see it was not a role that I wanted to play for very long. You know, therewas a lot of administrative minuteia that you have to get into, when you're operating a division--jobs begin and end, and people end up without being able to directly charge to a contract. They go into what was called, curiously enough, "paid lost time," and were just carried in the overhead, but you'd only carry them in the overhead for so long, when orders would come out to try and chop them off the overhead, which would mean you'd either have to fire them or RCA would have to pay them directly, which they probably wouldn't want to do.
So you'd be concerned about, the people here who were hanging out over the edge. I'd know them and I wouldn't want to see them get fired. A lot of those headaches that were just persistent, bound to be persistent, I guess.
This is a silly little thing, but it tells a little bit about the people involved and so on. When Kirk got up here, after the first year he said, "You know, last year everybody sent out Christmas cards. That's sort of a nuisance, having to send out all these Christmas cards to everybody. Think of what we could do if everybody here in this organization would agree that instead of paying to send out a bunch of Christmas cards, what we'd do is, take the dollars involved and contribute it to something that RCA would decide was a worthy cause. Then for Christmas greetings, instead of sending out a whole bunch of cards, take your Christmas card and put it on the bulletin board where everybody could see it." I said, "Kirk, I really think it's just a waste of time to try to put that across here in New England. It's not going to work."
But he was determined to put this across, and you should have seen some of the horrible things that suddenly appeared on the bulletin board. Of course, most of the people weren't particularly enthusiastic about giving X dollars to a management team, undisclosed, that would decide which charity to contribute to. So it was doomed to failure. And yet I was supposed to help put this across. I didn't know it, of course, at that time, but my future son-in-law was a junior engineer at that time, here, in this operation. He conceived of the idea of a Christmas card for the occasion that had a black band around the outside, which indicated the demise of our freedom, that we used to have before the bureaucracy took over. It was a long time before I realized that my son-in-law was the person who caused me so much grief with a black banded Christmas card.
COLLINS: This is a kind of jejeune question, but once you were in this division, could you kind of describe a typical day at the office, if you will? It sounds like there are a lot of odd little details to take care of.
SEAMANS: Well, a day at the office might involve going to Kirk's management committee. I think we probably met about once a week,to look at new business, and go over things that this new department was trying to do, trying to cut down overhead, what we called the paperclip routine of trying to save dollars by doing things more efficiently. Then I'd have meetings within the engineering department. I think I usually had five or six different divisions. Yes, I guess I called them that, or sections, within the engineering department. I'd get everybody together.
I tried not only to do that at the office, but from time to time, meet with this group somewhere outside of the building and have cocktails and dinner and discuss some of the problems we faced, which oftentimes would relate to trying to get new business, more business. It would involve working with one of the section heads on some kind of a personnel issue that was known to exist. To plan the strategy of getting a new piece of business that might involve a contract or a bid proposal known to be coming out of Colorado Springs, and I'd be supposed to jump in an airplane on a Sunday noon and fly out to Colorado to meet with some guy for dinner out there.
COLLINS: A possible Air Force contract?
SEAMANS: Yes, for an Air Force contract. The Air Defense Command was located there in those days. This would result from the marketing people who were following those developments going in to Joe Hertzburg, to say, "Oh, that effort is part of the Burlington operation." So they'd get in touch with Ralph LaMontaine who was in charge of marketing, and he'd feel that the best person to go was me, and I wouldn't particularly want to go but they'd say, "This is important," so instead of doing something with the family, I'd have to jump in an airplane and go out to Colorado Springs on a weekend.
As time went on, and we built up the manufacturing, I would spend quite a bit of time going over problems where manufacturing was having trouble making some kind of a part or assembling it or something. Could it be simplified? Could we change the design so that we could produce it more efficiently? I'd say that an awful lot of the effort that I was involved in had to do with the new business side of it, call it the technical marketing.
COLLINS: Let's talk a little bit about how that worked. I guess ideas might come from a couple of different sources, for new business. You within the laboratory in your work might decide that some particular area looked promising, and the marketing people would be there, Joe Hertzburg or LaMontaine might have some idea about a new proposal that was coming up. Was that the way it worked?
SEAMANS: First of all, you had two kinds of money, other than your direct contract funds. You had one thing that's called IR&D,Independent Research and Development, and it still exists today. That is, you can take a certain percentage of your production overhead money, and put it into new developments. At RCA, that money was pooled from all the divisions. It went in to Clarence Gunther chief engineer of Defense Electronic Products. Then we in our division and all the other divisions would have various ideas for new ways of doing things. We'd go in and in effect compete, and Clarence would decide who would get how much of that, for whatever purpose.
Now, this was audited by the Defense Department, so that after the fact, they could come in and look and see whether what was being done was really germane to defense or not. They were particularly sensitive of course to the use of that money for a new consumer product, let's say. But that was never a problem. But that's one of the reasons for the inspection. But they might say, "We don't think you ought to fully charge us for that. We'll pay 60 percent but RCA has to pay 40 percent." So these were dollars that were hard to come by, but it was the only sort of free money we had to come up with either product improvements or new developments.
Obviously you try to gear these projects to what you thought was probably going to come down the pike in the Defense Department, in the form of some new kind of a missile or some new kind of an airplane fire control system or what have you. Now, there was another kind of money that came directly out of corporate overhead, which was called BP money, Bid and Proposal money. That money was handled strictly by the marketing people. It would come down, it would all be brought together under Joe Hertzburg. If suddenly there was the prospect of getting an important contract, our division felt there was, then Ralph LaMontaine would have to convince Joe Hertzburg to give us say 250 thousand dollars to write the proposal, and then try to sell it by making presentations and all that sort of thing.
So those were the two ways you had of actually moving towards a new contract, and each part of it involved some of my time. I'd have to talk to Clarence Gunther about why we felt it was important to do certain work. When the proposals were going together from our division, I'd have to approve of all of the technical part of the proposals. Most of the proposals, when it came time for the presentations, I was the guy they wanted to have stand up and talk about them, because it was thought that with the background I had I could be an effective salesman, if you will. So that's where a lot of time went, as well as the time it takes just to run the operation day after day after day, which I tried to describe previously.
COLLINS: I'm curious, if you could give a kind of quick comparison between the relationship between the military services wight, whatever that you experienced while you were at MIT, andthe relationship that you had when you were at RCA. Did you feel any difference in the character of the relationship, between those two different kinds of organizations?
SEAMANS: Well, I guess the obvious answer would be, and I'm not sure it's correct--I guess we really did have a freer interchange when I was at MIT. That would certainly be true with Doc Draper and with Lee Davis, when he was head of the Armaments Lab, or things of that sort, when I'd be working with some people in the Air Force or Navy. It wasn't completely open, because even here at MIT, to some extent, we were competing. Hughes--we had the so-called A 1 gun bomb sight, and that was competitive with the sight Bendix was making and Hughes was later to make, and so we weren't just doing scholarly research, where we had a completely open interchange, even here. But when you worked for RCA, they'd be very careful in the military to only talk about what RCA was up to, and we'd have a very hard time finding out what the competition was up to. Of course, that's one of the things that RCA and their marketing were always trying to find out, what's the competition going to come in with? So it definitely was somewhat of a difference. But I'd say not as great as might be expected.
COLLINS: One other aspect of your activity that we might discuss is how, as a manager of a laboratory or a manager of the engineering group, you kept tabs on the progress of a project, and how you broke down aspects of the job that needed to be done and monitored what was happening.
SEAMANS: Well, that obviously went through a change with time. Going back to a project, the early projects I had here at MIT, when I knew everybody and I could observe what was going on just in my daily rounds, if you will, to the meteor projects where it was somewhat harder. But again, just by moving around pretty fast, you keep track, I could keep track, to the days at RCA, when we got to the point where we had more than one major contract. We had a variety of contracts. I was just trying to remember, I don't think I had any kind of a formal periodic set of meetings where people would come in all together and report on their progress.
I think I still was able to go to each one of the project leaders, and find out from them on a schedule that would hinge on how critical the particular project was, either where there was a problem or something was about to happen in very short order, we were going to have to deliver something. We had a penthouse out at Burlington, where we had a lot of the radar equipment on the roof, so that you could run tests against aircraft flying overhead.
I could tell an awful lot about how things were going from a technical standpoint just by going up there, and I knew most ofthe people by first name who were up there, and just going around and chatting with them, with the head of the project with me. Then the reports that would come in on progress, would tend to be couched more often in financial terms. I'd know how much money we had in the contract, and I could look and see how much we had spent already, and from that I could estimate how much more it was going to take to finish the job. But it really wasn't until I got to NASA that I really got in the business of formally going into a room every month and reviewing certain set of projects by a given set of criteria.
COLLINS: One of the things in terms of project management that became very prominent through the ballistic missile program was PERT. Was there any system like that in RCA?
SEAMANS: No. We'd know that either a general officer was going to come up and inspect in a week and a half, and we'd want to demonstrate something, or the airplane was going to be arriving and we'd have to install something on given dates, and it was much more on a personal, person to person, basis then.
COLLINS: I would assume in many aspects of the R & D work, but especially in the Defense Electronics Group, that you had engineers or scientists who were put into management or administrative type positions. Did RCA offer any assistance to these people in taking on managerial tasks?
SEAMANS: RCA had a wide variety of training programs, for that purpose. I went to quite a few of them, during the five years I was there, including the last year that I was there, actually going to the advanced management program at Columbia, where I was the only RCA person present. But RCA was very good about that, I think, and they tried all kinds of relatively new strategies, to try to get people to understand that their responsibilities as they "moved ahead" had a lot to do with their interpersonal relationships and so on.
TAPE 2, SIDE 1
SEAMANS: You asked me whether we used PERT networks and so on, in order to properly keep our developmental work on schedule, and we did not. Since you asked the question, you may wonder why or how we really did keep track, and I think the answer is that what we were working on were in physical size rather small pieces of equipment. We were working in one location on all the elements that were going to make this system operate. So it was possible to walk around one building and keep track of all the elements and see how rapidly they were converging on a finished product. For that reason, it wasn't really necessary to have a high degree of reporting, in order to tell where the project stood.
COLLINS: It sounds like the administrative aspects of the jobwere pretty consuming. How could you continue to keep up your technical development, what you might need to know in order to properly evaluate what was going on?
SEAMANS: Well, I guess I should confess that from the time I joined RCA on, I really didn't participate myself in any of the detailed technical work, which I had done essentially to the end of the time that I was here at MIT. So my professional life style changed in that regard. That meant that I really had to keep track of what was going on, by observing, by looking at results that were presented by those that were doing the work, by suggesting to others how they might carry out an analysis, and then they would show me the results after they'd finished. We still had drafting tables in those days--by looking over draftsmen's shoulders and seeing how things looked from that standpoint. Also, by visits to places outside of RCA, coming in to see Doc and people in the Instrumentation Lab for example. I kept up with my NACA subcommittee work, and the Scientific Advisory Board of the Air Force, and I went to technical meetings. By doing a variety of things it was possible to keep track.
COLLINS: I think just before one of the interruptions we had, you were starting to tell me about how RCA facilitated management education of the senior staff.
SEAMANS: Yes. I didn't really do justice to that. I'm not sure I really can quite remember all the details, except that if there was the right amount of education--you know, they would take people off-line for a few days, sometimes it would be weekends--RCA erred on the side of a little more than that. I mean, they really had in mind the value of bringing together people from different parts of the enterprise, and having professional people from Harbridge House or some other consulting firm come in and run programs for educational purposes. We spent, believe it or not, two or three days in Atlantic City one time, on one of these programs. One underlying theme was how to really understand another person's point of view? An awful lot of quasi-psychology was involved, as well as discussions of how RCA stood, what RCA's objectives were in defense--even some of the discussions I remember went beyond just the defense products.
COLLINS: The emphasis was towards personnel issues.
SEAMANS: Personnel issues, as well as the defining of RCA objectives. Part of it was revival type, trying to build up enthusiasm for the cause. Because from the very beginning, they had a program of trying to motivate people to achieve top performance. They had quite a few programs like that, and the division that did the best would get very special rewards, and the people who were responsible for it would get special treatment. We spent one hilarious weekend on the town in New YorkCity as a result of one of these. I guess it was when we got the Canadian contract--about ten of us and our wives lived very high on the hog, I can assure you, going to dinners, night clubs etc., as a result of getting that contract. Another time, our whole division did very well, and maybe it was broader than that. Anyhow, they had a tremendous dinner dance in Philadelphia, with bands playing and all the wives and attending, to try to encourage--to try to thank people for what they'd done and encourage them to do more of the same.
COLLINS: I guess it was a counterpoint I was perhaps suggesting-- there's this emphasis on personnel, enthusiasm for the RCA mission, but not too much on how you structured the organization.
SEAMANS: Yes, some would be sort of in general on structure. We didn't get into the specific structure of RCA. There was one other thing we did, but this was not really corporate, this was our division, which we started when we were a lab and it was continued after we became a division. I first came in and talked to the people at MIT, to see what kind of arrangements could be made for our employees to take advanced technical courses at MIT. I went to Harvard. And didn't do very well there either. I couldn't really get either institution interested in the problem of a company out on Route 128, even though the people I knew here, I knew quite well. They felt that the role of MIT, and the same would be true of Harvard, was to provide an education on campus, and they really couldn't do it, off hours, off campus. But Asa Knowles, who was the president of Northeastern--I guess you might say he needed the business more--he was very helpful. We also took the lead on going to Sylvania and Raytheon and other companies on Route 128.
So we actually started off-campus education, and the big thing then was the transistor. This is right at the point where vacuum tubes were on their way out and the transistor was on its way in, and I just remembered now, when we started this development, this new lab out in Waltham, one of our self imposed ground rules, just arbitrarily, was: there will be no tubes in this design. It's going to be strictly a transistor system, except for a power tube or something like that. But none of the logic would be done with tubes. This caught a lot of our technical people without as much knowledge as they might have liked to have had, to design circuits, and that's the reason it was so important to start these special courses at that time.
COLLINS: You also mentioned a desire to move to digital computers as opposed to analog.
SEAMANS: Exactly, yes. And that paid off. I mean, we were lucky, I guess. It was just the time when we could do that. We couldn't have done that any sooner. Let me just say one other thing that might interest you about the so-called management. RCArealized that it was a mistake to force some of the more scientifically oriented people into the management framework, in order to "get ahead." I can't quite remember whether we pioneered it here, or whether it was being pioneered at Camden at that time. But anyway, we started another whole chain of promotions that were called engineering scientists, and there were various levels of engineering scientists, so that you wouldn't have to go the administrative management route to keep promotions and salary increases coming along. So we had some pretty good people at RCA in our division here who definitely were not management-oriented, but who did stay and were really great contributors, without having to worry about five, ten, fifteen technical people working for them.
COLLINS: That's a not uncommon problem.
COLLINS: You did mention that you went to Columbia to attend a management course.
SEAMANS: Yes. It was like the Harvard course. As a matter of fact, when my name came up I said I'd like to go to Harvard, and they said, "You're too oriented towards the Cambridge area, we want to give you a little New York background, go to Columbia," so I did. The program was not actually run in New York. It was run at the old Harriman estate, at Arden House, which is about 60 miles up the New York Thruway, and I was very fortunate to take that course. It was a six weeks course, and there were all kinds of people there. There was one guy there from the Federal Reserve who was responsible for moving the gold from one part of the building to another, as balances of trade and everything occurred between countries. There was somebody from Aruba, in the oil business. They were just all over the place. I learned a great deal from the individuals taking the program, as well as from the more formal instruction.
COLLINS: Can you recall the thrust of the instruction, focusing on the personnel issues?
SEAMANS: Yes. It was really divided into three parts. There was a personnel part. There was a whole section on the international business. Then there was, in the final couple of weeks what you might think of as war-gaming, strategy. They brought in a GE computer, so we could be divided up into five different companies, each with several products, and we were trying to sell in different areas. They compressed a quarter of a year into an hour's time and you had to make such decisions, as how much to put into marketing and how much to put into technical development, and how to deploy your forces around, and whether to sell a high priced product or a low priced product. Then as a result of putting in, of making your decisions, you'd see how youwere doing business-wise, with your company, and you'd see how the whole economy was going, but you wouldn't see the details on the other four companies, on what they were doing. You'd play out that string for an eight or ten year period. It was highly educational.
COLLINS: Was this in terms of game theory, do you recall?
SEAMANS: Not really, I guess, not in the sense that you're thinking of. But it was a game, in effect. And they had an expanding economy. That is, if everybody got involved in marketing, the total volume of business could increase. That was very similar to the RCA experience, of trying to sell color TV--when we got started, which was back in '55, RCA was the only company that made the sets, the only company that had the broadcast color TV. RCA encouraged other companies to get in there and compete, to expand the market.
But anyway, the first part, on personnel, part of it revolved around a company I don't know exactly what the business was, but you were the number 3 person in this company. The program was done with film, and you'd see a film clip of five or six minutes. Then you'd discuss for an hour what was going on, and then you'd go back to the film for more detail. The head of the company was just a mean, tough sort of a guy, and the long and the short of it was that the number 2 person, who was trying awfully hard to be fair and everything, has a heart attack and dies. So then, towards the end of this sequence, you are importuned by the boss to become number 2, and he says, "I know it's going to be tough, I'm mean and everything, but by God, you're going to make a lot of money. There's no limit to what your future can be." You're finally at the very end asked to vote, on whether you take the job or not, and two-thirds of the class took the job.
Then our wives came for the last day and a half of the program. Our wives were invited, and they tried to give them a little flavor of what the program was like, but much more quickly. They went through this sequence of films with the wives, and at the very end asked, "Would you encourage your husband to take the job or not?" Some of the wives said, "He'd never ask me." But those that voted were two-thirds against their husbands taking the job. It was very educational.
Then on the foreign part, we even got into business in the Soviet Union, but the fascinating thing was the part we spent studying Japan. Remember, now, this was in '59. And they pointed out even then. They pointed out that when you go to work for a company in Japan, you're expected to work for them for the rest of your life. That the company was responsible for you. And they told about a transistor production line they had, where gals were making transistors, and they had right side by side with thisproduction line, completely automatic equipment for doing the same thing, but that they had decided, the Japanese company, not to use it, this automatic equipment, until these gals had spent their professional careers, but they would not bring on any more of these gals. As the gals retired, they took care of them, then they'd turn on the automatic equipment. But they said they had this stuff ready to go. We all said, "baloney, we don't believe it." But the people who gave us that international section were very far-sighted. I've thought of it many times since.
COLLINS: That's very interesting. I think we've discussed your activities up to '58 pretty well. I want to go over the kind of decline in business, as I understand it, of the laboratory, and things that happened after you lost contracts or contracts were cancelled, for both the Canadian CF-105 and for the Air Force fire control.
SEAMANS: Right. That's when Diefenbaker came in, as Prime Minister of Canada. He cancelled the Canadian defense effort. He was, I don't know whether to call him realistic or not. I guess he was. He was afraid that he might not stay in power too long. There were four prototypes built and ready to be tested. He had them cut up with acetylene torches so that they never could start the project again, if he went out of office.
The company was A.V. Rowe, AVRO, and the people that we had worked with there, lo and behold, turned up at NASA. When I ended up in Washington, maybe 50 of the key people from AVRO ended up working for the space program in our country. They realized that the future in aerospace was out the window in Canada, and if they wanted to keep going professionally, the thing to do was come to this country, and it just tied in with the start of the expanded space program in our country.
The exact timing on these cancellations is something I'm a little vague on. We were still in Waltham. The new building was under construction. We were still a laboratory when this happened. There used to be a place called Nuttings-on-the-Charles, where all the big bands used to come, in the old days when Benny Goodman and everybody were trooping around, and we were told to cut our professional staff by 33 percent. This was because of the cancellation of the Air Force 28007 contract. We worked all night trying to figure out how to do this, because we had to tell each individual within something like a 48 hour period, what was going to happen to them personally.
When we were in the middle of doing that, the CF-105 was cancelled, and we got a call saying, I think it was, "take it down to 50 percent." I remember saying to the person on the phone who called me, "If you want to do that, you can come up and do it. I'm not going to do it." I said, "I think we can handle a33% reduction, but to go beyond that, count me out."
We had already, in this very short period of time, put together a little brochure anyway that pointed out the value of what we had put together in RCA as a laboratory. I suggested, rather than have RCA take a meat axe to the lab, they might think of spinning it off as a subsidiary and selling it. But nobody took to that very seriously. Nuttings-on-the-Charles was a big enough place that we could get all of our employees at one time. I had the job of standing up and telling them what we were going to do, that we were going to let a third of the people go, and that nobody would have to wait over 24 hours, that they'd know one way or the other. I explained why we had to do it. There was no way that RCA could finance our activity at the level that we were working. So we got over that hurdle pretty well.
Then, of course, we had to shift the effort onto some other projects some of which I've described, like the SAINT project and the APCHE project that was transferred from another part of RCA. As I said, the new building was being constructed. I think I said in the previous interview that in order to get a go-ahead for that building, they said it could not be a two or three story building, it had to be single story, so that it could be a distribution center if we failed. I thought, okay, maybe this is what they're going to do. But it wasn't long after that that we were reassured that the building was going to be finished as planned and we would move over to it. Then we moved over, and Kirk came up to be the manager of it, and we really proceeded as I've described already.
The one thing we had not planned right away was to have a manufacturing element there. But when we got the APCHE, there was no point in taking it on up here unless we produced it up here, and it wasn't long after we moved in that even though we'd been cut back, we added another whole couple of wings to the building for manufacturing. Of course, from an internal morale standpoint, that was very beneficial, because I mean it showed that RCA was still interested in our division and planning to keep it on a permanent basis.
COLLINS: This was manufacturing of test equipment for the Atlas?
SEAMANS: Yes, automatic checkout equipment. It wasn't really test. It was really automatic checkout that was used on every launching that took place.
COLLINS: Did RCA have some overall larger stake in Atlas?
SEAMANS: Yes, they did. I guess you could say, they were in charge of what's sometimes called the zero stage of the Atlas. In other words, the whole ground environment, the control area, not just the checkout but whatever communications were required,whatever it was going to take to use the Atlas as an operational missile, whatever was required on the ground, other than the physical construction of the hole in the ground and all that, was RCA's responsibility, at Moorestown.
COLLINS: So you indeed only had to cut back a third of your personnel, not 50 percent.
SEAMANS: That's right. RCA headquarters backed off.
COLLINS: And you managed to do the SAINT project and APCHE.
SEAMANS: Yes, we picked up work pretty fast, thanks to the transfer of work, as well as new contracts that we took on. So by the time I left, I don't remember the numbers, but the place was very active. I mean, there was a lot of work going on, and it wasn't too long after I left that--I guess it was quite a while, three years after I left--RCA won the--this division won the contract for the rendezvous and docking equipment for the Apollo program. So they had to put up another whole engineering building for that. I think when I left, it might have been on the order of 1200 people, and I think at their peak, on the Apollo program, they had around 2500.
COLLINS: I think, if I recall correctly from the previous interview, when the laboratory was initiated, you had a staff of about seven to eight hundred people, I believe you said.
SEAMANS: Yes, I think that's about right.
COLLINS: At the time that the cutbacks were instituted, was the laboratory significantly larger than that?
SEAMANS: No, I guess about eight or nine hundred people. We had to cut back. That's total people. Not just professionals. We had to cut back a third of the professional. I don't remember quite what we did on the cutback of the technicians and so on. We obviously had to cut them back, too.
COLLINS: Then in your remaining time the RCA staff built back up.
SEAMANS: Yes. I've forgotten the numbers. I don't know if we were back at exactly the same size we were at that first peak or a little over it, I'm not sure. But we were larger in total numbers, say around 1200, because we'd built a whole manufacturing arm.
COLLINS: I notice your last title at RCA was Chief Engineer, Missile Electronics and Control Division. What was the significance in the change from your previous title which was Chief Systems Engineer for the Airborne Systems Department.
SEAMANS: Well, I guess it wasn't me that had changed. I guess the responsibility of the division had changed from airborne systems, which implies aircraft, to take on a broader role which would include missiles as well. I had the same job. Once we were set up as a division, my job didn't change the rest of the time I was there.
COLLINS: Was there some perception that the change over the time that you were there, that missiles were a more important area to get into?
SEAMANS: Yes. I would say that we saw the ballistic missiles coming in, along with satellites and they had similarities; the day of the rocket had arrived and RCA decided to get with it.
COLLINS: I guess there's three other things we might cover. I think this pretty well rounds out the RCA thing, unless you want to elaborate--
SEAMANS: No. No.
COLLINS: Those three things are, the circumstances under which you left RCA and went to NASA; then, as kind of a prelude to talking about the NASA activities, I want to look a little more closely at your participation in the NACA working group on instrumentation, on the Special Committee on Space Technology; as well as your work as a consultant and member of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board.
SEAMANS: Okay. We can review those pretty quickly, I think.
COLLINS: Why don't we talk about your departure from RCA first?
SEAMANS: All right. First let me tell you about my introduction to Keith Glennan. First I'll tell you a little bit about how he happened to give me a call. I'd given some thought to satellites, you know, way back. I'd given a talk half in jest to the alumni of Southern California on the subject, and we'd had a program here at MIT on satellites. When Sputnik went up, it was disappointing that it wasn't us, it was somebody else who had succeeded. Then I'd watched what happened. Killian came in as a chief scientist for Eisenhower, and then I read about this person named Keith Glennan who'd become the head of NASA, and I read about the astronauts.
I guess it's only fair to say that I was a little jealous of the people who had the opportunity to be involved in this new exciting arena, and I was somewhat on the outs, although I had a little bit of a tie with it through the old NACA and so on. So, sitting in my office in Burlington, it came as quite a surprise and a matter of considerable interest when I got a call from Keith, whom I did not know, and who said, "Are you planning to bein Washington in the next few days?" And I wasn't. I said I really was not planning to be down there. I was about to say, "But I'd be happy to come down, if you want to chat about anything," when he said, "Well, could you have dinner with me tonight at the Hotel Statler, here in Boston?" And I said, "Of course."
I didn't have any trouble recognizing him. I'd seen his picture in enough newspapers and so on. We went into the dining room where he had a table reserved. He's a very direct person, and he told me a little bit about how things were developing, and he was always very proud of things like the Echo satellite and things that were going on. I forget what was current at that time. Then he took an organization chart out of his pocket--8 1/2 by 11--you know, a thing with a lot of boxes on it, and, this is literally true, he put his thumb right down sort of in the upper middle part and he said, "This is the job I would like to have you consider taking." And he said, "I'd like you to consider being"--it was a little stronger than that--"the associate administrator of NASA."
And he went on to say that when NASA started, he and Hugh Dryden were the two individuals running the program. Over time, they'd realized that they needed to have a full time general manager, but he said, "That's a term that is not used in the government, ordinarily, although it was used in the AEC," but he said, "it seemed better to call this person the associate administrator." He explained that NASA got Dick Horner, who had been the assistant secretary for R&D of the Air Force, to come and take it for just one year." He said, "I heard that Dick was going to leave the government, so I went over and asked him if he'd be willing to put in one year's time at NASA before going out to the West Coast," which is what he wanted to do, and he said, "Dick's year is almost up, so we're looking for somebody to come in and take this job in the near term, and hope that you'll consider it" and so on.
Then we chatted about the job, and what was involved and what the elements were and so on, and I explained to him that there were certain family things I wanted to consider, namely, we have a very hard of hearing child, we were starting to make progress, if we moved, what impact would that have? I said, I'd be in touch with him in a matter of days. I went home and discussed it with my wife, and of course she knew I wanted to do it, and my son was far enough along that we thought that it wouldn't in any way impair his progress. I think Keith may have called me even before I called him. I think he even might have said that there's somebody else that we're considering. I never found out whether there really was or not.
But anyway, less than a week's time after that meeting, I said I'd do it. Then, of course, we had to get into the publicityof the thing. Of course he had to get approval, I guess, from Eisenhower. Dick Horner had been allowed to have his own car with chauffeur, to pick him up in the morning and which was not normal for a non-Presidential appointee, and when I heard about that, of course I said it would be very fine--so there wasn't much negotiation. It really appealed to me.
Now, how did Keith happen to do it? Well, about three months before this, a very good friend of mine by the name of Cortland Perkins, whom you know by now, at least indirectly, had asked me if I'd consider running the NATO systems laboratory at The Hague. So we'd been over this whole business of whether we could move or not, and I had told Cort that we would consider it. This was at the time of the U-2 and Eisenhower was at cross purposes with Khrushchev, and the NATO countries decided it might be better if there was a non-American running that laboratory; that's what Cort told me anyway. Maybe they didn't like me. I don't know really, but anyway, that job did not materialize.
There was another NATO job that they discussed with me that I really wasn't interested in. And Keith in talking to Cort one day said, "You know, I'm still looking for somebody to be the general manager," and Cort said, as I understand it, "Have you ever considered Bob Seamans?" Then evidently Keith checked with Hugh Dryden, whom of course I knew because of these various committees I'd served on. At least he didn't blackball me. So I believe that's how my selection occurred.
COLLINS: Were you receptive? You indicated that you were excited about the space program.
SEAMANS: Yes. There were a couple of other things that were sort of interesting, to me at least. Before Sputnik, our Subcommittee on Automatic Stability and Control had brought up the issue of, what the NACA was doing about possible space activity? And we really had our wrists slapped. We were told that the NACA was for aeronautics, period, and throughout the whole NACA, people were thinking in these terms before Sputnik. After all, we had Vanguard coming along. I'm not quite sure whether it was Hunsaker or Jimmy Doolittle, who was then the chairman, and Hugh Dryden, but they put the lid on any thinking on rockets and satellites and so on. Then of course, once the NACA was thrown into the mainstream, they had to suddenly develop some thoughts about space.
COLLINS: You mean, after Sputnik?
SEAMANS: After Sputnik, and after Killian had moved down, and after Killian had surveyed what might be done and had recommended to Eisenhower that the NACA be the focus for a new agency for aeronautics and space, there still was obviously a lot of planning that had to be done, and a whole bunch of committeeswere put together. Guy Stever was very much involved at that time. Louis Ridenour was involved. Bill Pickering was involved, and I was asked, since I'd been on the Automatic Stability and Control Committee, if I would meet in Los Angeles in a group that did included Bill Pickering, Louis Ridenour, and a number of others, on what the research and development should be for the new agency. Somewhere in my files I think I've got a piece of paper I put together in a 24 hour period on the subject. That was an ad hoc committee. It was thought that possibly NASA would continue the NACA committees, but then the decision was made that they would not, and so for a short while, I had an appointment and then it was cancelled. This is in '58 or '59.
TAPE 2, SIDE 2
SEAMANS: So as a result of the cancellation of the whole committee structure that NACA had, I was no longer associated through the committees with what was going on in NASA, but I got a call from somebody (whose name I forget) asking me if I would care to come and work for NASA on their advance development program for guidance. I got the message when I was at Camden, I remember, and I called this person from the Philadelphia airport and said, no, I really wasn't interested in taking on a staff job in Washington for that purpose." And I don't know whether Keith Glennan ever even knew that or not.
COLLINS: This would have been after October '58?
SEAMANS: Oh yes, this was maybe eight months before Keith got in touch with me. The person was very embarrassed when I became the associate administrator. He said, you know, that he'd asked me for a lesser appointment, and I said, he should never feel that way, I was very flattered to be considered, but it just didn't fit in with my plans. There's one other question you asked.
COLLINS: That was about the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board.
SEAMANS: Oh yes. Okay. That was very simple, you see. Once you became a government employee, at least the practice was, you can no longer serve on the Scientific Advisory Board but you can still be a consultant. As I remember it, that was coupled in with the fact that I suddenly was working for NASA.
COLLINS: Okay, I'm curious, and maybe perhaps it's reversed, because on your vita you're listed as a consultant from 1957 to '59, and then a member from '59 to'62.
SEAMANS: Hm. That doesn't--
COLLINS: That's easily clarified.
SEAMANS: I guess you'd better look that up. Maybe that's right.You know, I was a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Air Force. I remember going to quite a few of the meetings, when I was still working for RCA, but I thought I was a full board member then. It was after I got into NASA that it was felt I couldn't really be a full time board member.
COLLINS: I think the important point is, what is it you did as a consultant or member of the Scientific Advisory Board?
SEAMANS: Well, I was on their guidance panel. As I remember, they divided up into panels. And I remember one of the meetings happened to be out at Holliman Air Force Base, where they had the Sled, you know, where they could put Gs on that were comparable to the Gs you get when you take off in a rocket. They had a very elaborate system for testing inertial guidance and platforms and so on, on the Sled, to see what effect this large acceleration would have. I remember going out there for a meeting and reviewing the test data, and reviewing first of all the test set-up, and then the data they were getting.
We had a pretty good group on there. Let's see, Si Herwald was a member. He was vice president for engineering at Westinghouse. They would have meetings with the full board, and it must have been on the order of a hundred people on the full board. They'd usually pick a nice place like Tucson in the middle of winter or something, so that people didn't mind going. I remember, soon after Sputnik, one of the hard-liners in the Air Force had a three dimensional slide that showed Russian satellites ringing the earth, and how did we as individuals feel about this great web that was being woven overhead, and did this mean that we ought to be able to take some kind of offensive action.
I remember a guy coming up to me afterwards, it was a general officer whose name I forget, asking me if I felt that he sort of over-did the scare tactic in trying to whip up concern, and support for the Air Force--when I was on the board, this was soon after Sputnik--had put together a whole bunch of space projects. They were just gung ho to get in their fast and first, and to be the leader in this country of all space effort. There was a lot of promotional type effort that was going on at that time, I felt. I felt a little uncomfortable sometimes.
COLLINS: So in addition to serving on the guidance panel--
SEAMANS: They divide us up and placed us on a whole bunch of panels. There's the nuclear panel, that Johnnie Foster, Edward Teller, Harold Agnew, that particular type, and I can't remember what all the panels were, but I was on the guidance panel, looking at the guidance problems, and I remember we had quite a careful review of Minuteman, Benny Schriever coming in and talking to us about some of the difficult problems that they wereexperiencing, getting good enough equipment for the guidance problems that they were having--knowing precisely, where the targets were, you know, that kind of problem. There was sort of a world survey. If you're going to have that kind of missile, you've got to know what the coordinates are, where you are when you start and where you want to end up.
COLLINS: So the Air Force enthusiasm for space was coming from the officers and was directed towards the various panels and the Scientific Advisor.
SEAMANS: I'd say that was true, although I'll also say that the panel members, including myself, were also very interested in improving our posture.
COLLINS: Obviously this was another vehicle for you to meet other people in this area who were interested in the general question of space.
SEAMANS: Absolutely. Of course, RCA was very good about it, I must say. They were of course very intrigued with the fact that there weren't too many people in RCA who were also attending governmental kinds of conferences at the level either with NASA or the Air Force. But they would never press me to come up with, you know, what's the next big job going to be? They left it up to my judgment as to what I could discuss appropriately and what I couldn't. So I never had any problem of that sort when I was working for RCA.
COLLINS: What was the representation from industry on NACA boards or the Air Force Advisory Board? Was it relatively rare?
SEAMANS: No, I'd say it was possibly 50-50, something like that, university and industry. There was some government participation. Particularly I know on the NACA, there would always be--I'm trying to think if we had all services. No, we didn't. We always had somebody from the Bureau of Aeronautics, and I think we always had somebody from the Air Force, ex officio on the committee.
COLLINS: For the working group on instrumentation, do you recall the general kind of characterization of the technology, the needs?
SEAMANS: Well, obviously one of the needs was precise stabilization, and the question of what kind of sensors were available, and whether to have inertial wheels or jets, what's going to do the positioning. I guess the technology wasn't so very different in concept than it is today, really. Of course, the biggest most fundamental change has really been in electronics.
COLLINS: But the sense that came out of the working group was that the technology that was required was either in hand or soon would be developed. For instrumentation.
SEAMANS: For at least the first round. I'm trying to remember whether we got into gravity gradient kind of stabilization and things of that sort. As I remember it, the concepts really haven't changed an awful lot from then till now. I'll think about that a little more.
COLLINS: I think we'd like to move now to gain a sense of what you encountered when you first came to NASA, especially how you began to educate yourself about what needed to be done in the world of the associate administrator.
SEAMANS: All right. I guess the most important point to make is that Keith Glennan had given this matter a lot of thought. He suggested that when I joined NASA, which I did on the 1st of September, that I spend essentially the month of September to get to know NASA, that I proceed by a combination of visitations to the various centers, and in addition, have Dick Horner available as to the extent I wished. That was really a wonderful thing to do. It was a little tough on my family, because they were moving down from Boston without too much advanced preparation, and I wasn't there to meet them and help them get moved in to our new house.
Prior to the lst of September, there were several occasions and several ways of finding out about the NASA program. One was, of course, right here in Cambridge. Doc Draper and the Instrumentation Lab had not participated too directly in the program. They had a lot of ideas of things that might be done by the Instrumentation Lab to further the space effort. Doc had set up a fellow named Milt Traygasser to spearhead their space station. Doc was very anxious to tell me all about the problems that he'd encountered in trying to help out in the space program, and it basically revolved around the fact that any work that came to his lab was by overall decree to come out of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The two labs were somewhat competitive, so the Jet Propulsion Lab had a little bit the stance that "We'll do the thinking out here at JPL, and if we want you to make something, we'll tell you what we want you to make." So that was a stand-off. I ran into that issue immediately before I even signed on. There was a conference in Washington for two or three days in either late July or early August, where the various NASA programs were discussed with industry, and Keith invited me to attend, which I did. I attended at the same time that my wife found a house for us to live in. So I had the benefit of those few days, and of course, I knew a reasonable number of the people who were involved in the space program.
I'd known Abe Silverstein for a long time. I knew Bob Gilruth and so on. But the trips to the centers were very helpful, and whatever center I went to, I should say, I would be joined by the headquarters program director who was responsible for what was going on there. So when I went to see the Marshall Center, Don Ostrander, who was in charge of launch vehicles, would be present throughout, and when I went out to JPL, Abe Silverstein would be there with me because he was responsible for the lunar and planetary programs and so on. I knew Langley really quite well, and that's the first place I went, and I knew Tommy Thompson and I met John Hubolt, who was the guy who came up with the idea of lunar orbit rendezvous.
It was very low key, just four or five of us in a small conference room with one or two charts. We spent an hour or so discussing his idea of lunar orbit rendezvous which, you know, had remarkable similarity to the approach that we'd been thinking of in RCA on satellite interception. Clearly the lunar take-off vehicle had to go into a maneuver very similar to what we'd been working on, if the two astronauts were going to join forces with the vehicle that had been left in orbit and then come home.
COLLINS: Hubolt presented this to you during this first visit to Langley?
SEAMANS: Yes. Probably a year and a half later, he wrote me a letter reminding me of the meeting and wanting to know if we were considering lunar orbit rendezvous as one of the modes for going to the moon, and we weren't. This is jumping ahead, but he wrote a pretty good note, and I appended a short note to it to Brainerd Holmes, who was by then on the job, saying, "This is a pretty attractive way of going about it. I'd like to have you consider it along with direct descent and earth orbit rendezvous." But we'll come to that later. Going to Marshall was fascinating. I'd never been there. I'd never met von Braun or any of his group, and I was intrigued by the fact that when I got there von Braun wasn't there but all his lieutenants were.
Not too long after we'd started discussing the program, Wernher came in, and he clearly dominated the scene thereafter. He spent time that day and I guess the next showing me around. I remember being impressed with what might appear to be a little thing, but I thought it was quite significant. When we got out to one of the gantry elevators, to go up and take a look at a rocket, there were some workmen who were waiting to get on, and when they saw Wernher, they all backed off.
There was a great big black construction worker, and Wernher put his arm around him and said, "You're the guys doing the work, come on, you get in the elevator with us," and we went up in the gantry. He was an amazing presence. He had an amazing presence. He was very much of an extrovert, and he made a very favorableimpression on me.
In general the impressions were favorable wherever I went. It was a remarkable organization, and of course, at that time, Marshall was still not officially part of NASA, although they were working on the NASA program. It wasn't until a month or two later that Keith Glennan and Eisenhower went down to Huntsville and dedicated that center, and it officially became the George Marshall Space Center.
Keith had the custom of meeting about every six months to discuss where we was and where the program was going; what the big issues were, you know, I guess three day meetings. So it was some time in October that we went down to Wiliamsburg for such a meeting, and Keith wanted me to be on the program, and to present for 45 minutes impressions of a new associate administrator. Needless to say, I gave considerable thought to what I was going to say. There were maybe 50 people there, the key people, you know, the von Brauns, the Silversteins, the Gilruths and so on, and I thought quite a bit about it.
By then I'd been exposed to the management techniques that Dick Horner had put into play. He had a whole room in our headquarters with more charts than you've ever seen. These charts would show what's supposed to happen when on each one of the projects, but I knew that these charts didn't seem to be used very often, maybe didn't have too much bearing on what was really going on.
The question was, what should be the proper give and take between the general manager of the enterprise and all these projects? There was just a tremendous amount going on. Of course some projects were small then, but they were obviously going to get pretty big before they were over. So I thought quite a bit about it, and tried to put it in some kind of order.
But just for fun at the very start, trying to start off in a somewhat light-hearted way, I told first about RCA. I said at RCA, we made a fetish really of calling each other by first names and nicknames, and I actually mentioned the fact that one of the senior vice presidents of RCA had a nickname Pinky, and I had trouble actually calling him Pinky but I finally got used to it. But I said I was impressed, when I went around NASA, that things were really quite formal.
Afterwards everybody rushed up at the cocktail hour, and they made a point of callng me Bob, and Eberhardt came up and he called me Bob with his German accent, and he said, "You might be interested to know that just the other day, Wernher said I could call him Wernher," and I said, "Do you mean to say you've been working with him for, whatever it is, twenty years and you've been calling him Dr. von Braun?" He said, "No, Herr Dr. vonBraun." It gave quite a bit of insight into the organization. It was, how do I phrase it? The organization had a lot of dignity and a lot of authority behind it. It was not quite a military organization, but there were definite lines of command and so on.
COLLINS: Was this a reflection of Dr. Glennan's approach, or was it the NACA heritage?
SEAMANS: Both--but of course, it had the German heritage, which had coincided very well with the Army heritage, starting with Maderas and that whole effort. It wasn't quite as true at JPL, which had somewhat more of a university background, but really wasn't terribly close to Caltech. But Keith himself definitely knew who was in charge, and it affected everybody else. So it was obviously a very exciting period of time, and it wasn't very long after that October meeting that we had our general election.
I had not been exposed to Nixon. I'd never met him during this whole period. But I went with Keith on several occasions to meetings that involved Eisenhower. I went to a Cabinet meeting, where the space program was discussed. I went to a meeting after the election, when we discussed communication satellites, and I think there was one other meeting.
I guess the most interesting one was the Cabinet meeting, because it started off with Kistiakowsky giving a presentation of a PSAC study on the feasibility and cost of a manned lunar landing, and he ended up by saying that the estimate obviously was not precise but it was on the order of 20 to 40 billion dollars. Maybe I've told you this too, but the Cabinet members, good solid Republican Cabinet members, went "Oh!" and gasped.
Somebody said, "I suppose if we gave them the go-ahead to go to the moon, then pretty soon they'd want to go to the planets." Then Eisenhower I know said, "I wish somebody could tell me, what is the right kind of space effort for a billion dollars a year?" The budget request that was being put together at that time was for 1.09 billion. I don't remember whether Keith said, "That is about what the program we have today is, Sir."
The reason I was there was of course for the Kistiakowsky presentation. Keith had one shot, following this discussion. That was the chance he had to point out that we're already talking about a billion dollars for the next budget request. Right after that, we went over, I mean within a day or two, and saw Maurice Stans, who was the Director of the Budget, as he was then called and Keith had two things he wanted changed in the budget. He thought that with all that was going on, that any administrator of NASA should have an emergency fund of roughly 5 percent, and so he wanted Maurice Stans to put in another 50 million dollars for that purpose.
Maurie Stans said, "Come on, Keith, get off it, no way." I guess Keith probably knew that was going to be the reaction. But anyway, then he said, "It's important that we get going with our communications satellite." We had the Echo balloon, by then in orbit, which was used for bouncing signals. You could say that was a communications satellite, but he was talking about an actual repeater type satellite for communication purposes, which you may remember, the military already had under development, the so-called Advent Project.
But Keith felt that there should be something on the civilian side going on, and Maurie Stans said, "Well, I agree that there should be something going on, but it should not be funded by the government, although the government must participate." So he said, "What we will show in the budget is 10 million dollars for an active communication system, but we'll show that that's being reimbursed from the private sector."
So it was a net wash on the whole budget. That was the subject that Keith took over to discuss with Eisenhower, at a later date when I was present--Keith and myself and Eisenhower and Eisenhower's exec Andy Goodpaster and we discussed it pro and con; but Keith did not win his point. That's the way it stayed. That's the way it went into the budget, the Eisenhower budget, as a wash, but there was 10 million there for a communication satellite.
COLLINS: Do you recall from that meeting, did Eisenhower have a strong feeling one way or the other about the development of civilian communication satellites?
SEAMANS: I think, at that point, the election had taken place, and really the discussion more revolved around what Joe Kennedy was going to try to get his son to do when he became President, more than anything else. Eisenhower was very, very unhappy at that prospect. But he was very honorable about it, and said, "You know, our responsibility is to leave everything in the best posture that we can so that the next administration can take effectively take it over." I'll bet Keith discussed this, if you've gone through that with him, because he reminded me of it just the other day when he called me on something else.
Keith really worked hard to try to put together position papers on various subjects, including communications. I think the unhappy truth is that nobody paid much attention to them, in the next administration. What Keith hoped would happen was that somebody would be selected before the inauguration who could be working with him, so that there would be a smooth transition. He told me on the phone--I don't know how it came up, just the other day that, and I knew it anyway--he said, "There wasn't supposed to be any discussion with the new administration unless it was asked for and cleared through Persons," who was working forEisenhower, and Keith finally felt so strongly about it, he called Persons on the phone and said, "Look, I'm telling you I'm going to do this, and I'm not asking your permission, I'm going to do it, period, so just listen to what I'm going to do. I know Lyndon Johnson because he was the chairman of our authorization committee, and I just feel impelled to call him on the phone and just see where things stand with regard to a new administrator and so on."
So Keith did this, and he got Johnson on the phone, and he said to Johnson, I don't know what he called him then, it wasn't quite Vice President, but maybe he called him Senator, "Here we are, in NASA, the sixth largest agency from the standpoint of budget in the government, and we're still waiting to have an administrator selected, and I just want you to know that I want to do anything I can to help during this transition." Johnson said, "That is very kind of you, Doctor. If there's anything that you can do to help, we'll get in touch with you." Click! That's all that ever came of that.
COLLINS: As someone who stayed with the agency from one administration to another, I've never been entirely clear on why there was this discontinuity, if you will, this sense that somehow the new administration was not going to communicate with the old administration about what to do next, what was going to happen with the space program.
SEAMANS: Well, Keith also told me on the phone, he really called on something else, that, he said, "Did you see the Op Ed page that Jerry Wiesner just wrote on arms control and verification?" I said, "No, I didn't." He said, "It was very good. I wrote Jerry a letter to tell him so, but you remember what happened during the transition, when Jerry was in charge of the committee to study what the Kennedy Administration should do about the missile gap and space?" I said, "I certainly do." The report they came out with ought to be in the record.
They really lacerated Hugh Dryden, when they talked about the need to have new, young, virile, imaginative people--you know, the implication was that Hugh was old and doddering and so on. A lot of this stuff was leaking out from the committee all the time, and so we knew major changes were being considered. I remember going off and having lunch with Johnny Johnson, who was our general counsel, and saying, "Do you suppose they're even thinking of absorbing NASA back into the Department of Defense?" Johnny said, "Well, they may be thinking about it, but if they should try, they won't get away with it."
Well, they weren't thinking of that. For various reasons, the Kennedy Administration had great difficulty in finding somebody who would actually take the job of administrator and evidently they went through quite a list of people, and thenumber you keep hearing is nine. Now, I've never known who they talked to. But they had to dragoon Jim to get him to take it finally--first Bob Kerr, I guess, talked to him and then Lyndon Johnson talked, and they finally got him in to see Kennedy. When Kennedy asked him, words to the effect, "Well, when the President asks me, how can I refuse?"
But he did it with one stipulation, at least one, namely, that Hugh Dryden would stay. But it was something that cut pretty deep, as far as Keith was concerned, because you know he had really tried. I guess Eisenhower, at the first Cabinet meeting after the election, which I guess Keith attended even though he wasn't a Cabinet member, had talked about the need to do all they could for the transition, and I think he even led them in prayer, from what I've heard. It was a very public spirited objective they all tried to perform, and then the marbles weren't picked up. That very last day, the day before the inauguration, Keith was in the office at, I guess it was quarter to 5. And at that point, we found a bottle of sherry, and we all had a couple of drinks, to toast Keith for the job he'd done, and out the door he went into a blizzard. Keith, I'm sure, still remembers that very, very vividly.
COLLINS: Thank you very much.