OHP Title banner
Martin J. Collins
Jo Ann Bailey and Patricia Fredericks



This catalog describes the contents of several oral history projects conducted within the Department of Space History, National Air and Space Museum, over the period 1981 through 1990. These projects include:
  • the Space Astronomy Oral History Project (SAOHP)
  • the Space Telescope History Project (STHP)
  • the Glennan-Webb-Seamans Project for Research in Space History (GWS)
  • the RAND History Project (RAND)
  • In addition, the catalogue contains a group of interviews on the development of missiles at Peenemünde. These interview sets were created by curators and historians at the museum as part of individual research projects, but also with the intention of securing the recollections and insights of historical participants for preservation and use by other scholars. Each project had different origins. The STHP interviews, for example, were part of a contract history with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), while the GWS had its genesis in discussions with James E. Webb, second administrator of NASA, on the need for documenting the early years of civilian space activity. 1

    Each interview was audio-tape recorded, transcribed, edited, and provided with an abstract and table of contents. This catalog is a compilation of individual interview abstracts and tables of content. In total, the catalog describes over 850 hours of oral history interviews with more than 200 interviewees. This catalog supersedes an earlier catalog covering only the SAOHP published in 1985.


    The interview sets contained in this catalog represent an exploration of the complex topography of science and technology in the United States after World War II, with special emphasis on the development of the space sciences; the creation of an extended scientific and technical advisory apparatus to NASA and the military; and management and political themes in space history. Each interview set focuses on a particular nexus of institutions, experts, and political decision-making. Together they comprise a set of case studies, providing detailed insights and highlighting common threads in the organization of postwar science and technology.

    These oral histories bear on a central problem of contemporary historiography: the relationship among science, technology, and the state. The researchers who conducted the interviews decsribed in this catalog have been concerned with articulating useful strategies for understanding circumstances key to the postwar period--the close interaction among the institutions of science, technology, and politics, and among knowledge, practice, political interests, and funding. The oral histories have drawn on the recent, substantial body of historiographic literature in the field to suggest critical problems and questions. An earlier historiographic view of science and technology as socially autonomous activities (either in the Mertonian sense as independent social institutions or as cognitively independent domains of knowledge) seemed inadequate to the complexities of the postwar period. More productive were recent researches interpreting science and technology as processes of knowledge acquisition and as social enterprises. One element of this literature useful for studying the history of U.S. space programs has been an exploration of how to describe and account for the interpenetration of science, technology, and society, and how these specialized forms of knowledge have achieved distinctive status in modern society. These explorations have raised basic problems, suggesting new ways of analyzing what counts as science and technology, and, thereby, the perceived boundaries between science and technology and other social activity. Where such boundaries may be identified, the problem (from the historiographic perspective of this literature) has been to account for how they were constructed by relevant actors, not to regard them as a priori natural. Viewing science and technology in this light suggests different perspectives and questions, such as how knowledge production may be affected by the interests of sponsors, politics, or the marketplace, as well as the corollary problem of how knowledge production, the disciplines, and professions may serve as instruments in reconstituting social relations.2

    This historiographic shift has important implications for the practice of oral history.3
    A narrow focus on theory and problem-solving in the laboratory or on scientists, engineers, and their professional organizations would not capture the varied professional roles of modern scientists nor the network of institutional connections linking science, technology, and the federal government after World War II. Current historiography does not regard these points of emphasis as antagonistic. Rather the laboratory may be perceived as a nexus in which scientific and technical practice intersect with other institutions, interests, and politics.4

    A working assumption of these interview sets is that modern science and technology as embodied in space and national security activities are most usefully seen through several interdependent lenses: as specialized research and practice, as social institutions and networks, and as a venue for interest group and electoral politics. The interaction of scientists, universities, and professional organizations; government agencies and offices ranging from the military services and NASA to Congress to White House and the Office of Mangement and Budget; and the aerospace industry and its trade associations are all potentially germane to understanding the relation among science, technology, and government in postwar America. Each element of this matrix has had an interest in shaping policy, the fate of particular programs, the choice of specific technologies, the content and direction of research, and in configuring relations that affect the distribution of resources and power.

    As the interviews in this catalog were collected over a decade, the historiographic toolkits of the principal investigators evolved over time. Interviews conducted in the early 1980s as part of the SAOHP were more narrowly focused on scientists, researches and experiments, and their institutional settings.5 Changing historiographical perspectives were increasingly incorporated into later projects as interviewers became more familiar with the recent literature. Equally important, however, was the experience gained by conducting and analyzing interviews as oral history projects progressed. The interviews themselves provided the grounds for applying the perspectives of recent research in the history of science and technology. The ways in which scientists, engineers, managers, and others described their actions, in outline, were represented more fully in the newer historiography than in the old. In turn, the interviews conducted provided insights into the strengths and shortcomings of the historiographies employed.

    While the principal investigators for each of the interview sets differed in the details of how to describe the activities of science and technology in the postwar period, each did share common points of orientation derived from more recent historiographical perspectives. One was an openess toward what counted as scientific and technical activity and toward what scientists and engineers do in their work. The functions of managing, advising, or lobbying were regarded as potentially of as much interest as theorizing and experimenting. In the postwar period, the former activities often helped to define the context within which the later took place. The second commonality was to see the extensive network of institutional linkages characteristic of the postwar period as a phenomenon to be studied. This entailed crafting oral history projects to include interviews with individuals from relevant parts of a network (for example, from government agencies, Congress, and industry) who played different roles in shaping the relationship among science, technology, and the state. The third commonality, given the institutional complexity characteristic of space and defense projects, was to interview individuals at different levels of organizational hierarchies. Such effort was, in part, designed to capture the contributions of different functional roles, but also to contrast the perceptions of those who "did the work" with those whose responsibilities were more managerial or concerned with relations with other institutions. A final shared perspective was an appreciation that individual research sites, agencies, or offices often had unique cultures or styles that were expressive of their approach to organization, problem-solving, and interaction with other institutions or the larger political culture. Given the close interaction between such entities and national bodies of policy and decision-making in the postwar period, local cultures and practices could be critical to understanding larger patterns of institutional relations as well as scientific, technical, or political change.

    These historiographic points of orientation, in sum, encouraged selection of a range of interview candidates who performed distinctive roles in defining relations among science, technology, and the federal government. They also directed questioning toward the multiple roles (and their interrelation) that scientists, engineers, program managers, administrators, and other actors performed in their work. Since the interview sets are case studies with particular goals and limitations, each exhibits a different distribution of interview subjects, based on the particulars of the historical episode investigated, the accessibility of interviewees, the resources available for conducting interviews, and the principal investigator's research aims. Each gives varying emphasis to questions that probe work activities, roles, and perceptions of relations to other professionals and institutions. A brief outline of thematic foci and contributions for each of the interview sets follows.


    The Space Astronomy Oral History Project

    The SAOHP examines the early use of rockets and satellites over the period 1946 through the early 1960s to study the upper atmosphere and space. The interview set contains 225 hours of interviews with 56 individuals. The focus of this collection is how the availability of new technologies, first the rocket and later satellites, helped to create a new institutional framework for research. The key elements of this framework were parts of the military, such as the Office of Naval Research and the Naval Research Laboratory, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, the Army's White Sands Proving Ground, and the Air Force Cambridge Research Center; a small group of universities and scientists, such as the University of Iowa and James Van Allen; research coordinating bodies such as the Upper Air Rocket Research Panel; and, at the end of the 1950s, NASA. The new technologies attracted a specific group of researchers: primarily physicists, civilian or military, who had an attachment with military laboratories, such as the Naval Research Laboratory or the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. Traditional astronomers were initially not inclined to pursue research via rocket or satellite. The new technologies carried a greater risk than those associated with observatory practice. The rocket was a fragile, unreliable device, posed special challenges as a laboratory platform, and space itself was a harsh environment for which to design effective instruments. Scientific research had a close interdependence with specific technical problems, ranging from the availability of rockets of adequate lifting capability and reliability to the development of accurate satellite pointing controls, essential for useful observation.

    This framework linking scientific research and rockets in the postwar period developed from a mutual interest in retaining scientific and technical expertise as a military resource, an arrangement which deepened as the Cold War intensified in the 1950s. Support of science using rockets and satellites was one means of advancing these new, complex technologies. Such support also served to define a set of mutually beneficiary (but sometimes contested) relations between the research communities and the military. Each side brought something to the table. The scientists brought expertise; the military brought a high level of resources, by prewar standards, and the politics of national security. The military provided the rockets, their accompanying technical and administrative infrastructure, as well as support for military laboratories and for university-based scientists. This scale of investment could only be provided through the government and could only be mobilized due to the political exigencies of the Cold War. The interaction between the practice of science and the needs of the military in this field is still an area for study. The interviews do suggest that the research domain of the space sciences, while building on prewar concerns of physics and astronomy, was strongly shaped by problems of special interest to the military.6

    In this early period after the war, the emerging, small community of space science researchers had a relatively informal relationship with their sponsors, of which the Navy was key. Research was small-scale. Experiments while technically ingenious were not complex, nor were they expensive by later standards. The professional mechanisms for regulating the early space sciences reflected these factors. The process of submitting proposals for experiments, of reviewing and selecting proposals, and of awarding grants and contracts was based on personal relationships and direct participation in such coordinating groups as the Upper Air and Rocket Research Panel. The smallness of the research community and its close and informal ties with the military gave this period a distinctive character, and laid the professional and institutional foundations for the greatly increased level of space activity that followed Sputnik. The narrative threads suggested by the SAOHP interviews bear comparison with developments in other research fields closely allied with the military. The interviews demonstrate that the space sciences were part of the larger transformation of the relations of science and technology with the military. part of the larger drama of science, technology, and the military in the early Cold War.

    SAOHP Table of Content:
    A - F (132 k) || G - N (134 k) || O - S (134 k) || T - Z (148 k)

    The Space Telescope History Project

    STHP, too, is an examination of the space sciences, predominantly astronomy, from the 1970s through the mid-1980s, but viewed through the lens of a particular undertaking, the Hubble Space Telescope. This topic is documented through 235 hours of interviews with 80 individuals. By the time of active planning for the Hubble (first called the Large Space Telescope, then simply Space Telescope), research implemented via space technologies had become part of astronomy's reportoire. These interviews, then, mark a different stage in astronomy and the space sciences. The principal problem here was not legitimating space-based research but rather configuring new working relations among the space sciences and sponsors. In part, this shift was a consequence of the more complex political framework within which space sciences were situated after the 1960s.7

    The Hubble represented a pronounced trend away from the comparatively small-scale research characteristic of the space sciences in early years of the postwar period. Hubble, like the building of massive particle accelerators in physics, was "Big Science," and was embedded in a more complex political economy. Here the primary sponsor was the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which with its establishment in 1958 managed nearly all of the support for space science. By the time of Hubble, the space sciences were distinguished by several well-organized research communities, of which optical, ultraviolet, and planetary astronmers were central for the telescope. Each had distinct interests, which occassionally came into conflict, especially when there was competition for limited payload space and funds. Each had built highly formalized ties to NASA through the establishment of advisory and review boards for planning research projects, and for evaluating and selecting proposals of scientists. This formalized, mutual interdependence of NASA and space science communities distinguished the Hubble era from the early period.

    A more important distinction, however, was that the Hubble, as "Big Science," required substantial federal appropriations. The ability to implement the project was not just a matter of agreement between NASA and relevant scientific communities, but equally a challenge of building and maintaining a consensus in Congress and the Office of Management and Budget over a period of years. The Hubble, in its politics, was akin to a military weapons system. As with a weapons system, Hubble meant jobs in congressional districts, both through industrial contracts and work for NASA field centers such as Marshall and Goddard. As with a weapons systems, the telescope could be presented in persuasive public rhetoric: the benefits of science rather than the necessities of national security. The cost of Hubble (which would eventually approach 2.5 billion dollars), of course, meant that it would have detractors among scientists and Congress. But it also meant that the project would have powerful allies among those who would benefit. It was this basic political calculus which encouraged both NASA and some in the space science community to define research in terms of very large projects--not just in optical astronomy but in other areas as well. The chances for marshalling congressional support were perceived to be greater. A key feature of the Hubble story revealed in the interviews is that scientists themselves were critical actors in organizing the network of political support that would sustain the project. The astronomical community associated with Hubble, in short, learned how to behave as a political interest group and move the legislative process to a favorable result.

    The political economy of the Hubble extended beyond congressional interest group dynamics and success in the annual budget wars. The telescope as built (its design, capabilities, and objectives) became a concrete representation of relations and conflicts among scientists, NASA, the military, the Office of Management and Budget, and industrial contractors. The telescope's political fortune and technical design, for example, were linked to the struggle over NASA's Space Transportation Vehicle (Shuttle), the major manned effort to succeed the Apollo program. One element of building support for the Shuttle was to identify payloads, such as the Hubble, which would use the new launch vehicle. Hubble had to be designed to be launched aboard the Shuttle. But the key determinant of Shuttle payload design was creating a craft that would serve military needs, since the Shuttle was to be the primary launch vehicle for both military and civilian space programs. The linkage of the Hubble design to the military was even more intimate. The optical technologies required for the Hubble primary telescope were most fully developed in military recconaissance satellites of the KH series. The close connection between military technology and the Hubble was evident in the selection of contractors to build critical parts of the telescope. Lockheed was responsible for building the spacecraft structure and for systems integration and Perkin Elmer (now Hughes Danbury Optical Systems) was responsible for building the primary mirror. These companies had previously undertaken similar technical roles in the military reconnaissance program. One of the special contributions of the STHP interview set is its exploration of the work of these contractors and their interaction with NASA and the science community.

    The STHP interviews map a broad professional and institutional terrain covering scientists, universities, a myriad of advisory and planning groups, and professional organizations; NASA, its offices, and field centers; Congress and the Office of Management and Budget; and aerospace contractors. They examine how scientific and technical judgments on the design and operation of the telescope intersected with traditional politics and the politics of key institutions, as well as the marketplace. An example of the former is the linkage of the overall telescope configuration with the politics of the Shuttle. An example of the latter is the interplay of the military, NASA, electronics manufacturers, and scientists in the selection of charged couple devices over competing technologies as the key sensor technology for the telescope. Political interests and scientific and technical judgments were inextricably linked in technologies of the telescope. Particular choices were the result of negotiations and confrontations among the relevant interests. Perhaps the most useful insight of the STHP interviews is the multifaceted ways in which science, technology, and politics intersect in "Big Science."

    STHP Table of Content:
    A - B (104 k) || C - G (158 k) || H - K (83 k) || L - N (84 k)
    O - Sh (119 k) || Si- Z (132 k)

    The Glennan-Webb-Seamans Project for Research in Space History

    This interview set takes a different focus from the SAOHP and STHP. In the latter, the principal focus is on science and its institutions. In the GWS, the emphasis is on NASA management practice during the Apollo program. While science has been an important element of U.S. space programs, substantially more resources have been devoted to other activities such as manned space flight and military applications. These programs have been instrumental in defining the overall structure of the space effort as well as the practices of key organizations such as NASA and relations among the military, NASA, and the aerospace industry. A working assumption of this research effort was that administration and management in NASA were a means by which broad policy and political goals of the President and Congress were to be translated into specific technical achievements, such as landing men on the moon. The role of management is explored through 193 hours of interviews with 22 individuals.

    Management practice at NASA had two inter-related purposes, one directed toward external relations, the other toward building and operating space technologies. Management practice was to sustain and advance the political decisions and Cold War goals which made the space program possible. At the same time, such practice was crafted to organize, direct, and control the myriad resources required to implement a program in space. These dual concerns could be found in a number of practices that have been part of the stock and trade of modern bureaucracies. These included designing organizational structures, particularly between NASA headquarters and NASA field centers; defining authority for making key managerial or technical decisions; gathering and controlling information; establishing criteria for project management; reviewing and selecting contractors for major projects; and specifying the types of contracts offered to industry; and others. These practices defined relations among managers at different levels of the bureaucratic hierarchies, as well as the relations between those responsible for policy, planning, and external relations and those who carried out the nitty-gritty implementation of projects. They were part of the contentious process of defining and allocating authority and power in the organization. And given the special leverage that NASA and the military had as the buyers of specialized hardware and services from the aerospace industry, some of these practices were instrumental in defining the government-industry relationship and corporate organization and programs. Management practice in the operating agencies, such as NASA, was one means by which government organized and controlled the resources of science and technology for particular ends.

    The interviews examine various aspect of NASA's management practice in the Apollo program, taking a vertical slice through the organization from NASA's top management in headquarters to management in the NASA field centers. A strategy of the GWS was to interview intensively (over 10 hours) key individuals to explore fully the ways in which management practices integrated scientfic and technical with political concerns. The institutional cross-section of NASA was then juxtaposed with interviews of the agency's industry contractors to assess differences in mangement practice as well as their perceptions of the NASA-industry relationship, especially as compared with industry's relations with the military. One finding of the interviews was that NASA's working arrangements with industry differed in important respects from military practice. NASA attempted to use its field centers as sources of technical knowledge which would direct the design, development, and production work of industry. The military tended to give more latitude to industry's technical expertise. Another theme was to trace the historical connection between NASA's management practices with those employed by the Air Force in the ballistic missile program. Several of NASA's key personnel were originally trained in the ballistic missile program and imported military techniques of program management into Apollo. Such techniques for controlling technical design, research and development, systems integration, testing and evaluation, and contract management were important tools for linking together, coordinating, and controlling the myriad government, industry, and academic institutional sites involved in Apollo. These techniques provided a means of centralizing control over work distributed across private and public instituions and dispersed across the country. Additional practices developed by the NASA Administrator (such as selection of contractors for major projects) supplemented these, and made them responsive to the larger political environment.

    Given the extensive size of the Apollo program, the GWS interview set is only an initial exploration of management practices in "Big Technology" sponsored by government.

    GWS Table of Content: A - I (130 k) || J - R (82 k) || S - Z (116 k)

    The RAND History Project

    The RAND interview set has a more limited scope than the preceding projects. It is a dual institutional study of the RAND Corporation and its military sponsor, the Air Force. This collection covers the period 1945 through the early 1960s and consists of 104 hours of interviews with 29 individuals. The RAND interviews were conceived as another angle of inquiry on the relations between expert knowledge and the military in the early Cold War. RAND drew together engineers, scientists, and mathematicians whose specialities were oriented toward military hardware design and the physical sciences and sociologists, political scientists, economists, pschologists, and other social science and humanities specialists. All were organized within a single institution to study the problem of warfare in the Cold War, especially from the perspective of the Air Force. The principal question which this interview set addresses is what motivated and sustained Air Force, industry, and academic interest in organizing this range of expertise through the creation of a new institution supported by service funds. This led to an examination of how RAND organized its research activity, defined its research domain, identified problems of interest, integrated the "hard" and "soft" sciences, and how RAND and the Air Force structured their relationship.

    Central to the RAND enterprise was the study of military technologies (the atomic bomb, the long-range bomber, the ballistic missile, computers for defense systems, as examples) and their application to fighting a war against the Soviet Union. This focus defined broadly the domain of research and linked together the various disciplines housed at RAND. An important theme of the RAND interviews is how disciplines, which were originally defined in an academic context, were constituted in this new environment defined by military problems of the Cold War and a military culture of secrecy and classification. The Mertonian norms associated with science in academia were only partially operative in this new research setting. One aspect of the interviews has been to probe widely expressed RAND cultural values of "independence" and "objectivity" in its relation with the Air Force, values that attempted to link the corporation with traditional academic institutions.

    Equally important, RAND's focus on the technologies of war also spurred a concern with the large bureaucracies (military and industry) that produced and operated these devices, and, in turn, a concern with the economic structures and political culture that were instrumental to both. All of these interlocking institutions and relationships, some researchers at RAND felt, needed careful scrutiny if the nation was to address the central problem of the Cold War: how best to fight a war with the Soviet Union, given particular technologies of the present, those likely in the future, and the resources of the nation that the Air Force could claim. The Cold War, as was commonly observed by the participants, was a contest of competing societies, not just of opposing militaries. A substantial part of the RAND effort was to elaborate the profound implications of this view. It encompassed technical studies of hardware but also focused on the adaptation of existing institutions (military, the aerospace industry, the economy) to better serve the goal of warfighting. Such adaptations were directed at key functional areas of the military enterprise such as procurement of weapons; the administrative tasks of planning, programming, and budgeting; logistics; as well as the more well-studied area of nuclear strategy. The implications of the Cold War also led RAND to study larger sets of social relations, such as those between the military and the economy to ascertain the possible effects of various levels of defense spending. In their breadth, the RAND studies were an important statement of the potential of the Cold War to transform American society. The interviews have been used to explore RAND's work in these various areas as well as gather staff perceptions of the RAND mission and its significance.

    The RAND interviews also have explored how science and technology were conceived in this new research setting. In particular, the interviews have examined how methods of organizing, analyzing, and creating knowledge were perceived to apply to the domain of military problems. RAND was perhaps most well-known for crafting tools that were intended to transform military decision-making from an art into a science, from a practice based on the experience of officers to a professional field with canons of rigor and testability. The most renowned of these tools was systems analysis. During its first decade RAND spent considerable effort to codify a set of anayltic tools which would move study of the military from a "subjective" to an "objective" practice. This attempt to "scientize" the study of military problems helped to legitimate RAND studies and recommendations to the Air Force and other audiences.

    In analyzing these and other topics, interviews have been conducted with individuals at different levels of the RAND organizational hierarchy ranging from the administration, department heads, project leaders, and individual researchers, as well as across disciplinary departments. A lesser number of interviews have been conducted with Air Force personnel connected with RAND.

    RAND Table of Content: A - K (95 k) || L - Z (82 k)


    This interview set examines the development of the German Peenemünde rocket complex from the early 1930s through World War II. The set consists of 39 hours of interviews with 13 individuals, and has special value from several perspectives. Peenemünde, with the support of the Nazi state, represented the first systematic effort to develop and use rocket technology. The interviews focus on issues of technical and management practice at the German rocket complex. Following the themes of the previous oral history sets, the Peenemünde interviews provide insight into the relations among science, technology, and government sponsorship, thus offering an opportunity for cross-national comparison. The Peenemünde case, of course, is also significant because of its link to the Cold War. The interviews suggest that Peenemünde provided organizational and technological models for subsequent Cold War efforts in the Soviet Union and United States. Knowledge and practices generated at Peenemünde migrated to the Cold War antagonists through the retention of German engineers and managers in both countries. The German legacy in the U.S., while a minor theme of the interviews, is especially germane for understanding aspects of military and civilian space programs.

    Peenemünde Table of Content: A - Z (107 k)


    It is important to note that these interviews do not purport to provide direct evidential access to the past. Conducting oral history interviews is a creative process. They are the product of the interaction of the interviewer and his/her knowledge and the interview subject and their memory. How interview subjects constitute memory, as individuals and as part of an oral history, has been a critical issue in the practice and use of oral history. A prominent view among oral history practioners is that memory is often instrumental. It may be characterized by the use of narratives which help to organize the complexity of the past and may serve specific personal and social purposes. As elicited through oral history, memory is not a simple representational mirror of past events. Researchers collecting interviews for this catalog have tried to respond to the different ways in which the past, memory and oral history may interact. Accounts of events, activities, and relationships may have historical value, but with the clear recognition that such accounts may be selective and organized according to certain interpretive perspectives. In this regard, oral history presents the same complexities as written evidence and needs to be scrutinized with the same canons of judgment. Interviews, of course, also embody the interpretive assumptions of the interviewer through the content and assumptions of the questions asked. Again, this is a historiographic issue that pertains equally to the interaction of scholar with written evidence.8

    What then is the value of oral history interviews? This question may be considered in several ways. Interviews stand as an expression of the narratives that scientists, engineers, managers, and others may use to organize their own experience and give it meaning. Such narratives often combine perspectives that focus on individual biography (linking choices and actions with personal values) and those that focus on their social and professional roles (which often correlate their work with professional norms, institutions, and other social structures). On this level, interviews represent how subjects present their own history. One goal of oral history, then, is to draw out these personal accounts, to identify and relate prevailing narratives, and to analyze them. In practice, the interviewer works with interviewees to present their narrtives and to get them to question and extend their accounts. Questions that provoke description and perceptions of process precede those that elicit perceptions of motivations and causes. The presence of a questioning interviewer distinguishes oral history from autobiography.

    This aspect of the dynamics of interviewing has two implications for oral history practice, both of which center on preparation for an interview through grounding in the relevant primary sources and secondary literature. Such preparation helps to identify prevailing narratives that professional groups utilize to organize their experience. In addition, careful preparation helps to identify documents that provide opportunities for questioning or unpacking narrative accounts.

    For the interview sets in this catalog, one organizing narrative common among scientists, engineers, and other professionals is the independence of scientific or technical practice from influences perceived to be external to the laboratory, such as the interests of a sponsor. Research agendas, approaches to problems, choice of instruments, the presentation and interpretation of research results, and other aspects of knowledge production are perceived to be separable and discrete from other social activities. Accounts of discovery, invention, or day-to-day laboratory practice often are structured by such assumptions. One goal of interviewing, then, is both to elicit this narrative and to examine its assumptions.

    Interviewing may also build upon the absence of organizing narratives in areas of activity recognized to be of consequence. A key example here is the perception of scientists and engineers that their professional activity had an important social component, especially as advisors, contractors, and sometimes employees of the government. The postwar period saw an acceptance and elaboration of such roles, as expert knowledge was actively incorporated into the management of the extensive national security and space enterprises of the federal government. But unlike work in the laboratory, professional activity in these social venues generally has not been defined by a well-articulated narrative. Rather these activities have been presented as what interviewees perceived them not to be. Their activities were neither part of the world of the laboratory, nor were they viewed as fully part of the life of government bureaucracies or of politics. Professional norms associated with the laboratory or disciplines were perceived to distinguish experts from bureaucrats and politicians. This narrative structure for presenting the experience of experts in the new public roles of the postwar period offers a different interviewing challenge from the case described above. Interview subjects are sensitive to the importance of their advisory, contract, and management activities, but the professional narratives used to organize and describe these experiences do not seem to be as well developed. Hence, the interviewer has a somewhat different role in this case, often working with the interview subjects to organize their experience.

    The evidential character of oral history may also be affected by other factors defining the relations among interviewers, subjects, and their memory. In the case of the STHP, many of the interviews covered very recent events, some of which were nearly contemporaneous with the oral history sessions. The ability to prepare analytic questions was limited in these circumstances. Interview subjects were asked to address broad topical areas with minimal interaction with the interviewer. The STHP interviews were also distinguished by the fact that they were, in a sense, anthropological. The project was designed to document in "real time" the development of the Hubble telescope as it was planned and built. The principal investigator was a participant-observer in the community that created the telescope. These oral histories should be contrasted with the other interview sets in the catalog, in which interviews typically cover events 20 to 50 years in the past. In the latter cases, the relationship between interviewer and interview subject was different and the presence of common organizing narratives seemed more prevalent.

    These points are offered as a brief reflection for the reader on the evidential status of these oral histories and on how memory and organizing narratives may interact with historiography and interview practice. The interviews offer perceptions of specific facts, personal and social relations, institutional cultures, ideologies, and other data. Their utility rests on an assessment (as with written documentation) of the credibility of the individuals for describing and interpreting the events of which they were a part, of the ends, personal or professional, which may have structured their memories, as well as on the research perspectives of the interviewers.


    As the above notes suggest, the interview projects were structured around sets of specific research issues. Questions for individual interviewees were developed within each project's framework of inquiry as well as through research into a person's activities and contributions in the primary and secondary literature. Interviews were structured to gather responses to particular events, issues, and topics but were conducted in a flexible conversational mode to follow interesting leads as they might arise. Many of the interviews at the beginning provide a biographical profile of the subject. Interview sessions were usually arranged at a subject's place of work or home to facilitate discussion and access to relevant documentation such as personal research and correspondence files. Multiple interviews over a period of time were conducted with some individuals. All interviews were audio-taped and then transcribed verbatim.

    The transcript is considered the primary document for scholarly use. Hence, the value of an oral history transcript depends on a responsible editorial policy as much as on the proper preparation for and conduct of an interview. In producing transcripts of the interviews, every effort is made in the editorial process to maintain original expression and content of the interview. After transcription, the interviews proceed through two editorial reviews. The first is by museum staff (usually the interviewer). The intent is only to verify the faithfulness of the transcription, to make obvious corrections and minor editorial chnages in order to increase accuracy and clarify meaning, and to indicate passages that need amplification by the interview subject.

    After this preliminary editing, the transcript and a set of permission forms are sent to the interviewee. This procedural step gives the individual the opportunity to review and reflect on statements which will become a permanent historical record of his of her views or activities. The interview subject is asked to check the transcript for accuracy, to respond to problem passages, and to answer questions raised by the interviewer in editing, and, if desired, to make additions (even lengthy ones) to the transcript. The interview subject is encouraged to preserve the spontaneity and candor of the original discussion. In editing, the individual is asked to keep in mind that the transcript is a record of a conversation and is not meant as a polished literary document. After reviewing the transcript, the interview subject specifies the conditions of access and use for the interview on the permission form, returns the permission form and transcript to the musuem.

    Upon receipt, the transcript is checked for coherence and readability. A table of contents and abstract are prepared, and footnotes added where needed in the transcript. The interview is then typed into final form, incorporating the editorial changes of the internal and external reviews.


    Within the catalog, each interview begins with a descriptive heder which indicates its access and use status. Access and use conditions range from public to permission required for access. Access to and use of oral history interviews is governed by the terms and conditions specified by interview subjects in their permission forms. Also, a few interviews described in this catalog have not yet been fully processed and hence are not available for research. All questions regarding the oral history collection should be directed to the Archives, National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C., 20560.


    The authors wish to thank the many staff members and project contractors who have contributed to the Oral History Project and to this catalog. We extend special thanks to two project volunteers, Sara Woodbury and Cloyd Dake Gull, for their thoughtful and generous dedication of time, good will, and skill to the activities of the museum. Finally, this catalog would not have been possible without the talents and collegiality of Dana Bell in the NASM Archives. He expertly bridged the incompatibilities of the numerous softwares the Oral History Project employed over the years. We could not have compiled this catalog without his skillful help.


    1. The principal investigator for the SAOHP was David H. Devorkin; for the STHP, Robert W. Smith; for RAND and GWS, Martin J. Collins; for the interviews on Peenemunde, Michael Neufeld. Other members of the Department of Space History and external scholars also have conducted interviews as part of these projects; their names may be found in the descriptive entries for each interview. The SAOHP was supported by grants from the Smithsonian Institution's Scholarly Studies Program and the Naval Research Laboratory; the STHP was supported by grants from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation; the GWS project was supported by individual, foundation, and corporate grants; and the RAND project was supported by the Smithsonian Institution's Scholarly Studies Program.

    2. The literature on the social studies of science and technology is now quite extensive. A useful, brief review of major interpretive perspectives is Susan Leigh Star, "Introduction: The Sociology of Science and Technology, Social Problems 35 (1988):197-205.

    3. For an introductory reflection on oral history and its relation to current historiography. See Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, "Oral History and the History of Science: A Review Essay with Speculations," International Journal of Oral History 10 (1989):270-285.

    4. Review of recent perspectives on the laboratory is see Jan Golinski, "The Theory of Practice and the Practice of Theory: Sociological Approaches in the History of Science," Isis 81 (1990):492-505. Another important review of literature on the laboratory, including discussion of the laboratory as a political site, is Timothy Lenoir, "Practice, Reason, Context," Science in Context 2 (1988):3-22.

    5. For a summary of the historiographic framework in SAOHP see "Introduction," in Space Astronomy Oral History Project Catalogue (Washington, D.C.: National Air and Space Museum, 1985). For a discussion of oral history practice in SAOHP see David H. DeVorkin, "Interviewing Physicists and Astronomers: Methods in Oral History," in Physicists Look Back: Studies in the History of Physics, John Roche, ed. (London: Adam Hilger, 1990).

    6. The themes delineated in the SAOHP have been most recently analyzed in David H. DeVorkin, Race to the Stratosphere: Manned Scientific Ballooning in America (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1989) and, more particularly, DeVorkin, Science with a Vengeance: How the Military Created the US Space Sciences After World War II (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1992).

    7. For the history of the Space Telescope and a discussion of historiographic issues see Robert W. Smith (with contributions by Paul A. Hanle, Robert Kargon, and Joseph N. Tatarewicz), The Space Telescope: A Study of NASA, Science, Technology, and Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989) and a paperback edition with additional material (Cambridge University Press, 1993).

    8. For a useful discussion of these points see Elizabeth Tonkin, Narrating Our Pasts: The Social Construction of Oral History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), especially chapter 7, and Michael H. Frisch, "The Face on the Cutting Room Floor: The Place of Practice in Changing Approaches to Historical Analysis," in Theory, Method, and Practice in Social and Cultural History, Peter Karsten and John Modell, eds. (New York: New York University Press,1992):181-198.


    Rev. 09/17/97, (vp)