Interviewer: Mr. Martin Collins

Interviewee: Dr. George Mueller

Location: National Air and Space Museum

Date: November 8, 1988


MR. MARTIN COLLINS: As a follow-on to some of our discussion about the management problems that you confronted and some of the systems and approaches that you implemented, I want to look at a specific issue that you had to grapple with, and that was the relationship between the space science activity and the manned spaceflight activity. Homer Newell characterizes this relationship as rather tense, and to summarize his point of view, I think he believes that the space scientists got short shrift in terms of funding, as well as control of the content and extent of the program. I wonder whether you might just make a general comment about your view of the relationship between the manned spaceflight activity and the space science activity.

DR. GEORGE MUELLER: Well, as you know, at least part of my background is in science and training in applied physics, so I had a great deal of sympathy for the scientific community and did my best to make sure that they were both adequately supported and were able to carry on a reasonably coherent supporting program for the Apollo. Clearly my major concern was to make sure the Apollo program would be successful because without that, NASA itself would not be successful, and so that was the first priority. But it was shortly after I came back to NASA that it was apparent that the scientific community did not understand that a major part of their funding was the result of the Apollo program, and it was not detracting from their funding but was rather augmenting their funding. We, however, had to defend it, a large part of that manned space science, as a part of the Apollo program in order to get the funding through Congress and the OMB and, in particular, the OMB. So that inevitably caused some friction, and particularly that was exacerbated by the external review authorities, the PSAC and the National Academy of Sciences. That eventually led to the establishment of the Science and Technology Advisory Committee to provide an interface into the scientific community that was separate and external to NASA, with a reasonable level of credibility within the scientific community. That was the committee headed up by Charlie Townes and had a number of people.

COLLINS: You're not talking about the planning activity later in the sixties, are you?

MUELLER: Well, I'm getting to it. It was the result of this influence that we set up the special Joint Manned Space Science Group within NASA, under their aegis. Because it was set up as a separate entity within the Space Science and Applications, which cut across many of the special areas, he calls them "fiefdoms," and therefore began to influence somewhat the direction of the science program. That created a fair amount of tension inside the Space Science organization itself. I suppose that's inevitable when you have a separate group working on a distinct set of problems that cut across the various individual projects.

COLLINS: This group being the Advisory Committee?

MUELLER: No, no, sorry, I was talking about the Manned Space Science group, the NASA group, now. The Advisory Committee provided the direction for what they believed were the important things that manned space science should accomplish in the Apollo mission, and they were the instigators, too, of the long-range planning activity that led to the agency plan for a Mars program, which was developed under Jim Webb and was promoted primarily by Tom Paine at the time. I've jumped ahead now. When we first started up in manned spaceflight, we set up a planning activity in parallel with the Apollo program office and the Gemini program office, and that was charged with trying to decide how we could best use the equipment being produced for Apollo for follow-on space activities. That led eventually to the Skylab, and if it hadn't been for budget constraints, would have led to a consistent and continuing program using the Saturn V hardware and the Apollo spacecraft. But once we had accomplished the lunar landing, the external political pressures caused the budget to be cut back and the program truncated. We had to make a choice between the continuation of the Saturn program and the development of the next generation of hardware, which included the Space Station and Space Shuttle and that associated equipment.

Now getting back to Homer's problems with manned space science, Homer had a clear view that anything that was spent in the manned area must detract from that which was available to spend in the space science arena, and so he fought very hard to increase the space science budget because there were obviously a whole host of things that could be accomplished in space science, but I think that he never really recognized that the space science budget was really supported by the Apollo program, and that his budget was tied directly to the total agency budget and the agency budget was tied to Apollo or the manned spaceflight programs as they came along. One point that he makes here is that by the end of the seventies, the money for the agency had been reduced down to about half its peak value, and the space science budget was again half its peak value. So he never quite related the fact that the money the agency has, in a large measure, from the standpoint of Congress and from the standpoint of the Executive Office, is tied to something that people can really relate with, which is manned spaceflight. That just is the way our Congress and our budget process works.

COLLINS: It sounds like if that characterization is correct, that that was a general failing of the space science community to understand the political realities of the budget process.

MUELLER: They haven't changed over the years, either. Now it is interesting, he mentions one particular individual here who was criticizing the manned spaceflight program for a lack of science. It turns out that about two years after I left NASA, about the time of the last lunar landing, he came around and said, "Look, I was wrong. We should have been insisting on more flights. We have learned more in science," Gene Shoemaker, "we have learned more of science than I would ever have thought possible from the manned exploration of the moon, and I wish that I had been a supporter instead of helping to truncate the Apollo program."

COLLINS: One thing that seems at the root of the space science community's concerns is a sense really that the science, the understanding of the universe, of the near earth environments, of planetary environments, was really the essence of the space program. It was that kind of knowledge that, if NASA wasn't geared to advancing, should be geared to advancing--that should have been the meat of the activity. What's your reaction to that viewpoint?

MUELLER: Well, if you want to get support from Congress or from the public at large really, you need to do something that looks to them as though it's worthwhile for humans. Although it is exceedingly interesting, from a scientific point of view, to discover that one of the moons of Jupiter is made of water or essentially ice and water, from a human point of view, one immediately asks, "Well, how do we use it effectively? What's the return I get from this expenditure of funds?" and so on. So when you want to start on a new venture, you have to establish a goal that people recognize and that somehow or other they can relate to. I don't think that there's a widespread appreciation of the very great importance that really is basic understanding of our nature that would provide the kind of resources that the scientific community would like to have without some other ingredient, such as manned spaceflight.

COLLINS: Yes. Just for the record here, our discussion has centered around Homer Newell's views as expressed in his book BEYOND THE ATMOSPHERE. 1

MUELLER: You also asked a question about his idea of planning. I think I ought to address that for a moment. The planning process that Homer developed, which is the development of prospectuses, which he circulated to the scientific community, was a very valuable tool indeed. Unfortunately, it had one side effect, and that was it raised the scientific community's expectations of what could be done, and that set of expectations then, within the budget constraints, could not be satisfied. In fact, you know, it's like any other thing. As soon as you open up the programs to individuals who are creative individuals, they can think of more things to do than you can support any day of the week.

So the scientific community as a whole began to develop a program of projects that was far beyond the capability of the agency to implement. That created a fair amount of tension between the NASA scientists and the external scientists, and they tended to say, "Well, we've got all these great programs. Why doesn't manned spaceflight give up its money and let us run these programs?" It turned out that it's not a zero sum game. The game is one where it's the agency that is supported, and it's supported because of all of its activities and not just one of them or one set of them.

There was a wide difference between the planning of, for example, the space sciences and the planning of the technology, the OART, research and technology group, where essentially OART as working in the technology area but never developed the same kind of constituency as the space scientists did because of, for example, NERVA. It got into a problem area early on with the nuclear opponents. The whole question of would it ever be safe to fly a nuclear-powered rocket was high, and it eventually got canceled simply because, for one thing, there was enough opposition within the scientific community to developing a device of that sort. There was no basic drive, there was no overriding vision that required the technology to be developed.

The failure of having an overriding vision of where space was going--or for that matter, where aeronautics was going, was because you found that you couldn't justify the technology development that was really essential for the future of the space program. Now, so, I think Jim Webb was correct in his view that one did not want to have a definitive five year plan, but I think he was incorrect in not recognizing the importance, and that's true of each of the following administrators as well, except Tom Paine, of not recognizing the importance of having a vision, a vision of where the agency would go twenty years from now or fifteen years from now, and finding the means for supporting that end objective. Maybe not a defined program, but an objective that says: well, we're going to put a colony on the moon now that we've been there. Or an objective that says: we're going to go to Mars and establish an outpost on Mars. As a long-term objective of the agency. Then you have a focus about which you can build, both the support you need and the ability to choose the various supporting activities that are needed in order to carry out such objectives. You've got some focus. You've got a reason for having a technology program. You've got a reason for having a science program. And that is self-supporting, self-regenerative as time passes.

So, NASA has been good at the short term, the annual program or the two year forecast and three year forecast--but it hasn't had the national commitment to a long-term future that is essential to guide the internal activities of the agency in some coherent direction. That is almost clearly illustrated in Homer's discussion of how he set up his little projects, with an engineer and a scientist working together, but what he failed to recognize was that each of these people needed to have at least some overall guidance as to where science was going to go, what are the relative priorities. The Space Science Board, external Advisory Board of the NAS eventually has provided such guidance and established priorities, which is essential.

COLLINS: We've touched on a lot of things, and I want to go back and try to look at some of them in more detail. One of the interesting questions is, why is the constituency for engineering so different than the constituency for science? You had a reasonably organized, independent body or series of bodies of scientists who wanted to have some voice in the space program. The National Academy of Engineering was coming into being in this period of the early to mid-sixties. Why the difference there? Do you have any views on the lesser effectiveness of engineers in advocating activities that might have been of interest to them? You brought up the NERVA as an example.

MUELLER: Well, the engineering community, first of all, was not nearly as well established as the scientific community, in terms of the academies, so it was still feeling its way along and spending most of its time wondering what its real purpose in life should be and how does it differ from the Academy of Science, so it had a fair number of early struggle problems that caused it to be less effective in terms of external operations like NASA. NASA, of course, had maintained the old NACA technical committee structure, and it had, over the years, developed its approach to the selection and support of engineering projects, but it never quite got to the same kind of a vocal situation because it had a long history of influencing NASA, but not in a political sense. The striking thing about this time frame is that it was in that time frame that the scientists decided that they needed to be politicians, and so they organized a very effective political lobbying group and led by PSAC, in some measure, and certainly led by the National Academy of Science. That's when the big investments were made in the high energy physics and all of these areas. So they were organized in a political sense as much as a scientific sense to promote their interests as they perceived it, whereas the engineers had a much different outlook. They were trying to figure out what needed to be done internally but were not in the process of influencing the external world.

COLLINS: There was a conscious effort, through these advisory committees, through such things as the supporting university program, to either get the advice and guidance of the scientific community and build up its capability to contribute. My sense is that the supporting university program did not nearly commit as much energy to building up the engineering disciplines as it did scientific disciplines. Is that a correct, accurate assessment of that activity to the extent that you're aware? In other words, that the supporting university program was really more directed at science rather than engineering.

MUELLER: As far as I know, it was devoted almost entirely to science. The only area that I know of that's different is Jim Arnold's Institute for Space or Space Institute down at La Jolla.

COLLINS: Why was that the case? It seems to me the arguments that came out after Sputnik involved not just scientific capabilities but engineering capabilities as well, and I'm curious whether in your time at NASA, especially in this early period, the question arose as to whether NASA ought to be doing more to encourage the engineering capability of the nation?

MUELLER: Well, there was a fair amount of such concern, but the university program was placed under Homer Newell and the scientists on the basis, at least Jim Webb's view, that universities did science and industry did engineering. So although there was a national awareness of the need for engineers --that's how ARCS got established, for example--Achievement Rewards for College Scientists, which was set up by Si Ramo, among others, and Dean Wooldridge, to answer the criticism that the ballistic missile program was sapping all of the engineers around the world, and therefore they wanted to set up something to counteract that by encouraging more students to go into engineering. But since the control of the program, of the university program, was under the scientific office, Office of Space Science, it's not surprising that most of the Institutes set up around the nation were devoted to science, not completely but that was the emphasis.

COLLINS: Did you ever feel or express any concern that engineering ought to be more explicitly included in this kind of support?

MUELLER: Oh, I spent a fair amount of time going around to the various institutes talking to them about the real needs of NASA and pointing out that there ought to be an emphasis on practicality in the course of these things. But no, I did not actually explicitly argue that we ought to set up engineering institutes as well as science institutes.

COLLINS: I want to go back to this committee that you established to provide some guidance on the use of science in the manned space program. Again, what was the name of this committee? This was the one that Townes was chair of.

MUELLER: Science and Technology Advisory Committee, STAC.

COLLINS: What precisely did you see as their role?

MUELLER: Well, first of all, to provide an external view of what science we ought to perform, and secondly, to be able to relate what we were doing to their peers in the scientific community, as independent observers. And third, to listen to the external community and tell us what we ought to be doing in order to best meet the real needs of the scientific community.

COLLINS: So this was a committee that was primarily composed of scientists.

MUELLER: Yes. Well, the scientists met, the medical group, physiologists, and engineering. For example, the co-author, John Whinnery, was a member of the committee, and he's one of really the first class engineers in the country.

COLLINS: He was the co-author of?

MUELLER: Ramo-Whinnery, which is an electromagnetic theory book, probably the seminal book in that arena.

COLLINS: This was with Si Ramo?

MUELLER: Yes. So it was a very good mixture of people, in that regard. Luis Alvarez was a member, and I don't know whether you call him a scientist or an engineer.

COLLINS: But you were stimulated to form this committee on the basis of the concerns of scientists that science wasn't being properly utilized in the manned spaceflight program.

MUELLER: Right, and the kind of criticism that we were getting, that we were going to kill all these people because we'd put them out in space without being able to demonstrate that they could survive effectively. I don't know how you quite show that you can survive unless you try it, but there was a fair part of the physiological community that felt that the weightless environment would destroy the ability of the human mechanisms to work. So we had to answer all of those questions, and we needed to do it in a way that was unbiased and really outstanding people looking at what we were doing and agreeing that this was the best thing to do.

COLLINS: Did this group have any direct contact with any other scientific groups, like the National Academy of Sciences, to serve as liaison in some sense?

MUELLER: Yes. Yes, indeed. Although they were not constituted by the Academy of Sciences, most of them were quite active in the Academy, both the Academy of Science and Engineering. Whinnery was a founder of the Engineering Academy. So they were most effective as a liaison.

COLLINS: After the first lunar landing, Homer Newell sees a dramatic shift in the incorporation of science into the Apollo program. The first mission kind of fulfilled this national urge to get there, to establish a manned presence, and that subsequently flights could be devoted more to scientific activity. Is that a characterization that you feel is accurate?

MUELLER: No, not at all. It's interesting to see him write that because he knows the preparation of scientific experiments takes years. So many years before the lunar landing, we'd started the development of the Lunar Rover. We'd started the development of a whole set of scientific experiments that were going to beem placed on the moon. Those things were started back in '65, '66, '67. So there wasn't a sudden burst. The program had planned this all along. It was a gradual buildup as we could develop the capability and as we learned that it would work.

COLLINS: Was it your sense that this manned space science division was an effective way of dealing with the tensions between the space science office and manned spaceflight office?

MUELLER: Well, it worked very well because we set it up in such a way that we had a group of really outstanding young scientists working for BellComm, and you know BellComm was the systems integrator or systems engineers, if you will, of the program, and so they worked at the basic level with those parts of Homer's organization that were involved in something carrying on in the Apollo program, and as a matter of fact, they were instrumental in setting up the joint program that identified the scientific work that was going to be done in the follow-on program, both in this case Skylab and in the case of the Mars mission profile and the lunar intermediate colony. So they had developed internally, or inside the structure, very good liaison. Now, part of Homer's problem was that in some sense he felt we were invading his territory. You know, the territorial imperative, as near as I could tell. So, although he went along with this, he kind of subliminally resented the fact that we were working rather closely with his people, at least that subset that would be involved in manned space science.

COLLINS: How was this division staffed? Did you end up sort of transferring some of the people from Homer's division and some from your division to compose this thing?

MUELLER: It was actually a joint effort, a sort of a task group kind of thing, rather than a transfer. Because he was a boss and I was a boss, we were trying to work together--but we didn't always agree on what the proper approach was. For example, the X-ray telescope that was mounted on Skylab. Homer wanted to develop it at Goddard under his direction, and I wanted to do it at Marshall because I felt that Marshall needed to have some place where they could develop their own capabilities in terms of science that we didn't have so that we had an infusion of scientific thinking into the Marshall group. Also they were responsible for the Skylab, and if that X-ray telescope was going to work properly, it had to be intimately designed into the Skylab system because pointing accuracy and all of those things were being controlled by Marshall. So it made more sense, at least in my mind, to have it done at Marshall than at Goddard. Homer had a very good set of arguments as to why it should be done at Goddard because they had much of the expertise in the telescope area. So what we did was make Marshall responsible and give Goddard the problem of monitoring and contracting for the telescope. But that finally went to Bob Seamans to make a decision.

COLLINS: The way the manned space science division was set up seems in a sense kind of organizationally a parallel to what you did at the centers, in which you would have an office report to a director as well as to you.


COLLINS: As part of the Apollo program office.

MUELLER: Yes, matrix management.

COLLINS: Was that the thought behind the structure here as well?

MUELLER: Sure. It's just that Homer never really understood matrix management.

COLLINS: Well, it must have been matrix management employed on the various scientific craft that were produced under his office.

MUELLER: Not likely, not very much. There wasn't the kind of management structure in space science, isn't the kind of management structure in space science, that you would have in an engineering project. They have a different concept of management. It's more nearly like a university project, where most of them are university projects, who in turn have contractors who work for them to produce hardware. So it's much more loosely organized than any of our major engineering projects.

COLLINS: This raises another question. Did Bob Seamans, say, ever try to introduce a uniformity in management approach in organization of work and resources across the spectrum of NASA activities?

MUELLER: Well, yes. As a matter of fact, there were a set of program control documents developed.


MUELLER: Those were applied uniformly across the agency. But the implementation of them varied, and properly so, from place to place. In the case of scientific experiments, for example, the center director was generally responsible for the development of a scientific instrument. One of the problems that leads to, of course, is that it's fine as long as you have a continuing flow of launch vehicles so that whenever a project is finished, you're in a position to launch it within a reasonable length of time. But where you have something like the Shuttle, which requires years of preparation, you want to be able to schedule when things are ready and fly it and not miss it by a month or two. So that has caused some difficulties in the past. With the two year hiatus in Shuttle flights, why, there's a whole backlog of things to fly now.


COLLINS: This is a group of documents relating to the formation and proceedings of the so-called Ramsey Committee, which was formed in 1966 to look at something entitled, what at that time was called the Voyager Program, which was I believe something that must have become Viking later on. To address more broadly questions about the relationship between the space science community and NASA, this is a letter from Colin S. Pittendrigh, the dean of the graduate school at Princeton, to Norman Ramsey at Harvard, and there's one section of his letter here entitled, "Space science versus manned space flight, a major issue." And I'll just read a couple of paragraphs from this. "I am deeply distressed about the whole NASA science situation as I understand it at present. I'm beginning to believe, as many others have believed for some time, that in the highest levels of NASA administration there is little conviction about the scientific importance of the space program, and a clear primary concern with manned space flight and the health of its supporting facilities including industry. I am beginning to believe further there is a willingness to support scientific missions only to the extent they can provide a justification for manned spaceflight. The bases for these statements are, one, the clear downgrading of the Voyager budget, and two, increased talk within NASA about basing Martian exploration on manned flights."

Let me go on to the second point here: "Two, increased talk within NASA about basing Martian exploration on manned flights. Specifically, I recently heard that there is a strong sentiment within NASA to restrict Martian exploration to a manned fly-by program, beginning in 1975, and that any ABLs, Automatic Biological Laboratories, to reach Mars would be those such a mission would drop as they passed by. Moreover, many of us feel that the scientific goals are likely to be offered as the justification for manned Martian flights. In brief and bluntly, that science will be prostituted to bolster the plausibility of manned flights, but will not be really served by them."

MUELLER: Well, that's a fair statement of position. What date was that?

COLLINS: This letter is dated June 2nd, 1966. So obviously this was at a point where there were some early considerations about the follow-on to Apollo and the role of space science toward the end of the Apollo program and post-Apollo.

MUELLER: I think it's a fair statement of a fair part of the scientific community's point of view, and again, it reflects a total lack of understanding of the budget process and what gets money and what keeps it. I must say I'm surprised. I had not heard about a manned Mars fly-by. In fact, I think that doesn't make a great deal of sense although some people have suggested it more recently. If you're going to go that far, you'd better do something when you get there.

COLLINS: What about his feeling that science was just kind of rhetorical window dressing for the people who were interested in manned spaceflight? Obviously this was the feeling of a large part of the community that not only was science ill served, the good name of science was being used to promote manned space flight.

MUELLER: Well, it's hard to combat that. I think that within the manned spaceflight organization, you could find people who were clearly convinced that the important thing was man and that just getting him there was the objective or should be the objective of all of our programs. However, as in the case of the lunar science program, it turns out that man is a very useful scientific creature. I have never quite understood why scientists who insist on doing their own work in the laboratory refused to believe that they could do their own more effectively and understand Mars, for example, if they went there, rather than trying to look at it through some mechanical eyes at a distance. Given the choice, I think any scientist of any real capability would argue that he could do better if he had his laboratory on Mars than he does on earth and depend upon a remote manipulator on Mars do to his work for him. I think most of the problems are that the scientists were not involved in the astronaut corps to the extent that they should have been.

COLLINS: You mean astronauts as scientists.

MUELLER: Right. But there's also the danger that since we have a limited capability of carrying people, you unfortunately bias it towards one scientific discipline versus another, and there's no scientist who ever thinks that a guy in a different discipline is as good as, could do the work that he would like to see done. So until we get really space travel going at a great rate so that almost anybody can fly to the point where they're doing their experiments, you'll continue to have that kind of a sentiment and that kind of feeling. Of course, that's one reason for the Shuttle, why we invented the Shuttle, was to provide for mass transport so that scientists of all kinds could work in space. That was one of the main objectives, to get it away from being a two man astronaut corps or three man astronaut corps and over to where we could carry really substantial numbers of people in space. The space station is a key to that process because you've got to have a place for them to work effectively for a period of time. You can't really do many scientific experiments in a few hours in space.

COLLINS: And I guess these sentiments and arguments replay themselves.

MUELLER: Every year it comes up all over again.

COLLINS: Certainly they're reiterated again with the Space Station.

MUELLER: Right. And in part because the scientists can't see themselves and their experiment going to that space station. They haven't believed that the transportation system is going to let them go, and of course, much of our public statements by people saying that, well, we can't carry anybody but military people to the Space Station exacerbates that feeling. I don't think it's right. I think the Shuttle was set up to be a space transportation system, and we ought to carry everybody that wants to go and that we can afford to carry.

COLLINS: But obviously that point is somewhere off in the future, I mean, with a fleet of three Shuttles at this point, that's not really feasible.

MUELLER: Well, you could carry a whole passel of people up to a Space Station. Yes, but it's in the future because we've fiddled around for many years and not done what we should have been doing in space activities.

COLLINS: One thing that he recommends here, and let me just read a little more from the letter, this is his conclusion: "We should indicate" (we here being the Ramsey Committee) "that NASA establish a permanent Scientific Advisory Board comparable to that in the AEC and, for that matter, comparable to the National Science Board in the National Science Foundation. Such a board should include scientists of the very first rank whose respect and authority would do much to quell the criticism and skepticism of NASA science within the ranks of the scientific community at large. Such a Scientific Advisory Board would be concerned with the allocation of NASA funds for science and with the problem of priorities within space science as a whole. At the present time, these major and fundamental decisions are made by the Space Sciences Steering Committee, which consists exclusively of permanent NASA employees. What input the Space Sciences Steering Committee gets is from a diversity of subcommittees, none of which ever sees the overall problem. This needs emphasis. Any rebuttal from NASA to the effect that they consult outside scientists is beside the point on the major issue. Outside scientific competence is never brought to bear on the overall problem of allocation and judgment."

MUELLER: It was subsequent to that that they established the Space Science Board in the National Academy of Sciences. It was subsequent to that that we established the STAC committee, or about that time we set up the STAC committee to help that liaison. So yes, that's something that should have been done and was done. However, I must say that the naivete of the scientific community with respect to how one goes about doing programs is really surprising. The statement that the Voyager funding was cut because of manned spaceflight is clearly wrong.

COLLINS: But on the other hand, you know, you made the point that scientists were savy enough to organize themselves into a political force.

MUELLER: Exactly.

COLLINS: To work with Congress and the agencies to lobby for the things that they felt were important.

MUELLER: Very powerful lobby at that time. Unfortunately, they got outside of science and began to do politics, and their credibility was badly eroded. For example, that's why Nixon abolished his Science Advisor.

COLLINS: Yes, that certainly is considered a low point from the scientific community's point of view. I'd like to go back and talk a little bit more about the planning process. When you first came into NASA, I assume you were consumed with tackling what was in front of you and didn't have a lot of time to devote to thinking about the future. What I'd like to know is, when did you have the time to think about what would happen after Apollo and what the role of the Manned Spaceflight Office ought to be?

MUELLER: Well, when I went to NASA, I set up, I guess we called it at that time, the Apollo Applications Office. It was really set up to do our long-range planning, so it was established at the same time that the Apollo program office and Gemini program office were established because it was evident that, you know, you had to have something to do beyond the lunar landing or else you were just wasting a fair amount of money. We still wasted a fair amount of money by shutting off that program. If we had Saturn V's today, the nation would be in ever so much better shape than it is now in terms of space exploration. In fact, a large amount of work is going into reinventing the Saturn V. So that was clearly something we needed to do.

Now, we were never able to staff that with the kind of expertise that we needed. Most of our key people got themselves involved in the Apollo program. We brought in some very capable people to run that operation, but they were not linked closely enough into either the internal organizations of science or technology or the centers until we got over the immediate problems, and then we could devote time and energy really to finding a follow-on program, and that started about 1967. It was really run in parallel with the fire. But it picked up momentum after we got back to flight again. There was a hiatus of almost a year in there while we fought the battle of the fire. But at the end of that time, we established a task force, partly at the suggestion of the STAC committee, to try to build an integrated program for the agency. There had been other activities going on. Homer Newell had tried to build a science plan, and Jim Beggs at that time had started a plan for technology development, but they were quite independent, and it was apparent that we needed to get all of the parts of NASA working on the same program with the same set of objectives if we were going to be able to create the kind of political support necessary to build the future of the agency.

COLLINS: Is this an issue you brought to Bob Seamans and Jim Webb? What was their attitude about the planning process in terms of mid-range to long-range planning?

MUELLER: Essentially I kept them informed as to what we were doing, but I really set up the planning activity and ran it through both our advanced programs office and BellComm, a combination of those two, and primarily BellComm provided the glue into the science community and the technology community to produce an integrated plan that covered all of the aspects of a future program. And we laid out a twenty year program at that time.

COLLINS: What was the reaction of Seamans and Webb to this planning activity that was going on in the program offices? Was it encouraged? Was it viewed by them as a resource for their own dealings with people on the outside? How did they respond to it and support it or not support it?

MUELLER: I'm trying to think back. I think that they supported it but were not actively directing it, I'll put it that way. That is, they didn't say, I want a plan by this time, nor did they even try to influence what the plan was. There was not, in this instance, a top-down direction that said: here, we want to go to Mars. How do we get there? Not so. In fact, the Shuttle was the driving force for defining the long-term program because if you were going to develop a Shuttle, you had to have something to use it for, and that forced us into a planning mode and forced us into then recognizing the need for a coherent science program and a coherent technology development program that would support these activities.

COLLINS: I guess what I'm trying to get at is, did either Webb or Seamans directly articulate to the program managers, to the associate administrators, that it was not politically wise to establish a specific plan. It was all right to have a number of possible plans, but the agency itself did not want to take a position. Is that accurate?

MUELLER: I don't think there was ever any such direction. It was rather clear that Jim Webb did not want a plan. We had earlier floated the idea of a Mars expedition. This was '67, I guess, or '66, just before the fire. We were working on a plan that led to Mars, and he said, "Absolutely not. We don't want to have a plan like that. First we've got to do the moon before we begin to put into effect a longer-range plan." His argument was a good one, and that is, for every person you got to support it, you'd have ten people finding ways of shooting it down, and he couldn't find any overall national consensus that said we had to have a plan past the moon because no one really believed we could get to the moon anyhow. I mean, you know, the great bulk of people thought that was an impossible dream. So, he was not going to have any plan, and after the fire it became even more obvious that we ought to be sticking to our knitting and not producing what he would call grandiose plans for the future.

Now, Seamans was more inclined to provide some basis for planning. His view was that one ought to have a plan. Whether you published it or not was a different question, but you ought to at least understand where you were going. Of course, Bob left and then Tom Paine came in, and he was a strong supporter of planning, but most of the planning was done prior to Tom's coming in. The actual plan was developed over several years, and involved a lot of interaction, a lot of work, and a lot of iterations.

It was then that we realized that the real justification for a Space Station was as a node in a transportation system, that there was not that much science or technology evident that could be used to justify the Space Station. Its primary purpose had to be twofold, one, to find out whether men could live for long periods of time in space and how to make that comfortable for them, and the other one was--and there's a lot of questions still about that--the question of a transportation node in order to get efficiently from the earth to the moon, for example, or earth to Mars.

So you needed then, that was the reasoning behind having an interorbital transfer vehicle to go from one orbit to the next. That's the most efficient way of movement. It was hard, incidentally, to justify a space station in geosynchronous orbit, and the only real justification for that is if you find the geosynchronous orbit is getting filled up with many small satellites, and then you can bring them together and make a major platform there, and once you have a major platform, it becomes economic to have it manned because then you can fix things and repair them and keep them running. Of course, once you get a major platform there, you can also increase the antenna directivity, which greatly improves the ability to use it as a communication center.

COLLINS: To go back to the early period when you established a planning office, I'm interested, what kinds of people are best suited to work on the planning function? What kind of individual do you look for?

MUELLER: Well, I can give you some names. Mike Yarymovich was one of the group. Phil Culbertson was another. The head I brought in, see, I've brought in several--my goodness, I'm trying to remember the names. One guy I brought in eventually ended up running a company on the West Coast. E.Z. Gray was another one I brought in to run it.

COLLINS: We can add some of those later on. What kinds of characteristics did these people have that made them suited to the planning activity?

MUELLER: Well, each one of them was an executive in industry before I got them coopted into the agency. I used our contractor advisory group to understand our needs and to have them volunteer people to work with us for a period of time. For planning activities, you need to have a change, and so we got some very good primarily engineers in to head up the planning work. Then, of course, we had people within NASA that we brought in from the centers for task groups of one sort or another, and we established planning groups at each of the centers as well so that we had a network of people who were working on plans.

COLLINS: For the Office of Manned Spaceflight, they would then feed into this planning office at the Headquarters level.

MUELLER: Generally it was a joint task group kind of thing for particular identified--it could be identified in the center or in Headquarters, either one.

COLLINS: What was the contractor interest in seeing NASA develop a long-range plan? Did they care? Did they encourage? What was their reaction to the way NASA went about planning?

MUELLER: Well, almost all of the contractors had planning activities going on, and many of the ideas came from contractors directly. For example, the Wet Workshop was an idea that several of the contractors had worked on, and so they were really a resource that we used in terms of our planning. Generally they were, however, looking in the direction of what is the next immediate step and not a longer term view of what needed to be done, again because they were engineers and they were trying to plan their next activity. Of course, they were also hoping to influence NASA in the direction which they took so that their ideas would be incorporated in the NASA plans. But it's characteristic of our industry, the aerospace industry, that planning is carried out as a normal part of any project, and much of the independent research and development goes into planning and the development of new concepts that can then be sold to the government. It's a very valuable thing indeed in order to get the best talent because usually the best talent in industry is involved in their forward planning. We tried to get the best talent in NASA involved in our forward planning. I would hasten to point out that the integrated plan we developed involved the three manned spaceflight center directors. In terms of the manned program, the three center directors were the chief planners. That's partly because I insisted that we work together to create this plan. We also tried to involve and did involve the other center activities around in this integrated plan.

COLLINS: Do you feel or did your center directors feel that you were hampered by a lack of commitment by the top administration, by Jim Webb's lack of a commitment to a particular vision of the future, a particular plan for the future? Or was the lunar landing still so all-consuming that the planning question still relatively took a back seat?

MUELLER: Well, it took a back seat until, oh, about the end of '68, and then the centers began to worry about their future also, and there was a great emphasis then on planning. I think that I would not say that we had a problem. We would have been overjoyed if Jim Webb and the President had said, "This is what we're going to do. How do we do it?" But lacking that, we decided that we'd best go out and develop a plan and see if we could sell it. And we did that, and Jim carried it forward. Interestingly enough, we almost had it sold. But politics got in the way.

COLLINS: This is in what time frame, '67 or so?

MUELLER: This was mid-'69, just before Spiro Agnew got in trouble.

COLLINS: So this would have been after Webb left the agency and Tom Paine came in.

MUELLER: It was just in that transitional period. Actually Webb was still there, but was in process of leaving. See, Tom wasn't there very long. Interestingly enough, Homer says that Tom Paine made the decision on the Apollo 8 mission. Not true. Jim Webb made the decision. And Jim Webb and I made the decision. But Tom was a protagonist for it, that's true.

COLLINS: Resuming after a brief pause. You were discussing what led up to the Apollo 8 decision.

MUELLER: Oh. Well, actually, George Low and Sam Phillips proposed it and had worked through a plan to carry it out while Jim and I were over at the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space Conference in Austria and called us to tell us that--Tom Paine called us and said he had this proposal, and what did we think we should do with it? Jim and I talked about it, and I said, "Look, I think it's a great idea, but we need to use it as a mechanism for getting the whole team together," because this was a Johnson creation at that time, "and make sure that we do it in such a way that we assure the safety of the mission."

So when I got back, we set up a series of reviews that covered about three months, going over every single system, and what-ifs, if something went wrong. And that was probably, it picked up a fair number of questionable items that were fixed, and then I got myself quite comfortable with reliability, and we finally had a full-blown formal review and decided to go forward with it. And just about after that, we had the problem in the second Saturn V, where two of the engines failed, and there was a real question whether it was even reasonable to proceed.

We had to go back and redo our review and make sure that we understood the problem, that we had it fixed and could go forward. But that was an exciting time. But it was the turning point, you know, getting those guys to suddenly decide that they were ready to go on a circumlunar flight was a major morale change down in the whole organization, and it had the kind of focal thing that really got everybody working together as a team to carry that out. So it was a very constructive thing indeed. See, that must have been, you said '68 and you were right. It was in the summer of '68 that we made that decision.

COLLINS: So that would have been while Jim Webb was still administrator.


COLLINS: On the planning activity, I want to read a rather dry quote here from Arnold Levine's MANAGING NASA IN THE APOLLO ERA, and this is from a chapter entitled "NASA's Long-Range Planning, 1964-69." And he says here, "Unlike the administrator and general manager, the program directors were free to defend interests that were something less than agency-wide. As associate administrator for manned space flight, George Mueller had to tackle three problems, each of which could be resolved on condition that the other two were handled at the same time. He had to retain the funds and hold together the manpower assembled for Gemini and Apollo, arrive at programs that he could sell to top management and Congress, and insure that Apollo itself should somehow generate its sequel. Mueller's design was nothing of not ambitious. For the mainline Apollo program, he envisioned an annual flight schedule of six Saturn l-B's, six Saturn V's, and six launches of the Apollo spacecraft, the so-called 6-6-6 formula, later changed to 6-6-8. As for post-Apollo plans, Mueller enumerated five options: earth orbital programs for long duration space stations, lunar operations, planetary landings, an all-out program in earth orbital and planetary activities, and a balanced program that combined other options in a cost-effective way. Each program would be directed to a precise objective. Thus if the nation should desire direct economic benefits, the logical sequel to Apollo would be a program of earth orbital operations. In Mueller's the Apollo extensions which became Apollo applications in August, '65 and Skylab in February, 1970, is not so much one of the five program options as it was an intermediate step from Apollo to future programs. It was his conviction that the agency had to organize around one big mission, rather than see its resources frittered away on a number of smaller ones." I'm wondering whether that's an accurate sort of characterization?

MUELLER: All except that last statement. It isn't that they're frittered away, it is that you can't support a number of diverse things. You need an overriding mission in our political system in order to be able to support all of these ancillary missions. But other than that, yes. It was, we did that theme year after year after year.

COLLINS: Well, this describes some of your approaches and considered judgments in the mid-sixties. How did the Apollo firein '67 play into the planning process?

MUELLER: Oh, it had a very profound effect because prior to that time, we were making considerable headway at a coherent long term program. The Apollo fire stopped that cold. All of the resources we had were devoted to solving that problem both in terms of the actual hardware and trying to work our way through the external media and Congressional reactions to the fire because we had, just as in the case of Challenger, we had a whole set of Congressional committees more active than they were in the Challenger instance. The one thing we didn't have was a Presidential commission, nor did we have directly a National Academy of Sciences committee. We did our investigation internally and found out what the problem was and fixed it but at a considerable cost, both in terms of time and rebuilding of primarily the electrical but reducing the flammability of the cabin.

COLLINS: I'd like to talk in another discussion about the Apollo fire and the way the agency handled it and the problems it created, that kind of thing. But when did the planning activity again pick up momentum and become of more direct concern?

MUELLER: Towards the end of the hiatus of the fire is when we really began to have enough energy left over to go begin the follow-on planning. But it was modified by the reality that our credibility had been damaged in that process, so it took another year before our credibility got to the point where we could effectively enunciate a follow-on plan.


COLLINS: I wonder if we might go into the background of how the Space Task Group was formed, its charge, and the character of its operation because I think you were rather intimately involved with that activity. I believe that was the name of the committee that Spiro Agnew headed.

MUELLER: Yes. Actually, I don't remember the membership of that. I know Tom Paine was a member, and there were several NASA members. I was not a member of it, so I wasn't that intimately involved. I was just providing the program for them.

COLLINS: But essentially, I believe, the options that they considered for the future were fundamentally based on--

MUELLER: They were based on the work that we'd done previous to that point in time. It was set up because we had completed that, that planning activity, and it was clear we were going to be able to get to the moon and we ought to do something about it. And so the administration decided it ought to take a look at it, and Nixon asked Agnew to head that up, I think because he felt he could then make a decision, he could contain the activity, not let it get politically out of hand and get its own momentum going as long as he had a committee set up or a task group set up to try to define what the future was.

COLLINS: Did you make any presentations to this committee?

MUELLER: Yes, as a matter of fact, I did present at least one option to them.

COLLINS: What was your sense of how they utilized the planning work that had already been done by the Office of Manned Spaceflight?

MUELLER: Well, by that time, we had translated that into the agency plan, and so Manned Spaceflight was only a part of the plan. I thought they accepted it very well. As I say, they were about to formally endorse it, but they got into a set of political problems.

COLLINS: Are you referring to the constraints of Vietnam or other factors?

MUELLER: Well, Spiro Agnew's problems.

COLLINS: His personal political problems.

MUELLER: Right. Vietnam was a problem, of course. The internal turmoil within the country probably made it not a very propitious time to launch a new wonderful space program. At least, I don't think the Congressional support was there for it. Too many riots on campuses and terrorist activities in the cities to cause that to be the first topic on their agenda, although it might have been the best possible thing they could have done.

COLLINS: After Webb's departure and the coming in of the new administration, were you generally optimistic about the future possibilities of the space program? Tom Paine had a more expansive view of what NASA might achieve in the future.

MUELLER: Well, I felt comfortable that we had to find a program that was both durable and exciting enough to gain support, and I also thought that we had the support of the administration, the White House support, and so I felt comfortable at leaving, knowing that it would take a number of years to bring the program to fruition, but I felt that we had a clear go-ahead on this kind of a program, which was orderly and phased in over time. But after I had left, the underpinning of the program began to fail. I knew that there would be sustained support in Congress but that it would be at a fairly level, at least that's what Tiger Teague told me. We needed to tailor our program to work on a more or less constant level of resources. I think one unfortunate thing that happened at the agency in the seventies was the beginning of a fairly strong inflationary cycle, and the commitment that Tiger had made was to a level budget, and it did not include inflation. Of course, he was a powerful figure in Congress, but I don't think that he really recognized the impact of inflation on the agency's budget, and then he was ill and left.

COLLINS: What kinds of messages did you get from Congress about NASA planning? The message from Teague seemed to be, be fairly conservative, don't push too extravagant a program. Were you also receiving messages that you ought to be planning and advocating a larger vision?

MUELLER: I don't think that we got an impression that we shouldn't plan a forward-looking program from Tiger or anyone else. They simply said, the realities of the situation are that I can't get you more money. So you need to plan to live within that budget. Now, you can argue that that's conservative, but they weren't trying to say what you should do with that budget or how you should spend it. We had good enough rapport with Congress so that they would accept anything that we as an agency proposed at that time. Now, it's changed since then, rather dramatically, but--as always the chief stumbling block is the OMB, and not Congress, in the space activities.

COLLINS: Did OMB concern itself at all with NASA planning, the way NASA went about planning?

MUELLER: Their focus was on next year's budget. They had relatively little interest except in the run-out costs. If we proposed a Mars program, they wanted to know in some detail whether it was going to take more money or less money or level and prove it. So, in that sense, they affected long-range planning. But they really didn't care very much, in a budget sense, about that. Now the head of OMB, of course, was quite interested, as a matter of fact, was a supporter of the space program at that time.

COLLINS: Are you referring to Caspar Weinberger?

MUELLER: No, before.

COLLINS: Okay. David Bell?

MUELLER: Yes. Although Weinberger was also a supporter. But they were faced with budget constraints. You know, it sounds unreasonable, but at that time they were trying to live within, in Johnson's years, on a 100 billion dollar budget, and in Nixon's years, a 200 billion dollar budget, and they were struggling hard to maintain that as the total expenditure. It's amazing what a few years will do.

COLLINS: I think on that note, I'd just as soon go ahead and end this discussion, and we can pick up some other threads next time, I think, specifically the Apollo fire.

MUELLER: Okay. Great.

1 Beyond the Atmosphere.

Mueller 6 || Mueller 8

Rev. 09/06/96

© 1996 National Air and Space Musuem