TAPE 1, SIDE 1
MR. COLLINS: Last time, we had just begun to discuss your arrival at NASA, some of your initial impressions, the people that you met, how you familiarized yourself with the organization. One thing we didn't discuss, and I'd like to get your reaction to, is previous to your arrival at NASA, you had worked in a university setting, an industrial setting, and now you were coming into a completely new sort of setting, a government setting. I wonder whether you had any special reactions to this different kind of environment that you were going to be working in, how it compared to what you had done before in the university?
DR. SEAMANS: That's a good question. I have to be quite careful in answering it, because, you know, certainly when one came into NASA, everything seemed much more electric and exciting because of the program itself. The other aspect that tends to color one's thinking is the size of the operation, compared to what I'd been used to first at MIT and then at RCA. At MIT, the largest program I worked on was the Meteor program which we discussed, and in the whole period of Meteor, I guess over seven or eight years, the total budget level, including all the facilities and everything, ran around 20 million, as I remember it. RCA was a company that did operate at the billion dollar level. But the program I was involved in was much smaller. I don't remember the exact numbers but our annual budget was probably 10 to 15 million dollars or something of that sort.
Then suddenly I was involved in a program at a level of a billion a year, with resources dotted all over the country, and with a lot of contractor personnel intimately involved in what was going on. So there was the size, and then there was also the excitement of suddenly being involved with the people who were about to orbit the earth, to meet John Glenn, whom I'd read about, and have him actually show me how to get into the simulator down at Langley, and check me out in a Mercury capsule and so on. This, you know, tended to color my thinking, because of the differences in scale and scope between the organizations. But I guess I was really impressed with the number of highly competent people that I met as I went around the circuit. As we discussed last time, Keith Glennan gave me that opportunity. There were a large number of people who had advanced degrees and had performed, in the case of the astronauts, important feats of flying in combat and in experimental aircraft. There really was a team spirit to the endeavor. I won't say that there weren't any jealousies, but frankly compared to a university, it was minimal. In a university it tends to be a battle of intellectual ideas, for junior faculty trying to reach tenure, and in the case of the industrial organization, again, there's a lot of competition to see who will be manager of a program, or who will be the next director of an operating section of the company. There seemed to be less of that, and much more emphasis on getting on with national projects. So it was an eye-opener. You know, you hear about the bureaucrats and all of that, and the heavy load that the taxpayer carries around, so it came as a great surprise to find that these bureaucrats were in the main very able, dedicated people. I was also impressed with the staff people I met up on the Hill, and the level of competence in the Congress, as well as over in the executive office.
COLLINS: Okay, let's consider some of your initial responsibilities as associate administrator. Dr. Glennan was very much concerned about establishing the proper management framework for the organization. Do you recall his ever sitting down with you and giving you what his concept of a general manager was and how it should function in the NASA organization?
SEAMANS: I do remember, on several occasions, particularly after I'd been there say a number of months, he kept asking me, "How do you see your job?" meaning, how did I see going about it, and whether I felt that the different project people were responsive to overall direction. In this connection, Dick Horner had a major effort to equip a room in the old Dolly Madison House with a large number of charts, which were on the wall and you could slide them around, and these were time-line charts for the different projects. You could see when the Ranger 1 was supposed to be launched, and Ranger 2 and Ranger 3, that kind of information. In that detail, it was frankly somewhat foreign to my mode of operation. There was none of that at MIT. At RCA, we had to contend with more supervision at various levels, people looking over people's shoulders and so on, so we had to have some way of conveying where we stood and how much money we had and how much money we had left and so on. But when Dick Horner was there as the general manager, he'd gone a lot further than I'd ever seen, and I had the distinct feeling he'd gone too far. But I wasn't sure. I wasn't really sure I could use all of this information effectively.
COLLINS: Too far in the sense that he'd really gotten--
SEAMANS: --too much detailed information. It was going to be too difficult to keep it current, to keep it meaningful. As a matter of fact, I can't remember to whom Keith Glennan and Dick had gone for a study of how to do the same thing by using slides and computers, and keeping the information current as it went along. But when I discussed this with Keith, he kept saying,"Well, what we want you to do is get in there and take charge." That was sort of it. He'd sort of clench his fist, a driving motion of his forearm, to indicate that he felt that there was a need to really get on top of the management of the activities at Marshall, JPL and the other Centers. But it wasn't clear exactly how to do it, and it really wasn't resolved until some time maybe three or four months after Jim Webb became the administrator.
I had the feeling that to really take charge meant, take charge of the funding for each project, to approve on a project by project basis the funds that would be available to a given office and the offices in turn to be able to control the funding of centers and contractors. I did not have that clear cut function set up, didn't have that function set up clearly under me at that time. Abe Silverstein did. Abe Silverstein was in charge of Space Science and Applications. That included the Mercury program, the Ranger program, all of the space activities. He had somebody working for him by the name of D. Wyatt, and when I finally got reached the point where I was satisfied, that I understood the operations I moved D. Wyatt so that he reported directly to me, so that I could truly be responsible for the funding of the total NASA program.
What I did initially was to bring in a couple of people to work directly with me on a rotating basis. I find it hard to remember exactly the order in which they came in. There was a Colonel Heaton, who had been assigned by the Air Force to NASA. There was also Bill Fleming, and later on Ed Cortwright served in this capacity. These were full time assistants who helped me keep track of the programs, on the one hand, and served as budget watchdogs, on the other. There was also associated with me, at the headquarters level, a person named Al Siepert, who was in charge of administration. That included, I believe, the financial office, as well as personnel and capital funds and the whole bit. I think what I probably should have done, in preparing for this, was to find the organization charts that we had when I first arrived, which we didn't change very much while I was there with Keith Glennan, and then go on and discuss the way we first changed it, when Jim Webb came in, and then how we ultimately established the organization for the long haul.
COLLINS: Let's pause for a minute and review some of the early NASA organization charts.
SEAMANS: During this period, one of the things I might note is that I did not have a deputy. Very early after I'd agreed to become the associate administrator but before I was sworn in, I got a letter from Keith Glennan, a very thoughtful letter, and one of the questions he asked me was, what kind of a deputy I thought I would like to have. I'd come from RCA, where there was no such thing as a deputy, and there were no deputies at MIT. There's one person in charge, period, and you never could share responsibility that way.
During the period of time that I was in the government, I found that deputies are not only common, they are in most cases an absolute necessity. The heaving and hauling on an individual is so great that it's pretty hard to get the job done without a team of two or even sometimes a team of three. But I resisted going that route. I wasn't sure that it was needed in the early period when I was at NASA, and so I held off, even though Keith kept asking me when I was going to decide what kind of a deputy I wanted. Instead I had what he thought of as special assistants to help me in particular areas, but not to think as alter egos. I felt it was very important to really think of my deputies in terms of the people responsible for major chunks of the program, like Abe Silverstein, and think of him as in effect my deputy for Space Science and Applications. You were about to ask a question?
COLLINS: I was wondering whether you can recall whether Dr. Glennan suggested certain characteristics that this deputy might have.
SEAMANS: No, he didn't. He was looking to me. We discussed it, of course, and it's obvious, if you're going to have a deputy, you want to have a deputy that is compatible, but more than that, will have somewhat different background, so that the capability of the two individuals covers more ground than just one or the other. So that, for example, I might have had a deputy who had a very strong scientific background, since my background is primarily engineering. But anyway, it didn't go that route. I guess the whole time I was in NASA, I had deputies, but they were really more for special functions than as alter egos. It really wasn't until I got in the Air Force that I had what I would call truly a deputy. In that case it was John McLukas, who clearly could have taken my place. We complemented each other, but we were similar enough and had a comparable enough experience that he could take over, and he did after I retired.
COLLINS: Did Horner ever sit down with you and explain the system of charts and his mechanisms for keeping track of the program and what he thought their strengths and values were? In other words, did you develop a good understanding of what he had tried to do?
SEAMANS: Yes, I felt that I did. I really admired Dick and what he did in the Air Force and in NASA, but I felt that he was looking at things somewhat peripherally, that he wasn't getting to the heart of matters the way I wanted to. By looking at a whole bunch of charts, you tended to be superficial. But I don't think I ever really confronted him with that feeling. I understood what he was trying to do, and obviously there had to be schedules and so on, but--and we did come to a kind of chart that really grew out of what he'd been doing. See, these only provide static information. This is what was supposed to happen at a given time. But it didn't tell you what the plan was a year ago or two years ago.
The kind of chart that I finally came to, which the organization wasn't terribly enthusiastic with, was a chart that showed what the launch date was supposed to be, let's say for the first Ranger flight, as of three years ago, and then what's the scheduled launch date of two years ago, and then last year and this year. It was quite interesting to see, in some cases, how the projects were able to hold their dates, whereas other programs would almost continually slide along, and they wouldn't be advancing towards the actual launch date, in some cases, if you extrapolated, the date would never be reached. I forget, we had a name for those charts, which I think was somewhat unique, with NASA, at the time we started them, and it grew out of the fact that the charts that Dick had put together, you'd try to show this by putting in a whole bunch of diamonds.
Let's say, if I remember it, the filled in diamond was the one that you were working towards for the launch date, but you'd show a couple of other diamonds on the same complicated graph, you'd put little dates on them, and then by and by you'd say, "Well, it seems to be slipping quite a bit." But you couldn't extrapolate graphically and see how bad things were. Then there was too much information on these charts. It was impossible, I felt, at the general manager's level, to keep track of more than a few dates. The launch date was obviously one of them, perhaps the date of an all-up systems test might be something to keep track of, or the date when all the elements would be under contract might be an important date. We can get into that more when we get to Apollo, when thanks to the expertise that George Mueller and Sam Phillips brought in, the charting was taken to quite a fine art, and I was able to benefit directly at the general manager's level from the detail that was put together by those in charge of specific projects.
COLLINS: But the general idea, it seems, what you're talking about this time, is just information, tracking the major milestones of the project.
SEAMANS: Yes, but what it didn't tell you was what the people were like and what the facilities were like. You know, you didn't get any of the real flavor of the organization, which you could only do by continually meeting with the responsible people like Abe Silverstein. There was another management tool that Dick Horner had brought in which was very controversial. Its implementation was headed by Nick Golovin. He actually shows here in charge of the Office of Reliability and System Analysis. I know it doesn't say Golovin, it says Gephardt, but I guess Nick Golovin didn't stay too long after I arrived.
The idea was to put together a complex reliability analysis on each project, and if you could say that the rocket motor was going to work a given percent of the time, and you go right through the whole system, and then you see how the different elements are interconnected, and grind through the arithmetic, you can say that there's then a certain percentage chance of successfully launching the next flight. You could take it a lot further and get into, on a manned flight, not only the chance that the mission would be successful, but also what the human risk would be.
This was, as I say, very controversial within the organization. The analysis was all very misleading. If we let ourselves believe the numbers, we would become much too pessimistic. It didn't allow for human judgment to be used in the testing and so on, that it was relying on a mathematical analysis an evaluation that should have been more in the minds and hearts of the people involved.
COLLINS: I'm curious, was this controversy more within the organization at your level, or was say at the level of the--
SEAMANS: No, I'd say that Dick Horner and Nick Golovin had very little support for this method of analysis and evaluation, throughout the organization. We did keep this form of analysis, as I remember, throughout the time that I was there, but very much soft-pedalled it, very much thought of it as one way of getting some clues as to how a complex system might be reorganized, to maximize the chance of success. But to not say if the number came out to be 80 percent, "Well, that's too low, and we've got to do a lot more work on such and such in order to get the number up to a higher level." The chance of any one flight of the Apollo Saturn being successful was estimated to be 50 percent, or some number like that. Well, if it was that low, we were in deep trouble. And at the same time, there was a political problem, to backing away from that kind of analysis, because people as I remember it outside the agency knew that such numbers existed, and there was one meeting I went to with the Air Force, with Nick Golovin. I think it was arranged prior to my arrival there. Where Nick actually trotted out some of these numbers, and it caused some real consternation amongst NASA people, who felt that we were actually giving our program a bad name by using these kinds of numbers.
COLLINS: I believe in the original conception of what Dr. Glennan was reaching for when he wanted to have this reliability office established, was some independent assessment of the development activities of the various centers, especially the Space Task Group. How did this idea follow through, even though the mathematical approach was not fully satisfactory?
SEAMANS: Well, I mean, Keith was obviously right, that there needed to be some method for quality assurance. I mean, it's quite normal today. You have inspector generals and all kinds of things for performing this kind of a function. I think that the problem was that it had become too mathematical, too perfunctory, not enough understanding of these people and what they really were doing. I guess I was less sympathetic then than I would be today. Because again, this was not something that I'd had much experience with as a management tool when I arrived in NASA. So I guess maybe I've forgotten, or I didn't know that this was something that Keith himself had proposed, possibly to Dick, and then Dick had implemented. I'm a little unclear as to what role Dick had in setting this up, and what role Keith had.
But you know, when I got in the Air Force, you hated to have the inspector general come in and tell you such and such was happening at such and such a base, but you were awfully glad that the inspector general was telling you, rather than the Congress or a newspaper article. You do need checks and balances. It's also true that when Jim Webb came in as the administrator, from his government experience he recognized the need for a line organization, but he would certainly never allow himself to have the line organization, not only to get things done but to be the sole source of information of what was going on. He felt that there should be a multitude of paths, a multitude of ways of getting information as to what was going on.
Again, from my own experience, I hadn't ever had to reckon with large bureaucracies to the extent that he had when he was in the Bureau of the Budget and State Department. And Keith similarly, when Keith was one of the commissioners of the AEC, had to be concerned that they knew what was going on in the various government laboratories, Livermore, Los Alamos, and weren't just going to rely on the general manager of the AEC. So this was partly a learning experience for me, you might say. I found myself really in sympathy with the laboratories who were used, particularly the old NACA laboratories, were much more like the university laboratories that I was experienced with, than some of the more high-powered either nuclear or weapons system kind of operations that develop the very complex piece of hardware.
COLLINS: You did this on the job evaluation of the inadequacies of the system that Horner had set up, and didn't feel they were quite appropriate to how you envisioned the job. How did you begin to understand the things that you needed to have around you, in terms of staff assistance, to do the job as you saw it?
SEAMANS: Well, first, as far as the mode of operation went, I could visualize myself reading as required on particular projects, when the program people were coming up for the first time to make a decision on a contract, for example. But I also felt that there had to be some kind of regularized communication with the program people. I don't remember when I established monthly meetings, but somewhere along the line in the course of the first six months, we started in with monthly meetings, for each one of the programs. There were at that time three principal program offices.
There was the Abe Silverstein program on all satellites of all types, including the applications, that is the communication and meteorological satellites. There was the Don Ostrander large vehicle program office, and they had responsibility for all of the booster stages and rocket engines. That is, there was the Delta launch vehicle and the Saturn launch vehicle and the Scout launch vehicle and upper stages, the Agenas and so on. Then finally there was what amounted to the old NACA, which was under Ira Abbott, who was an old line NACA type, and this included all the work in aerodynamics, in materials, propulsion and all of this type of research activity, except that it did not include anything in the area of electronics. That's a story unto itself.
Then underneath these program people were the centers that were most involved in those various activities. Abe Silverstein had Goddard, which had grown out of the Naval Research Lab and the Vanguard project, as well as a real anomaly, namely, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Wallops Island, which was a very small operation with sounding rockets over at Chincoteague. Don Ostrander's principal operation of course was Marshall, and that included not only the work in Huntsville but the work down at Cape Canaveral, and finally, Ira Abbott had the old NACA laboratories at Langley and Ames and Lewis, and the flight test center out in the desert.
I might say, I mentioned Cape Canaveral. One of the very difficult management issues was what to do down at the Cape. It took quite a long time to get it resolved, and it was very much interrelated with how we operated with the Air Force, that was responsible for all of the military work at the Cape, and whose services had to be used and were used on almost every NASA flight.
There was not one coherent entity down there at the Cape. Marshall Center had Kurt Debus at the Cape to take care of the Saturn launch facilities. Abe Silverstein had a group down there tied in with the Space Task Group and Bob Gilruth, and there was another group down there that was responsible for the unmanned satellite launches, and each one of these different entities had their own logistics and everything down there. There was not a coherent program at the Cape, between all of the different NASA activities.
On organization, there's just a couple of other points. Keith had recognized that something had to be done about, call it the medical and the biological side of things, and had brought in somebody by the name of Clark Randt who was in charge of the Life Science Program. This never really came into full flower. Clark--was a nice guy, a doctor--was, I'd say, overwhelmed by all of the different elements he had to deal with, both in NASA and in the Air Force. That part of the operation never got properly folded in to all the other things going on in NASA. And even as early as the very first meeting I went to down in Williamsburg, I found myself down there spending, oh, three or four hours late one night with Clark Randt holding his hand, and he said, "This is impossible. I'm going to leave." And I said, "I just arrived here. Stick around, just a little bit anyway, to help me understand what the issues are."
If you look at the chart, it also shows that Al Siepert, the administrative office, was shown on the same line with the program people reporting in to the associate administrator. Then there was an element, an item here called the Office of Technical Information and Educational Programs, which was headed by Shelby Thompson. So those were the elements that reported in to me. The question was, did they all need to report in to me? If that was the case, what did I need in order to provide an appropriate impedance match with their needs and with my needs?
At the start, I was quite content to bring in to my office two, I think I always had two individuals who knew, who were familiar with NASA, who came from the organization and really could work with me, help me with the communications, and I think in general I tried to give each one of them a somewhat different assignment, but they were really there to help keep things moving day to day.
COLLINS: So you had initially this device of monthly meetings of the top program staff, to keep you informed of what was going on, and it also gave you a look into what other mechanisms might be needed to properly work with them.
SEAMANS: Right. I notice that on here, there was an Office of Program Analysis and Control, headed by a Robert King. I really don't remember him, but he was the person who was in charge of the control room that I've described. Office of Program Analysis and Control clearly leaned heavily on these charts, and the organization itself did not take these charts very seriously.
COLLINS: One of the things that I think Dr. Glennan was concerned about, as the old NACA moved into this new situation of handling these very large projects, principally on a contract basis, was that they develop a different point of view about how to manage a project. It was different than what was done in NACA before.
SEAMANS: That's really true.
TAPE 1, SIDE 2
SEAMANS: Well, Keith was quite right to have that kind of concern about the NACA centers. I call it NACA rather than "NACA" because that's my heritage. Of course, he wasn't there too long, after Marshall was brought in the organization. But we had that same problem in spades with Marshall, as well as with JPL. Goddard, on the other hand, had grown with the program, and it had come out of the Navy, which had more management experience than the old NACA.
The NACA centers, let's double back now, were truly research centers that only did contracting as a means for getting support for what they themselves were doing. They'd be operating a wind tunnel. Obviously you have to bring in a design team to help do the details of the design of the wind tunnel. They'd go out and get contractors to build a wind tunnel. But the operation of the wind tunnel, once it was built, and even the building of the models and operation of the electronics and so on were done by the people at those centers, which is somewhat different from Marshall.
Marshall was involved in a lot of very major hardware activities, but they were truly of the old arsenal heritage. They had big machine shops and large assembly areas, and they used contractors to come in with major chunks of hardware, but a lot of it was built in-house at Marshall, and that's the way they were used to working. It was really even more difficult to get Marshall to change their mode of operation, which I believe they had to do or we would not have been able to carry out the Apollo program on anything like the same time scale.
Coming back to the centers, Keith's concern, which was a very real concern, refabricated the importance of getting them to change their point of view, their method of operation, as they took on broader responsibilities, but it wasn't until some years after Keith left that we actually gave the NACA research centers true project responsibility. For example, the Lunar Orbiter, a major project, went to Langley, and they in turn contracted with Boeing, which was a major 60 to 70 million dollar contract.
The Jet Propulsion Lab similarly had this--had to change considerably in their mode of operation. They were a large university type center, and they were, just as Marshall, used to doing a lot of the work themselves in-house, and that was fine as long as there were relatively few projects, and each project received a mother's love and attention, but the real problem we had on the Ranger project, which was the responsibility of JPL, was that the work was not systematized to the point where any one individual knew what was being done to the spacecraft prior to the time that it went to the Cape, so that an individual at JPL could say to himself, "I believe that we could put in a better amplifier for such and such an instrument and I think I'll go do it." And they'd just build a new circuit board and plug it in, and the head of the project wouldn't even know that that had been done.
Of course, the danger of that is that the part that's put in may not have been properly tested, qualified for the flight. When you make a change like that, it can interact with other elements in the system and so on. So there was a tremendous learning experience required by the NACA centers, but really across the board. I'd say, except for Goddard that grew up with the new program. Abe Silverstein did a tremendously efficient job getting Goddard established in his own mold. He was a very, very unique person and extremely good engineer.
COLLINS: Do you feel that this was a key problem that you needed to confront during the Glennan period?
SEAMANS: Absolutely, yes. Keith did discuss this with me. But the question was, how to grab ahold of it, and certainly, getting the appropriate reporting information was one way. I wish I could remember, I think it was TRW that carried out the study, which would have made sense because it wasn't TRW then, I guess, it was just Ramo-Wooldridge, and they'd done so much on the ballistic missile development and had gone through management issues like the ones we faced, and I have a recollection of their coming in with the results of a study that had been initiated by Dick Horner, where the idea was that there would be an information chain on all projects, that the people down at the working level would have one specific part. But the same information would be available at all levels, so that the general manager of NASA could be looking at overall flight schedules, and notice that there was a delay, and almost by himself could automatically go down and find the element that was holding the project up, because the chain of data that would be computerized and available.
That was again controversial. It's the business of the people in charge of the detail not always wanting to have everybody looking over their shoulder while they're making some tough decisions. It's also a question of how you keep it updated as you go along, because if you're not careful you can have a "junk in, junk out" kind of proposition. I was well aware of the dichotomy in this, and Keith's desire on the one hand, but the technical people on the other, and their mode of operation, which, as I've said before, was more in common with my own experience.
COLLINS: Right. In the sense were an individual researcher or individual group of researchers needed a certain amount of trust to carry on their--
SEAMANS: Exactly. Exactly. You tend to break down that trust if you have Big Brother with all the information looking over your shoulder.
COLLINS: Yes. But clearly from the administrator's point of view, both for Dr. Glennan and Mr. Webb, there was a need to have this awareness for essentially political purposes. You have to be on top of what you were doing.
SEAMANS: They did not want to be caught with something happening that they hadn't been made aware of by the organization itself.
COLLINS: So this question of reporting and careful project management, was this in essence what Dr. Glennan meant when he told you to take charge?
SEAMANS: Yes. I'm sure of that. Yes. Let me just say, one other program that had been started by Dick Horner was the development of larger launch vehicles. The Saturn 1 was pretty far along in its thinking when I joined NASA. They used eight of the same engines that were used on the Atlas. There was still a question of what the upper stage would be like. But there was also a planning for much larger vehicles, the kind that would be required for circumlunar flight. There wasn't much said in those days about actually landing on the moon. That was something that was beyond the ten year plan.
I can remember when a group came in to report on a study that Marshall must have been responsible for, and I sat there with Keith and Don Ostrander and I guess Wernher and these people trotted out, numbers like three billion dollars, and I guess I spoke out rather strongly, that those were pretty big numbers and it was questionable if we had the support of the country to go ahead with projects like that, and aftewards Keith was very pleased, that I hadn't been overwhelmed by the great salesmanship of somebody like Wernher von Braun. He said, "I can see that you're as troubled by these kinds of presentations as I have been in the past."
COLLINS: One thing that has struck me very forcibly and I've marveled at is the apparent degree of congruity between Dr. Glennan's political outlook and President Eisenhower's. They seemed to think along very close lines. I'm wondering, during this period, what your political education was, because you were coming from a university and government setting where this concern with overall national goals was obviously not as relevant or pressing. How did you begin to get a feel for the tenor of the Eisenhower Administration's approach to space?
SEAMANS: Okay. That's a good question. Let me just double back and say that--try to analyze my own point of view first. I'd worked with, as we've said in previous meetings, with Doc Draper, and Doc was a, I'd call him a very aggressive person. Obviously everybody working with Doc during the war was motivated to do everything possible to provide the fire control and the gun sights and equipment and so on needed for the war. But this carried through after the war, and the Instrumentation Lab in the late forties and fifties wasn't exactly on a war footing, but the project leaders were still thinking of national objectives and the need to have a very strong military force.
Then, I was involved to some extent with the ballistic missile program, and then Sputnik and that kind of concern-- again, you know, there was this motivation to drive hard with our technology, for purposes of air and space, and that was my motivation when I arrived at NASA. I was disappointed that we hadn't done more in competition with the Soviet Union in this new space arena. Keith had some of that concern, but he also could see that there had to be some limits, and just to think now of a couple of specifics, we mentioned communication satellites before we started this interview today.
I went down to Washington on a few occasions to meet with Keith, and we were sitting outdoors having dinner at the Shoreham, when Echo went over, and you know, he was very excited about it. I mean, there was something big going overhead, something you could see at night and reflect signals off of, and then I think it was about the second day after I'd arrived on a full time basis that Keith said, "Let's go over to the White House mess and have lunch. There's something I want to talk to you about." He'd just received a proposal from Hughes Aircraft to put up a communications satellite in synchronous orbit, which came to be called Syncom. It was a very clever really imaginative concept, to have this spinner up there that would serve as an active relay station.
Even though Keith and Eisenhower were on more or less the same wavelength, there wasn't any question that if Keith had had his druthers, he'd have gone right ahead with that project. Soon thereafter, I went with Keith to see Maurice Stans. By then, we not only had the Hughes proposal to build a satellite, but we also had a proposition from AT&T to get going with a communications system that used a satellite, and they were talking about they themselves putting up the satellite, which came to be called Telstar, but they would have the ground net and they would tie in with other nations and so on.
Keith wanted to get going on that as well, so he met with Maurie Stans and Keith had put in his proposed budget, 10 million dollars for this purpose, and it wasn't clear exactly whether this would just be for the AT&T or some part of it might be for continuing study of the Hughes proposal, and he couldn't get anywhere with Maurie Stans on this. Finally I guess he just got exasperated and said, "I can't understand what you want," and Maurie said, "I just want a bargain basement figure for space." Then after that, we ended up (I guess it was in this sequence) at a Cabinet meeting, when Keith presented the total budget, and that's when Eisenhower said about the same thing.
Kistiakowsky, as part of the total presentation to the Cabinet, had reviewed the possibility of going to the moon, which everybody scoffed at, and finally when Keith had presented the much more modest budget that we'd been talking about, we'd been talking about with Maurie Stans, which came to about a level billion dollars, and Eisenhower was saying, "I just wish somebody could tell me what the right program is for space that costs about a billion dollars."
Keith was saying, I don't quite remember how Keith came in on that discussion, but I would think it would have been along the lines, "Well, we have a pretty well balanced program, but it needs to be somewhat larger than a billion dollars." But Keith was not thinking of five billion or anything like that. Of course, also at this time there was concern on Eisenhower's part, particularly about the manned program, and Eisenhower in his final message to the Congress wanted to say that there should not be any initiation of a manned space program, of anything beyond Mercury, at least until Mercury was completed.
But coming back to the communications, I think this was the only meeting I had one on one with Eisenhower and Keith, the two of us and Eisenhower and Goodpaster, there were four of us sitting there in the Oval Office, and we were talking about the ten million dollars for communications. As it came out, the ten million was put in the budget, but it was put in as a reimbursable item by AT&T, so it really wasn't in the budget, but it was recognized that something more should be done than just the Echo passive satellite.
You asked a question about Keith's rapport with President Eisenhower. The first thing I thought of was really how loyal and respectful Keith was of President Eisenhower. There's no question about that. Just from the last year, or since the Challenger accident anyway, we've established something called the NASA Alumni League, and you're familiar with it so I won't describe it here, but I got a call from Keith. We sent out a notice to all the people in the Washington area or people who had worked in Headquarters, I got a call from Keith and he said, "How are you going to run this? Who are you going to let in as members?" I said, "We're really talking about people coming in as individuals, people who have either worked directly for NASA or who worked at JPL." He said, "Well, are you going to allow any funds from corporations?" I said, "No, we're talking about, at least at this time, our income will be just the dues from the individuals who are members." He said, "Well, if you stick with that, I'll be a member. If you allow corporations to be involved, I don't want to have any part of it."
And it's not that he's against companies, but he has the same point of view that Eisenhower had on the military-industrial complex, that there has to be a check rein on it. It's not a bad thing. We're fortunate that we have it. But you can't let it take over the total policy of the United States. There'll be no limit to what will happen if we do.
COLLINS: That's an incredibly complex issue, and I guess that's something we can continue to discuss as we go along.
SEAMANS: There's one other item about Keith's interest in management. When I arrived, the study, the McKinsey study, was chaired by John Corson. I really didn't have much to do with it, but it shows that Keith, like Jim Webb, really thought a lot about how to structure a large organization. Keith had put together an advisory group that I guess John chaired, and he also had the McKinsey Company to help with all the machinery and machinations and detail work that was required. I can't remember now if I'd actually signed on, anyway I was about to become or I just was the associate administrator when they had the last meeting and a dinner at the Metropolitan Club. I went over and was introduced to them, and they started asking me questions about my views on management and so on, and all I could tell them was something about my past experience. I had not been at NASA long enough to have a viewpoint. So anyway, that's a program that Keith had put into place. However, I have a hard time telling you what came out of the study, of a very positive nature, other than looking at the organization chart that we've discussed but I don't know how much of that was really influenced by the study. It would be interesting today to take a look at that study and see what they actually did. But I think the fact that they had this study was important.
COLLINS: I think we can discuss that along another line of our interview and we can return to the overall kind of political sense. One kind of theme that I detect from my discussions with Dr. Glennan is a sense that he wanted to establish a program that pushed the technology as quickly forward as was efficiently possible. He had this kind if intuitive sense in his head, it seems, that you could only move the technology ahead so fast. Additional monies that might be put into the program could not be efficiently spent. This is a kind of, I think, something that Eisenhower very strongly agreed with. I wonder whether you had discussions about this with him, or had your own sense about how quickly the technology involved with space could be advanced, depending on budget levels?
SEAMANS: I think you have to differentiate between pushing technology and pushing missions and projects. I would be in complete agreement with Keith, and probably did, as we discussed it, that when you have a team of people who are working--to take a technology I know something about--on an advanced gyroscope, there are only so many people that can be involved. You know, there's always the analogy, it takes two people to conceive and have a baby, and you can put 19 people involved in the whole process but you're not going to get there any faster. You know. That's the kind of analogy that's often used to make this point.
So assuming that you've thought of all the technologies that were going to be needed, and you had the best kinds of endeavor going on in each one, then that was it. You put some more money in it, it's not going to do you any good. The question of course at that time was, were we really working in all the areas that needed to be worked on, and were we bringing along all the missions that were important to bring along, and I think that's where the debate should take place more than how rapidly a new technology can be brought along.
I guess my own thinking is that to some extent, you can speed up a process, advancing technology, by having dual endeavors, maybe slightly different approach, maybe a little bit of competition between two groups, but that you're working on a curve that has a real knee to it, and the costs are going to go up very sharply for the gains that you're going to make beyond the knee of that curve.
COLLINS: This is a theme I'd like to return to, because I think it will be interesting enough when Kennedy began to build up the program. It was called then an accelerated program, to move the space effort forward. So there seems to be a kind of philosophical difference between the two administrations, in the degree to which you could force the pace of things.
SEAMANS: Okay. But let me just say here, it will come up again, that Keith did a pretty good job, Keith and the people that worked in NASA during the late fifties, in anticipating the technology. I think the work that was done on the liquid hydrogen engine, for example, was absolutely essential to what was to follow, and if that preliminary work hadn't been done during the late fifties, you couldn't have gone to the moon in the sixties.
COLLINS: One other way in which the space program was scrutinized during the later Eisenhower Administration was this question of proper management of the program. There was a lot of press attention to the so-called mismanagement of both the missile development programs as well as the NASA activities. I've never been able to get a really clear fix on what the concern was that the press was really referring to by "mismanagement." Did you ever develop a feel for what those criticisms were about?
SEAMANS: Now, you're referring to the period of the election and the interregnum?
COLLINS: Just after Sputnik, you had a report on both the missile and space programs in early 1958. Of course, this preceded the arrival of NASA, but the issue was still I think fairly hot in 1960.
SEAMANS: I think people were, to some extent, using management in a different sense than we're using the term here this morning. I think what they're talking about is a management of national resources, and putting the emphasis in the right place at the right time. And the feeling that we shouldn't have let Sputnik happen, ahead of our program, that our program Vanguard clearly was unsuccessful in the first, I believe, ten shots. That didn't look like very great management, and it must have been heart-rending for the people involved, because it was a very limited, research kind of program. It obviously could have been managed better with the resources they had, but it was a minimal program. Vanguard was not anything like the ballistic missile program that was run by the Air Force with Benny Schriever in charge. I think that NASA inherited that whole Vanguard group.
I think the NACA was looked at as a very stodgy group, in the main. I think Hugh Dryden himself took quite a bit of abuse. He was not a terribly charismatic person, and he'd been the director of the NACA. The NACA, you know, came into this space effort very reluctantly. It really wasn't Hugh Dryden, it was first Jerry Hunsaker and then Jimmy Doolittle, they were very much against having the NACA conduct any work that related to possible future space work. I know this because I was on a subcommittee that tried to get them to do it. I think some of that also permeated outside the government. Then, of course, you had the political forces, particularly from the Air Force, that wanted to have a big chunk of the action. They definitely would have liked to have been responsible for manned flight in space, and so one way of getting more responsibility was to assist in the propaganda that made NASA look inept.
If you look at the group who were put together during the interregnum under Jerry Wiesner, you'll see Trevor Gardner in there, you know, one of the strongest Air Force advocates you could possibly put on there, had no use at all for NASA. It was, you know, a fairly sore point amongst those in NASA that they had no input into that study, and yet stuff was being leaked out about what a lousy job they were doing, what lousy management, and old fogies in charge, which meant Hugh Dryden. But Jerry got himself working with a disparate group, particularly the sort of headstrong Air Force types that wanted to take over the program.
COLLINS: You sketched out some of the things that the organization was grappling with. I'd like to return briefly to your reaction to von Braun's presentation on the Saturn rocket, and the costs associated with that. Was that kind of a project manager's reaction to a proposed very large activity, or was it kind of combined with a sense of the political realities of the time?
SEAMANS: Well, I think both of the above, and also, as I said earlier, I was used to fairly modest budgets compared to the kind of dollars that were being talked about. You know, the first time you talk about a project that involves multibillion dollars, it somewhat blows the mind. I think there was some element of that in there too, from my own reaction. But I also had the experience of going with Keith over to the OMB, to the BOB, and saw the difficulty of getting an extra ten million dollars, and the thought of trying to get an extra two or three billion seemed out of the question, in the climate that we had at that time. We had no idea what the climate was going to be in the next administration.
COLLINS: I'd like to return briefly to the initial part of our discussion, about the manner in which you executed your job as associate administrator. We talked about your monthly meetings as one mechanism of keeping on top of things, and the various assistants and stuff that you brought into your office. There were a couple of other things I wanted to quickly run down. One of them was the manner in which you kept Dr. Glennan informed of your activities and those of the people who were reporting to you. I believe he had something instituted called a biweekly project status review, or review for the administrator. Do you recall these meetings, in which you reported to Dr. Glennan? Or I guess alternately can you describe either the formal or informal mechanisms that you used to keep him informed of your activities and those of your people who were reporting to you?
SEAMANS: Let me first say that somebody like Al Siepert or [Wes] Hjornevik, his assistant or deputy at that time, could probably do a better job than I can of recalling that. But as I remember it, we did meet in the room with all the charts. I'd been there a sufficiently short time that I didn't attempt to actually be the presenter. I would sit with Keith and the different elements of NASA--say Abe Silverstein and his group--would discuss the projects that were current, and some of the travail, things that weren't going well and why they weren't going well.
Then Keith and I together would comment, and maybe afterwards he and I would have some discussion in which I might volunteer, or he might ask me to follow up on something or other, and when I would agree to do that, then as I got some additional information, I would take it in and say, "Well, I've taken a look at the delay in the Scout program, and I've had to change a contractor and I think it's going to go better," or whatever the case might be. But that was one mode of operation, which to me was not terribly satisfactory, because I hadn't been there long enough and I didn't feel I was able at those meetings to get into enough depth or really understand what was going on. But you're right, there were such meetings. I'd say that much more of my time with Keith was spent on specifics.
A fair number of contracts were awarded during the last few months Keith was there. And there must have been an extension to the--there was a Nimbus. I can't quite remember. A very important satellite contract was negotiated, either negotiated or started with as particular company. Remember, on those, unlike the Jim Webb operation, it was a question of the individual who was responsible for evaluating the proposal would meet again in the same room with all the charts around. Then Hugh and I would go in with Keith, just the three of us, and discuss it, and then Keith would thank us very much and perform what he called "going into the closet by himself," and maybe the next day would tell us why he had decided to pick a certain contractor. It's sort of hard to truly remember. I would say the conversations with Keith tentatively went along the lines of specific issues that we had, be it a new contract.
The whole relationship with Caltech and JPL was a problem which came to a head after Keith left. There was the discussion of course of his wanting to put things in good order for the next administrator. Eisenhower had made it very clear at a Cabinet meeting that he felt that they had a responsibility to do this, and he wanted his administration to do the best job that had ever been done of turning things over to the next administration. Keith took that very seriously, and I think even today, there's great sadness on his part when he thinks about having done all this, and nobody came around to pick it up. It was a very difficult period for Keith. There was a big dinner, I guess it must be the Wright Brothers Dinner, which occurs in December, and this was one of these big affairs, I think it was at the Shoreham, and Keith was the principal speaker, and it was really bad. I mean, Keith tried to give his speech, which was quite a serious speech, probably the last major one he was going to give, and the people in the audience were just all talking. They weren't paying any attention to what he was saying. NASA was not, you might say, riding high in the community in those days.
TAPE 2, SIDE 1
SEAMANS: And Keith laid a foundation that made it possible to do, what came next under Jim Webb. So I think it is important to understand what went on during this period of change. I mean, Keith was there, first he had to start de novo and add all these groups together, and then he had to try to establish a program out of whole cloth, and then he had to deal with this interregnum, and it was all within about three years. I mean, it was a very short period of time. I think what was accomplished--I can say this, I was there such a short time, I take absolutely no credit for it--was really quite a remarkable job.
COLLINS: I've come to appreciate that more and more as I look closely at it. We were talking about the formal and informal mechanisms that were set up for you to communicate with Dr. Glennan. I thought we might look a little bit more generally at how you conceived Dr. Glennan's looking at how you, Dryden and he would work together.
SEAMANS: All right. I want to be careful how I say this, vis-a-vis Hugh Dryden, and I think we've discussed Hugh previously. He was a remarkable person. He was highly respected in the US government, in scientific circles, and in international circles. But he was looked at by me then and I think by Keith then as a somewhat older person, as a person who was not really interested in a day to day management of a whole bunch of projects, and things interacting one with another and all the personnel issues and so on, even though he'd had a lot to do with the management of the NACA prior to the formation of NASA. It was a much more loosely run organization than NASA could be, by virtue of the different missions they had, so that when Keith first talked about the job with me, when we were at the Statler in Boston having dinner, and all follow-on discussions, there wasn't any question that he felt the need for a general manager who would have responsibility for all of the day to day operations.
So Hugh's role was to interact with the Academy of Sciences, to tie in to some extent with scientific work going on in the Department of Defense, with other--with the Weather Bureau. We had the Tiros satellite--what was the name of the person in charge? Ruckelhaus or something like that, in charge of the Weather Bureau at that time, which eventually became NOAA; with all of the international scientific people. Hugh seemed quite satisfied to do that. There was a little bit of tension, inasmuch as Abe Silverstein and some of the other NACA types had worked with Hugh Dryden over the years. But I never really had any problem by virtue of their wanting to go and talk to Hugh Dryden thereby partially cutting me out of the loop. The roles that Keith had in mind and that Jim Webb followed seemed to fit the natural proclivities, I would say, of the individuals, including their experience and so on.
COLLINS: So there was a sense in which some of the old line NACA people wanted to continue to consult with Hugh.
SEAMANS: And they should. I mean, on some things, some of the technical aspects, he was more experienced than I was, and Bob Gilruth was another one, to go and talk to Hugh about a heat shield problem or something--that was fine with me, you know. But there really wasn't very much of that that took place.
COLLINS: Did you, as associate administrator, feel a need to keep up a certain number of contacts with the scientific community as well? Or was that pretty much Dryden's domain?
SEAMANS: I didn't. The community that he dealt with, like the NRL types and so on, were not people I had ever dealt with to any great extent. I'd been dealing with the contractors, General Dynamics and the people that built the hardware, and so there really is a difference between a scientist and an engineer. So there was no conflict of that sort. Now, I did feel as time went on that there were certain things that I should be responsible for, that he was handling. One of them was the so-called AACB, Aeronautics and Astronautics Coordinating Board with the Department of Defense. I felt that if I was the general manager of NASA, that I should be the one to coordinate the work with the Department of Defense, and early in Jim Webb's administration, I did take that over from Hugh.
COLLINS: But you agreed that there was a continuing concern among the scientists about NASA's programs for manned and unmanned space activities, and the fact that you were overseeing both elements of NASA's work in these areas--did you come in contact with the scientific community?
SEAMANS: Yes. For example, the Wiesner report that we were talking about just a little earlier not only came down hard on NASA, but it came down pretty hard on the Mercury program, and it raised the question of whether NASA should be allowed to proceed; I mean it was that strong, with the program. I think it pointed out the tremendous damage to national prestige that might result from a failure. It also pointed out that nowhere near enough work had been done in the life sciences, and it recommended that much more work be done using chimpanzees, of which, you know, we had some to test the chimpanzees to the limit in centrifuges, you know, you kill them, to get a better feel for what an astronaut might be able to endure, and to insure that in any Mercury flight that we would not exceed that limit.
Now, there's where Hugh would step in. If I'm not mistaken, Don Hornig was the one working for Jerry Wiesner who was involved in this sort of biomedical area, and I was just delighted to have Hugh be the focal point for that kind of discussion. He of course also got into discussion with elements in the Academy of Sciences and committees they'd put together to review, and Hugh knew how to handle those kinds of quasi-bureaucratic, quasi-technical, quasi-scientific things very nicely. You know, a lot of the concern was just sheer baloney, but you couldn't attack it that way. You couldn't just say that. You had to hear them out and get into discussions of the thickness of the cranium, you know, all that kind of thing, to finally get it resolved.
COLLINS: So going back again to the relative responsibilities of you and Dr. Dryden and Dr. Glennan, essentially it was you and Dr. Glennan who handled most of these decisions related to the direction operation.
SEAMANS: Yes. There was never any suggestion or thought that I had a responsibility to work through Hugh Dryden to Keith, or to keep Hugh informed. We often did meet, the three of us together, in common purpose. There were some things that I knew from the past would interest Hugh, and where I would value his judgment, and I'd go to him and discuss those with him. But I can't give you a number on it, but far and away the largest part of my work was with Keith, not with Hugh.
COLLINS: I think I'd like to take up the question of procurement and contracting under Dr. Glennan. You mentioned a fair number of major contracts were let out towards the end of his tenure. How did you begin to educate yourself about good procurement procedures, once you were in NASA? That was certainly a slightly different situation than MIT or RCA, and the stakes were much higher.
SEAMANS: Yes. Well, one person who was invaluable to me was Al Siepert, who was in charge of that administrative office that in turn included procurement as one of the functions, and he was quite a remarkable person. I was able, I found very early on, to have frank discussions with him. Pretty early on he asked me, he said he just wanted to know how I could have possibly accepted a job which, although I wasn't a Presidential appointee, I clearly served at the pleasure of the administrator, and didn't I feel I might only be down there for six months? That kind of question. So if he could ask me that, I could ask him almost anything. We got along very well.
So it was possible, talking to him, his office had to know, you know, all the different things that were out for bid, and what the timing was, when the proposals would be due, what the plans were at least for making the decisions. That was all really in his office, and that's really how I got educated on the specifics in that area. On the, call it the bolder view of things, it would have been primarily with Keith. I knew that he was going to try to let and sign as many contracts as possible before he got out of there. I think there's one where the decision was made the day he left, was it planetary? A fairly substantial contract, he wanted to get signed the day he left.
I guess, I don't remember in detail how I built up sort of an awareness of the whole process, and of course it did change somewhat when Jim Webb came in, because he looked at the procurement process as one way of educating the organization. But when we had the final presentations, on the big projects, when Jim Webb was there, we spent a full day on it, so we could really get into depth. As I remember, I did not have to get into any approval of procurement plans during the time that I was there with Keith. A lot of things had been set in motion during the first year of NASA, and we were playing out that string, when I was there with Keith, and then any new procurements had to await decisions that were made by the next administration. So I didn't get into the whole business of procurement planning.
There's a lot that goes into it. You have to think through what the job is, to what extent you want to contract out, to what extent you want to do the job in-house. You have to think through whether you're going to have one contractor to do the whole thing, or whether you're going to divide it up into different segments. You have to think through whether it's going to be a procurement that's handled out of a particular center, or not. You really have to think in terms of who's responsible in the center. You have to think at the very start what kinds of people should evaluate the proposal when it comes in. You have to think in terms of the timing.
As I said, I didn't really get into procurement planning until after Jim Webb became administrator, and that was part of the job that I really did--well, I took the full responsibility for it. As I remember it, I didn't even really discuss the procurement plan, except in a very general way, with Jim Webb and Hugh Dryden.
COLLINS: Obviously it was a concern for Dr. Glennan, and he went to McKinsey to ask them to do a special study of NASA contracting policies and industrial relationships. If I recall correctly, that final report was submitted in October, 1960, so that would have been just after you came on.
COLLINS: Do you recall reviewing this and discussing how some of the elements of the recommendations might be implemented, or anything along those lines?
SEAMANS: I really don't. I guess that was part of my learning process, working with Al Siepert. I don't remember anything that came out of that study--you know, in specific terms. I would expect that Keith, when he reviewed the study, would have had Al Siepert at his right hand, for comment and observation.
COLLINS: Yes. A couple of things you've already mentioned about how to handle procurement functions. I mean, especially centrally the question of how you balance an in-house capability to do the work, in terms of supervising the work of the contractors. Did you?
SEAMANS: There's no question in Keith's mind that we wanted to contract out major responsibilities, and that we did not want to have an arsenal type operation in NASA, that we wanted to follow more along the Air Force line than the Army line of endeavor, in the way we did it; that we wanted to limit the number of government people within NASA and look to the expansion as required for different projects to come primarily from the private sector.
COLLINS: But did you begin to give some attention to the question of how to supervise that, when you took that approach?
SEAMANS: Well, of course that came back really to what we were talking about previously, with all the charts and everything. That goes back to how you supervise the endeavor once it gets under way. How you supervise the endeavor during the procurement process is something I don't really remember in connection with working with Keith. Obviously some of it, what I learned, my education depended partly on what I learned from Keith and partly after that. I think one of the really important elements is to be sure that when you've got all through, you've done a job that can't be overridden by complaints to the GAO. You've got to be very careful during the process that you don't try to meddle internally or externally.
We had the policy that I could talk to contractors, Congress, and the media, when the process was ongoing, because I never talked to the members of the Source Evolution Board who were involved in the actual analysis and evaluation of the proposals. There was absolutely no feedback one way or the other from me to those who were involved in that analysis. So if company X wanted to come in and tell me about something, I didn't have to say, "I'm sorry, there's procurement under way and you can't do that." So the idea was to get the process started correctly, agree what it was you're trying to buy, agree who's going to be responsible for the evaluation, and then let the process go until the board was ready to come in with its findings.
I never asked for a presentation prior to the presentation to the administrator. Because all procurements didn't have to go to the level of the administrator, but on those that did, I never tried to head them off and maybe put a little bit of spin into it or something like that, or tell them, no, they're not presenting it the way I would like. I think that methodology stood us in very good stead, under both administrations.
COLLINS: Yes. One of the things that comes out very clearly in Dr. Glennan's diary is the degree to which he was besieged by industrial concerns, hoping to get a piece of the space business.
SEAMANS: If I could advise those companies, they'd have done well not to try!
COLLINS: Once you came to be associate administrator, were you similarly kind of drawn into this general interest in getting into the action?
SEAMANS: Yes, we had all kinds of invitations, the dinners and, you know, all that sort of thing. I guess fortuitously, we were so damned busy that there wasn't a great appeal in that. It wasn't as well structured then as it became a little later on. So people were left somewhat more to their own judgment of how to proceed. It was pretty obvious, you know, what was going on. But I think that ties in perfectly with what I've already said, that if you just made it clear to everybody that you weren't involved in the evaluation and you didn't know how it was going, and you'd be very interested to see the results, and once the results have become available, to make the decision in the shortest possible time, and with concern not only vis-a-vis the industrial world, but the body politic, the Senators, the Congressmen, the White House, all can have an interest in how these things come out.
So there would not only be calls from industry, but there were a lot of calls from Senators and Congressmen. With one exception, I never had any trouble with them. I mean, they invariably ran along the lines of, the person, usually on the phone, introducing himself or herself, and saying did I know that such and such a procurement was in process? And yes, I would. I would immediately identify someone calling from let's say Seattle, the Congressman from the Seattle area, if it was something to do with Boeing, and he'd say, "I hope that you'll consider such and such," and I'd just say, "Well, we're going to give that every consideration, and we're going to take into account all aspects, and do our best to come up with what is in the national interest." I didn't think it was ever a serious problem, as I say, with one exception.
COLLINS: Another vehicle through which NASA and industry discussed projects, besides these informal contacts, was the NASA industry conferences that were periodically held. What was the general tenor of these things? I know primarily they were a vehicle for NASA to let industry know what was possibly in the works, in terms of plans and projects.
SEAMANS: Well, yes. The NACA had a heritage of running conferences. The conferences that were run by the NACA were usually not programmatic, they were technical. They would describe work on supersonic drag or what have you. But the NACA was very, very good at putting on three day conferences, two day conferences, and I remember the first conference that I went to that NACA ran was in the summer, when I had agreed that I would become the associate administrator but before I actually was sworn in. I think we've previously discussed the meeting.
There was I think maybe a two or three day, a big conference, and it just went through the total NASA program, and how things stood in--let's say the Mercury program, and really quite open discussions of where things stood and where they were going, and I think--I'm pretty sure--also talked about things that were in planning, and so on. And a lot of Q and A. I think the one I'm referring to was given in the Commerce Auditorium, a big auditorium, I don't know, six or seven hundred people were there, contractor people. I think they were very effective, and they were done extremely well.
COLLINS: What kinds of concerns or questions would typically be raised at these kinds of sessions, if such characterization can be made?
SEAMANS: Of course, their interest would obviously be in positioning themselves for a big contract, so they would be trying to determine which might be coming first, a new planetary probe or the Saturn vehicle, let's say. But the questions wouldn't be asked as bluntly as that. It would be asked in terms of what the status was on--or what was expected of the propulsion system for the Saturn, and what the preliminary design showed the total all-up weight might be at lift-off, and what kind of a margin would the propulsion system have to have to give it positive lift, a lift greater than the weight as it left the pad; all those types of questions to get a feel for what the requirements were going to be.
COLLINS: Yes. One thing that I'm wondering about is quite a factor in the late fifties, '58, '59, the Air Force of course was very interested in the possibility of pursuing a manned space program, and let some study contracts out to industry to look at this question, specifically relating to what they called their "man in space soonest" idea. So there was an awareness in the industry that the possibility of a fairly large scale manned program might be in the offering. Was this something that industry pushed for at this time? Were you conscious of them?
SEAMANS: You mean, pushing for the Air Force to have such a program?
COLLINS: Not for the Air Force, but perhaps the industry sensing a potential competition between the Air Force and NASA, how this might play out in the contracting situation, and as an element in encouraging NASA to take on a larger scale activity than they were presently doing.
SEAMANS: Let's see. There was always the possibility that one or another agency, either say within the Department of Defense, the Army versus the Air Force or Air Force versus NASA, was going to end up with the responsibility for a particular project, and industry was always trying to sniff that one out, so they could play their cards correctly vis-a-vis the outfit that was eventually going to have the responsibility. At the time you mention, let's see, the Dyna-Soar was in progress, wasn't it? I guess there was interest in what the Air Force was doing, but I think most contractors had decided that the man in space, at least during the Eisenhower Administration, was firmly implanted in NASA, and the Air Force wasn't likely to go very far. Let's see, there was another competitive area having to do with communication satellites, with the Advent project, which was an Army satellite project, and there was a lot of interest at that conference in what NASA might be doing in communications, if I'm not mistaken.
COLLINS: You don't recall any specific sense in which the industry was saying, let's move ahead more strongly with the space program?
SEAMANS: Well, I can assure you that the industry was pushing as rapidly as possible on the space endeavor, so that the problem at those meetings would be, whether it appeared that NASA was not going ahead as rapidly as industry felt that they might or could. That would be the pressure point, I would think, in those days.
COLLINS: Let's just cover a couple more things under Dr. Glennan and then a little more specifically about the transition.
SEAMANS: Yes. While I think about it, and you may be about to ask me, one of the areas that was really important then were the accepted positions. NASA was really unique in having, and I can't remember the exact numbers, and they were increased slightly when Kennedy came in, before they were in effect taken away, there was on the order of three or four hundred accepted positions, if I'm not mistaken, and these were looked at because they were extremely important, and each one of the program offices, either for themselves or for their centers, was obviously looking for slots. So it was a potential management problem, and on top of that, there was a question of how to regulate the salaries so that across the board they were equitable, one with respect to another. When I arrived Hugh Dryden was the chairman of the whole personnel management area. There were quite extensive meetings with Al Siepert and his people, keeping book and with discussions of key individuals and how they were doing and what kind of promotions they might receive, what the general level of the salary increases should be. That was a very important part of the central management.
COLLINS: As the associate administrator, did the selection of individuals for those open accepted positions fall on you? What role did you play in filling some of those accepted positions and how did you think about using them for the strength of the organization?
SEAMANS: I would say, at the start I was in the role of being one of the users of accepted positions, but I really didn't have a major role to play. I was more of a witness than I was an active player, although I was present at all the meetings. But I would say that was an area where Hugh Dryden was involved in what might be thought of as line management. Those positions were obviously important, because we could use them to bring somebody aboard NASA immediately, and then go through the civil service process to get them to be a GS-17 or 18, so then we could open up the accepted position again and use it to bring somebody else in. So there was some of that rolling over going on. I'm trying to remember, I don't think we had too many slots that weren't being used at any one time. They were so valuable and so important to an organization that was growing. I wasn't very heavily involved, if at all. I don't think I was involved at all in let's say trying to get a new deputy for one of the centers. I think that was really the center director and the administrator and associate administrator for space science, let's say. It was pretty much left up to them, and they in turn would give Hugh Dryden a call and say, "We're thinking of bringing in so and so at such and such a level," and Hugh would say yea or nay on that one.
COLLINS: Okay, so there wasn't any coordinated attempt at the top except perhaps for Hugh Dryden setting some kind of policy for effectively using these accepted positions.
SEAMANS: Well, it was the policy I've described. I think that was the policy, that we usually would use them to bring people in, and yes, we would try to have uniformity throughout the organization. We would have the decisions on promoting someone, have all of the program associate administrators there, present, along with me and Hugh. So they weren't just sort of parceled out in a block with each group proceeding on its own hook.
COLLINS: This would be promotions for whom?
SEAMANS: Oh, it might be somebody who'd been a director of one part of Langley, being promoted to deputy director of Langley, or something of that sort.
COLLINS: Okay, so these would either be within headquarters or the centers.
COLLINS: In terms of personnel, one of the key areas of concern was the ability to make working at NASA attractive to industry people who were experienced. You in part were a case in point. Do you remember grappling with this particular issue, once you came on board and tried to fill positions?
SEAMANS: I spent a lot of time getting key people like Ray Bisplinghoff and Brainerd Holmes and Joe Shea and--let's see, what's the name of the guy we got down there at Huntsville who came from Aerojet? Bob Young. Jim Webb also put in quite a bit of time hiring these individuals. I don't think we had any appointments of that type to make when I was there with Keith.
This whole matter of getting good people within NASA was clearly important, and it depended somewhat on the level of the organization, however. We thought that we could get excellent people into our research centers only to the extent that we really had unique facilities, so they could do work they couldn't otherwise do anywhere else in the country. That was one of the very important elements.
When you get up to the senior people, like the ones I've mentioned, there was nothing you could do in the way of emoluments that would match what they had. You had to entice them with the excitement and importance of the work, and the experience that they would have, that would redound in the long run to their future opportunities. A person like a Brainerd Holmes or a George Mueller had extremely responsible jobs. You really had to get down to the public interest, and those kinds of issues. But make it clear that if they came, they'd be working with an exciting knowledgeable group of people. So exposure to a Jim Webb during that hiring process was really important.
Also, I should say, it was important to the extent that we could, to enlist the support of the company from which they came. At least to try to keep the company from offering them more money to stay and being a negative factor. We could not obviously ask a company to keep paying them a supplemental as they went along and things of that sort. So there was a limit to what they could do, and no company could possibly say, "Well, when you're through, we'll guarantee to have you come back." But they could at least indicate that they were very satisfied with the work that had been done by say a Brainerd Holmes, and at such time as you may think of leaving the government we certainly want to talk to you.
TAPE 2, SIDE 2
COLLINS: Another element that began to come into play, I think, might be a case in point, was when you came to NASA from RCA, you had acquired a substantial amount of RCA stock, and the question arose whether or not this would potentially influence procurement awards and that sort of thing. How was that kind of issue eventually handled?
SEAMANS: Well, that's always important. I know it's how we handled it in the Air Force, I want to be sure it's how we handled it in NASA. One thing of course was the laws of the land, and we would make use of the general counsel's office, and suggest to the individual that they might want to have either their own lawyer or a company lawyer to talk to the general counsel's office--in the government.
If it was a Presidential appointment, that wouldn't be the case in NASA except for the administrator and the deputy. It was more common to get the nominee in touch with the staff on the particular committee in question, and to make sure that they knew that they were going to have to make some financial changes, and they could be disadvantageous. Certainly you couldn't hold stock in any company in which you might be making a government decision.
So in my case, I had to get rid of RCA stock, for example. And what I did was to turn my affairs over to my brother, a lawyer, and just say, "I don't want to know how you're investing," and he did not have to testify in case of NASA. Certainly when I went down there as associate administrator and accepted the position, but subsequently he would come with me and he would talk to the staff and he would indicate what his role was going to be as long as I was in a government position.
This matter of divestment is something that everybody just has to go through, and it's more than just money. People can be on boards of non-profits and still have to get off. And I think you also have to make it clear to an individual, when they take on a job like the ones we're talking about, that they are going to be so damned busy that it's not just a conflict of interest, where the two institutions may be convergent, but they're not going to have time to do anything other than the government job. I think most people realize this. I don't think this came as a tremendous shock to people when they got into it.
COLLINS: No, but it was another hurdle that had to be--
SEAMANS: It was a hurdle that some people, for good reason, could not get over, and so they were not available to work for the government.
COLLINS: Is there anything else you'd like to add on about personnel?
COLLINS: One area that I wonder whether you had any interaction or response to was the intense media interest in the space program, as you came into the agency. That had to be a radically different experience for you, compared to your previous work. I wondered what your initial reaction and experiences were to the intense media interest in the space program?
SEAMANS: Well, that's bound to be a shock to anybody. I was just trying to remember how I was first hit with appalling questions. I remember we had a press conference in the Dolly Madison Building. It was a place where you meet with the press and discuss, for example, the Eisenhower budget, and I remember that Bill Hines was there, he was a syndicated columnist whose articles appeared every Thursday afternoon in what was then the Washington Star, and he was brutal. To this day, I don't know why he was so negative on all aspects of NASA, but he certainly was, and I'm trying to remember the first meeting with the press.
I was sitting up there with Keith and maybe Hugh, and we were facing the press, and they weren't big conferences. There were maybe 50 or 60 of them there. There was Bill Hines, a little guy in the front row, and after the presentation was made on the budget, he opened the questions. You know, he'd stand up and just fire these things in a sort of nasty incisive way, and you'd sort of recoil at his demeanor and so on. That did come as somewhat of a shock, I agree with the thrust of your question. I guess I got a fair amount of scar tissue from years in government, and a fair amount of it comes from such meetings.
COLLINS: We talked a little bit about the media playing up this question of improper management in missile and space efforts. Another thing that Dr. Glennan felt was happening was that the media, either intentionally or inadvertently, was making relations between NASA and the Air Force look perhaps worse than they were. That they were trying to kind of drive a wedge between the two organizations and pit them against one another. Do you recall this kind of consideration?
SEAMANS: Well, you're always going to have the media looking for something that's newsworthy, and one of the areas that's always newsworthy is a confrontation, you know, be it Don Regan and Nancy Reagan, or the Air Force and NASA, and so they're always looking for such stories. They can get the story by oftentimes going to more junior people in the organization, who are flattered at the attention and dream these things up, somewhat out of conjecture, somewhat out of second hand information, somewhat out of actual fact. Obviously there were major differences between the Air Force and NASA, so it wasn't too hard to get some stories there. But I'm trying to think of some of the really tough stories.
Bill Hines, as I remember, didn't get into that area, as much as he questioned, why were we so plodding? Why weren't we moving faster? Why weren't we more imaginative? Why were we doing such a terrible job, whatever it might be in this particular article? I reached the point where I came home Thursday night and my wife would not let me read those articles. It happened that the Star came out in such a way that I could have read it, I suppose, at work; but I normally wouldn't have had a chance to, and she'd beg me not to read it in the car coming home. If it was really bad, she'd usually have a martini for me before I read it, which helped some.
COLLINS: Dr. Glennan had a very distinct distrust of the press, I think in part because he felt they often spoke out without kind of a full consideration of the issues.
SEAMANS: Well, John, what was his name, wrote for the New York Times, I actually liked working with the press, let me say that quickly. Not with Bill Hines, but with most of them. I felt that, sure, you could get gored, but you better try to have a good relationship. Most of them were pretty interesting people too, sort of fun to chat with them and so on, but you obviously had to be very careful. I can give you examples of where I wasn't anywhere near careful enough.
I remember asking John, "Why can't you do a positive upbeat kind of story on NASA once in a while?" He'd say, "okay, I write a good article and if I'm lucky it will be on page 33. If I write something controversial, if I'm lucky I'll get it on page l. It's as simple as that. I'm paid by what page I get my articles on." So you have to bear that in mind, I think. It's the system that we have.
This is jumping ahead a little bit, but I talked to Kurt Debus about this quite a bit, because he was the most, to me, the most intellectual of all of the Germans, the most objective overall. Just before I left NASA we launched the first Saturn V at the Cape. I went down there for the launching, and it was a big deal. We must have had a thousand press people there, a big number, and big stands, and we set the thing up so that, as we had our press conference, you could see the Saturn V with steam coming out of it behind us, and we actually had the Soviet press there. We got some terrible questions.
So going inside afterwards I said to Kurt, "That was pretty rough. I'm sorry you have to go through this kind of thing." He said, "It is rough, but you've got to realize that during World War II, we didn't have any competition in the press, and I really believed, I really believed what Goebbels told me. 'This is tough, but it's a lot better than the alternative.'" I feel the same way, that if you take account of what appears in the newspapers over time it evens out pretty well. But sometimes it's awfully rough on individuals as it proceeds. I think the newspapers do a pretty responsible job, in the main. I am still concerned, though, about TV, because they have to convey a whole idea in a matter of a minute and a half, and I think sometimes people get an impression that will never be eradicated that can be quite wrong, just from the visuals that can be presented.
COLLINS: Yes. Kind of off the record, I think that's one of the ways that we might like to try to work with Al Newhart, is to try to think about ways in which a more thoughtful appreciation of the space effort in particular might be helpful to the news organizations.
SEAMANS: Well, after the Challenger accident, I must have seen the take-off and the blow-up of Challenger at least 25 times.
COLLINS: You're lucky if you only saw it 25 times. One thing that, and I'll try to be careful about how I say this because I'm not exactly sure this is how Dr. Glennan thought of it or anyone else who was involved thought of it, but there was attention given to how to present a more positive image of NASA. There was consideration of NASA handling some of its own television work. For example, there was an interest by NBC and CBS in doing some documentary about the space program, during Dr. Glennan's administration, and a problem about choosing which one to do it, and I think there was eventually a decision that NASA would do it itself. There was also some, in terms of dealing with newspapers, thought given to, in advance of preparing not exactly a press release but an article about some event that was going to happen and what its significance was, and present it in a very good light. So I'm wondering whether you had any thoughts at the time about this problem of feeling that there was something very positive there, but yet not really being able to get across that message through the regular channels of the media?
SEAMANS: I guess at first, on the message, what NASA wanted to do, was doing and so on, that was an area that came directly under Keith, as it did under Jim Webb when he took over. The short time that I was there with Keith, I didn't get into this to too great an extent. But NASA had an unusual role to play, in that they were supposed to pass along the information that was gathered from the space endeavor, not only scientific and technically but we were supposed to keep the public informed, and the public was interested in knowing about the effort, and yet on the other side of the coin, the Congress was very disturbed about any agency that appears to be advertising itself in order to get larger appropriations, as does the President and executive office.
So there's a pretty delicate line; it was a question how to play that area. NASA over the years was often criticized for the multi-media presentations, fancy brochures and colored pictures. Then on the issue of in-house production versus a network or a big magazine, I don't really remember the NBC one. Of course, I got thoroughly exposed to the whole matter of the Life contracts, which had a somewhat similar element.
The thought was that if there wasn't something like the Life contracts, it was going to be extremely difficult to control the media vis-a-vis the astronauts, who were bound to be the focus for a multitude of articles and stories. The closer they got to an actual launching, interest in the families and how the families felt, if it's successful, and how are they going to feel if it failed, and if there's a bad accident, how are they going to react, and the whole gamut of a soap opera was right there, in real life and the question was, how to do it responsibly? The Eisenhower Administration under Keith elected to go the Life Magazine route. The Kennedy people, when they came in, thought it was just terrible to give an exclusive to one magazine, but ended up going along with it. It's a very difficult overall management problem.
COLLINS: Did you ever discuss the issue of the Life magazine contract with Dr. Glennan, do you recall?
SEAMANS: I'm pretty sure I must have, but I don't recall any particular conversation. I think it was just along these lines, that obviously what the astronauts did professionally as part of NASA wasn't a story to be sold, that that's what they were doing. They were the main military people. They'd been assigned to NASA. It would have been inappropriate to have any kind of a contract to tell that story. That had to be a story told by NASA, working with the media just the way they worked on any other project. On the other hand, the lives of the astronauts, their families and so on, did not come under NASA jurisdiction, and with proper overall guidance, and policy, that it was appropriate for them to sell that story, which was not only profitable for them, but served as a containment mode, as I previously mentioned.
COLLINS: One interesting aspect of this to me is, and you can understand it, because of the desire of the press to kind of find a human element in the space program, something that's easier to write about--but it does dramatically kind of shift attention, in the overall activity of the agency, where there are thousands and thousands of people involved--just down to something like seven or eight people whose stories can be told, and focusses an image of the agency as old time cowboys breaching the frontier, you know, the whole image of the explorer, I guess is more appropriate than cowboy. Did the agency see a value in that kind of characterization of its activity, or did it just feel that it had to go along with the flow in that respect?
SEAMANS: Now, I'm really reflecting more Jim Webb's view on this than Keith's, just because I happen to remember it better, but I'm quite sure that Keith would feel the same way. He felt it was unfortunate that this was so, that it was not giving a proper picture of NASA, that they did not like to have it appear that we were, that NASA people were all cut from the same mold as of a-- nothing wrong Alan Shephard. He was, a gung-ho, hard-driving, cocky kind of a guy, sort of carefree, and NASA was not a carefree organization. It was well controlled and managed.
So there were all kinds of brakes that NASA tried to impose on the astronaut corps, to tone it down, and keep them from doing things that would almost look foolhardy to the public, but which they would have great fun doing, even to the point of having open sandwiches, coming back after a flight and saying, "Well, we took up an old ham sandwich and it was really fun eating that sandwich up there," when people would know that if all the different parts of the sandwich got floating around, it could cause some damage in the cockpit.
On the other side of it, trying to, you might say, promote some of the other members of the organization, like a Bob Gilruth. You didn't have to promote Wernher von Braun, and that's another story in itself, how we dealt with Wernher and the media, because he had the same public relations person that Ted Williams had. You know, he went on a lecture tour, he made quite a few thousand dollars for every lecture, and how to deal with that was an interesting problem.
I think I mentioned before we started taping that I got an award at the White House at the same time that Gus Grissom and John Young got theirs after their Gemini flight. Then there was a parade down Wall Street with the Vice President participating finally there were going to be keys to the city that were going to be presented by Mayor Wagner. Jim Webb was absolutely insistent when he dealt with Wagner, Mayor of New York, that the astronauts were not going to appear there and get those keys unless I got one too. It wasn't me, rather I was a symbol of the technical people who had as much to do with the success of that project as the astronauts had. But it's just human nature to see these astronauts as heroes, Lindbergh-type people, obviously fascinating people, living dangerous lives. They had attractive wives and bright young kids. It was just great soap opera, there's no question about it.
COLLINS: Yes. That's an example of the larger question of how NASA thought it could best present itself to the public. I wonder what your exposure to that question was, after Glennan, and as you worked under Mr. Webb's administration? You had to deal with things that came up, like the Life contracts, the incredible public enthusiasm for the astronauts, but on top of that, I'm sure that Dr. Glennan and Mr. Webb began to give some thought to how they could partly--I don't want to use the word control, but set the tone for the presentation.
SEAMANS: Well, there was a spectrum of activities, that had to be dealt with. One extreme was dealing with the day to day nitty gritty--you have successes and failures, how do you deal with the media, as you go along in time, just dealing with the day to day things as they come along? There was the view that we had no security classification, we had a responsibility to be open, all the way along, not over-do it, but not try to hide stuff, as we went along.
But then you've got what you're really talking about, the overall posture of NASA, how you convey sort of an overall view of the space program to an intelligent citizen, who's really interested in what we are learning about the magnetic and radiation fields around the earth, subjects like that. Obviously you do this as part of scientific conferences but to the public at large, a lot of effort went into that dissemination.
Shelby Thompson was supposed to have the responsibility in Keith Glennan's day. I don't think we had a program quite like that under Jim Webb. I don't know what ever happened to that particular office. But I'm sure that was part of what Keith had in mind. There were a lot of, call them documentary type forms that were put together, to try to do this, particularly at the high school and elementary school level.
There were mobile NASA busses that went around to the schools with all the models and stuff and presentations were made, in auditoriums of high schools to large numbers of people, and they were very successful, and in great demand. I forget how many of these busses we finally had going around. Fifty of them or something like that.
Let's see, I don't think we ever aligned ourselves with any network or with public television for this purpose. Maybe I'm wrong on that, but I don't have any recollection of it. I think we relied on the networks, if they wanted to do some kind of a documentary of some sort, that would be up to them, and we'd try to provide them with the information they wanted. I don't remember any special network program.
We were asked by Fortune magazine, I remember, who wanted to write a big article about the space program and how it was managed. As far as I know, we waited for them to come around. I guess Jim might have possibly talked to somebody there and suggested it. But then when they did decide to come around, we did everything we could to make it a good article, to present ourselves as we saw ourselves and spent the time with people who were interviewing us and so on. But you probably have that Fortune article. It was quite a good article.
COLLINS: Yes. Okay, I think we've covered that pretty thoroughly, unless we think of some further examples of this.
SEAMANS: Yes. It's a good area to talk about. I hope I've done it justice.
COLLINS: Let's move into talking a little bit more about the transition to the Kennedy Administration. You talked about Dr. Glennan's very serious desire to provide the proper documentation for the new administration, to effect a smooth transition, and a little bit of the tenor of that transition period with the Wiesner report. How were you feeling during this time? Did you have a sense that you would likely be with the new administration when it came on board, or did you see your position as extremely tenuous at this time?
SEAMANS: I saw myself as rather tenuous. I saw NASA as somewhat tenuous. I remember going out and having lunch with Johnny Johnson during this period. He was the general counsel who eventually left and went over to COMSAT--very, very thoughtful person, very good general counsel. I was concerned enough--I remember saying, "How about going out and having lunch?" and we strolled out of the building, I forget exactly where we went. At lunch I raised this question.
I said, "You know, we're getting all these rumors and so on. What do you think is the chance that this next administration will in effect dissolve NASA, or take it back more to the old NACA type operation, and shift more operational parts back into the military?" And I remember his saying, "They won't be able to do it." He said, "They might want to do it," but in his view, they'd never get it through the Congress. The Congress liked NASA. It had a lot of support there. They liked to feel that it was a check rein on some of the things that the Defense Department wanted to do. I remember, I had these same kinds of thoughts, to myself, but I remember being somewhat reassured to have Johnny say that. I respected his judgment. And I think he was right.
So then, it was much more a question of what might happen to some of the individuals, and clearly in my position, I had to be acceptable to whomever became the administrator, clearly, and I was quite prepared, if it didn't appear to be appropriate from my standpoint, I was going to leave. I think anybody who has a reasonably senior position in the government has always got to have the attitude that if they have to leave, they will leave; that if they're not satisfied with the way things are going, and things are going on that they don't like, get out, quick. So you're really living day to day, sort of like a relay race, to see if you can help move the baton along a little bit, but it's a day to day kind of a proposition.
COLLINS: Yes. Given the fact that when you came to NASA, it was an election year, you must have been very much aware when you came that your position was kind of fragile.
COLLINS: Did you have some kind of informal understanding, say with RCA, that--
SEAMANS: No. I did not. I had reached the point where I was ready for a change. I wouldn't have stayed at RCA much longer anyway. I think I mentioned on an earlier tape, I'd already said that I was willing to go over and run a research center that was part of NATO over in Holland. As a family, we were only secretly able to move. I believe I mentioned that we had a hard of hearing son. For a while it would have been a mistake to leave, because things were going well under very specialized circumstances with a particular teacher. So I'd been asked to go to the West Coast on a couple of occasions, and I didn't even consider the job. It was just impossible to go. But we had reached the point where we were mobile, and then this chance to work in NASA, even if it was only for six months, I felt was worth doing. I'd seen how, to some extent, a university worked. I'd seen the inside of a corporation. I was just curious enough to want to know how things actually get done in the government. So I was glad to have that experience, even if it was for a short time.
COLLINS: One part of the kind of transition period that strikes me as kind of interesting is, in the Eisenhower Administration, you had this special panel of PSAC that was established to look into Mercury questions, the so-called Hornig Panel.
COLLINS: Which in many ways was fairly critical of NASA operations. Kistiakowsky was not fully supportive of a more fullblown effort.
SEAMANS: He was very negative.
COLLINS: But those evaluations under a Republican administration dovetailed fairly well with what Wiesner did as part of the Kennedy transition. I found that interesting. There was essentially, I don't know if you want to call it bipartisan, but at least they shared their view.
SEAMANS: There was uniformity there. I remember being surprised, when I went with Keith one time, during the interregnum, to the White House, to find that Jerry Wiesner was in there with Jim Killian. They were going to talk to the President about something else. I forget why they were there, but as far as the scientific community went, there was not a great transition, where you had a bunch of "Republican scientists" who suddenly gave way to a bunch of "Democratic scientists." It was quite uniform right through.
COLLINS: That's a very interesting point, and much of that scientific input into government policy came out of MIT.
SEAMANS: It did. The Northeastern Establishment had a pretty good hold on things in those days, for better or worse.
SEAMANS: Now, I know that Dr. Glennan did not have any direct contact with the Kennedy transition team. Did you have occasion to talk with anyone from Kennedy's camp?
SEAMANS: I don't know whether I mentioned or not that I went to see Charlie Bartlett.
SEAMANS: Okay. I guess it was the Sunday before the inauguration, we had some friends who came down for the inaugural so we had a group at the Chevy Chase Club, as I remember it, for lunch, and my wife's cousin was there, and he was at that time president of the Hood Milk Company. He was coming down for the inaugural. I got to talking with him about this strange anomaly of a fairly sizeable administration agency having no contact with the new administration, and the Hood Milk Company had had a very close tie with Cardinal Cushing. I can't remember exactly why.
I think that's the reason that this cousin of my wife's was there, Ezra Merrill was his name, but he said, "You know, if you really want to find out what's really going on, you really ought to call Charlie Bartlett and go over and see him." I said, "Who's Charlie Bartlett?" He said, "Well, Charlie Bartlett is a writer, newspaper writer, syndicated columnist, and he was godfather tothe Kennedy's first child," which I guess was a daughter. So anyway, we were a little bit desperate in those days, so I think it was just before or just after the inauguration, I called Charlie Bartlett on the phone and asked if I could come over to see him. He said, "What about?" I said, "Well, frankly, we haven't had any contact with the administration, and I'm told that you might be able to shed a little light on what's going on."
TAPE 3, SIDE 1
SEAMANS: Well, Charlie Bartlett was over in the news building where you find many of the reporters in Washington, and I went into his office, and it was just cluttered with stuff, and he had a secretary, to my horror, right in the office with him. I looked at what I was going to discuss with him as, you know, a fairly private conversation. I think it must have still been the Eisenhower Administration, because I was a little troubled by what I was doing, but I discussed my concerns, and Charlie said, "Oh yes, that's quite interesting. The President is wondering what he might do about the space program. Of course, he's planning to turn that all over to Lyndon. But just last night when I was walking around Lafayette Square with the President, we walked right around your building, and the President noted the building and said that that's where the headquarters of NASA was located, and that there had been considerable concern among his special task force about the competence of the people," and so on, which made me sort of wonder.
COLLINS: This was referring to Wiesner.
SEAMANS: Yes, he was referring to the Wiesner report. But Charlie Bartlett is not a technical person or anything, he's just out there as a friend of the President walking around the block. At least it showed that the President knew that NASA existed. I said, "Well, I'm sure the President has so many things on his mind, you know, who am I to say what's most important, but it would certainly be very helpful if in the near term we could have some conversation with the administration, so we have some idea what the plans are, so that we can help the administration out," or words to that effect. He said, "okay, I'll remember that next time I see the President."
Then I got up to go and he said, "Now, you realize that Lyndon Johnson is a very difficult person. He's a real problem for the President. If you have any problem with him, you just let me know and I'll straighten it out for you." I thought, gee, Seamans, you're getting yourself in a little bit deep on this one! But I wasn't about to pretend I was pure as the new driven snow and say, "I wouldn't dream of doing a thing like that." I thought it might be handy to have in the hip pocket, so I thanked him very much, and subsequently I became a very close friend of Charlie Bartlett. He's just that kind of down to earth, straight forward person, didn't have any ulterior motives or anything, he was just sort of talking right from the heart. Anyway, that was the first, call it contact.
The first official contact had to do with letting the contracts for the first stage of the Saturn, Saturn I. And there was a guy named Dungin, I think his name was, who was in the White House, one of the people that Kennedy brought in, and he was the one who had to do with labor and labor relations--sort of the contact point, I judge, for all the union presidents and so on in the Kennedy Administration. I got a call to come on over, they wanted to talk to me about the contract, and I can't quite honestly remember whether they did or they did not want Chrysler to get it. They made it very clear that they expected to have a say in these procurements.
So it was a snowy afternoon, I remember walking across Lafayette Square and going into the White House. Of course I told Hugh I was going, because he was the acting administrator. He thought it best for me to go, and not to go himself. But I guess maybe there was some other way they wanted to do it. Anyway, we did what we wanted to do. We gave it to Chrysler. They were the ones that Marshall wanted. I think that was about the only contact that I can remember. It's the only contact that I can remember, and I think it may be the only contact that actually existed during this 3 1/2 weeks before Hugh Dryden called me in one day and said, "Well, I've met the new administrator, and we may have a slight change of pace around here."
Obviously, at that point, I was very anxious to meet this new man, whose name, I guess Hugh told me, it didn't mean a thing to me. I'd never heard of Jim Webb. Jim was very circumspect about the way he started in. He did not want to assume any responsibility until he was confirmed, and I can't even remember, I guess he did agree he'd come in the office and maybe start reading some material and so on, but he had very much of a hands-off posture until he really had the job, and then he was really hands-on. But it was right in that period that I think Nina (Scrivener) was there, his secretary, and I walked into the office and indicated who I was and said that, "Whenever it's convenient I'm available and would be very happy to meet Mr. Webb."
So it was perhaps the next day, middle of the morning, I was invited in, and it was a very unusual meeting. He asked me a lot of questions. One of them had to do with the organization of Sears Roebuck, did I know how Sears Roebuck was organized vis-a-vis its competition? Well, a year or two prior to this time I'd gone to the advanced management program at Columbia. RCA had sent me. And I happened to have gone through a case study of Sears Roebuck. They had a highly decentralized form of management, with responsibility spread out horizontally. So wehad a long conversation along this kind of control, as opposed to a very straight hierarchical kind of organization.
And I remember at one point, I decided--I probably was a little tense, sitting there, I had my hand in my pocket and had some coins in it, and he looked at me and wanted to be sure that I felt all right, and I said, "Oh, I feel fine." Maybe he thought I wanted to go to the john. I don't know. But anyway, it was, I felt, a good conversation.
I mean, I felt that I had been able to keep in tune with the kind of thing that seemed to interest him, and I'm sure we did discuss some aspects of the space program as well, but I think it was mostly in the context of management, and where were some of our trouble spots, and how the different centers, how were they postured and what kinds of people did they have and so on. He said, "Well, it's time to go out to lunch. Will you join me for lunch?" I said, "Sure," so we put our coats on and started walking out the door of the building there and he said, "Where would you like to go?" I think I told you this. I said, "I think it's more up to you, Mr. Webb, you know Washington better than I do," and he said, "Well, what do you say we go to the National Democratic Club?" I said, "That's fine with me if they'll take Republicans in there." I figured we had to address that issue and it was a good time to do it.
So all during lunch, not all during but from time to time during lunch he'd say things like, "It isn't a bad place, don't you think?" and I'd say, "No, it's not a bad place." But he started giving me a lot of his philosophy on how you work in government, and somebody who was a hero of his, and they asked him when he was about to retire how he was able to stay in government so long, and the answer was, "Well, I know when to bend a little." But at the same time, he brought in the thought that there have to be thresholds, you have to make up your mind to begin with the point beyond which you won't bend any more. We went through a lot of conversation of that sort during that first meeting.
COLLINS: During the meeting in his office at NASA, was this just a meeting between you and Webb?
SEAMANS: Yes. Yes. Now, he did, in the course of it, ending up with the lunch, he told me that he really didn't want to go back into the government, but that he'd been persuaded to by Senator Kerr, whom he'd worked with as I knew, and by the Vice President and finally by the President. He said he made it absolutely clear from the beginning that the only way he would accept would be if Hugh Dryden would stay on as the deputy. I believe I'm right when I say that by the end of the luncheon, he made it fairly clear that he wanted me to stay. He didn't keep me on tenterhooks for very long.
COLLINS: Did you get a sense in this initial discussion with him of what it was that he was looking for in an associate administrator?
SEAMANS: Well, I certainly did, in the relatively short time it was clear that he really wanted what Keith Glennan wanted, which was somebody to mind the store, somebody to be there every day to make sure things kept moving, that he did not himself propose to try to be the general manager. He said that he knew he couldn't do that, and I think he used the analogy that he had learned enough in working in government that he couldn't be his own lawyer. He was a lawyer, but that he had to take the advice and guidance of his general counsel and not try to second guess his general counsel, except to use his expertise to see that he had a good general counsel. If he really felt he had a bad one, then he'd get a new one. But it seemed to me that would set up the posture he took in dealing with me, and I'm sure he said that he had already talked to Hugh Dryden and that Hugh Dryden had advised him to keep me on.
COLLINS: Resuming our interview after a brief break, we were talking about your initial contacts with Mr. Webb, and how he began to conceive of your role as associate administrator. How did you feel his approach was different than Dr. Glennan's, if at all, in terms of your place in the organization and your responsibilities?
SEAMANS: I don't think that there was an immediate change. I think that he was following an adaptive course, getting to know the people in NASA and their capabilities in the organization and its needs, and he was also getting to understand the political ramifications of what we're doing, and the support that he could obtain, he was judging what support we could get from the executive office as well as the Congress.
I think that he, when he first came in, was really going for the status quo, for a period of time, in order to develop his own thinking on what changes he would want to make. So the evolution of my own job was rather small at first. But it did fall into the pattern that we had in that first discussion, that he liked the idea of decentralization, with the proviso that there was more feedback than just from what might be thought of as the line organization, and he encouraged me to gather in the reins, more than I had with Keith.
I can't remember the exact date, but fairly early on, D. Wyatt was extracted from the Office of Space Science, where he had been working with Abe Silverstein. This was done over Abe Silverstein's absolute dead body, for two reasons. One is, Abe didn't want to lose D. Wyatt. The other is, he didn't want to have the kind of control that he himself had been exerting, exerted on him. He could readily see that once the transition was made, that you could think of it as the power in the organization was going to be shifting from the program offices, to a more centralized management. Jim also felt that in proceeding with the decentralization, it would be a chance for him to do what I've already explained, to test the organization, understand the organization, for me as well as for him, and so fairly early on, we disengaged the centers from the program offices.
COLLINS: Could you characterize to me why that would constitute a test, and kind of give me a better sense of the organizational strengths and capabilities?
SEAMANS: Well, I'm not sure the extent to which it really worked this way, but I know in Jim's mind, he felt that as long as you had a center reporting through an Abe Silverstein, or a Harry Goett reporting through an Abe Silverstein, it was pretty hard to tell exactly what the centers were doing. That if you had a very strong manager, as Abe was, you'd get from Abe how Abe viewed the center, but it might be colored inadvertently, and that it would be a good thing, since it appeared pretty early on that we were going to be in this program for the long haul, to get to know the key people in our centers. There was also the thought that the programs and the centers never perfectly matched, and that if you disengaged them, then you could put things back together again in a way that might correspond more to the program that you had at that time.
Now, I think as it turned out, when they went back together, it wasn't very different from what we had taken apart, in all honesty, but that was an exercise that we went through for a couple of years. It meant that I had working for me the four, I guess there were three or four program officers, as well as the ten or eleven different centers, as well as the staff, the administrative office and the D. Wyatt comptroller office, and so that had its own problems. It was just a matter of time. The center directors, I think, developed the feeling that it was nice to be able to say they reported nearer the top, but the top didn't have as much time to deal with their problems as they would like. So it was on that basis that we finally did bring in a deputy to me, who would have that responsibility, to think in terms of the center and the center problems, and that was Tom Dixon.
COLLINS: I think I'd like to save the discussion of the organizational evolution for a more concentrated thing.
SEAMANS: All right. One other thing, on quite a different tack, when Jim came in, maybe a little more sensitive area, I didn't have any experience when Keith was there of what might be thought of as intimate discussions with the political people involved on the Hill. I think Keith was rather standoffish. Of course, he was dealing, he was a Republican dealing with a Democratic Congress, and all of a sudden you had a Democratic executive office dealing with a Democratic Congress. It made things somewhat different.
But I guess the first conversation, Jim hadn't been there very long when he invited Senator Kerr to come over, and of course he had worked with Kerr-McGee and knew them well. Senator Kerr was going to take over the Senate authorization committee for space from Lyndon Johnson, so it was perfectly appropriate they should have a conversation. I don't mean there was anything underhanded about this. But in that discussion, there were really two subjects.
One was the subject of communication satellites, and Jim Webb was really quite upset when he found that in the budget, lo and behold there were ten million dollars for a communication satellite, but it wasn't real money, that he was going to have to go and beg AT&T, which he was not about to do, to come in and work with NASA. So this was discussed in the light of what should NASA go to OMB with, from the standpoint of changes that might be made in the Eisenhower budget. There was no question, it was just the three of us there, Kerr, Webb and myself, that Jim Webb and Kerr were in complete agreement, that the ten million dollars for communication satellites ought to be in the government's budget, and the government ought to have the option of figuring out how to use it. While I'm thinking of it--and then it was some time later, in May, after Gagarin flew, when we were thinking in terms of an expanded space program, that that ten million was enlarged and went to 60 million, for the same purpose.
The other item that came up, and it may not have been in that first conversation, but it was the issue of how to deal with Albert Thomas. Now, Albert Thomas was the chairman of the appropriation subcommittee for the independent agencies, a very, very key person. Among other things, he did not like--I'm not quite sure I know why, but he did not like to see any federal funds go to JPL. So that issue came up for discussion. It was not resolved at that point. But the question of how to deal with Albert Thomas, in particular what could be done to deal appropriately with such projects as JPL, where Albert Thomas was doing everything he could to keep programs from going to those centers.
But what ultimately happened, it wasn't at this first meeting but later on, a decision was made that the Space Task Group, which had been located in Virginia, would be transferred to Houston, which happened to be in Albert Thomas's backyard, in his district. I remember, at that time, Kerr's advice to Webb was, "okay, you've made the decision you're going to have it there. Albert's going to want to have everything he possibly can. He's going to want to see that center grow and grow. But be sure you don't give it to him all at once. Make sure that every time you add something in Houston, you exact a price for what you want somewhere else, particularly JPL."
I might just say quickly, since I've brought up a somewhat sensitive subject, on why we went to Houston, that was one decision where I was fortunate in not being involved at all. The group that reviewed the alternatives was chaired by Hugh Dryden, and of course it was looked at as highly political, and the decision was political, and Hugh had the stature and so on that he could work with Jim Webb and make it stick.
Now, prior to the decision being made, however, in defense of that decision from, call it other than political rationale, was the fact that we knew we were going to have a lot of heavy stages that we were going to have to move around, both boosters and spacecraft, and decided that to the extent possible, we wanted to make use of rivers and oceans and gulfs and so on to move things around, so we were trying to put things either on the Mississippi River and its tributaries or the Gulf Coast, or Florida Coast. We wanted to the extent that we could to stay away from the West Coast, which time-wise is pretty far when you travel by boat.
But anyway, coming back to how I started out with this discussion, I became more aware of some of the political factors involved in NASA than I had been when I was there with Keith.
COLLINS: As you suggested, Dr. Glennan found it very inappropriate or difficult to work with Congress. He thought the best arrangement was for the administrator to work directly with the President and simply do his best to keep Congress informed and satisfied in all their needs, but really not use them as the vehicle for getting the space program across.
COLLINS: In his diary, he indicates in kind of a postscript that he felt Mr. Webb took the opposite tack, that he did not use the strong relationship with the President as his primary vehicle, he'd rather work with Congress to advance the program. I wonder whether you developed any thoughts, having seen both of them operate, what was the more effective procedure, or what the drawbacks, disadvantages were of either approach?
SEAMANS: What you just said is in effect what I observed, and what I was trying to describe previously, and of course there are many more people in Congress, more people involved than the two I've mentioned. Jim, it's true, spent a lot of time, and I wasn't involved in a lot of it, just getting a feel for, viewpoints of Senators like Stuart Symington who was a person that he felt was important on the Hill, not only because he was on our space committee but because of his close tie with the military, and he had been Secretary of the Air Force. I know Jim had direct contacts with him and with a lot of others.
Obviously you don't want to reach the point where you're beholden, as an administrator or secretary of an agency. You can get your hands tied because of too intimate relationship with the Congress. On the other hand, anything you do has got to be authorized or appropriated by the Congress, and you certainly want to at least work with them enough that you understand their motivations and interests, so that you can explain to them why it's important for certain bills to be passed or certain projects to be supported.
I saw this again when I was Secretary of the Air Force, and I watched Mel Laird, who was an absolute master politician, in I think the good sense of the word, and Mel went out of his way to bring people over to the Pentagon whom McNamara had been at odds with, on issues like the F-111, and what was the name of the Senator from Arkansas, whose name escapes me this second, who had been dead set against the F-111, and one of the first things that Mel did was to invite him over for lunch.
I was at the lunch, and General McConnell, who was chief of staff of the Air Force, was at the lunch, who was also from Arkansas, and--McClellan, Senator McClellan, almost with tears in his eyes said, "I haven't been invited over here for eight years." We explained the situation of the F-111, and we never had another bit of trouble with the Senate on the F-111 after that. He said, "I'm not against the F-111. I just felt as if I was getting the runaround, and goddamn it, I just decided I wasn't going to let them do that to me! But now you've leveled with me on it and I'll support you."
So it requires a lot of frank--this comes down to judgment of how you're going to deal with the Congress. I think, I don't say this in a judgmental sense, but I think Keith would have been better off if he could have done a little more of it. Now, as I say, he was in a Republican administration dealing with Democrats, but I think even then, he could have been a little more--he could have bent a little bit more than he did.
COLLINS: I wonder, this was a new exposure for you, did it in any way kind of change your conception of your own role or your vision of how you should tackle your job?
SEAMANS: Well, it certainly was a new experience, and I found it absolutely fascinating. In a way it's like dealing with the press. I mean, here were a whole bunch of people I didn't even know, or know how they operated, and of course as Keith said, the first time I went to a Cabinet meeting and I was sort of overwhelmed, he said, "Well, don't forget, they have to put their pants on one leg at a time."
I found dealing with Senator Kerr or some of the other key, you know, extremely well known politicians, political people, just fascinating. My real exposure, I'm not sure that I've mentioned this to you, was that summer, when Senator Kerr indicated to Mr. Webb that the authorization bill was going to come to a vote, and since he'd been the chairman for only six months or maybe less than that, he would appreciate it if Bob Seamans could be there with him on the floor of the Senate.
He said he felt Jim was too political to be there, that the Senate would not allow Jim to go out there, because any one Senator can blackball an individual from going out on the floor. Jim had made a point of making it clear that we were bipartisan, I was Republican, he was Democratic. He loved to point that out. So here I was a Republican out there, it would be okay.
So Senator Kerr explained that he had picked, I think it was the afternoon of the All Star Game to have it, so there wouldn't be many people there to contest the bill, and so I sat at a desk right beside him, and I think, lifted the cover up. Anyway Truman's name was carved in it some place. Senator Kerr proposed that the bill be passed, and there were very few people there on the floor, a few people wandering in and out and back and forth in the galleries, when all of a sudden, somebody whom I got to know but didn't know then came in with a great stack of papers.
It was Senator Proxmire who came tearing in with several amendments, and these amendments all had to do with funds to be expended at JPL. And you know, Proxmire stood up there and he started off in sort of a measured way, but the longer he talked, the wilder he got, here's sort of an impassioned speech, and Kerr did not know one thing about it really, except for the discussions we'd had that I mentioned, but he didn't know why we needed the money, and so he just, "What's the issue here?"
Well, part of it was, we had a lot of trailers out at JPL and we needed some permanent buildings, and I explained that, I made the mistake of using the term "housing" and by that I meant that we had to house some of the laboratories in more permanent space. And Senator Kerr stood up and he gave one of the greatest speeches I've ever heard about the poor scientists and engineers at JPL who haven't proper accommodations for their families and so on. While he was still talking, I tugged at his coat, and he leaned down a little bit, and I said, I mentioned the word "laboratories, more space for laboratories," and he didn't break stride, he kept going and talked about the need to have more laboratory space, and so then after he'd spoken, it was time for the vote on the amendments. That's when they ring the gongs and everybody comes rushing in.
So here, the Senators are coming in, and a few of them went over to Proxmire, but most of them came to Kerr, and some of them said something like, "We're against this amendment, aren't we, Bob?" and he said, "Yes, absolutely." But some of them asked a few questions, and in a few cases he'd say, "Well, Bob Seaman's going to answer that for you," and so I would answer some of these questions about why the amendment was wrong, why they needed the space. Then they took the vote, and it was something like, I don't know, Proxmire got something like 12 or 13 Senators to go with him, so Kerr clearly had the votes, and it was nothing to do with what I told everybody, either. You know. Really.
COLLINS: I guess that's a real indication of how the Senate operated, rather than the merits of the discussion. That's very interesting.
SEAMANS: Oh yes. Well, I guess it was sort of the end of an era that I was really observing there. In Johnson's day and then later on with people like Kerr, and for better or worse, people like Thomas, if you got them to agree to something, it would be done. That's not the way it is today. It's beyond the scope of this discussion here to say whether that's good or bad, but it's true.
COLLINS: You were more and more intimately involved in this process of presenting NASA's program to Congress.
SEAMANS: And I should say also of course in the White House. Although I'd been doing that before with Keith.
COLLINS: Right. Did the working relationship between you, the administrator and the deputy administrator change with Webb's administration?
SEAMANS: Yes, I would say that it changed, not dramatically, but I did receive more authority from Jim. For example, as the general manager, I felt if we were making arrangements with the Department of Defense through the AACB that it would really be appropriate to have that at my level, rather than have Hugh handle it, and Jim agreed, so I became the co-chairman of the AACB my counterpart was Harold Brown as head of DDR&E. And John Rubel. As time went on, when other--another area that Hugh had been handling, Hugh had been handling most of what you could call the highly classified areas, the U-2, for example--this is before I came there, but Hugh was the contact point in NASA on the U-2 with the CIA. And then as I came in, of course, satellites were starting to provide more and more of that type information, and I took on that role, that intergovernmental relationship.
COLLINS: Liaison with the CIA?
COLLINS: And it must have been the Air Force--
SEAMANS: The Air Force, yes, with all those people who were involved. Hugh didn't lose his security clearance or anything, but from the standpoint of the day to day management of those kinds of things, I became the point of contact. Now, somewhere along in there, the SR-71 was conceived and brought along, and in the early discussions of that project, Hugh was still involved.
TAPE 3, SIDE 2
SEAMANS: Since we're talking about this interrelationship, a couple of thoughts. One is that I don't want to in any way imply that Hugh did not perform an extremely valuable function. Not only, were there still a lot of things that he did, such as the, call it the overall liaison with the Academy, which was very important, the negotiations that were on going with other countries, and in particular with the Soviet Union, all the times with the UN Space Committee.
As far as the Soviets went--the negotiations with regard to meteorological satellites, for example, with respect to space biology, Hugh was the one to negotiate with his counterpart, Blagonrovov, and that was a very, very important and close tie. Of course, at those sessions we had people who understood Russian, just as they had people who understood English, and there were times when we know that there were some people in the room who felt that the agreements that Hugh was working out with Blagonrovov were not the best that could be achieved for the Soviet Union, and they'd try to get in the way of a decision being reached. They'd say things like, "Well, are you sure you have the authority to go ahead at this time? Shouldn't we wait and discuss this back in Moscow?" kind of thing. And Blagonrovov said, "I've had enough of that kind of nonsense, we're going to go ahead."
But the mutual respect had to be there, so Blagonrovov was sure he wasn't going to get clobbered from the other side. Even more important was the relationship the three of us had on important decisions, including important procurement decisions, and I'd say even more important was the fact that Hugh was there when Jim would have, I hate to call them wild, that's not quite the--Jim had, you know, mind-stretcher kinds of thoughts, and if he just plain sprang them on some of the organization, or external to the organization, without any kind of constraint, I won't say it would have been catastrophic, but it was very good to have a solid thoughtful highly respected senior person there, that Jim wanted to confide in and try out some of the ideas.
Just to give you one example, when the decision was made for Apollo, and we'd just made the decision that the Draper Lab would be responsible for the navigation system, for the lunar trip. I got a letter from my old mentor, "Doc" Draper, who said that he'd always found it was important that the people who designed and developed equipment had a chance to use it, and they were there at the time it was first being used, and that he was available to go on the first lunar trip. I took this in and showed it to Webb, to Jim, and Jim thought it was terrific. As far as he was concerned, he was going to go over and see the President and say, "There may be some scientists in the country that aren't for the program, but here's one that's not only for it, he wants to go." Hugh was, you know, "Wait a minute!" Jim never took the letter over to show the President. I'm not sure I could have put the same constraint on Jim that Hugh did.
COLLINS: Why did Hugh feel that that was an inappropriate way to approach the President?
SEAMANS: Well, first of all, it would have been very inappropriate to have Doc Draper go on the trip. He couldn't possibly have passed the physical. He couldn't possibly have trained. It was much more important for him to direct his laboratory and build that system than to go to the moon. It would have obviously, if it had gotten out in the public domain, caused all kinds of interest, and then pretty soon, if we even came close to thinking it was a good idea, a lot of other people who have had the same idea, would have they wanted to go. You know, the whole astronaut situation could have gotten pretty messy, pretty fast.
COLLINS: Mr. Webb used Dr. Dryden as a sounding board.
SEAMANS: Yes. Well, in some cases it may have been the other way around. I mean, Hugh followed things very closely. He was very meticulous. I don't know if you ever saw his handwriting, but it was very, very meticulous. He was that kind of a person. If something was going on that he felt was inappropriate, for whatever reason, I can assure you that he didn't wait to be called on. He would appear to be a very mild-mannered person, but when he was upset, there wasn't any question about it, and so he'd go in to see Jim if he thought we were going off on a tangent or getting too political or whatever it might be, and give Jim a piece of his mind.
COLLINS: This is maybe a difficult question to answer. Do you feel that Mr. Webb and Dr. Dryden had a close working relationship?
SEAMANS: I sort of looked at the relationship as one of mutual respect but not friendship. If you can delineate between the two. There's no question that they each respected the other, for what they brought to the agency. They each felt the other was doing something that was important, had important background and capability. Hugh's lifestyle was very much wrapped up in the Presbyterian Church. He was I believe a deacon, delivered sermons, he was not a gregarious person, so temperamentally they weren't, you know, they weren't about to do a lot of socializing and so on. But when Hugh became so ill, the Webbs were very supportive, and used to spend a lot of time with Libby, Dr. Dryden's wife. At the time of his death, they were there with her, in the hospital. I came over at that time myself. I hadn't been there with her as much as they had. So it was a--it wasn't quite family, but they were, I'm sort of going around in circles a little bit on this--maybe they were a little closer than I indicated in my first comments, now that I think about it.
COLLINS: I'd like to get a little better general sense of how the three of you worked when you had to jointly consider a problem and make a decision. I think most of these things probably related to procurement.
SEAMANS: Well, let me give you an example. It's not procurement.
COLLINS: Why don't you say what the kinds of things were that were jointly considered?
SEAMANS: All right. Here's one. I think it was just after the Soviets had taken their walk in space, so-called, that is, when Leonov went outside the capsule and came back in again. You may remember that I was down in Houston, and down there they had a flat bed, steel bed, and by putting on the right kind of footgear, and with air jets, you in effect were floating on the surface, so it took very little effort, with as I say a small jet, to slide sideways on this table, and what they had was a little hand-held device with a couple of jets of gas coming out, so that if you stood on this platform, you could maneuver yourself around. It was their recommendation, Bob Gilruth and the astronaut team, that on the next flight, which was coming up in a month and a half, that Ed White be allowed to go outside the capsule, and demonstrate these jets, and then come back in to the capsule.
Well, now, one of the objectives of the whole Gemini program was not only rendezvous and docking, but to get experience with extra-vehicular activity, outside the capsule. We felt we had to have that capability for the lunar trip. But this was a little, this was premature. We had not planned to go. It was Gemini 5. But it appeared that we were ready to go. When I came back and discussed this with Hugh Dryden, he was almost adamant that we should not do it, said we hadn't had enough planning on it, it would just appear to be a stunt to keep up with the Russians, and so on.
It turned out in this particular case, I didn't have a chance to talk to both Hugh and Jim simultaneously on it, as I remember it. I explained it to Jim, and he didn't commit himself, and it was obvious that he was not going to override Hugh Dryden, even if he felt that I was right, and Hugh Dryden stuck to his guns. He would not let us fly. So I wrote a one page memorandum on this thing, in which I explained as best I could what we were prepared to do, and my argument was that if we were going to proceed with the program, we should never take undue risk, but as soon as we were prepared to take a step, we should take it. Just because the schedule said, you're going to do it on Gemini 7, if we could do it on 5, we ought to do it on 5. It was not going to interfere with the other experiments we were going to run. The only way to get this job done overall was to capitalize on success. If you were ready to do something, do it. And I wrote this to Jim Webb, and had a place in there for his approval, and took it in to him.
He as much said, "I understand what you're saying, but Hugh is very concerned about it. You'd better go talk to him some more." Well, finally, and it wasn't just me, it took Bob Gilruth and some of the old timers to finally convince Hugh that we were ready to do it. Of course, he had a very, very good point, that if we had appeared to be doing this just to keep up with the Russians, and then we had a problem--to take an extreme case, if we'd lost Ed White outside the capsule--you can imagine what would have happened. But we finally convinced Hugh and he put his initials on it, and off we went. I can remember that very distinctly, as a long drawn-out kind of decision. But Hugh was really performing an extremely important function there.
COLLINS: Correct me if I'm wrong, it sounds like Mr. Webb is relying on you and Hugh Dryden to carefully think through all the technical questions, because of his background, is willing to go with your judgment in those areas.
SEAMANS: Yes. And if he couldn't get us--and he wanted to be sure that we were thinking, you'd call it, independently--that he had to some extent an independent so that he could beat one of us against the other.
COLLINS: I think I'd like to break off at this point.