Interviewee: Mr. James E. Webb

Interviewers: Mr. Martin Collins and Dr. Allan Needell

Date: November 4, 1985


MR. COLLINS: Following up your statement about the use of history to guide administrators, did you find, for example, the work of the NASA history office helpful in any way to your administration of NASA?

MR. WEBB: I think the work in the history office that resulted in the summary of the first five years of administration which did not reach me until most of our plan was set up was helpful when it did come because I could check what we had done against the perspective as seen by an historian. I don't think it was much help to us in the first year of fast moving decisions except as it may have been used by the staff preparing papers for me. The momentum is one of the main reasons for our success. The rapdity with which we were able to make the decisions that would get things started in say the first one or two years. That fast pace depended to a large degree on the working relation between Dryden, Seamans and me and the quality of the staff work.

Now, I think that may change in the future. I think the next generation of administrators will learn more from history, although Fessler (a very first class scholar) in the volume that I showed you before we started on the tape -- says that one of the best products of this historical effort is an understanding of what happened rather than any specific guide or typology of projects, that will be faced in the future. Most certainly the future decisions will not correspond to those you have seen in the past. What new high level decision makers want is a guide that will say "if you do this it works if you do that, it won't work."

COLLINS: Certainly it seems in the initial stages of NASA's evolution, that historical precedents would have been of minimal value, since you were engaging in something that was radically different in many ways.

WEBB: I think that's right. The rocket technology achieved by the Russians at a time when we had expected the B-52 and the hydrogen bomb to give us an umbrella of protection for the free world, and under which the free world could learn to do the work of the world in a marketplace type of economy, shattered our hopes. The fact that rockets were rising up in the middle of Russia and going halfway out into the Pacific clearly indicated that they would soon have the ability to reach us in ways they couldn't before. So that impetus drove the NASA operation in the early days, when Keith Glennan had to move very fast and did move very fast and very solidly. This was emphasized by Gagarin's flight and others, in the first years of the Kennedy administration. We had to move even faster, and there wasn't much time to go back into historical records.

DR.NEEDELL : It seems to me, though, that the parallel would be the experience that you had and other people involved in planning through the fifties had during the wartime. Not because there were specific guides for behavior that you learned and you could repeat, but because you were involved in mobilizing for the war effort, that by understanding the process that had gone on in the forties, your experience was valuable to you and to your generation of colleagues.

WEBB: I think that is perfectly true. You have to remember, when I came into the Bureau of the Budget in 1946, the war had come to an end. There was a strong effort to bring down the large structure of war time operations around the world, to rationalize what was to remain, restore the ravaged counties to economic and political viability. The studies commissioned by the Bureau of the Budget of the war time agencies were very helpful. They are referred to by Fessler in this volume that I showed you. I, as a newcomer to the Bureau of the Budget at a time when the Marshall Plan was under active consideration, instead of a world where Russia was pursuing its own and had not been so badly mauled, as it was thought that it would take 50 years for them to recover. It became increasingly clear that USSR was not demobilizing and was following a very aggresive course.

Now, the historical studies that showed how the Office of Price Administration worked for instance, helped a great deal in giving us the flavor of how we could help the President and his associates move into the next period, recognizing that Russia was not what we first thought it was after the war.

NEEDELL: But that's again in terms of a profound historical understanding rather than looking for specific examples.

WEBB: That is right. If you look at Space Age Management, 1 you find that I referred to the Office of Price Administration and the much better, much more effective job they had done than people had given them credit for. Those responsible had learned to organize and manage a very large operation I referred to the Greek-Turkey Aid Program as one of the things in our wartime experience which enabled those responsible to act differently than before and succeed. The point was that we had the capability to organize, administer, carry out, and succeed with a thing like the Greek-Turkey Aid Program, the Office of Price Administration during the war and in the post-war period.

NEEDELL: Did you find that of your colleagues, those who'd had experience were open to reading some of these reports, or those who had lived through it were more flexible, and could analyze and act, than the young people who hadn't had that experience?

WEBB: The first thing I would say in answer to that is, that there were still in the Bureau of the Budget and in the department and agencies very able people who had participated actively in using the power and influence of the President to get these activities organized so they would be effective. Don Stone and the administrative management setup kept in close touch with many of them. They were very, very anxious to apply their knowledge to Marshall Plan problems and various other activities that were being discussed and in the setup of programs to utilize the strength of economic forces after the war. We had engaged in preemptive buying during the war which we never had done before. We had to consider how to treat that after the war. That kind of problem did find people in the Bureau of the Budget and a number of agencies who believed that it was very valuable to have the benefit of analyzed and documented expereince expressed in those studies.

But generally speaking, the people in the estimates division were not as interested as the people in the administrative management division, and many people were not very much interested. I mean, the people who had to set up the Office of Economic Cooperation in Europe, who were in touch with the French, the Germans, the English, felt these daily hands-on experiences and activities required them to try to get a conception of cooperation on the part of England, France, the United States, and the Benelux countries to the extent that they could. They were working at that, rather than reading studies.

COLLINS: Well, why don't we move on to our main objective here for the interview.

WEBB: All right.

COLLINS: We'd like to give you the opportunity to extend your comments on various people that you worked with in NASA, and without, on their contributions to NASA's effort. Perhaps since his name has come up a number of times, and has been discussed in several interviews, you might start with George Mueller.

WEBB: You're going to help me sort of get the basic picture that the record shows, so that I can have your ideas, how it seems to you when you read it, as a guide for me to correct it.

COLLINS: Right. Well, Mueller's role in NASA has come up in several contexts. We've mentioned in the interviews his rather rough working relationship with Homer Newell, and you have attempted to counter that impression of Mueller as someone difficult to work with with an expression of some his unique capabilties, his ability to work with computer systems, to manage a large, technical organization with all its complex problems, and his contribution of the idea of all up systems testing. But I still think the overall impression is one more of Mueller as a personality who is --

WEBB: Who didn't cooperate too much with the rest of NASA because he had a big job to do and he was plowing ahead on that job, and let the wake of the ship take care of what was left. But I would say this. You have to bear in mind that when it was decided that Brainard Holmes would go back to private industry -- and he chose not to go back to RCA, which had offered him a job at the same salary he had when he started plus the increases that had been given in the meantime -- that his decision to proceed on his own and not take advantage of the framework that we had discussed in a pattern much like how he operated before he joined NASA, this decision on his part presented something of a problem. We had to move very rapidly to get someone for that job. I personally tried to recruit a number of people without success. Finally I got hold of Dave Wright who was chairman of TRW. He had been a young lawyer at the time I was going out to the Cleveland Air Races, Lou Greve and Fred Crawford and those people who were promoting aviation in the 1930's at the Cleveland Air Races, I'd known Wright quite well from those days. So I asked him to extend himself from his position as chairman of TRW, which was in the middle of the missile program and was thoroughly conversant with what was going on, and see if he couldn't find me a person who could do this job. And I had to have it done in a hurry.

Now, it looked like appointing Holmes' sucessor could not be done within a month or six weeks, and we couldn't stand there with all these big decisions coming through, with a vacancy in the office. Neither could we permit the decisions to be made without Seamans and Dryden and I approving the big ones, such as where the facilities were to be built and things of this kind.

So what we finally worked out was an arrangement under which Ed Doll and another man from TRW could come in under contract to do the engineering studies necessary at the Holmes level in manned spaceflight. During the period that they were there under contract, which was a rather unusual way to do this, we could get the engineering side taken care of and we also could avoid the impression that we couldn't recruit anybody. This was a very grave problem for us.

In this period Dave Wright did locate George Mueller, found that he was willing to come, talked to me about him, his strengths, and certain things that the company couldn't really assure us that he could handle but which they thought he could. I said, "Send him over and if he's got a reasonable possibility of doing it, we'll appoint him. We'll have to find out whether he can or not and if he can't then we'll change it." That's the basic rule we followed.

COLLINS: Did you consult other people besides Wright about his capabilities for the job?

WEBB: Not very much, because I'd known Dave Wright a long time and I knew he wouldn't mislead me. I knew he'd tell me exactly what Mueller was doing in TRW or what he had done. And he was absolutely right. I don't believe I consulted more than 2 or 3 unless they were high in the military services. I wanted to be sure that I wasn't creating a conflict there with personalities and intersts and so forth. I was very anxious to get someone who could do the job, who could furnish the leadership, who had the technical capability, who could not only manage the contractors, manage the centers that were dealing with the contractors, and manage the work of the Source Evaluation Boards to get a team of NASA people and contractors that could really fit together and do the whole job, but I was very anxious not to have any projection into the future of, shall I say, competition between the Air Force and NASA. I was very anxious to steadily work at the business of creating cooperative relationships where we were going ahead to do a big job of entering space, utilizing the work we'd done previously in the atmosphere.

    Now, I did some things that made it possible for me to feel absolutely sure that George Mueller would do that, that he would take into account the reasonable way to deal with the Air Force rather than to take actions without consulting them and so forth. So I did that.

Bob Seamans undoubtedly made his own inquiries and Dryden his. But that's the story of how George Mueller came into the picture. It was my own direct recruiting effort, through Dave Wright.

NEEDELL: The reservations that Dave Wright had, at or least the qualifications or warning, held up to be quite accurate, I suppose? You didn't understand them fully until after --

WEBB: That is right, except that he alerted me to the fact that like a great many highly qualified technical people, who go into management positions, George Mueller had his own way of working, with a wide roving engineering mind, with an understanding of science. He was anxious to move on. Riding on an airplane, he'd sketch you a design of a new type of stage for a rocket, for instance, when you found out that something didn't work that you were trying. He'd come up with a solution. Now, this wouldn't always be a full and complete solution. It would point to the first major effort, which would have to be tested out. He had a little tendency to want to feel that those early efforts to solve probelms with quick engineering solutions should be pushed faster than we were prepared to do it. We were very anxious, whenever we had any trouble, to find out what happened, duplicate the trouble, test it, and then fly again. Our policy was to make sure that we knew what the trouble was, that we had a tested fix for it, and then we were ready to fly again. We inisted on full documentations.

George was a little impatient with going as slow as we would in doing this. He would have moved more rapidly and I think taken a little more risk in the rapid building and testing of new equipment. But the knowledge and experience gave him a outstanding capability. He made great contributions to NASA. He had a unique ability to put a team together to do a complex job.

NEEDELL: Was Dave Wright or anyone else at TRW reluctant to let Mueller go?

WEBB: No. Wright had cleared with TRW before he told me about Mueller the fact that they were willing to let him go, and they thought he could do the job. Remember, TRW included Jimmy Doolittle who was chairman of NACA up until it merged into NASA. It was Fred Crawford who knew these people very well, and Rubin Metler is now the chairman of TRW who I tried to recruit for the Apollo job and later as my deputy. So I mean, you had a lot of very able people there and also I knew all of them. You had the full range of experience with the business of research and development, the missile program and rocketry generally. If you had to move fast and had somebody who would work with you in the way we had in mind and give you a man that we and they could rely on who's got the capability, then all you ned to do is to harness him in, so he pulls his part of the load but doesn't destroy the equilibrium of the exisiting organization. Then the next thing to do, you've got to put him on the job an let him prove if he can do it. Mueller proved he could in an outstanding way.

I found out a long time ago in Sperry, when I was Personnel Director and we had to recruit a large number of very top people, that you couldn't really forecast the success of an individual vice president in a highly technical area. The best thing you could do, instead of spending a year trying to make sure he was the right man, was assure yourself that he had the possibility for it. If he looks like a possibility, put him on the job and let him try. If he succeeds, fine. If he doesn't succeed remove him. This is what the Marine Corps does with its generals. If a general takes too many casualties, they move him out and try another. But they develop those generals by putting them on the job and seeing how they perform.

NEEDELL: I don't know if you'd care to go into it, but could you describe some of the techniques that were used, for instance, to insure that Mueller had the right attitude on cooperating with the Air Force or to put into place some systems for making sure that some of these qualities you were warned about didn't cause trouble?

WEBB: Well, the first reliance, of course, was Bob Seamans and he, Dryden and I talked about the top people every day. Mueller reported to him. He had personal contact and accurate feedback. I had accurate feedback both from within industry and from within NASA, from old hands like Thompson down at Langley Field. I mean, those half a dozen real senior old timers around NASA had been through the mill and knew the people in the industry. They could detect whether a person really was capable of fitting into the organization. Dr. Dryden had his own method of feedback. Bob Seamans was meeting regularly with the Aeronautics and Astronautics Coordinating Board. During that period we had monthly sessions with McNamara and his top staff, which Seamans, Dryden and I would attend, the three of us were over there with the top military people, and we knew a lot of people. Gene Zuckert [Secretary of the Air Force] was a very close friend of mine. I'd worked with him on the business school setup at GW. He was the head of the business school at Harvard for a time, you remember, before he came down here.

NEEDELL: How do you make it clear to someone like Mueller that you're very much interested in this kind of thing, without giving him the feeling that you're going behind his back and undermining his independence?

WEBB: Well, it's really pretty simple. You say to him, "You know how you fit in is very important We're interested in having cooperation with the Air Force. We're intersted in having them feel that they gain from cooperation rather than competition. "How are you progressing in that? What are you doing?" Then you have a discussion depending on what he says. "Why not try this? Have you seen this general? Do you believe this planner is coming forward in the Air Force, could he maybe be borrowed for six months to do something with you?"

NEEDELL: You bring him up to the overall general goal.

WEBB: You talk to him frequently about how he is moving to accomplish these things that we think are very important in NASA and give him a chance to tell you that we're pressing it too hard, or he thinks it ought to take a different direction. Give him a chance by explaining what he's doing on a day to day basis, whether he thinks NASA is on the right track. Most of this was done through Seamans who kept Dryden and me informed. The competence of Seaman's staff was important.

And remember, NASA is a lot of people. George may think half the people are going on the right track and half are not on the right track. Dryden, Seamans and I have to show him we can help him solve some of his problem and let him move on to others.

Now, the other thing I'd like to say about Mueller's relations with Homer Newell is that we have been discussing a relatively small part of George Mueller's responsibilities. That is in the responsibility for working with Homer as to responsibility for space science in the manned operation, really, where was the final point of authority was that said, put this scientific experiment on or leave it off because we've got to put some engineering or safety equipment on?" And clearly, in all his operations with me, with Seamans, with Dryden, with Newell, he has always insisted on retaining power and authority over those things that were necessary for his success. It wasn't just protecting turf on a kind of a bureaucratic basis. He was very careful and conscientious to talk about what he had to have to succeed. He had to be sure the astronauts were ready to fly the equipment. He couldn't dictate to them that they could go with less engineering safety margin than they could have. In the end, Bob Seamans decided personally the question of whether Mueller would have that final authority on science as well as on other matters in the manned space flight program, and decided that he should have it. He did this without consulting me in advance. I was aware of this problem; but Bob as general manager was the man to make that decision and he made it and then he told me about it. Does that answer that question?

COLLINS: And Homer Newell felt comfortable with that decision of Seamans?

WEBB: Oh no. He said, "Look, we are the science part of NASA. Scientists all over the country look to us, you know they're unhappy about manned space flight and the domination of the whole space program by manned space flight. Both in the OSSA office and in our contacts with these advisory committees of outside scientists, and in the decisions as to whose experiment will fly and whose will not fly, OSSA should have the final say as to what is called science. It is in the OSSA budget, paid for under the rubric of science. This is our responsibility and we should have it."

Mueller said, "No, I can't proceed on schedule in the manned spaceflight program if I delegate that. I'm willing to listen and pay a lot of attention to what OSSA and the space scientists want, but I also have a number of scientists on my advisory committee. We work with the Space Science Board of the National Academy. But I must have the right to say yes or no as to what goes on the final configuration for the flight."

NEEDELL: Did Homer Newell raise this case at Seamans' level?

WEBB: Oh yes. Many times.

NEEDELL: So at some point these conflict areas were brought up --

WEBB: Well, he raised it with me. You see, the pattern was that I would meet with Homer Newell, sometimes as often as once a week, depending on the activity, sometimes once every two weeks or a month, and we would sit there and talk about the problems he faced in his job. Same thing with Mueller, same thing with the tracking and data acquisition people and OART. We didn't just communicate through staff, or through written memoranda. We sat down with just a very few people, sometimes just two, and talked about what needed to be done, what should be done, how it should be done, what barriers they were encountering and so forth. In other words, anything that Homer needed to get a decision on at the top, or wasn't happy about, or was appreciative of the support he was being given, we could take right up in that direct, personal man to man talk.

COLLINS: I guess I'm a little unclear. Was it really the case that the choice between including a space science experiment would genuinely compromise the success of the engineering mission on a manned space flight? That seems a little stark.

WEBB: Well, the way you state it, it is. But if you stop and think about it -- the size of this equipment, the margin that you have, the fact that many times the rocket is overweight and underpowered for the job you expect it to do, weight reduction reviews. Everyone is convinced the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) is overweight and must go through weight reduction reviews. Every ounce is counted --and the scientific experiment requires electric energy, particular orbits. In the control room at Hunstville are recorded 40,000 parts made in NASA contractors that MSFC monitors daily, for weight, for cost, and for time of delivery. That's the kind of effort we went into.

I would say, yes, we only got the Grumman Lunar Lander down to a weight that the rocket could carry comfortably by a major personal effort by George Low, a very senior person, and NASA's group working with the contractor at the Grumman factory. He was the deputy to Gilruth at Houston and had to go to Grumman and be personally involved in bringing this weight down. He's written some reports on that.

Yes sir, I would say that at the time when you were fighting for a little extra margin of safety on something you don't feel very comfortable about, every ounce counts.

COLLINS: Okay, that puts it in intimate terms. This kind of tension between the space science people at NASA and the manned space flight people certainly was present before Mueller came on.

WEBB: Oh yes. It was present in connection with Mercury. You remember, the committee that Kennedy appointed chaired by Jerry Wiesner to advise him about the space program gave a report that cast serious doubt on whether the Mercury should be flown. Certainly they said at the time that we should have another year or so's operation with monkeys. I took the position that when the Russians were flying men, we couldn't be flying monkeys, even though there was a risk to it. Our people had to learn to live with risk and make damned sure that every effort was made to avoid casualties. And they did.

Now, I've written a few notes on this manuscript that you left with me, as I went over it, about this question of George Mueller and the difficulties that characterize his relations to other NASA executives. What is missing in these account of different ties is the much, much longer volume of cases where George showed great skill and understanding in successfully working out such relations. Wherever he was referred to, I would write maybe a extra sentence to soften the language, make it more accurate, and point out that there was the other side.

COLLINS: Do you feel that you've included those comments here in our discussion?

WEBB: I can't remember all of them. Why not correct one more transcript and bring it back? I mean, it's a terribly important thing. We must not let these difficulties over shadow the more successful accomplishments.

COLLINS: Sure, that's fine.

WEBB: I'll get those out of the file and give them to you. What I wanted to do here was to raise the importance of getting an accurate part of the oral history related to the top people like Mueller, Seamans, Newell and the others. I couldn't do that ad hoc, from being asked a question that you got out of Newell's book, or some impression from your talk with the astronomers on the telescope. It is 20 years later and I am having problems with my Parkinson's, probably some deterioration of my mind, I couldn't do that. So I said, we've got to have a little more overall effort to get these people in proper perspective. And we ought to ask Bob Seamans to look at these comments on George Mueller. You've got to always remember that George Mueller put together the Saturn, the Apollo, 300,000 people in contractors' plants, and the stuff flew. It went to the moon and came back. It was a very, very important advance. Nobody had ever built a machine as big as that.

COLLINS: Let's move on to a couple of other people. You've talked a good deal about Seamans and Dryden, and the effectiveness of your executive secretariat in carrying out NASA's mission. But I guess I don't have a good feel for the extent to which they accepted your administrative philosophy.

WEBB: Well, they accepted the fact that we had agreed, the three of us, that we would participate in fixing the policy, then approving the programs and the projects under the programs. Nothing really significant would be done without the three of us coming into agreement. We then predicated that agreement on the fact that no one of us would force the issue insofar as doing violence to the strongly held view of any one of the three. In other words, every one of the three had a veto. He could say, I'm not prepared to support that, or I've got another month's work to do.

But we took the position that we had to do enough work in advance to be sure we were on solid ground, and one of the safest ways to do that was to make sure that the three of us signed off and said, "This is the thing to do," and not under pressure. We didn't want it done on the basis that I, as administrator, suggested in the beginning to do it this way. I generally waited on many of these important matters for them to suggest, either Dryden or Seamans, what they thought was the thing, and then we would begin to discuss it.

NEEDELL: All three of you had considerable administrative experience beforehand. Did all of you feel that this was the kind of arrangement you'd had experience with, was it the kind of arrangement where previous experience had showed that it actually worked better than before? Or did you feel it was breaking new ground in a way to run an organization?

WEBB: Yes, I thought it was. And I thought it was adaptable to the particular situation in NASA. It was not something that you would just automatically figure was a good thing to do. In the Bureau of the Budget I was director of the Budget dealing directly with the President every day, and bringing the staff in to the work and bringing the senior staff into the President's office from time to time so that they could hear from the President the answer to their questions. They could then go back to their staff in the Bureau and say, "I know you want to do it this way but we talked directly with the President, we know what he thinks, this is the way we're going to do it."

NEEDELL: What about the other two, as far as their experience goes previously? Did they remark much about --

WEBB: No they weren't sitting down and saying, "Thank you for that nice ice cream cone you gave us." I think they were appreciative that I was so conducting myself that they could work within this framework without having to feel they were being bowled over or that they were going to be asked to do something that they were not mentally sold on. I think it eased up a lot of problems that you could have, when you have a highly qualified man like Dryden who's been there a long time, who's got certain basic philosophies that have to do with way NASA has done research on his area of speicalization -- boundary layer problems, things of this kind. You've got Bob Seamans who's been managing the building of a whole missile, and has had 15 years with Draper and five years in RCA. Inevitably, we all three knew there were difficulties ahead. We weren't automatically going to come into agreement. We had to invest the time and effort to be sure the other people understood our point of view, and that we had, in fact, a good basis for going ahead. That we weren't going to be confronted tomorrow with the fact that one of them came in and said, "Well, I spoke too fast yesterday, I don't believe I can support that." To authorize a large project, NASA needed a clear approvall by the administration; and the three filled this need.

The withdrawal of a previously given approval never happened. Of course, we invested a lot of time, and if there were any difficult areas between Dryden and Seamans, I would step right in and try to do the things that were important to see that they did not blow up into large problems.

For instance, Dryden had been there a long time. He felt that he could step into any technical meeting, whether they were held by Bob Seamans as general manager or not. His method of operating with respect to some of the old timers like Silverstein was pretty rough. Seamans could accept that. Seamans had to make his way as a new general manager in charge of a big organization. So what I did in that case was spend a lot of time with Dryden in my office, which didn't leave him very much time to go and get into the other things. You follow me? There were times when Bob Seamans would tell me very frankly, "There are certain things happening here that I don't like." I would make a real effort to get that moved to another position that would not cause him pain.

COLLINS: Are you referring to the way that Dryden handled his business --

WEBB: No, I've moved from that to the fact that he ran into other things. I mean, how do you take a man who's coming on as general manager, appointed by one administration and keep him in the next rapidly expanding program, great publicity, and all of that? How do you continuously work with him so not a single instance happens that will make the able old timers around the place say, "Look at this stupid thing this new guy's done!"

At the same time, I had to convice him I could intellectually, on technical and political factors make my contribution to it, that I wasn't going to suddenly come in with something as administrator that I said ought to be done, and they didn't like. I had to convince them that I was going to adjust my way of operation, which is after all pretty strong -- if I've got to make things move, I'll make them move. Each one of us had to convince the other two that we could make this thing go, and that it was better than any other method of operation. It wasn't completely an intellectual commitment right in the beginning, but as each instance came up, and the organization saw that the three of us were sticking together, it became easier and became better appreciated by the three of us.

COLLINS: But the relationship was formalized very early on.

WEBB: Oh, I stated it. But you can unstate something if it doesn't work.


NEEDELL: How much concern was there that if one of these three -- especially Dryden, who had been brought in under a different administration -- wasn't totally on board on any one of these decisions, that there would be this kind of thing that happens today all the time, speak to the favorite Congressman, to the President, bring external forces to bear on internal decisions?

WEBB: Well, I took the position right through -- and I think this was one where the administrator had to take the position, he couldn't wait for somebody like the general manager to tell him what to do with respect to the press -- that if we did the work properly, if we did first class work, if we handled everything honestly and straightforwardly, we moved fast, then we wouldn't have these outside interferences nearly to the extent that others have had them. And it turned out to be true.

NEEDELL: But I suppose some conflicts, especially at the level of the participation of scientist versus engineers at that lower level, where the controveries were strongly --

WEBB: Oh, there was controversy all the time. Abelson was sitting up there, ringing his bell with an editorial every couple of weeks.

NEEDELL: But none of these outside controversies could ever split the three of you any way?

WEBB: You see, one of the reason I talked about the the three as much as I did was to keep anybody from trying to split it. I mean, the fact that I'd make these strong statements that this was the way we were going to work meant that it was more difficult for anybody to get any kind of a movement started. But there were people around Seamans that didn't particulary want to see it done that way. They made it his job primarily; Seamans was the general manager, he was running the thing, they had their own group, they'd bring in people to direct relations with Seamans to run part of it. My plan with Dryden and Seamans was not to let that happen. Either with Dryden or with Seamans or with me.

NEEDELL: I guess the only incident that we have on the tapes that we've really discussed in which there was this kind of thing, was the incident with Brainerd Holmes just before that, as far as bringing in external --

WEBB: I don't remember other instances. There must have been other instances.

COLLINS: Before we extend our discussion on Brainerd Holmes, I want to make a point. When I was at the Truman Library, I came across a few memoranda from 1961, where you were discussing with your administrative staff ways in which they could facilitate the relationship between Dryden, Seamans and yourself, the way they could provide information to each of you on a steady basis so that you would all have the same information to make decisions. So clearly, your position of stating publicly the role that the three of you had was also supplemented by the very concrete thing of making it work.

WEBB: I was trying to make it work. I tried to support it and let everybody know that if they tried to do it some other way, they would not have my support.

NEEDELL: So the administrative procedure was that memoranda with information were circulated simultaneously without going one through the other?

WEBB: So far as the three of us were concerned, yes. The secretariat was given the authority to distribute the papers to the person who needed them. Either incoming information or outgoing decisions. They made the decision as to who saw it.

NEEDELL: Things in order to get to your desk didn't have to go through Dryden?

WEBB: No, they'd go through the secretariat who certified that those people who were concerned received it -- it might have been Arnold Frutkin down on the international side, in which case it would have been Frutkin and Dryden, but Seamans would have been out of it until I came to the three for decision, at which time he would be prepared by material prepared by the secretariat. The same applied to me; the Secretariat could call meetings for this purpose. That was the business of the secretariat. They were supposed to know how things should work. They were supposed to know people who were working outside of that, trying to frustrate the system and have positions of power and influence beyond what the system gave them. There were others who just didn't quite understand this way of working. I charged the secretariat with being teachers for those who would cooperate with them, and knowing what each senior officer was doing, whether he really was trying to cooperate or not trying to on certain matters.


COLLINS: Did you have any more questions about the Dryden-Seamans relationship?


COLLINS: Let's proceed then onto some of the other ones.

NEEDELL: In talking with Dryden and Seamans subsequent to your retirement, did they reminisce or evaluate your management style, later on?

WEBB: Well, you have to remember Drydent was dead. He died in '65. And you have to remember that Seamans was anxious to not be tied the rest of his career in government with NASA. He wanted to look around. He was under great pull from Massachusetts Institute of Technology to get back up there. And we didn't sit down just to reminisce about it. Frequently we'd say. "You remember that episode?" Something of that kind. But we saw the thing, the three of us, closely enough to the same way that we just sort of automatically dropped into the picture of talking about it as if we had been, 45 minutes before at that particular time. We had a meeting of minds and we stuck with it.

COLLINS: Let's move on an discuss a couple of your other higher level managers. There are few comments in the transcripts on von Braun. Mostly they were focussed on his capabilties in managing the Saturn program. But there have also been some comments about his tendencies to step outside of NASA procedures, in terms of getting work done, and also, I guess, a certain kind of rigidity in his management at Marshall.

WEBB: Why do we need to expand on that? I couldn't say much more than that. Those were all true.

NEEDELL: You're satisfied with the record?

WEBB: I'm pretty well satisfied. That's the way I made a few notes on it. But you have to remember that von Braun was Mr. Interplanetary travel. He really was imbued with the desire to do this. He felt that the big rocket was the key to the next step, toward going to Mars. That was his real love. Second, he had recongnized that he was an effective speaker and very convincing to those who heard him. When he got before an audience, he could sell them on the idea that he was trying to put across. He was good at it and he wanted to do as much of it as possible. My problem was to make sure that I didn't let him continue practices that the Army had not supervised closely. They'd let him go wherever he wanted to go, and collect up whatever he could in the way of money for making these personal appearances over and above his federal salary.

I had to constrain this within something I could live with in an area where there were lots of people critical of NASA and von Braun. I mean, there was a group of people who though that he had been too close to Hitler, too much the SS man, that he could have stood against a lot of things that he saw going on in the way of prison labor. That had been decided before I got there. The Army had said, "We want this man, give him American citzenship, move him down to Huntsville."

He was available to us, and it had been agreed he would come in. My job was to take him and use him effectively in the areas where he was outstanding in engineering and as team leader and not let his other interests militate against the effectiveness of NASA.

NEEDELL: And he already had a very high public profile, with the contract and --

WEBB: That's right. He was known well by a lot of people, where people like myself were not known.

NEEDELL: He was on the cover of Life Magazine in '57, I guess.

WEBB: Yes. He was very careful to make sure that the rockets would fly (no small accomplishment) but he was very impatient of paperwork. I think I mentioned to you, when I first went down with President Kennedy to see the demonstration of these big rocket engines, we finished the demonstration and were walking along together, and Kennedy said, "I really am impressed, Wernher, what can I do to help? What do you need?" Wernher said right away, "Just give us the money and cut out all this red tape and we'll get the job done."

I said, "Now, Mr. President, we understand in NASA, as a former Budget Director, that we have to conform to the government's system of budgeting, and we will." I put Wernher right off. But this is not just one illustration, that was his attitude. "Get out of our way, we'll do the whole job and we know more than anybody else. We're Mr. Space of the United States."

NEEDELL: How difficult was that potential conflict of interest problem, potential problem of raising lecture fees, that kind of thing? How much of a concern was that? I know you've said that you were extremely careful, you even paid for the lunches and the breakfasts you had, that kind of thing.

WEBB: That's right.

NEEDELL: I wonder how you dealt with it, with the others?

WEBB: I talked to Wernher, I thought about the thing, and I concluded that he should be going out speaking. The program should take advantage of the fact that people wanted him, that he was attractive, and that he could stir up enthusiasm. Considering everything, he should be permitted to retain part of the earnings from that, but it should operate within policy. So I determined what I was prepared to do, called him in and told him what it was.

NEEDELL: And it's on the written record.

WEBB: Yes, sure. Basically, I said, you can't go to a university and charge a substantial amount of admission. You can't build up your fee basis by getting an agent in New York to sell your services to the universities around the country. If you go to a university, you go free. Things like that.

    But I didn't object to his going to speak at the annual meeting of a soap company or somebody who wanted to hear about space and letting them pay him a reasonable fee. I put a limit on his fee, on any individual fee and on the amount that he could receive in a year.

NEEDELL: What about a planning meeting or convention sponsored by one of the contractors?

WEBB: I wouldn't object to that. I mean, if it is a good company, is done openly, in public, and Wernher is there speaking, he's an authoritative voice. But I limited the amount of time he could spend on this, which meant he had to stay in Huntsville and work, instead of spending half his time out on the road. The Army wanted him to go out. They wanted to acquire a big space mission, and Wernher was their best drawing card.

COLLINS: Just as an anecdote, I don't know whether you'd want to comment on it or not, I know after the Gagarin flight Johnson formed a committee to investigate what kind of mission NASA should undertake, whether it should undertake a manned Mission in space, a lunar mission, and von Braun was one of the people he selected to be on this committee to force through an opinion about manned space flight. That seems like it must have been a little bit awkward for you.

WEBB: Not a bit. I knew about what the President could do. I told you, I made it my business to know how far he would be prepared to go and where the sticking points were. I was happy for Johnson to be in a visible leadership role, to do a thing that the President of the United States wanted him to do. That is, to look carefully at our space program. Now, this committee wasn't any formalized thing. There was nothing in writing about it. He just invited George Brown and the guy from CBS and Wernher and a few people, Chick Haywood as soon as he found a well-known experienced man with a good reputation, he'd ask him to come over and say what should be done. He'd bring in Senator Kerr, Clarence Cannon and Speaker McCormick, I don't remember exactly who, but he'd bring all the top people, because he was trying to build a consensus. He was trying to let these fellows discuss enough, pulling around the table with us. He'd turn to Senator Kerr and Senator Styles Bridges the day they were there and say, "Now, you heard this, what do you think, can we get support for this? Will you support it?"

He wheeled and pushed and pulled. Anybody that could do that was invited into this room in the Executive Office Building to talk about it. Ed Welch put the invitations out, told them by telephone. But I never had any doubt that I would be able to stop something that I thought was unwise, or push for something that I felt was needed, over and above what came out of it. So I wasn't worried about it.

NEEDELL: Were you ever worried about controlling what Wernher might say in some of those public things, that might show up in LIFE MAGAZINE or on television some day?

WEBB: Not much.

NEEDELL: Because he had a very clear sense of what he could say and he couldn't say?

WEBB: No, because I made it clear to him the areas that he ought to stick within, which was not Presidential policy.

NEEDELL: And he was quite experienced, wordly wise about this kind of thing?

WEBB: He had the instinct and intuition of an animal. I mean, he could sense danger. You know an animal pricks up his ears, says, "what's going on here, the wind's bringing me a new scent?" Werher had a remarkable sense of what his audience wanted to hear. And after all, I wasn't trying to control him, because if he said something that caused any trouble we would just withdraw our support from that. I don't think anyone had really put Wernher into a position where he had to think about how high the fence on the corral was before he did anything. Up to then, he'd done something, and somebody would have to stop him if they wanted to. I told him the limits with which he should go.

NEEDELL: There was no other game in town. There was no option to go back to the Army. The Army was out of the business by that time.

WEBB: That's right.

NEEDELL: And he had no real contact with the Air Force.

WEBB: That's right. Well, President Eisenhower had decided that the manned space flight which called for the big rockets was within NASA. That had already been decided. It was not a current issue.

    The hardest time that Wernher went through, I think, was not in those early days, it was when we began to see that the Saturn really did every bit of maneuvering and so forth, with our complete concurrence, to see what he could do to develop an interest in flying that. I even talked to the Joint Chiefs of Staff about assigning him to Saturn V, just 100 percent, if they had payloads that would be worthwhile.

Seamans and I felt very strongly that having perfected the Saturn, Apollo, that we should use it at least for a limited amount of time to gain operating experience, to see what could be done, as a clear and evident capability to work with very big payloads and long distances. I think we could have possibly gained if we'd done that. If we'd taken about three years of Saturn V's and then hit the Shuttle, I think we might have done better than we did.

NEEDELL: Von Braun was very disappointed.

WEBB: He was very disappointed, because he couldn't see anything coming along behind it. Therefore he knew he was going to have to start disbanding his outfit.

COLLINS: Moving on to another individual here, in the case of learning how high the corral fence is, you've indirectly spoken about Harry Goett, and I guess he had in some ways some similar problems to Wernher's.

WEBB: No, I don't think so. Harry Goett was a highly qualified technical man who had spent a great deal of his career in NACA, who had learned how to do both scientific payloads and engineering payloads. He had really almost a sixth sense about the contractors that you wanted to involve in a big project, and yet he would not really address the question of how to leave a record that a government agency has to have for doing that kind of work. Therefore, if he got challenged by GAO, for instance, as to whether a contract is being let to the proper person, what was the competitive range that the Source Evaluation Bord indicated, Harry would make a good decision. He'd make the contract, the equipment would fly. But more and more, his way of doing it was brought into serious question. Just like JPL he'd stumble over taking care of the inventory of hand tools. One of the most serious problems we had was the hand tools at JPL, because it wasn't a large amount of money, but if you just let the hand tools walk out in somebody's pocket every day, you've got a hell of a problem. Of course a Congressman can understand hand tools and audit them. He can say, "Why are you spending all this money for hands tools?"

Now, Harry Goett just could not bring himself to say that he not only could make the equipment fly, not only develop the kind of men that could do it, that he could do it within the system that was satisfactory to the procedure of the government.

NEEDELL: It was against his nature.

WEBB: Yes, that's right. And he thought that he was so good that he could get away with it, that by God, nobody could really cause him any serious trouble. We tried very, very hard. You see, he was also operating in an area where he had the Headquarters people, program managers and directors. He had the center nearby, which was closer than JPL, closer than Ames, and the natural tendency of people in Headquarters is to go out and see what's going on. They wanted to talk to contractors and find out what they were doing.

Harry Goett would say, "Look, I can't run those contractors if you go talk to them from Headquarters," and he didn't want anybody from Headquarters coming in and sitting in on a meeting. He just said he wanted to draw an absolute line between the people that worked for him, and those that were in Headquaters.

     We kept trying to say you can't do that and finally we just decided that we were going to have a lot more trouble than his successes could overcome through his unwillingness to follow standard practice. So we moved him.

NEEDELL: In other words, you're saying you could have similar success with someone who would work within the system?

WEBB: Well, it's a little more than that. You've got to be imbued with the idea that the system of accounting prescribed by the General Accounting Office is not a foolish thing, that you don't want to try to thumb your nose at it all the time, that you want to try to make it work. Now, there are lots of people who tried to get around it, just like they tried to get around the rules the executive secretariat in NASA were enforcing. And you didn't cut their hands off, but you contested with them as to whether you could push that back into the confines, do things by government rules, so you could say if anybody raised a question, "Yes, sir, we followed the Source Evaluation Board set up here, everything was done in order." He wouldn't do it. He'd let contracts without competition.

But mainly, he was very close to this very difficult relationship between the people in Homer Newell's shop and a center that was dealing with contractors and getting the work done. Naturally, if a Congressman like Joe Clark asked somebody in Homer Newell's setup, say Oran W. Nicks or some program manager, "How's it getting along?" that fellow wants to give him a good answer. He wants to go out and find out. Sometimes he wants to talk to the contractors, sometimes he wants to go to the meetings which he can size up by what they're doing. Harry wanted it to be absolutely clear that he was running the place, and he wouldn't welcome anybody from Headquarters for anything. But that's an attitude that you can't tolerate in an important manager handling millions of dollars worth of work on very highly specalized equipment, especially when he's running the network. He was building the network that was going to bring back all the information from space. This was a very key thing to solve these personal relationships.

NEEDELL: I guess one of the issues is, down on the field level they have to be convinced that these rules, systems, in fact are a reasonable means to survive and get the job done. Whereas I guess I can't say for sure, but if we talked to Harry Goett, the feeling might have been that these are rules for their own sake and they were counter productive, that they were slowing things down, that they had no good purpose.

WEBB: Could be. Could be. You see, Harry represented a very strong capability that people in NASA had gained from the NACA type of thing. Take the case of Abe Silverstein. He felt that he would like to run the Manned Space Flight Program, but he insisted that there be a separate organization, that there be a separate place built at least across the Beltway from Headquarters and that he be in charge. He was, in a sense, the guy who would give the answers. He was the czar. And I took the view, you couldn't do it. We had to run Apollo as a part of the overall national NASA operation. And we broke on that. But I didn't let it get to a Goett situation. I persuaded Abe to go back to Lewis and become one of our strengths, our reserves.

The key thing that you haven't got enough of in your report -- which maybe had to be a separate project -- is what were the reserve strengths that we had created before we had the problems? We forecast the problems and created the reserve strengths, one of which was Lewis. Do you remember when Wernher was so busy with the Saturn that he did not put the time necessary on the Centaur? The Centaur began to drop behind. Finally we concluded we'd have to move it, and we told Abe Silverstein he was going to take it . He did and did a damned good job on it, a very difficult project -- first with hydrogen, and these little hairline cracks that would spoil the vacuum insulation between the oxygen and the hydrogen were just a pain in the neck. And the engines were very difficult. You had to stop and start hydrogen engines in space. But the fact that we had agreed with Abe that he would go there and be avialable as a reserve strength, that we could call on when we needed it, meant that we didn't have to go through the long protracted negotiations. We just told him, we want you to be there, take up the equipment, bring it to Cleveland, do the job." We told Wernher that and Wernher wanted three months to do it. Abe said next Monday -- this was Friday -- the trucks will be down there and we will be packing the stuff.

Sometime you had to be rough that way. But the point is that Abe was not lost to the program even though we couldn't do what he wanted. His great strength was there, and I openly said to people looking us over that he was a part of our reserve strength.

COLLINS: He was willing to play ball in that fashion?

WEBB: Yes. He was tremendously proud of making that Centaur operate, the first hydrogen rocket. He did a tremendous job. I don't think anybody did more ingenious and competent work than Abe Silverstein. We created reserves like that. Bellcom was a reserve strength, available to Dryden, Seamans and Webb and those that they chose to enlarge the circle to, when and if we needed them. The General Electric contract provided a reserve strength. We had experience with them. They had every discipline in the company, one of the few companies in the world that had it ready so that if we needed them and wanted them to take over any subcontractor's work or contractors' work that was not going well, they'd come right in and do it. This was made at the top by me and Ralph Cordiners, head of GE.

Now, Bellcomm was particularly important because the electronics competence in the country centered more in Bell labs d the Bell Telephone system than anybody else. The country was using them, in a sense, to guide government policy. I was trying to get the benefit of that capability, but corral fence around it, as I did around Martin. We succeeded in doing that with Bellcomm. I made the arrangements with him to move his people through Bellcomm, take people out of Bell Laboratories or Western Electric move them to Bellcomm leave them a year or two and then move them on.

In other words, I said, "we are out to build the competence of the country. Our job is not just to build up NASA, but it is to build competence in the United States. Those men that you move through Bellcomm that serve well, are available as strength for the United States space program." I encouraged them to do that.

COLLINS: So you took a very broad view of building up this reserve strength within NASA.

WEBB: That's right. Well, 400,000 people in the industry, less than 10 percent of that in NASA. But they're a different kind of people. The people that were in NASA were capable of holding up a requirement for success in the agency and managing contracts. The people working in contractors' plants were building things. They had a limited view of the program.

COLLINS: You previously had briefly mentioned JPL, so I thought perhaps you might want to comment on the record so far on William Pickering.

WEBB: I don't think anybody needs to say a word about the record that JPL has made on the deep space network -- a tremendously important technical job. The fact that they can get this data back from Jupiter, with a very small amout of energy, is just fascinating. Have you seen the book that Oran Nicks just put out called Far Travelers? 3 I guess in reading this over, I found it a little bit simplistic in many ways. Is the importance contained in this essay sort of his characterization of the engineering method and the enterprise and its application to solving certain social problems? Or is it something different from that?

WEBB: Well, I didn't find it simplistic. I mean, some of the thoughts and policies that have been most cogent and most effective are fairly simple propositions. What Draper is saying is that you have to develop the kind of men that can work with these broad fields of capability. They have to be trained to do it, they have to be given support and the kind of equipment that permits them to build an inertial guidance system.

NEEDELL: But it seems to me that some of our discussions contradict this. In other words, to point out the difficulties of relying on the kinds of judgments totally that a George Mueller or a Harry Goett -- might make you know, someone who is a trained engineer just simply trying to get the job done. Your insights on the importance in administration of managing people and keeping larger goals seem to me to be much broader than simply applying the engineering method to it.

WEBB: It is, and I don't think Draper is talking about just applying the engineering method. What I have said to you in these transcripts and in our talks, is that Seamans had known Draper and worked for him for 15 years. I had known him at the time when I had to approve contracts for Sperry, where we were so over-extended that if one half of one percent of the purchased goods could not be tied to the government contract, we'd lose the company. In other words it was that close, and I was the treasurer and I had to make that decision. I got to know enough about Draper to be sure that he could do it.

Now, what was the alternative? If we'd gone to one company like ARMA Engineering, which I think wanted to bid on it and that company had been given the contract to do the Apollo guidance, we would have been their prisoner. As long as we could look at MIT and Bob Seamans could walk in the front door and say, "How are you boys getting along? I've been away from you for a while." But he knows who they are, we know Draper, and we know what he can do in his laboratory. We know he's come up with the kinds of ideas that permit the Polaris submarine to fire a rocket without surfacing, and still have a good chance to get to it's target half a continent away. We intend to put the work out to industrial contractors when we are sure the equipment is ready.

Now, we wind up in a situation where we have industrial contractor stength that is bidding for it, wants it. You have the supervision of the development research needed by MIT, and as much assurance as you can have that they will do the job and will do it within cost. You have Seamans and Dryden in our organization, you have the astronauts looking at the guidance system saying, "Is this good enough for me to fly behind?" You have people like Gilruth, and others. You had a lot of very good people looking at that whole thing. Now, we didn't just turn it over to them and say, "do it, boys." We followed it closely. I bet there was a man up there every week.

NEEDELL: But I think what Martin and I were responding to was that, in that short piece we read, Draper is very much projecting engineering capabilities as techniques that could be applied much more broadly, instead of --

WEBB: I really tend to differ. I think that he was saying, to get good engineering that will solve these problems, you've got to do the things that are necessary for that engineering. We did it on inertial guidance. We've done it on the Apollo technology. You have to do the things necessary. You can't do it with speeches. You can't push it into a form you can use. You've got to do the hard slogging work necessary, and develop a base of know how; this takes years. If you get a good crew and keep working at the problem, you can do it.

NEEDELL: So you don't necessarily endorse a broader interpretation, that he was really talking about extending the engineering method --

WEBB: Where is there a man capable of doing it? I'd like to see him do it. I don't think you're going to have every man running a big engineering laboratory able to look at the broad picture, any more that we had in NASA.

COLLINS: I guess what I was partly getting at is that Draper's approach is very philosophical.

WEBB: So am I!

COLLINS: I agree. That's why I was wondering whether your way of administrating NASA reflected somehow his sort of engineering rationale, in looking at a problem and finding a solution?

WEBB: No, no. But I was perfectly happy to make a decision along with Seamans and Dryden to select him to do the guidance system for NASA. I wouldn't reorient NASA's management to what he thought ought to be done for engineering.

COLLINS: No, I just wondered whether you found elements of his philosophy of doing engineering similar to your own philosophy of administration.

WEBB: Yes, I did, because he did the thing that would guarantee success, that would permit success. He didn't try to do something that fundamentally couldn't be done. Yet he pushed the state of the art up to its utmost limits. And he started with an institution that I understand had a very lousy engineering education setup. MIT has tried very hard to improve its engineering setup, but progress was slow.

NEEDELL: It seems to me, though, that reading into what Draper says, he has some vision of what the public administrator of a technological project or a large project should be, what kind of background, what kind of philosophy. It seems to me to be slightly different from yours.

WEBB: Well, it is. But I welcomed Draper's thinking about administration. I mean, I welcomed the fact that he looked at it through a philosophical background, and very few of them do.

NEEDELL: But you don't see any danger in extrapolating from the level of his activities, capabilities and accomplishments to the larger administrative level?

WEBB: There's no automatic connection. But if the right kind of man comes in, and follows the things that we're talking about -- you can't even do that in the historical side of science of engineering. You've got to find the right man to team up with the organization and with the people outside the organization, to make a strong driving force. I mean, there's nothing automatic about it.

COLLINS: Partly what interested me about Draper's essay was that he focused on the present condition, here in this country and around the world, innerconnectedness between engineering capabilities and limited resources; that as this kind of condition becomes more exacerbated, they become more tightly linked.

WEBB: I think that's true, and I welcomed his thinking about it. But I wouldn't be chained to his policy, so I couldn't move without it, if I were some administrator at a high level in the government.

COLLINS: I just wondered how that perhaps would fit in with your interest in building up the national capability in space sciences.

WEBB: Well, I thought about it the same way. I mean, just as guidance, for instance, we were building up people to learn how to operate in space. How to meet all the conditions that were there. In both cases, we were trying to overcome some limits that are there now. We were trying to extend the corporate limits of the capability of engineering, and the capability of administration.

NEEDELL: But you were also trying to do that in the directions set down through policy channels.

WEBB: That's right.

NEEDELL: They're public resources, and they have to be --

WEBB: I guess what you don't see is that MIT couldn't give Draper that guidance, those limits. He had to develop them for himself. He had to be a self-starter with respect to these matters, and he had to fight with MIT to hold as much of the overhead allowance as possible for expanding his operation. MIT would tend to say, "All right, that's up to you, you've sold the Navy that you can do this. We're going to take a third of the money that comes and provide it for overall administration of the university.

That's what he was up against, a hostile view, in a sense (that word "hostile" is too strong). But he had to contest with the president, chairman and the faculty of MIT constantly to hold on to the funds to build up the capability that he did.

COLLINS: If you feel comfortable continuing on here --

WEBB: For a little while.

COLLINS: One more area that I thought we might touch on to see if you wanted to add any further comments to the record we already have in the transcripts, is individuals in other areas of the government who had responsibilities for science policy, like Wiesner, and your relationship with them. In the record so far you've indicated that you've known Wiesner for a long time, since the Truman Administration. He played a role in your appointment to NASA. He acted more or less as a go-between in some respects. Also his interest at that time in discussions about your appointment and replacing Dryden with someone of his own choosing and later on his criticisms of manned space flight. Is there anything we want to add to the record about Wiesner?

WEBB: Well, why should I try to make a complete record here in this area where there are many considerations with which I am not familiar? Many would point to him as having the right answer to these kinds of questions, others would not. I'd almost rather leave it that if he wants to make a historical record and you want me to comment on it, I'll do it, rather than to say I'm going to lay it out. I haven't dodged it in any way. He basically wanted our program to go forward. He wanted to be thought of as very close to the President and following our program for him. He wanted to hold a position of great power through his closeness to the President. He was convinced -- like many of the scientists were -- that the military were not capable in their formal organization of laying out the kind of equipment to utilize science, the training programs, the men and so forth, to get the maximum potential that you could get. He was very close to, say, McNamara, in part of this business. Bush and the scientists had really been very critical of the military in World War II, in various fields like radar. I think I mentioned to you that they insisted on going forward with the Duck. For instance the military, my recollection is, didn't particularly care for the Duck, but the scientists thought that you could do a number of things with a vehicle that could operate in water and on land. This is the kind of thing that Wiesner was, I guess, either saturated with, or this was his basic philosophy.

Now, there comes a time when you can't really see everything. You can't take every last scientific item into account. You've got to build a rocket or you've got to build a radar station or you've got to train a thousand men to take an island. My philosophy has always been, you want to take all the accounts of it that you can, but if you've got to take that island, you'd better get in there and take it, and not wait for every last suggestion that could be made.

I did come to believe very strongly that the manned spaceflight program was important, that it was the key to future operations in space, and I think that's been proven. I mean, it justifies the big rockets and the big equipment, which you've got to have if you're going to have any kind of real operation. And I think this is where we're different from the Russians. They've had a large number of flights, but usually with smaller equipment. The Shuttle is bigger equipment than they have. The Apollo was bigger equipment than they had.

I don't want to leave the impression that Wiesner and I were antagonistic. We had many close working relationships, friendly, helpful to each other. But in a sense, the President's Science Advisory Committee tended to move in the direction of feeling that the people operating the units in the government should take their guidance, take the scientific guidance from them. We were not willing to do that in NASA. We were willing to debate with them, talk with them, take their views into account, but we were not going to let them have a veto over what we did. And we took the same view with respect to the FAA and other government people.

COLLINS: Did you have contact with Donald Hornig?

WEBB: Yes, I did. I went up to Brown to get the last honorary degree given me and he was the president. But he was moving out then to make way for another president.

COLLINS: Perhaps a comment or two about Vannevar Bush. I seem to remember reading in the transcript at one point that Bush along with Wiesner opposed your appointment as administrator. One of the reasons offered was, they were afraid that you would be captive to certain political interests. I guess I wasn't clear what Bush's concern was, there, or why he would come out in opposition to you.

WEBB: I don't remember too much about Bush being in opposition. I know as soon as I came out for manned spaceflight, he felt thathe had to oppose me any way he could. I can't help you on that.

I'd like to be sure the record doesn't show Bush in the wrong light. He was really not very judicious in saying that nobody would make intercontinental rockets, it couldn't be done. He wasn't very wise in some of the other things that he did. He helped me very much in the Oklahoma Frontiers of Science Foundation, we had Mervin Kelly and Bush and the others there. I tried to help him when I was Director of the Budget and he was arguing that the military services really had to have a science committee that covered the whole gamut, Navy, Air Force, Army. He was putting it together, and I helped him all I could. And I've spent many hours with him talking about the Science Foundation, on which we disagree.

I guess I would say that his report on Frontiers of Science , his pattern of thinking after that, were keyed to the fact that we had to have government money in research and development. Institutions like the universities simply could not do the job that had to be done, and the industrial research and development could not be done, without government money.

The question was, how do you get that government money in, in a way that the scientists still control the basic policy? If the politicans ever get into controlling the pattern of decisions that affect research and development, then a substantial portion of the country will suffer. Now, that was the basic pattern that most all of them felt was appropriate and they hewed to that even after the Ramsey Committee that I opposed took its position. I asked then Ramsey committee to give me advice in certain areas of science and instead they said, "We'll give you advice on how you should organize NASA." The effort was to say again, "You should have a science advisory committee and you should not go beyond their advice, you should do only what they think is right."

And there's some merit to that, but I couldn't follow it and do my job. I just couldn't surrender policy to the Science Foundation. When I was a staff man for Harry Truman, the President of the United States had responsibility in the Constitution for the coordination of all the research activities in the country. I couldn't recommend to the President that he could delegate this --there is a fatal flaw in the idea of a Cabinet department for science. The other departments are not going to let a Cabinet department do the job that the President's supposed to do.

I know one man who was offered the job of head of the Science Foundation, and came and saw me and he said, "I decided not to take it." I said, "Why?" He said, "I found I'd be working for Wiesner instead of the President."

See, all through this I made sure that I was working for the President. I maintained good relations with Lyndon Johnson and Vice President Humphrey, good relations with all the others -- Kerr, Albert Thomas, -- but there was never a time when Kennedy didn't know I was working for him, and I knew that he was my President and I could get to him on the phone in a very few minutes on any important matter. He knew I wouldn't call him if it wasn't important. The same was true when Johnson was President.

Now, I don't know how you can specify that in advance. How can you say a man can do that if he never has done it? It's like Euripides I think, at one point said, "If you're going to be a slave, you want to be a slave in the family that's had slaves for a long time because they know how to treat slaves."

    If you're working for Presidents you better know something about how to work for them!

What else?

COLLINS: Well, I think that's all the questions I have. Let's conclude this interview for today then.

WEBB: All right.

1 James Webb, Space Age Management.

2 Oran W. Nicks, Far Travelers, (Washington, DC: NASA 1985).

3 Charles Draper, "Human Desstiny and the Engineering Methods", Cambridge: CDS Laboratory Inc., 1976.

Webb 8 || Table of contents

Rev. 09/06/96

© 1996 National Air and Space Musuem