An Essential Part Of Future Exploration

Between 1958 and 1961, the Space Sciences Board of the US National Academy of Sciences conducted a study into the scientific aspects of space exploration, including the role of man. A formal position was adopted during their 10-11 February 1961 meeting, and their recommendations were submitted to the Government on 31 March. A formal NASA news release on man's role in the US national space programme was released in August 1961, three months after President Kennedy's lunar landing commitment speech.4

The board recommended that: "Scientific exploration of the Moon and planets should be clearly stated as the ultimate objective of the US space program for the foreseeable future.'' Although the board also recognised that it was far too early (in 1961) to determine whether a human crew would be part of any early expedition to the Moon and planets, as many intermediate problems remained to be solved, they strongly emphasised that planning for subsequent scientific explorations should be developed on the premise that humans would be included. The board expressed little doubt that humans would be an essential part of future solar system exploration. Neither did they foresee that, when it became technically feasible to include astronauts on such flights, their judgement and discrimination in conducting scientific investigations of deep space would ever be superseded by instruments alone, no matter how sophisticated or complex they became. But they did feel that any expedition to the Moon or deeper into the solar system would require careful and detailed planning to ensure mission success over such vast distances. They also stressed that, in addition to establishing a clear and precise programme of objectives and goals, a new fleet of launch vehicles and spacecraft would have to be developed.

Perhaps most significantly, however, the board also felt that "Consideration should be given soon to the training of scientific specialists for spacecraft flight, so that they can conduct or accompany manned expeditions to the Moon and planets.'' On 27 February 1962, just seven days after John Glenn had become the first American to orbit the Earth and six months after cosmonaut Gherman Titov had spent a full day in space, Professor James Van Allen testified before the House Committee on Appropriations with regard to the relative worth of instrumented unmanned satellites versus manned spacecraft. Unfortunately, he was misquoted in the media, to the effect of implying that the scientific value of manned space flight would be limited in the near future. What he actually stated was that a

"man-in-space" programme would not be essential for scientific space exploration: "For the same investment of effort, we learn much more without the man ... A monkey made the first orbital trip and [he] made out alright."5

It was clear that not all scientists were in agreement that manned space missions were essential to space science. It is an argument that has continued ever since. To help clarify the situation, the Space Science Board of the NAS conducted, at the request of NASA, a study of the space agency's science programme between 17 June and 31 July 1962, at the State University of Iowa. This study would evaluate both the civilian NASA programme and the current and expected DoD programme, and would allow scientists to express their concerns to the agency's officials and to their peers. The study was aimed at maximising science within the programme, and the debate was not whether there should be a space programme or a space science programme (as that had already been decided over the previous few years), but to develop the science as a whole, whatever the programme. Since Apollo's brief was to meet "important national objectives" (specifically, beating the Russians to the Moon), it seemed logical that the scientific community should take advantage of this unique opportunity while ensuring that any scientific work conducted during Apollo was significant.6

In summary, the study suggested that scientist-astronauts should be included in the manned space flight programme. The board's most significant recommendation was that a scientist-astronaut should be included on the first Apollo landing crew (something that NASA, and certainly the astronaut office at Houston, was not likely to accept on the grounds of safety). It was also stressed that an institute for training scientist-astronauts should be created, administered by a university or by the department of NASA that was responsible for space science programmes. This again was something that NASA would not agree to.

During a news conference at MIT on 14 November 1962, Professor Van Allen reviewed the suggestions made by the panel of scientists, which had met during July and August 1962 to assess the NASA programmes. They suggested that scientists with NASA astronaut training should accompany pilot-astronauts on early lunar and planetary flights. The group also proposed establishing "an academy to train scientist-astronaut volunteers, located at Houston in Texas.'' The following month, on 26 December, Dr. Homer E. Newell, NASA Director of Space Sciences, made a speech before the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) suggesting that scientists should be among the next intake of NASA astronauts: "I have complete and utter conviction that we should take a scientist and make a flyer out of him, rather than the other way around.''7

Deke Slayton, however, has been reported to have suggested that it would be far easier to train pilots to pick up rocks than to teach a scientist to fly!

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