In 1967, NASA recognised the need for the scientist-astronauts to also maintain and update their scientific proficiency. The agency established a review procedure to ensure that the scientists had adequate time for study and research in their areas of expertise, although this was initially limited to one day per week and one week per month. This was finally the fulfilment of the twenty-five per cent research time members of the group had been promised. However, some of the men would still find this very limiting, and Michel was one of those who expressed concerns about being able to meet the requirements of being an astronaut, as well as taking on study and research.
The war in Vietnam was proving a vast drain on the American economy, and governmental budgets were being drawn ever tighter. NASA, even in the throes of accomplishing a national goal, was not exempt. Budgetary problems would cause NASA to decrease the number of planned Apollo missions, which meant that there were suddenly less crew assignments available and far too many astronauts in training. Time and money were running out on their dreams. In light of this, Michel requested that he be given a year's leave of absence to return to Rice in the fall of 1968, in order to resume his teaching and studies and to conduct some research. The initial reaction was that he could quit the astronaut programme if he didn't feel he could devote his time to it, but eventually his bosses relented and he returned to Rice.
One thing that continually astounded the scientist-astronauts was the manipulative game of office politics played within NASA. Curt Michel recalls that during the Gemini IX mission, Gene Cernan complained that some ''mysterious force'' seemed to be pushing him away from the Gemini spacecraft during his curtailed EVA, and Michel was asked to identify the source of the problem. ''Slayton told me to 'look into' the possibility that it was some 'gravity gradient' effect,'' he recalled. ''I told him that it was simply action and reaction: every time Gene touched the surface he pushed himself and the spacecraft away from each other - mainly him of course. And even if each was a tiny effect, they all add up. The next day Max Faget was in the Houston Chronicle explaining this to the reporters as his theory!''
Both Karl Henize and Joe Allen seemed to feel that they were able to maintain an even balance between their astronaut and scientific careers, and both agreed that even the fifty-three weeks spent on the jet pilot course had not interfered with their ability to maintain proficiency in their particular fields. In fact, Henize felt that the Apollo programme was of considerable benefit to his work as an astronomer by enabling him to gain access to the programme's large spectrograph. He was also able to spend time at Northwestern University and would be able to publish two papers. Similarly, Joe Allen was able to keep up with nuclear physics by simply reading the literature and by working with a cosmic-ray physics team at NASA: ''Any scientist would like to have more time for research, but we didn't have all the time we desired even when we were teaching.''12
Everybody understood that Apollo was John Kennedy's answer to the initial Soviet lead in space. Now it seemed very probable that the first people on the Moon would be Americans, not Russians. The problem NASA faced was that beating the Russians too decisively might lead the Congress to decide that they could cut back the funding for human space flight.
According to Chapman, ''Soviet cosmonauts visited Houston several times while I was there and we usually put on a party for them at the home of one of the astronauts. They claimed to speak little English, and were always accompanied by
'translators,' who were actually zampolits (political officers). Our standard procedure was to have some pretty girls on hand, in miniskirts, who would distract the zampolits while we fed alcohol to the cosmonauts. Their English improved remarkably after a few scotches! I remember one of them urging us to do something spectacular in space, and soon, because otherwise the Politburo would cut their funding. The space programmes of both countries depended on the Cold War.
''A few months before Apollo 11, I was sitting in a bar with a few other astronauts, when the conversation turned to what we could do if the USSR quit the space race. Somebody suggested that we should create a fake alien artefact, and give it to Neil Armstrong to 'find' on the Moon. Evidence that an alien civilisation had visited the Moon in the past would surely stimulate a major effort to find out more.
''To be convincing, the artefact had to be something subtle. Our solution depended on the fact that sugar molecules exist in two forms, called isomers, which are mirror images of each other. Sugar produced chemically contains an equal mix of both isomers, but biological sugars contain only one, and it is the same one for all life on Earth. Our plan was to obtain some goat urine, remove the sugar, and replace it with the other isomer. Neil would contaminate a soil sample, let it bake in vacuum until he was ready to leave, and bring it home. Then the chemists would discover that somebody or something not of this Earth had taken a leak on the Moon. Of course this was a joke - almost - and we never did anything about it. I rather wish we had: we might now be much farther ahead in space.''5
Prior to the Apollo 13 mission, Chapman had been handed a choice assignment, as Mission Scientist for Apollo 14. He was not on the prime or back-up crew, but he became an essential part of the team, helping to organise the scientific training of the crew, coordinate lunar experiments and provide the interface between the scientific team and the crew on the Moon. After the mission, he served as Chairman of the Editorial Board for the Apollo 14 Preliminary Science Report.
In January 1971, Alan Shepard and his crew returned America to the Moon in style. America's first man in space had now made it to the lunar surface, and he even managed to hit a couple of golf balls a considerable distance in the Moon's low gravity, using a specially improvised club.
While Phil Chapman was glad to have had an active role in a lunar mission, his work on Apollo 14 strengthened a growing concern about the attitudes of NASA management. In particular, he often disagreed strongly with Deke Slayton, one of the first Mercury astronauts, who was Head of the MSC Flight Crew Operations Directorate which included the Astronaut Office. His position made him responsible for selecting the crews for each mission, and according to Chapman, he used that power ruthlessly to force the astronauts to obey his slightest whim.
''Problems with Deke became apparent soon after I joined the programme in 1967, when John Glenn sent a memo to all of us complaining that Deke had revoked his access to Mission Control. Glenn had left NASA, but he was still in great demand by the media. Cutting him out of the picture, instead of using him as a spokesman, was an act of breathtaking stupidity. It was hard to believe, but it really seemed that Deke was motivated by nothing more than envy because Glenn was a hero enjoying the limelight, while he had been grounded by a heart murmur.
"Removal from flight status was of course a great disappointment for Deke, so nobody minded much that he was usually irascible. Everybody knew he had been given his senior desk job as a consolation prize - but I didn't think a heart murmur was an adequate qualification for such a responsible position. To put it plainly, it seemed to me that Deke had no understanding that leadership is a two-way street, and no vision of space flight beyond keeping it as his own little fiefdom. Furthermore, he apparently thought that the only legitimate purpose of a space mission was flight-testing a vehicle; that science in space was a worthless distraction, and that scientists were inherently unacceptable as astronauts, regardless of their flying skills.''
(On reading these comments, Bill Thornton strenuously pointed out that Slayton was not suffering from a "heart murmur'' but from a condition known as an intermittent arrhythmia, and finds Chapman's recollection of these events bewildering. He says that Slayton's condition "was over-reacted to by consultant physicians, and certainly not Bill Douglas, who was in fact the flight surgeon for the Original Seven. Deke reluctantly took an important, crucial job and generally did it well in spite of obvious personal and system prejudice. He did it superbly compared to his successors who made a farce of arguably the most important office in the NASA system.'')13
Chapman continues: ''I believed then, and still do, that pilot training is very useful. Like space flight, flying is an activity that is not normally dangerous, but it is intolerant of mistakes. If you do the wrong thing, you die. Flying thus teaches you to be calm under time-critical stress - or, rather, to postpone the panic attack until you are safely on the ground. I had nothing but admiration and respect for the coolness shown by pilots such as Neil Armstrong, and by the entire crew of Apollo 13.''
While Chapman admits that he was not sure that he could have matched this coolness given the circumstances, he did not believe that the scientists would endanger any mission. They had all been tested under stress, he emphasised, and would not have been there if they were unstable.
''Deke made his attitude very clear while I was working on Apollo 14. As in all lunar landings, the Command Module Pilot, Stu Roosa, would wait in orbit while the other two crew members went down to the surface. Stu would have very little to do, and he asked me if I could suggest useful activities or observations he might undertake. I talked to various friends in the space sciences, and we came up with an interesting list. None of our suggestions involved any special equipment or had any impact on other mission tasks.
''For example, a Polish astronomer named Kordelewski, using an Earthbound telescope, had reported seeing very faint clouds at places in the plane of the Moon's orbit called L4 and L5, which are located so as to make equilateral triangles with the Earth and Moon. These are points of stable gravitational equilibrium, and it was possible that dust or larger meteors had collected there. This was of great scientific interest, since it offered the possibility of obtaining meteoritic material that had not been altered by passage through the Earth's atmosphere. There were times in lunar orbit, on the night side of the Moon, when the Kordelewski clouds (if they existed) would be within the line of sight and illuminated by the sun. All Stu had to do was to point a camera in the right direction at the right time, and he might make a major scientific discovery.
''Unfortunately, Deke heard about this list, and he carpeted Stu and me. He pointed out that scientists whose proposals had been rejected would be angry if we undertook experiments that had not been through the formal selection process. I agreed, but said that formal experiments were only accepted if there was a good chance of completing them. This conservative approach meant that there would always be some spare time, and we should not waste it just to avoid upsetting a few individuals.''
Slayton refused to listen, and told Roosa that he would be removed from the flight crew if he did not get rid of the list. He also warned Roosa that he would never fly in space again if he made any observations that were not specifically shown in the official flight plan. As a result, Chapman said, scientists still do not know if the Kordelewski clouds are real.
''Later, Deke sent a memo to all the astronauts, saying that TV commentators always judge the success of a mission by the percentage of the mission objectives that have been achieved. The obvious way to maximise that number, he said, was to reduce the number of mission objectives. In future, therefore, the Astronaut Office was to do everything it possibly could to eliminate scientific experiments on every mission. I was dumbfounded by the idea that the way to increase interest in space flight was to minimise the useful results, and, insubordinate Australian that I am, I told Deke what I thought of his new policy.''
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