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INVESTIGATION OF PROJECT RANGER
MONDAY, MAY 4, 1964
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE AND ASTRONAUTICS,
The subcommittee met at 10 a.m., in room 214-B, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Joseph E. Karth, a member of the subcommittee, presiding.
Mr. KARTH. The subcommittee will come to order.
This morning the subcommittee is privileged to have with us Mr. James E. Webb, Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and Dr. Robert C. Seamans, Jr., the Associate Administrator.
First of all, Mr. Webb and Dr. Seamans, we want you to know that we apologize for taking you away from what we know is a very busy schedule, but we have called you because we are sure you can help us in our present endeavor, and we hope this investigation will be helpful to the Ranger program.
You have a prepared statement, Mr. Webb. I wonder if I could ask you to accede to the same practice as the other witnesses. That practice has been for the members to ask questions as the witness proceeds through his formal statement. Otherwise, some of our questions might be forgotten.
Mr. WEBB. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Shall I proceed?
STATEMENTS OF JAMES E. WEBB, ADMINISTRATOR, NASA, AND DR. ROBERT C. SEAMANS, JR., ASSOCIATE ADMINISTRATOR, NASA
Mr. WEBB. Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, I would like to begin by thanking the chairman for his courtesy in scheduling this hearing so that both Dr. Seamans and I could be present without having to cancel several long-established commitments outside of Washington. We appreciate this opportunity to answer those questions still outstanding in your review of Project Ranger, and especially the Ranger VI. NASA, JPL, and the representatives of RCA and Northrop have given exhaustive testimony on the history and background of the project, on its relation to the total lunar and planetary exploration program, on details of its design, testing, and flight, and on its management. Dr. Seamans and I are prepared to discuss such aspects of this testimony as you may feel warrant further consideration.
In the 5 years NASA has been in existence, and especially since 1961, our concept of teamwork has grown and matured. I am convinced the major advances in space technology or space science today can most surely and rapidly result from a proper melding of the best elements of Government, universities, and industry.
May I interpolate there, Mr. Chairman, my own appreciation of the strong support your committee has given to this concept of the marriage of Government, universities, and industry to produce total national strength in this field.
The individual efforts and creative contributions, and the teams that evolve from this interplay are dynamic, not static. The individual commitments and the team membership changes, and the role of each team member changes in response to the stimulus and challenge of the task at hand. Each efement supplies values that the others may lack, and it is a major task of space agency management to build these capabilities for individual participation and these flexible teams in such a way that they can contribute to the maximum.
The entire NASA program is carried forward by such teams, and Project Ranger is no exception. The university element is provided by California Institute of Technology as Laboratory manager and by university scientists and investigators such as Kuiper and Urey. The industry element is provided by contractors who produce and supply materials and components, by the subsystem contractors, and by the engineering support groups. The Government element is represented by NASA, specifically the Headquarters Office of Space Sciences and Applications, the field Western Òperations Office, and the JPL residency.
This team has not succeeded in obtaining high-resolution pictures of the lunar surface, but I am convinced that it has put in motion a process that will succeed. This team has undertaken a most difficult. engineering and development task and has delivered some major results. I point to the important Mariner fly-by and to the success of Ranger VI in impacting the moon within a few miles of its aiming point. Chairman Miller spoke to this point last Monday, and I agree with him that this team deserves congratulations.
I would like to summarize the history of NASA's relationships with one part of this team, the California Institute of Technology and JPL, and to sharpen our focus here on the roles the team members have in the overall program.
On January 1, 1959, the physical plant called the Jet Propulsion Laboratory was transferred from U.S. Army (Ordnance Corps) to NASA ownership. The staffing and operation of this facility was at that time the responsibility of the California Institute of Technology under contract to the Ordnance Corps. The contract was phased out in an orderly fashion over the next year.
Simultaneously, a new contract between NASA and California Institute of Technology provided for continuation of the JPL operation under NASA direction and funding, with the several areas of propul sion, advanced research, and deep-space exploration as its missions. The 3-year contract was designed to conform as closely as possible to the previous Army contract in order to minimize the effect of the transfer upon the still-continuing defense effort and to quickly and
easily bring the unique technical competence of the Laboratory to bear upon the pressing new problems of the space age.
The successor contract came into effect on January 1, 1962, and runs until December of this year. It incorporates changes and modifications that reflected the relationship at the time of its negotiation during 1961. It is important to remember that JPL has grown from a 2,600-man research and development group in 1958 to a 4,000-man complex in 1964.
Mr. KARTH. I wonder, Mr. Webb, if I could ask at this point whether or not JPL has, in fact, been transformed from a scientific laboratory to a manufacturing-oriented laboratory?
Mr. WEBB. I would say categorically it has not, but the problems of the relationship between this advanced scientific and engineering research function, the level at which it operates, its relationship to California Institute of Technology, and its further relationship which NASA has sought with the other universities in the west coast area, are still in an evolutionary state. One of the things we must work out for full success is a relationship which will produce a climate within which the ablest scientists and engineers on the university campus play a full part in the programs and they are prepared and willing, individually, to participate in this program. This is a part of the dynamics of the situation. I should like to say categorically that JPL has not been transformed into a manufacturing or contract management agency.
Mr. KARTH. There has been an increase of approximately 1,400 personnel at JPL in recent years. The thought that occurred to me was, since the people at JPL envision Cal Tech as one of the important. links in the total chain, and the fact that they would rather remain as they are as opposed to becoming a true NASA center, such as Lewis and Goddard and Langley, one of the reasons may be that they can draw on Cal Tech for things that might otherwise not be available, such as trained personnel. Can you tell me if these 1,400 people did in fact come from Cal Tech, or whether these people were primarily enlisted from industry?
Mr. WEBB. We could give you a breakdown, but my impression is that very few of them have, in fact, come from Cal Tech, that the expansion has been more in the project-directed area such as Mariner, Surveyor, and Ranger. The previous function which Dr. Pickering spoke about to your committee, and which we are also interested in, is very much as it was with some increased participation by members of the faculty working with their graduate students. In my view, there is not enough such participation, and I am interested in an increased relationship there as we experiment in how this laboratory can best fit in with the team as I am in any other factor here.
I think, Mr. Chairman, we are working rapidly as this space program develops to understand and to be able to execute these large research and development projects. I do think we have a very real problem ahead of us over, let us say, the next 10 years in developing the kind of relationship that takes the problems, exposes them in their true complexity to the largest number of able minds, and then includes some kind of screening process by which those who become interested, are prepared to work, and are the best qualified to do the work, can somehow be selected out.
Now, we have, as you know, in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA's only such contract-operated laboratory. This in a way represents a part of our experimental approach to how to do the job best as well as a strong need for this team in the program at this time.
Mr. KARTH. There is really no doubt in your mind as to which way is best, is there, Mr. Webb? If you had the choice to make right now as to whether or not JPL should operate on the same basis as Goddard and Lewis and Langley, I believe there is no question but that you would not choose to establish the kind of relationship that presently exists between NASA and JPL.
Mr. WEBB. I would say, Mr. Chairman, that it would not appear wise to try to transfer Goddard or Lewis or, particularly, any of these large centers like the Marshall Space Flight Center or the Manned Spacecraft Center, to contract operation.
Our Centers are charged with managing a very large industry participation, and providing an interface between this Government group, the industry group, and advanced engineers and scientists in other institutions like universities and nonprofit institutions.
I would consider it a very unwise proposal to turn those operations
over to contractors.
In connection with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I believe it would be quite unwise to start out on an effort to convert this into a civil service laboratory as the others are. I think there is a great value in experimenting to determine exactly how the relationship with the California Institute of Technology and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory can add something to the system we have in the other areas, and I think you might well suffer a severe loss in the lunar and planetary program through an effort to force a transition to civil service at this particular time.
What we are doing is evolving through several contract phases to a solution that will be more satisfactory to both the California Institute of Technology and to NASA than the interim arrangements have been, although I must immediately say that we must not, in focusing on that small area of difficulty, either with respect to the flight of Ranger VI or with respect to the total operation of this Laboratory, ever forget that a very, very large proportion of the work is entirely satisfactorily handled-in fact, is outstandingly handled—and that there are men there who have done and are doing work more technical, more complex, more difficult than is being done in almost any other place by the human race.
I would say this: You are going to find as time goes on the involvement of new factors, new people, new relationships, and that our purpose here is to build on those that exist rather than to try to make some radical change with respect to management.
Mr. KARTH. Where you have a specific program being carried out by one of NASA's centers, however, don't you feel, Mr. Webb, that it is important to exercise sufficient management control over that center, regardless of what its name might be JPL or something else?
Mr. WEBB. It depends, Mr. Chairman, on the capability in the center, on the relationship of the center with the industrial contractors who actually do most of this work, and the center's ability to furnish either direction or to obtain a meeting of the minds as to
what it is best to do. I would not say there is any general requirement along that line, but I would hasten again to add that as this organization has grown, you have had to face a large number of administrative and management problems as well as get the technical job done. Generally speaking, those people who are most expert in solving the technical problems, who have the most brilliant ideas as to how to design and test equipment of this kind and fly it, are not as interested in administration, in the housekeeping requirements, in the total, shall I say, body of rules and regulations that relate to the management of property, or to the handling of organization and management procedures.
These interests seem to be only in rare cases combined in the same people, so our job has been not to lose the technical competence and the ability to make the advances in the state of the art required in the hardware and the accomplishment of the missions, but at the same time constantly to improve the management qualities and techniques, and we find that this differs even in our own civil service centers.
There is no general rule here, but the policy, to see that both are done, is inherent in our management approach.
Mr. KARTH. Yes, sir, I understand that. However, I believe that JPL in the case of Ranger is in quite a similar position in certain respects to other major contractors. I assume that companies like Hughes, Aero Jet, Lockheed, and Boeing, all have tremendous inhouse capabilities, scientific, technological, management; but they, unlike JPL, are very closely supervised by another highly qualified and technically professional team from one of the NASA centers. I was simply wondering whether or not this kind of supervision wouldn't also be good practice and good policy with respect to JPL.
Mr. WEBB. I thought, Mr. Chairman, you were going to draw the comparison with a prime contractor when you said other contractors. Actually, none of our other centers are contractor-operated, as I am sure you know.
On the other hand, we do use prime contractors who have to work with many other resources such as subcontractors, and highly qualified individuals, whether scientists or engineers, and I think you do have a different kind of a problem with respect to the organization and administration where you are dealing through a prime contractor than you have where you are dealing with a NASA civil service center, which in turn manages a number of contractors.
Mr. KARTH. Yes, sir. I guess I switched my question from NASA's relationship with one of our centers to NASA's relationship with its prime contractors, which, in fact, JPL is, so far as Ranger is concerned.
Mr. WEBB. Yes, you used the word "contractor," and I wanted to make sure what you had in mind.
Mr. KARTH. In effect, JPL is the prime contractor on programs such as Ranger.
Mr. WEBB. This is correct.
Mr. KARTH. And JPL operates in a manner quite similar to prime contractors such as those that I mentioned earlier. My question was whether or not a good strong technical team, acting for NASA, to oversee or supervise, not just management practices at JPL, but technical approaches as well, would not be as wise in this instance as it is in dealing with other prime contractors.