« PreviousContinue »
Dr. Pittendrigh, you were quoted in the New York Times of April 25, 1963 (p. 12), as saying that "in view of the prestige race, this country was relaxing provisions for sterilization of vehicles to be sent to the moon." In connection with this subject, I should like to have you comment on the finding of the summer study “A Review of Space Research” sponsored by the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences at the State University of Iowa, June 17 to August 10, 1962. This finding states that “Because of the program schedule imposed on the lunar program by nonscientific considerations, time probably will not permit development and incorporation of certain advanced sterilization concepts."
1. Does this mean that you do not have sufficient time to develop desirable and necessary sterilization procedures?
2. Please identify precisely the nonscientific considerations mentioned in the study.
3. What types of advanced sterilization concepts would you develop if you had more time than this decade to reach the moon?
4. Is the problem also one of money? How much would it cost in dollars to develop advanced sterilization procedures for space vehicles?
5. Do you know whether the Russians have offered to cooperate with us in the sterilization of space vehicles for lunar landings or for landings on Mars or other celestial bodies?
6. Do you know whether the position of NASA on the sterilization problem is the same as that of our National Academy of Sciences in its participation in the work of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR)?
7. Has this Committee on Space Research of the International Council on Scientific Unions taken any position on the sterilization problem, and, if so, what is this position?
(The following remarks are a revision and clarification of the statement made by Dr. Pittendrigh at the hearing:)
Dr. PITTENDRIGH. I shall first respond to the questions that Senator Smith has given me.
I have already alluded to the surprising difficulties that have been encountered in spacecraft sterilization. An example is afforded by the transitors used extensively in the electronic equipment on board. If a transistor is cracked open, it is found to contain viable bacterial spores. The problem of killing these spores without also “killing” the transistor have proved very difficult and is still not solved. The difficulties of sterilization did not, I think, become fully apparent to anyone until after the Ranger program was begun. As you know all space shots have very great leadtimes to them-times as great as 1 to 3 years. It is extremely difficult to modify such programs significantly, once begun.
The nonscientific considerations I alluded to in discussing relaxation of sterilization standards for Ranger shots concern the immense loss of money, program momentum, and prestige that would have been incurred by a decision to abandon Ranger or postpone it indefinitely until all remaining technical problems in sterilization had been solved.
It should be emphasized here that sterilization of moon spacecraft has not been totally abandoned. It is only for certain components (especially batteries, some types of transistors and wiring) whose efficiency or reliability is impaired that there has been a relaxation of standards. These are few, so the probability of contaminating the moon, even with the relaxed standards, is low. It is, however, not as low as we would want for Mars. There is a finite, if low, probability that we will get viable organisms onto the Moon. The conditions of dryness, temperature and incident radition, however, make it highly unlikely these organisms will survive and even more unlikely they will spread far from the site of initial impact.
All these facts were considered in reaching the careful decision to relax sterilization requirements for Ranger shots. The fact remains that the major forces leading to the decision were the nonscientific ones (of lost momentum, prestige, and money) concerning the consequences of adhering to more rigorous standards. The scientific consideration was that the decision was unfortunate but acceptable.
When it comes to Mars we cannot count on local conditions destroying contaminants. And any decision to relax absolute rigor in sterilization standards will be scientifically quite unacceptable. It is a matter of scientific morality to sterilize all Mars shots rigorously-or not to fire. In my earlier comments today I intended to emphasize that the powerful nonscientific considerations involved in the Ranger decision be fully recognized now; and that the development of the Mariner programs immediately incorporate all measures necessary to preclude a Ranger-like dilemma arising late in the development. Those measures amount to a large-scale attack on new sterilization procedures including especially a systems analysis of all procedures involved in manufacture and assembly of spacecraft components.
I believe that if enough money and effort is invested the problem should be solvable within 18 months.
Senator Smith's last three questions are difficult to answer simply. However, it is a fact that several conversations have occurred between ourselves and the Russians over the sterilization problem. As a matter of fact, conversations are now going on with them at Warsaw where the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) is meeting. The Russians certainly recognize the problem and are anxious, as we are, to solve it. I believe this to be an area where serious cooperation between ourselves and the Russians is not only essential but politically possible and should be encouraged and nurtured as carefully as possible. It is hoped that at the Warsaw meeting of COSPAR a document will result in which the Committee adopts the same rigorous standards we in the United States hope for.
NASA has adopted the same position as the National Academy on the sterilization problem. But it is fair to say that if a crisis arises late in the development of the Mariner work, I would be surprised if the dominant engineering opinion and authority within NASA were not to argue for renewed relaxation of standards. Engineers are interested in firing shots, less interested in the scientific issues.
MANNED LUNAR PROGRAM
I shall now respond to the seven questions on the manned lunar program.
(The questions appear on p. 9).
I am in favor of a national effort that will insure the United States plays a significant part in the exploration of space that mankind will will certainly make at some time. It seems to me that both the challenge and the opportunity for man is so clear that he will make the response needed; and I do not want the record of history to show my country faltered and lagged at a time when it was eminently equipped to lead.
The national program most surely should include lunar exploration. The Moon will give wonderful clues to the age and origin of the solar system. Information can and should be obtained by purely instrumental exploration; and such exploration should precede manned landing. But ultimately such landings must be made: we still cannot build a robot scientist.
I would favor giving Apollo a priority in this decade largely because it is so tangible and exciting a program and as such will serve to keep alive the interest and enthusiasm of the whole spectrum of society. And that interest and enthusiasm is not only essential but itself one of the important benefits of the space challenge. I do not mean that it is justified as the biggest of all TV spectaculars. I mean it is justified because, as nothing else can, the program can give a sense of shared adventure and achievement to the society at large. I believe the culture needs such shared achievement and shared risk outside of the military context.
Question 5 asks about the general utility of Apollo systems. I am not competent to respond in detail. I suspect that little of the detailed hardware will have use elsewhere. But I cannot believe that the technological challenge will have no effect for the rest of society. Indeed I am convinced that in general, it must entail very considerable "spin-off," as the current jargon would have it.
I am not competent to give useful answers to questions 6 and 7.
GOVERNMENT POLICY AND SCIENTIFIC INFORMATION
I shall respond now to the six questions on Government Policy and Scientific Information. (The questions appear on p. 9).
These are all difficult questions, and I find I have little useful to say about them. It is my impression that the President's Scientific Advisory Committee and the National Academy of Sciences both discharge essential functions. My only concern is whether or not advice to both the legislative and executive branches of Government is sufficiently broadly based; whether it always samples the spectrum of existing opinion.
The weekly journal Science performs a useful function in reporting to the whole scientific community many aspects of the Government's scientific affairs. I believe, however, that more could and should be done in this direction. The whole scientific community should have easy access—as in a weekly journal-to all bills, programs, and discussions currently before the Congress. Such a weekly record could also list and report the evidence of all invited testifiers. could, also, give summaries of budgets in all branches of Government doing scientific work. What I am after here is the simple fact that none of us in the scientific community has any clear overall picture of what science is going on under Government sponsorship, or of the distribution of emphasis and support. As science plays more and more of a role in the machinery of Government, such an overall picture is essential not only to lawmakers but to those whose advice is sought.
From a limited experience I have the impression that scientific advisory committees in Washington are not only multitudinous but nearly wholly uncoordinated. This involves an immense waste not only of money but—more important-scientists' time. I believe the National Academy of Sciences (or some other suitable body) should serve as a central clearinghouse that might coordinate committee activity. At the present time I have the impression that the National
Academy-National Research Council organization merely spawns committees but does nothing more having given birth to them. The Academy I believe is under a severe obligation to be responsible for the work and reports of its individual committees; but in fact it does nearly nothing in the way of discussion within the Academy at large about the opinions or effects of its committees.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you very much.
Senator SYMINGTON. Doctor, I will study your statement. It is hard to understand some of it, especially if you do not have a copy in front of you so that you can read it as well as listen to it.
I am sorry, Mr. Chairman, that I was not here for the previous witnesses, but the Subcommittee on Defense Appropriations had Dr. Brown up to testify.
In listening to the testimony here today, and testimony of Dr. Brown on Department of Defense R. & D. programs before the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee-also today-one is impressed with the amount of money going into research and development.
I would like to ask you a question. Before doing so, I assure you I will study your testimony. Some of it, I agree with the chairman, is most interesting.
WE ARE ON THE VERGE OF MOVING TOO FAST
Do you think we are moving too fast with this space program?
Dr. PITTENDRIGH. That is really a very difficult question to answer. In deciding how fast or how slow a program is going, one has to balance off two things: One is that in going too fast one is liable to do things inefficiently, cause waste, and do things prematurely.
But against all that is the need of maintaining a momentum of interest; of building up a growth of interest within the scientific community, and this can be lost if the pace is slowed too much.
In the biological end of the business we have been plagued by this very question; in fact, we are still preoccupied with it; by "we" I mean here those of us who serve as consultants to the Space Administration and on the Space Science Board of the Academy. We are especially concerned with the question in connection with a program of orbiting biological satellites which is currently programed; is it coming too fast relative to the amount of interest and ability that is available to make use of the satellites?
I believe that the principal factor in our ultimate judgment, that is not going too fast, is that for years now (since the beginning of the space program) there has been talk of the possibilities of biological work in space.
Many biologists with problems which would be answerable in orbiting laboratories have been approached by the Space Administration and by others soliciting their interest and cooperation. This has taken years. To slow up the program of biological satellites now would incur the risk of losing the cooperation of many investigators.
Senator SYMINGTON. I do not mean to interrupt you, but let me ask this question.
Adding up all the pluses and the minuses, you would not want to say whether it is going too fast or not, is that what I am to understand?
Dr. PITTENDRIGH. I think it is on the verge of going too fast. At any rate, in areas which I know well; these are the biological areas.
DISCUSSION OF IMPORTANCE OF APOLLO TO NATIONAL SECURITY
Senator SYMINGTON. I understand.
My next question would be. Do you think from the standpoint of national survival or national security that the space program is important from the standpoint of our future security?
Dr. PITTENDRIGH. Well, if I understood you correctly, Senator, there are two questions there. One is with respect to national prestige and the other with respect to science.
Senator SYMINGTON. I did not say anything about prestige.
Senator SYMINGTON. I said security or survival—these are the only two words. In other words, do you feel it is important to proceed with the space program from the standpoint of our national security, or do you think it is just a scientific effort?
Dr. PITTENDRIGH. Well, I really can answer this responsibly only as a biologist. The biological aspect of the space program seems to me to have very little bearing on security matters except insofar as a manned station or stations in space may have military significance.
Now, that question would first have to be answered by military strategists, not by me.
Senator SYMINGTON. I understand. Would it be a fair inference to deduce from your answer to the previous question that you think the Apollo program is even less important to our national security?
Dr. PITTENDRIGH. I am not sure—even less than what?
Senator SYMINGTON. Well, in the Apollo program we do not have any characteristics of the stations you refer to. The Apollo program is an effort to reach the moon within this decade, is that not correct?
Dr. PITTENDRIGH. No. The whole Apollo program represents our first and, indeed, really only major effort in space medicine, and if I am told by military strategists that manned stations are important, then everything that goes into Apollo in this respect will be well spent.
Senator SYMINGTON. First, as I understand it, you feel, based on the biological aspects of it, that the space program is important to the national security, and specifically, despite the testimony of Dr. Abelson this morning which was very interesting and provocative, you feel that the Apollo program is, therefore, an important component part to that effort; is that correct?
Dr. PITTENDRIGH. Given the proposition that a manned station is strategically important and that is a proposition I am not competent to judge on, but given that—then the Apollo mission is important as the beginnings of space medicine.
Senator SYMINGTON. Thank you, Doctor. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you very much. We will resume at 10 o'clock in the morning. (Whereupon, at 4:05 p.m., the committee recessed, to reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, June 11, 1963.)