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bility in Burlington. The total RCA effort was not going as well as the Air Force wanted, and the Air Force was bearing down on RCA. Instead of telling the head of the division responsible for the Atlas ground electronics to get going, Malcarney personally flew to Vandenburg Air Force Base to oversee RCA's work there. He commandeered a trailer and set up shop. Every morning at six o'clock he held a meeting in his trailer to find out how RCA had done the previous day. If things weren't done, people had to duck!
A piece of equipment was needed urgently. Malcarney called a vice president back in Camden and said, "I want to have that piece of equipment out here tomorrow in the a.m., and I want you to bring it." The vice president got the equipment but thought to himself, Malcarney couldn't mean that I personally am supposed to take it out there! So he arranged to have it flown directly to Los Angeles, picked up there, and driven sixty miles north to Malcarney at Vandenburg. Bad weather came along, and the flight was diverted to Dallas, Texas. Malcarney telephoned the vice president and fired him on the spot. Then he made it very clear throughout all of RCA what he had done.
Tough stuff-but Malcarney saved the project. And while he was out there in that trailer, he was not only running the Atlas electronics project but also overseeing the totality of RCA's effort in defense products. That was quite an example for me. I don't think a manager always has to go to that extreme to lead people effectively, but clearly he has got to tell people what he wants them to do and be prepared to react unequivocally if they don't do it. Otherwise, his leadership will rapidly erode. It was a lesson I have tried to apply everywhere else.
The NASA Years
NE week before his assassination in November 1963, President Kennedy said, while flying over Cape Canaveral, "I think the most significant event that took place in the fifties was the launching of Sputnik." He was referring, of course, to the Soviets' success in orbiting a small artificial satellite on October 4, 1957, followed on November 3 by Sputnik II, a launch with a dog named Laika aboard. I think Kennedy was right. In the 1940s, the big events were World War II and the atomic bomb. In the 1950s we had the Korean War and Eisenhower taking over from Truman, but neither of these events had the sudden, decisive impact of Sputnik.
I first heard about Sputnik on my car radio while driving home from RCA. I pulled the car into the garage with a sinking feeling. It's hard to describe the feeling I had on that day. I think it was largely disappointment that another nation had succeeded first. I had given quite a bit of thought to space and satellites for a number of years. Since 1948, I had served in a minor role with the NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics), the forerunner to NASA. The NACA's subcommittee on automatic stability and control, of which I was a member, openly questioned what the NACA was doing to prepare America for possible activity in space. We had our wrists slapped. We were told that the NACA was for aeronautics, period. Forget space.
Space remained very much on my mind. In January 1953, I gave a talk on the subject, half in jest, to MIT alumni of southern California. I discussed work that I had done with Doc Draper and that I then was doing on Project Meteor. To conclude, I threw in a few thoughts on the possibility of space travel, just to end on a provocative note. People
asked when I thought space travel might happen.
I answered, “First a relatively small instrumented payload will go around the Earth."
"Do you think man will ever fly around the Earth?"
My answer was: "Sure, why not?"
"When do you think it might happen?"
"In about ten years.” In 1953, my prediction was considered somewhat eccentric. Vostok, the Soviets' first piloted orbiter, made me a prophet.
Before Sputnik, no one seemed to care much about space. After Sputnik, every aeronautical engineer in America had been working on space forever! And the public was abuzz. People were suddenly speculating about Soviet satellites flying overhead. There was fear in some quarters that satellites might be used as platforms for nuclear bombardment, but the more likely threat was thought to be enemy reconnaissance. One Air Force hardliner, with whom I served on a committee, had a drawing showing Russian satellites ringing the earth. He asked at a conference how we felt about this "great web of satellites over our heads." This sort of hysteria was not uncommon, and it made me a little uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I saw a growing concern with space and the Soviets' presence everywhere I looked. While I was still at RCA, we obtained the first contract let directly out of the secretary of defense's office, known as SD-1. Code-named SAINT (for satellite interceptor), its stated purpose was to develop a satellite capable of intercepting, inspecting, and destroying another satellite.
In October 1958, the NACA became NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.' I read in the papers about T. Keith Glennan's appointment as NASA's first administrator in October 1958. A Yale graduate, he had served on the Atomic Energy Commission. At the time of his appointment, he was president of Case Institute of Technology, which later became Case Western Reserve University. Within a week of his coming on board, Glennan announced plans to launch a capsule with one astronaut into orbit, a decision leading to Project Mercury, starring astronauts Alan Shepard,
Note that whereas the acronym NASA is customarily prounounced as a word (“Nassa”), NACA was always said as a string of initials (“the N.A.C.A.”).
Gus Grissom, John Glenn, and other early space heroes. I felt a little jealous of Glennan and the other people who were getting the opportunity to be involved in this exciting new arena. At the time, I had no official ties with NASA, my old NACA committee having been disbanded about a month after Glennan's arrival. Still, I had maintained some of my old NACA ties, and I was invited to serve on a new ad hoc committee on guidance and control, chaired by William H. Pickering, who ran the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which later became part of NASA. I also received a call from NASA, asking if I would be interested in moving to Washington and heading up the guidance and control program at headquarters. I turned down the offer as not challenging enough.
On June 27, 1960, I was sitting in my RCA office in Burlington, Massachusetts, when the phone rang. It was Keith Glennan. He asked if I was planning to be in Washington in the next few days. I said I really hadn't been planning to be down there at all, but would be happy to make the trip if he wanted to chat with me.
"Well," he asked, “could you have dinner with me tonight at the Hotel Statler in Boston?"
"Of course," I answered.
At dinner, Keith told me how things were developing at NASA. Then he took a letter-size organization chart out of his pocket, put his thumb down on one of the highest boxes in the hierarchy, and said, in words that were a bit stronger than this, "I'd like you to consider being the associate administrator of NASA."
Keith explained that in NASA's earliest days, he and his deputy, Hugh Dryden, had run the program. (Hugh was the highly respected former director of the NACA.) Glennan and Dryden had soon realized, however, that they needed to have a full-time general manager. "That's a term that generally is not used in the government," he said. "It seemed better to call this person the associate administrator." To fill this position, they had hired Richard G. Horner, the Air Force's former assistant secretary for research and development, who made himself available for one year only.
"Dick's year is almost up," Keith said, "and we're looking for somebody to come in and take over soon. We hope you'll consider it." After he told me more about the job and its responsibilities, I explained