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This is a cheerful account of an interesting and successful career. The book is full of good stories, with many memorable characters. Like the proverbial sundial, it counts the sunny hours. It is a good read.
But it has its serious side. Bob's career wasn't all fun. The Apollo 204 fire, which killed three astronauts, was a terrible climax to his time at NASA. As one who lived through those days with him, I can recall the trauma and special sense of responsibility he felt. His account of this period and of the sad deterioration of his relationship with his boss, Jim Webb, is both fair and generous. Those were not happy times, but they should not be allowed to overshadow the fact that in his seven years at NASA, Bob Seamans led the agency to its first successes and laid the groundwork for the greater successes that came later.
Also on the serious side, while secretary of the Air Force, Bob had to face policy differences on the Vietnam War, both on the job and within his family. He writes of this frankly and kindly. As the book moves on through Bob's career, there are explanations, spiced with lively anecdotes, of what he did in each of his jobs. These are well amplified in the appendices. All of this is written with unfailing modesty, which understates Bob's accomplishments and makes it all look easier than it was.
Most of all, what comes through is the happy and productive life of a fortunate man-fortunate in his abilities, in opportunities to apply them, and in his wonderful wife and family. They, as well as everyone interested in the work with which Bob Seamans was involved, are fortunate to have this engrossing personal account.
PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
rom time to time, friends and family have suggested that I write a
book about my professional life. Until recently I have resisted the pressure, although I have participated in a variety of efforts to help document my experience while serving in government.
These historical efforts were mostly oral interviews conducted at key points in time. Walter Sohier, Deputy General Counsel of NASA, interviewed me along with others in our agency soon after the death of President Kennedy. After I retired from NASA, NASA historian Eugene Emme and I had an exchange. Similar exit interviews took place upon my leaving as secretary of the Air Force and as administrator of the Energy Research and Development Administration. In all cases, a transcript was delivered to me for editing. These transcripts are now in the archives of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
For interested researchers, the archival collection in the NASA Headquarters History Office has numerous papers, memos, photographs, and other records related to my tenure there. Yale University, MIT, and the Air Force Historical Research Center at Maxwell Air Base in Alabama also house some key papers from my career.
I served at NASA for over seven years and four months, working first in the Eisenhower administration for Administrator T. Keith Glennan and then in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations for James E. Webb. After we all had retired from NASA, Jim, an ardent historian, sold Keith and me on a program for interviewing thirty or so key individuals at NASA. This record, obtained in interviews with historian Martin Collins, is being edited for future historians by the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum. These edited transcripts (in my case resulting from twenty-nine hours of questioning) may be obtained from the archivist at the museum.
Retirement, I've found, is not a simple process. One doesn't simply walk through a gateway into a beautiful garden and discover that one now has time to meditate. But several years ago, I realized that I did
have more control over my activities. This, coupled with the ongoing pressure to produce a book and the archival experience just described, has led me inexorably to this autobiography.
I realized that I had two fundamental reasons for writing, personal and professional. First, I wanted my family and friends to have a readable document that would tell them in reasonable depth about my remarkable ringside view of the space program. Second, I wanted to rough out for professionals my firsthand view of the key decisions leading to humanity's landing on the Moon. Many books have been written and TV documentaries produced about this subject, and I have no quarrel with most of these. However, like the blind men describing the elephant, most have told only part of the story. How was the program perceived by those who managed it, and how did they execute their responsibilities? What is known about the forces that motivated four U.S. presidents and leading members of Congress to embark on such a major scientific and technical enterprise? I have attempted to answer these larger questions from the perspective of my place as a participant.
Some felt that my autobiography should be stripped of family anecdotes and written for a larger audience. I chose to include these stories because my family life has always been of the greatest importance to me. Not only has it been interwoven with my professional life, it has fed and nurtured that life. I could not write the story of "my life" without giving my family a prominent place.
Since my first years at MIT, my wife, Gene, has played a huge role as supportive friend and excellent counselor-in all of my endeavors, including the writing of this autobiography. She has become familiar with all of the enterprises with which I've been involved. Most important of all, she has been the fairy godmother holding our family together. Her "Seamans Messenger" is eagerly awaited not only by members of our immediate family, but also by brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews. She has been a motivator and inspiration for all of us.
Our five children also have been key actors in this story. Each offered his or her suggestions and wise counsel as I wrote this manuscript. They and their spouses are now our closest friends. The twelve grandchildren for whom they are responsible are becoming fascinating individuals.
Outside the family, I want to thank Martin Collins, whose interviewing and dogged pursuit of the facts provided much of the basic material for the central NASA chapter of this memoir. Roger D. Launius, NASA's present historian, reviewed the manuscript when it was embryonic and encouraged me to continue. Roger, Louise Alstork, Nadine Andreassen, Stephen Garber, and Lee Saegesser in the NASA History Office also went to considerable effort, supplying factual information, photographs, graphic material, and editorial assistance. Webster Bull of Memoirs Unlimited was instrumental in editing and formatting an earlier version of this book. I thank Donna Martinez for interpreting my first draft of chapter three, "The Air Force Years," as well as W.S. Moody and the other volunteers in the U.S. Air Force Historical Support Office for providing important details. My sincere thanks also go to Jim Harrison and Julie Merrill at MIT's Draper Laboratory for assistance in preparing the map of Southeast Asia and to Richard P. Hallion and Herman R. Wolk at the Air Force History Office for their expert advice. I am also very grateful for the tireless efforts of the NASA Headquarters printing and graphics team, including Michael Crnkovic, Jonathan Friedman, Jim Harlow, O'Neil Hamilton, Craig Larsen, Jane E. Penn, and Kelly Rindfusz.
Finally, I recognize that there were many in government, industry, and academe who made this story come true. I have mentioned some in the text, but let me offer my thanks to three others who are not mentioned. Mary Traviss was my secretary for much of my time at NASA. Each day she told me where to go and what to do. She kept a detailed log of my activities and was able to convert my hieroglyphics into readable prose. David Williamson, my assistant at NASA, could think and write analytically. He could differentiate between a panic and a true crisis. He served NASA well and faithfully for many years after I left, in the face of serious medical problems. Finally, James Elms was an important player at NASA, serving as deputy to Robert R. Gilruth at the Johnson Space Center and director of the Electronic Research Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Much could be written about his important role in both capacities. But Jim was more than a line manager. He was a confidant who served me as a sounding board and advisor during critical times.
Willis Shapley is also mentioned in the text. In the early 1960s, he was the chief examiner of NASA in the Bureau of the Budget (now the
Office of Management and Budget). He was shrewd and thoughtful in his budget and management critiques. In 1965, he left the Bureau of the Budget, joined NASA, and became an important member of the NASA administrator's immediate team. When I recognized the need for a critical review of this memoir, I could think of no one more suitable. He offered helpful advice and wrote a perceptive, though perhaps too generous, foreword. I am truly grateful.