Earth System Science at
20 Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Washington, DC – 25 June 2009
Wright: Today is
June 25, 2009. This oral history is being conducted with Dr. Dixon Butler,
who serves as a professional staff member on the Commerce Justice Science
Subcommittee for the Committee on Appropriations of the United States
House of Representatives. Included as part of his responsibilities are
the National Science Foundation and climate change. This interview is
being conducted in Washington D.C. as part of the Earth System Science
at 20 Oral History Project, a project to gather experiences from those
who have been involved in various efforts in the launch and evolution
of Earth System Science. Interviewer is Rebecca Wright assisted by Jennifer
Ross-Nazzal. Thank you so much for coming out to meet with us this morning.
Butler: Glad to.
Wright: I know
that your schedule’s very full. We’d like for you to share
with us, if you could, how your interest in Earth science led you to
where you are today.
I get there, yes.
you get here?
Butler: Well, growing
up basically I was really good in math and pretty good in science, so
I kind of got directed that way. Plus, that sort of fit my interest.
You meet scientists and it was clear they were inevitably going to be
scientists, and I never was quite that way, at least to myself; other
people probably thought I was.
I went to college, [Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts] majored
in physics and chemistry, not quite sure between the two but fairly
early on gravitated toward physics. Wanted to be a particle physicist.
Got married halfway through college, which was extremely unusual where
I went to school. I think I was the only person in my class who got
married before junior year and finished in four years. People would
take off, but with the pressures of the Vietnam War, most of the married
students that graduated with me had taken off and came back either after
serving or to avoid serving.
So trying to be responsible, even though there really wasn’t a
compelling financial need, but trying to act responsibly as this married
20-year-old, I went to my undergraduate advisor and asked if he could
employ me. I got a 12-hour a week job working for his high energy physics
research group at the Cambridge Electron Accelerator. This group was
full of people, who with one exception, ultimately took seven and eight
years to graduate with their PhDs. They took my wife and I under their
wings to some extent, even socially after a while, inspired us to become
very interested in gourmet cooking because this was the city of Julia
Child, Cambridge, Mass [Massachusetts].
But one of them, and the one who probably has had the most successful
career as a particle physicist, I’m not comfortable with the term
Dutch Uncle, but he kind of had a nice counseling conversation with
me near the end of the first semester of my last year. At this point,
I was taking graduate courses in physics, and I was going to get a master’s
as well as a bachelor’s degree at commencement. He basically counseled
me out of high energy physics. He said, “Look, with your grades
you’re probably not going to get there. But let’s say you
do. You’re inevitably going to have to be an experimentalist,
because you really need A’s to be a theorist in particle physics.
The way this field goes, you’re going to be a family man, and
with the requirements of doing experimental high energy physics you’re
going to have to leave where you are and go be at the accelerator four,
six, eight weeks at a time, leaving your family. You’re not going
to want to do that. Even if you are going to want to do this,”
and this was actually high praise in some ways, he said, “To really
get ahead in this field you’re probably going to have to stab
some folks in the back, and you’ll never do that.”
So with that counseling and at my wife’s urging, having taken
one course that first semester in stellar structure and evolution at
the observatory, which was really a course in the astronomy department,
and that got me interested. I began casting about. I also didn’t
do very well that semester. I had one C. I had to get to a flat B average
for the year, or I didn’t get the master’s degree. I started
grade shopping, quite frankly, for courses where I could get an A and
I dropped the course where I’d gotten a C. But it had a follow-on
second semester at the observatory, where the material was taught in
the context of cosmic ray physics.
There was also a course—I still remember it. I was reading the
course catalogue and there was a course entitled Upper Atmospheres of
Planets, and I laughed. I literally laughed even reading the title,
because the idea that there was an upper atmosphere just seemed very
bizarre to me. So I signed up for that course, and as I was thumbing
through other courses—and I had a physics education very heavy
on quantum mechanics—I found a course that said Quantum Mechanics
of Atoms and Molecules with Special Applications to Upper Atmospheres
of Planets, so I signed up for that course as well.
To make a somewhat lengthy story short, the course in atoms and molecules
with special applications to upper atmospheres of physics was taught
by Michael [B.] McElroy. It was his first course. He was a brand new
33-year-old full professor. I was there for his first lecture. He had
bright red hair in those days. He was very young in appearance, even
for being 33. Normally, classes began at seven minutes after the hour.
He was absentmindedly sitting in the front row, but none of us knew
who he was. We’d never seen him before. He was new, right, never
taught before, whatever. So it gets to be 10 minutes after the hour,
and one of the wise guy graduate students, a real graduate student,
in the back row stood up and said, “Would the real Professor McElroy
please stand up?” Mike McElroy stood up and began to lecture.
It was just amazing. Turns out the course in upper atmospheres of planets
has a good anecdote as well. It was taught by Alex [Alexander] Dalgarno
who, back at Queens [University], Belfast [Northern Ireland] was Mike
McElroy’s thesis advisor for his doctorate.
So I had these two, and it’s worth an oral history at NASA to
put a couple of stories in. One is I show up for this class, and I recognize
one guy who is another senior, and there’s another guy I don’t
recognize, and then there’s a bunch of guys I really don’t
recognize. Dalgarno lectures, and most of the way through the lecture
one of them asks a question. I can’t understand what he’s
saying, and he’s at a level of understanding of this material
that I just can’t imagine. This goes on for a few lectures, and
what I’m really hearing is a thick Irish brogue. It turns out,
fortunately, there were only three of us who were really students in
the class. All of Dalgarno’s post-docs were auditing the class.
At this point, NASA’s Grand Tour [Voyager Spacecraft] of the outer
planets was on the drawing board, and the time scales for getting particularly
the mission to Neptune seemed pretty lengthy. They were longer than
I was old! Dalgarno talked about these missions, and he basically said—and
he was fairly pessimistic and fairly politically liberal—and given
the fears of nuclear war, he said, “It will arrive in Neptune
in,” something like the year 2000 or 2000-something. “Will
any of us be here to get the data?” I recounted this story to
McElroy, and he said, “You tell Alex I’ll be here,”
which was a fascinating interaction.
In any case, I went off to graduate school at Rice [University, Houston,
Texas], which was a place that took me and took me on the same basis
as everybody else, gave a full ride. I was just a regular graduate student.
Went in the physics department, but with some influence from McElroy,
I had decided after three weeks in Dalgarno and McElroy’s classes
[at Harvard] to leave my desires for particle physics and be an atmospheric
physicist, actually technically an aeronomer, which is what the upper
atmosphere people were known as. You still hear that term, but rarely.
I used to use it for fun.
Sorry, I’ve got to backtrack one. McElroy had no graduate students,
and he was brand new and a little over-impressed with the students.
So even though I wasn’t any great shakes, since I was interested
in his field, he was interested in taking me on as a graduate student.
He tried to get me admitted to graduate school there, and actually sort
of partially succeeded. But one of the things he did is he asked me
to work for him the next summer. That was fine. My wife and I didn’t
know what we were doing yet, and so I agreed to work for him over the
summer. What I did is I took a model that he had developed before he’d
gotten to the university, that he’d developed of the ionosphere
of Mars—the model was even called MarsIon—that he’d
used to participate in various NASA Mars missions. I converted it to
work on the ionospheres of the four gas giant outer planets: Jupiter,
Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Primarily focusing on Jupiter, on which
I’d actually done my paper in Dalgarno’s class, my term
paper—because there was no final in that class—but my research
term paper had been ionosphere of Jupiter. So I basically converted
his Mars model to a Jupiter model.
Then I went off to graduate school at Rice, and was shopping around
for a thesis advisor, because I had a course work master’s in
physics walking in the door. A number of people were interesting, but
there was a fellow named Paul [A.] Cloutier who wasn’t in the
physics department, he was in the space science department. Rice’s
space science department was the first space science department in the
world and no longer exists, interestingly enough. But it had been carved
out of the physics department. Cloutier was its first PhD product who
actually ended up staying and getting tenure in the department, but
he had no joint appointment with the physics department. He was one
of the few that didn’t. I chatted with McElroy and got some advice,
and he thought Cloutier was a really sharp guy, who was even younger
than McElroy, and so I signed on as Cloutier’s graduate student.
Cloutier was an experimentalist, but he wanted a theorist—really
a computer modeler is what he wanted—because for his work on Venus,
he wanted a model of the Venus ionosphere so he could study solar wind
interactions and calculate solar wind interactions with Venus. So at
that point, I had the very unusual situation that I was going to do
an ionospheric modeling degree, both master’s and PhD but primarily
PhD, with a thesis advisor who didn’t do that, in a department
where no one did that, in a university where no one did that. It was
very odd. I don’t recommend it. I don’t think anybody should
be allowed to do that, but they let me get away with it. The way I really
pulled it off was I had the ionospheric model from McElroy from when
I was an undergraduate. I’m really good at computer coding. I
converted it to do the Venus ionosphere, ran a bunch of calculations,
and came up with a thesis. Pushed very hard to get out of Rice in less
than four years. I had a leg up because I’d done all this extra
course work. But wrote my thesis, my doctoral dissertation on “The
Ionosphere of Venus”, a modest title.
The morning I defended my PhD, the Journal of Geophysical Research shows
up, and there is a paper from [a group at] University of Michigan [Ann
Arbor, Michigan] that basically has all my results in it. A few of my
more nuanced, smaller-importance results were original with me and weren’t
in their paper. But since nobody at Rice was really plugged into that
part of the field, there was no one telling the guys at Michigan, “Wait
a minute, I’ve got a doctoral student going to do this,”
or telling me, “You’re going to have to do something else.”
So I went ahead, defended, they passed me. I stayed for a post-doc with
Cloutier, but one member of my committee—and I tell this more
because I think it’s important because this one man took a real
interest in me in that period of time, which was really, in many ways,
career-enabling. His name was Bob [Robert D.] Rundel. He was a junior
faculty member doing atomic and molecular physics in the space science
department at Rice. I took his course, and he was one of three members
of my PhD committee.
At Rice, the system in space science was you actually had one-on-one
oral examinations by the members of your committee, and then defended
your master’s thesis, and that basically gave you candidacy for
the doctorate. My first oral had been with Rundel. He asked me questions.
I did really well answering them, sparkled, and he wrote it up that
afternoon. His write-up glowed enough that my advisor, who I was going
to have my exam with the next day, was so proud that his student had
done so well and it looked really good that he basically, when I went
into the oral with him, just played cat and mouse intellectual games
with me. Because he was an intuitionist, and he was just spectacular
at asking you questions where you needed the intuition to cut through
and get to the right answer, and I couldn’t do them all! But I
did some. He passed me. The last exam, I muddled through, and the guy
let me go.
Rundel, a few weeks before my thesis defense, had me come down to the
[NASA] Johnson Space Center [Houston, Texas]. He had not gotten tenure
at Rice, although he had an adjunct position so he could be on my committee.
He went to Johnson Space Center and joined the Environmental Effects
Project Office of the Space Shuttle, whose job was to write the environmental
impact statement for the Shuttle. This is 1975. In this group is a man
from the University of Michigan, who’d been a post-doc there,
named Rich [Richard S.] Stolarski. He, together with Ralph [J.] Cicerone,
had written a paper worrying about chlorine in the atmosphere from volcanoes
and ozone. It was not the [Mario J.] Molina and [F. Sherwood] Rowland
paper [“Stratospheric Sink for Chlorofluoromethanes: Chlorine
Atomcatalysed Destruction of Ozone,” 1974], but they had speculated
about methyl chloride coming perhaps from volcanoes. It turns out it
mostly comes from evaporation of sea salt and just gets aerosolized
that way, at least I believe I’m right on that.
In any case, Stolarski had done ionospheric modeling. He knows how to
do it numerically better than McElroy had, and there were some flaws
in my doctoral calculations because I’d just used this stuff,
and I didn’t get the kind of in-depth understanding one should
have of it. He ripped me end from end. Rundel invited me down to Johnson,
had me present my work. Stolarski just tore me limb from limb, then
they all took me out to lunch and told me, “You’ll do fine,
you’ll pass, no question.” I passed. A couple of days after,
I’m sitting in my thesis advisor’s office, and Rundel walks
in and says, “Look, as a group we’d like to put $5,000 towards
Dixon’s post-doc,” which, post-doc was going to pay me,
I think, $11,100 a year, so a $5,000 contribution in those days was
a big contribution. “We’d like to pay $5,000 towards Dixon’s
post-doc here, provided he comes down to Johnson two days a week and
interacts with our group. Oh, and by the way, Dixon, I still live up
here, so,” (I lived near Rice), “I’ll pick you up.”
We were down to one car. “I’ll pick you up, and we’ll
commute together, and I’ll give you a ride down to Johnson and
bring you home.”
This was wonderful. First of all, he and I had these wonderful commutes
with me with a much more experienced scientist. A number of different
things I learned from him. First of all, I wrote my thesis up. Geophysical
Research turned it down, because clearly it had been preempted by others.
Stolarski helped me rewrite it to try and get it published, got turned
down a second time. But he and I undertook to correct the calculations
I’d done that weren’t done right in my thesis. We did that,
we published it, it was our first paper published together. It’s
on photoelectrons of the Venus ionosphere.
He and Rundel had developed a toy model, what climate modelers would
call a toy model. It was a model of a stratosphere that basically mimicked
other models better than it mimicked the stratosphere, but it ran quickly.
You could run it on a calculator. As a matter of fact, I think they
were actually running it on a programmable calculator. Because ozone
depletion was their big worry from the Space Shuttle, because there’s
plenty of chlorine effluent. If we’d gone to 500 Shuttle launches
a year, which was a fantasy of NASA’s at the time, the ozone depletion
would have caused regulatory problems; as it is, it blows a hole through
the ozone every time it launches, but it’s a small hole and it
closes back in quickly, and so nobody gets UV [Ultraviolet] exposure
except for maybe a few birds flying around the Shuttle site. So that’s
At any rate, I did a post-doc. The end of this group’s work is
in sight. The leader of the group is a man named Bob [Robert D.] Hudson.
He and Stolarski get offers to come to the [NASA] Goddard Space Flight
Center [Greenbelt, Maryland] and form a stratospheric research group
there in the [Laboratory for Atmospheres]. It was Nelson Spencer’s
laboratory. New branch [called the Stratospheric Physics Branch]; Bob
would be the branch chief that gets Stolarski, and there was going to
be room for a few more people. They offered Bob Rundel the chance to
come with them. What Hudson had in mind was Rundel had built two different
labs in his life. He’d built up big atomic and molecular physics
apparatus, basically for more senior people. Hudson wanted him to do
that again at Goddard. Rundel said no.
I had applied for a post-doc with [Richard T.] Dick Hartle at Goddard
Space Flight Center, an NRC [National Research Council] post-doc to
work on the ionosphere of Venus. Harry [A.] Taylor was the Deputy Lab
Chief of the Laboratory for Planetary Atmospheres. He had an instrument
going to Venus. I think Spencer had an instrument on Pioneer Venus as
well. Hartle was kind of their lead theorist. So I applied to work for
him. Basically, a deal was cut. My memory of the deal or what I was
told was, “Look, we’ll arrange for you to get the post-doc,
provided once you get to Goddard, you come work on the stratosphere.”
Well, for me this was like, “Don’t throw me in the briar
patch.” I dearly wanted to switch and do something more socially
relevant. This is 1976, come on, think about the times. I was of a generation
that had, to some degree, protested the war in Vietnam. There were a
lot of things, including at this point I’m looking for some place
to move. I’ve got two interracially adopted children. I’m
in a world where social commitment means something to me, so switching
to make my science talents work on a socially relevant problem of ozone
depletion sounds great. I’d love to do it. Rundel says no, so
they offer me the post-doc.
Basically Bob [Rundel] kind of transformed me, brought me to Johnson,
got me involved with Stolarski. I think half my research publications—which
aren’t that many, maybe 14 real ones—half of them have Stolarski
as either the lead author or a coauthor of mine. Several of them were
with Bob Rundel.
We get to Goddard. We arrive in May. In August of that year, there was
going to be a conference at Utah State [University, Logan, Utah]. Stolarski
wanted to give a paper there, bring me along as a post-doc because I
got, I guess under those fellowships, you got one or two trips paid
for. It’s an interesting stratosphere conference. I was never
at another one exactly like this. But we have to get ready. So before
I get to the substance of that conference, I get handed Rundel’s
calculator-running model, which is sort of in Fortran or close enough
to Fortran. We need to run it, and we need to run it a few thousand
times to do a Monte Carlo process to calculate the uncertainties in
stratospheric ozone depletion predictions based on uncertainties in
chemical reaction rates.
I’m a really good programmer. At this point, I’m amazing,
quite honestly. I’m not an amazing physicist, but I could do that.
The key thing I could do is I caught my own mistakes as I was typing,
key-punching, and I was pretty good at logic, like really good, so I
didn’t tend to make very many logical errors in my program. And
I had Rundel’s stuff to start with. I converted his program. A
lot of people got one-day turnaround on models through the major computer
at Goddard, because frankly you handed your deck of cards to the card
reader gal and she ran them in and you waited for your results. If you
made few mistakes, chances are instead of waiting for one turnaround
a day you made real progress every day. So we were ready.
In August, we went off to this meeting, my introduction to the field.
It was a memorable meeting for a lot of reasons, but the key one for
me was one of the Consumer Product Safety Commissioners, of whom I believe
there are five, there may only have been three, shows up, plays volleyball
with us. This is a federal regulator! Because there’s a consumer
product content, aerosol cans, right? Dixie Lee Ray comes, former chairman
of the Atomic Energy Commission, former governor of the state of Washington.
She comes and talks. She didn’t go play volleyball with us.
But this is pretty intense. The stratosphere community basically was
moving at a pace which did not allow time to just work off of publications,
and this is before all that email. You couldn’t Twitter your results
to your colleagues, right? So conferences were critically important.
New chemical results and insights tended to break multiple times a year,
and if you were in the loop you were in the loop, and if you weren’t,
Heaven help you, you really couldn’t get in. The field was fairly
small, probably 200 people maximum—and that’s in the world,
and this meeting’s got 75 of them. Typical meetings would have
about half of them. So I got to go to this one with Stolarski, began
to learn the people, saw the insights. But you kind of published—it
wasn’t an afterthought, but it was sort of documenting the past.
The pace was all set at these meetings, the personal interactions; things
were really dynamic. I got to meet Ralph Cicerone, because he and Rich
Stolarski had published together. I got to meet a variety of other people.
It was quite some meeting. In any case, I was into the stratosphere.
Now, I have to back up and tell one other story because it’s going
to be important for talking about Earth System Science, and I used to
cite it as an example of an experience in part of my anecdotal pieces
of my pitch when I was talking about the Earth Observing System [EOS]
to people and the vision for the Earth Observing System. I can’t
remember which year it is, but I think it’s 1975. So I’m
still at Rice. In those days, the spring meeting of the American Geophysical
Union [AGU] is always held in Washington [D.C.] at the Woodley Park
Sheraton, which has changed hands and names multiple times since then.
It’s a convention hotel. It also happens to have one ballroom
that’s big enough to hold an inaugural ball, which D.C. fills
up. I think the last inauguration with [President Barack] Obama, so
many people came they may have had fourteen of them. But typically,
in [President Jimmy] Carter’s day, I think there were six or seven.
This was one of the ballrooms where you had inaugural balls. At any
rate, big place.
There’s a union session, which is kind of a “y’all
come,” cuts all across all the many disciplines that are in the
American Geophysical Union. It’s about ozone depletion. There
are five invited speakers each given about a half an hour. I don’t
remember exactly who the five were, but the most striking talk—because
most of the people working on the stratosphere are aeronomers like me.
They are people who have come down to the stratosphere from doing modeling
of the ionosphere, typically the ionosphere of other planets, a few
of them the ionosphere of Earth. Modeling the ionosphere of Earth is
much harder and requires much more sophistication than modeling the
ionosphere of a planet where we have a paucity of data. This is sort
of always true. What you have to know to do things on the Earth are
beyond where you have to be to do interesting insights to a planet.
That’s changed some, but you can imagine it’s true, because
heck, we walk around and take initial measurements here. If you want
to do something more, you’ve got to do a lot.
In any case, one of the five speakers is a man named Constant [C.] Delwiche,
known as Connie as I later would learn. We’ve got these people
in the audience like me who’ve come down to the stratosphere,
a region that does not touch the surface of the Earth, typically never
gets below about eight kilometers above the surface. Here’s Constant
Delwiche, who is this soil scientist, and he is discussing in his paper
nitrification and denitrification by soil microbes, and your mind is
blown. Because first of all, who knew from soil microbes, but nitrous
oxide, N2O, laughing gas, is a major source of nitrogen oxides in the
stratosphere because it tends to have a long atmospheric lifetime. Unlike
the smog gases, the other oxides of nitrogen, nitrous oxide still has
the bond between the two nitrogen atoms, which is a hard bond to break.
So all of a sudden, you’re dealing with soils. You’re into
a whole world, and that really is the hint of what's coming. That really
is the moment when you can see, if you look back—you couldn’t
see it then, unless you were an incredible prophet beyond my abilities—but
you could see the seeds of Earth system science, because the stratosphere
naturally is being controlled by nitrogen oxides from N2O, from soil
nitrification and denitrification. Stolarski and Cicerone were probably
right that natural sources of chlorine from volcanoes or from sea salt
probably put the natural abundance of chlorine in the stratosphere.
Well, you’ve got geophysics, you’ve got soil science, you’re
dealing with crops, you’re actually also dealing with physical
oceanography processes, maybe even a little chemical oceanography. That’s
all there in the stratosphere, but of course the signal’s being
overwhelmed by what human beings are doing with chlorofluorocarbons
11 and 12, the chlorofluoromethanes. Dupont’s brand name is Freon,
which is why the proper name is chlorofluorocarbons. I store that away.
Anyway, in the fullness of time I get to Goddard, trying to publish
like a son of a gun because I can work hard. I can’t make myself
more brilliant, but you get to Washington [D.C]—and I think this
happens to a lot of people in Washington—you get here, and you
realize that you’re really smart, but so is everybody else. The
only thing you can do to compete—well, it’s not the only
thing; you can build political or personal connections, not something
I was into doing, or you can work. Most people, whether they build the
connections or not, concentrate on working enormously hard. So I’m
going like crazy trying to publish and publish a lot of papers, et cetera.
My goal is six a year. Over time, Rich Stolarski’s the idea guy,
and I’m the hard work guy, but he’s the senior guy, I’m
the junior guy. I need him to get the papers out. I get frustrated because
I can’t get him to do enough, in my opinion. That doesn’t
mean he wasn’t right, or that these ideas weren’t good enough
to actually cut a paper every time. But I get frustrated. I also look
around, with the haughtiness of youth and the naiveté, I look
around and say, “I don’t see any better managers than I
think I could be between me and the [NASA] Administrator, including
the administrator.” That judgment was probably incorrect, as time
has proven, but it was my judgment.
We also, Hudson, Stolarski, and I, having come together from Houston,
plus another post-doc is hired out of the University of Maryland [College
Park, Maryland] where he had been a post-doc already, PhD from University
of Wisconsin [Madison, Wisconsin], a fellow named Bill [William S.]
Heaps, still works at Goddard I believe. Heaps and I become officemates.
Stolarski, Heaps, and I are going to lunch every day, sometimes with
a few other people, but often not. With Hudson, we become sort of this
little corps. We’re probably kind of obnoxious. I mean, not actively
obnoxious, but we’re a tight group. We have our own opinions about
the people who were already at Goddard who begin to be in Hudson’s
branch, and those opinions are not always maybe what they should be,
or maybe underestimate some people.
One of those people is a fellow named George [B.] Newton. He had gone
on detail to NASA Headquarters [Washington, D.C.] to the Space Science
Office, and at the end of his detail in November of 1978, he gets hired
into Headquarters. He’s a GS-14 [General Schedule, pay scale],
maybe he gets hired a little earlier than that, he gets to be a GS-15,
and I hear he’s moving into the Senior Executive Service. My mind
is blown. I’m watching Dick Hartle, who I do think quite a bit
of as a scientist, who is a branch head in this lab and a terminal GS-14
who I don’t think has a prayer of ever being promoted. I’ve
gotten hired as a 12, I’ve gotten promoted to a 13, and I’m
ambitious. I also wanted to have more influence over things, and I sort
of look at myself scientifically, and I’m a yeomen scientist.
Every field needs a majority of yeomen, just like an army needs foot
soldiers. You’ve got to have people who can do the intellectual
work, that fill in the [gaps], but I’m not going to be a brilliant
leader. I’m just not, in my own assessment.
The science boom that ended with Sputnik [Soviet Union satellite] basically
ran out of steam the year I got my undergraduate degree. There was a
cartoon I love to tell people about in The New Yorker that year that
has a very nice, attractive looking young man as a waiter in a fancy
French restaurant. In those days, fancy and French restaurant were synonymous.
He’s saying, “Hi, I’m,” so and so and so and
so, “the fourth, Harvard Magna Cum Laude in physics, and I can
recommend the duck without qualification.” It was like that! The
jobs had vanished. The chances to becoming a tenured faculty member
or even getting on the tenured track in this field appeared nonexistent.
So what do you do? I also feel like I’m playing with half a deck,
that I’ve got skills I’m not using. The other piece of good
news is I’ve learned to write. I also had applied for the AGU
Congressional Science Fellowship. I get turned down. I learn to write
better. Publishing helps. Word processing helps, which is new. But computer-based
word processing is how I learned to be a good writer.
The opportunity comes up in late ’78 to go on detail to NASA Headquarters
from our lab, and I volunteer [to succeed George Newton]. It’s
supposed to be bad duty that you have to be dragooned into doing. I
volunteer to go to Headquarters. It’s a two-day a week, because
Goddard is in the same town. Goddard people can go part-time detail
to Headquarters. It’s two-days a week. I go, and Headquarters
is in transition.
Here, I have to back up a little. Shelby [G. Tilford] may have told
you about this, others may have told you about this, but there is the
CIAP [Climatic Impact Assessment] Program because in 1971, Harold [S.]
Johnson, at [University of California] Berkeley, had suggested that
the Supersonic Transport [SST] flying at 20 kilometers in the stratosphere,
having nitrogen oxides come out the tailpipe, that they may catalyze
ozone destruction, the chemistry lays out. This triggers the Department
of Transportation, specifically the Federal Aviation Administration,
forming the CIAP program. They get a block of money, like $25 million.
It’s a lot of money. But money begins to rain on the stratosphere
community at that moment, and the stratosphere community all of a sudden
has this source of money that needs results to deal with the regulatory
question, and they suck all these people in. So all of a sudden, this
stratosphere community is meeting and meeting again, they’re writing
the CIAP reports, and for three years they’re like on this trip.
It ends in 1975. First of all, the United States has made the decision
not to build the SST. Where’s the program going to go? But the
Shuttle has called NASA to have expertise in ozone depletion. There’s
even a little program being run by a [NASA] JPL [Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
Pasadena, California] detailee at NASA Headquarters—and his name
is gone from me, but other people will remember it—and he’s
going to start this stratosphere program for which Goddard is forming
this group in 1976 to go after the money to do that. NASA takes over
the lead role.
There is a Space Act amendment adding Title IV [Upper Atmospheric Research
Purpose and Policy] to the Space Act, which basically gives NASA the
lead job of the stratosphere. Funding ensues. There’s a program
in Space Science started to do this because it’s viewed as part
of solar terrestrial. So there’s solar physics, there’s
upper atmosphere and magnetospheric solar wind stuff. There’s
all that in a division of Space Science. At this point, it’s one
of the periods of time where Space Science and Earth Science and other
things are separated. There’s an Office of Applications, there’s
an office of Space Science. Applications has a program in stratospheric
air quality, kind of a more from the ground up kind of thing about pollution
to go with its tropospheric air quality programs and its programs in
severe storms, weather, and climate. By this point, NASA’s being
run for the only time by a scientist [Robert A. Frosch], an oceanographer,
and he says, “We need an oceanography program!” He says,
“Go make me an oceanography program.” There’s so many
threads here that come together, it’s just hard to keep them straight
even in my own head.
So for me, I go to Headquarters. Over in the office of Space Science,
a man named Shelby Tilford has come from the Naval Research Lab [Washington
D.C.], I think on a detail or a loan or something, to run the Solar
Physics program. Before he knows it, he’s taken over the Upper
Atmosphere Research Program, and has maybe a $13 million budget, if
memory serves. There’s this other $6 million budget over in Applications.
The numbers may not be precise, they may be numbers from later budget
years because I know those numbers better. Just at the moment when I’m
ready to come as a detailee in November of 1978, Dr. Tilford, in a pre-agreed
deal, is going to become a branch chief over in the Applications Office
of NASA Headquarters, in the Environmental Observations Division headed
by Ron Greenwood, with Bill Bishop as his Deputy. I come on detail to
Somehow, I’ve gotten the clue that I want to go do the stratosphere
because that’s my field and the stratosphere’s going to
be done there. So Shelby’s hired to do the branch over there in
Applications, but the deal has been cut to take the money from Space
Science and move his money with him. So instead of going to Space Science,
I go to Applications. When I get there, things are new and kind of transitional.
It’s the old NASA Headquarters [building]. For whatever reason,
we don’t have quite enough room. They don’t have a desk
for me, or they don’t have an office for me, so they give me a
desk in the corner of Shelby Tilford’s office. As I used to say,
two months later I had a new career and a new life. I mean, I didn’t
say it that way, but what I had was a mentor.
So Shelby and I hit it off, started doing things. The Upper Atmosphere
Research Satellite [UARS] was in pre-advanced planning, but no new start
yet. I help with the announcement of opportunity for UARS, I literally
pull together the review panel, and for the first time there’s
going to be a set of theory and data analysis investigators on the science
team, specifically. I’m not sure there wasn’t something
analogous on some planetary missions before this, but this is new stuff.
What happens is we have a bunch of experimental instrument proposals
and kind of a separate category of proposals for theory and data analysis,
and I actually chair the review panel for theory and data analysis because
I’m technically qualified, right? Since I was helping with issuing
the thing, I couldn’t be on any proposal or play a role.
I’m still interested on going to the [Capitol] Hill, so I apply
again. This time I apply to the AGU and the American Physical Society
[APS] and maybe even the AAAS [The American Association for the Advancement
of Science] Congressional Science Fellowship Programs. I’m at
Goddard chairing the review panel the morning I have to drive into Washington
to the hotel across the street [from the Sheraton Park mentioned earlier],
the Americana Hotel, to go to the APS meeting to go to my interview.
So I chair in the morning, you know, it’s a multi-day review.
I guess we did three days. The experimental proposals I think were reviewed
over the course of four. I remember they were a day longer. So I turn
over leadership of the review to somebody else for a couple hours. Drive
into town. I’m the last of four candidates to be interviewed.
This year, I get interviews with both AGU and APS, but the AGU interview
I go to the interview. My written paper is about ozone depletion, and
I’ve had to write a paper, a short policy memo like I was briefing
the congressman or the senator on ozone depletion and what needs to
happen. I’ve done that, and then I have to do an oral briefing,
because the chair of the panel, who is Millie [Mildred S.] Dresselhaus
who ultimately is president of the American Physical Society, maybe
the first woman president, amazingly impressive woman, she’s chairing.
A variety of people are there, one of whom, although I didn’t
know it at the time, is one of the two current American Physical Society
Congressional Science Fellows, a fellow named Fred [Frederick M.] Bernthal,
who goes on to be deputy at NSF [National Science Foundation], a Nuclear
Regulatory Commissioner, whatever. For a long time, Fred was the most
successful Congressional Science Fellow probably ever, because he went
on and was legislative director for the majority leader of the United
States Senate, Howard [H.] Baker, because that’s where he happened
to spend his fellowship year. Anyway, and he went on and had these other
I go to the interview. It goes pretty well, you know, but I can’t
stay and have lunch with the other candidates from the group because
I’ve got to go back to Goddard and chair a review panel, which
I do. The review goes well. After we finish, we sit in for a day with
the experimentalists; UARS selection happens. I get a call from the
woman who runs the Physical Society’s Fellowship Program saying—and
you’ve got to understand here, my hair is on my shoulders, my
beard is scraggly, and my hair looks really awful. It’s not that
I kept it unkempt. I washed it. I wear three-piece suits to NASA Headquarters
with this hippie look, because I’m not a hippie. I’ve never
used drugs, I mean, never came close, I don’t drink, I don’t
smoke. I’m this guy who looks like his generation and doesn’t
behave like his generation. I usher at church in a three-piece suit
so people won’t look askance at me.
In any case, she calls, and basically this woman Mary [L.] Shoaf, who
worked at Princeton [University, New Jersey] Plasma Physics Lab, says,
“Alright, we’d like to offer you the fellowship. However,
some of the people on the selection committee are current or former
science fellows and work on the Hill, and they said that I must tell
you that with shorter hair and a somewhat more trimmed beard, the committee
would feel more comfortable using you with the public.” Obviously,
she’d hemmed and hawed to get those words out. She was obviously
petrified to ask me. At any rate, I said, “I’ll cut my hair!”
It turns out that [the fellowship call] happens just before my third
child and first born child is born. So as my wife says, I’m in
pictures in the delivery room on Friday with long hair and a scraggly
look, and I come to pick her up—I’m there over the weekend,
but I come back on Monday—because after I’m there on Friday,
I go get my haircut.
Per the advice of a friend, I walk into a hair cuttery—because
he had a beard but worked on a fellowship at the White House. I walk
in, and I say, “Make me look like a Congressional staffer.”
The guy makes me look like a Congressional staffer. I’m passing
the reflection in plate glass windows leaving it, and the first thing
is I’m a big, heavy guy. At this point, I probably weight 245,
and I’m six foot one and a half, so I’m carrying a lot of
weight. I had been most of my life at that point. I look in the reflection
and I say, “Holy cow,” and then I say, “You really
ought to lose a little weight to go with the haircut.” That doesn’t
completely happen or doesn’t really happen at all, but in any
case, I go to the Hill.
I have to backtrack one other thing. There’s another really odd,
loose thread that matters. Being interracially adoptive parents, we
had joined a group in Houston before we adopted the first time called
the Council on Adoptable Children, which is basically a group mostly
of parents who either have or want to adopt hard-to-place children,
could be health problems, could be interracial adoptions, foreign adoptions,
whatever. Because interracial adoptions are pretty new still, and the
foreign adoptions are still building up, and most adoptions are people
who can’t have a child and want a kid that looks like them, and
there’s all that kind of thing going on. There are a lot of nonwhite
babies in the United States growing up in foster care that isn’t
exactly ideal. In some cases, it’s wonderful, but generally it’s
Anyway, we join the Council on Adoptable Children there. We get to Washington
and we join Council on Adoptable Children. I’m not sure there
were more than two chapters in the world, but there happened to be one
in Washington. In that is a fellow named Tom [Thomas H.] Moss, one of
the original American Physical Society Congressional Science Fellows.
Tom, I don't know what help he was to me, but he kind of helped mentor
me in applying, and maybe is the reason I applied at APS where I was
a member, not just AGU. He’s in this group. We even start a self-help
group. They meet at our house.
One of the other things is an article comes about that most of the fathers
in couples that adopt these children are scientists or ministers or
in the sort of high-end social work kind of stuff. We look around the
room and, you know, there are a lot of PhDs, and almost all of them
are in the sciences. There’s somebody’s who’s not
a minister but he’s into counseling of that thing. It freaks you
out. But at any rate, that connection helped me, because Tom, I think,
played a role in really opening my eyes and getting me to go do the
fellowship. So that’s that little aside. It’s sort of funny
the way life works.
Any rate, I go off to the Hill. I still have an enormously high opinion
of myself. I go around interviewing. Although this isn’t very
relevant to Earth System Science, it is important for getting at what
I learned. Most Congressional Science Fellows are gravitating to [U.S.
Representative] George [E.] Brown and the Science Committee in the House.
I guess I say this with some trepidation, but for most of its history
the Science Committee in the House is the second least powerful committee
in the House of Representatives. Sad but true. I don’t immediately
pick up on that, but I see everybody running there. The fellowship program’s
been on for six or seven years. Their staff [the House Science Committee],
you’ve gone from having one or two or three PhD scientists in
the entire Hill staff, they’ve got subcommittees with a staff
of seven, five of whom are PhD scientists. They don’t need more
science fellows, although a lot of my science fellow classmates go there.
I interview on the Senate; the Senate’s not my place. You might
think, as haughty as I was in my opinion of myself, I would like the
Senate, which tends to be more that way. But it just wasn’t. I
was very off-put. I have a bunch of interviews with different members
of the House. Some members of the House even met with us individually.
I guess it’s Mo Udall [U.S. Representative Morris K. Udall]—actually
met with the fellows in his interior committee room in the Longworth
Building. It’s pretty amazing.
We got a lot of attention from folks, including a man in his sixth term
named [U.S. Representative] David [R.] Obey, who has chaired the panel
that rewrote the ethics rules of the House and is a pretty amazing guy.
But he has us in his office, but as often happens, he’s off voting
on the floor. So all the fellows come in, and they sit around his office
in the Rayburn [House Office] Building, and we’re on all the seats
that are chairs or couches except his behind his desk, and we’re
all over cushions on the floor, just on the floor, and everything. All
we hear is the outer office—because from these offices, there’s
two entrances to the hallway. One is from the member’s office
through a little corridor with a bathroom and whatever, just for the
member, straight out into the hall, which is how they get around the
constituents waiting in the outer office where the receptionist is if
they have to run and go do something or just need to get out of there
or get in. We hear that outer door slam, and the first words I hear
him say are, “Goddamn this place!” He walks in, sits down
in his chair, and realizes he has an audience.
He explains why he’s upset. He has just had the experience—and
he is the poorest member of the House of Representatives. He has no
per diems, he gets no honoraria for speeches, he has no inherited money,
he has no outside board positions. He is Mr. Ethics, you know, but it’s
not because he’s given them up. It’s he’s never had
them. He’s got a wife, he’s got two kids. He’s representing
the northwestern 40 percent of Wisconsin. Any rate, Obey explains he’s
just been in a vote on the floor about the pay raise for members of
Congress, and he describes a situation in which members have voted against
it and are standing out of sight of the cameras—because C-Span
has started but it’s only in the House—standing in the cloak
room where they can still be seen and applauding for everybody who votes
for it. The hypocrisy of this, and not being willing to take the political
risk to do what you know is right, because you know to live where Congressmen
have to live, they’re going to need a larger salary. You can get
into a lot of arguments about this. Obey’s a liberal populist
and a budget hawk—well, he’s not so much of a budget hawk
then, but he cares about budgets—and it’s just got him upset.
He is a man, to this day, deeply invested in the House as an institution,
and partly, you also have to realize for this tape, he in effect is
my boss. My boss is a staff director, but the staff director serves
him as the Committee Chairman. So some people would argue you have to
take that with a grain of salt.
But any rate, Obey’s one of the people I interview with. I finally
get down, I’ve got three candidates: Obey, [U.S. Representative]
Al [Albert A.] Gore, and [U.S. Representative] Andy [Gene Andrew] Maguire,
in that order I think, but I’m not sure. I’m wrestling with
it, and Al Gore is a sophomore Congressman and feels kind of like an
old shoe. I didn’t quite realize it at the time, but my uncle
and his father were college roommates. My father’s family is from
Murfreesboro, Tennessee, which is the key city, small though it is,
in his congressional district.
Any rate, I go to a man who is retiring from the Hill where he’s
been staff director of the Science Committee staff to come run the fellowship
program for the AAAS, which is the overarching fellowship program. I
sit down with him. He says, “Well, what have you got in mind?”
I describe my three choices, and he basically says to me, “Andy
Maguire: sharp, good guy, smart man, PhD from Harvard in government;
however, his name as a cosponsor will cost you 25 votes on the floor
of the House,” because Maguire—a flaw I obviously still
somewhat share—but he would let people understand he knew he was
really smart, and that offended people in the House in those days. It’s
far less true today, but it certainly probably offends people anyway.
He then says, “Al Gore,” he says, “Al Gore: good young
member, sophomore, he will get his act together,” future tense.
“If Dave Obey will have you, go there.”
I go back, I go in. A fellow named Scott Lilly is the legislative director,
not the AA [Chief of Staff] who’s supposed to be the staff boss,
but in Obey’s office the AA is this wonderful person with a great
relationship with Obey, but the legislative director Scott Lilly is
kind of Obey’s alter ego. I go in, I say, “If you guys are
interested, I’m interested.” They say, “You’re
hired.” So I spend my fellowship year with David Obey. Knowing
that it’s one of the questions you guys gave me in advance, what
did I learn from that? I learned coalition politics. Mr. Obey was a
good framer of issues in those days, where in the House it’s a
[Democratic] majority, but it’s been a majority so long that it
doesn’t hang together very well. There’s not a lot of party
discipline when you’ve been in power since the early ‘50s.
The Democratic Party’s a big tent, so there’s not a lot
of agreement on many issues, other than who should be speaker.
Mr. Obey’s on the budget committee. He wants to propose an alternative
budget resolution. The budget is just beginning to be taken seriously.
There’s a process, we’ve got big deficits, nobody knows
how to control them. Budget resolution comes up. He wants to propose
an alternative first budget resolution. Well, we don’t have OMB
[Office of Management and Budget], but we do have six legislative assistants
including two fellows on his staff, and we basically go pull together
an alternative. We do it at the margins. We basically come up with roughly
a billion dollar change. It’s a bigger percentage of the budget
than it would be today. It would be like a three billion dollar change
in today’s budget, I think, correcting for late Carter administration
inflation and the passage of time. I pick up the small business and
tax part of it, which is how we’re going to pay for it, because
you have to have revenue to offset the increases we’re going to
do in spending. The spending is pockets of this and that.
Then I go with Scott Lilly, who’s pulled in the lobbyists and
the ground troops for all these organizations. We have everybody from
the asphalt paving people and the tobacco lobbyists, maybe the health
end of those because it’d be very odd for Obey to be lobbying
with the tobacco smoking people. But the antismoking lobbyists, the
healthcare people, asphalt pavers, all kinds of stuff. There’s
a huge number of troops, 70 people, maybe, or more in the room. Scott
tells them what our budget resolution is and sends them out to work.
This is a coalition. We come within 12 votes in the House of Representatives
of passing an alternative over the budget resolution from the Democratic
Budget Committee. Obey, as a Democratic member of the Budget Committee,
he’s also taking on his chairman, which he’d actually started
doing from the minute he got on the Appropriations Committee.
In any case, it’s an amazing experience, but what I learned is
the potential of coalition politics. I always felt that they helped
me in shaping the Earth Observing System, and then I came to believe
they didn’t work very well, and I’ve now swung back to the
vision that it really did help. It was another seed for what was happening.
So I get to the end of the fellowship, and I’m a GS-13, I’m
looking to move to a GS-14, 15, I want to jump to a 15. On the Hill,
you can see careers that kind of seem to move in ways that are not restricted
by the normal laws of seniority and succession—not member careers
generally in those days, seniority really ruled. But staffers can move
up a lot. So I’m trying to get ahead. I have six interviews at
EPA [Environmental Protection Agency]. This is the end of the Carter
administration. We didn’t know it was the end, but we knew it
was the end of the first term. I have an interview with the Senate Commerce
Committee, and Mr. Obey’s running for chair of the Budget Committee,
which is a caucus election in the Democratic Caucus. The election of
 happens, and Mr. Carter has conspired to lose.
So Mr. Reagan [President Ronald Reagan] is coming into office, which
is important—well, for me it’s a really amazingly, given
that I was certainly a Carter supporter, probably my favorite president
maybe of all time. I probably may like Barack Obama more, but politically
and personally, he’s my kind of guy. He’s a pro-civil rights,
deeply religious southerner. Hello! So in any case, Reagan wins. Anne
[M.] Gorsuch [Buford] takes over EPA. There’s no way I’m
working for her. I am an environmentalist at this point. I’m a
social do-gooder. We lose the Senate, Democrats lose the Senate. Well,
there goes the job with the Senate Commerce Committee.
Then there’s a caucus election in the Democratic caucus. Well,
the way Budget Committee elections work, three people were running:
a congressman named [James R.] Jones from Oklahoma, Mr. Obey, and [U.S.
Representative] Paul [M.] Simon—not the musician, but Paul Simon
from Illinois, who subsequently is a Presidential candidate in another
election. Simon’s a great guy by the way. But he’s running.
We know Simon’s going to lose. Basically, you’ve got a ballot.
Unless somebody gets a majority on the first ballot, what happens? First
ballot, whoever comes in last is dropped off, you go to the next ballot.
There are only three people. The second ballot should be the last ballot.
Two people left, right? You vote.
So indeed there’s the first ballot: 100 for Jones, 100 for Obey,
35 for Simon. He’s out. There’s some Democratic freshmen.
Even though we didn’t do all that well in the election, there
are a bunch of Democratic freshmen coming in. The class of ’94
in the Congress that was elected in Watergate, 105 Democratic freshmen,
is beginning to rollout and beginning to lose in some cases. But Democrats
still control a majority. Second ballot, if I remember correctly, it’s
117 to 117 tie. Freshmen in those days don’t have cell phones,
and they don’t have office space yet. There’s no way to
get them. They vote, it’s the last vote of the day in the caucus
meeting, they’re off. It’s December. Holy cow. We have to
have another ballot.
Next ballot, who’s there has changed, and Mr. Obey loses 120 to
115 to Mr. Jones. He can’t hire me under the Budget Committee
staff because he’s not the chairman, and I go back to NASA Headquarters.
I go back to Shelby Tilford and say, “Take me back!” What’s
interesting, in a move of unbelievable ego back in June of my fellowship
year, Shelby has offered me the chance to come run the stratosphere
program in his branch, and I turn him down because I think I can do
even better elsewhere. Never was anybody wronger. When I don’t
do that, I run into Bob [Robert] Watson in the hall at some point during
this period of time, and Watson says, “I think you did a great
thing coming to Headquarters,” and Watson is a real presence in
the field already. He is not the best laboratory photo-chemist, but
he’s the one who knows every reaction rate, what it means, how
to assess the uncertainties of the measurements, and I’ve been
interacting with him because he’s been the lead on providing the
uncertainties in reaction rates for the work I’ve done with Stolarski
to put the error bars on predictions of ozone depletion. So we’ve
worked on ozone assessment reports under Bob Hudson, who’s leading
them at that point.
In any case, he says he thinks it’s a great idea. By the time
I’m coming back in December, Bob Watson is there firmly in charge
of the stratosphere program working for Shelby. So I come back, they
say, “Okay, you’ll come on detail from Goddard full time,
and we’ll hire you. You’re going to be the advance planner
for the division.” So I’m working for Greenwood. Bishop
is off on a three-month long or something management thing for budding
young managers. The division has a branch under Shelby doing all the
atmospheric stuff and climate, and a branch under Stan Wilson who was
competitively chosen over Jim [James] Baker, from what I’m told,
to come in and form the oceans branch. I show up as advanced planner.
Here, you need a little background. Shelby’s got the Upper Atmosphere
Research Satellite, and it hasn’t gotten a new start yet. Stan’s
got TOPEX [Ocean Topography Experiment], and he’s had to come
in and recover from the 99-day SeaSat [Ocean Dynamics Satellite] demonstration.
[SeaSat failed on orbit.] Another piece of the puzzle, which is really
more important in retrospect than I thought it was at the time: President
Reagan takes office. This is another piece of why Reagan is so magical
in all this. He takes office, and he wants to act like he’s doing
something, because Carter has literally pulled his budget back from
submitting to the Congress in 1980. He submits his request to the Congress.
The economy starts to go bad. The projected deficit goes from $15 billion
to $30 billion, numbers that are almost below notice today in the concept
of the whole budget of the United States government. He withdraws his
request to rework it and cut $15 billion back so he’s back at
the original $15. He took balanced budget seriously.
Reagan comes in and he says, “Look, we’ve got to cut some
things,” and he says that to the Defense Department. There is
a plan with Tony [Anthony J.] Calio firmly in the lead for NASA—and
Tony Calio is head of Applications at NASA—NASA, NOAA [National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], and the Defense Department,
specifically the Navy, to do the National Ocean Satellite System, NOSS.
Big satellite, big bus, lots of instruments, big instruments. It’s
not lots by eventual EOS planning standards, but a goodly number because
SEASAT has proven what you can do from satellites for oceans. We’re
going to go build this system and help the Navy and the civilians and
everybody together. This should have been a red light for convergence
in the [President Bill] Clinton Administration, but everybody had forgotten,
or else they didn’t think it was relevant.
Reagan takes office, and at the beginnings of the largest peacetime
buildup of military spending in the history of the world, probably even
adjusted for inflation given that it was peacetime, they cancel. The
Defense Department cancels NOSS! The Navy walks away. There’s
no way NASA and NOAA can do this without them. This thing’s going
to be a $1 billion-plus kind of mission. It’s big. I mean, this
is bigger than Space Telescope, budget-wise, this is huge. So Stan all
of a sudden has got a program with pieces on the floor. He has this
mission called TOPEX, the Ocean Topography Experiment, and he’s
looking for a new start for TOPEX. Tilford and Wilson are competing.
But I get sent as the new advance planner over to work with Wilson,
which was a miracle.
So I’m Shelby’s protégé, I’m working
for Ron Greenwood. For maybe the first six weeks or so, I’m going
to lunch with Tilford and Greenwood, not with Wilson. He’s got
his coterie of oceanographers in his branch, and they don’t eat
with the atmospheres people. So I’m going off with my boss and
my mentor to lunches and one thing and another, and I won’t say
all the things that were said. But they send me over to work with Stan
Stan teaches me basically the five-pointed strategy for ocean observations
from space, which is we’ve got to have a visible infrared imager
so we can get everything from ocean color to sea surface temperature
in the thermal infrared, and the aerosol corrections part of that to
get to ocean color, which is a really tough measurement. We need passive
microwave, because a lot of the ocean is covered with clouds, and you
can’t see through the clouds with an infrared, so you’ve
got to have a microwave to get sea surface temperature at cruder resolution
through the clouds. We need a down-looking radar for surface topography,
the TOPEX mission, for surface topography to make a two-centimeter accuracy
measurement between the satellite and the ocean surface. The radar naturally—depending
on the wind speed and the unevenness of the water—the radar naturally
averages over a three to eight-kilometer circle, but that’s just
perfect, and just radar shot after radar shot, you see the height of
Just to put it in the record here, everybody’s used to, by now,
looking at weather maps with highs and lows. Well, the ocean’s
a fluid. It has not totally dissimilar circulation, and highs and lows
manifest themselves as the top of the ocean. So at the surface, you
see the highs and lows, if you can very precisely measure the height.
Actually, the atmosphere goes up and down as well like that. But there’s
no firm boundary in the atmosphere really to see, subtle things but
not the firm one. So that’s how an ocean downward looking radar—you
need a side-looking radar because as wind blows over water, it creates
very small little rills, and if you have the right frequency of radar,
its reflection looking sideways will be directly related to the number
of those rills. Those numbers, little rills.
If you watch really strong wind blow across water, you can even see
this. But it happens, even moderately light winds, you can pick it up.
So if you’ve got a wind fetch of at least 50 kilometers, you’ve
got enough signal, and the strength of the wind is measurable. But if
you do it at multiple directions, you also get the vector wind, you
get the direction of the wind, which is also important. You can’t
tell whether it’s coming at you or going away from you, but usually
you can figure that out from the weather, and you get the wind speed.
Then you also need passive microwave for looking at sea ice, and then
you need synthetic aperture radar for the ice guns.
I go off and start working on a synthetic aperture radar mission with
the Canadians. Before I’ve gotten there, there’s been a
plan under a previous guy [George Esenucin] trying to do advance planning
previously to do an ICESat [not the current Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation
Satellite] mission, a big platform with a synthetic aperture radar to
study the polar regions. It hadn’t gotten anywhere. I go off and
look at this plan, and we call it FIREX [Free-Flying Imaging Radar Experiment].
Ultimately the Canadians call it RADARSAT. But I hang out with the polar
oceanographers when I’m not going to lunch with other people.
I have the worst year of my career, but I do learn those things.
At the end of the year, NASA’s been operating with an acting administrator,
acting deputy administrator. The acting deputy has been Tony Calio,
who was head of Applications, so Ron Greenwood, has been acting as deputy
to Calio’s deputy Sam [Samuel W.] Keller. Bill Bishop has become
my boss. We get along fine personally. We don’t get along professionally
very well. I’m not good at what he wants done, and what he wants
done is not what I want to do. So you know, that’s not a great
fit, but I sort of tough it out. But I also begin to not be very good
at work. I’m not very effective in this regime. But I learn.
At the end of the year, end of 1981, finally the pieces fall in place.
Jim [James M.] Beggs, a closet environmentalist, becomes administrator
of NASA. Tony Calio leaves for NOAA. A whole slew of other little things
begin to change, including Ron Greenwood decides that to educate his
four children, he’d better go to the private sector and make more
money than he could make as a senior executive. Shelby becomes the division
director of the Environmental Observations Division. Bishop goes off
to be the deputy of the Life Sciences Division.
NASA brings Applications and Space Science back together in one piece,
and Burt [Burton I.] Edelson comes in. Another important thing about
Burt Edelson is he is Jim Beggs’ college roommate from the Naval
Academy. So Edelson comes in. He’s been at the Intelsat [Ltd.]
labs [laboratories] running them. Interesting man. Reorganization underneath
him, we’re now the Office of Space Science and Applications, one
united office again. Pitt [G.] Thome has been running sort of the land-related
counterpart, I guess it was called the Resource Observations Division,
counterpart to Environmental Observations. He, I think, really wanted
to retire. He’s too young. They put him in a job staffing, and
it may be that they didn’t want him as a division director. I
don't know the details of that. But he ends up on Burt Edelson’s
staff with a job that they can then abolish after a year, and then he
can get early retirement.
They put Jesse [W. Moore]—he’s the man who was unfortunately
the one who made the decision to launch the [Space Shuttle] Challenger
[STS 51-L] that day, a decision which for every flight until the Challenger
accident had been made by Jim Beggs personally. Jim Beggs had been squeezed
out due to the machinations of the Attorney General, and so he wasn’t
there. Jess was head of Manned Spaceflight at that point. He makes the
decision. Poof. You know, needless to say his career was over.
But at this point, he’s in charge of what they formed, but they
formed it by taking Planetary and the terrestrial part of the Earth
and putting them in a division together. They carve up Solar Terrestrial,
and they put Solar over with the astrophysics guys, and they put the
Interplanetary Medium, the solar wind, all that stuff, magnetosphere,
experimentally over those guys. Actually, I’m sorry, that’s
not true. They put the magnetosphere part with us, and they bring the
Solar Terrestrial Theory Program to us, which is a new program that
George Newton—my former colleague from Goddard who’s blossomed
into a wonderful manager and senior executive at NASA Headquarters—Newton
has been the initial program manager, but he loses the program as it
comes over to be in Shelby’s division with us. I’m the only
one [on the division staff] who’s ever had a plasma physics course,
thanks to going to Rice and being made to take it by the space science
department. So they put me in charge. It’s a wonderful little
But the other piece of this you need to understand, it’s sort
of like atmosphere is in Climate, including the stratosphere, but all
the way up to the mesosphere and ionosphere and stuff is all in Shelby’s
division. Jess’ division has got planetary, but it’s still
got a little Landsat [Land Remote Sensing Satellite] stuff, and what
gets called Renewable and Nonrenewable Resource Observations as its
two branches for that stuff, and then there’s planetary. Ecology
is off in the Life Sciences Division, which is a small division and
has kind of what you now would think of as life sciences at NASA, namely
the indoor sports stuff, things relating to astronaut health, living
things that go on the Shuttle or whatever. But no Shuttle is launched
yet. So what is going to become Earth System Science is cut between
three divisions at NASA Headquarters.
Okay, now I’m losing my thread. Any rate, that’s the strategy.
For me personally, what happens is I’m given the Solar Terrestrial
Theory Program to run. I really have fallen apart. Unbeknownst to me,
they’ve stopped trying to hire me away from Goddard because I’m
doing a really mediocre job. All of a sudden, I get my sea legs back.
I decide to hit the road and go meet the investigators. There are only
14 research groups. I basically go meet 12 of them. I put together a
series of trips, meet them. The selection’s already been done,
but this is an elite program. This is important for NASA history, not
for Earth System Science history. Well, maybe it is. No, it is important
for Earth System Science history.
What has happened in the space physics community is it’s been
dominated by the experimentalists, [James A.] Van Allen being perhaps
the archetype, but he’s off in academia. But you tend to have,
like, Nelson Spencer, Laboratory for Planetary Atmospheres, he’s
the PI [Principal Investigator]. They have house pet theorists like
Dick Hartle who don’t get ahead very far. They get kind of terminated
at GS-13s and 14s, they don’t get the big action, and they don’t
get lots of money, and they don’t get a group, and they don’t
have much in the way of grant money. As mission after mission is flying
to observe the ionosphere and various things, the data’s building
up. It may or may not get analyzed, and it may or may not get put in
the archive, but there’s no construct.
The National Academy somehow gets together and basically realizes that
this is not the right way to happen, and the National Academy of Sciences
has recommended forming the Solar Terrestrial Theory Program, which
will be designed to give grants only to theorists. That’s the
program. Newton’s run the selection, picked the people. They’re
in their first year. I get handed it to manage, my first program to
manage. Three million bucks spread across only 14 groups. This is serious
money. The largest funding is going to a PI who is still a professor
at the University of Maryland, [K.] Dennis Papadopoulos. He’s
getting $360,000 a year in grant money from me. My second largest grant
is University of New Hampshire [UNH, Durham, New Hampshire].
But I still remember, I go for my site visit to UNH. They have like
a hotel thing on campus where they put people up and maybe they use
that to train students. I don't know what they’re doing. PI is
a fellow named Lennard [A.] Fisk. Len Fisk has bailed from Goddard where
he was the pet theorist in one of the other laboratories, specifically
[headed by the name’s evaporating but he] ends up eventually as
Chief Scientist of the agency and does terrific things. But Len has
run away from Goddard. He’s an associate professor at the University
of New Hampshire. He wins a Solar Terrestrial Theory Program grant.
He’s getting $300,000 a year. This is a lot of money at the University
of New Hampshire. He gets tenure. He knows how to handle people.
He says, “Okay, before you meet the group the next day,”
because I insisted on meeting the whole group, all the post-docs, the
graduate students, I wanted to see the people. He says, “Let me
meet you for a drink in the basement bar,” of this thing I’m
staying in. So I get there; I’m driving a rental car or, I guess,
taking a bus up from Boston [Massachusetts]. I get there, he meets me,
we go down there. There’s nobody else in the place. He orders
a beer. I explain that I don’t drink, and I order a Virgin Mary
[non-alcoholic beverage]. He sips that beer in the wake of seeing that
I’m not going to drink anything alcoholic. He sips that beer for
the rest of the night. We have a nice conversation, he explains the
way his group works. We hit it off pretty reasonably. His group’s
doing great work, but he and I click, and as a manager, I realized at
least in two cases, the only two that ever mattered, I tended to find
somebody out there in the science community—and here I really,
desperately needed—who becomes my confidant: somebody I can bounce
ideas off of, somebody who will give me the pulse of the community back,
and who I can just get some wisdom from. I pick Len Fisk. What luck!
Anyway, so I pick Len Fisk to do the Solar Terrestrial Theory Program,
and that’s going to be important for EOS. Now to come back, I’d
forgotten about it, but my career almost ended with UNISPACE [United
Nation’s Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer
Space], UNISPACE ’82. Beggs comes in. He realizes that maybe there’s
big time to be made in doing this environment stuff. Politically looking
back now, from the light of what’s happened in the Republican
Party and concerns about climate change and everything else, it’s
hard to believe. But in the Reagan administration, they came in the
door, and they hated what the Carter people had done, and specifically
the man who then under Carter had done this big report, the Global 2000
Report. Carter had had that pulled together. The man who headed it ultimately
went to New York to head the UN [United Nations] Environmental Program,
a long time, major caliber environmental leader. They came in and hated
the 2000 Report. Basically Greenwood and Tilford pivoted on a dime,
got rid of anything like the Operational Satellite Improvement Program,
which they already didn’t like, and packaged the Environmental
Observations Program as doing science. This was the science of the atmosphere
and climate, science of the ocean. Those other guys could do resources,
whatever. That’s what we were, we were science. We were not applied.
We weren’t going to go out and mess up anybody’s economics.
So we got to do it.
Jim Beggs gets this pulled together to go off, NASA pulls it together,
and as the advanced planner, my job is to pull together beautiful pictures
that will help show the need. So I’ve got, like, dust, Sahelian
dust rolling into a town in Africa and literally burying a town. You
know, you see half the town there, and half the town is under a sand
dune. I’ve got pictures of the Dust Bowl, just dry American West,
and I’ve got other crap going on in the environment. I’ve
got your environmental, fundraising, do-gooder, alarmist pictures that
I’ve gotten from other federal agencies, and a package of them
explaining what each is. We don’t have satellite data to put in.
They had to go in a folder, and somebody at JPL was working with me
to pull together a folder, and he’s a speech writer or something,
and he writes two quotes or something, two passages. It’s like
a music folder. It’s got a big flap at the bottom to hold these
pictures in, each one of which has some part of our story on it.
Then there was going to be our written one-pager explaining what we
were doing, what we wanted to do. Oh my God, the words were not very
good. Stupidly—you’d think I’d know better being a
Hill staffer—I didn’t run them by the Administrator. I didn’t
run them by anybody. The Administrator takes one look at them and says,
“I don’t understand what these words say.” So with
Hudson’s help, because he’s then working on detail, kind
of-sort of working for me, not really, certainly working for Shelby,
he helps me. We go through, we slice the folders on the edge—and
these are beautiful folders, and it’s too late to get them reprinted.
Copies of these folders have already been sent, but we’ve got
enough still at home. They’ve already been sent to Vienna [Austria]
for the meeting. We slice the edges off, the flaps fold down, we slice
the [offending words] off the flaps, we fold up with only about a centimeter
and a half flap on the bottom to hold the pictures, put them together,
ship them airmail to Vienna. Beggs goes to Vienna. Other countries don’t
like it, so in this UNISPACE conference of the United Nations it doesn’t
get a great following. Get home, and every agency wants our head. Wants
our head. So you’ve got to start on an interagency basis, and
that begins to happen.
Now, Burt Edelson is worried—and unfortunately, he’s passed
away, so we can’t go ask him—but from what I was told and
infer, Burt was worried about enough band, enough spaces in the geostationary
arc for the growth of communication satellites. So his view is, “Well,
maybe we need bigger communications satellites.” Well, to get
those affordable, we’ve got to get to a bigger satellite bus.
Somewhere in his mind, he must have gotten from that to who can justify
a big satellite bus to do something else, and he hits upon Earth science.
So he basically says to Pitt Thome, who’s sitting somewhat without
duties on his staff, “Pitt, go pull a few people together. I want
you take a look at what you can do for Earth science with a big platform
and polar orbit.”
There are studies that have happened of platforms in orbit that are
built by taking five Shuttle bays up and bolting them together—sound
familiar? Although they were pretty amazing, and we [planned them].
It was like bolting five Spacelabs together. I was sitting in discussions
in Headquarters of other advance planners who weren’t going to
really get anywhere doing that. Pitt goes and forms a group, and it’s
an interesting group. First of all, there are ten people on it, every
one of whom is either a program manager at Headquarters or a manager
at a field center. One of them—and I can’t remember all
the names—one of them is Dave [David] Atlas, who’s the Laboratory
for Atmospheres Chief at Goddard. Pitt himself. The man who was heading
the Earth science Lab at what became [NASA] Stennis [Space Center, Mississippi]
down in Bay St. Louis. There’s me. There’s a young guy from
Life Sciences to bring us the ecology. There’s a fellow, one of
my colleagues from the Solid Earth people, although Pitt’s mostly
covering that. There’s Anne [B.] Kahle from JPL and somebody else
from JPL. In the engineering directorate at Goddard, there is a man
who runs, I think, a division that does systems engineering of satellites
or has that kind of technical expertise to loan out to all the flight
projects. I’m sure I’m leaving somebody out.
We form a group. We have a meeting. We have another meeting, which is
at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and we kind of each have to bring
our perspective. I’m supposed to bring the atmospheres and oceans
perspective. Pitt and others are bringing the land perspective. Actually,
Pitt and the man from Stennis are bringing that, or from what became
Stennis. They also had this data system thing. They’re really
hopped up on the data system. I don’t get it, but they’re
hopped up on the data system. I really don’t get it, which is
embarrassing as a modeler and data analysis person. We’ve got
a variety of skills, and Atlas is big into radars and weather and all
that stuff. So we all talk about our stuff, and there’s geology
and geophysics talked about, and land resources and ecosystems and everything.
It’s not clear how we are ever going to gel a mission out of this.
I mean, it’s really not clear. We have our meeting, and we go
back to our hotels for the evening or whatever—we probably went
out to dinner, and we got back to the hotel.
We’re in the hotel, and I’m up in my hotel room, and magic
happens. I would say inspiration happens. I’m sort of thinking
about, “Well, what connects these people?” Stretching it
a little bit, I say, “Look, it’s water.” This is the
water planet. The fact that we’ve got water in all these phases,
whether it’s the arctic or whatever, it’s rainfall, the
heat transport happens heavily through the condensation, evaporation
of water. We’ve got the oceans, even volcanoes are heavily influenced
by water, and water shapes the geology you can see. It’s a water-dominated
planet. So water hangs us together.
Then based on what we’d been talking about, I say, “Gee,
what would we fly as a payload to do water?” I come up with a
six-instrument payload. It’s got a weather radar. It’s got
a big passive microwave. I’m pretty sure it’s got an optical
imager of moderate resolution, like one kilometer kind of resolution
imager. I’m pretty sure it’s got a temperature and moisture
sounder of the atmosphere. I’ve actually forgotten the other two.
I walk in the next day with some trepidation, because remember, I’m
pretty junior on this group. I’m one of the junior Headquarters—well,
I’m not even really much of a program manager yet, although I
have picked up some additional duties of running the Stratosphere Theory
and Data Analysis Program, but I’m not working in the branch.
I’m still up in the front office part of the division. In any
case, I walk in, I pitch the idea, and much to my surprise, instead
of laughing at me or giving me a hard time or giving me a PhD-caliber
examination on, “What do you mean?” they say, “Where’s
the rest of it?” They send me back that night, and I walk in the
next day with the other—and I think my memory is 19 instruments
total. I come back in with two more satellites, each on a large platform,
each with multiple instruments. Not unlike the upper atmosphere research
satellites. It’s not hard to stretch; UARS had ten instruments
if I remember correctly. So there’s UARS with ten instruments,
so yes, we put a bunch of instruments. It may have been 24 instruments
actually. Mark [R.] Abbott, in a talk at this 20th anniversary meeting,
I think used the number 24, so maybe it was 24 instruments.
At any rate, I come back in, so there’s my wet payload, my water
payload, and then there’s the chemistry payload, and then there’s
the everything else payload, whatever, probably the ecosystems payload
with a high resolution land imager and probably another wider field
of view imager for ocean color. Okay, it’s now just a matter of
producing view graphs and talking about the data system. Well, I’m
the executive secretary of this group. That’s my job. I’m
Pitt’s exec secretary, which in some ways designates you as kind
of the junior guy, right, the go-for guy. So I start helping him. We
pull together the view graphs. For some reason, maybe a family vacation,
I can’t be there when it’s briefed to Mr. Beggs. But Burt
takes Pitt in behind the green doors in the old NASA Headquarters to
brief [NASA] Administrator Beggs, and I’m told—and unfortunately
this is secondhand—but I’m told that basically Beggs looks
across at his former roommate and says, “Stop trying to undermine
my Space Station!” Then he says, “But you can keep doing
this. But I don’t want to read about it in Av [Aviation] Week.”
Holy cow. Well, you didn’t have to tell Burt any more than that.
He knew he had permission to go.
About this time, shortly thereafter, Landsat-4 launches. What has caused
the weird organizational structure under Burt is Shelby Tilford was
a laboratory photochemist who’d done one balloon payload not all
that successfully as a researcher. He’s not viewed as knowing
from instrumentation. The guys over in Planetary, they’re very
strong on the instrument side of things. Landsat and Thematic Mapper,
its chief new instrument, have had big problems, cost overruns. I seem
to remember numbers like $80 million cost overruns, which in those days
was a big—it’s still a big deal. That’s a lot of money!
That’d be like having $150, $160, $200 million cost overrun today.
So they don’t want that being managed by Tilford because they
don’t think he can be good enough on that kind of score. So they’ve
kept this funny [organization], and that’s why these guys are
over there. The minute Landsat-4 launches, gets on orbit, Thematic Mapper
cuts on and works, the stress is gone. The need for that is over. There’s
a reorganization, and order ensues.
We keep Solar Terrestrial for a while, but we get the land guys. The
renewable and nonrenewable resources guys come to our division, we become
the Earth Science Division: Planetary Division, Astrophysics Division,
Life Science Division, and we even wrestle the terrestrial ecology work,
which is a really small part of the Life Sciences Division, we get that
away from them. Not immediately, but you know, this kind of begins to
take shape as a reorganization. I don’t remember the timing. You’ll
have to look at real sources for that rather than oral sources. So the
seeds are beginning to be sown. We’ve had UNISPACE, we’ve
had the System Z study, we’ve got permission to go forward, and
I’ve got three million bucks to run the study, plus there’s
$8 million going for a JPL Shuttle instrument that in essence is the
high resolution imaging spectrometer, which was clearly going to be
one of the instruments in
Well, I go to Shelby. Ray [J.] Arnold becomes Shelby’s deputy.
I still remember, the System Z study’s kind of over and I go to
him—and this must be 1982—and I go to lunch with Ray Arnold
and Shelby, and I say to him, “Look, I’d really like to
keep working on this.” Well, Pitt gets to retire, and I’m
put in charge, and the pieces come to our division. I go around to the
program managers, my sort of colleagues, somewhat seniors, and say to
them, “Okay, guys,” and I’m going to use a little
foul language here, but basically my rule was, “I need somebody
from your community where we’re going to pull people together
from across all of Earth science.” The other conclusion I have
is the study for System Z had been done completely in-house, and I knew
it would have no acceptance in the outside scientific community as an
in-house NASA study. We’d kind of been to that movie with UNISPACE.
So I said, “Look, we’re going to start over, and we’re
going to only use people from the outside. We’re not going to
use insiders, nobody from the NASA Center.” I think that was actually
Now, I was given a project office at Goddard. Since JPL wanted a piece
of the action, at least was supposed to want a piece of the action,
the project office got a spacecraft extra help from JPL, so a sort of
sub-project office at JPL through a project manager at Goddard, Chuck
McKenzie, doing the study. Marty [Martin J.] Donahoe at Goddard comes,
he’s going to be the lead instrument guy. Goddard hires a young
guy away from the Nuclear Navy to be the spacecraft systems or the overall
systems engineer in the project, Chris [Christopher Scolese] gets hired
into NASA to do this job. Boy, am I getting troops. It’s just
I get given Dick Hartle. Poor Dick. He’s still at Goddard, he’s
still a branch head, but he gets assigned—even though he’s
not really an Earth scientist in that sense, he’s more in the
space physics world—he gets assigned as the project scientist.
I’m nominally the program scientist, but I’m in charge.
I get Alex [Alexander J.] Tuyahov, a colleague, as a program manager.
So I’m a program scientist, program manager, got a project manager,
a project scientist, all of this stuff. I’ve got troops. They
were really more than troops, but they let me act like I was leading,
and for things I needed to lead on, I did.
We started over. I went around to my colleagues in Headquarters and
said, “Look, I need to know who to go to because I don't know
your fields. But I want somebody who can be recognized as speaking for
the field by the leadership of the field.” I basically said, “No
assholes.” I had to have people who could work with other people,
so don’t give me any personality problems. That’s a nicer
way to put it. They were good. So we got a group, and we did not yet
have the life science part from the ecology part. They were still off
in the Life Sciences Division and didn’t come for quite a while,
so I hadn’t gone to them.
So we form a group, and we go have our initial meeting. I call all these
people, recruit them, we pay them a consulting fee, they come to the
meeting. We start talking, guys make viewgraph presentations. But the
first thing the group says is, “Where’s the ecosystems people?
They’re not here.” So we had that meeting, and then I go
to this young manager who was on the System Z study with me, and who
actually left NASA and went into his in-laws’ business or something,
it was very odd. But I go to him and I say, “You know, who?”
He gives me ecologists. Constant Delwiche, of the earlier talk. Paul
[J.] Zinke, who turns out to be a long-term, close personal friend of
Constant Delwiche, who’s a professor of forestry at Berkeley,
and is kind of the professor of forestry. He’s kind of the most
prominent forester, certainly in the top five of the world, if not number
one. I get Constant Delwiche, very prominent soil scientist who also
knows soils—I mean, they both kind of know soils and forestry,
one’s more soil, at any rate—from UC Davis [University of
California, Davis, California]. I get Berrien Moore [III] from the University
of New Hampshire, because he does kind of ecosystem modeling. Holy cow.
We go to our second meeting in Easton, Maryland. It’s summer.
It’s warm. It’s the only time I’ve ever fallen asleep
in the chair chairing a meeting, but I do. After lunch, warm. Oh God,
really warm. I also bought my first straw hat. Having worked on ozone
depletion and being relatively fair, keeping the UV rays off of one,
I bought my first straw hat to go out in the sun at that meeting, walking
around the block at lunch. It became kind of a signature for me to have
my hat. We went to Easton, Maryland. We spent, I think, four days at
this meeting with this group sitting around the table. The first thing
we had to do, it’s like new college roommates. New folks at college
have to tell each other about their childhoods. We had to tell each
other about our science.
In the process of this explanation, which gets a little tedious—I
actually fell asleep while Paul Zinke was talking. Mark Abbott’s
one of the people. Mark’s talking about the California current.
He, at this point, works at Scripps [Institution of Oceanography, University
of California, San Diego] and JPL and commutes between them, so he was
sort of JPL, but we counted him as Scripps. The current flowing south
along the California coast. He talks about upwelling, and bringing nutrients
up, and upwelling colder water nutrients, and that’s where you
get the algal blooms, and so you can tell, wherever there’s a
promontory out into the current from the shape of the coast, you get
this upwelling. Zinke says, “And there’s a different forest.”
It creates a microclimate, because there’s always colder sea breeze
and mists, and for about ten kilometers [inland] that persists and gives
you a different kind of forest. For that matter, it’s been going
on for long enough that you have a different soil. Connection. That’s
exciting for these individual scientists. I mean, that intellectual
ferment, the chance to hear new stuff. They’re not, by and large,
old and jaded. Only one of us is really old, and he is from England.
He’s our only foreigner, and he’s the man who runs the Scott
Polar Research Institute at [University of] Cambridge [Cambridge, United
Kingdom]. Holy cow. I mean, so he’s enormously prominent, he’s
kind of at retirement age, but he comes and does this. He’s on
Any rate, magic ensues, they build connections, and we start down the
path. Zinke agrees that he wants us to come to California, and he proposes
a place called the Granlibakken Lodge at Lake Tahoe [Tahoe City, California].
It fits within the government per diem, bless my contractors. They figure
out a way. It fits the per diem. We go there. Amazingly, I still remember
playing tennis with Berrien Moore, which is kind of weird to think back
on. We go there. Our systems guys have been showing us all this stuff
that came out of the System Z study.
I forgot to mention one thing. Let me hark back to it. Alex Tuyahov
is told by Burt Edelson to do a parallel effort, which we were calling
System Omega, to take what we come up with in System Z and sell it to
the Army because they have to operate in the environment, trying to
get the Defense Department interested as well. That never happens, but
Alex has the classified tickets from having worked Landsat type things
which can be used for strategic observations, and having come from that
world in some way—and worth an interview. Definitely he and Dick
Hartle are certainly worth an interview in the history of all of this.
So that’s going on. To go back, we go to Granlibakken. We’re
being briefed on all this stuff. I’m trying to keep this System
Z stuff quiet. I have not told them kind of our concept. We’ve
not taken my vision from the hotel room in Pasadena [California] and
plopped it on the table. We’re talking about science, we’re
talking about large platforms, we give them drawings. Maybe we don’t
even give them the drawings yet, because this may be actually our third
meeting. They are pretty frustrated, and five of them get a case of
beer and go sit in the hot tub that evening, and I’m off in my
room, not being a beer drinker or a hot tub sitter. I’m off pretty
much probably being by myself or whatever. But Ray [Raymond E.] Arvidson
from Wash U [Washington University] in St. Louis, [Missouri], who’s
a primary planetary guy but is one of the people in the group, is in
there, and he’s a data system guru, among other things. They basically
come up with the concept for the Earth Observing System. It’s
still called System Z.
They come back in, in the morning, and I start the meeting and I start
to talk, and Arvidson cuts me off. So okay, I’m, other than Mark,
probably the most junior person in the room even though I’m in
the chair, and I don’t act like I’m the most junior person
in the room. Arvidson goes to the board and lays it out, lays out their
vision, and I recognize my vision in their vision. The details are not
the same. EOS never embraces a weather radar, doesn’t come in
our payload layout, it doesn’t end up in the AO [Announcement
of Opportunity]. But most of the other instrumentations—synthetic
aperture radar, a bunch of instruments to look at the stratosphere,
the whole suite of oceans things that Stan had taught me were needed,
moderate and high resolution imaging spectrometers in the visible near
infrared, thermal infrared stuff. The whole nine yards, lasers, the
variety of lasers. All of that lays itself out. We don’t know
exactly what the instruments are going to be at that point, quite honestly.
It’s somewhat early for that. But we have an idea.
Then we begin actually not so much dealing with all these drawings of
spacecraft. We begin to articulate a mission concept, and I think if
you look back at the first report, volume one and its appendix about
that, it’s really explaining need and overarching requirements,
but it’s got a vision. The vision has this cloverleaf design showing
the interlink of ocean, cryosphere, solid Earth, land, and atmosphere.
I mean, literally each one in a different color with the solid Earth
I think in the middle as brown and maybe the green. I’ve forgotten
the logo, but it’s a distinctive logo. I think Dick Hartle basically
mostly came up with it.
We publish our reports. I deal with the writing. Dick Hartle deals with
the visuals. It’s slick. It’s on enamelized paper. It weighs
a lot for the size it is. We articulate, though, five key principles,
and they all are rooted in the uniqueness of studying the Earth as opposed
to doing other firms of science. We can’t do the traditional scientific
method. We certainly can’t do what biologists are required to
do, because we cannot run controls. We have no other planet to hold
as a control while we do an experiment. We’re in the midst of
the experiment. It’s not a completely controlled experiment. As
I used to say, Mother Nature is not easy in giving up her secrets. All
we can do is sit and watch and compare different times, different places.
But we don’t get any real control case, so we can’t do science
the way every physicist and biologist in the National Academy thinks
you’ve got to do science, which is an important point, because
Earth System Science has to convince the old establishment to move aside.
You’ll often notice from the people who are on the EOS Committee,
it is not very much of the old establishment. We tended to get younger,
junior people. I mean, Mark Abbott’s in his 20s. He’s already
a comer but, you know. Most of the people on the committee are under
40, and as I explain there’s only one really senior—well,
Zinke’s pretty senior, Connie Delwiche is pretty senior, the man
from England is pretty senior.
Any rate, rooted in this, that you’ve only got one object to study,
that you can’t do the controls, and that you have to build up
using both time and space, and what it comes down to is number one priority
in Earth science is take today’s data today, because you cannot
come back and take today’s data tomorrow. You may infer it from
ice cores and sediment cores and all kinds of things. You may try and
calculate it. But you cannot take the actual data unless you take it
now. So even if you just put the data in a warehouse, the most imperative
thing is to go get the data.
The second thing is, as a priority, you’d better manage the data.
You’d better hang onto it, and you’d better make sure that
it’s intercomparable over time and space. Calibration, you’ve
got to understand how this measurement relates to that measurement over
your time and space variables. I may not remember them all, but it basically
is when you’ve got that firmly in place, the observations, the
data system, you need a robust program to go research the data. There
were a few other things, but I’ve forgotten the five points, and
that’s kind of embarrassing. But that’s sort of the essence,
and that flavor has to come up.
All right, parallel track: Shelby in his wisdom, or whoever in their
wisdom, in the wake of UNISPACE has decided that they need an Earth
System Science Committee. It really is an interagency thing. The man—and
I wish I remembered his name—who’s head of the U.S. Geological
Survey [USGS] gets put in charge of the interagency coordinating group
that in effect eventually becomes the U.S. Global Change Research Program
[USGCRP]. He’s in charge. He’s nearing retirement. He’s
a geologist, but he’s a gardener, and he treats me in a kind of
avuncular way, which I liked. It was nice. I didn’t need the advice,
but it was nice to get it.
Shelby’s there, and as I said at the conference, this is a set
of agency leaders who believe in the mission above the agency’s
agenda, above the agency’s future budget. It’s like Bob
[Robert W.] Corell and I think, more or less, Mike [Michael] Hall, and
the man from USGS and Shelby. They basically realize they need a science
committee, and they go to Francis [P.] Bretherton to chair it, and it
gets pulled together. It purposefully has John [A.] Dutton, who’s
on my study committee, and Berrien Moore from my study committee on
it, to make sure there’s some crosspollination, and they’re
also the two most politically important people on my committee in the
politics of science. John Dutton has been president of the American
Meteorological Society, he was dean at Penn State [Pennsylvania State
University, University Parks, Pennsylvania], which was and is one of
the five preeminent meteorology departments in the United States. Berrien
is a political player. Berrien knows things like Jamie [James Barrett]
Reston personally. All of a sudden, you find—you remember?—one
year in Time Magazine, Man of the Year is the planet on the cover. Berrien
made that happen. He has contacts I just couldn’t believe in those
Any rate, they form, Francis leads, I have to interact with them some.
Ray Arnold is made—I’m a little jealous of this, personally,
at the time; I’ve got my hands full though—Ray Arnold is
made the key NASA person to go staff them. But in this case, you’re
really staffing them, whereas in the EOS study, I’m in the chair.
So I shouldn’t have been envious, but I was. The other thing is
I’m doing EOS half-time, about a sixth of my time running the
Solar Terrestrial Theory Program, and a third of my time running the
Stratosphere Theory and Data Analysis Program. So I’m managing
about $10 million. $3 million in Solar Terrestrial, $3.5 million. $6.5
million on Stratosphere, and this EOS thing. The interesting thing,
of course, is Alex Tuyahov and the project managers are taking care
of the money. I didn’t have to think about the money much. I just
had to say, “We need this, we need that, we need the other.”
We publish our initial report, by the way, and then we go to a new committee.
The man from England says, “Look, this is a young person’s
game. We need people who really will still be intellectually active
when the things fly,” not unlike what Dalgarno had said to me
many years before, about the Grand Tour of the outer planets. So he
drops out and is replaced by Seelye Martin [University of Washington,
Seattle, WA]. I know Willy Weeks from the FIREX RADARSAT study. He is
the preeminent polar scientist in the United States, and one of the
two or three or five in the world. He won’t come on this committee,
but he sends his branch head, who he nominally works for, who’s
less prominent. He comes on the committee, so I’ve got my polar
guys. You know, there’s some rollover, but Seelye becomes very
important to have because although it’s about a 20-person committee,
there kind of begins to be a nested inner five that ultimately does
more of the writing: Berrien, myself, Mark Abbott, Seelye, to some extent
John [C.] Gille from NCAR [National Center for Atmospheric Research]
who’s also involved in the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite.
I may be being unfair to some people.
In any case, we realize, I think we’re about to just go provide
the vision for geostationary observations of the Earth to companion
with the Polar Orbiting Earth Observing System we’ve come up with.
It’s funny, Berrien plays some sort of role, but we go off and
have our first post-report meeting in Dallas, [Texas], like in the North
Dallas Forty kind of area of town—the best hotel we ever got to
stay in. We pretty much realize, we talk about geostationary, and that’s
nixed, and we go back to refining the Earth Observing System. Working
groups are formed for the data system. Bob Chase chairs the data system
group for us. He’s now left NASA Headquarters. He’d been
a Headquarters colleague. He’s now gone to Woods Hole [Oceanographic
Institute, Woods Hole, Massachusetts], he’s running the Buoy Group
at Woods Hole. He takes on the data system. Actually, initially Ray
Arvidson chairs the data system, but at some point Ray gets overwhelmed
between his duties to Planetary and his duties to EOS, he backs out,
and the data system responsibilities are picked up by Bob Chase to chair
that report, which is the first of our volume two reports that comes
out. It’s got a black cover, very sleek, same logo. Because volume
one had a white cover, so the first part of volume two ends up with
a black cover.
At any rate, we form that group, and then we start forming instrument
groups. So there ends up being a group about MODIS [Moderate-resolution
Imaging Spectrometer], a group about HIRIS [High Resolution Imaging
Spectrometer], a group about LAWS [Laser Atmospheric Wind Sounder] ,
a group about one thing and another. So there’s a whole bunch
of working groups to refine what are sort of being thought of as facility
instruments. The group keeps meeting. Now we’re really wrestling
with satellites, their size, a platform, how big is it, different payloads,
different payload choices, and things begin to get real.
Wright: Now, do
you want to make this a stopping point, so when we pick up again we
can talk about the working groups and how the working groups and the
new reports came in?
probably a great thing. We’ve got probably three more hours to
go based on how we’re going.
Wright: Okay, well,
we know we’re not doing it today, so why don’t we stop.
Butler: Go ahead,
[End of interview]
to JSC Oral History Website