Wednesday’s Book Review: “A Scientific Peak: How Boulder Became a World Center for Space and Atmospheric Science”

The Scientific Peak-Front cover-05A Scientific Peak: How Boulder Became a World Center for Space and Atmospheric Science. By Joseph R. Bassi. Boston: American Meteorological Society, 2015. Abbreviations and acronyms, archives consulted, foreword, acknowledgments, images, notes, index. 246 pages. Paperback. ISBN: 978-1-935704-85-0. $35.00 USD.

Joseph P. Bassi, now assistant professor of arts and sciences at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, has been investigating the building of scientific institutions dedicated to the study of meteorology for more than twenty years. This book, a revised version of his dissertation, provides a window into the establishment and evolution of several such organizations in the picturesque Rocky Mountain city of Boulder, Colorado, some of the University of Colorado. In the Cold War era a large number of scientific research centers sprang up around the university. These include most importantly the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and two units of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Coupled with those federal research facilities were a series of private sector firms supporting these scientific pursuits, especially IBM, Lockheed Martin, and Ball Aerospace.

This is fundamentally a history of a “city of knowledge,” but not in the way that planned cities of the Cold War era emerged in such places as Los Alamos, New Mexico, or the “Research Triangle” of North Carolina. Like those more structured entities, this research city grew up around the University of Colorado. It became the anchor tenant in the endeavor, but so much of what took place there has been less about the university than about Federal investment. It also grew like topsy over time. Bassi spends considerable time asking questions about this process. For example, is there some type of formula for turning a place such as Boulder into a scientific research capital? What role did the various actors place in creating this center place for Earth systems science?

Bassi notes how business leaders, politicians, and science leaders worked tirelessly, sometimes together and too often at cross purposes, to ensure the advance of this “city of knowledge.”  In the end, a combination of capital, leaders, skilled workers, and institutions—supported by sufficient capital investment largely from the Federal government—succeeded in establishing a “mecca” of scientific investigation and output.

While the requirements of the military during the Cold War prompted the building of this institutional framework at Boulder, it served needs far beyond national security. Over time the federally-funded NCAR, NIST, and NOAA transformed both Boulder, Colorado, and the nature of scientific understanding. Between the 1940s and 1960s the modern research center emerged in Boulder, one committed to climate science.

Bassi’s study is relatively straightforward, following in the footsteps of the work of W. Stuart Leslie, The Cold War and American Science: The Military-Industrial-Academic Complex at MIT and Stanford (1994); Jennifer S. Light, From Warfare to Welfare: Defense Intellectuals and Urban Problems in Cold War America (2003), and Margaret Pugh O’Mara, Cities of Knowledge: Cold War Science and the Search for the Next Silicon Valley (2004). It offers a creative synthesis of broader versus local perspectives combined with an examination of tensions between public and private entities whose objectives were often allied, but not always so.

Unlike those other works, Bassi offers a narrative that is largely positive. It is a story of progress, writ large, his contribution is a generally positive assessment of innovative scientists, local leaders, and other supporters. There is little of the critique apparent in those other works. For example, Leslie makes the case that government contracts changed the nature of university research, focusing attention in certain areas of immediate use to the entities supporting them. He emphasizes how this compromised intellectual inquiry. No doubt the same happened in Boulder, but perhaps in not quite the same way.

A Scientific Peak makes an important contribution by laying out the creation of a climate science community. I welcome its publication. I’m looking forward to other similar studies of research centers and their relation to the communities in which they reside. For example, I would dearly love to see a related work on Huntsville, Alabama, the Army’s Redstone Arsenal, and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Any takers?


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The Wildness of World Airways under Edward J. Daly

A World Airways Boeing 747-400BDSF at Munich Airport, Germany, 2009.

A World Airways Boeing 747-400BDSF at Munich Airport, Germany, 2009.

There is wild, no doubt, and then there is World Airways wild. This company was the brainchild of Edward J. Daly, an iconoclast whose management and leadership made the corporation, based in Oakland, California, into one of the most important of the nonscheduled air carriers operating in the United States. Daly built an aggres­sive organiza­tion, largely on the basis of contracts with the U.S. militar­y.

For example, in 1956 he contracted his two war-surplus C-46Es, the only aircraft World owned at the time, to assist with Opera­tion SAFE HAVEN, the transport of refugees fleeing Hungary to the United States. A major step forward came on 15 June 1960 when World obtained a LOGAIR transcontinental contract to deliver parts and supplies between military installations. This action assured a solvent corporation and laid the groundwork for future expansion.

In May 1962 World Airways demonstrated its expansive philosophy by placing an order for three of the new Boeing 707‑320Cs. This was the first jet aircraft order from any of the supplemental carriers and it made World one of the most attractive of these carriers. World prospered during the following years, in part because of the 1962 passage of the Supplemental Air Carrier Act designed to weed out weaker and less safe carriers, steadily expanding its private charter business, but especially finding a niche as a contractor to the Department of Defense. Beginning in the mid‑1960s it became one of the principal commercial carriers airlifting military personnel between the United States and Southeast Asia. Each year the American grew there World’s profits rose.

Daly did not allow World to be solely a DOD contractor, however. Daly applied to the Civil Aeronautics Board on April 26, 1967, to move into the scheduled airlines ranks by proposing to operate a $79 transcontinental thrift fare service. Although this plan was not approved, World Airways still continued to branch into new areas. By the end of the decade of the 1960s it was operating a fleet of nine Boeing 707s and four Boeing 727s to provide both intra‑ and intercontinental jet service on a charter basis. It improved this fleet with the acquisition of Boeing 747s in 1973 and DC‑10s in 1978.

In the forced withdrawal of Americans and other refugees from South Vietnam in 1975, World Airways let its wildness show. It operated several  mis­sions into Da Nang and Saigon as North Vietnamese forces were surrounding those cities before the final capitulation of the nation.

Edward J. Daly, President and CEO World Airways, 1950-1984.

Edward J. Daly, President and CEO World Airways, 1950-1984.

Daly took two Boeing 727s to Da Nang to evacuate Americans as the government collapsed. It was anything but orderly. Soldiers, civilians, men, women, and children fought to climb aboard. Daly, who had gone back to assist refugees, was mauled as able-bodied men threw off those less capable of defending themselves. At one point Daly threatened some with a pistol. Almost immediately someone yelled, “We’re full,” and the pilot accelerated the 727 down the taxiway as people climbed onto the wings, and then fell off as the jet became airborne.

A distraught soldier hurled a hand grenade and badly damaged the flaps on the right side. The pilot could not retract his landing gear because several people had crawled into the wheel wells. Shortly after the 727 became airborne, the pilot of the second airplane reported seeing someone lose his grip on the landing gear and fall to his death. The saddest aspect of this flight, there were only ten women and one baby among the 268 people who jammed themselves into the airplanes and into the wheel wells. This was the last flight out of Da Nang. The next day it fell to the North Vietnamese without additional resistance.

Daly did pretty much the same thing on April 2, flying an unauthorized World Airways DC-8 flight evacuating 58 orphans and 27 adults from Saigon. Daly’s maverick approach toward these evacuation flights were implicitly sanctioned the next day when President Gerald R. Ford announced that the United States government would provide airlift for over 2,000 other Vietnamese orphans in a program called Operation BABYLIFT. Daly and World were heavily involved in this effort as well. Of the 2,894 orphans that reached the United States between April 3 and May 9, 1975, the date that the State Department officially ended the evacuation of the children, World Airways joined other privately contracted airlines to carry 1,090 of them.

Hailed as a hero by the media, Daly’s actions in the Vietnam evacuation were not always appreciated by government officials. When censured Daly sent a Telex to President Ford:

We have just been notified…that our contract with the Military Airlift Command for the supply of food to Cambodia has been terminated effective this date….There is no wonder that the peoples of the world have lost their confidence in the U.S. government and its people….With all due respect to you and your worldwide problems, Mr. President, I strongly urge that you get the incompetents out of there immediately and appoint someone with the intelligence, competency and the guts necessary to get the job done. You don’t have days or weeks—you only have minutes.”

Daly’s contracts were reinstated. He was also profiled in People magazine in 1975 for his exploits.

The fall of South Vietnam was the high point in a World Airways career laced with action and not a little adventure. Daly savored the limelight that his flights out with refugees brought him.

Thereafter, World continued to lead as a charter air carrier. While it faced severe financial difficulties during the early 1980s, in part due to the deregula­tion of the airline industry, it was able to weather the crisis and continue its role as the primary supplemental carrier into the last decade of the twentieth century.



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Something Fun for a Friday: USAF Flash Mob at National Air and Space Museum

On November 29, 2016, the U.S. Air Force band visited the National Air and Space Museum for a holiday flash mob performance. Really fun. Enjoy.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America”

american-fascistsAmerican Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. By Chris Hedges. New York: Free Press, 2007.

Sinclair Lewis once wrote, “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.” Former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges believes that this has now happened with the emerging political power of the fundamentalist Christian churches, a large and rapidly expanding community in the United States. Its merger with corporatism, fanatical patriotism, and right wing political causes and institutions has over the last quarter of the twentieth century established a machine that rose to dominate the American social, economic, and political landscape with the election of George W. Bush in 2000.

Chris Hedges finds this an especially troubling development in modern America. In this weighty reordering of the political landscape, he writes, “individual rights—once safeguarded through the competing collectives of diverse social, religious or ethnic groups, trade unions, government regulatory agencies, advocacy groups, independent media and judiciaries, and schools and universities that do not distort the world through an ideological lens—are neutered” (p. 181). Such dismantling of the institutions so powerful in the history of the U.S. as bulwarks of personal liberty will leave the nation’s inhabitants unable to “defend their rights or question the abuses of their overlords” (p. 181).

Once that happens, the United States will have made the final step toward totalitarianism; a totalitarianism dominated by a coalition of Christian fundamentalism, rampant consumerism, and unbridled capitalism. Hedges notes that theocracy has a long history in the Christian West—notably in Calvinistic Geneva, Anabaptist Münster, and Cromwell’s Puritan England—and it has proven a brutal experience all too often despite the Christian utopian visions that propelled the effort.

Despite its dramatic title, in American Fascists Hedges offers a reasoned analysis of what has been taking place with solid research, strong analysis, and accessible style. This is no doubt in part because of Hedges own religious background. His opening paragraph in this book states his ideology:

I grew up in a small farming town in upstate New York where my life, and the life of my family, centered on the Presbyterian Church. I prayed and sang hymns every Sunday, went to Bible school, listened to my father preach the weekly sermon and attended seminary at Harvard Divinity School to be a preacher myself. America was a place where things could be better if we worked to make them better, and where our faith saved us from despair, self-righteousness and the dangerous belief that we knew the will of God or could carry it out. We were taught that those who claimed to speak for God, the self-appointed prophets who promised the Kingdom of God on earth, were dangerous. We had no ability to understand God’s will. We did the best we could. We trusted and had faith in the mystery, the unknown before us. We made decisions—even decisions that on the outside looked unobjectionably moral—well aware of the numerous motives, some good and some bad, that went into every human act. In the end, we all stood in need of forgiveness. We were all tainted by sin. None were pure. The Bible was not the literal word of God. It was not a self-help manual that could predict the future. It would not tell us how to vote or allow us to divide the world into us and them, the righteous and the damned, the infidels and the blessed. It was a book written by a series of ancient writers, certainly fallible and at times at odds with each other, who asked the right questions and struggled with the mystery and transcendence of human existence. We took the bible seriously and therefore could not take it literally (p. 1-2).

I find this confession both moving and persuasive. It represents well my own spiritual position, arrived at only after considerable soul-searching, prayer, study, and reflection. What Hedges sees in fundamentalist Christianity, therefore, is spirituality and religiosity that has run off the rails and is careening down a path that will do Americans great damage.

Conversely, Hedges finds among Christian fundamentalists a hardened, judgmental, and heartless ideology that insists that the people of the United States are the new chosen by God and they will have all that they want and need. Using a biblical term, American Christians are to have “dominion” over all on Earth. Moreover, an expectant and immediate millennialism offers the belief that the world is on the verge of its end time and Christ will soon return to establish the Kingdom of God on Earth. In such a belief system it is unnecessary, even counter to God’s will, to exercise stewardship over the resources of the Earth. They were placed here by God for our use.

Moreover, the Millennium will take place before pollution, global warming, oil depletion, or any of the other calamities we foresee will take place. And when these calamities do befall the Earth, as described in the apocalypse foretold in the Book of Revelation good Christians will be caught up in the Rapture while the unbelievers will be left to fend for themselves. In this ideology, therefore, the unsaved get what they deserve. It is easy, therefore, to rationalize the misfortunes of those decimated by poverty, war, famine, or by any other desperate situation as experiencing the wrath of God.

Hedges argues that in this manifestation of Christianity, “the exploitation and abuse of other human beings is a good…The ideology it espouses is a radical evil, an ideology of death” (p. 146). He adds:

It calls for wanton destruction, of destruction of human beings, of the environment, of communities and neighborhoods, of labor unions, of a free press, of Iraqis, Palestinians or others in the Middle East who would deny us oil fields and hegemony, of federal regulatory agencies, social welfare programs, public education—in short, the destruction of all people and programs that stand in the way of a Christian America and its God-given right to dominate the rest of the planet (p.146).

This is a powerful message in many respects; it not only offers an explanation for the horrors seen around the world but also, as Hedges writes, “the absurd but seductive promise that those who are right with God will rise to become the new spiritual and material oligarchs” (p. 146). Wrapped in the protective cocoon of Christian fundamentalism where this message is reinforced by ministers, congregational leaders and members, and a coordinated educational and media system it is easy to see how those embracing fundamentalism may be removed from what Hedges calls the “reality-based world” and accept this ideology. They fail to see, according to Hedges, that “gross injustices and repression could well boomerang back on most of them” (p. 146).

Hedges warns that it is not too late to stop the rise of Christo-fascism, but that those not accepting of it must organize and aggressively oppose it. He writes:

I do not deny the right of Christian radicals to be, to believe and worship as they choose. But I will not engage in a dialogue with those who deny my right to be, who delegitimize my faith and denounce my struggle before God as worthless. All dialogue must include respect and tolerance for my beliefs, worth and dignity of others, including those outside the nation and the faith. When this respect is denied, this clash of ideologies ceases to be merely a difference of opinion and becomes a fight for survival.

He believes that “the radical Christian Right is a sworn and potent enemy of the open society. Its ideology bears within it the tenets of a Christian fascism.” Hedges believes that those “who care about an open society must learn to speak about this movement with a new vocabulary, to give up passivity, to challenge aggressively this movement’s deluded appropriation of Christianity and to do everything possible to defend tolerance” (p. 207).

This is a powerful book, one that should be read and studied. Like every statement from every source, Hedges’ arguments must be accepted or rejected only after due consideration and analysis. Dismissing American Fascists out of hand would be a travesty. So would accepting its ideas without careful evaluation.

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Five Legacies of Space Access Since the 1950s

A Delta II launch.

A Delta II launch.

While a large number of issues could be explored in the now more than fifty years of  space access, here are five central legacies, number three will blow your mind. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).

  1. The limitations of chemical rocket technology

Space access has rested firmly on the shoulders of chemical rockets for boosting payloads into Earth-orbit and beyond. From the first experiments by Robert H. Goddard in the 1920s through the pathbreaking V-2 missile of World War II and the mighty Saturn V Moon rocket, to the most sophisticated spacecraft ever built, the Space Shuttle, the basic principles have not changed. However, chemical rockets are notoriously inefficient and costly to operate. In future generations, spaceflight must move beyond this technology to embrace another approach to reaching space.

A key issue to be wrestled with in the 21st century is how to move beyond these chemical fuels to develop new types of propulsion systems that may be far more cost effective, reliable, and expeditious in operation. A useful analogy is the transition from propeller-driven aircraft to jets. American aeronautical engineers essentially ignored jet propulsion and focused R&D efforts on incrementally improving propeller-driven aircraft. They failed to grasp its inherent superiority. While a relatively simple propulsion system in its principals, the jet required a unique combination of metallurgical capability, cooling and velocity control, and an unconventional understanding of Newton’s third law of motion for its effectiveness to be realized. The modern air system is based on this propulsion system.

It may well be that there is a revolutionary propulsion system around the corner for space access that will move us beyond chemical rocket technology in the 21st century. For instance, instead of the initial chemical launch, spaceflight might begin with horizontal acceleration along a track. Using magnetic levitation to eliminate friction, linear electric motors will accelerate the vehicle to more than 1,000 mph before it leaves the track and fires its main engines. This MagLifter launch facility might enable space vehicles to be launched toward orbit in a more airplane-like manner. Because of the inherent limitations of chemical rocket technology, it appears that some new propulsion capability is essential to future space access.

2. The ICBM legacy of space access

A second major legacy concerning space access is that it relies on launchers—especially Atlas and Delta—that began development as intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) in the 1950s. At present the United States still relies on the descendants of these ballistic missiles for most of its space access requirements. Even though they have enjoyed incremental improvement since first flight, there seems no way to escape their beginnings in technology (dating back to the 1950s) and their primary task of launching nuclear warheads.

Movement beyond these launchers has remained a dream in the opening of space access to wider operations. Like the earlier experience with propeller-driven aircraft, we have incrementally improved launchers for the last 40 years without making a major breakthrough in technology. Accordingly, America today has a very efficient and mature ELV launch capability that is still unable to overcome the limitations of the first generation. After many decades of effort, access to space remains a difficult challenge.

3. The Value of RLVs versus ELVs

The Launch of a Space Shuttle in 2000.

The Launch of a Space Shuttle in 2000.

Many aerospace engineers believe that the long-term solutions to the world’s launch needs are a series of completely reusable launch vehicles (RLV). A debate has raged between those who believe RLVs are the only—or at least the best—answer and those who emphasize the continuing place of expendable launch vehicles (ELV) in future space access operations. RLV advocates have been convincing in their argument that the only course leading to “efficient transportation to and from the earth” would RLVs and have made the case repeatedly since the late 1960s. Their model for a prosperous future in space is the airline industry, with its thousands of flights per year and its exceptionally safe and reliable operations. Several models exist for future RLVs, however, and all compete for the attention—and the development dollars—of the Federal government.

But is that true. The reality, ELV advocates warn, is that the probability of all RLV components operating without catastrophic failure throughout the lifetime of the vehicle cannot be assumed to be 100 percent. Indeed, the launch reliability rate of even relatively “simple” ELVs—those without upper stages or spacecraft propulsion modules and with significant operational experience—peaks at 98 percent with the Delta II and that took thirty years of operations to achieve. To be sure, most ELVs achieve a reliability rate of 90-92 percent, again only after a maturing of the system has taken place. The Space Shuttle, a partially reusable system, has attained a reliability rate of 98 percent, but only through extensive and costly redundant systems and safety checks.

In the case of a new RLV, or a new ELV for that matter, a higher failure rate has to be assumed because of a lack of experience with the system. Moreover, RLV use doubles the time of exposure of the vehicle to failure because it must also be recovered and be reusable after refurbishment. To counter this challenge, more reliability has to be built into the system and this exponentially increases both R&D and operational costs.

4. The costly nature of space access

Lowering the cost of space access has long been the major goal of rocketeers. Thus far they have largely been unsuccessful in doing so. Space travel started out and remains an exceptionally costly enterprise. The best expendable launch vehicles (ELV) still cost about $10,000 per pound from Earth to orbit. The result is that spaceflight remains an enormously costly business. No wonder that it has been the province of governments, a few high-end communications satellite companies, and other unique users.

Even the most modest space launchers, placing relatively small satellites of less than 4,000 pounds into orbit, still average some $25-$50 million per flight, or about $10,000-$40,000 per pound depending on the launch system. The mighty Saturn V Moon rocket, the most powerful launch system ever developed, had a thrust at launch of 7.5 million pounds of thrust. It could place into orbit a massive payload of 262,000 pounds, but to do so cost an enormous $113.1 million per launch ($460 million in 2016 dollars). And those are just basic launch costs to orbit; they do not include the cost of satellite development, indemnification, boost to optimum orbit, ground support and transportation, operations, and the like.

If getting in low-Earth orbit is the critical element in space exploration, and I believe it is since if you can’t get there you can’t do anything else, then why are there not aggressive efforts to build that new launcher that will be cost-effective, reliable, and flexible?

5. Launch vehicle reliability

Launcher reliability has been a problem from the beginning. For total missions conducted between 1957 and 1980, there was a 15 percent failure rate. In missions conducted between 1980 and 2016, less than 5 percent failed. As a result the American aerospace industry has learned from early failures and made corrections necessary to mature the systems in operation. But there are still notable failures to the present.

The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket, with the Cygnus cargo spacecraft aboard, is seen in this false color infrared image, as it launches from Pad-0A of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia. Cygnus is on its way to rendezvous with the space station. The spacecraft will deliver about 1,300 pounds (589 kilograms) of cargo, including food and clothing, to the Expedition 37 crew.

The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket, with the Cygnus cargo spacecraft aboard, is seen in this false color infrared image, as it launches from Pad-0A of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia. Cygnus is on its way to rendezvous with the space station. The spacecraft will deliver about 1,300 pounds (589 kilograms) of cargo, including food and clothing, to the Expedition 37 crew.

This reliability rate is the envy of the world, as all other nations have a reliability rate of only about 80 percent for all launches undertaken since the beginning of the space age. But there are still notable failures to the present. In U.S. launcher failure histories fully two-thirds of the catastrophes in liquid propulsion launchers resulted from subsystem failures other than engines. It is important to focus sustained attention on these subsystems in design, testing, and operations to enhance reliability.

Perhaps the entry of new launchers such as the Falcon 9 and Antares, as well as others, may change this dynamic in the future. Collectively, however, I believe these represent the core legacies from the past and the challenges for the future of space access.

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Lessons from the Telecommunications Industry for Space Commercialization

The switchboard in Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1921.

The switchboard in Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1921.

Everyone agrees, or almost everyone since there are a few pretenders to this title and each have their champions, that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876 in Boston, Massachusetts. A year later he organized the Bell Patent Association to lease equipment to users. What became known as the American Telephone and Telegraph Company expanded over time, operating the full system to which subscribers paid a fee for use as well as equipment rental built at its laboratory, Western Electric Company. By 1895 the Bell system had grown to over 300,000 phones, this was nothing compared to expansion in the next ten years, to 2,284,587 phones in 1905.

In the early twentieth century AT&T began buying out the competition and consolidating various telephone providers into an ever larger network. Company president Theodore Vail aggressively pursued this corporate strategy epitomizing it by the slogan, “One Policy, One System, Universal Service.” During World War I the United States Post Office took control of all telegraph and telephone services for one year and then gave the telephone and telegraph services; at the end of the war returning these corporate assets to private control, but with the caveat that AT&T accepted close monitoring and tight regulation as a public trust under the ICC.

In 1934, the Federal Commerce Commission replaced the ICC and regulated the telegraph and telephone services. The FCC was given the power to act in public interest over the telephone service setting up AT&T as a government sanctioned monopoly. Not without misgivings, elected officials embraced the AT&T monopoly. The argument for it rested on the concept of “natural monopoly,” a workable approach when a single firm dominates the market and that economies of scale are necessary to ensure effective service. Telecommunications represented a classic case of one firm being viewed as capable of serving consumers at lower costs than two or more firms. As economist Adam D. Thierer commented:

For example, telephone service traditionally has required laying an extensive cable network, constructing numerous call switching stations, and creating a variety of support services, before service could actually be initiated. Obviously, with such high entry costs, new firms can find it difficult to gain a toehold in the industry. Those problems are compounded by the fact that once a single firm overcomes the initial costs, their average cost of doing business drops rapidly relative to newcomers.

This proved a compelling argument for Congress: “There is nothing to be gained by local competition in the telephone business.” State and national regulatory agencies actively sought to reduce competition for AT&T during the interwar period, calling it “wasteful duplication.

The Communications Act of 1934 transferred the control of telephone regulations from the ICC to the newly-established the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC regulated rate changes, consolidations, connections, and the licensing of new companies. Even so, AT&T continued to operate as a monopoly until the 1970s when the FCC suspected AT&T was violating antitrust law. In 1974 United States vs. AT&T was filed by the Department of Justice, and in 1982 a settlement was reached in which the Bell system divided into several separate businesses.

At the time of divesture, the Bell System was comprised of American Telephone & Telegraph, its twenty two operating companies, Western Electric, and Bell Laboratories serving 84 percent of the nation’s telephone subscribers while the other 16 percent was served by 2,100 independents. AT&T had a little over $5 billion in assets, 685,000 stockholders, and an annual income of slightly more than $1 billion. All of Bell Systems resources—24,000 buildings; 177,000 motor vehicles; 1,000,000 employees; 142,000,000 telephones; and 1,700,000,000,000 miles of cable, microwave radio and satellite circuits—had to be evenly distributed through nine viable corporate operations. Throughout the history of the land telephone, AT&T and Bell systems has given the United States an underground system of wire placement, metallic circuits, switch boards, long distance communications between distant cities and above all transcontinental telephone lines.

The service provided to the American customer, and the costs incurred for this service, prompted the breakup and the creation of the so-called “Baby Bells” in the 1980s: Bell South, Bell Atlantic, Nynex, Ameritech, SBC, U.S. West Communications, and Pacific Telesis. Much of this was a positive development. The Bell conglomerate was less innovative, less committed to customer service, and more costly to consumers than other systems. This changed with the Bell cartel’s breakup, at least for a time.

By the latter part of the 1990s, especially with the advancing capabilities of telecommunications available to sever consumer, various telephone, cable TV, and other service providers began to merge, create joint ventures, and enlarge market share. Every time that happened, the serviced might become more transparent and convenient to the user but the costs for their use increased. Many have questioned the beneficial nature of these more recent changes, and some of have advocated for a stricter regulatory environment. There is no resolution at present to this conundrum.

This brings to the fore the issue of satellite telecommunications and the role of the U.S. government in helping to bring it about, facilitate it, and regulate it from the 1960s to the present. With the dawn of the space age AT&T sought to extend its telecommunications monopoly into space by gaining approval to build its own communications satellites and operate as an approved monopoly. The Eisenhower administration has been warm to this approach, approving the development of Telstar, launched in 1962, as a corporate activity. At the same time, the Kennedy administration had a different approach to satellite communication. It sponsored the Communications Satellite Act of 1962.

The Goldstone deep space communication complex. Satellite dishes like these may one day provide the capability for a Mars communications system.

The Goldstone deep space communication complex. Satellite dishes like these may one day provide the capability for a Mars communications network.

Key to this was the public-private Comsat Corporation chartered to oversee the operation of communication satellites. Some free market advocates believed then and since that the federal government’s intervention in this arena was heavy-handed and in some instances punitive. AT&T was quite willing to develop this technology without government involvement. They have questioned why should AT&T not have been allowed to do so? The approach that a public-private entity would oversee space communications worked for a number of years, but has been superseded by a new business arrangement. There is still considerable regulation—especially for launch, orbital slots, and frequencies—but the result has been more open than anything ever since in earlier era.

In terms of lessons learned for space commercialization there are several issues to be addressed. The government’s role in providing patents is a given, but the granting of monopoly status and chartering special corporations with protections of a wide nature did not serve to foster an effective system that led to further enhancement of business opportunities. Will the government encourage private entrepreneurs to construct, own, operate, and use lunar communications networks, Mars communications networks, and Deep Space Networks? This is a fundamental challenge for the future: Recent experience (Iridium, GPS) suggests that the cost of establishing certain space communications networks exceeds likely revenues. In such an environment is the public-private partnership, with both sides investing, the best way forward?

Bottom Line: Following the invention of the telephone in 1876, the federal government could have owned and operated telephone service—it did so during World War I—or it could have allowed a totally open market. Instead it established phone companies as regulated monopolies under the FCC, with monopolistic privileges only removed in 1980. In essence the following structure emerged:

  • Provided patents, granted monopoly status, and chartered corporations.
  • S. Attorney General allowed AT&T to control telephone service as a regulated monopoly (1913).
  • AT&T established Bell Laboratories (1925); Bell Labs developed the first orbiting communication satellite (Telstar 1, 1962).
  • Congress created Comsat, a public-private corporation with monopoly status, to promote satellite communications (1962).
  • Comsat represented the U.S. in the formation of Intelsat and became its managing company.

Might the U.S. government foster a private space communications system that could serve the needs of all users on a commercial basis, rather than having NASA own its on TRDSS satellites? What is the future of space communications? Will the government encourage private entrepreneurs to construct, own, operate, and use lunar communications networks, Mars communications networks, deep space networks? A major challenge: recent experience  suggests that the cost of establishing certain space communications networks exceeds likely revenues.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Warfare State: World War II Americans and the Age of Big Government”

warfare-stateWarfare State: World War II Americans and the Age of Big Government. By James T. Sparrow. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

This book has a simple, but elegant, thesis: The author challenges the longstanding belief that FDR’s New Deal, an effort to mitigate the suffering of the Great Depression, ushered in the age of “big government” in the United States. Instead, James T. Sparrow asserts that the New Deal was a modest effort with confined results that lasted only a short time. What truly refocused the America nation was the effort to win the Second World War, setting in place a massive government apparatus ten times the size of the New Deal’s welfare programs.

This seemingly permanent transformation of the United States discussed in Warfare State not only demonstrates the how and why of FDR’s vast expansion of the federal government during World War II; its most important contribution is an exploration of how Americans came to accept this expansion of authority as a permanent—or at least semi-permanent—aspect of national life. Sparrow writes that virtually universal American participation in military service or some other type of war work, as well the hardships of rationing, price control, sacrifice, income taxes, war bond drives, and associated actions associated with civic virtue created an environment where everyone came to accept the “warfare state.”

Through this process the American public was encouraged to see itself as part of a larger body politick; Americans were personally connected to both soldiers on the front as well as tied to the larger war effort. Patriotism served as glue that held these ideas together. Civilian actions at home translated explicitly to support for soldiers on the battlefield. This patriotism led to a linkage between citizens, soldiers, the nation, and the government.

In essence, Sparrow argues that the crisis of World War II brought to the fore a sense of duty and unity toward the state as never before. He also emphasizes the rise of income taxes as a way of life, internationalism as a national priority, and business, mass production, and consumerism as a normal aspect of American life. The modern activist state, therefore, emerged first in the confines of the New Deal, but it was fleeting at best. It took on permanence in World War II. A large activist government was no longer an anomaly, but a continuing reality.

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Redirect: National Council on Public History Awards

ncphThe National Council on Public History (NCPH) is soliciting award nominations for 2016. And the deadline is fast approaching! All award nominations (with the exception of the NCPH Book Award and the Robert Kelley Memorial Award) are due (not postmarked) by December 1, 2016. With two week left and Thanksgiving vacation looming, now is the perfect time to promote and encourage submissions for awards. Information about all of the awards and submission guidelines can be found here.

NCPH awards include:


$1,000 recognizing a project–digital, print, film, exhibit, etc.–that contributes to a broader public reflection and appreciation of the past or that serves as a model of professional public history practice.


A $1,000 award for the best book about or growing out of public history published within the previous two calendar years (2015 and 2016).


A $750 award for the best article in The Public Historian for the 2016 calendar year.


Up to two(2) $500 awards recognize outstanding work and contributions by consultants or contractors.


Two $500 travel grants to encourage new professionals, practicing public history for no more than three years, to attend the 2017 Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, IN.


The NCPH Founders Award recognizes those individuals who were present at the creation of NCPH and who played critical roles in the organization’s success.


This $500 award honors distinguished achievements by individuals, institutions, or nonprofit or corporate entities for making history relevant to individual lives of ordinary people outside of academia.


A $500 cash award and a certificate, rewarding historical studies that contribute directly to the formation of public policy.  This biennial prize will next be awarded in 2017.


Five travel grants of up to $300 each for graduate students presenting (session, poster session, or working group) at the 2017 Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana.


The $500 travel grant to attend the 2017 Annual Meeting recognizes the contributions of student work to the field of public history.


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The Great 1985 World Series Game Six Showdown

Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith anchored the 1980s Cardinals' infield at shortstop.

Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith anchored the 1980s Cardinals’ infield at shortstop.

Game six of the 2016 World Series was great, no doubt, especially since the Chicago Cubs brought the team back from a 3-1 deficit to force a showdown game seven. It will be long remembered. As enjoyable as this may have been, I want to recall another game six, this time the pivotal tying game in the 1985 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals.

That game six has to go down as one of the most frustrating games, at least for the Cardinals, in the history of the post-season. Replayed over and over again, it still spells collapse for the St. Louis Cardinals as they played the Kansas City Royals. The Royals won it by the narrowest of margins, 2-1, forcing a showdown seventh game. But it was the process of getting to the 2-1 finale that made the game so strange. It was a classic pitcher’s battle for eight innings as neither the Royals nor the Cardinals could do anything offensively. Cardinals starter Danny Cox and Royals hurler Charlie Liebrandt matched each other perfectly until the top of the eighth when Cardinals pinch-hitter Brian Harper blooped a single to center to score Terry Pendleton. With the quality of the Cardinals bullpen, the 1-0 lead should probably have been enough to win the game and the series. In the ninth inning the “wheels came off” the Cardinals bandwagon.

Taking the 1-0 lead to the bottom of the ninth, Cards closer Todd Worrell came in to finish off the Royals. The first batter was pinch-hitter Jorge Orta, who hit a weak grounder to first baseman Jack Clark. Clark fielded it cleanly and flipped it to Worrell, who covered first from the pitcher’s mound. In one of the worst calls in World Series play, first base umpire Don Denkinger called Orta safe. Replays on television and in Royals Stadium clearly showed that Orta had been beaten to first and should have sat down on the bench. Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog ran out to protest but failed to convince Denkinger to change his call.

In hindsight Herzog believed that he should have walked over to the box of baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth and demanded that the umpiring team look at the replay. Had the commissioner refused, Herzog said he should then have pulled his team off the field in protest of what was clearly a bad call. In that case, Herzog said, “I’d have been right, but I’d have been fired.” But he thinks Ueberroth would have acceded to his demand, and the replay would have forced a change in the call.

The bad call rattled the Cardinals beyond all hope of recovery. Forced to hold Orta on first, Jack Clark chased a pop foul from the bat of Steve Balboni to the home dugout, but lost it because of the weird angle and failed to make the catch. Balboni then surprised everyone with a bloop single to put Royals at first and second with no outs. The Cards got Orta at third when Royals catcher Jim Sundberg failed in a sacrifice attempt, but then the Royals baserunners reached second and third on a passed ball from catcher Darrell Porter.

This set up a situation in which Hal McRae came to the plate with one out and runners in scoring position. McRae was always a dangerous hitter, but he had been essentially nullified since the designated hitter was not used in this World Series. The Cards decided to walk him to get to another pinch-hitter, former Cardinals Dane Iorg. Without question this was a good percentage decision. McRae was one of the best hitters in the American League, and Iorg had batted only .223 in limited use in 1985. Iorg then singled to right, and slow-footed catcher Jim Sundberg eluded the tag of Darrell Porter to score the game-winning run. St. Louis lost one of the most exciting games ever, 2-1. Ironically, this was the first time all season that the Cardinals had lost a game in the ninth inning.

Commentators compared this game to the stupendous sixth game of the 1975 World Series in which the Boston Red Sox defeated the Cincinnati Reds on a tense twelfth-inning homer off the bat of Carlton Fisk. The Royals-Cardinals contest in game six had, according to Sports Illustrated reporter Ron Fimrite, a “magical combination of excellence, luck, foolishness, irony, courage and gut-wrenching suspense that seems to find its way into this great sporting event year after year.” While this game could not match that earlier contest for sheer drama, as a standard in World Series play, few could surpass it.

Cenebrating a championship.

Celebrating a championship.

The Royals went on to win the 1985 World Series in seven games. Had the call not been blown, the Cardinals would have won it in six.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Flying Man: Hugo Junkers and the Dream of Aviation”

flying-manFlying Man: Hugo Junkers and the Dream of Aviation. By Richard Byers. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2016.

There is no doubt but that Hugo Junkers is a major figure in the history of aviation in the first third of the twentieth century. He pioneered much of the efforts in Germany before World War II in the construction of all-metal, single-wing airplanes. His ideas found expression in the firm he founded, Junkers Flugzeug-und Motorenwerke AG, and he served as a counterbalance to such ideas as those of Count von Zeppelin who advocated light-than-air aviation. The Junkers trimotor passenger and freight airliners helped to advance air transportation with Lufthansa through Europe. Never a Nazi, he was ousted from leadership of his firm by Hitler’s henchmen in 1934 and died the next year.

Notwithstanding his significance, there is not much serious historical work in English concerning Junkers and his company. Accordingly, this new book by Richard Byers is a most welcome corrective to that dearth of knowledge. The author notes that his objective is to advance understanding beyond the specialists of early twentieth century Germany of Jugo Junkers’s life and work. For those of us who specialize in in aerospace history, what we know about Junkers is filtered through a few translated works, basic journalistic accounts of aviation, and nothing that might be characterized as scholarship. Byers has researched deeply in German sources, and presents here a fine analysis that is well-written, easy to comprehend, and sophisticated in analysis.

The author does a good job of placing Junkers in the context of other works in the field—none of them compete with this study—and this is a useful expansion of what was previously known about Hugo Junkers and his aviation company. Byer’s does much to rescue his protagonist from obscurity in the English-speaking world. It does for Junkers what Marc Dierikx did for Antony Fokker in Fokker: A Transatlantic Biography (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997).

This book is a fine addition to historical literature and a welcome study of an important but little-known topic.

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