Wednesday’s Book Review: “Defense Acquisition Reform, 1960-2009: An Elusive Goal”

defense-acquisition-reformDefense Acquisition Reform, 1960-2009: An Elusive Goal. By J. Ronald Fox, with contributions by David G. Allen, Thomas C. Lassman, Walton S. Moody, and Philip L. Shiman. Washington, D.C.: Center for Military History, United States Army, 2011.

Written by the dean acquisition policy experts, J. Ronald Fox—along with the critical assistance of David G. Allen, Thomas C. Lassman, Walton S. Moody, and Philip L. Shiman, historians working on the Defense Acquisition History Project who wrote the majority of chapters 2, 3, and 4—this study offers a broad overview of fifty years of historical study on this subject. It is a useful introduction to an important subject.

During the period discussed, 1960-2009, the authors outline more than 27 major studies of defense acquisition undertaken at the behest of various presidents, congressional committees, officials in government agencies, and a host of think tanks, universities, and other organizations. The authors note the similarity of findings and recommendations emerging over all this time. Despite the disparate analysts and the specific time and circumstances in which these studies were conducted, all wrestle with the related conundrums of cost, schedule, and quality. The old adage is, pick two but you cannot have all three of these major drivers to effective fielding of new weapons systems.

In every case, recommendations for change have either been ignored or imperfectly implemented; or if implemented largely failing in their intended result. There are forces opposing any change whatsoever, of course, but regardless of whatever reforms might be undertaken the issues of failure to meet schedules, control costs, and ensure technical performance have remained. I am reminded of the famous quote from Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince: “It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries” (The Modern Library, Random House, Inc., 1950, Page 21, Chapter VI).

Is defense acquisition reform a lost cause? Fox does not believe so, and his conclusion argues for several additional reforms. He notes that the organizational culture present within the Department of Defense acquisition community has established barriers to reform efforts and this is the first task to be overcome. Nothing, however, is more difficult than changing an organizational culture. While reform attempts have produced positive but limited improvements they have not changed the basic culture driving the behavior of the participants in the acquisition process.

Fox argues: “Future attempts to correct the persistent and costly problems of defense acquisition must include more effective follow-up by senior and mid-level government managers who must understand and agree with the changes that need to be made. Today’s practice of reassigning military acquisition managers, at most levels every two or three years on acquisition programs that require ten years or more to complete, is unlikely to produce lasting improvements in managing those programs. The instruments of change must be a strong secretary of defense and senior acquisition executives chosen for industrial experience, with expert knowledge and skills in defense acquisition, who understand why acquisition reform efforts of the past have failed to achieve lasting improvements, and who have strong commitments to achieving efficient as well as effective acquisition program outcomes” (p. 207).

Defense Acquisition Reform, 1960-2009: An Elusive Goal is a breathless survey of an important, but often mind-numbing subject. It is perennial in so many ways. For example, recently president-elect Trump called for the cancellation of the F-35 fighter program, a weapon system that has had its share of troubles to be sure, all of them related to cost, schedule, and performance. Once again, pick two, or so it seems. This book helps illuminate many of the longstanding issues that the defense acquisition community, the vast majority of whom are dedicated public servants trying to accomplish a significant but difficult task, have had to deal with over the years. It may profitably be read by all those engaged in these activities, as well as historians and others seeking to understand the challenges of defense acquisition.

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The Establishment of the Outer Space Treaty

Signing the Outer Space Treaty on January 27, 1967.

Signing the Outer Space Treaty on January 27, 1967.

With the fiftieth anniversary of the “Outer Space Treaty,” formally the “Treaty on the Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies,” taking place on January 27, 1967, I thought it appropriate to discuss this important legal instrument. Despite assaults on its merits from several quarters, I believe he still offers important governing principles.

While Dwight D. Eisenhower deserves credit for the establishment of “open skies” and overflight as a principle in space, as well as his role in pressing scientific internationalism as the raison d’être of activities in Antarctica, successors of another political party put their own cast on this structure in 1967 with the “Outer Space Treaty.”

Regardless of some relatively modest alterations over time, this rested on a remarkably consistent policy for the United States during the first fifty years of the space age. Six basic principles enunciated in various policy documents, including this treaty, have been deployed by the United States.

First, the United States and the Soviet Union established in the 1950s and has maintained to the present “freedom of space,” ensuring free access to space and the unimpeded passage through space of all satellites and other vehicles regardless of national origin and for whatever purposes intended. Any interference with operational space systems became an infringement on sovereignty and could be construed as an act of war. Second, the parties agreed not to press claims of sovereignty over any part of space or its bodies. Third, the right to defend against attack was preserved and would be considered self-defense just as on the Earth. Fourth, this policy regime explicitly recognized all the various nations’ civil, military, and intelligence programs as legitimate. Fifth, ownership of space assets rested with the original entity placing them in space, and laws of salvage similar to that of the sea were extended to space. Finally, all parties agreed that no weapons of mass destruction were to be placed in space, especially ensconcing this decision in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.

In truth several international organizations have been involved in the governance of space activities. The United Nations General Assembly established a Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in 1959 to discuss scientific, technical, and legal issues related to international space activities; sixty-one states are members of the Committee. This Committee has provided the forum for the development of five treaties and a number of declarations of principles related to space activities. The most important of these is the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which set forth the general legal principles governing space activities. Other parts of the United Nations system, most notably the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) have also long been engaged in space-related activities, responsible as it is for allocation of radio frequencies and orbital locations for satellite services.

First session of the Legal Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, May 26, 1959.

First session of the Legal Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, May 26, 1959.

While the Outer Space Treaty Regime demands that space be used for “peaceful purposes” it did not preclude “defense and intelligence-related activities in pursuit of national security and other goals.” It emerged from the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union in the mid-1960s. Its political genesis may be seen in documents from the Lyndon B. Johnson White House in December 1966 about the proposed space treaty and other initiatives to lessen Cold War rivalries:

  • Moving toward a more cooperative relation with the USSR in this field will reinforce our over-all policy toward the Soviets.
  • More importantly: It will save money, which can go to (i) foreign aid, (ii) domestic purposes—thus mitigating the political strain of the war in Vietnam.

The analysis went on to say that “While largely atmospheric in their effects, the UN ‘no bombs in orbit’ resolution and the proposed celestial bodies/outer space treaty are pointed in this direction [of creating a legal regime for governing space]. We need to seek our potential problem areas and develop practical ways of resolving them.”

According to congressional hearings before the Committee on Foreign Relations in 1967, the Outer Space Treaty was first pursued as a means of ensuring that outer space be explored and developed exclusively under peaceful conditions and working collaboratively with other countries. Moreover, the centerpiece of the space treaty, negotiated through the United Nations, concerned military expansion and national security, coupled with a desire to ensure the sanctity of “freedom of international space.” Scientific activities in space also served as peacekeeping surrogates and cooperative ventures that ensured internationalization and diffused political tensions—that the political exploitation of scientific goodwill facilitated essentially political objectives. Science legitimized international control by creating mechanisms for management and goals for continued rational use that have continued to this day.

The 17 Articles of the Outer Space Treaty have considerable overlap and similarity with the 14 Articles of the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, which was its intellectual heir. Both stipulate exclusively peaceful uses and strict limitations on military activities and the use of nuclear weapons and materials. Both also prohibit governments from extending national sovereignty or making new resource claims. Both treaties include stipulations allowing use for scientific research, allowing the use of military personnel and/or equipment for scientific research, but contain strict verbiage against military fortifications, maneuvers, and weapons testing. The Outer Space treaty allows for all countries, irrespective of economic means, to take advantage of the scientific development of space, whereas Article III of the Antarctic Treaty encourages Specialized Agencies of the United Nations and other international organizations having a scientific or technical interest in Antarctica.

Notable differences had to do with the nature of space exploration and the rescue of astronauts and cosmonauts, with agreement that all signatories would provide assistance in the event of accidents or emergencies. For example, invoking the Outer Space Treaty as the rationale during the Apollo 13 crisis in 1970 the Soviet Union famously offered assistance to the U.S. to rescue the astronauts either in space or at sea. The U.S. just as famously declined this assistance, believing it motivated just as much by Soviet desire to inspect American technology as to assist in the rescue.

There were numerous differences between the priorities of the U.S. and the USSR when negotiating the Outer Space Treaty. Perhaps the most difficult was the effort of the Soviets to ban all private enterprise in space: “All activities of any kind pertaining to the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out solely by States.” Unsure of the objective by the Soviets in making this proposal—was it just a negotiating tactic or “an attempt to extend Communist principles to outer space”—the U.S. proposed a compromise that stated: “that States bear international responsibility for national activities in space, whether carried on by government authority or by other entities.” Accordingly, the Outer Space Treaty System may be considered permissive in handling most commercial activities in space, containing principles useful to economic development. In regard to space resource utilization, private appropriation of extracted resources is even permissible under the terms of the Outer Space Treaty.

In such cases as this, the use of vague language ensured that the treaty could be adopted, but also that it would require later refinement. At the U.S. Senate ratification hearings for the treaty Arthur Goldberg, who led the U.S. negotiating team, admitted this. When asked about Article I of the treaty he told the Senators, “the article was a ‘broad general declaration of purposes’ that would have no specific impact until its intent was detailed in subsequent, detailed agreements.” These issues had to be made more specific over time as additional treaties, regulations, and international agreements were struck.

A core question, with the Cold War having been over for more than 25 years, is the 1967 Outer Space Treaty still valid? Your thoughts?

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A Brief on the Apollo 1 (Capsule 204) Fire on its 50th Anniversary

Apollo 1 after the fire.

Apollo 1 after the fire.

What happened?

The Apollo 1 (204) Command Module was on the ground at the Kennedy Space Center on January 27, 1967 when a fire broke out in the capsule.  The three crew members (Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Edward White) died quickly from asphyxiation.

What caused the problem?

A small spark in the capsule quickly caused a major fire in the 100% oxygen atmosphere inside the capsule.  The three astronauts couldn’t escape quickly in part because the capsule’s door opened inward (it was deliberately designed this way to prevent an astronaut from accidentally opening outward in space).

Who investigated?

NASA quickly organized its own internal Apollo 204 Review Board, chaired by NASA Langley Director Floyd Thompson. There was considerable criticism both then and since that NASA should not have been allowed to investigate itself.

Were there any previous inklings of major problems?

A few months before the accident, Thomas Baron, a mid-level quality inspector for the contractor North American Aviation at Kennedy Space Center, had complained in writing about quality control problems.  He was in the process of expanding a 50-page paper into a 500-page report when the accident occurred.

In addition, in 1965 Samuel C. Phillips, Apollo Program Director at NASA Headquarters, had initiated a review of NASA’s contract with North American to determine why work on both the Apollo spacecraft and Saturn V second stage was behind schedule and over budget. report NASA Associate for Manned Space Flight George Mueller had requested this highly critical study, known as the Phillips Report.

What major corrective actions and changes were made?

A new quick-opening hatch was developed.

A new Office of Flight Safety was established, as well as the independent Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel.

Tests involving a 100% oxygen atmosphere were classified as hazardous.

How much time elapsed before further program activities resumed?

Apollo 7 launched on October 11, 1968, and successfully carried a three-person crew into orbit around the Earth for 10 days.

Where can more information and further reading be found?

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “A Vision of Modern Science”

9780230110533A Vision of Modern Science: John Tyndall and the Role of the Scientist in Victorian Culture. By Ursula DeYoung. (Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology.) 280 pp., illus., bibl., index. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. $85 (cloth).

Irishman John Tyndall is far from a household name. A contemporary of Charles Darwin and Thomas Huxley, his career as a scientist in Great Britain was stellar. Ursula DeYoung’s biography is a welcome addition to knowledge about this great Victorian scientist. In this well-researched and written book, which began as a dissertation at Oxford University, DeYoung illuminates Tyndall’s role in transforming the nature of science from one based on gentlemen scholars to one that was professional. She emphasizes his place as a public figure, his efforts to popularize understanding of the natural world, and his unrelenting campaign to demystify science from religion.

Throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century Tyndall was Professor of Natural Philosophy at the Royal Institution in London. He took it as his mission to enhance the place that scientists should hold in society, one that had previously been reserved for ministers and theologians. Although raised Presbyterian, Tyndall became an agnostic and assigned to religion much of the blame for the failures of modern society. Like Thomas Huxley he was a public intellectual, offering provocative addresses and publications -arguing for a displacement of Christianity with science. His Presidential Address to the Belfast meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1874 explicitly took on the clergy and denounced them for taking stands on scientific questions.

Ursula DeYoung compares Tyndall to many of his contemporaries and gives him credit for helping to raise the status of science that he witnessed throughout his life. She then explores the reasons why Tyndall is relatively unknown to all except a small number of specialists in the history of Victorian science. At some level he was a victim of his own success, according to DeYoung.

As co-editor of Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology, in which A Vision of Modern Science: John Tyndall and the Role of the Scientist in Victorian Culture appears, I am pleased to recommend this fine book. Enjoy.

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Paper Proposal: “A Tale of Two Owners: The Parallel but Asymmetrical Careers of Gussie Busch and Ewing Kauffman”

I have put in to undertake this paper for the 29th Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, to be held at the MLB Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, on May 31-June 2, 2017. Comments are welcome.

A Tale of Two Owners: The Parallel but Asymmetrical Careers of Gussie Busch and Ewing Kauffman

August Anheuser “Gussie” Busch Jr. and Ewing Kauffman were two of the most interesting, original, and accomplished owners in Major League Baseball. Both had adept skills, presided over excellent baseball teams in the period between the 1960s and the 1980s, and left unique legacies both to their franchises and Major League Baseball (MLB) as a whole. Busch, as owner of the St. Louis Cardinals between 1953 and his death in 1989, acquired the team after owner Fred Saigh was convicted of tax evasion and faced banishment from the MLB ownership club he moved to purchase the team, in no small measure as a means of promoting his large and growing brewery business. Busch succeeded in making Anheuser-Busch into one of the most powerful companies in America. The Cardinals were not the principal reason for that success, but they served well as marketing tool. Busch also presided over the Cardinals team that began to rise within a few years of his purchase, and he owned a team that won six National League pennants (1964, 1967, 1968, 1982, 1985, and 1987) and three World Series titles (1964, 1967, and 1982) under his leadership.

Gussie Busch with Red Schoendienst.

Gussie Busch with Red Schoendienst.

Busch hired effective front office leaders such as Bing Devine and field managers, especially Red Schoendienst and Whitey Herzog, and after a long dry spell in St. Louis in the latter 1940s and 1950s the team returned to dominance in the National League in the 1960s. Busch also effectively supported the integration of the team in St. Louis, taking action to ensure that African American players were treated equitably. But he was a hard liner on player free agency and fought all efforts to eliminate the Reserve Clause. He was one of the stalwarts in not giving in to the Players Association in the first standoff in 1972, and thereafter as well.

Busch has been characterized as a positive force in St. Louis Cardinals baseball operations. His longevity of ownership, his team’s success, and his centerplace in sports in Missouri led the team to induct him into its Hall of Fame in its inaugural class in 2014.

Contrast Busch’s career with his cross-state colleague, Ewing Kauffman, owner of the Kansas City Royals. He had a career equally significant but certainly less caustic. Kaufman purchased the expansion franchise in Kansas City and the Royals began operations in 1969. After the constant turmoil of Charlie Finley, owner of the Kansas City A’s, which had departed for Oakland, Kauffman provided a stable and moderate hand for the Royals. A local businessman, Kauffman seems to have been motivated more by civic pride then wealth of fame. The team progressed quickly from expansion to contender. It made the playoffs seven times between 1976 and 1985, played in two World Series (1980, 1985), and won the 1985 championship over the St. Louis Cardinals. Along the way George Brett, Amos Otis, Hal McRae, John Mayberry, Frank White, Willie Wilson, and Bret Saberhagen became stars. Less staunch in terms of interactions with the Players Association, Kauffman was praised for his generosity and his effective leadership. His patient approach to building a winner from ground up led to success and ultimately a championship.

Ewing Kauffman with bats.

Ewing Kauffman with bats.

Whitey Herzog was central to the success of both the Royals and the Cardinals. He helped to create the quality baseball played in Kansas City in the latter 1970s but did not like Kauffman, complaining that he had a home attendance clause in his contract with the Royals, as if Herzog could affect attendance. When fired in 1979 he left Kansas City for St. Louis to take over the Cardinals.

The teams owned by Busch and Kauffman battled in the 1985 World Series, one of the more memorable of the era, with the Royals defeating the Cards in seven games. Both owners died within four years of each other, Busch in 1989 and Kauffman in 1993, still exercising some oversight of their teams.

This paper will reappraise the legacies of both Busch and Kauffman, exploring the historiographical position the two owners enjoy, assessing their impact on MLB, and offering a revisionist interpretation of their careers. This paper will rely on primary sources held at various collections of personal and corporate papers containing material on the subject.

Any thoughts?

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A Truly Hilarious Cartoon on the Apollo/Saturn Stack

This cartoon from the XKCD website helps explain with considerable humor the awesomeness of the Saturn V. It uses onlty the most common words in English to rescribe the stack. You may find the original here. Enjoy!

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Dizzy and the Gashouse Gang”


Dizzy and the Gashouse Gang: The 1934 St. Louis Cardinals and Depression-Era Baseball. By Doug Feldman. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co., 2000.

The so-called “Gashouse Gang” was one of the most engaging major league baseball teams of the first half of the twentieth century and this book is an enjoyable recitation of its 1934 championship year. The St. Louis Cardinals had emerged in the mid-1920s as the best team in the National League but had declined somewhat since. A decade later, however, they roared out of the Midwest to claim the 1934 World Series.

They were an attractive group with a colorful “country bumpkin” leader in Jerome (sometimes called Jay) “Dizzy” Dean, a young, handsome, tall-tale teller with even more self-confidence than his considerable skills allowed. “Ol’ Diz’s” younger brother Paul, christened “Daffy” by sportswriters, soon also found his way to the Cardinals. Behind them a talented supporting cast of Frankie Frisch, Leo Durocher, Pepper Martin, Burleigh Grimes, Joe Medwick, and Rip Collins, among others, filled out the team. These players brought results as they fought with other teams and each other to take the league pennant.

During the 1934 Cardinals spring training camp, Dizzy Dean told a journalist that if the Cards let them start, that “me ‘n’ Paul will win 45 to 50 games.” When asked how many of the 50 Dizzy would win, he replied that he would win those that Paul didn’t. The Cards did win, and the brothers Dean did as well, Dizzy going 30 and 7 and Paul notching 19 wins and 11 losses. They pitched the team to the pennant, supported by a stellar cast of roughnecks, accounting for more than half of the team’s 94 wins. It was tight race for most of the year, and the Cards had to win 13 of their final 15 games to pass the front-running New York Giants in the final week of the season. Of the team’s final nine wins, Dizzy and Paul accounted for seven.

Writers labeled the 1934 Cardinals the “Gashouse Gang” for their rowdy and daring play. In addition to team veterans Frisch and Martin (who had been shifted from the outfield to third base), the gang included shortstop Leo Durocher, leftfielder Joe “Ducky” Medwick, and the team’s leading hitter and slugger, first baseman Rip Collins, who in a career-best season led the league in slugging average and tied for first in home runs. In a seven game World Series, the Cardinals prevailed, and the Dean boys won them all, each getting a pair in the Cards’ triumph over Detroit.

Doug Feldman’s entertaining story of this team focuses in four sections on (1) the depression era and baseball, (2) the team and how General Manager Branch Rickey built it, (3) the 1934 season and the place of the Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers in the two leagues, and (4) the World Series they played. Although Feldman wanders a bit as he seeks to discuss these major themes and inserts extraneous anecdotes, and there are a few errors of fact.

Most troubling is that this is one of those journalistic accounts with neither notes nor bibliography, despite the fact that Feldman is himself an academic and fully aware of the conventions of scholarly apparatus. It does include an index, something indispensable in a work of non-fiction but still rare in too many sports books.

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Women Computers at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory

With the attention Hidden Figures has received in the media of late, the story of African American women computers working for NASA during the Moon race is finally starting to be told. While the film takes many liberties with the story of Katherine Johnson and her coworkers, to say nothing of the history of Project Mercury, let me congratulate both the author of the book on which the film is based, Margot Lee Shetterly, and the producers of this movie for bringing out this important story.

As shown in this film, the story of the African American computers working for NASA Langley Research Center in the early 1960s is a story of triumph, of course, something I think Americans need now more than ever. That may be one of the reasons it has resonated the way it has at this moment in time. I can say with certainty that the film overemphasizes the role of the women computers. Neil Armstrong always made a point, when people gushed over his accomplishments as the Apollo 11 mission commander, that he was just one of more than 500,000 people who made it possible to set foot on the Moon. This was an important point. No one person or small group of people made it happen, it was a group effort. That does not mean the contributions of the computers was not significant, they were.

The Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in 1920.

The Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in 1920.

The full story, of course, goes back to before World War II. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) began to employ women to undertake calculations necessary to complete the research reports so prized by the NACA’s aeronautical clients. The term “computer” had been in long usage, and was in essence a job title identifying people who performed mathematical calculations by hand. Although there were already “human computers” at the NACA’s Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia, prior to 1935 all of them were male, so the hiring of the first women to perform these tasks proved radical for the time. These women found themselves in the midst of a “men’s club,” the only women at the laboratory up to that point had been working in secretarial and custodial positions.

The first to arrive, Virginia Tucker, reached Hampton, Virginia, just after Labor Day 1935 to join the laboratory’s “Computer Pool.” She found the computers organized into a central office in the Administration Building. They took the readings from research engineers and worked with them to calculate tables illuminating the aeronautical findings. A 1942 report glowed with praise about the work of this group. Many more women would follow; Tucker herself recruiting many of them. Reading, calculating, and plotting data from tests in Langley’s wind tunnels and for other research divisions, they played an integral role in research at the laboratory from the mid-1930s into the 1970s.

World War II dramatically increased the speed of social change at the NACA. As the NACA geared up for World War II it expanded its employee pool of women computers that had first arrived at Langley in 1935. Virginia Tucker had been the first, and she took a lead in expanding the program. She travelled to universities around the nation seeking women educated in mathematics and related fields for work in the NACA laboratories. The engineers came to rely on these computers, remarking that they calculated data “more rapidly and accurately” than the engineers.

During the war employees at Langley expanded dramatically to over 5,000 by 1945. Women computers employed there, like women employed throughout the war effort, proved critical to wartime success. These computers came from everywhere, answering advertisements in trade journals and on pamphlets at colleges and universities as well as being recruited by women already at Langley. Some had friends who told them of the opportunity. Vera Huckel and Helen Willey ended up at Langley by happenstance when they drove friends to the laboratory and heard about the computer jobs while there. They went on to careers that extended into the NASA era.

Women computers working at Langley in 1947.

Women computers working at Langley in 1947.

Officially classed as “subprofessionals,” these were still very good jobs that only a college graduate could aspire to. By 1942 Langley employed 75 female computers. A report noted: “A good number of the computers are former high school teachers. Their ages may average near 21, but there are a surprising number nearer 30 years old. There is no restriction because of marriage; in fact, some of the computers are wives of the engineers of various classification[s] here at NACA.” For example, Rowena Becker had made $550 a year teaching public school in North Carolina. In contrast she earned more than $1,400 a year at Langley.

A computer’s work varied somewhat based on the research project underway, but the computational work involved fundamentally reading raw data, running calculations, and plotting coordinates. They used standard manometers, 10-inch slide rules, Monroe calculators, and other calculating machines to support the organization’s flight research and engineering endeavors

During World War II African American women also found employment as computers at Langley. In 1943 the first six women—Dorothy Vaughan, Miriam Mann, Kathryn Peddrew, Lessie Hunter, Dorothy Hoover, and Kathaleen Land—had entered the NACA as women computers. Langley, located in a part of the Jim Crow South, was segregated and these computers worked in the laboratory’s “West Computing Pool” where they undertook the same work as their white counterparts. Within a short time this team consisted of more than 20 African American women. Despite the restrictions imposed by Virginia’s laws, many of these women worked for years at Langley and eventually integrated into engineering groups focused on flight research, and later, into NASA’s space operations.

The Norfolk news story of these African American computers at Langley in 1943.

The Norfolk news story of African American computers at Langley in 1943.

The women working as computers at the NACA found both opportunities and challenges. It was a way to use their degrees in the hard sciences in professions formerly closed to them. Even so, they still found their careers hamstrung. They proved themselves, however, and many enjoyed long-term careers at the laboratory. A few used the computer position as a stepping-stone for other positions in the NACA and NASA. The NACA computers of World War II were only a few of the thousands of women employed in similar positions in technical organizations in World War II. They played an important role not only at the NACA, but also in the Manhattan Project, various other scientific and technical organizations, and in ciphers and related fields.

The social transformation just getting under in World War II and manifested at the NACA in the story of the women computers—both white and African American—has not yet been completed.

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Some New 2016 Books about Apollo, Only One of Which I might Review

There were several new books published about Apollo in 2016. Here is my list of them. Any additions?

  • French, Francis. Editor. Apollo Pilot: The Memoir of Astronaut Donn Eisele. University of Nebraska Press, 2016. Eisele served on Apollo 7 in 1968, and after his NASA years wrote an unpublished memoir. It is this document that Francis French prepared for publication after his death.
  • Reichl, Eugen, Project Apollo: The Early Years, 1961–1967. Schiffer, 2016 [America in Space Series]. An unoriginal history that tries to relate early years of Apollo.
  • Spudis, Paul D. The Value of the Moon: How to Explore, Live, and Prosper in Space Using the Moon’s Resources. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 2016. The blurb reads: “In The Value of the Moon, lunar scientist Paul Spudis argues that the U.S. can and should return to the Moon in order to remain a world leader in space utilization and development and a participant in and beneficiary of a new lunar economy.”
  • Woods, David. NASA Saturn V—1967–1973 (Apollo 4 to Apollo 17 & Skylab). Haynes Publishing UK, 2016 [Owner’s Workshop Manual]. David Woods does solid work on the history of spaceflight. This is an example of that, collecting information about the Saturn V launcher developed for the Moon program.
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Wednesday’s Book Review: “No Dig, No Fly, No Go”

no-dig-pngNo Dig, No Fly, No Go: How Maps Restrict and Control. By Mark Monmonier. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Mark Monmonier of Syracuse University is well known as a geographer with the ability to present difficult issues to a broad audience. No Dig, No Fly, No Go: How Maps Restrict and Control is an enlightening and entertaining study of the manner in which maps are used to demark restrictions and force limitations on human actions. Monmonier makes the case that while we routinely use maps to find our way to anyplace we want to go, there is a broad range of specialized maps that define boundaries, confine activities, and sustain authority in ways both obvious and sublime.

Monmonier’s central point is that bureaucracies, power hierarchies, and legal entities use many different types of maps to exercise power over citizenry and others. They may be wielded to promote or suppress racism, sexism, and imperialism either explicitly or not; and when used effectively they have the power to alter the landscape and the human condition for the better. Examples of all types of maps abound, and Monmonier is at his best in drawing useful examples from a wealth of experience. Many of these are quite personal; mostly they are from the United States and as often as not they are drawn from his experience in New York State.

Chapters deal with a range of maps. Zoning maps, voting districts, international borders, utility and property boundaries, waterways, city management, roads and right-of-ways, maps of locations of sex offenders, vice areas, and the like all find their point of discussion in No Dig, No Fly, No Go. This is a fine work, but after absorbing his central thesis–that maps are used to restrict and control activities by a populace and have both positive or negative ramifications–I was somewhat less enamored with it. When considering the subject of No Dig, No Fly, No Go I realized maps are a bit like Mel Kranzberg’s First Law of Technology–it “is neither good nor bad—nor is it neutral.” Monmonier says much the same thing about these types of maps and their establishment in authority.

A couple of specific criticisms also deserve comment. First, this is very much a work written for a general audience. There are no scholarly references, although it has a bibliography subdivided by chapter, and the writing is personal and anecdotal. While I applaud its accessibility, I am an inveterate fact checker and the more specificity I can find in any study the better. Second, and I recognize that while I approach everything from an historical perspective not everyone does, I was still a bit surprised to see that very few of Monmonier’s examples had any historical tint to them.

For instance, in his discussion of territorial rights and how far they extend out to sea I was astonished to see no mention whatsoever of the shooting down of the Korean Airliner KAL 007 by the Soviet Union in 1983 because it violated Soviet airspace. Such a well-known event would have been an outstanding example illustrating the points he was trying to make concerning territoriality. I could give many other examples, and I believe invoking at least some of them would have extended and amplified his argument.

Overall, however, No Dig, No Fly, No Go is a fine book worthy of serious consideration. I look forward to reading other books on the broad uses of maps–some might consider them a social commentary on the use of maps in society–that Monmonier has written.

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