NASA Headquarters Oral
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Carol Butler
Washington, DC – 15 April 1999
is April 15, 1999. This oral history is with General Bernard Schriever,
at his offices in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. Carol Butler is the
Thank you for joining us today.
You're welcome. Glad to be here.
begin with, we'll look at the early developments of the American ICBM
[Intercontinental Ballistic Missile] program and in response to the
Soviet developments of the ICBM program and how that affected the
American program, if you could tell us about that.
Well, I think I need to set the stage a little bit and then I think
will go smoother. At the end of World War II, General [Henry H. "Hap"]
Arnold, who was my mentor and certainly was the most visionary Air
Force officer that we had up to then and, as far as I'm concerned,
in the history of the Air Force, he said that, "The next war
will not be like the last one. World War I was won by brawn, in the
trenches. World War II was won by logistics," and I can vouch
for that, because I spent almost three and a half years in the Pacific
[Theater], and logistics was very, very important in winning that
war, as well as other aspects. "World War II," he said,
"will be won by brains," and he went on further to say that
the breakthroughs that really occur, that are most important, were
electronics, flow of information—the jet propulsion, rocket
Let me stop there with rocket propulsion, because the interest in
long-range missiles started right at the beginning of the period following
World War II, so it had been a long-term interest. We started in the
Air Force by building a large rocket facility in California, starting
shortly after World War II. We managed to get quite a few of the German
scientists who were involved in the V-2 program, and so did the Soviets.
So that's how we really started, and we had a great deal of interest
in a long-range missile, but there were other technical problems which
didn't really make sense for us to start a full-fledged long-range
missile program, but we were certainly well into the program with
respect to first the nuclear weapon component of it and other aspects
from a technological standpoint. So we started right after World War
II. As far as our intelligence indicated, so did the Soviets.
they did start on the ballistic missile program, was there information
that you had about how they [the Soviets] were progressing or what
stages they were at, that you could then measure progress against?
Well, we didn't start our program until, really in earnest, in 1953,
I mean, as far as a weapon system development and acquisition program
was concerned. That was after we had actually developed from the fission
nuclear weapon to the thermonuclear, which gave us a much more effective
warhead which provided a yield of some—a megaton yield with
a weight of 1,500 pounds, which is roughly at least an order of magnitude
superior, from a weapons standpoint, than was the fission weapon.
That really provided the spark to get our weapon system program going
in 1953-'54 time period.
You asked about the Soviets. We didn't have really any hard intelligence
information where they were with respect to the ICBM, but our studies
indicated, and there was information available that would lead us
to believe that they were very much involved in an ICBM program. That
is about all you can say with respect to the '53-'54 time period.
We were concerned that they would beat us to the draw; in other words,
of getting a thermonuclear military capability going with long-range
rockets. And that's what started us by putting a very high priority
on getting on with an ICBM program of our own.
the ICBM program began developing, was there any discussions or thoughts
on not just applying it as a missile, but also applying it to space
early in the development, I guess?
Well, here again I hark back to General Arnold. He created the Air
Force Scientific Advisory Board, and one of the first things he did
after the war was to ask the Scientific Advisory Board, as well as
RAND Corporation, which was set up to support Air Force thinking with
respect to the application of technology to the future, what is the
feasibility of a reconnaissance satellite. So we were actually working
on the idea of reconnaissance satellite starting back in the middle
forties, after World War II. Here again, we were involved in technical
planning, as well as some testing, but we, again, did not have the
capability of putting anything into orbit at that time. But the interest
was there and the thinking and the studies and the kind of technical
research that we had always involved in programs of this type. So
our interest was very high, starting at the end of World War II, for
a reconnaissance satellite program, and we started on that as well,
in the same manner as the missile itself.
did you learn of Soviet efforts for a satellite program and actually
learn of Sputnik as well? And how did that impact your job?
Well, that's a long story, but I'll try to make it short. We did approve
and provide the highest national priority to the ICBM program when
the Scientific Advisory Board, a special committee of the Advisory
Board, recommended that the Air Force do so. That was approved within
the Air Force circles and also by the political side, the Secretary
of the Air Force, and the Air Force gave it the highest priority as
early as 1954. It was approved in the White House, but it was not
until 1955 that President [Dwight D.] Eisenhower gave the ICBM program
the highest priority of any weapon program in our inventory, so to
With that we—as part of the overall program was to get more
hard information with respect to what the Soviets were doing, and
one way we achieved that was by establishing radar coverage of where
they were doing their testing. That was a capability that gave us
a lot of detailed information as to where we stood vis-a-vis the Soviet
Union in the development, because we could gauge information from
their test flights and so forth. You can't hide an ICBM, you know,
when you fire it. So we had information within the next couple of
years pretty much on where we stood in connection with the Soviet
Union in the ICBM area.
From the standpoint of the satellite for reconnaissance, that was
a different matter, and it was highly classified, but we were moving
forward on such a program, not quite at the rate that we could have,
but we were putting first priority on the ICBM. But the satellite
program also was very important from an intelligence standpoint, so
that was given quite a bit of emphasis and it was also part of the
responsibility of what was called Western Development Division [WDD]
on the West Coast, which I commanded for about five years. We changed
the name a couple of times, but it was initially the Western Development
Division. It was changed to Ballistic Missile Division [BMD], and
we also had the responsibility for the satellite activity of the Air
Sputnik actually was launched, what was the general reaction, and
when did you actually hear of the launch?
in October '57.
Well, let me say it was no surprise. We had the capability of putting
something up into space just to prove that we could put a satellite
up there, but we were not given the authority to do that. They had
the IGY [International Geophysical Year] year, the International Geophysics,
a scientific endeavor. I've forgotten the name of the program, but
it turned out to be unsuccessful. It was the Navy involved with [Vanguard]—the
launch was unsuccessful. The Navy and NASA were involved in that first
But the Sputnik did one thing that was very much a plus: it woke us
up and it concerned the American people very much that they beat us
to the draw in getting the first satellite into orbit. But we at our
level, with the information that we had, and what we were doing, knowing
that we could easily put something up in space, and we did do that,
including putting a reconnaissance satellite, because it was given
much higher priority really because of the Sputnik. I was going back
and forth from the West Coast like a yo-yo, and making presentations
to the Congress, to the Pentagon at all levels, and so forth.
So it stirred up a fury, so to speak, and a good one. We need to be
awakened from time to time, and that really woke us up. But we didn't
have a missile gap, as was forecast in the political circles, particularly
in the election of 1960. We knew we were ahead of the Soviets, as
a matter of fact. We were building the Minuteman solid propellant,
and we were ahead of the Soviets on the thermonuclear weapon, we were
ahead of them on the solid propellant, and we had a Minuteman operational
in the inventory, in less than six years after the program started.
We were definitely ahead in the solid propellant area, which was much
more efficient, from an operational and logistics standpoint.
So we were not comfortable—don't misunderstand me. We had a
burr up you know what. But we felt comfortable in our own knowledge,
based on the information that was available, that we were really ahead
of the Soviets by a year or so, which isn't much, but we were given
very, very good support from political levels, the government, and
by the scientific community, and by our own military establishment.
So it was one of those dream kind of situations where you've got real
support for the program. And we had it before, and that's one of the
reasons our solid propellant Minuteman program, the Polaris program,
the Navy submarine-launched missile, without a solid propellant, you
couldn't really build a missile that you could launch, long-range
missiles that you could launch from a submarine. So it wasn't just
the ICBM; it was also the Navy solid propellant program. So I don't
think that's ever gotten clear. I don't believe it's become clear
to a lot of people that we were, in fact, ahead of the Soviets at
the time that they launched Sputnik. But I thank them for doing so,
because it really got us ginned up from the political standpoint,
particularly from the space standpoint, because we were getting all
the support that we could possibly want in terms of the ICBM and the
certainly was a motivating factor.
Yes, it was a great motivating factor. I used too many words. That
would do it: motivating factor. Put that in red ink. [Laughter]
One of the motivations that came from Sputnik was the creation of
a space agency, actually NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration].
Had you expected such an agency to form and that it would be under
civilian auspices? What were your thoughts when it was created, and
were you involved at all in discussions?
Well, yes. There were discussions and there were studies that lasted
for several years after Sputnik in the creation of an organizational
structure for doing it, and there were several different choices that
could have been made. The Army felt that their Huntsville [Alabama]
facility was the facility that should take over the responsibility
for the space business. We thought that we should be the ones to take
over responsibility for space business. The President's level finally
came around and said, "We'll take the NASA organization and the
Huntsville organization and put them together and make a NASA,"
and that was the 1958 act under Eisenhower. Eisenhower was President
at that time.
That expanded the NACA [National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics]
role, but it put Huntsville in as a beginning facility that moved
forward in terms of its capability, but that didn't move the Air Force
or what we were doing out of business, but it did put the R&D
and the civilian side of the work into the new organization, NASA.
But we, of course, worked very closely with NASA. The first administrator
was [T.] Keith Glennan and then came Jim [James E.] Webb, and Thomas
[O.] Paine, and I worked very closely with them. Paine came in after
I'd retired, but I worked closely with Jim Webb the whole time he
was running NASA for about seven or eight years, starting in '51,
I think. He was under the [President John F.] Kennedy and [Vice President
Lyndon B.] Johnson regime, and I was still on active duty until 1966,
so I worked with Jim Webb and not only giving him lip service or things
of that kind, we made a lot of people available, including—we
were very much involved in the Mercury program, the Gemini program,
and in the Apollo program, where George [E.] Mueller came over to
ask me could he have Sam [Samuel C.] Phillips. Sam Phillips was running
the Minuteman program, later turned out to be four-star general in
running the Air Force Systems Command, so you know we were giving
You hear, here and there, that there's a big feud between NASA and
the Air Force, which is not true. We worked together. I knew Jim Webb
well. As a matter of fact, when I retired, he helped me get a job
or two. So, you know, you get a bad impression sometimes, but I'd
like to straighten that one out. Not that we agreed with everything,
but, you know, once a decision was made, we worked together and enthusiastically
and provided very substantial help. It wasn't only Sam Phillips, but
we must have had, in its prime, something like, oh, fifty to seventy-five
Air Force people working full time in the NASA operation, specifically
the Apollo program.
very important relationship there between Air Force and NASA.
Yes, and that same thing was true, we had the job of man-rating the
Atlas program and also the Titan program—which was called the
Mercury first manned flight—well, first orbiting manned flight
was in the Mercury. [Alan B.] Shepard [Jr.] was not in orbit; he was
in space, but was not in orbit. There was Mercury and then the Gemini.
Incidentally, there wasn't a single failure. There was something like
twenty-five launches; I don't know the exact number. But between the
two of them, about twenty-five launches.
must have been very rewarding to see them so successful.
Yes, it was. It was.
talked about man-rating the Atlas and the Titan. That's a very important
fact in that these were originally designed to be missiles to go out
and explode. How did you work to man-rate them?
Well, I can't give you a lot of detail, but just one example is that
the Gs, the forces of gravity, a machine can take many more Gs than
a man can, so they had to apply a different burn rate to get the Gs
down so that the man could tolerate them from a physical standpoint.
That was a key thing as far as a man was concerned. Just exactly what
had to be done to the missile, it worked, whatever it was. I can't
give you the details.
were the first discussions about using the Atlas for the Mercury program,
do you recall those?
No, I really don't recall when they first started, but we were working
together with NASA on it right from the very beginning. They were
the only boosters we had that could put a man into space. We didn't
have anything else. We had the Atlas—period. Then the Titan
came along. Of course, going to the moon was another matter. You had
a much larger rocket engine, complex of engines for that, and those
were all developed by NASA. But we had the rocket stands we had the
Muroc Lake in California, were all part of that program as well. We
had a very large rocket test capability there, built additional test
stands and so forth.
So we were working together with NASA, in addition to just the project.
We had people throughout the NASA organization working with them on
major programs of that nature. I had General [Osmond J.] Ritland over
there for a while, and he was my deputy on the West Coast after that.
So we really worked together at the working level, let's put it that
In fact, the Air Force was in control of the launch facilities even
at Cape Canaveral [Florida], as well, is that correct?
Well, yes. NASA had the responsibility for the launch, but it was
a team. But the Air Force had the responsibility for carrying out
the launch process, and they worked together. I've forgotten who had
the "push the button" responsibility, but I presume it was
NASA, because it was their program, and we provided the booster to
get the astronaut into orbit. We were working together on that, too,
in doing the testing and so forth. It was a NASA responsibility, and
we pitched in where—well, not only pitched in, but working together
just as a single team.
you hadn't been able to work together, things probably wouldn't have
gone the way they did.
Well, there was plenty of motivation to work together.
We didn't want to leave somebody up there in orbit, you know, and
so forth, or have it crash, or have a failure on the pad. You know
what happened as far as when the Shuttle launch went awry [Challenger
STS 51-L]. It created a tremendous stir. So we had our fingers crossed.
We took the risk to bring back the faith of the American people that
we could do it.
like you said before, those were very successful missions. The boosters
worked well, everyone came back well.
the Mercury program was first starting up, in fact, even before anyone
had flown on the Atlas, right after Alan Shepard's launch, President
Kennedy made the challenge to send a man to the moon and return him
safely to the Earth by the end of the decade. What did you think when
you heard that challenge?
Well, I thought it was great. I mean, we had been working on studies
of putting a man on the moon. That started in earnest right after
the Sputnik. We were making studies on man to the moon, and that was
before NASA was created. ARPA [Advanced Research Projects Agency]
temporarily was given the space mission. I don't know why that was
done, frankly, because ARPA wasn't even in existence, and that lasted
for about a year, but Air Force was still doing the work, you know,
but ARPA was brought into the picture. Then NASA, in '58, which was
only about a year after Sputnik. So it took us about a year to create
that kind of structure, which included ARPA, incidentally, as well.
But ARPA was given the mission of taking up, you might say, not something
between basic research and technology, basic research testing more
vigorously technology, which the services normally wouldn't pick up.
It would be more scientifically oriented. And that's worked out extremely
well. I had my doubts about that, but ARPA has done a fine job filling
a niche in terms of an important part of the overall research, development,
test, and evaluation process.
Gosh, I've lost myself now. There was a lot of gyrations, you know,
during that period right after Sputnik. Again, great motivator, and
I think we did—if I had to do it over again, I'd probably make
a change here and there, but I have no complaints about what this
particular arrangement has accomplished, which includes, of course,
my Air Force, but it's really working for my country.
mentioned that the Air Force had been looking into some space programs
soon after Sputnik. Do you recall what some of the details of those
programs were, the plans that they had been developing?
Well, RAND Corporation made a study with respect to space operations
and what space satellites could provide, in a study that was completed
in 1947, I think. It's available in a report that RAND put out back
in 1986 or '87. I have copies of it. Dr. [Louis N.] Ridenour, who
was chairman of that particular study, he identified every mission
that you can think of that would be of value to our national security,
which, of course, includes reconnaissance, communications, navigation,
weather, and so forth. We were involved in all of those right quick
after the Sputnik. Now, they weren't all funded. We had trouble getting
some of them funded, and some of them went to dividing who gets what—the
Air Force—and there was some confusion, but, nevertheless, the
military started on programs, and they weren't all necessarily in
the Air Force. Early warning was another which brought radar and infrared
sensors into the picture and so on.
So we had a clear definition of what we wanted to do in space to enhance
our overall national security posture, and we failed to get all the
fiscal support that we felt necessary, and I still feel we could have
done better and gotten capability sooner than we have, but, nevertheless,
we are the leading power in the world as it pertains to space applications
for national security. There's no question about that. It's very important
that we maintain that decision. I haven't begun to name all the things
that we did. And more commercial activity, particularly in the communications
area, has occurred in the global positioning satellite navigation.
It's much more than just navigation; it has both a commercial application
and a military application from a guidance standpoint. So space has
become a trillion-dollar industry, and it continues to grow. So it
will be important as ground, air, and the oceans, space will take
the fourth—not the fourth position. It will probably come out
eventually in the first position with respect to commerce and defense.
should be interesting to see how everything evolves in the future.
Well, look how fast we've—after all, Sputnik occurred in 1957,
in October 1957, and you talk about—what did you mention that
from flight with the Wright brothers up to—
Yes, but motivation.
Motivating factor. That motivating factor has really worked, particularly
in the commercial side and in the military side. So the twenty-first
century will be a very interesting one, but since I got started fairly
early in the twentieth, I don't know that I'll see much of the twenty-first.
hopefully you'll see at least some of it starting out and everything.
I hope so.
seem to be going along fine now.
not far away.
you've certainly seen a wide change in technologies and abilities
so far in your lifetime.
I started out in fabric, wood, and open cockpit, a very glamour kind
of helmet and goggles and scarves and so forth. And look what we've
you ever imagine where your career could lead you?
No. I had more feel for it after World War II and I spent a couple
of tours in the Pentagon and National War College. I think my vision
was a little bit more than just sitting in the cockpit.
back at relations between NASA and the Air Force, were there formal
agreements made or did everything just kind of flow together? How
did that work?
Well, there were agreements made in writing. I can't recall them in
detail. But there were also, I would say, the major factor of people
getting together is working together and having a responsibility and
motivation for the job that they're working on. We didn't need any
paper that told us what to do with respect to the Apollo program.
We made people available.
I was asked by George Mueller—"Mueller Miller," we
called him, George. He had manned space flight under him, and then
he had Sam Phillips running the Apollo program. "Mueller Miller,"
we called him, he was a TRW man and he brought in and headed the manned
space flight activity. Well, we'd worked together for a long time.
He came over and asked me whether he could have Sam Phillips to take
over the Apollo program. Well, you know, that's like pulling all my
teeth. Here he was running the Minuteman program, which was the most
important missile program that we had, as far as the Air Force was
concerned. The Navy would say probably it was Polaris. But they were
both important, let's put it that way.
I called Sam in, and I said, "I'll not stand in your way. I think
it's a good opportunity for you from a career standpoint. If you want
to take the job, I'll make you available, but only on one condition.
I'm going to see the Chief of the Air Force and also the Secretary
of the Air Force," who at that time was [Eugene M.] Zuckert,
I think. Yes, Gene Zuckert. I said, "If I get the green light
that they won't forget the people that they send to NASA, forget them
when promotion comes around, I'll make Sam available and other people
available, but I want to be sure that it's understood that these people
are not going to get lost from a promotion standpoint."
And I got sufficient satisfaction that that would be done, and it
was done, because Phillips at that time was a brigadier general, and
he turned out to be a four-star general. We had a number of—several
others promoted while they were doing the work at NASA, so they carried
out their word.
So what was done, much of the relationship really related on people
getting together and having that team spirit, you know, plus everybody
wanted the Apollo program to be successful. We had a lot of people
in the Air Force who could manage big programs and had a very high
rating from the industry that they dealt with, so why not make them
available? And I think it worked out extremely well. I guess you still
have some Air Force people over there.
I don't follow it closely enough. I know [NASA Administrator] Dan
[Daniel S.] Goldin, he also came from TRW. I knew him out there quite
well, and I see him from time to time.
an interesting relationship, too, with TRW, which originally started
as Ramo-Wooldridge, working on the ICBM program.
you tell us about how that relationship worked and grew into your
work, then, with NASA?
Well, it wasn't aimed at that. It was aimed at having—we were
thinking about—it was necessary to integrate the major subsystems.
If you take a look at the ICBM, starting from the top, you have the
atom bomb, the weapon. You have the nose cone, which has to reenter.
A lot of people thought we could never reenter without burning up.
Then you have the structure. Then you have the propulsion. Then you
have the guidance. All of these things had to be put together in one
machine, which had never been done before. So naturally we didn't
have an industry that was in tune exactly, particularly not any aircraft
industry. They were not guidance. A number of things that other parts
of our industry could do better than the aircraft industry, so our
decision was that we'd do it on an associate contractor basis, but
the integration and the interface of the technology among the various
subsystems that I've just given you, that kind of oversight, you might
say, engineering-wise, was what Ramo-Wooldridge was doing.
We had no preconceived ideas on how to organize to do this job. It
took us about six months of different approaches. As a matter of fact,
a lot of people in industry were opposed to the associate contractor
approach. They wanted a prime contractor approach. So we had some
difficulty in finally making the decision that we'd do it the way
I just outlined. And Ramo-Wooldridge, which had really a major group
of high-quality not only engineers, but scientists, and also the power
to draw from universities and so forth, because this program really
got the scientific community ready and able, so we really could get
the topnotch people in this country on board with Ramo-Wooldridge
to do that integration engineering job. That was the background of
it, and it was successful.
We had the priority from a political standpoint. We had the authority
to make decisions at the working level. We got the good people that
were necessary, and we got the job done. It wasn't only the Air Force;
the Navy got its job done insofar as the submarine-launched missiles
were concerned. These were both major programs, major new challenges,
and we both did it. And the management approach was very, very successful
and very important to the success of the program.
Very critical. It's interesting that looking at the space program
and the ICBM program, you mentioned that so many Air Force people
came to work for NASA, and TRW people came to work for NASA, and NASA
used the Atlas and the Titan. Really, the space program wouldn't have
gotten where it did without all of you and the work that you had done.
It wouldn't have been able to put man in space as soon as they did.
It seems quite a contribution.
Well, I think so. This country can do anything if it sets its mind
to do it.
1959, you moved over as commander—
We had the policy of the hard jobs we do overnight, the impossible
jobs take a little longer.
Take a few days, at least, right?
you certainly achieved what once was considered impossible. I believe
one of the science advisors for one of the Presidents one year said
that ballistic missiles wouldn't be possible for many, many years
down the road.
Well, that, unfortunately, was one of the scientists. I knew him well.
I can remember having a meeting with him in the Pentagon. He said,
"Bennie—" And he was a tremendous man and a wonderful
man. "Why don't you take it a step at a time and move forward
on a shorter-range missile?" And I said, "Well, we're going
to be doing a shorter-range missile, but I don't think we need to
do it in sequence." That's what most of the scientists said.
I said, "This isn't my decision from a technical and scientific
standpoint, but they say we can do it, so I think it's important that
we shoot for the moon, so to speak, and get the range that we need."
Because a short-range missile, after all, the only major threat at
that point was the Soviet Union, was Communism, represented by the
So it certainly wasn't unanimous, and particularly with respect to
the reentry phase of it. That was the one that quite a few scientists
thought was very, very almost impossible thing to do. And we figured
out a test program to actually carry out a test of that by taking
a nose cone into space and then having enough rocket power to accelerate
it so it goes back into space essentially at the same velocity that
our nose cones would be coming back in. And we proved it could be
done that way, or else we'd have been delayed probably for a couple
of years or longer. We called it the 117-L program, which Lockheed
Aircraft did, very successful program, and got a lot of people off
that the Corona and Discoverer program?
No, no, it was long before that. That was the first testing that we
did with respect to nose cone recovery. The Corona program, the Discoverer
program, was really—we didn't make a fast return into the atmosphere.
We had slowed it down with a parachute. We recovered it by air snatch
in the Hawaii area. So that was a capsule. That would have burned
up if we hadn't slowed it down as it entered into the upper part of
you were looking at the reentry and bringing the capsule down safely,
was there a lot of discussion on that involved with the heat shielding?
Was that a lot of the—whether to go with the ablative or the—
Yes, there was a lot of discussion on that early on, and then the
heat sink versus the ablative, and the ablative won out only after
we'd actually succeeded in making some reentrys with an ablative test
program, which the Army did, as a matter of fact. They were there
first. We were also doing work on it in the Air Force, but to play
it safe, we were going with the heat sink approach on the initial
Atlas program, but we switched over to the ablative, and the ablative
fine for the Air Force, for NASA, and got everybody back down safely.
We've talked a bit about your interactions between the Air Force and
NASA, and we know early in the program you were in command of the
Western Development Division, but you moved over to be in command
of the ARDC [Air Research and Development Command]. How did that change
your roles and your responsibilities and the interactions, or did
it change it to any extent?
Well, it changed it only in the sense that I wasn't running the ICBM
and space programs on the West Coast in a daily, detailed manner.
It was still part of the command, that ARDC had the responsibility.
WDD, or the Ballistic Missile Division, reported to me as command
of ARDC, but I had the whole ARDC, which included the Electronics
Division, the Aircraft Division, all the propulsion work, the Armament
Division down at Eglin Air Force Base [Florida], test range at Cape
Canaveral, and so forth. All of that was part of ARDC, reporting in
to Air Force—well, first ARDC, then became Air Force Systems
I had the responsibility for the procurement of the acquisition phase.
Once it started to be bought in a routine manner, then the buying
was switched to the Logistics Command, who supported the operational
forces. I didn't have anything to do with supporting the operational
forces except going through the process of getting something that
would work, and once it's working satisfactory, then the Log Command
takes over and has the buying responsibility. But the R&D and
test phase is over with. That's the way we were operating in the Systems
Now the Air Material Command is back in—well, we don't have
to go into that. I'd go on forever on that.
you were working with the ICBM program and with NASA, weren’t
you also involved with some of the Air Force programs such as Dyna-Soar
and Manned Orbiting Laboratory [MOL]?
Well, I was director of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory.
you tell us about that program and how it evolved and then even how
it came to its demise?
Well, it had two purposes, one having to do with ability of man to
operate over extended periods, but it also had a mission to perform,
which I don't know whether it's declassified yet or not, so I won't
tell you what it was. But there was an operational mission involved.
A new administration came in and decided that that mission could be
carried on adequately by unmanned and more cheaply with unmanned satellites,
and that's what led to the cancellation of the MOL. It was in being
for about, oh, four or five years, I guess, maybe longer, but around
that time period. So as commander of Systems Command, I was also given
the job of being director of the MOL program, so they reported directly
to me and it was a unique arrangement.
a unique arrangement and a unique program, too.
Yes. Well, I think actually that it made sense to determine man's
capability. I think that actually NASA had not picked up at that point
in time an orbiting laboratory such as they are doing now, in conjunction
jointly with the Russians. I don't know who else is involved in it.
Well, you know, after all, we were involved in something brand new,
and it wasn't just a plaything that we were dealing with.
What else was on that question? MOL.
was most of it. That was most of it. As the programs moved forward
from the ICBM and then into NASA with Mercury, then into Gemini, you
were, I believe, involved on the Gemini Program Planning Board. What
did that entail?
Well, I can remember one problem. There were several problems, actually,
bringing in smoothly the G loading on the individual, on the astronaut.
Gemini [Titan], being a two-stage device, had what they called a pogo,
uneven application of G loading, which was, of course, a propulsion
problem. And I've forgotten now whether it was the first stage or
the second stage where the problem was, but we did have a panel or
committee set up to take a look at that, and that's the only time
that I can remember being involved in that kind of a look-see, because
normally—but it was important enough that I think I was chairman
of it, if my memory's right, but that's the only problem that I can
remember that we had with the Titan, which we really were caught out
on a limb, so to speak.
We never did get rid of the pogo effect completely, but at least we
got it down to a—it was a random kind of thing, so that was
a worry. Uneven burning created the G loadings that man couldn't take,
so we solved them to the point where we never had a problem with it
in flight, but I've still heard some of the astronauts saying they
got some fairly substantial jolts.
guess as long as they got up there and did the job—
They got there and got back.
some of the intricacies of the various systems.
Well, we don't have to deal with that, you know, as far as a missile
goes. [The missile] can stand very high Gs, many more than a man can
stand. We talk about eight Gs in an airplane is about the maximum.
We go higher than that once in a while with test-pilot work, but I
don't know what the ultimate—you have to be young and all kinds
of things to take high Gs, else you pass out.
the human body doesn't like to have too much pressure on it.
But we probably had some other problems, too, but that was the main
problem as far as the Gemini program was concerned.
program, with the pogo and then also on the Atlas, there was a few
difficulties. I know on the Atlas they'd have some weaknesses sometimes
in the early launches, would have a tendency to explode occasionally.
Were there times when they would look at both the Atlas and the Titan,
and when you would look at it, wonder if it was going to be able to
accomplish the mission? Or did you think that it would just take enough
work and tweaking to make it work?
Well, we thought we could make it work or else we wouldn't have done
it. You can say that maybe if you'd had something that wasn't as important
as showing the American people that we were still in the ball game,
you know, then we might not have taken that risk, but there was a
certain amount of risk involved. We had five Atlas failures in a row
in one instance during the test program, but that was behind us, you
know, when we got to the Sputnik thing. This was in the early sixties
that the manned space flight started. I've forgotten when the first
launch was made.
'61. Okay. Early sixties. That's right. Well, by that time we had
Atlas operational in the inventory up in Cheyenne [Wyoming]. Not just
one. I mean, we had one there in 1959, I think one or two. You know,
you have to look at all factors, and in some instances you take more
risks than others. Certainly where life is concerned, that's the highest
risk that one takes, because the reaction of the American people is
very bad publicity for the guys who did it. "What the hell did
you do it for? You should have known better."
talked about your interactions with NASA. Were you also involved working
with [Wernher] von Braun's group down in Marshall Space Flight Center
Well, yes. The only times we were very closely working together was
on the Thor and the Jupiter. See, they were both intermediate-range
missiles, and the Jupiter was being built for shipborne launch from
naval vessels, later changed to ground deployment, and they were deployed
when Italy and—Italy, I know. And we deployed the Thor in Great
Britain. So they were using the same rocket engine that we were using.
The Thor and the Jupiter had the same rocket engine. So we worked
together on that fairly close. On most other things, we were not working
that closely, because when they got involved in the lunar program,
we were not involved in it at all in terms of working with them. I'm
sure we had some liaison people there, but they were not really part
of his team.
But I knew Wernher quite well. One aspect you have to remember is
that I worked very closely with Keith Glennan, worked very closely
with Jim Webb, and it took a little while to get really—we were
working together during the most heated phase of what we do and what
they do, and so forth and so on. But from a personal standpoint, we
got along very well together, although we didn't always agree. But
I had a great respect for him, and I think he respected me, too. But
I liked Jim, and he was a little explosive at times, but we had no
personal problems. We had disagreements from time to time, but we
worked them out.
think disagreements—nobody can ever get along perfectly, so
Tom Paine came in third, but I think—I'm pretty sure I had retired
by the time Tom Paine took over, because I retired in '66. I don't
think he took over until about '68 or something like that.
believe that's correct.
But he had been the number-two man under Webb for a while, I think,
before—I'm pretty sure he was number two for a while, for Webb.
A good man, too.
there any others that were key factors in this all coming together
so well? Any other people?
Well, not so much in my case. I worked pretty much with the top group.
Because we had so many Air Force people at various levels working
together, they were the emissaries of either good or bad, and that
was essentially all—not all, but essentially all very good.
general, the space program and the manned space program, in particular,
what effect did it have on national security?
Well, space overall has had a tremendous impact on national security.
We haven't really gotten to the point yet that we understand just
how much of a revolution warfighting is going to be, because a major
war is very much different than what we're doing now over there in
the Balkans [Kosovo/Yugoslavia]. I think that it's hard to compare
that situation to one where you really have a war. Now, it's a war
in the sense of the implements that are used, but the objectives are
different. I think that we're in what we call a revolution in military
affairs, and it's playing out now.
It's going to be a while yet, I think, before we restructure and rethink
some of the ways in which we are going to have to arm ourselves, because
we're in the space business now, but there's still that interaction
between ground, sea, air, and space, and they have to be integrated,
and they are being integrated now, but they weren't really integrated.
They did a great job in the Gulf War. That's the first war that I
would put in the category of Arnold's brains, and brains are going
to play a more and more important role, because the sophistication
of precision weapons, the speed of light that relates to information.
We talk about information warfare and so forth. That's going to have
to be integrated in the military actions of hardware and so forth.
So we have a challenge of optimizing our capability in a completely
new environment. Space has intruded, you might say, in many ways,
and in other ways it can bring about what I consider a spread in our
deterrent overall capability. We can deter by—deterrence requires
the deterrer to have the credibility that what he has is something
that an enemy can't really do anything but, in the end, lose. Then
he's deterred. But if he doesn't, for any reason at all, believe that
we can do it, then deterrence flies right out the window.
So we are in a state of rethinking a lot of things, and I think we've
made a lot of progress, but we're still in the phase that is—I
mean, we're no longer in the trenches. We talked about bringing people
over, bringing ground troops into the Balkans. I'm not going to make
any comments on that one way or another, but there are—we need
more time to come out.
When I started flying, when I was at Texas A&M [University], we
still had horses pulling French 75s around. Now, mind you, this was
1931 when I graduated there. And look where we are today. So it's
an awful lot to swallow, and I think we've done extremely well, but
we still have a ways to go.
ways to go, and we should go carefully.
Yes. I mean, ways to go to integrate the ground, air, sea, and space,
from a military overall capability. And our first job is to have a
military force that deters. The military is there really to prevent
wars, and to prevent wars, you have to be able to fight them, and
they have to believe that the U.S. will win, or a group, a coalition
will win, like NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization]. Using NATO
forces has a lot of critics, too. So we're in a very interesting period
of history. It may take some years. I'm talking about optimizing what
we have. We have a tremendous capability today, but it's not just
the military force, it's the political and many other factors that
relate to what one does. But the political element has to be an optimized
one, and one that will have the least in the way of manpower casualties.
And that's what's hard to control in a situation like the Balkans
now, and Vietnam earlier and so on. But there are a lot of good brains
working it, and it's going to be done, I think.
hopefully we'll never see that World War III that does apply all that
brainpower. Hopefully we can keep it on a smaller scale.
a little bit about the political involvement in space, actually, when
Apollo-Soyuz was first pulled together, this was in 1975, so I know
you had retired, but did you have any thoughts on that at the time,
of having a joint mission between the Americans and the Soviets?
No. I've always felt that cooperative programs is one way to eliminate
antagonisms and have a better understanding. I think Communism, that
threat still exists, it exists in China, and we still have problems.
But I think we have a period here where we do have such overawing
capability that we can afford to try to get closer cooperation where
you really have a trust, you know, and that this visibility—you
know, if you don't trust somebody, you can't really ever make much
headway, but the way you trust people is to get to know them, and
the only way you really get to know them is work together. I think
this period right now is one when if we can get Russia more Westernized,
so to speak, I think would be a very major step forward in ensuring—it
reduces the emotion that always goes with wars or getting close to
a war situation.
Well, let me put it this way. I think cooperation is a good thing,
and we ought to try to do it to the maximum extent, but keep our guard
back over your career specifically with the ICBM program and then
with the involvement with NASA, what was the biggest challenge for
Well, you know, it's one thing when you are doing it. It's another
thing when you review it in retrospect. For example, I never thought
that the ICBM program, we were working in the program, and I guess
being younger and having access to real topnotch people and so forth,
there's no question our greatest challenge was the ICBM program, and
creating the management structure that really, I think, was absolutely
essential. It wouldn't have been possible if we had not had really
major support from the scientific community on that.
As a matter of fact, the committee report that [John] von Neumann
headed up turned in the Teapot Report in February of 1954, and that
was not just a report talking about science and technology and the
fact that that was available now to get the job done that we now have
in the way of missile forces long range and submarines and so forth.
We got out of that report a portion that was signed by von Neumann
himself, in which he pointed out that we would never be able to get
it done unless we changed our management structure so that bureaucracy
couldn't stop you at various detailed levels, that you needed a special
management approach for the ICBM program. And that's what we spent
quite a bit of time on, which I pointed out earlier.
It turned out that we had a unique management approach that's not
around anymore, and I think it should be applied to those programs
where you really have a major, major breakthrough, from a military
standpoint, that you can afford a streamlined management approach.
You take a lot of nay-sayers who say no, but can't say yes, and that's
a problem that we generally have. Many layers of review, with lots
of no-sayers, but they can't say yes. And it exists today. You have
to eliminate that. And it existed in the early part of the ICBM program.
Looking back, I think that accomplishing a management approach that
is streamlined in the decision-making process, and got top level,
including the President himself, Eisenhower, behind it, probably was
the most challenging job I had, but I didn't know it. Because in retrospect,
I know a hell of a lot of people were fighting like mad to prevent
that management approach to be undertaken, because it broke up a little
china here and there, you know. Chinaware, not China.
you were able to bring that up and meet that challenge and make the
Well, not only that, it proves that management was the key, because
we hadn't had that kind of—both the Army and the Navy also did
the same thing. They were bringing things into being, to operational
inventory, in five to six years, and that's unheard of, you know,
in today's environment. I think time is money, you know. Time is money.
And they don't ever measure, hardly ever measure time, except overall
they measure what they're paying for what they're getting, but it
takes a hell of a lot longer to get it, so you have to add that additional
amount of money you spend that's taken up by additional time. Ten
to fifteen years it takes to get a new weapon into the inventory,
that amount of time, technology has almost outpaced that system.
Well, I don't know about that, but technology is lasting longer now.
You have Stealth technology. That's going to last for a long time,
but there will be some breakthroughs on that on the other side from
a defense standpoint. What they are, I don't know, but now we're talking
about defense against ballistic missiles. We thought at one time that
here was a weapon that could never be destroyed by the enemy, but
I don't have that same feeling now. I think it can be. But I think
you can take actions to counter the defenses that might be set up,
too. So it's a game of offense, defense, defense, offense, and so
forth, so therefore technology continues as long as we have the world
that we're living in.
it does. If setting up the management system and making it all work
was your greatest challenge, what do you consider as your greatest
achievement or success?
Oh, I don't know. I guess—well, it's hard to say. I think the
greatest success was my opportunity to have assignments that dealt
with creating a new force structure as it relates to the Air Force,
because I was at Wright Field [Ohio] prior to the war, and at Stanford
University [California] when the war started, and came back and had
the assignments which I think gave me an opportunity to be involved
in what Hap Arnold was talking about, applying technology, new technology,
to overhauling, you might say, the Air Force, because we were in the
Getting into the long-range missile and space activity, I was a disciple,
you might say, of Hap Arnold, and particularly his jet engine, his
rocket engine, and the application of nuclear weapons. Thank God they
have actually deterred a major war. We haven't fired another nuclear
weapon since the one that was dropped on Nagasaki [Japan]. That's
been quite a few years ago.
a few. That was quite a success, that you were able to bring the program
to where it needed to be to do that [deter war].
Well, of course, I'm talking about being involved in maintaining it.
I was involved in all of those things, and putting them into what
you might call a peacetime environment, although there hasn't been
a peacetime as far as regional wars is concerned. So I think our next
big challenge is how do we really stop them before they start.
is going to be quite a challenge.
back over the involvement between NASA and the Air Force, are there
any last thoughts that you have on how that interaction went or how
much the ICBM program helped NASA, or any last thoughts on that?
Well, I don't really believe the ICBM program helped NASA. I mean,
the technology that was involved was important to NASA as well as
important to the military. One thing that I commiserated with Keith
Glennan and Jim Webb and, since I've retired, with various other administrators
of NASA, was that we weren't putting enough money in aviation research,
but whether they were pushing it enough or not, the amount of effort
on aviation went down.
I worked before the war, when I was at Wright Field as a test pilot,
I went to Langley [Research Center, NACA, Hampton, Virginia] quite
frequently. I have a high regard for the Langley operation, the Cleveland
operation [Lewis Research Center], and the propulsion area at San
Jose [Ames Research Center, California], did a tremendous job. I think
we can't forget aviation. It still needs a lot of additional work.
But I don't really know how well the services are working with NASA
today, because I don't get at that interface that often. But it seems
to me that I don't hear much that—you still have military people
working over there, and I think they're all working well together
where aviation and space meets. That should be stressed, and I think
it is being stressed. I don't have enough knowledge, really, of the
details of the operation at the moment, what they're doing in the
way of detailed projects and programs, but my message is, keep working
the future—and this is just speculating, based on your experiences—do
you see a specific military space agency developing at all, or do
you see things just kind of progressing as they are?
You mean a military space agency? For research and development and
to just pursue military and defense initiatives in space.
No. I see a possibility of a Space Force coming into being, from an
operational standpoint. I hope it doesn't, because I don't think we
need one. But we need an organization that pushes very hard on space
and fights the battle here in Washington [D.C.] for budget support
and so forth. I think that sometimes I get the feel that there aren't
enough people fighting for that piece of the pie, you know, that's
necessary. Look how long it took the Army. I was in the Army Air Corps
for more years than I think I was in the Air Force, because we didn't
become an Air Force until 1947.
So there's talk about a separate Space Force. I'm talking about logistics
and operational responsibility, doing the same function that relates
to space that we are doing in the Air Force as it relates to the air.
But I personally have always said I'd prefer to have the organizational
arrangement stay the way it is, but let's be sure we have the necessary
advocacy to push space, because it's that important as far as military
operations are concerned.
See, I had four stars for almost six years, I guess, and it's important
that we have in the organization—I'm talking Air Force now—it's
important that we have someone that is of sufficient rank to be representative
of what's necessary in space and who really believes it, you know.
We have the Space Command, which is out there at Colorado Springs
[Colorado]. I think that's very important that that remain a major
CINC, or Commander-in-Chief, Space. It's a very important step.
From the standpoint of the Air Force as a service, I think we have
to elevate the whole future, the future’s part of the—you
need a four-star general who's looking in the future, who fights like
hell, and that includes space, because that's the area that you're
going to need the most advance in, in terms of operational applications.
I can't name them all, but we need that four-star guy who sits at
that decision table and says, "Damn it to hell, I need this and
I'll argue with you until the cows come home." You know, you
may not win, but you need that advocacy. I don't see it right now.
Let me put it this way. I'd like to see it. There's a lot of it; it
seems to be more words, and I'd like to see a little more action with
the words. Because they're saying the right words, and they're fighting
the battle, but I think they can still do better.
we'll see that follow through in the future.
But as far as changing the organizational structure of NASA, I wouldn't
do anything there. Improve internally, you can always do that, and
the same thing with any other organization, but overall organization,
I think is pretty good. You never can get something that's perfect,
you know, in that regard. People aren't perfect either, you know.
not. Well, I want to thank you for joining us today. It's been a pleasure.
Well, I hope that you get that in the file there and somebody says,
"Well, there's Schriever popping off again." That's okay
as far as I'm concerned. [Laughter]
sure they won't. I'm sure they won't. It's been very informative.