NASA Science Mission Directorate
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Sandra Johnson
Greenbelt, Maryland – 16 August 2017
is August 16, 2017. This interview with Dr. Theodor Kostiuk is being
conducted for the NASA Headquarters Science Mission Directorate Oral
History Project. Dr. Kostiuk is speaking with us today by telephone
from the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The interviewer
is Sandra Johnson. I want to thank you again for agreeing to talk
to us. We really appreciate it.
like to start today by talking about your educational background,
and how and when you first became interested in working for NASA.
I went through the New York City [New York] public school system.
In my junior high school, it was a time when we had the International
Geophysical Year. I think it was 195[7 to 1958]. I was really involved
in that whole project in the school. In fact, I guess that was my
first exposure to space and technologies, and things that relate to
this. This was also done in connection with the [American] Museum
of Natural History [New York City, New York]. They had a program and
I was involved in that.
That provided some initial interest. But then once I got to high school,
I went to Brooklyn Technical High School [Brooklyn, New York], which
was a technical school. We learned a lot about not only science, but
also engineering. Then in college I went to City College of New York,
where I majored in physics. From there I went to graduate school at
Syracuse University [Syracuse, New York], and I majored in what was
then called solid-state physics, which is now called condensed matter
I dealt with microwave spectroscopy of solids. Things that were relevant,
I think, to understanding of time constants within these solids, changes
of spins of atoms in molecules within materials, and a kind of science
that eventually evolved into the MRI [Magnetic Resonance Imaging]
technologies that we use today for medical applications. In fact,
I even helped teach an outside course by a fellow, his name was Hugh
Hair. He was a private industry guy who was a pioneer in the MRI effort.
That was the extent of my experience in graduate school. I received
my degree, but before I finished my degree, I had an opportunity to
apply for a National Research Council Resident Research Associateship
at Goddard Space Flight Center. That came through my professor, Gunther
Wessel, who was called by someone—I guess a former colleague
of his—about the fact that someone was looking for a microwave-type
person to work at Goddard.
That was my first dream, of coming to a place like NASA, so I applied.
I wrote a proposal. I spent some time writing a proposal on a topic
that I knew very little about, and that was to generate microwave
frequency standards, how to make a frequency standard.
The group that I came to visit was a physics group within the Engineering
Directorate at Goddard, in Code 500. That group (led by Fouad Major)
was working on an electromagnetic trap of microwave radiation at 40
gigahertz. This frequency was a transition in mercury atoms, and the
technique provided a spectrally pure and stable output frequency.
So a very narrow frequency emission, and that would provide a kind
of secondary standard for measuring frequencies. I guess they argued
one application provided a technique that could be used for collision
avoidance in aircraft, for example, and things like that.
In fact, this group, as I said, was an engineering group, and it dealt
with frequency standards. That division built the frequency standards
for the satellite tracking stations around the world for NASA. They
actually built atomic standards; it may have been argon standard or
whatever was used at the time to basically get accurate time information
during the tracking. So each station was basically referencing their
time of tracking to an atomic clock. They built atomic clocks.
That, of course, was superseded later by the TDRS [Tracking and Data
Relay Satellite] satellites. The ground stations, if there are any
today, certainly are there for possibly other reasons. But at that
time, we had stations all around the world tracking our Earth-orbiting
satellites, so that was the group that worked on that.
The other thing that that group, and that branch specifically did
was laser ranging. In fact, that’s still done at some level
here at Goddard. Basically, they were tracking satellites with lasers,
and looking at their positions and comparing them. From the science
standpoint, it was also a way of looking at changes in distances between
let’s say, California and Goddard. In fact, I remember even
in those early days they measured that California was drifting out
into the Pacific [Ocean] at 5 centimeters a year or something like
It was a way of triangulation. They were able to track a satellite
with two stations: one in California, one here. These were maybe even
mobile stations in the case of California, where they were able to
measure the distance between the points by measuring the distance
between the satellite and the two stations.
In any case, that’s where I came in. I came as a post-doc [doctoral
researcher] and it was very quiet. There was very little action in
my group. That group had just managed to achieve its first resonance
within this electromagnetic cavity at 40 gigahertz, and they published
a paper in Physical Review Letters, which was a very prestigious physics
Then, as history would have it, they RIFed [Reduction in Force] the
whole group. So that group disappeared, including Fouad [G.] Major,
who was the head of that group. He was a very, very, very brilliant
guy, I thought at the time. He eventually left Goddard, as did some
of the other colleagues that were there. In any case, it turned out
that I never got to work on this project. But I had to find a place
to go, because even if they RIFed that group, I still had my NRC [National
Research Council] post-doc position.
They wanted me to stay there, by the way. It was kind of interesting,
because at that time, especially in Engineering, the hierarchy was
almost military-like for me, coming from a university. I don’t
get to see the Branch Head unless I have an appointment and I get
called. I certainly never got to see the Division Director or the
Deputy Division Director without some special occasion or invitation.
Well, I started to get these invitations, because they realized that
I had options to perhaps go elsewhere. Because, technically I was
self-employed. So I got to see the Deputy Director of the division,
Henry [H.] Plotkin, who was also a physicist, I think, by degree.
In fact, Henry and I did work later on––10 years later––that
was very important.
And Walt [Walter J.] Carrion, who eventually, I think, became the
Director and Head of Engineering. He was the Branch Head at the time.
And then the third person was [Robert J.] Coates, who was the Division
Director there. So these were people that I got to talk to, and it
was a little intimidating. I’m just a student coming out of
school, and here I am—these are very important people who you
have to go through two secretaries to even get into the office. So
it was kind of, I guess, impressive.
There is a funny story about this, which I can tell you. In any case,
Fouad Major in order to help me, recommended, “Let’s go
and make contacts with people in Sciences, where you are better prepared
for.” Again, I was very impressed by the fact that there was
this lowly post-doc, and I’m coming in and having these meetings
with division heads and major scientists in several divisions. There
was Astrophysics—I forget what it was called at the time. There
were the Earth Science-type people. Then there was this Laboratory
for Extraterrestrial Physics.
Now, going back a bit, when I came to this Engineering branch originally,
they somehow discovered that I liked to play soccer. Goddard formed
what’s called the Goddard Soccer League about that time. One
of the colleagues there came to me and sat on my desk and said, “Ted,
do you play? You want to come? We are going to have practice next
Thursday,” or whatever it was. So I went out to practice.
Of course, at that time in the early ’70s soccer wasn’t
a big sport in this country. Most of the people there were relatively
inexperienced, and parents whose kids played and they wanted to participate
and so on. Anyway, we were kicking the ball around, and then we are
in a little scrimmage. I kicked the ball away, and then some guy with
glasses came in and just rammed into me for no reason. He and I had
a conversation, and that was it.
Anyway, now I’m back, and I’m being coaxed into coming
to the Laboratory of Extraterrestrial Physics. I am in the Lab Chief’s
office—they were called lab chiefs at the time instead of Division
Directors. Here are people from every branch, and each one is telling
me what they are doing, and I feel so important. Because they see
free labor, you see? I am free labor to them. They don’t have
to pay, it’s already taken care of.
Then there were two fellows after this meeting who were sort of continuing
to lobby me. One of them was Bill Jackson. He eventually left Goddard.
Then there was Mike [Michael J.] Mumma, who was a relatively young
guy. He has been there two years. We walked down the hall, and there
is an empty office. We get into the office, and I am sitting on the
table, and both of them are jabbering away, so to speak. Then this
guy walks by this office, the same guy that kicked me on the soccer
field. He sees me and he recognizes me. He comes in and he is really
friendly. We are saying hello and I’m not impolite, but I’m
a little reserved. And so we have a chat and then he leaves.
Then I notice something that I didn’t realize—the two
colleagues who were incessantly trying to sell me their project were
so quiet when this man came in you could hear a pin drop.
I said, “What?” I turned to them, “Who is this guy?”
“That’s Norman [F.] Ness.” He was the Laboratory
Chief (Division Director). Also, he was a feared Laboratory Chief.
His nickname was “Stormin’ Norman.” If you look
in your history, I am sure there is a history about Norm, because
he was the PI [Principal Investigator] on missions that detected magnetic
fields on all planets that have magnetic fields.
In any case, I told this story at his retirement. I said I was young,
I was impressionable, but I didn’t want to be on a team opposing
him, so I joined his team. And I went to the Laboratory of Extraterrestrial
funny. And what an introduction.
We got introduced on a soccer field. There were other stories, because
later on I was the league referee. I would give him warnings and red
cards for his antics on the field. But we were good friends, very
good friends. After he left to head the Bartol Research Foundation,
he used to drop by even when we moved to this new Building 34 here.
A couple of years ago, he still would drop by. I haven’t seen
him for a while, but it was interesting.
Anyway, that’s how I got into the field. The field I got into
was infrared astronomy. That’s what was being sold by Mike Mumma.
Basically, he was anxious to initiate an infrared program that focused
on comets. That same year was the year of Comet Kohoutek. Now, at
that time, that was supposed to be the brightest comet ever to reach
the Earth. It was supposed to be as bright as the Moon.
One of the fellows in Astrophysics, Steve [Stephen P.] Maran, he was
the main PR person for this comet, and of course it was published
everywhere that this is going to be the brightest comet. The reason
it was supposed to be bright is because it was detected very early
on, before reaching close by to the Earth and to the Sun. At that
time finding comets was a fairly rare event.
To make a long story short, Mike Mumma wanted to observe this comet
and build instruments for that, so I started doing that. We got some
money from the Directorate, and we built two instruments to observe
the comet. One was actually one that could be used. It was mainly
built on a contract with a company up in Boston, Arthur D. Little,
and it was using solid state diode lasers as local oscillators.
There were two techniques. One was to do spectroscopy on the comet—or
on anything for that matter—by using a technique that’s
analogous to a radio receiver. What you do is you collect light with
an antenna or a telescope, and you combine it with a known frequency,
generated by a local oscillator. In the case of the infrared, it would
be a laser of some sort, a CO2 [carbon dioxide] laser in particular,
or as we tried, with a diode laser.
Now, this was a technique that was worked on and developed by students
under the direction of Charles [H.] Townes at [University of California]
Berkeley, and we wanted to use that technique for looking at the comet.
They were using primarily CO2 lasers as local oscillators, and we
wanted to use diode lasers, which were tunable so you could get to
different regions of the spectrum that were not possible with a CO2
There was another connection here, because that same Branch that I
came to work for originally did studies on laser communication. They
had a project or program to do laser communication. This laser communication
involved CO2 lasers being the transmitters, and radiation from them
being received and detected by the heterodyne technique. Again, a
known frequency (CO2 local oscillator frequency) and a frequency that’s
been modified (with transmitted information) are combined on a detector/mixer.
Then, by taking the difference of the two, you can measure the modified
portion of the frequency, and that’s the information.
That’s how your radio works, for example. The radio stations
send out a signal at a particular radio frequency—each station
has its own frequency—and they modulate it so it has information
or the sound they are transmitting. And in the case of TV, video.
Then the receiver, your radio or your TV set, has a local oscillator
in it. That’s the thing you change to find the station. So when
that local oscillator frequency that you change matches that particular
station, or nearly matches that particular station, the difference
between the two is what’s analyzed and amplified into sound
or video. That’s how the detection is made, and we wanted to
use the same technique in the infrared to look at molecular constituents
of comets, and ultimately planets and even stars. It’s called
infrared heterodyne spectroscopy.
So that’s how it started. There are stories associated with
that, and we did our first measurements at the Goddard optical site
on a 30-inch telescope. We tried to set things up so we could look
at the comet. We had rain in the dome. It was a very Spartan environment,
if you will. But we never really saw the comet. It was not nearly
as bright as the Moon. Certainly in this area it was maybe not even
easily visible by eye.
But what it did is got me a job. Because after that we made measurements,
we had papers that were published, mainly on the technique. And that,
I guess, was enough to try to hire me after about a year and a half
as a post-doctoral fellow. I then continued the work on the technique.
We did quite a bit to improve it. We built an instrument and used
it at Goddard, not at the 30-inch telescope but a new 48-inch facility.
We were able to look at the Sun, Jupiter, and look at ozone absorption
and CO2 absorption in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Then ultimately, we decided that we need to go to a much better optical
observatory, astronomical observatory. It was an opportunity to go
and set this instrument up at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona
on the McMath [-Pierce] Telescope, which was a solar telescope, 1.5-meter-diameter
telescope. That was a whole adventure in itself. I don’t know
if one would do it this way today, but we got a trailer, had it refurbished
so we could take all our equipment and truck it all the way there
to Arizona. So I think 1976 or so we flew into Tucson Arizona and
started setting up at the McMath-Pierce telescope. It took several
weeks to get everything working. I had a new design for the instrument,
which matched the facility and the telescope optics at the McMath.
We observed there for a number of years, until about 1984, something
like that, at which time we went to an even better facility, which
was the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, IRTF, at the Mauna Kea Observatory
in Hawaii. This was much higher. It was approximately twice the altitude
of Kitt Peak. It was at 14,000 feet, and that was like going to Mars,
really. It was a really different environment. Certainly in those
days where it wasn’t as populated as it is today.
But in any case, during this time at Kitt Peak I think there was some
significant work that was done. The Townes group students had measured
CO2 emission lines from Mars. It may not have been so unusual, because
Mars’s atmosphere is primarily CO2. But what were measured were
very narrow, non-thermodynamic equilibrium lines. These are lines
that were emissions that corresponded to brightness temperatures much
higher than the local temperature of the Mars atmospheric environment.
They occurred at low pressures from higher altitudes (mesosphere)
and were very narrow in frequency, so that they could be used as a
measure of temperature in that region by just the width of the lines.
The position of the lines could measure velocities.
If you could measure the absolute frequency of these lines in one
location versus another location, you could experience a Doppler shift.
This is similar to the state troopers, for example, who catch you
speeding. They send out a signal, and they know the frequency of the
signal they send. And then the return signal is modified by the fact
that your vehicle is moving and the light is reflected, or that radiation
is reflected, off your vehicle. So they measure the difference frequency
between the two using the heterodyne technique. That difference frequency
is related directly to the velocity of the vehicle.
Using the similar Doppler shift information, we were able to measure
winds on Venus, for example, and later on, on Mars, and then even
later, on Titan. Venus, Mars, and Titan. During this time, we analyzed
and measured these emission lines even more accurately, and we determined
that these lines were actually not only non-thermal, but they exhibited
lasing phenomenon. These were actually the first naturally occurring
lasers, CO2 lasers.
Now astrophysicists have measured masers, which are microwave non-thermal
emissions, but these are lasers in the infrared, and generated by
CO2 molecules. In fact, the local oscillator, the frequency standard
that we used in our heterodyne technique, was a CO2 laser. And so
we were able to use this to measure the CO2 lines that were in the
atmosphere of Mars and Venus.
From both the emission lines and absorption lines in the Mars atmosphere,
we were able to obtain a lot of information. The major discovery or
revelation was the fact that they had a significant lasing component,
both on Venus and on Mars, because both Mars and Venus have predominantly
CO2 atmospheres. The papers were published— [“Discovery
of Natural Gain Amplification in the 10-Micrometer Carbon Dioxide
Laser Bands on Mars: A Natural Laser", Mumma et. al.] was the
original paper in Science [academic journal] in 1981, I believe.
And then the other aspect of it. We went to longer wavelengths using
isotopic lasers of CO2, which enabled us to go to different frequency
ranges. We were able to measure the polar regions of Jupiter, which
exhibited a very strong infrared auroral effect. This auroral effect
we measured was emission spectra in ethane gas in Jupiter’s
stratosphere. That was the other, I think, significant study, and
it’s a unique phenomenon on Jupiter in the north. It’s
unlike the Earth where the aurora in the polar region is dictated
by the geometry of the magnetic field. On Jupiter it is, sort of,
but at these wavelengths the middle infrared has a fixed location.
So it’s not like you see the Northern Lights here that change
shape over time and change location, and even come down to lower latitudes.
At some point, you could even see them at latitudes that are as low
as Washington [DC]. On Jupiter this is a very fixed hotspot, if you
will, and so we have been studying this hotspot for over 35 years.
That was the first sort of discovery and targeting of this spot.
Then we moved to the IRTF in 1984, which was twice as large a telescope
as the McMath. It was a 3-meter diameter telescope. It was also brand
new and very untested. Actually, before that, Dave [David] Buhl and
colleagues went there to try to do a submillimeter test and observations.
The frequency regions between infrared and microwave are millimeter-wave
and submillimeter wave regions. They had a submillimeter laser. This
is a laser of much longer wavelengths than the mid-infrared CO2 lines.
They used a heterodyne system at those frequencies to make some studies.
They may have been astrophysical, probably stellar sources. Dave,
who was also a member of our group, did the scouting of that facility
and Hawaii during their run. I guess the most that came out of that
first submillimeter effort was some proof of principle, and also a
tourist guide from Dave about what to see in Hawaii. That was 1980.
It was the first year of this facility. The telescope and their instrument
didn’t work perfectly then. There were a lot of glitches.
Then we went out there to look at Mars, and to measure hydrogen peroxide
on Mars, which has an important role in the chemistry of Mars’s
atmosphere. We had a graduate student, David [A.] Glenar, and his
goal was to do that. There were a lot of funny stories. Like he packed
liquid hydrogen peroxide much stronger than what you buy in the store
for cleansing, and it came apart in this suitcase, and of course it
destroyed his clothes. We had all these stories.
I was going to ask you, because you are talking about being out at
Kitt Peak, and then again in Hawaii—how long of a period of
time did you spend out there at those locations? Where did you stay?
Maybe share the details of being there.
of these observatories have dormitories attached to them. At Kitt
Peak we each had a room in the dorm. At that time it was a thriving
enterprise. Today it’s completely different, but they had a
volleyball court, and they had pool tables and ping-pong tables so
you could enjoy yourself while you are not working.
The weather is relatively nice, even though it’s in the middle
of the Sonoran Desert. It’s about 60 miles from Tucson, Arizona,
and it’s on an Indian reservation [Tohono O'odham Nation]. It
surrounds this particular mountain, this Kitt Peak. It was actually
fun. We spent a lot of time trying to enjoy it, and we had great food.
You could order a meal. They had a kitchen, and you could order breakfast
any way you wanted. If you observe all night, you’d look forward
to having breakfast before you go back to sleep. Actually, looking
back, although we worked very hard—and we worked out there 14
hours a day at minimum, if not 16, maybe more—it was fairly
benign, because it was only at about 7,000 feet, which you get acclimated
to relatively quickly. It wasn’t as dramatic. But it was quite
Now, the first time we went out to Mauna Kea in 1984, they had what
they called dorms. What they were really were army barracks, but very
primitive. In other words, there was communal bathrooms and washing
sinks, and you slept in these little rooms. The rooms were just big
enough for a bed and they had a heat pump, I think, or some kind of
a unit in the wall or in the window for heating or air conditioning.
You needed heat, actually. It was pretty cold because the dorms are
at 9,500 feet. And as I say, it was very primitive by the standards
of today. Later on they built very nice dormitory buildings, and a
big cafeteria. At its height, it was very, very dynamic, if you will.
But at that time it was relatively Spartan. So we stayed there.
I experienced my first earthquake. I thought it was that a student
of mine next door who was making noise in the middle of the night,
but it turns out it was a real tremor that went through, which I had
never experienced before.
We had to kind of walk up the hill to the kitchen, which was maybe,
I don’t know, 30 yards or so up the hill. And believe me, you
feel it at those altitudes. Now, where you really felt it is when
we went to the summit. At the summit, there were only I think four
telescopes at the time. Canada-France-Hawai’i [Telescope]; UKIRT
[United Kingdom Infrared Telescope]; there was an old University of
Hawaii telescope; and the IRTF. Today, that mountain is filled with,
I don’t know, 20 telescopes or more. It’s like a city
up there now, but at that time, it was very, very sparse and natural
— and there was no paving.
You would go up this mountain road with a four-wheel drive, with a
drop-off to the left and right and switchbacks. It was actually quite
scary, quite scary. Of course, the people who worked up there, they
weren’t scared. The drivers would zoom up and down, and make
those sharp turns, and of course that would put the fear of God into
us. But we got used to it, and of course later we were equally bad,
or good. But it took a while.
I have never been so sick or so cold, or saw so much snow anywhere
in my life as I did in Hawaii. In 1986 we were scheduled to observe
Comet Halley, and it snowed up there for six days. We were at the
dorms. In fact, it started snowing when we first got there. We had
a post-doc, a German post-doc (Ulli Kaeufl) who went up first to start
setting up, and then the day crew arrived. These are people that work
every day at the summit, on weekdays, for the IRTF. They said they
were told not to go up, so we were waiting for our post-doc, to come
down. We were about ready to go try to fetch him—because it
was snowing already. Usually it doesn’t snow at 9,000 feet,
but as you go higher the chances of snow are greater. He came down
and he had two passengers with him. It turns out that these two passengers
went up there in a little Toyota to observe the sunrise or something,
and they wanted to stay up there. He, in his German authoritarian
manner, forced them to leave the car and get into his vehicle.
After it snowed for six days, there was 12 feet of snow at the summit.
But the facilities folks were prepared. The facilities crew had these
snowplows, and they would go out there every single day and plow.
On the sixth day when we actually went up, you could see these walls
of snow on each side of the road. It was probably the most gorgeous
snow I have ever seen in my life.
I had spent seven years in Syracuse, New York where it snowed every
day, but it was nothing compared to this—the snow was so clear.
What would happen was, in the daytime, it would melt and then refreeze,
and it would give you this aqua color to the tops of the snow peaks.
It was just beautiful. It’s just hard to imagine.
So we were there—you asked how long—Kitt Peak, we spent
two weeks, three weeks at a time a couple of times a year. In Hawaii
we spent two weeks at a time usually, and it was as much as three
times a year. Sometimes maybe more over the years, since 1984.
As to experiences during observing runs––in Hawaii before
the snowfall, we also experienced the eruption of Mauna Loa. We actually
had trouble getting to Mauna Kea because they had blocked off the
road because there was lava flow, and they were afraid of tourists
going up there. So we had to convince them that we weren’t real
The Big Island of Hawaii is really two big mountains, Mauna Kea and
Mauna Loa. They are of comparable height. Mauna Kea may be a little
higher, but it’s also a dormant volcano, whereas Mauna Loa still
erupts. And the Kilauea Crater is one that erupts, which is part of
Mauna Loa, and it is actually the volcanic eruptions that built the
mountain and the Hawaiian Islands.
We used to take a southerly route to go from one end of the island
to the other. This is after the observing run. We would take a few
days to just decompress, and we would go down the southerly route
around the Big Island of Hawaii. All of that southern part, which
was a state park and black sand beaches, is all under lava now. [Until
very recently] the most recent eruptions started in the mid-’80s
and it was actually surprising to us, because we didn’t appreciate
that that was the case. We landed in Hawaii and we went to a restaurant.
We had dinner and it was very late for us, and we were going to go
to sleep. We walked out of the restaurant, and we saw this plume on
the horizon, across Hilo. And behind Hilo, we see this plume of red
molten stuff coming out high against the sky. It was just amazing.
It was like a plume of—well, it was lava of course, these eruptions.
So we got into the truck and tried to head for it. We got pretty close,
and we had some pictures of it. It wasn’t that far from Hilo,
which is where we were. That’s when we first saw these eruptions.
That was one of the unique experiences, if you will. We came to do
astronomy, and we got consumed with geology.
and quite an experience, I would imagine, compared to what maybe you
thought you would have been doing five or six years earlier when you
were still in school.
absolutely. I never imagined anything like that. Once we got to the
summit you could see the lava eruptions from the dorm station. From
the cafeteria you could see these eruptions along the limb of Mauna
Loa. Of course one took pictures of it. We didn’t have digital
cameras in those days; otherwise we would have had a million pictures.
But we had a few, and so that was the first experience with volcanoes.
We’d get very sick at the summit, too.
that from the altitude?
the altitude mainly. And we would overdo. One of our students at the
time, Jeff [Jeffrey J.] Goldstein, the winds on Venus young man at
the time—he was in good physical shape. “Oh, man, it’s
great up here!” And they had a weight room, an exercise room,
at the level of the cafeteria. He went in it and exercised in spite
of our warnings that you shouldn’t overexert yourself right
away. He really felt bad the next few days, because see, you don’t
realize it, but when it hits you, it really hits you. Anyway, so we
had that experience.
Jeff went to work for the Challenger Center [for Space Science Education],
after his Ph.D.—actually he went first to the Smithsonian [National
Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC]. Maybe he was still at the Smithsonian
at the time. But nevertheless, he was very interested in science education,
so he would bring in some students with him. Invariably, the young
sort of college athlete couldn’t take the altitude at all. They
would get sick like anything, whereas the heavy smoker had no problems.
are used to low oxygen, I guess.
guess. That’s my theory, too, that they are used to not breathing.
These are the little nitbits of experience.
Well, we did some good stuff there. We helped them fix a lot of the
telescope, because we would be like guinea pigs. As I said, we were
one of the first users, so by us bringing our instrument there we
would discover all kinds of things that needed to be improved, and
I think the IRTF benefited from that. It is a NASA-funded facility
that was built to support NASA missions, and ground-based support
of NASA missions, and we have been doing a great deal of that.
relationship that NASA has with different institutes and different
entities to do research is interesting, because nobody can do it by
And the facilities are extremely valuable educational and professional
facilities. For example, the first operator that we had at the IRTF—he
eventually was the director of managing all of Mauna Kea facilities.
One of our telescope operators wound up working at the South Pole,
and loving it.
So it was like a stepping-stone for a lot of professional individuals,
but it was also a great learning experience for students and graduate
students, because even today it’s one of the only telescopes
of reasonable size that permits for you to bring your own instruments.
Where you can actually work and learn how something works, and build
and test new ideas. Most of the big, expensive observatories don’t
allow you to do that. Even at the IRTF, most of the work is done on
so-called facility instruments. Such instruments are built under contract
or by somebody within the institution, and it becomes a facility instrument.
Somebody at the facility helps operate it, and you don’t even
have to be at the telescope.
This remote observing is now very popular, and in fact has contributed
to the decrease in the population at these dormitories—that
were very nice––that were built a couple of years after
we came the first time. By ’84 I think they were built, very
nice dorms. Now there is hardly anybody there. Last time we were there,
last year, very few people were there compared to before when the
dorms and the cafeteria would be packed.
Something you might want to do—this is another story that I
can tell you. Google [internet search], on YouTube [social media video
site], “Hotel Mauna Kea.” It’s a parody written
by one of my former students and now colleague, and now our funding
person—or non-funding person—at [NASA] Headquarters [Washington,
DC], Kelly [E.] Fast. She was a student at [University of] Maryland
[College Park]. She worked with us for many, many years. She, with
one of my other students, Juan [D.] Delgado, who was a guitarist,
put together this video that basically describes life on the mountain.
It’s “Hotel Mauna Kea. ” There are other videos.
There’s “Born to Heterodyne. ” That’s all
Kelly, and that was another video. There is a whole series there on
the web. I think they called us Photomixers. But you might want to
skim through that and see, because that’ll give you pictures
of some of our activities and individuals, both at the IRTF and elsewhere.
Actually, this “Hotel Mauna Kea” has a story. I’ll
tell you another story. This was about—oh, I don’t know—about
2003, 2004? Kelly drummed this up, she put this on YouTube, and it
became viral. Many people started watching this. I guess the person
that they recognized on that was me, because I was, I guess, better
known to the astronomers. Science magazine decided to do a story on
us, apparently. So I get this call from Science magazine asking me
about this, and I tell them I didn’t do much. I mean, sure,
I am the only other voice on that video, but it was all done by my
colleagues. So he says, “We want to do a story on you.”
What they arranged is for a photographer to come, and they came and
took pictures of us at Goddard with guitars, and then they published
this in Science magazine. I told the reporter, I said, “What
do you want from me? You just rejected one of our papers, and now
this little song you want to do an article about.” That tells
you what’s important. The song is okay, but science, “Oh,
that’s not worth publishing.”
that’s right. Entertaining.
used to play that video at the end of talks, especially in Europe.
When I would give a talk, I would show them how it is to do the work
definitely go out there and look at that. That should be entertaining.
will be, it will be. It’s quite good. Kelly has a very, very
nice voice, and Juan is a real good guitarist. Juan, by the way, we
discouraged him from astronomy. He is just about to get his Ph.D.
in Holland on how plants generate electricity. But in any case—this
is another side story.
We had other events at Mauna Kea. A notable one was the impact of
Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet into Jupiter. That was a major, major event,
a major program. We were part of that program, the organized program.
We had [observing] time days after the impact, and there are publications
on what we looked at. We managed to detect ammonia in the atmosphere
of Jupiter at the location of the impact, and determined its distribution
and the fact that so much of it was there that it’s probably
not from the comet. One of the interesting aspects would be to see,
whatever is detected at the impact point, which of it came from the
comet, how much of it came from the comet, and what came from the
comet versus what came from Jupiter.
I think we found so much ammonia that certainly a great deal of it
had to have come from the interior of the planet, telling you that
it had to penetrate down deep enough to eject a lot of the ammonia
into the stratosphere, which is where we made our measurements, the
upper atmosphere of Jupiter. The reason that’s unique is because
ammonia is very easily photodissociated. Its lifetime is very short,
so that’s why there isn’t any in the stratosphere of Jupiter,
even though there is quite a bit of ammonia deep down in the clouds
So we were able to measure that, and along with another group that
worked out of [University of California] Berkeley, Al [Albert L.]
Betz and [Rita T.] Boreiko, they had also made heterodyne measurements.
Al Betz was one of Charlie Townes’s students. They made heterodyne
measurements days after, so together with them we published—Kelly
Fast was the PI on the second paper, where we looked at the temporal
changes of ammonia after the impacts on the various impact sites.
It’s sort of a revisit of Comet Kohoutek with much more visibility,
if you will, or impact than Kohoutek had—other than getting
me a job.
is important. I noticed on your resume, you we a part of the IRTF
Telescope Allocation Committee.
anymore. I was through 2015. You have to write a proposal to get time
on the telescope. This TAC [Telescope Allocation Committee] makes
decisions and selects who should be given time, because there is a
limited amount of time available during any semester. That was my
role, to contribute to that.
how many people can be up there at one time?
as far as the facilities and what they would hold, each experiment
would take up different amounts of time so that would have to be scheduled
and that’s exactly right. Some people just need a couple of
hours. In fact, if you are on a facility instrument, you can just
ask the telescope operator to take the data for you. Or you could
do it remotely.
In other words, now what you could do is just almost sit in your office,
or at your institution. Like in Goddard there is a facility, which
is connected to the IRTF. It’s the same as being at the summit
and looking at a screen, just like you would be there, but you don’t
have to set anything up. You don’t have to do anything with
When we go out there, we have our own instrument. We have to set it
up, so we have to be physically there. The downside, in our case,
is that when we ask for time we need the full night, every night,
almost exclusively. Sometimes we can share it. We, in fact, did share
the night during the SL [Shoemaker-Levy]-9 impact, but usually that’s
because our instrument has to be mounted on the telescope, and then
aligned, and we have to actually physically work it.
We can’t do it through the facilities of the observatory. But
even if you use facility instruments, you need to have at least two
people at the summit at the same time. There are occasions where only
one telescope operator and a helper go up. The helper is some student
they hired to be up there in case of an emergency, because at these
altitudes you can’t be alone. Now, in our case, we have had
as many as six people up there as part of the group, like that snowed-in
Comet Halley event.
I didn’t finish that story, though. I’ve got to finish
that story. Well, we had 12 feet of snow. We made it to the top at
the end. It was a problem because there was a traffic jam. When it
snows on Mauna Kea—do you know “Mauna Kea” in Hawaiian
means “white mountain”? You can be lying on the beach,
and you see this white mountain in the background. In fact, I have
pictures like this.
When it snows, the locals go up there and they load the truck full
of snow and bring it down. So there was a huge traffic jam at the
time because they go up there, and then people ski, snowboard now
in recent times, come down on cafeteria trays or anything else. It’s
a little suicidal, of course, because the rocks are very jagged and
if you hit one of them it’s not very pleasant.
Mauna Kea, by the way, is ski-able. There used to be a rope tow out
there at the summit when we first went up there. Near the cinder cone
where the IRTF is, there is a little valley or a depression, and there
was a rope tow from there to the top. I was told there was skiing,
and in fact you can go on tours to ski Mauna Kea. I will tell you
another story about that, but let’s finish this one.
We went up there and we finally got up there. Of course everything
was snowed in, so we had to dig ourselves into the dome, and the day
crew went up and they shoveled the snow off the roof of the observatory.
We opened the telescope, and we got our instrument up in two hours,
which is incredible. Usually it takes us days to get everything working
together. It was our last day. We didn’t have another day or
time on the telescope.
Then it turns out that we hear some grumbling over the mic [microphone],
and the telescope operator says that the telescope tracking system
is down and he couldn’t get it up. So we went up there for nothing.
Even though it was cloudy, it looked like it opened up where the comet
was supposed to be, but we never got to point it or use it. So it
was a total failure. But I remember 12 feet of snow.
I have tons of Mauna Kea stories. Remember, we have been going out
there since 1984, and the last time was last year so you can count
up how many years that’s been. It’s been at least once
a year, sometimes as much as three. We stay there each time about
two weeks total trip, so it’s over a total of 2 years on Mauna
Kea, during which many things can happen.
Now, just to finish up with the IRTF TAC. So that’s what the
TAC does, it selects the proposals that would fit into the schedule.
They also look at the value of the science proposed. There is also
some committed science, or director’s science. Like there is
a long-term program to monitor near-Earth objects. You have to have
time for that.
And sometimes there is a caveat that if you are observing and one
of these objects all of a sudden appears, then the priority is that
you can move your instrument aside—and that’s possible
now—and try to use the facility instrument to do the required
measurements on something like an asteroid. So the IRTF is a valuable
tool. It’s always under threat because of budgeting and all,
but it’s really a unique tool for astronomy, and for technology,
and learning for the younger generation. It’s quite important,
I agree. It’s a unique part of NASA that people don’t
always think about.
exactly. You think of spaceflight, but you have to do the groundwork
to generate a good spaceflight proposal, or a good proposed mission.
Also, you can do unique things from the ground. We have supported
a lot of missions. For example, in the case of Voyager we made measurements
of Neptune’s thermal profile and ethane abundance prior to the
Voyager flyby. Then we had a comparison between ground-based and spacecraft
results. Our measurements are at a much higher spectral resolution.
For example, to build an instrument that would see these Mars non-thermal
emission lines or lasers, or measure winds on Mars from a spacecraft––that’s
yet to be done. Yet from the ground, we have maps of wind patterns
on Venus, on Mars, at altitudes that the spacecraft would not be able
to do. So there is a lot of complementary effort.
In the case of the Juno mission recently, Juno does not have a capability
to measure Jupiter’s thermal infrared aurora. Although auroral
studies are one of its goals, Juno doesn’t have the capability
to measure aurora in the thermal infrared. This is in a 10-micron
region of the spectrum, like in the hydrocarbon emissions.
As I indicated, this particular aurora is quite unique because it
has this hotspot in the north, and we have yet to understand how that’s
possible. From the ground this can be done with instruments, and our
instrument in particular. Unfortunately, you are limited on a spacecraft
what you can fly.
weight and everything else.
exactly. So that’s another very valuable aspect of ground-based
facilities, especially such as the IRTF, which allow you to do a great
variety of things.
the majority of your work been with ground-based observatories? I
noticed on your resume there are things like the Infrared Astronomical
Satellite [IRAS]. That was in 1974 and launched in ’83, where
you were working on that as a co-investigator.
might have been a proposal. I also worked on the preliminary planning
for the Earth Science mission [Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite,
UARS]. It was the major mission that did Earth Science. We also did
Earth Science work during the ’80s where we looked at chlorine
monoxide from the ground. Chlorine atoms, are major culprits in destruction
of ozone. Chlorine monoxide was the radical that was a catalyst in
this chemical process. Resulting in destruction of ozone, but not
That’s the danger of having chlorine atoms in the atmosphere,
because they don’t get destroyed. The ClO [chlorine monoxide]
is one of the major constituents that needed to be addressed, and
there were measurements made depicting abundance values that we just
That was a controversy, by the way. We really didn’t see as
much ClO. We could measure very, very fine spectral features from
molecules, and we just didn’t see chlorine monoxide from the
ground in the Earth’s atmosphere with a very, very bright source—the
Sun shining through the atmosphere. There was a Mumma et. al. publication
in Science (1983) on that. “Is There Any Chlorine Monoxide in
the Stratosphere,” That was very interesting because balloon
measurements, which were grab samples and relied on chemical reactions
of the sample—they would put the sample through a chemical reaction
that they believed they understood––would get values that
were much, much higher. So that created some controversy.
Then we did a diurnal measurement of chlorine monoxide. This was done
from Kitt Peak. We had real difficulty publishing the results. We
eventually gave up. We tried to publish the results, and we had, I
think, very inappropriate reviews such as, “The instrument isn’t
sensitive enough.” We were looking at 6,000-degree source, whereas
our instrument is sensitive enough to measure 150-degree source like
Jupiter, so it didn’t make any sense.
Again, it was a controversy. It later sorted out to some degree, but
many years later. There was so much investment in one approach, one
theory, that it’s very hard to change that. Years later I think
I even got some interesting papers addressing this that were sent
to me. This is when I long forgot about this.
But we did do some laboratory work to measure the parameters of chlorine
monoxide, which helped alleviate some of the differences in the discrepancy.
Nevertheless, that may still exist today, although we no longer have—quote,
“have”—the ozone problem like we did in the mid-’80s.
We submitted two proposals to the UARS to look at chlorine monoxide
and ozone. It was kind of interesting because we wrote two proposals.
There were actually two different proposals. A JPL group was the PIs
on one, and we were the investigators of the other. Just to give you
an idea of how times have changed, in 1978, we had no email, we had
no [Microsoft] PowerPoint [presentation software], we had no texting,
nothing. We wrote these proposals in about a week. This is a mission
instrument proposal. It was just me and another colleague, because
it was left to me to do. And another colleague here, and the colleagues
at JPL. We exchanged by FedEx [Corporation, shipping service] or overnight
mail, and faxes. And telephone, of course. Those were the major communications.
We were able to put these together, and they were deemed to be decent
proposals. The technology was not maybe quite there yet, so that was
kind of interesting. Whereas today an equivalent mission proposal
costs, I don’t know, $40,000 and I don’t know how many
personnel at Goddard would help write it. It’s become much more
competitive, and the quality of the proposals is much greater, and
cost estimates are much more involved and complex. It’s not
“faster, better, cheaper,” that’s for sure.
are a lot of things about spaceflight that have definitely changed
over the years as far as the cost and the time involved to get things
absolutely. And some of it is positive, but a lot of it is just—it
just doesn’t make any sense.
This kind of reminds me of the opening of the West. I was fortunate.
I have to say I was fortunate that I had the opportunity to work at
NASA during the end of its pioneering age, where you had an idea like
the Comet Kohoutek instrument, and then boom, we could do it. Within
months we had something. It would be virtually impossible to do something
like that today.
It’s like in the Old West. The early pioneers had open plains.
They had cattle, they had open range, and then over time the fences
went up. You had regulations, you had water rights, you had barbed
wire, you had this and that, and eventually no more pioneering. Unfortunately,
I think that’s really an analogy as to what happened here. We
are a mature agency, which is really more bureaucratic, certainly
than it has been, and more bureaucratic than I think it should be
for the kind of mission that it has.
Yet, as I say, I am fortunate that I was able to be there. When I
needed something simple machined, I would just go to the shop, and
they would do it. Now I have to give them a number and a detailed
computer-generated engineering drawing. Even then, it’s not
clear that they will have time to do it.
when you first started there, when you did work on a proposal for
something to be done, like the Kohoutek—as you said, it usually
happened quicker, and it was less formal. Compared to now, when scientists
are putting in proposals for work that they want done, what’s
the percentage of the ones that were accepted back then compared to
now? Are there a lot more now and the processes are longer?
Well, first of all, there was less competition in a way, because there
were fewer people working on the same projects, the same kind of work.
You could look at the statistics of just R&A proposals, for example—Research
and Analysis-type proposals. I think in the old days a success rate
of 30 percent or more was not unusual.
In fact, even when I was at Headquarters—I managed the Planetary
Instrument Definition and Development Program in ’93 to ’96.
It was the most competitive program because it required more money,
but it was a fairly substantial percentage that got funded, like 30.
Now, very often a typical percentage is 11 percent. It’s like
a crapshoot. You have lots of very good proposals that are not supported,
mainly because there are not enough funds to support all of them.
The competition is much stronger, and we also make decisions with
panels, which often are limited as to expertise in the broad range
of science proposed.
Panels have their strengths and weaknesses. If you get the right panel,
you always win. If you get the wrong panel, no matter what you do,
you are not going to win. That’s the way it is. It’s just
part of the game. So the percentages are much lower, as I say. On
many of the proposals that we submitted recently, and in panels that
I was on, a very low percentage is successful. It’s very competitive.
One of the reasons––less money and more potential participants.
The other aspect of this is also, I think—and I have to say
this –– when we went to what’s called full-cost
accounting at NASA, that was probably the least beneficial thing that
was ever done. Because it wasn’t really full-cost accounting.
In other words, right now you have to account for all of your time
and all your money, supposedly. But of course, Congress allocates
salaries for every single civil servant. So even people that aren’t
successful, they still are funded. They still get paid. It’s
not like we fire them.
But what it does is it creates a situation where, well, not only is
morale affected, but where you can’t really do what you want
to do. In fact, just recently—I come in as an advisor here.
I spent yesterday, half a day, trying to solve an FTE [full-time equivalent]
problem for an engineer that is here. It wasn’t much of a problem.
It wasn’t really a problem, but because of all this institutional
bureaucracy, it’s a problem. This is not conducive to an agency
that’s supposed to deal in research. It might be more appropriate
for a lot of government agencies, but not ones that should be focused
on missions and research.
Over the years there have been a lot of efforts to ameliorate these
conditions. In the early days, as you asked about––one
of the advantages was that a civil servant cost an additional $11,000
at most per year at the Center, and the rest you had to get: money
to support only your research associates, your university colleagues,
your post-docs, needed equipment and so on. It made it possible to
do a lot of work. Now you have to not only get support for your outside
colleagues and those at universities, but also for the civil servants,
and civil servants are even more expensive. So anyway, everybody recognizes
the problem, it’s just that nobody can do anything about it.
So the proposals or the funding nowadays have to cover the civil servant
correct. Let me tell you, a typical civil servant’s salary coverage
is of the order of $200,000 to $250,000, some number like that. But
the most you can ask in an R&A proposal is about $150,000. It’s
different from missions, where you have many millions of dollars.
The most you can ask in a normal R&A proposal, such as observing
proposals like we have been doing, is not enough to support the people
that I was able to support in the ’90s, like the students and
all, I couldn’t do that today. It would not be possible. Yet,
in the past all these students came out for the better. As I pointed
out, one of them is running one of these programs.
is the impact of not being able to involve all those students in these
programs now, do you think?
there is a dual impact. One impact is, of course, you get less labor,
and less very innovative ideas. I have to admit that most of the success
that we had, in the ’90s and so on, a lot of these SL-9 results
and all would have been very, very difficult to achieve without student
and post doc help. It might not even have been possible.
It also affects the individuals themselves, the students. They don’t
have the same opportunity. They would go into doing something else,
like do computer programming, or go in some peripheral field. Which
for some might be okay, and for others it would be, I think, a loss
because of their talent. Some of them may go and manage programs instead
of doing the research. That may benefit the program management, but
it takes away from the research community. One has to choose what
one thinks is important.
would think that it would discourage people from wanting to work in
research with NASA if the positions or the opportunities aren’t
there like they were for you.
I was extremely lucky I have to say. Remember, I came in doing something
completely different. I had no clue that I would be involved in anything
like this when I first came.
interesting, and kind of sad at the same time that we’re missing
those opportunities now. I assume it’s because of funding issues
that everybody else is going through.
and the overall sense of needing control. In the military you want
to have control, but when you are doing research you have to relax.
People do, to a degree. The management, the Science management, understands
all this. The point is it’s not a formal acceptance.
It’s different, it’s different. It drives some people
away from NASA, and if they can get an equivalent position at a university,
they would go. And they have. As I say, they could go to Headquarters
and manage the programs that they don’t like. It’s a choice
one has to make, or just go in a different field. That happens, too.
mentioned the military, and it just brought to mind one of the things
I read about. This was back in ’80 again. It’s on your
CV [curriculum vitae] that you were an organizer for the NASA–U.S.
Army Workshop on Sub/Near Millimeter Wave Technology.
could be. Was that in Maryland?
Goddard, it says.
Goddard? Yes, it could be. It could be. Yes, we did. We did have it,
because we worked mainly in the infrared, but looked at extending
the techniques and investigations into the longer sub-millimeter spectral
region. Interfacing with DoD [Department of Defense] research efforts
was important. At that time, people working in the infrared had to
have secret clearance in order to have access to the latest technologies,
many of which are no longer classified at all. I did have a secret
clearance—I had to have it—and that enabled me to get
information. I remember even in our building, in Building 2, we had
a room with a file cabinet that was locked all the time. And the guards
had to check every day.
At that time we had the other infrared group here that eventually
went into the astrophysics areas. Mike [Michael G.] Hauser was the
head of that, and John [C.] Mather was one of the members of that
group. John Mather, as you may know, is the Nobel laureate in physics
a few years back. He was the PI on the COBE [Cosmic Background Explorer]
mission. They were all part of that group that had access to these
materials, and I think that particular group was responsible mainly
for this filing cabinet. So we did have more, but I think that’s
pretty much passé now.
In fact, these mixers that we use, these detectors that generate these
difference frequencies in the infrared in our heterodyne spectrometers,
those mixers were developed for military use. Those mixers were classified
mixers at one time, and that effort—I guess it was for forward-looking
radars and all that—but they don’t do that anymore.
It’s hard to even get those devices anymore, so really to continue
or enhance our work we would need either a huge infusion of money
or just use what devices we have until they die. Because a lot of
the technology is no longer supported. It was mainly supported in
the past by military needs, by DoD needs.
talk a little bit about the international component of doing science
and research. Looking through your CV, there are a lot of things that
you worked on that involved working with the German Planetary Telescope
Science Working Group, for example, or the Solar and Heliospheric
Observatory, which was in collaboration with ESA [European Space Agency].
Working with these different international groups and other space
agencies in other countries—talk about that for a little bit,
that relationship and how some of that worked. The [Cassini-] Huygens
probe is another example.
yes. In fact, support of Huygens was a major, major effort.
talk about that. And some of the international components of doing
this kind of research.
Well, we did have quite a few. For one thing, there was a group in
Cologne [Germany], which contributed two post-docs to us, both of
which made major contributions. They were [National Academies of Sciences]
NRC [National Research Council] post-docs that were major contributors
to our current instrument, HIPWAC, Heterodyne Instrument for Planetary
Wind and Composition. Frank Schmülling in particular. This is
the instrument that we currently use and used to make measurements
of Titan, Titan’s winds, prior to the Cassini mission and during
the descent of the Huygens probe.
These measurements we made were unique in the following sense—they
started out as a kind of a practical need. You see, Titan is a moon
of Saturn. It’s got a very dense atmosphere. Well, how dense?
One and a half times the density of the Earth’s atmosphere.
It’s very, very similar to the Earth in another way, and the
other way is that its atmosphere is predominantly nitrogen, much like
However, it’s so far away from the Sun and so cold that oxygen
is virtually not observed, or cannot be present in gaseous form. In
fact, it has a hydrologic cycle—or kind of a cycle—of
liquid, rain, and lakes, but the rain and lakes are predominantly
hydrocarbon gas, liquid gas, like methane and ethane. The atmosphere—it’s
got a stratosphere like the Earth. The stratosphere is formed by minor
molecular constituents that absorb solar UV [ultraviolet] and then
emit in the infrared, and they warm the atmosphere. On Earth it’s
ozone. But on Titan these molecules are hydrocarbons, methane and,
ethane and perhaps others. But again, most of the atmosphere is nitrogen,
so there are also nitrogen hydrocarbon compounds that are present
During this Cassini mission and the Huygens probe, which was a European
ESA contributor to the mission, there was one issue. They had to release
the probe so it goes into the atmosphere of Titan. As it enters the
atmosphere, you would like to track the probe from the orbiter as
it gets to the surface. However, if there is a strong wind in the
atmosphere it’s going to drive the probe one way or the other,
so you have to have this sort of target ellipse such that you can
monitor the probe until it lands. You have to release it in such a
way that whatever winds are present, it won’t drive the probe
into eclipse behind the moon before landing. Then you can’t
see it, so then the orbiter will lose that information. Communication
between orbiter and probe to the surface was the mission goal.
The original timescale for this probe release and entry was such that
this became a very critical issue. It turned out that later on because
of other changes it was less of an issue, although it was still important.
But it was critical at first.
So how do you measure winds? Well, they have data from Voyager IRIS
[Infrared Interferometer Spectrometer and Radiometer] instrument where
they look at the temperature map, and from the temperature map they
could determine how strong the winds are. If you know you have a certain
temperature at the east limb, and a certain temperature at the equator
and the west limb, you can determine a wind field from models.
The other unique aspect of Titan is it’s one of two objects
in the solar system with an atmosphere that rotates very slowly. The
other one is Venus. Venus rotates on the order of 250 Earth days for
one year, so it’s very slow. Titan takes about 19 days to rotate.
All the other planets and objects with atmospheres we know have much
faster rotation periods—like the Earth is 24 hours, Mars is
approximately 24 hours. Rotation periods of all the giant planets
are of the order of 10 or 20 hours for a single day.
Theories of atmospheric circulation on these objects are reasonably
developed. Whereas Titan’s period is much longer, so the physics
of coupling between the surface and the atmosphere is not well understood.
We don’t have many examples where theories about the so-called
cyclostrophic circulation can be tested. One is Venus. Of course we
know a little bit about it, but we didn’t have another example.
Titan is another example, so it was very important to measure the
winds. In fact, on the Cassini-Huygens probe there was an experiment
called the Doppler Wind Experiment, which was a radio experiment to
measure the winds as the probe descends. But again, that’s only
when the probe is descending, and we need information before that.
Well, as I mentioned earlier, if we can measure molecular emission
lines and determine their absolute frequencies from Doppler shift,
we could determine the wind magnitude and direction, which is something
these thermal maps cannot do. The thermal maps can determine the magnitude
of the wind, estimate from theory, but they can’t determine
which direction the wind is blowing. It’s a complex theory,
a thermal wind equation is used, and I don’t fully understand
In any case, it was important to measure the direction of the wind.
And we had that capability, because if we could measure an emission
line of ethane on the east limb and an emission line of ethane on
the west limb, and then compare their frequencies, the difference
in the frequency between east and west would give us information on
the zonal wind going around the globe of Titan.
It would tell us not only the magnitude of the wind, but also its
direction because the Doppler shift tells you which direction the
wind is going. If it’s approaching, the frequency of the lines
would be shifted to higher frequency. If it’s receding, it would
be shifted to lower frequency. You could tell that, and so we said,
“Hey, we could do this.”
We tried it at the IRTF. The problem is that Titan is very small.
It’s actually even smaller than our field of view on the sky
with the IRTF, the three-meter telescope. The three-meter telescope
diffraction-limited field of view, that’s the smallest field
of view you can resolve with a coherent instrument like ours, with
a heterodyne instrument like ours, is one arc second on the sky, and
Titan is eight-tenths of an arc second in diameter. And so we tried
anyway. We looked at the east limb and the west limb––we
only nipped a portion of Titan in both cases, but most of our field
of view was the sky. So the amount of signal we got was very low,
and it took us a week to measure the lines to get reasonable signal-to-noise
[ratio] so we could get some information. And we did. We got some
information as to the direction, but it wasn’t very good.
To do a better job we needed to go to a telescope that was bigger,
like a 10-meter or an 8-meter telescope. We were fortunate to get
on the Subaru Telescope, the National Astronomical Observatory [of
Japan] telescope Subaru, which is also on Mauna Kea, on the next cinder
cone next to the IRTF. We could take our instrument and put it on
We put it on Subaru. It’s an 8.2-meter telescope. That means
the diameter of the beam on the sky, the best we can achieve, is now
about one-third of what we had, so it’s like a third of an arc
second. It’s a third of an arc second as opposed to one arc
second, and Titan is eight-tenths of an arc second. So now even when
we go for east limb and west limb, hopefully most of the planet or
Titan will be in our field of view, and we would get very little sky.
And so we got time on Subaru. The Subaru Telescope Director at that
time (Hiroshi Karoji) was very, very responsive and supportive, and
the Director of the IRTF, Alan [T.] Tokunaga, a long-time colleague,
was able to encourage him to support us. We got time to do that a
year before the actual encounter.
One night, we had data that was better than what we got within the
two weeks at the IRTF, so it made a big difference. We got results
that were consistent with what we had before, but with a lower uncertainty.
This gave us the fact that the wind blows in a prograde direction—that’s
in the same direction as rotation—something that was possibly
anticipated by theory, but needed to be proven, and so we were able
to do that.
During the descent of the probe we wanted to make measurements at
exactly the same time, but unfortunately we had a snowstorm, and then
a blizzard before. Right at the day of the actual descent, we were
out there. We had huge winds that prevented us from tracking and opening
the telescope. We got some data the day after, and they weren’t
really great either, because the conditions were still not great.
But the snowstorm—again, just like the Comet Halley event, all
the momentous measurements we were supposed to make were hindered
by snow and weather. That’s the price you pay to observe from
Anyway, we did manage to get some limited data. At that time, we were
in constant communication with the ESA folks—Jean-Pierre Lebreton,
who was the Project Scientist for Huygens. He was one of our major
supporters, and we had communication with them, and with the mission.
Also with the Doppler Wind Experiment folks.
As a side story – the Doppler Wind Experiment, which was on
Huygens, Mike [Michael K.] Bird, who is an American but he is part
of the Astrophysical Institute in Germany [Argelander-Institut für
Astronomie, University of Bonn], he was the PI on this Doppler Wind
Experiment. The idea was to make measurements by radio signal from
the lander, and for the signal to be picked up and compared to an
ultra-stable oscillator on the orbiter, then relayed back to Earth.
Then you could monitor the change in frequency of the signal from
the probe, the Doppler shift and wind.
Well, as all the best-laid plans of mice and men, there was an issue.
I’m not going to go into that, but there was an issue with the
oscillator on the orbiter, so they couldn’t do that. But they
salvaged the experiment by using the larger Deep Space Network telescopes
on the Earth to pick up the signal from the descending probe into
Titan. Those measurements from the various Deep Space Network tracking
observatories on Earth—they used that data to determine the
Doppler shift and get a velocity profile with altitude on Titan.
So the Titan Doppler Wind Experiment on Cassini-Huygens was a great
success, and Mike Bird and I actually are good colleagues in this
regard. He has been very supportive of our work, particularly since
we measure the wind velocities much higher in the atmosphere than
the probe does. The probe measures only below 120 kilometers above
the surface, and we measure around 200 and more kilometers above the
surface. From that, we have actually a wind altitude pattern.
[Some of this work is described in a book that came out on Titan,
“Titan from Cassini-Huygens”. I think it was a Springer
Press book, I am not sure. I think Mike actually put in our chart
of velocity in his chapter. And we have a several papers you could
see there on this work. So that was, I think, probably, a prime example
of how ground-based measurements supported a major mission.
This observing program was one of the most difficult and rewarding
in my career. It was made possible by a superb team of close colleagues
(Tim Livengood USRA/GSFC now UMD, Tilak Hewagama UMD/GSFC, Kelly Fast
and David Buhl GSFC, and Frank Schmülling and Guido Sonnabend
U. Cologne, both former NRC/GSFC, and engineering support from John
Annen GSFC) and Juan Delgado (UMD). We had to interface our instrument
HIPWAC to the Subaru telescope, learn and execute the observing procedures,
and ultimately reduce, analyze and interpret the results. Results
were published in Geophysical Research Letters and Journal of Geophysical
Research in 2001, 2005 and 2006.]
I think people generally don’t think about the ground-based
work that’s being done to support these missions.
Then I had several international conferences that I helped to organize
and attended as invited speaker.
you want to talk about those?
most recent meeting was in 2015, organized by a colleague at the European
Southern Observatory in Santiago, Chile, specifically working on ALMA.
I was on the organizing committee. Its goal was to emphasize the importance
and complementarity of ground based studies from world observatories,
especially ALMA to space-borne investigations. [Ground and Space observations:
a joint venture to Planetary science, March 2-5, 2015, Santiago, Chile]
There was the DPS [Division of Planetary Science] meeting in Baltimore,
Maryland, in 1985 and the DPS meeting in Washington, in the Washington
area is another example. This was in 1994 maybe, something like that.
That was after the Soviet Union broke apart. The community wanted
to support scientists from the former Soviet Union to come to this
DPS meeting, and there was a budget for that. I was the one to make
selections as to who we’d have. We had several Russians, Ukrainians.
There was an invite to Kazakhstan. These were a couple of DPS meetings,
there were several. So I built up a collegial relationship with scientists
from those countries—but I had contacts before, during Soviet
times yet. I could tell you about that, too. This was another international
role, if you like, that I played.]
Primarily in Ukraine. I had colleagues there. Actually, we had a student
[Mykola (Nikolay) Ivchenko] who came here in the mid-’90s, a
student who was a sophomore in college at the time. I get a call from
our Directorate Chief. He says, “Ted, we got this Ukrainian
student. Would you like to have him?”
I said, “Sure.” I’m of Ukrainian background, so
that’s why he called me. I said, “Great, we’ll have
him come here.” So he came and I tell you, this student—oh,
and he won some kind of an international science competition—
he was one of the winners. This is in the mid-’90s. He was funded
by a—this is another interesting story—I think it was
a German inventor. Some German fellow who set up a grant for supporting
several students from around the world at NASA. The student won this
competition or this award.
They directed him to me and I tell you this kid, he was sharper than
most of the post-docs that we had here. He really was a sharp young
man. But we may have discouraged him from planetary science. He went
into space physics. He may be in England now, or in Sweden someplace.
But the best sort of international contact was a Conference on InfraRed
Physics (CIRP) that was run by a professor Fritz Kneubühl from
ETH [Zurich], the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology [Zürich,
Switzerland]. I think 1984 was my first trip. I went to that conference;
I think it was an invitation. I went to that, and this is an interesting
We are in Switzerland. Remember, this is dark Soviet times. We are
in Switzerland, and they had a Soviet delegation there. I looked at
the abstracts, and there were a couple from the [V.E. Lashkaryov]
Institute of Semiconductor Physics in Kiev, in Ukraine. “Oh,
that would be interesting.”
We are at the first poster night. This is the first night we are there,
and they are serving wine there. We are at the posters, and among
the dignitaries there was Charles Townes, and we were friends. As
I mentioned, his students did the heterodyne work, and I had visited
him before so we had met. So here I was talking to Townes in front
of a poster, drinking my little glass of wine.
I look around, and there is this fellow with bushy eyebrows, and he
is staring at me. Then our eyes met, and he walks right over to me.
He says, “Hi, I’m such-and-such.” He says, “How
does an American get a name such as this?” pointing at my nametag.
I said, “What do you mean?”
He says, “Well, how does an American get a Ukrainian name?”
I said, “Well, Americans have all kinds of names. They come
from around the world.” I said, “But you have a Ukrainian
name, Malyutenko.” I did that intentionally.
He says, “Well yes, but of course.” Then we chatted, and
I asked him—or I may have said something in Ukrainian to him,
and it shocked him a little bit.
But then he got really friendly, and so we are talking. We had to
take a bus to the hotel, so we are in the bus. We get in this bus.
He sits behind me, and I sit in the front. He says to me, “Look,
I will speak in English, and you speak in Ukrainian, and let’s
talk.” Well, do you understand why? Because all the Soviet scientists
that came here, at least one of them was a monitor. When they came
to Goddard—we used to have Soviet delegations here—you
knew who the monitor was. The most prominent scientists usually kept
quiet. They had a person who was more fluent in English, and he was
also the one that did most of the talking. But he was probably the
least recognized scientifically, through papers or whatever.
So the reason he wanted that—I assume and I gather that so that
anybody listening to us, what we’re talking about, wouldn’t
be able to fully understand. It was really funny. We had this conversation,
and then after that he came to the next CIRP meeting.
Oh, and then the other story, I don’t know if this is—well,
it’s history, right?
is NASA history. Sometime halfway through the meeting, there is a
boat ride on Zürichsee, on the lake, Zürich Lake. He comes
to me and he says, “Ted, I want you to be our guest, my guest.”
I said, “Where, on the boat? But we are all going on the boat.”
“No, no, no. You come with us. You come and be our guest.”
I said “Okay.” So he finds me on the boat. We are off
on this boat, and he takes me to one little corner, and there is a
whole delegation from Eastern Europe there. There was the fellow from
the Czech Republic, there were several Russians, there was him. He
was the only Ukrainian guy there. There was a whole group of them.
This turned out to be very typical.
For me this was the first experience, because I have never met any
scientists. I have met others, but never a scientist. These guys open
up their little attaché case, they pull out smoked fish. This
was sturgeon, smoked sturgeon, I think it was. They had baguettes,
and of course they had little bottles of various alcoholic drinks,
like vodka, and I think they had what they called cognac, too. I forget
All of a sudden I got a little nervous, because what if they throw
me in the water. I drink all this and they—I have reasons to
fear that. So there they are, and we are having a great conversation.
It’s all in English, of course, so I could understand everything.
It was quite an experience. As I said, I was a little nervous. “What
do they have in my drink? What do they want from me?”
That was my first experience. I met him, and in fact years later several
times. He came to visit Goddard. He won some grants from a DoD-funded
institution years later—Kirtland Air Force Base [New Mexico],
I think—and he actually gave me some devices to test. We tested
his little black body sources for our instruments. I don’t know
where he is now. I think he emigrated to the U.S. somewhere, this
He was the one that arranged my first visit to Ukraine. This was in
1990. It was still the Soviet Union. I can write a book about that
experience. I gave talks at the Institute of Semiconductor Physics,
and I gave talks at the Main Astronomical Observatory of the National
Academy of Sciences of Ukraine [Kiev, Ukraine]. Then, years later,
there was this foundation funded partly by [George] Soros and partly
by the USAID [United States Agency for International Development]
for supporting scientists from the former Soviet Union for different
things, research and for conferences. The Director [Academician Yaroslav
Yatskiv] and colleagues from the Main Astronomical Observatory wrote
a proposal for a conference in which I was a co-I [co-investigator],
and they won. This was, I think, in 2000.
I see that here on your list.
that was in 2000. That was Astronomy in Ukraine [2000 and Beyond:
Impact of International Cooperation]. I helped with that proposal.
I was the American PI, because you had to have an American co-I. I
was the American co-I, or PI, on that. It was a very nice, interesting
Then I was also involved in two others—one I think I was an
organizer for, and the other I was just involved. Those are NATO [North
Atlantic Treaty Organization] conferences. NATO has a program for
funding conferences on various topics at either member states’
countries or associate countries.
There was another fellow [Michael Mishchenko] at GISS [Goddard Institute
for Space Studies] and a guy [Gordon Videen] at one of the Army [Research
Lab, previously Harry] Diamond Labs here [Adelphi, Maryland] who were
the principals on that, and they organized these conferences. They
invited me to give talks. Of course, while I was there (in Ukraine),
I did go to their space center [NIP-16 tracking facility, Yevpatoria],
which was in Crimea. They had the large telescopes, of course those
are since gone. I visited also, the Institute for Radio Astronomy
in [Kharkiv] Ukraine. I visited all these institutions and collaborated
The Institute for Radio Astronomy had telescopes in Crimea. They were
part of the VLBI [Very Long Baseline Interferometry] program. The
principals are at Goddard. It was started years ago (by Tom Clark)
and in fact the receivers on their telescopes were from Goddard. The
person that worked on VLBI at Goddard at the time (Choppo Ma) was
there with me on that one meeting. If he is not retired, he is still
doing VLBI here.
Very Long Baseline Interferometry looks at radio signals from radio
stars from different locations on the Earth, and from triangulation
you can do several things. You can measure diameter of stars, or you
can look at tectonic flow or continental drift, and various other
geophysical phenomenon on the Earth. There is a telescope in Hawaii,
on Mauna Kea, and there are telescopes around the world and there
were telescopes in Crimea, in Ukraine. When I visited, it was kind
of eerie, because here were Goddard property numbers on these instruments
on the Ukrainian telescopes. That was another connection that we had.
interesting, because you were talking about working, as you said,
during that “dark Soviet time.” Did NASA prepare you in
any way? You said when they came there was a person, or a handler,
that was there with them. When you went over there, before it was
independent, how did NASA prepare you for that? Or was there any preparation?
a very good question, very good. It was 1990. I had an invitation
to visit institutions in Kiev. I had never been to the Soviet Union.
But unlike most Americans, I knew more about it than most because
of my heritage. Actually, my dad was in a gulag [Soviet forced labor
camp] for five years digging coal. My dad was a university professor,
and he was purged in the ’30s, as many were.
Obviously, I had met the people I described, and then other visitors
to Goddard. Also, in the ’60s when there was [Soviet leader
Nikita S.] Krushchev, there was a “Krushchev Thaw” it
was called, where they allowed intellectuals from the Soviet Union
to come to the U.S. There was some measure of exchange. At that time,
I had met a couple of poets as a result of my dad’s profession.
So I did have some contact, and I thought I knew what to expect.
So I’m getting an official visa, and I’m going. They [Travel
Office] give me these information lists. It’s less than a week
from leaving. I get this sheet. It says what I should do, and it says
that the Soviet Union regards all people born on territory that is
currently part of the Soviet Union and their children as citizens
of the Soviet Union. You know who I am? I’m the child of a Soviet.
So I look at this and I say, “Well, are they going to—”
because my dad was actually a notorious person then, in the literary
circles. There were articles against him in the press in the ’60s
and ’70s, and even ’80s. But I’m going officially.
NASA will protect me, the U.S. government will protect—they
gave me the address of the U.S. embassy in Moscow and all that. And
so I’m going. It’s 1990.
V. Malyutenko (from the Institute of Semiconductor Physics) invited
me, this guy that I met in Zurich, and I got an invitation from the
Main Astronomical Observatory, from the Director. I’m going
for the first time, and so I did. I fly into Paris, and there I take
Aeroflot [Russian Airlines] from Paris to Kiev. It’s a long
wait, and I’m really tired. And I’m not used to flying
because I didn’t fly that much to Europe up to that point. Time
change, I guess, is the thing.
Eventually I get to the gate, and it’s not quite organized the
way I expected. I showed them my ticket, and they just told me to
sit down. I sat down and I saw all these people sitting there. There
is this guy all dressed in black, and a big suitcase. Something that
normally you’d check. We are sitting there and then eventually
it was time to board. We are coming in and I go into the plane, and
it really struck me. It was like a hand-painted old Greyhound [Lines,
Inc.] bus interior. It looked very, very not like what we are used
to. Not like United [Airlines]. I said, “Well, all right, it’s
a Soviet plane.”
I go to my seat, and it’s taken. I motioned to the stewardess
there. When I show her the ticket she said, “It’s okay.
Sit over here.” She puts me next to this guy that was all in
black and his suitcase. The suitcase was in between, in the middle
seat, and I’m on the aisle. “All right.” So I sat
The plane takes off—and it was a very nice ride, by the way.
The flight was very smooth, very nice. The food wasn’t great.
I had something to eat, and then I fell asleep. I fell asleep, and
then I woke up and this guy sitting next to me turns to me, and, in
Ukrainian, says to me, “How is your father, Mr. Kostiuk?”
Can you imagine that? I’m at 30,000 feet in a Soviet plane,
and this guy who I never saw turns to me and asks me—how does
he know my name? And how does he know about my father? It’s
This is how my trip started. I have more stories like that, but it
turns out that he was in France doing a video about a Ukrainian playwright
and author and painter Volodymyr Vynnychenko, whose plays played all
over Europe, at the turn of the century. During 1917-1918, during
that period after the [World] War [I], Ukraine had declared independence,
and he was head of government at that time. And so he was doing a
video on this guy, and it turns out that this author—he was
a playwright and author—my father was an expert on this author.
My father, in fact, transferred his archives from France, where the
author lived in exile—because he was under threat of assassination—and
my father transferred his archives to the U.S. and stored them in
Columbia University [New York City, New York]. But that’s a
So that’s how he would know about my father, but how did he
know who I was? I still don’t know. You realize I still don’t
know for sure? Now, I did have my name on my briefcase, but I don’t
know if he saw that. He might have seen a picture of me. That’s
a possibility, because he visited the place where this person lived
and died, and I had been there two years earlier, or something like
that. Maybe he saw a picture, I don’t know. I really don’t
We kind of chatted, but I was nervous. I didn’t know what’s
going on. It’s one thing after another. Then we land, and I
did recover my bag. We are standing in line, and this guy is really
excited. He says, “Look what I’m carrying,” and
he has got this suitcase with him. He opens up this suitcase and starts
flashing books, showing me books that were forbidden in the Soviet
Union. This is 1990, so this is now perestroika [period of Soviet
reform]. This is an example of all the changes that are occurring
in the Soviet Union.
These books were still forbidden, and my father published some of
them—and some were my father’s books. He is flashing this,
and I see this as a provocation because they could use this as a reason
to detain me for some reason, that I’m a propagandist or whatever.
I try to avoid this guy, and he is flashing this book about Stalin
that this author [Volodymyr K.] Vynnychenko wrote that my father edited
and published. He is waving this in front of me, he is so happy to
have this stuff.
Well, it turned out okay. We went through security. They bothered
me because I didn’t give them the exact dollar amount I was
carrying and all that stuff, but anyway, I got through and was met.
The person that picked me up, the same person I met in Switzerland,
had to give this guy a ride because he didn’t have a ride to
the city. I had multiple experiences like that for the next week or
so that I was there in Kiev.
The caveat that’s relevant to NASA is that when I got back,
I got a call from our international office, “Hey Ted, there
is guy here from the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency]. He’d
like to talk to you. Well, you don’t have to talk to him,”
she says, “but he would like to.”
I said, “Fine, I’ll talk to him.” So I had a meeting
later with this CIA guy who was overt. He said, “I’m an
overt [agent]. I’m not a covert, I’m an overt.”
He asked me about the meeting, and whom I met there, and who the people
were and all that stuff. He had some specific questions. Then he offered
to pay for my next trip to any international meeting where Soviets
were. I, of course, declined.
that with the intention that you would provide information?
of course. Of course. When I went another time a few years later,
a couple of years later, I think I had a phone call—they also
asked just general questions. They had specific questions—whether
specific people were there. I said I didn’t meet them, I don’t
know who they are. I think the third time I was busy, and then they
never called back. It sort of decayed with the Cold War.
quite an experience, and I don’t blame you. I think I would
have been a little nervous on the plane.
yes. There’s nowhere to run.
exactly. Unless you had a parachute, that was it.
mentioned the work you did at Headquarters, and that was between ’93
and ’96. What exactly were you doing in that position? It says
“Manager, Planetary Instrument Definition and Development Program
[PIDDP].” Talk about that for a minute, and what you were doing.
the PIDDP was one of the NASA R&A programs that provided funding
for new instrument ideas for future missions. Basically, it supported
a lot of important things. For example, one of the things that we
supported were the sensors that later flew on the Kepler mission for
extrasolar planetary detection.
I remember visiting [NASA] Ames [Research Center, Moffett Field, California]
where a lot of this work was done. We funded that effort of CCD [charged-couple
device] development, and components for the CCD detectors or arrays
that were used to look at occultation of stars by planets in the Kepler
A lot of the instruments that came out of this program—supported
and were built—were augmented for various missions. Near-Earth
Asteroid [Scout], there was a mission like that. Yes, that was another
thing that was supported by this program. Some of the Cassini effort—I
think that later on even some of the effort that went into the [Mars
Science Laboratory] Curiosity spacecraft, that was also supported
by the PIDDP program. PIDDP since has been modified and broken down
into two different programs, PICASSO [Planetary Instrument Concepts
for the Advancement of Solar System Observations] and MatISSE [Maturation
of Instruments for Solar System Exploration].
One is more like the old PIDDP, which is not that much money for development,
and one that develops the instrument to the next step. But at that
time it was only one level of development. That was a program that
I basically ran as a manager. I put review panels together and made
decisions regarding funding, and also did other things at Headquarters
that related to instrument development.
looks like you were also the Chief Scientist for Exploration Programs
under the Space Sciences Directorate at Goddard?
that and after that I was Chief Scientist for Exploration. This basically,
remember, started with the father [George H.W.] Bush presidency, the
Space Exploration Initiative. I was the representative from Goddard
to various meetings and planning, activities. One of the activities
that came over that period was attending meetings that were on proposed
SEI missions. I have some interesting stories about that, too, but
I don’t know how appropriate they are.
About the same time, we had a conference that I helped organize with
Mike Mumma and others on exploration from the Moon, astronomy from
the Moon [Workshop on Astrophysics form the Moon, Annapolis, MD, February
5-7, 1990]. The Moon was then deemed one of the platforms we could
use for telescopes, For example, for radio telescopes. Its radio quiet
environment would make radio astronomy very powerful. It provided
no atmosphere, so you could look in wavelength regions that are not
accessible from the Earth and so on.
Along with that were also discussions of searches for extrasolar planets,
which, I must say, really accelerated after the mid-’90s, 2000s.
That was really amazing because I remember I was, during my NASA PIDDP
tenure, at a meeting—I remember in Boulder––where
[William J.] Borucki and his proposed [Kepler] mission was really
frowned upon, if not ridiculed, at some point. It turns out that he
was successful, and it became a very, very productive mission.
That was one of the meetings where the, quote, “experts”
at the time were looking at various ways of detecting extrasolar planets.
Which was an interesting meeting in itself, scientifically, but it
also demonstrated the kind of community that one was working in at
the time. And I was there as a Headquarters’ representative—I
think at that time I might have been there also as the Goddard representative,
or just Headquarters. Of course, I couldn’t do both at the same
time. My roles overlapped over that period.
looking through your CV and your resume, I notice there is a lot of
work that you have done—a lot of workshops, a lot of advisory
committees—related to education, and educating the public. One
of them I am looking at is the member of the Challenger Center for
Space Science Education Advisory Committee [or Education and Public
Outreach]. Talk about the importance of being associated and working
with these different groups that are promoting education and science
education, in this country and other countries as well.
I think it’s extremely important. It’s particularly important
in the U.S. because we all—and this is one of the things you
learn, especially at Headquarters—that we really are servants
of the public. They pay our salary, and so we have to not only think
about science in general, but also respond to what the needs are of
One of the big influences that I had on me was a former student and
a current colleague, both of whom are very deeply involved in science
education. The student was the one that did the velocity measurements,
the wind measurements, on Venus as his dissertation, Jeff Goldstein.
As I mentioned, he went to the Smithsonian, then from there, to the
Challenger Center. Then he left the Challenger Center and he formed,
ultimately, his own education organization, National Center for Earth
and Space Science Education [NCESSE]. Now, it’s not a big organization,
but what they do is they go to various communities, disadvantaged
communities in particular—one example is Indian reservations—to
schools there, and they would provide talks and examples and education
about Earth and space science at a K [Kindergarten] through 12 [12th-grade]
level. Also, they try to enhance the knowledge by exhibits.
One of the major exhibits that I think my CV addresses is the scale
model of the solar system, Voyage: Journey Through Our Solar System
on the Mall. I helped to design this exhibit [as a member of the Smithsonian
Institution National Air and Space Museum Advisory Committee - 1998-2001].
If you go to the Smithsonian, outside on the Mall sidewalk there is
a Sun about the size of a grapefruit at about the glass part of the
Air and Space Museum, and I think Pluto is somewhere where the Castle
[Smithsonian Institution Building] is. You can walk that distance—which
isn’t that short—and at the proper relative distances
you have a little exhibit which shows the planets, Earth being the
third planet. In fact, Earth is so small you can only see it by tactile.
You kind of feel it.
The exhibit consists of a solid block, like a Plexiglas-type material
with the planetary system—the planet and its moons—embedded
in it so you can see the reflections. Then a little tactile display
where you can feel how big it is. It’s all to scale. I guess
the Sun is a grapefruit size when it starts, and you have these little
planets at the stations.
Jeff conceived the exhibit, and with Challenger Center support—and
the Smithsonian supported this, it certainly gave you the ground it
was built on. They NCESSE have actually put up several of these exhibits
throughout the country. I think maybe one in Galveston, Texas, and
some other locations. I was one of the advisors on this exhibit, and
so I feel it’s very important. Jeff and NCESSE are now involved
in a program/competition that enables high school students to fly
designed experiments on the Space Station.
One of my colleagues here [GSFC], Tim [Timothy A.] Livengood, continuously
gives talks to the community, particularly schoolchildren, on science
and technology and so on. He is very, very active. So through them,
I really feel the need that we need to do that. I’ve done some
of that myself personally, but not as intensely. I have been very
busy with other things. But I do support all of that, and I think
it’s very important.
It’s kind of a shame. I think a lot of the education budget
within NASA has been cut in the last proposed budget, I believe, or
at least there’s a fear of that.
There is definitely a fear.
a shame, because again, these are the people that pay our salaries,
and we have to respond to their needs.
One of the things I learned at Headquarters, which is another thing—we
used to get letters from people. Really off the wall, some of them.
“Why is NASA hiding aliens?” You know what? I would have
trashed them. But that’s not what happened. They had a person
there who wrote back to every letter, at least in the Planetary Sciences
Division, answering their questions and concerns. I thought that was
very, very, very good, very appropriate.
talked to Dr. [David] Morrison at Ames, and I know he took that upon
himself to do a lot of that, especially around the time of 2012 when
people were afraid the world was going to end. But I think it is important,
too, that especially the scientists take some responsibility in educating
the public, and we do need that next generation also to continue the
If scientists respond at least at some level, at least it’s
more consistent with scientific knowledge, as opposed to speculation.
of the questions I have been asking some of your fellow scientists
this summer, just because of the atmosphere in the U.S. right now—the
political atmosphere, but also almost a feeling of people being more
skeptical, I guess, about science than it seems like they have been
in the past. How do you feel that that’s going to affect NASA,
or do you think it does? Do you think NASA needs to address that directly
more than they do now, or do you feel like it’s something that
they are dealing with as well as they can? Especially, Earth Science
and different types of science that you have been involved in?
are always going to have times when science becomes less important,
or less supported, or less respected. When everything is comfortable,
you don’t look at how you can make things better, or how you
can solve a problem if there are no problems. That’s part of
the problem. Like with the global warming, people don’t feel
an immediate effect. Although I have felt it for years, because we
go skiing every winter to this place in New York State, and we used
to freeze. Now I sit in the sun and have a beer.
I don’t know if that’s just a snapshot of the situation,
but as long as people don’t feel the effect, they are not going
to be as far-reaching into the future, and that’s unfortunate
sometimes. Our comfort is one of the both good and bad aspects of
our lives. As I said, science education is an important part of it,
and so our perception of things should be also voiced to the community.
think the outreach that you have done or you have taken part in has
a good effect on educating people, and hopefully making them more
aware of the importance of science. As you mentioned earlier, some
of the first things you worked on is one of the reasons we have MRIs,
and how the technology transfers.
right. You have to show that example. At that time, the person that
I mentioned, he kept talking about investigating structured tissues
with this technique. Even I said, “Wow, that’s a good
idea.” But it didn’t even register that it’s going
to become a real powerful tool in the future.
I always think of the science fiction stories that we had when I was
young. If you pick up some old science fiction stories, if you listen
to old-time radio where they have science—a lot of that stuff
seems like nothing. We have that and more today.
mentioned the HIPWAC, the Heterodyne Instrument for Planetary Wind
and Composition Project. You said that that’s what you are working
on currently, or it’s what’s being used currently.
our most current instrument for ground-based observing. [We essentially
developed and used the technique for spectral investigation of planetary
atmospheres (and some stars). HIPWA’s orders of magnitude higher
spectral resolution mid-infrared spectrometer enabled the many discoveries
and measurements possible. Among them––natural lasing
on Mars and Venus, direct wind measurements on Titan, Venus, and Mars,
ozone and carbon dioxide isotopes on Mars’ atmosphere, thermal
infrared aurora on Jupiter, composition and thermal structure on giant
planets, and effects of cometary, bolide, impacts on Jupiter. We keep
upgrading HIPWAC and using it. [We have incorporated widely tunable
solid state quantum cascade lasers in addition to CO2 gas lasers into
HIPWAC, which with improved electronics allows us to make measurements
over a much wider spectral range and study a greater variety of molecular
sources and chemical processes.] We used it last year, for example,
to observe Jupiter, prior to the Juno mission orbital insertion, its
thermal infrared aurora and atmosphere. It’s still usable. Technically,
it’s been for most of the years a PI, a principal investigator,
instrument at the IRTF, so a lot of our equipment is at the observatory.
We only bring the instrument back here to fix it, or to upgrade it,
or do whatever. It’s here now. We plan to ask for observing
time next winter/spring, when Jupiter becomes accessible at night.
The key person on that is my colleague Tim Livengood now. I will support
it if I can, if I physically can. But I’m trying to retire.
It’s still active, but we are doing some other things that might
be interesting. In fact, there was a news release or something last
year on carbon nanotube composite telescopes that we are developing
under internal funding here at Goddard
That was one of our efforts, and that made a bunch of news. I don’t
know if I put that in my CV somewhere.
I don’t remember seeing that one.
you Google “carbon nanotube telescopes for CubeSats”—CubeSats
[miniaturized U-class spacecraft] are a new “fad”. It
may go away, but it’s a fad now. My engineer actually walked
in a little while ago, probably to talk about that.
Anyway, this work was highlighted in the news, which even had pictures
of us. It came out of a Goddard monthly technology report, and then
a lot of the news people picked it up. If you want to learn more about
that, you could do that.
you officially retired yet, or are you still working?
I officially retired March 3 . But I’m an emeritus now.
I procrastinated long enough, so now I’m moved into a small
desk and office, and I have my 50 boxes of stuff to unpack and filter
out. I still date back to a time when paper was important. By the
way, in going through my papers, I did find a lot of things that I
just totally forgot we did.
have had a long career, so I would imagine a lot of that was long
enough ago that other things have taken priority in your brain. At
least that’s the way it works with me.
I just have a couple more questions. I thought we would talk about
some of the general questions that we tend to ask of everybody. You
have worked for a long time for NASA. Of course, we have touched on
the technology and some of the changes, but the technology has changed
so much. It’s hard to keep up with technology now.
You mentioned that some of the people doing research in Hawaii, they
can sit at a desktop just like you would if you were actually there,
and follow the information coming down. So there are a lot of things
that have changed. Talk for a couple of minutes about some of the
technology, and how that has affected your work and what you do.
the early 1980s I actually did a study predicting or forecasting changes
in sensor technology over a decade away. The work was chartered by
the NASA HQ Office of Aeronautics and Space Technology (OAST). With
input from a large sensor community, the study covered nearly the
entire spectral region, gamma ray through radar frequencies and including
particle and magnetic field detectors. The work ["Spaceborne
Sensors (1983-2000 AD): A Forecast of Technology", T. Kostiuk
and B. Clark, NASA Technical Memorandum 86083, NASA/Goddard Space
Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD] was published as a GSFC memorandum and
as a chapter in the 1984 OAST Space Systems Technology Model [Vol.
IIB Space Technology Trends and Forecasts, Payloads Technology]. In
many cases the results in the forecast greatly underestimated the
actual advances by year 2000 and even more so by today.]
Well, clearly today’s network capability is important. As an
example, we can solve problems. We can be on the Subaru Telescope
and our computer fails. We have a backup computer, but not the software,
and we can get a software backup from Cologne. I mean, that in fact
happened some years ago, but that’s new tech. We couldn’t
have done that in the ‘80s; we couldn’t have done that
in the ’60s. We’d be dead in the water. Of course, then
the complexity of the software wouldn’t be as high either, so
there is a tradeoff.
Certainly our analysis ability has improved tremendously. We have
more sophisticated ways of looking at data and analyzing it. In fact,
in ways that I can’t anymore. There was a time when I could
analyze my data. I can’t do that anymore. I need somebody like
my colleague Tilak Hewagama, who is much more proficient in that ability
to use these sophisticated programs, and to develop these programs
to actually do at least the initial analysis.
So this is good and bad. The bad part is that unless you have these
people available, you can’t work very fast. I think in general,
what’s happened is that it’s hard to be a master of all
trades. Much of the effort has become more of a compartmentalized
teamwork, and this is the way it’s going to be. It’s going
to be very hard to do everything. Like when I was in graduate school,
I did everything. Now I don’t think I can. So that’s one
big change in technology.
The remoteness of communication—in fact, if you want to observe
from ALMA [Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array] in Chile,
you go to an ALMA office, I don’t know, in Cologne or Paris
or whatever. You just sit there, and it’s like you are at the
telescope. You give the commands, the information that’s needed,
and the telescopes do the rest. Or the software that drives the telescope
does the rest.
The big telescopes—even in Hawaii, like Subaru—they don’t
like you to be there. Even when you go to Hawaii, you don’t
go to the summit. You sit in an office with a computer and a monitor
in the cafeteria building. And that’s true for Keck, Gemini,
or Subaru. People don’t even go to the summit and experience
the joy of not breathing. We miss that.
In fact, we got penalized for being at Subaru too long because the
Japanese are very precise. One of the telescope operators told the
Director that we have been there over 16 hours setting up our instrument.
Of course, for us that’s not a big deal, we do this all the
time. I had to apologize to the Director as we were leaving. He wanted
an official apology. After we had our tea, we are leaving and he says,
“Ted, you must do something.”
I said, “What?”
He says, “Well, you violated our rules.”
I said, “What, what? How did we?”
“You stayed at the telescope longer than 12 hours. So you have
to write me an excuse.”
And so I did. The remote observing eliminates this, but of course,
if you bring your own instrumentation there, it should be a different
set of rules. There is a reason for these rules, though. There are
health reasons and so on, and you have to not ignore them completely.
Yes, modern technology has changed. Even the fact that we can communicate
by cell phone, or reach individuals quickly if we have to.
looking back over your career with NASA, what would you say has been
your biggest challenge?
think the biggest challenge was the transition to provide support
for all your efforts, and that occurred mainly after about 2005 or
so. I guess the other way to put it, is to deal with the bureaucracy
and the sort of formalism of the effort.
You see, when I came out of graduate school and I came here, and when
I needed some help in something, whether it’s optics or machining,
I just would go to the shop and get help. That’s why the people
were there. They were there, and they wanted to help you. Every person
that I spoke to, their job was to help me. It’s not that way
anymore, for the most part. I mean, they still want to help you, but
they want something for it – a charge number. It’s not
as much of a team as it was in the pioneering days. So the challenge
is getting used to the newer system, and funding profile.
Funding, I think, is the biggest problem. If we have to spend from
30 to 40 to sometimes 50 percent of our time getting funding, then
we are only doing half the work—even if we get the funding.
If you want to encourage research, you have to make it a little smoother.
I think that’s been the challenge in the last few years. I never
had a problem having enough resources to do our work and to support
all of my colleagues, but in recent years it’s become a lot
Well, maybe it’s me because I’m older and, as you pointed
out, the system has changed and I’m not geared to this. By the
way, younger scientists coming in, they know no better. So to them,
this is the way things should be, “This is the way things are.”
Whereas for people like me, it seems we now tend to spend time on
things that aren’t important.
the opposite of that––what would you consider to be your
most important accomplishment?
most important accomplishment? Well, I think we’ve had a good
scientific return for all the effort we put in. I mentioned some of
them. We developed a unique technique that may or may not continue
to be used, at least in this form.
Personally, I think the group that I worked with throughout the years––I
think we had some great relationships. We really were a team, and
you’ll see it when you look at those videos on YouTube that
I mentioned. That was the greatest, I think, return. It was the people
that we worked with and the way that we worked with these people,
the way the environment was. I don’t think we’ve had any
conflicts at all anyway, and we had good return for our work.
I guess one of our biggest challenges is to finish all the publications
that we didn’t do while we were actually not retired. Because
we have so much data and there just was never any time to finish it.
We always had to worry about funding or covering our time, especially
colleagues that were dependent on soft money. That’s one of
the situations that sort of limited what we could do. I would like
to catch up on that. I hope that still will happen.
it will. Is there anything that we haven’t talked about that
you want to mention? Or any project or program, or any other anecdotes
that you’d like to add?
are many. I don’t know.
we enjoy those, because they are the personal side of NASA history.
It personalizes NASA for people when they read it, too. We’re
all human, and we have these human experiences.
are stories I can keep telling. You already heard some of them. Like
my trips to Ukraine, or to Europe, or to Germany. You mentioned the
SOHO [Solar and Heliospheric Observatory] mission. Drake Deming and
I wrote a proposal for an instrument, Solar Infrared Photometer (SIRP),
to measure variability of solar infrared flux on that mission. In
connection to that proposal we visited ESA in the Netherlands and
made trips to visit colleague and co-investigators in German and the
Swiss institutions. For dinner in Zurich, my colleague, he just wanted
to go to McDonald’s [fast-food restaurant chain]. Just a typical
American, he wanted a McDonald’s, and I wanted to go to a nice
Swiss restaurant. We eventually made a bargain. “We’ll
walk through a McDonald’s, then we’ll go to a fondue place.”
Then we go to the fondue place, and the waiter doesn’t understand
a word. We can’t understand him, and he can’t understand
us. We tried a couple of languages that we knew.
worked, because he didn’t speak French, or German, or English.
What was he doing as a waiter in Switzerland? But those are all personal
On my first trip to Kiev—and again, I said I had multiple adventures
in Ukraine, in the Soviet Union. During the Soviet Union, I wasn’t
allowed to leave the city. You were confined to the borders of the
city according to the regulations. But to get into the observatory,
in some ways we had to leave and come back into the city. They kept
threatening me that we are leaving the city every time we drove in.
We had to leave the city border and then come back in, into the observatory.
Little things like that, yes. The Soviet times were interesting.
can definitely imagine they would be.
I appreciate you talking to us today, and for staying a little longer
than we had planned to try to get this done.
that’s fine. As I say, I have nothing else. I planned to probably
do some work or something, but I’m retired so I cannot do that
today. It was a pleasure to talk to you. You had a lot of patience,
I think, as I was rambling along. But you told me to ramble.
I did. I did tell you that it’s okay to ramble, we like that.
did try to ramble as much as I could.
Well, we appreciate it.
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