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NASA Special Publications
NASA History Series Management Histories
by Donald Boggs

This article is the third in a series on NASA publications. Part One presented an overview of NASA Special Publications, emphasizing the General Publications (SP number <1000). Part Two provided an introduction to the Special Publications written under the auspices of the NASA History Office (SP-4000 series) and particularly on the category of Reference Works (SP-40XX). This article is Part Three of the series and continues with the NASA History Office publications, focusing on the Management Histories (SP-41XX). The titles and assigned SP numbers for this category appear below. As usual, the earlier of these are most typically seen in softbound editions, all were also released in hardbound, but in very low press runs.

    Management Histories (SP-4100 Series)
(Click on SP to check availability)

SP-4101   Rosholt, Robert L. "An Administrative History of NASA, 1958-1963" (1966)
SP-4102   Levine, Arnold S. "Managing NASA in the Apollo Era" (1982)
SP-4103   Roland, Alex. "Model Research: The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, 1915-1958" (2 vols.) (1985)
SP-4104   Fries, Sylvia D. "NASA Engineers and the Age of Apollo" (1992)
SP-4105   Hunley, J.D. Editor. "The Birth of NASA: The Diary of T. Keith Glennan" (1993)
SP-4106   Seamans, Robert C., Jr. "Aiming at Targets: The Autobiography of Robert C. Seamans, Jr." (1996)
SP-2002-4107   Garber, Stephen J. Editor. "Looking Backward, Looking Forward: Forty Years of U.S. Human Spaceflight" (July 2002)

The SP-41XX series is composed of histories on the management aspects of NASA, including works on specific persons as well as more general works. The first in this series is "An Administrative History of NASA, 1958-1963" (SP-4101) written by Dr. Robert L. Rosholt under a contract to the University of Minnesota and published in 1966. Rosholt's purpose, according to the preface to the book, was to "focus on NASA administrative matters, not on the specific content of NASA's programs and policies." Rosholt provides a chronological rather than topical approach to this history, providing a brief history of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) then moving to Sputnik and the creation of NASA. Later chapters include the organizational changes surrounding the Huntsville transfer, the Goddard Institute, and NASA Headquarters. A significant portion of the book deals with management under James Webb and preparation for the manned lunar program. In the foreword, NASA Administer James Webb pays tribute to Rosholt's work, and then proceeds to differ with his findings on NASA in the years since 1961 and offers some alternate explanations!

It was 16 years until the second volume in this series was published, "Managing NASA in the Apollo Era" (SP-4102) by Arnold S. Levine. Perhaps historians feared to some extent NASA administrators' review powers. Again, James Webb, now retired, wrote the foreword and provided a rebuttal to some of Levine's writing. Levine's effort was to examine the management, both formal and informal, during the years when NASA grew in size almost exponentially, facing the demands of John F. Kennedy's goal of placing a "man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth." Levine analyzes the headquarters organization, the acquisition process, manpower policy, program planning, budget, as well as long range planning. An included quotation from Werhner von Braun reflects the challenges of management, "we can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming."

"Model Research; The National Advisory Committee 1915-1958" (SP-4103) was written by Alex Roland. Volume one traces the history of the NACA from its inception to its recreation as NASA. It is comprehensive and detailed covering the aviation work of the NACA. Volume two is composed of appendices that include pertinent legislation, committees, budget, personnel, facilities, etc.

The fourth volume in this series is " NASA Engineers and the Age of Apollo" (SP-4104) written by Sylvia Doughty Fries. Fries was NASA's Chief Historian from 1983 to 1990. For this 216-page volume, she interviewed 51 NASA engineers who worked on the Apollo program. The book is essentially Fries' narrative rewrite of the interviews with little analysis of patterns. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see the variety of backgrounds of NASA engineers and what brought them to the program.

The last two books to date in this series are autobiographical in nature: "The Birth of NASA; The Diary of T. Keith Glennan" (SP-4105) and "Aiming at Targets; The Autobiography of Robert C. Seamans, Jr." (SP-4106). Glennan of course was the first Administrator of NASA and his diary provides us with an excellent day-by-day reckoning of the uncertainty and excitement of those early years.

In his role as Deputy Administrator, Robert Seamans was in a unique position to tell the story of the Apollo program. As a result, the book is filled with material from the insider's perspective, including his handling of the Apollo 204 fire.

For the casual person interested in the adventurous side of space exploration, the management histories probably seem dull in comparison to the more popular books on manned spaceflight. But for those persons seriously interested in the history of NASA, they hold great promise. Several of these are still in print and can be obtained from the NASA History Office.

Future resource guides on NASA Special Publications will include the other NASA History books, New Series in NASA History, NASA Educational Publications, Reference Publications and Conference Publications.


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Donald Boggs is the owner of Boggs SpaceBooks, an Internet based used bookstore carrying new and used books on the history of space exploration. He has a Ph.D. from Kent State University in the area of Communication. He has also produced and directed over 400 television programs many for broadcast around the world and has traveled to almost 50 countries. He has been enamored with the space program since, as a child of 8, he nervously watched Alan Shepard launch (not blast-off) into space.