Finding Aids to Oral Histories in the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Record Unit 9539
Naval Research Laboratory Space Science Videohistory Collection, 1986-1987
World War II and the advent of the Cold War led the United States government to underwrite basic scientific research that could be applied to military purposes. Because the United States Navy was concerned about the effect of nuclear radiation on its wireless radio communication system, it funded studies in astronomy and aeronomy--the examination of the earth's atmosphere--at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, D.C. Wartime advances in rocketry and electronics enabled physicists and engineers to study non-visible radiation at ever greater distances from the earth's surface. These studies resulted in more sophisticated views of the composition of the atmosphere and of solar radiation, and in the revelation of the presence of stellar X-ray radiation between 1946 and the early 1960s. By the latter period, however, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) began to eclipse NRL's pre-eminence in space science.
Herbert Friedman was born in 1916, received his Ph.D. in physics from Johns Hopkins University in 1940, and began working at the NRL a year later. After two years of using X-ray radiation to detect manufacturing flaws, he was appointed head of the Electron Optics branch of the Rocketry Division. In 1958 Friedman took over the Space Science Division until his retirement.
Edward T. Byram earned his degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Toledo before the war, during which he served in the U.S. Army for three years. He spent two years at the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company and joined the NRL's Electron Optics branch in December, 1947. Between 1962 and 1972 he contributed to 54 papers on X-ray astronomy.
Talbot A. Chubb was born in 1923 and took the B.A. in physics that he received from Princeton University to the Clinton Engineer Works in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in 1944. His doctoral advisor in physics at the University of North Carolina referred him to the NRL in 1950. Chubb headed the Lab's Upper Air Physics branch from 1959 to 1981.
Robert Kreplin spent the summers of 1948 and 1949 at the NRL while finishing his B.A. in physics at Dartmouth University. After receiving his M.A. in 1952, Kreplin returned to the NRL permanently.
Charles Y. Johnson was born in 1920 and received his B.E.E. from the University of Virginia in 1942. After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II he joined the Cosmic Ray Section of the NRL. He headed the Air and Ion Composition Section from 1954 to 1958 and the Aeronomy Section until his retirement.
Julian C. Holmes was born in 1930 and received his A.B. in physics from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, in 1951. He joined Johnson at the NRL in 1956 as a Physicist.
The Smithsonian Videohistory Program, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation from 1986 until 1992, used video in historical research. Additional collections have been added since the grant project ended. Videohistory uses the video camera as a historical research tool to record moving visual information. Video works best in historical research when recording people at work in environments, explaining artifacts, demonstrating process, or in group discussion. The experimental program recorded projects that reflected the Institution's concern with the conduct of contemporary science and technology.
Smithsonian historians participated in the program to document visual aspects of their on-going historical research. Projects covered topics in the physical and biological sciences as well as in technological design and manufacture. To capture site, process, and interaction most effectively, projects were taped in offices, factories, quarries, laboratories, observatories, and museums. Resulting footage was duplicated, transcribed, and deposited in the Smithsonian Institution Archives for scholarship, education, and exhibition. The collection is open to qualified researchers.
David H. DeVorkin, curator at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum (NASM), recorded five sessions with the men at the NRL who pioneered the sciences of X-ray astronomy and aeronomy. DeVorkin was particularly interested in how technologies and techniques developed for one purpose crossed disciplinary boundaries to affect or create others. Participants detailed how they adopted, applied, or improved on extant technologies for their hybrid research; throughout the sessions there is ample visual documentation of artifacts and working equipment used at the NRL. The video sessions were arranged in two series: 1) X-ray astronomy and 2) aeronomy.
This collection consists of five interview sessions, separated into two series, totally approximately 16:00 hours of recordings and 390 pages of transcript.
This collection is indexed under the following access terms. These are links to collections with related topics, persons or places.
- Byram, Edward T.
- Chubb, Talbot A. (Talbot Albert)
- Friedman, Herbert, 1916-2000
- Kreplin, Robert
- Johnson, Charles Yothers, 1920-
- Holmes, Julian C.
- DeVorkin, David H., 1944- , interviewer
- Naval Research Laboratory (U.S.)
- Naval Research Laboratory (U.S.). Electron Optics Branch
- Naval Research Laboratory (U.S.). Rocketry Division
- Aerobee rockets
- Science -- History
- Technology -- History
- Oral history
Physical Characteristics of Materials in the Collection
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9539, Naval Research Laboratory Space Science Videohistory Collection