[Cover of Sullivan's book 2009, Cosmic Noise]
Sullivan's Cosmic Noise, Cambridge University Press, 2009


NATIONAL RADIO ASTRONOMY OBSERVATORY ARCHIVES

Papers of Woodruff T. Sullivan III: Tapes Series

Interview with John P. Hagen
At Grenoble
August 27, 1976
Interview Time: 1 hour, 49 minutes
Transcribed for Sullivan by Pamela M. Jernegan

Note: The interview listed below was either transcribed as part of Sullivan's research for his book, Cosmic Noise: A History of Early Radio Astronomy (Cambridge University Press, 2009) or was transcribed in the NRAO Archives by Sierra Smith in 2012-2013. The transcription may have been read and edited for clarity by Sullivan, and may have also been read and edited by the interviewee. Any notes added in the reading/editing process by Sullivan, the interviewee, or others who read the transcript have been included in brackets. If the interview was transcribed for Sullivan, the original typescript of the interview is available in the NRAO Archives. Sullivan's notes about each interview are available on the individual interviewee's Web page. During processing, full names of institutions and people were added in brackets and if especially long the interview was split into parts reflecting the sides of the original audio cassette tapes. We are grateful for the 2011 Herbert C. Pollock Award from Dudley Observatory which funded digitization of the original cassette tapes, and for a 2012 grant from American Institute of Physics, Center for the History of Physics, which funded the work of posting these interviews to the Web.

Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event.

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Sullivan

Continuing with John Hagen on 27 August í76.

Hagen

I was going to say that subsequent or shortly after that, and I don't recall the exact date, I was invited out to Caltech to spend a month or so, and while I was there, I of course, gave a symposium or colloquium on this matter of the hydrogen line and absorption and what one could learn by using these techniques. And I was not really questioned on the accuracy of the conclusions that we drew about Cas. So I think they had accepted it.

Sullivan

And what year was that?

Hagen

That was very shortly, I think, after the Jodrell Bank meeting, that it had to be before 1955. I don't know the exact date. Must have been 1954, perhaps.

Sullivan

Do you remember any other things about this Jodrell meeting as to the state of radio astronomy at that time? How it struck you?

Hagen

At that time radio astronomy was carried out by a- when you stop to think of it- a very small group of people worldwide, and everybody working in radio astronomy knew everybody else and knew them well. And so these meetings were always very pleasant occasions where people got together and reported their results and had very good discussions on the results and the techniques. So you think back, you wish that today things were the way they were then.

Sullivan

A much different sort of science.

Hagen

A much different sort of science, yes.

Sullivan

I was thinking also of scientific issues. Things that you might have learned at that meeting that you weren't aware of?

Hagen

Yeah, but I can't tell you what they were. At that time, things were moving so fast that every meeting you went to, you found something new, something that you hadn't known before. It was a very exciting time in the history of radio astronomy.

Sullivan

You actually gave several talks at that meeting according to my records here, about the 8 mm eclipse observations, the S-shaped Cas A spectrum that you mentioned...

Hagen

Yeah that thing I talked to you about.

Sullivan

The Cygnus A spectrum, the 9 cm eclipse observation in Sweden, your 21 cm absorption. So that was quite a bit. I guess you were the NRL representative, is that the idea for all these different things?

Hagen

Yeah, I don't know who else from NRL was at that meeting. I'm not sure. My memory is not good.

Sullivan

Let's see, do I have any other papers here that I haven't gotten? The only other one that I might like to ask you about is that this apparently was what you got for your brightness temperature versus radius curve from the 1954 eclipse at 8.6 mm.

Hagen

Oh, yes.

Sullivan

You got a dip before the limb. Could you tell me about that?

Hagen

Iím glad you brought it up. That's an important thing. That bothered me for a long time, because it didn't fit the model that I had constructed, and so I set it back to see what one could do to explain that away, and that led me to think in terms of the spicule, and so if you assume a spicule model of the chromosphere, then you can demonstrate that you can have this, what looks like a double peak with the inner peak not being sharp, at these millimeter wave lengths with penetrations deep enough so you see the spicules. That was the first demonstration that I had of the effect of spicules on radio radiation. And from that I derived or evolved a spicule model, but any further work there has to wait until a more accurate 8 mm eclipse observation is possible. Now we've had recently two eclipse observations at 8 mm and I think by the time they're completely analyzed, maybe you can say more about these spicules.

Sullivan

I was just noticing that at this Jodrell Bank meeting, that after you gave your talk about the 21 cm absorption, there were some comments by Lilley and [Jesse L.] Greenstein on a possible reinterpretation of the data for Cas A in view of the distance discrepancy between radio and optical data. It doesn't say specifically how they want to do that, but I gather they...

Hagen

So Lilley was there.

Sullivan

I gather that they wanted to probably reinterpret the radio data to make it come in line with the more reliable optical, do you remember this at all?

Hagen

No. I don't remember Greenstein discussing it at all.

Sullivan

Maybe it's actually recorded in the symposium itself. This is just an abstract.

Hagen

It may be.

Sullivan

It probably is. I'll have to check that. Okay, now if you could just expand a little bit on your work with the Vanguard, it was a very different field, it got you into space radio- well, no I've got you mixed up with Haddock. Haddock did a space radio astronomy experiment in the early 1960s. I don't think you did any space radio astronomy, did you?

Hagen

No.

Sullivan

But, nevertheless, while we've got the recorder here, and so forth, could you just tell me a little bit about that Vanguard program?

Hagen

Well, the Vanguard Program came out of originated in a resolution that was passed by URSI, probably about 1953 or 1954, and it was agreed, finally, that an Earth satellite, or an attempt would be made to put a satellite in Earth orbit during the IGY [International Geophysical Year]. The National Academy [of Sciences] picked that up and gave its support, and the thing through the National Science Foundation got Congressional approval and some financial support. There was a great deal of fuss about who would do this, and a committee was established to choose between a proposal put out by the Navy, which came out of my group, a proposal from the Army, and a proposal from the Air Force. The committee looked at the observable information, and on the basis of that, decided that support should be given to the Navy's proposal, and so Project Vanguard was started in the Naval Research Laboratory. Since the work came out of my division, they requested me to take over the responsibility for directing the effort. The commitment that we made to the Academy was that we would have a satellite in orbit before the end of the IGY and the Vanguard met that commitment. As you know, it wasn't as simple as all that, however. There was a great furor after the Russians, who unbeknownst to us, had set out to use their military equipment to really launch a satellite and they preceded us. The point I think we ought to make here is that we were very straight-laced about this thing. Every effort made in the United States that the Vanguard effort be purely a non-military thing. We were not allowed to use military techniques. We weren't allowed to use military vehicles. So we set out and developed our own vehicles, developed our own stages of the rocket.

Sullivan

And you mentioned before that you actually when NASA was formed in 1958 that- this was after the first launch. So it was done at NRL, so it must have looked military to the outsider anyway.

Hagen

Yes, it looked that way, but it really wasn't.

Sullivan

And you didn't know, at all, that the Russians were...

Hagen

There was no indication to us that the Russians were preparing a satellite. I think that if you look at the record, it certainly was true that it was known to our intelligence people, but it was not known to us.

Sullivan

The usual trouble with a big government. Nevertheless, did you feel some pressure in terms that they might do it and it'd be nice if the U.S. did it first?

Hagen

Not really. If we had felt that way, our program would have been accelerated because we wouldn't have attempted to do as professional a job as we thought we were doing [???]. We actually changed the design of the rocket to accommodate a larger sphere than we had proposed which set us back six months or a year. Had we had an inkling that the Russians were pressing, we wouldn't have done that.

Sullivan

Just to get something up there.

Hagen

It's probably just as well that it happened the way it did.

Sullivan

Did you think the Russians were inspired by this resolution that you mentioned at all?

Hagen

Oh, yes. Oh, yes. They did it as part of their IGY. But they went at it, I think, a little different way. They said, "We'll just use the military technology we still have."

Sullivan

Why was there this U.S. philosophy? I mean, why couldn't you just buy a rocket from the military and stick your payload in it?

Hagen

It's hard to explain. You get into a lot of odd...

[Interruption]

Hagen

They wanted this to be an effort of the scientific community and not an effort of the Department of Defense.

Sullivan

I see. Since it was IGY...

Hagen

It was IGY, yes. Had the military done it, well it would have been, the nature of the thing would have been quite different.

Sullivan

Yes. I gather you were not in favor of the military doing it, either.

Hagen

That's right.

Sullivan

And now I must admit that I'm a little bit fuzzy as to the Vanguard went up in January 1958, is that right?

Hagen

In March.

Sullivan

March. After what two Sputniks had gone up?

Hagen

I believe it was two. Two, I think.

Sullivan

And the Vanguard was the first U.S. one?

Hagen

Well, no it was not.

Sullivan

Thatís where Iím getting mixed up.

Hagen

No, a Redstone vehicle, which was an Army device, put up the first U.S. satellite, which was an Explorer. I think that one went up in January or February, something like that.

Sullivan

So what happened is that once Sputnik went up, the U.S. people said you've got to get something going.

Hagen

Once Sputnik went up people went crazy, and they were not prepared for the problems that any rocket program has in the development stage and they saw Vanguard actually had a launch failure in a test vehicle. The very first failure the program had after a long series of tests. And that was seen, these people started tearing their hair out, and a fast sell was made.

Sullivan

I see. Did anyone at that time have any notion- I mean, in retrospect one would say that whoever put up the first rocket would have a tremendous amount of prestige in terms of being number one in science and all this sort of thing. I mean, of course, it influenced the whole U.S. educational system and everything after that.

Hagen

Well, not really. We were so damned busy getting the job done, I don't think...

Sullivan

You didn't see it as particularly more influential than other important scientific projects?

Hagen

That's right. After the fact, you can look back and think, "Yes, you're might have," but at that time, we were really busy night and day.

Sullivan

Okay, in my study I'm going through these early Ď60s. Did you get back into radio astronomy at all?

Hagen

Oh, yes.

Sullivan

Can you tell me about that please?

Hagen

I retired from NASA in 1963 and took a job at the Pennsylvania State University as a professor of astronomy, and started a new program in radio astronomy there, with again, total emphasis on the Sun. So we had over a period of 13 or 14 years, a long series of accurate measurement of solar flux at wideband frequencies, plus two eclipse experiments at 3 millimeters and 8 millimeters.

Sullivan

I see. Well, what did you do right at the-very beginning before 1965?

Hagen

Got a bunch of graduate students together and taught them about radio astronomy and had them build equipment. And so we got some equipment going on the Sun right away.

Sullivan

And what sort of project was it?

Hagen

By that what do you mean?

Sullivan

I mean, were you looking at bursts?

Hagen

Oh. Well, we were looking at bursts but also were getting data so that over a long period of time, one could extract flux information on the quiet Sun. That's the important thing theoretically; what is the flux of the quiet Sun? You can't do that by going out today and just making a measurement. You have to measure over a period of 10 or 15 years.

Sullivan

Right. So that's what you'd been doing at Penn State ever since. So in closing can you think of any comments you'd like to make about the development of radio astronomy at NRL or how it compares with other laboratories and so forth?

Hagen

The only thing I'd say is that I was very pleased with the group at NRL. They kept on going as successfully as they did after I walked out on them. I think theyíve done a good job under the circumstances against their will. It just makes me happy to see them do it. It's a good thing to see that some of the fellows that are there now go way back to the beginning.

Sullivan

It is true, I would say, that up until 1960 or whatever, 15 years almost, of all of this microwave stuff, there was very little competition really. You were by yourself in this field, weren't you?

Hagen

Yeah and the only thing that was lacking was money. We never did have the financial backing to build the larger equipment that really was needed to make NRL stand very a far out.

Sullivan

Hagen also told me that he went up at an early stage, 1946-47, and visited Covington's new antenna and knew about its operation even as the NRL one was beginning. So that ends the interview with John Hagen on 27 August í76.

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Modified on Wednesday, 17-Dec-2014 16:28:16 EST by Ellen Bouton, Archivist (Questions or feedback)