Oral history of British science
King-Hele, Desmond (Part 4 of 21). An Oral History of British Science.
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King-Hele, Desmond, 1927- (speaker, male)
Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)
Part 4: [DKH reads from prepared written account] Time at RAE between 1948 and 1960, including description of RAE, Bramshot outstation, senior colleagues, work in Assessment Division [AD] on aerodynamics/thermodynamics of ramjet engines [RE] for guided weapons, description of RE, mention of colleague Doreen Walker [DW] [nee Gilmore before marriage in 1958], description of Q134 building, RAE, effect on RAE of changes during Margaret Thatcher’s [MT] Government, description of work on guided weapons, 1948-53, pay, signing of official secrets act, police guard, own accommodation, work on Shelley, [10:00] Seaford Tennis Club, tennis at RAE, senior colleagues, computing ‘pool’ constituted mostly by women. Clifford Cornford [CC], further description of work on guided weapons, 1948 -53, [19:00] origin of work on vertical rockets for upper atmosphere research from 1953 prompted by Professor Harrie Massey [HM] (University College London) and Prof. David Bates (Queens University Belfast) of Royal Society’s Gassiot Committee, history of Gassiot Committee, importance in space research of GC, view of space research by British astronomers, 1953 GC Anglo-American conference at Oxford on upper atmosphere research, GC visit to RAE, work on design study for upper atmosphere rocket 1954 leading to ‘Skylark’, Skylark launches 1957-78, [23:36] work on long range intercontinental ballistic missiles [ICBM] 1953-1957, view of ICBM as failed satellites, work of DW, use of calculators, Deputy Director FE Jones asking DKH to begin work on reconnaissance satellite 1955-56, report of potential Royal Society including Blue Streak inspired launcher specifying angle and altitude of orbit [31:30] Directors and Deputy Directors (Gardner, Morgan, Stephens) of RAE from 1957 all from GW rather than Aircraft resulting in favouring satellite research, report on effect of drag on satellite 1956, work and 1956 Journal of British Interplanetary Society paper on satellite orbital decay, work on assessment of feasibility of use of Blue Streak [BS] as satellite launcher, significance of Black Knight, cancellation of BS, European Launcher Development Organisation [ELDO] launcher using BS, 1957 work on effect on satellites of imperfect spherical shape of Earth including changes in orbital inclination and changes in ‘perigee’ point, 63.4 degree ‘critical inclination’, opposition to space research of British astronomers, including Astronomer Royal, secret status of RAE GWD reports, CC’s decision to open satellite orbit work, presentation of orbit work conference 1957, launch of Sputnik 1 [S1] 1957, Western reaction to S1, own reaction to S1, visibility of orbiting S1 rocket, visual satellite observers, prediction of orbits, story of answering question regarding bomb from satellite at press conference on S1, relations with newspaper science correspondents, description S1, tracking of S1 by radio scientists of RAE radio department using interferometer, use of radio observations to determine orbits using Pegasus computer, 1957 ‘Nature’ paper on estimates of density of upper atmosphere (200 km) from rate S1’s orbital decay, launch of Sputnik 2 [S2] 1957, calculation of orbits from observations of S2 using RAE Trials Department’s kinetheodolites, generation of predictions for visual observers, organisation of visual observers by Royal Greenwich Observatory [RGO] then RAE from 1958, DKH running of prediction service for visual observers, public interest in days to ‘burn-up’ of S2 provided to newspapers by DKH, 1958 ‘Nature’ paper and research on theory of elliptical orbits, variable day-to-day upper atmosphere density revealed by S2, story of visit from Geodesy Committee of Royal Society disputing new findings on flattening of Earth derived from S2 orbit, use of S2 orbit to measure upper atmosphere winds, descent path of S2 through clear skies, advantages of particular orbit of S2, observation of S2 in Britain four passes before end, conference ‘Britain Enters the Space Age’ Royal Festival Hall, reflections on relative lack of popular interest in space in Britain since, relations with HM, 1985 establishment of National Space Agency.
Life story interview with physicist Dr Desmond King-Hele