Oral history of British science
King-Hele, Desmond (Part 6 of 21). An Oral History of British Science.
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King-Hele, Desmond, 1927- (speaker, male)
Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)
Part 6: Comments on ‘operational requirements’ issued to DKH concerning missile planning; presence in RAE of German scientists some of whom had worked on V2 rockets. Mentions names; possibility that V2 work predated own employment; lack of awareness of V2 room in Q134 building. Comments on contrast between V2 and smaller rockets on which DKH worked. [04:29] Comments on RAE focus before 1953 on small defensive rockets rather than intercontinental ballistic missiles [ICBM]; argument in Ministries of Defence concerning usefulness of ICBMs, including decision in 1957 to use manned bombers. [08:12] Comments on effect on DKH’s work of Cold War; relations between perceived Soviet threat and missiles designed by DKH; effect on ICBM research of intelligence concerning Soviet ICBMs; Bluestreak work from mid 1950s; feelings about working on offensive missile; effect of particular senior colleagues in approving satellite work. [13:10] Positive comments on DW’s work in spite of lack of university education (awarded PhD from Council for National Academic Awards, 1980s). Description of DW’s career at RAE from ‘computing pool’ onwards. Mentions DW’s job titles: ‘Scientific Assistant’, ‘Assistant Experimental Officer’. [16:21] Comments on relatively small number of female scientists at RAE. Mentions Miss Shilling (jet engines), Miss Lloyd (computers). [17:56] Description of ‘computer pool’ at RAE and method of engaging its services; machines used; female operators. [21:43] Story of other scientists expressing inferiority in relation to DW’s speed in calculating. Comments on DW’s educational expectations. Mentions DW’s home in Godalming, Surrey. Comments on DW’s father’s occupation. [25:18] Comments on CP Snow, Chair on promotion panel in role as Civil Service Commissioner. [27:13] Story of origin of work on vertical firing of rockets for upper atmosphere research, involving American research inspired by captured V2s and Gassiot Committee. Comments on existing lack of knowledge of upper atmosphere. [30:08] Mentions lack of drawings or models to visualise satellite orbits. [31:06] Story of reaction of Director and Deputy Directors of RAE to launch of S1, including decision to make satellite research unclassified. Mentions lack of general interest at RAE in observing S1. Comments on popular interest in S1, including DKH’s front page ‘burn out’ predictions. [35:46] Story of being telephoned in afternoon by science correspondents of newspapers, including Anthony Smith (Telegraph), Arthur Smith (Mirror). Mentions description by newspapers of DKH. Discussion of popular concerns about Soviet satellites; American claims that S1 didn’t exist. [40:10] Mentions beginning writing own poetry in mid 1960s; first book 1972. Comments on feelings at launch of S1; history of interest in observing night sky. Mentions beginning concerted satellite observations in early 1960s. [42:49] Comments on effect on Shelley book of S1. [43:44] Mentions separation 1990; reluctance to discuss marriage. [44:26] Brief description of S1 press conference in Royal Society, Burlington House. [46:24] Comments on interest of Radio Department, RAE in tracking S1 for ionosphere research. Description of interferometer and mode of operation. [49:57] Description of Pegasus computer. Comments on programming of computer for orbit determination by Robin Merson [RM] including use of ‘approximations’ and DKH’s theory. Mentions orbit determination by observatory in Cambridge, led by Martin Ryle. Discussion of interaction between DKH, RM and Pegasus. [55:13] Story of development network of volunteer visual observers, beginning with Gordon Taylor [GT], RGO. Discussion of relations between DKH and RGO. Mentions observations of Royal Observatory Edinburgh, amateur astronomers, British Astronomical Association [BAA]. Discussion of method of recruitment of satellite observers, including role of BAA, Royal Society, DKH’s book ‘Observing Earth Satellites’, newspapers, radio programmes by ‘J.G Porter’. Mentions appearing on Patrick Moore’s ‘The Sky at Night’.
Life story interview with physicist Dr Desmond King-Hele