December 20, 2001
Winter Issue of Prologue Reveals Scientists' Bitter Struggle Over Potential Threat of Moon Rocks
College Park, MD. . .As America geared up to go to the Moon in the 1960s, there were fears-not just of what the astronauts would find when they landed on the Moon, but of what they might bring home: deadly germs.
During the decade, the new National Aeronautics and Space Administration raced to meet President John F. Kennedy's goal of putting a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s. However, a debate raged within the agency over building a Lunar Receiving Laboratory, where the spacecraft, the astronauts, and samples from the Moon would be held in quarantine while scientists determined whether they were a threat to mankind.
"A bitter struggle developed within the scientific community between those who wanted to focus on biological containment and those who wanted immediate and unhindered access to lunar material," writes Kent Carter in an article, "Moon Rocks and Moon Germs," in the Winter 2001 issue of Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration. "There were power struggles within NASA as bureaucrats fought over control of scientific activities in the manned space flight program."
Mr.Carter, regional administrator of NARA's Southwest Region archives in Fort Worth, draws on records of the space agency to recreate the battles inside and outside the agency. The debate, he writes, even reached Capitol Hill, where "no politician was willing to publicly take even the remote risk that germs from the Moon would kill everyone on Earth."
For more than 30 years, Prologue has shared with readers the rich resources and programs of the National Archives, its regional archives, and the Presidential libraries. From the First Continental Congress to the conflict in Vietnam, Prologue tells the story behind the story, revealing many intriguing and little-known details from our nation's past. In every issue, there are thought-provoking and entertaining articles-based on research in the National Archives' magnificent holdings-written by noted historians, archivists, and experts recognized in their fields. The Washington Post said, "Prologue . . . can be regarded quite literally as an invitation for further study. It is also consistently absorbing reading."
The Winter issue also contains other articles of interest:
* "Taking History's Forks" by Roger Bruns discusses the "what-ifs" of history. What if the United States had gone to war in Southeast Asia in the mid-1950s? What if an obscure state legislator in Tennessee hadn't received a letter from his mother and voted against ratification of the 19th Amendment (giving women the right to vote) in 1919? What would Richard Nixon have said on August 8, 1974, if he had decided not to resign the Presidency? Bruns is deputy director of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
* In "A Switch in Time," Ian R. Bartky takes us back to the 1800s, when time wasn't so "standard." That was when the railroads and major cities were setting their own times. Bartky, formerly with the National Bureau of Standards, recounts the debate among the railroads and Congress over standardizing time that resulted in today's time zones.
* "FDR's 'Day of Infamy' Speech: Crafting a Call to Arms" traces the writing of one of the most famous speeches of the 20th century and shows how Franklin Roosevelt wrote and revised the speech to Congress and the nation after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, 60 years ago. This article is on Prologue's web site at http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/winter_2001_crafting_day_of_infamy_speech.html.
* In "Semper Fidelis, Code Talkers," Adam Jevec recounts how the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II developed a code based on the Navajo language by enlisting young Navajos as "code talkers." Used in the Pacific during the war, the code was never broken by the Japanese. The "code talkers" were honored by Congress earlier this year. Jevec is an archives technician with NARA's Museum Programs unit.
* "Genealogy Notes" by Trevor K. Plante offers "Researching Confederate Marines in the Civil War" as a guide to holdings in the National Archives. Plante is an archivist with NARA's Old Military and Civil Records unit.
* "Spotlight on NARA" gives readers a preview of the new look that NARA is developing for its web site on the Internet and discusses some of the new customer-friendly features.
You can view selected articles from the Winter 2001 Prologue and past issues at its web site at http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/.
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