. "Ocean Sciences at the National Sciences Foundation: An Administrative History." 50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950-2000. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000.
The following HTML text is provided to enhance online
readability. Many aspects of typography translate only awkwardly to HTML.
Please use the page image
as the authoritative form to ensure accuracy.
50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950—2000
of drilling through Earth's crust into the Mohorovicic discontinuity was aired as a serious proposal. Over the next few years, the Earth Sciences Program supported grants for feasibility studies and field tests. By 1960, the project required funding and management oversight beyond what the program could provide.
In 1960, NSF was no longer a newcomer to large-scale facility-based operation, having run the IGY. In addition, the agency had been funding construction and operation of astronomy centers and physics facilities for several years. These projects had been marked by their fair share of management problems. Despite these experiences, when Mohole reached developmental stage, NSF still had no policies or procedures in place for management of, or even decision-making about, projects that required large-scale capital investment and long-term operational commitments. Every decision was an ad hoc matter, usually requiring personal involvement of the NSF Director. For each such project, NSF would seek "new money": an additional appropriation outside its ongoing budget. Fortunately, in the expansive 1950s and 1960s, funds were generally made available.
The early Mohole studies and initial field tests had been carried out by AMSOC, a special committee of the National Academy of Sciences. But their charters precluded both the Academy and the Foundation from direct operation of projects. The NSF Director had recently been involved in disputes between the academic consortium managing one of the astronomy construction projects and the commercial subcontractors actually fabricating the equipment. Perhaps because of this experience, NSF decided to contract directly with a commercial firm for the technically demanding developmental phases of Mohole. After an extremely contentious competition of nearly two years' duration, in 1962 NSF entered into a contract with Brown and Root, an engineering firm with no experience in scientific management.
By this time, strains of every kind had begun to afflict the project. Scientific disagreements had emerged about the extent and phasing of the developmental work; the contract competition drew political fire; personality disputes had emerged; and finally, NSF decisions about management of the project were criticized. The underlying management concern, from NSF's viewpoint, was to maintain accountability and control over the very large contract budget and the challenging engineering problems. From the point of view of Mohole's proponents in the community, the issue was to maintain clear and competent scientific oversight.
NSF established the position of Managing Coordinator for Project Mohole, and appointed an engineer with the requisite technical experience to the job. The Mohole Project Office was attached to the Office of the NSF Director, but because of the huge budget and administrative implications of the contract, the coordinator actually reported to NSF's Associate Director for Administration. Scientific guidance was to come from the Academy, with a NSF program officer from Earth Sciences acting as Science Coordinator in-house. Policy guidance came to the Managing Coordinator from a committee comprised of the Associate Director for Administration, the Science Coordinator, and the NSF Director's executive assistant. Quite apart from the scientific, technical, and political problems confronting the project, it would be hard to conceive a more unworkable managerial scheme.
For the next three years, Project Mohole pursued a mercurial course; sometimes appearing to be well underway, only to fall prey to cost overruns, technical barriers, and scientific disagreements. In 1966, the Congress denied NSF's request for further funding of the project. One year later, the project office closed its doors and Mohole entered the history books.
The Origins of the Deep Sea Drilling Project
Oceanographers were among Mohole's leaders from the project's conception to its demise; but perhaps because of the lack of a clear disciplinary identity for oceanography in NSF at the time, the field escaped much of the blame for its failure. Indeed, in NSF's institutional lore, oceanographers are credited with having "rescued something of great value" from the traumatic Mohole experience—the Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP).
Like everything about Mohole, there were arguments about the origins of DSDP. Some saw it as a preliminary test program for Mohole technology; others considered it a worthy project in its own right. For oceanographers whose research interests lay in the oceanic sediments and underlying crust, the idea of a separate ocean sediment coring program gained momentum.3
In 1963, in the midst of the Mohole controversy, NSF's second director took office. He was disturbed by the dis-unity of the academic leadership of the project and the lack of scientific capability of Brown and Root. In one of his first meetings with Mohole's proponents, the director urged the development of a scientific consortium that would eventually take over management of the program. He also expressed enthusiasm about the sediment coring concept, and indicated that NSF might consider it as "a companion program" to Mohole. In Congressional testimony in the fall of 1963, NSF went considerably further, stating that the agency was prepared to support an entirely separate sediment coring program if funding were made available for it.
Proponents of the sediment coring program had made short-lived attempts to organize a management consortium in the previous years. Spurred by NSF support, in 1964 four ocean research institutions created the Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling (JOIDES) and proposed it as the scientific management entity for the new pro
This is the origin of the bureaucratic title given to 'he DSDP in NSF budget and organization documents—the Ocean Sediment Coring Program (OSCP).