history

The Space Sciences Laboratory (SSL) at Berkeley was initiated in 1958 by a committee of the faculty who recognized that the new technology of rockets and satellites opened new realms of investigation and research to the physical, biological, and engineering sciences. The committee, chaired first by Professor Otto Struve of the Department of Astronomy and subsequently by Professor Edward Teller of the Department of Physics and the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, considered the potentialities of interest in space research among the members of the faculty and the impact of the developing national programs of space exploration on graduate study and research. The committee proposed the formation of a Space Sciences Laboratory which, as a campus-wide multidisciplinary organization, would serve to integrate the work on the campus in the space sciences and to stimulate new faculty-student programs of research. The Regents, acting on the recommendation of the Chancellor Seaborg and President Kerr, authorized the formation of the Laboratory in 1959.

The Laboratory began its operations in January of 1960 with the appointment of its first director, Professor Samuel Silver, starting life in a corner of the old Leuschner Observatory on the main campus. After all, the active interest of faculty members in the space program led to a rapid development of a research program in the physical and biological sciences. The modest quarters assigned to the Laboratory were soon inadequate for the group of research associates and graduate students who joined the Laboratory. An especially large project on space physiology initiated by Professors Hardin B. Jones and Cornelius A. Tobias required much more space than could be mustered on the campus, and the Laboratory had to place the project in the Ford Assembly Plant in Richmond, which had been acquired by the University several years before.

The space physics program, directed by Professor Kinsey A. Anderson, involving experiments carried by balloons, rockets, and satellites quickly reached proportions beyond the capabilities of the space available on campus, and it was necessary to find space off campus to meet their needs. The Laboratory rented a store at 2119 University Avenue, just west of the campus, and converted it into a literal beehive of research activities. At the peak of its use, the “Market,” as this facility was known, housed electronic shops, the machine shop, the data processing equipment, environmental test equipment, and research projects on the moon and the planets, the interplanetary medium, and the upper atmosphere of the earth. Also housed here were social scientists who were studing the physical scientists and the problems of organization and administration of research.

In its early years the National Aeronautics and Space Administration followed the policy of funding university research on an individual project basis. It was not until 1961, when Mr. James E. Webb became the Administrator of NASA, that the agency formulated a broad and far-reaching program of space research and exploration. The Office of Grants and Research Contracts instituted two programs: the Sustaining Grant Program and the Facilities Program. The Berkeley campus was one of the first universities to receive grants under these two programs.

The sustaining grant, which provided the Space Sciences Laboratory with a core of funds for interdisciplinary research in the physical, biological, engineering, and social sciences, gave the Laboratory a foundation on which to build faculty programs and to generate new areas of graduate training through research. It was an invaluable instrument for developing the work in the space sciences on the Berkeley campus.

The NASA Facilities Grant made possible the building of the original Space Sciences Laboratory buildings. The growth of many projects and new programs represented the fulfillment of one of the aims of the Space Sciences Laboratory, namely, to stimulate faculty and student participation space research. But the second major objective, that of developing the multidisciplinary substance of space research and the special character of space science, could not be realized in a physically fragmented Laboratory. The construction of the new building brought most of the work together under one roof and led to the type of interactionof students in many diciplines that is one of the ideals of any educational program.

The grant for the Space Sciences Laboratory building was awarded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1962. The plans, executed by the architectural firm of Anshen and Allen of San Francisco, were designed to promote interaction and mixing of research students and faculty and to provide a good working environment, that is, there should be an easy consciousness of the environment; it should not be overwhelming nor oppressive.

The Laboratory is located in a wooded site with a view of the bay which is one of the most beautiful on the Berkeley campus. The architects were asked to design a building to fit the setting and give the people inside a feeling of ready enjoyment of the beautiful surroundings. Upon its dedication on Thursday, October 27, 1966, the laboratory fulfilled the hopes and objectives of its designers and its occupants.