Chris Rapley: increasingly bureaucratic British space science of the 1970s

Chris Rapley comments on effect on individual British space scientists of increasing bureaucratic control over their working lives in the 1970s.

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So in the UK there were very, very effective people. And certainly in the post war period with the rocketry, the, you know, the collaborators in Lockheed were very jealous of the Skylark, British national rocket programme, because the performance of the rockets and the performance of the communication system, the performance certainly of the attitude control systems, were better than anything that they had access to. So I – I think there was – there was a – and, you know, there was Blue Streak. And, you know, when you were out at Woomera you saw Bloodhound and Sea Dart and all of these. I mean, it was a real hotbed of – and obviously a lot of it military oriented, but a real hotbed of technical innovation. But there was – there was a feeling of frustration building up because it was becoming more and more hidebound and bureaucratic. And indeed the guy who was working on the attitude control system for 402, I – it was either 402 or 1203, I’m getting them mixed up now, but he said that he used to sneak out in his lunch break and go down to Radio Spares and buy components to put in additional circuitry to get this thing working the way it should, to overcome the heavy hand of the finance officer and, you know, the bureaucrats within his company. Now I mean, I’m sure that would raise [laughs] eyebrows now because it clearly wasn’t a very well controlled process, but he knew what he was doing. And we were just coming out of the era where people who knew what they were doing were allowed to get on with it kind of unfettered and it was becoming more and more bureaucratically controlled and – and, I mean, less fun in many ways. And really the – the British space industry - you know, gradually all of these small very innovative companies were all kind of absorbed into GEC and others and – and the individual very bright people just became squished down to the point where they didn’t have the traction anymore to do the innovative stuff that they had been. So that was a shame to watch.

  • Interviewee Chris Rapley
  • Duration 00:02:12
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Paul Merchant
  • Date of interview 4/27/2011
  • Shelfmark C1379/40
  • Keywords

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