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Interview with Lew Allen, Jr.

Allen, Lew Jr. (2012) Interview with Lew Allen, Jr. [Oral History]

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An interview in four sessions, in June and July 1991 and March and April 1994, with Lew Allen, Jr., former director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (1982-1990) during a period that included the launches of Galileo to Jupiter, Magellan to Venus, and IRAS, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, as well as Voyager 2’s Uranus and Neptune flybys. He recalls matriculation at West Point in 1943, receiving flight training, graduating in 1946. Four years in the Strategic Air Command studying nuclear weapons projects, then graduate school at the University of Illinois; PhD in nuclear physics, 1954. Assigned to the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (1954-1957); participates in bomb tests at Bikini, Eniwetok, and Nevada. Assigned to weapons development at Kirtland Air Force Base. Joins Office of Space Technology (1961-1965) in the Directorate of Defense Research and Engineering, under Harold Brown. To Office of Special Projects (again under Brown, now secretary of the air force) in Los Angeles, works on satellites (1965-1973). To CIA as deputy under James Schlesinger; soon appointed director of the National Security Agency. Recalls NSA’s attempts to steer clear of Watergate investigation. Becomes air force chief of staff in 1978. After retiring from the air force in 1982, he becomes director of JPL, retiring in 1990. In this wide-ranging interview, he discusses his nuclear weapons work, his air force career, his service in Washington, his tenure as JPL director, his chairmanship of a controversial NAS panel on export-control laws, and his assessment of the history and future of the U.S. space program.

Item Type:Oral History
Keywords:Physics, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, U. S. Air Force, national security, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), space exploration
Record Number:CaltechOH:OH_Allen_L
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Allen, Lew, Jr. Interview by Heidi Aspaturian. Pasadena, California, June and July 1991, March and April 1994. Oral History Project, California Institute of Technology Archives. Retrieved [supply date of retrieval] from the World Wide Web:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
Subjects:Subjects > Physics
Subjects > Jet Propulsion Laboratory
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ID Code:203
Deposited By: Oral Histories Administrator
Deposited On:21 Sep 2012 20:58
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 15:23

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