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F. Curtis Michel - Scientist-Astronaut Papers

Identifier: MS 043
Finding aid note: Stored off-site at the Library Service Center. Please request this material via or call 713-348-2586.

Scope and Contents

The F. Curtis Michel Scientist-Astronaut Papers consist of 68 linear feet of material organized into two series, Academic Papers (1951-1979) and NASA Papers (c. 1963-1981). The collection includes correspondence, memos, technical handbooks, training manuals, course and seminar notes, photographs, and a great variety of ephemera, including a flight jacket with NASA emblem. Extensive scientific research material in the collection (seminar notes, scholarly publications, and such) provide a good overview of contributions from the academic community to NASA's various endeavors. The collection has interest not only for the extensive material concerning Michel's work in the Scientist-Astronaut program, but also for glimpses into the administrative workings of NASA and the tensions between various groups involved with the space program. Michel's candid observations and reflections both during his years as an astronaut and after his resignation offer an unusual look at a complex institution and the gifted individuals whose lives were caught up in it.

Series I: Academic Papers contains material from Michel's days as a graduate student in physics at California Institute of Technology and correspondence and research materials pertaining to his academic position at Rice University. Of particular interest is the early correspondence between Michel and officials at NASA concerning his interest in and later application to the Scientist-Astronaut Program. A number of newspaper clippings from 1963 concerning plans for the program and Michel's interest in it are also helpful in documenting the new directions underway in the national space effort toward lunar flight and research.

Of equal interest is material from the period following Michel's resignation in August, 1965. Correspondence and clippings reveal an intense ongoing critique of manned space flight programs, with debate between members of the scientific community and NASA over how to balance the demands of scientific research with those of technical flight proficiency.

Series II: NASA Papers, is divided into seventeen sub-series. The Correspondence sub-series consists of correspondence about the Scientist-Astronaut Program, personal correspondence, letters to and from the public, and administrative and travel material. The sub-series is especially valuable in documenting Michel's experience with NASA, including his application for admission to the Scientist-Astronaut Program, astronaut work assignments and training, pertinent clippings about NASA, early doubts about continuing in the program, and factors leading to his resignation in 1969. The last three folders contain manuscript notes for a book discussing his NASA experiences, and also his response to a Space Program Advisory Council study of the Scientist-Astronaut program, which was conducted in 1974-75, accompanied by a copy of the resulting report.

Astronaut Training and Familiarization gives a good overview of the many technical and scientific areas in which an astronaut was expected to develop proficiency. Areas included geology and astronomy, Gemini Program familiarization, flight training, and the Apollo Program.

The Gemini Program, Apollo Program, Surveyor Program, and Space Station sub-series include material from four NASA programs, with good coverage of experiments conducted and samplings of scientific publications contributing to these programs, while the Technical and Scientific Publications gives an idea of the variety of material produced between 1950 and 1970 relating to space research.

Included in the Oversize Materials is a commemorative album, large photographs, and assorted newspapers and publications. Photographs of the various groups of astronauts are found in the Photograph sub-series, including Group 4, Michel's group of Scientist-Astronauts, and a number of photographs of Michel in his role as an astronaut. Geologic scenes and various technical subjects make up the remainder of the sub-series, along with an astronaut training film.

The final subseries, Memorabilia, contains a wide variety of material collected by Michel during his affiliation with NASA. Boxes 67 and 68 hold commemorative plaques, medallions and insignia, certificates, postal envelopes, launch invitations, calendars, and assorted other items.

Series III: Includes NASA photographs, records, correspondence, and a partial flight plan; World Book Encyclopedia materials; and news clippings


  • Bulk, 1963-1974 1951-1981, Bulk Dates 1963-1974
  • Majority of material found within 1963 - 1974


Conditions Governing Access

Stored off-site at the Library Service Center. Please request this material via or call 713-348-2586.

Conditions Governing Access

This material is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Permission to publish material from F. Curtis Michel - Scientist-Astronaut Papers must be obtained from the Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University.

Biographical Note

Frank Curtis Michel was born June 5, 1934, in La Crosse, Wisconsin. He attended high school in Sacramento, California, and went on to receive a Bachelor of Science degree from California Institute of Technology in 1955, graduating with honors. After working briefly as an engineer, he served in the United States Air Force as a pilot from 1955 to 1958.

Michel then returned to California Institute of Technology, where he received a Ph.D. in physics in 1962. He continued as a Research Fellow in Physics at the Institute until April, 1963 when he accepted a position as assistant professor in the newly established Space Science Department at the Rice Institute (now Rice University) in Houston, Texas.

Michel's entry into the field of space physics proved timely, for a national effort was underway to accelerate scientific research programs needed in the nation's space endeavors. Two years earlier, President John F. Kennedy had enunciated a national goal to place a man on the moon before the end of the decade. Academic programs useful to the projected Apollo spaceflights were thus undergoing intense evaluation by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) together with the National Academy of Sciences and with other interested federal agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense.

A Space Science Summer Study, conducted in 1962 and involving more than one hundred scientists from universities, private research organizations, industry, and the government recognized the potential for scientific investigation which could be carried out on manned missions of NASA's Apollo spacecraft. They proposed establishment of a program for training scientists as astronauts to participate in the Apollo flights and in later space programs.

The following year, specific recommendations for such a program were presented to Congress by the Space Science Board, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences which served as the main liaison between NASA and the American scientific community. The Board's Ad Hoc Committee on Scientific Qualifications of Scientist-Astronauts began work in May, 1964, to establish scientific criteria for applicants.

Michel's qualifications as a scientist who was also an experienced pilot made him a likely candidate for such a program, and he was attracted by the possibility of combining his expertise and special interest in solar winds with his desire to take part in space flight. His interest was shared by Dr. Alexander J. Dessler, director of Rice's Department of Space Science, who was an early supporter of the proposed Scientist-Astronaut program. Furthermore, Rice's Space Science Department had a close relationship with NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center near Houston (MSC, later Johnson Space Center). Departmental research projects, funded in part from NASA grants, were of direct benefit to NASA's programs, and MSC personnel were among those coming to Rice for graduate training.

Michael was thus in a fortunate position to take advantage of these new developments. When NASA officially established the Scientist-Astronaut program and began recruiting in October, 1964 Michel applied and was one of six accepted into the first group in June, 1965.

As a Scientist-Astronaut Michel spent six months in orientation training at MSC (he was already a qualified pilot and thus exempt from basic flight training). His work assignment was primarily to plan for the Apollo Applications Program (AAP, later known as the Skylab program). In September, 1966, Michel was appointed to monitor progress on the Apollo Telescope Mount project (ATM), which involved working with specialists at the Marshall Space Flight Center. At various periods he also served on working groups concerned with Lunar Atmospheres, Manned Space Science Atmospherics, and Planetary Atmospheres. In addition to these duties, Michel participated in ongoing astronaut training and in maintaining his flight proficiency as a potential flight crew member.

In 1967, NASA established a review procedure to ensure that the scientist-astronauts had time for study and research in order to maintain proficiency in their particular areas. Although officially one day a week and one week a month were to be set aside for this purpose, it proved difficult in some cases to achieve this. Over a period of time Michel was among those concerned about being able to meet requirements as an astronaut along with those of a scientist.

When it became apparent in 1967 that budget problems (caused in part by the war in Vietnam) would decrease the number of Apollo flights and thus the possibility for assignment to one of the flight crews, Michel requested and was granted a year's leave of absence to return to Rice in the fall of 1968 to teach and to pursue research. Michel resigned from NASA in August, 1969, when opportunities for space flight continued to appear unlikely and the time commitment for academic interests made remaining in the space program difficult.


39 Linear Feet (68 boxes)

Language of Materials



Papers related to F. Curtis Michel's participation in NASA's Scientist-Astronaut program (1965-1969); materials (primarily concerned with the Gemini and Apollo Programs) include information on astronaut training, experiments, technical reports, course and seminar notes, handbooks, familiarization materials, training manuals, scientific reports and reprints, photographs, correspondence, and memorabilia; also included are academic papers from his years as a graduate student in physics at California Institute of Technology, and from his academic position at Rice University.


Folder titles have been retained where assigned by Dr. Michel; otherwise, material has been organized within similar groupings and placed in chronological or alphabetical order, with appropriate titles assigned to folders.

The F. Curtis Michel Scientist-Astronaut Papers are arranged in three series:

Series I: Academic; Series II: NASA Papers; Series III: Addenda

Acquisition Information

The F. Curtis Michel Scientist Astronaut Papers were donated by Dr. Michel to the Woodson Research Center of the Fondren Library at Rice University in October, 1990.

Related Material

See also MS 475, the F. Curtis Michel Academic Papers.
Guide to the F. Curtis Michel Scientist-Astronaut Papers, 1951-1981
Lee Pecht
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Woodson Research Center, Rice University, Houston, Texas Repository

Fondren Library MS-44, Rice University
6100 Main St.
Houston Texas 77005 USA