The Apollo Spacecraft - A Chronology.|
This, the second volume of the Apollo Spacecraft Chronology, takes up the story where the first left off, in November 1962. The first volume dealt with the birth of the Apollo Program and traced its early development. The second concerns its teenage period, up to September 30, 1964.
By late 1962 the broad conceptual design of the Apollo spacecraft and the Apollo lunar landing mission was complete. The Administrator formally advised the President of the United States on December 10 that NASA had selected lunar orbit rendezvous over direct ascent and earth orbit rendezvous as the mode for landing on the moon. All major spacecraft contractors had been selected; detailed system design and early developmental testing were under way.
On October 20, 1962, soon after Wally Schirra's six-orbit mission in Sigma 7, the first formal overall status review of the Apollo spacecraft and flight mission effort was given to Administrator James E. Webb. The writer of this foreword, who was then the Assistant Director for Apollo Spacecraft Development, recalls George Low, then Director of Manned Spacecraft and Flight Missions under D. Brainerd Holmes, discussing the planning schedule for completion of the Mercury Project in 1963, initiation of Gemini flights in 1964, and the start of Apollo earth orbital flights in 1965. Major design features of the spacecraft and subsystems were discussed and so were facilities, training, flight mission plans, and resources. At the conclusion of the review, Mr. Webb, Dr. Dryden, and Dr. Seamans commented favorably on the overview provided and on the accomplishments and hard planning that had been completed. The chronology of events during the subsequent two years, as summarized herein, provides an interesting comparison with the plans as discussed that day; we came very close to what was planned for 1963 and 1964.
During 1963 formal contract negotiations with the previously selected major spacecraft contractors were completed. In addition most of the contractors for major facilities and support activities on the ground were selected. The latter group included Radio Corporation of America to furnish the spacecraft vacuum test chamber at Houston, Bell Aerosystems for the lunar landing training vehicle, Philco Corporation as prime contractor for the Mission Control Center, Link Division of General Precision, Inc., for the lunar mission simulators, and International Business Machines for the Real Time Computer Complex at Houston's Mission Control Center.
Also in 1963 the Office of Manned Space Flight was reorganized under its new leader, George E. Mueller, to strengthen its systems engineering and integration role in overall management of the Apollo-Saturn Program. In December Dr. Mueller brought in General Sam Phillips as Deputy Director of the Apollo Program. Soon thereafter Phillips was named Apollo Program Director. A comparable reorganization took place at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston as the tempo of spacecraft module design and development increased. At the same time, the prime contractors were selecting and completing negotiations with their subcontractors and suppliers for the thousands of subsystems and components involved. The government-industry team for carrying out the Apollo spacecraft and flight mission related tasks was essentially complete by late 1963. Concurrently, similar activities were proceeding for the Saturn launch vehicles at the Marshall Space Flight Center and for launch site preparation at the Kennedy Space Center, as it was named by President Johnson on November 28, 1963.
Meanwhile, a series of basic program decisions were made; these enabled the spacecraft and lunar landing mission design teams to proceed into detail design. Among these decisions were the following:
Dr. Mueller, in the fall of 1963, introduced something that was to have a mighty effect on "landing before this decade is out." It was called "all-up testing." Under the "all-up" concept, launch vehicle and spacecraft development flights were combined, with all elements active and as close to lunar configuration as possible, beginning with the very first flight. This plan replaced the more conventional approach of making initial launch vehicle tests with dummy upper stages and dummy spacecraft.
Because the Saturn I flight program was of an interim non-lunar configuration, it was curtailed and four manned earth orbital flights with the Saturn launch vehicle were canceled. The Saturn IB development for manned flight was accelerated and all Saturn IB flights, beginning with SA-201, would carry operational spacecraft. Similarly, the Saturn V development flights, beginning with 501, would be in "all-up" configuration and vehicle 501 would be used to obtain reentry data on the Apollo spacecraft. The first manned flight on both the Saturn IB and V would follow two successful unmanned flights, so that the first manned flights could be as early as vehicles 203 and 503 for the IB and V, respectively. This would exploit early successful flight operation of the new launch vehicles by reducing the total number of flights required to qualify the lunar flight configuration for manned operations. The first manned flight on a Saturn V did of course take place on vehicle 503 in December 1968 - the successful Apollo 8 mission.
Another Mueller innovation was the Apollo Executives Group, which first met in the fall of 1963. It brought together senior officials of the major Apollo-Saturn contractors, such as the Presidents of North American, Boeing, and Grumman, with senior NASA Manned Space Flight executives (Mueller, von Braun, Gilruth, and Debus). These periodic meetings proved to be an excellent mechanism for opening lines of communication at the top, for assuring timely top management attention to the most important problems as they arose, and for assuring a coordinated team effort on the many faceted Apollo-Saturn activities. A similar group of Gemini Executives was also set up; there was considerable cross-communication between the two since several of the same organizations were involved in both programs.
During 1964 ground and flight development activity accelerated further and the first of many flight components, the launch escape rockets built by the Lockheed Propulsion Company, successfully completed qualification testing.
In early 1964, the Block II CSM lunar-orbit-rendezvous configuration guidelines were forwarded by NASA to North American, and the Block II mockup was formally reviewed in September of that year. The Block I configuration had been configured before the LOR mode was chosen; as a consequence, it did not have the docking and crew-transfer provisions which, among other changes, were incorporated in the Block II.
The first Gemini mission, a successful unmanned test flight, was launched on April 8. Ranger VII provided the first close-up pictures of the moon in July. Project FIRE provided flight data at Apollo reentry speeds, and Saturn I flights SA-5, SA-6, and SA-7 were successfully completed during 1964. SA-7, the seventh straight Saturn I success, provided a functional verification of the Apollo Launch Escape System jettison. The unbroken string of Saturn launch successes presented a far different picture from earlier days when a 50% launch success record was considered exceptional.
In summary, the two years covered by this volume of the Chronology saw the essential completion of the putting together of the Apollo government-industry team, substantial maturing of the design, verification of many essential design features by test, streamlining of the flight program through adoption of the all-up concept, and the acquisition of first data about the lunar surface from the Ranger Program.
As this volume comes to a close, there were still four years to go before the first manned Apollo mission, and nearly five years to the first lunar landing. Many difficulties lay ahead, but the course had been marked and giant strides had been taken along that course.
John H. Disher
Deputy Director, Skylab Program
Former Director, Test Division
Apollo Program Office