The Apollo Spacecraft - A Chronology.

Advanced Design, Fabrication, and Testing

December 1964


December 3-10

After studying increased thrust versus increased burn time, Grumman ordered Bell Aerosystems Company to redesign the LEM's ascent engine for a longer firing duration.

GAEC, "Monthly Progress Report No. 23," LPR-10-39, January 10, 1965, p. 12; MSC, "ASPO Weekly Management Report, December 3-10, 1964."

December 3-10

MSC approved plans put forth by North American for mockups of the Block II CSM. For the crew compartment mockup, the company proposed using the metal shell that had originally been planned as a simulator. Except for the transfer tunnel and lighting, it would be complete, including mockups of all crew equipment. Mockup 12, the Block I lighting tool, would be modified to conform to the interior of Block II spacecraft.

Systems Engineering Division reported the latest review schedule for the Block II mockups:

  • March 15, 1965 - crew compartment
  • April 30, 1965 - interior lighting
  • July 15, 1965 - Design Engineering Inspection (DEI)
  • August 6, 1965 - lighting DEI
"ASPO Weekly Management Report, December 3-10, 1964"; letter, C. L. Taylor, MSC, to NAA, Attn: J. C. Cozad, "Contract NAS 9-150, Delivery of Government furnished crew equipment for Block II mockup," December 22, 1964.

December 3-10

MSC froze the design of the drogue mortar for the launch escape system. Laboratory qualification was scheduled to begin about the middle of the month. Qualification of the mortars for the pilot parachute would then follow.

"ASPO Weekly Management Report, December 3-10, 1964."

December 3-10

Engineering and medical experts of the Crew Systems Division reviewed dumping helium from the CM's gas chromatograph into the cabin during reentry or in a pad abort. Reviewers decided that the resultant atmosphere (9.995 kilonewtons [1.45 psi] helium and 31.349 kilonewtons [4.55 psia] oxygen) posed no hazard for the crew. Systems Engineering Division recommended, however, that dump time be reduced from 15 minutes to three, which could readily be done.

MSC, "Consolidated Activity Report for Office of the Associate Administrator, Manned Space Flight, December 1964,"p. 46.

December 4

At its Sacramento test site, Douglas Aircraft Company static-fired a "battleship" S-IVB second stage of the Saturn IB vehicle, for 10 sec. (A battleship rocket stage was roughly the vehicle's equivalent to a boilerplate spacecraft.) On January 4, 1965, after further testing of the stage's J-2 engine, the stage underwent its first full-duration firing, 480 sec.

Space Business Daily, December 4, 1964, p. 159.

December 7

Douglas Aircraft Company delivered the first S-IVB stage to Marshall Space Flight Center for extensive vibration, bending, and torsional testing. The stage was not an actual flight stage and contained mockups of the engine and other components, but it duplicated the flight article in weight, mass, center of gravity, and stiffness.

Ibid., December 7, 1964, p. 167.

December 7

MSC ordered North American to fix the rotation angle of the adapter panels at 45 degrees. (This angle should give ample clearance during an SM abort.) Also, so that each panel would have two attenuators, North American should include such a device at each thruster location. (See June 16, 1965.)

On the same day, the Center directed North American to put a standard mechanical clock (displaying Greenwich Mean Time) in the lower equipment bay of the CM. [The spacecraft also had an elapsed time device on the main display console.]

Letter, H. P. Yschek, MSC, to NAA, Space and Information Systems Division, "Contract Change Authorization No. 275," December 7, 1964; letter, H. P. Yschek, MSC, to NAA, Space and Information Systems Division, "Contract Change Authorization No. 277," December 7, 1964.

December 7

MSC advised Grumman that, normally, the LEM would be the active vehicle during lunar rendezvous. This would conserve reaction control system propellants aboard the CSM.

TWX, W. F. Rector III, MSC, to GAEC, Attn: R. S. Mullaney, December 7, 1964.

December 8

Boilerplate 23, Mission A-002, was successfully launched from WSMR by a Little Joe II launch vehicle. The test was to demonstrate satisfactory launch escape vehicle performance utilizing the canard subsystem and boost protective cover, and to verify the abort capability in the maximum dynamic pressure region with conditions approximating emergency detection subsystem limits. (See objectives in Appendix 5.)

"Apollo Monthly Progress Report," SID 62-300-32, p. 31; Astronautics and Aeronautics, 1964, p. 410.

December 8

A single main parachute was drop-tested at El Centro, Calif., to verify the ultimate strength. The parachute was designed for a disreef load of 11,703 kg (25,800 lbs) and a 1.35 safety factor. The test conditions were to achieve a disreef load of 15,876 kg (35,000 lbs. Preliminary information indicated the parachute deployed normally to the reefed shape (78,017 kg [17,200 lbs] force), disreefed after the programmed three seconds, and achieved an inflated load of 16,193 kg (35,700 lbs), after which the canopy failed. North American representatives would visit MSC during the week of December 14 to discuss this and other recent tests.

NAA, "Apollo Monthly Progress Report," SID 62-300-33, February 1, 1965, pp. 3-4; "ASPO Weekly Management Report, December 3-10, 1964."

December 8

Representatives of MSC's Information and Electronic Systems Division, Flight Operations Division, Flight Crew Operations Division, Guidance and Control Division, Astronaut Office, and ASPO, Goddard Space Flight Center, and Bellcomm, Inc., met to discuss communications during LEM and CSM rendezvous.

Capability of the Manned Space Flight Network (MSFN) to provide data for rendezvous was studied. Aaron Cohen of ASPO stated sufficient data could be collected, processed, and transmitted via MSFN to the LEM to achieve rendezvous. Dr. F. O. Vonbun of Goddard showed that MSFN data did little to improve data already available in the LEM before launch. Although five tracking stations would communicate with the LEM during ascent and the first 10 minutes of orbit, there would be only a slight improvement in spacecraft position and motion data over the data already contained in the LEM computer. No decision was made concerning the MSFN's capability.

Alternate rendezvous methods were discussed.

Memorandum, Donald G, Wiseman, MSC, to Chief, Instrumentation and Electronic Systems Division, "Meeting on LEM CSM rendezvous," December 9, 1964.

December 8

The Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences was asked to give NASA an independent evaluation of the need for a lunar sampling handling facility at Houston. NASA asked that the following questions be answered:

  • What types of lunar sample analyses need to be done immediately upon return of the samples from the moon?
  • What types of research can better be postponed until analyses can be handled at the best available research facility?
  • What types of scientific research and handling facilities do you anticipate will be needed for such analyses?
  • What do you anticipate in terms of manpower requirements for MSC to handle scientific activities in such a facility?
Letter, Homer E. Newell, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science and Applications, to Dr. Harry H. Hess, Chairman, Space Science Board, December 8, 1964.

December 9

Grumman received from Houston criteria for firing times of the SM reaction control system (RCS). These served as a basis for the design of the LEM's steerable antenna. The thermal design proposed by Dalmo-Victor, the vendor, appeared feasible to watchdogs in MSC's Instrumentation and Electronic Systems Division. On the other hand, the unbalanced wind torque produced by the RCS engines was still a problem. RCA and Dalmo-Victor's estimates of the amount of torque varied considerably, and Grumman consequently undertook a study of this problem.

MSC, "ASPO Weekly Management Report, November 26-December 3, 1964"; TWX, W. F. Rector III, MSC, to GAEC, Attn: R. S. Mullaney, November 19, 1964; TWX, W. F. Rector III, MSC, to GAEC, Attn: R. S. Mullaney, December 9, 1964.

December 9

MSC revised the weight allocation for the LEM's R&D instrumentation to bring it in line with current mission planning. Limitations established were 295 kg (650 lbs) for 206A and 181 kg (400 lbs) for all other missions.

Memorandum, W. F. Rector III, MSC, to Chief, Instrumentation and Electronic Systems Division, Attn: N. Farmer, "Lem I, 2, and 3 measurement requirements," December 9, 1964; letter, W. F. Rector III, MSC, to GAEC, Attn: R. S. Mullaney, "Contract NAS 9-1100, LEM 1, 2, and 3 Measurement Requirements," December 14, 1964.

December 9

MSC approved the use of one 23.68-kg (50-lb) auxiliary battery for the LEM, as recommended by Grumman, and preparations began for negotiations with Yardney Electric Corp.

TWX, W. F. Rector III, MSC, to GAEC, Attn: R. S. Mullaney, December 9, 1964; "Monthly Progress Report No. 23," LPR-10-39, p. 23.

December 9

Avco Corporation was under a 10-month contract amounting to $124,578 to MSC to study the effects of solar radiation and ultra-high vacuum on the materials and components of space suits. Testing would be performed in the Avco space environment chamber.

Space Business Daily, December 9, 1964, p. 185.

December 9-10

Grumman and LEM Project Office representatives met to discuss the split bus distribution system. They decided there would be two circuit breaker panels similar to those of Mockup 5. All power distribution system controls would be located on the system engineer's center side console with remote controls and valves on the commander's center side console.

"Monthly Progress Report No. 23," LPR-10-39, p. 17.

December 10-January 7

Because of faults in both design and in testing procedures, the positive expulsion tanks for the CSM reaction control system failed their verification tests (begun during the preceding month).

"ASPO Weekly Management Report" (December 10, 1964-January 7, 1965).

December 10-January 7

Crew Systems Division received from North American a mockup of the proposed design of the food stowage compartment in the Block II CSM. This article would be used for packaging studies in preparation for the lower equipment bay mockup review in February.


December 10-January 7

By improving filling and preparation procedures and by using nickel foil in the oxygen electrode, Pratt and Whitney eliminated both short- and long-term plugging in the LEM's fuel cell assembly. Since then, Pratt and Whitney had consistently operated single cells for over 400 hours and - as far as the company was concerned - felt this settled the matter.


December 10-January 7

The resident Apollo office at North American discussed the company's tooling concepts for the Block II spacecraft with the chief of Marshall's Planning and Tool Engineering Division and the local Marshall representative. These reviewers agreed on the suitability of North American's basic approach. Though they recognized that the initial tooling cost would be high, they nonetheless felt that the total costs of manufacturing would not be appreciably affected. The substitution of mechanical for optical checking devices, it was agreed, would eliminate much of the "judgment factor" from the inspection process; mechanical checking also would assure uniformity of major components or subsystems.

Ibid.; "Apollo Monthly Progress Report," SID 62-300-33, p. 27.

December 11

MSC directed Grummann to provide a LEM abort guidance section (AGS) having

  • a computer memory of 4096 words
  • the provision for in-flight null bias gyro drift compensation
  • a general purpose input output device
  • Bell 3B accelerometers
  • input registers for rendezvous radar information such that a future interface could be mechanized if desired
  • an interface between the primary navigation and guidance system (PNGS) and the AGS for position and velocity updating of the AGS from the PNGS.
Letter, Joseph F. Shea, MSC, to GAEC, Attn: R. S. Mullaney, "Contract NAS 9-1100, Abort Guidance Section Configuration," December 11, 1964.


The LEM.

December 11

From MSC, Grumman received updated criteria to be used in the design of the LEM's landing gear. The gear must be designed to absorb completely the landing impact; it must also provide adequate stability for the vehicle under varying surface conditions, which were spelled out in precise detail.) Maximum conditions that MSC anticipated at touchdown were:

vertical velocity - 3.05 m (10 ft) per sec

horizontal velocity - 1.22 m (4 ft) per sec

spacecraft attitude

pitch - 3 degrees

roll - 3 degrees

yaw - random

attitude rates - 3 degrees per sec

At touchdown, all engines (descent and reaction control would be off. "It must be recognized," MSC emphasized, "that the vertical and horizontal velocity values . . . are also constraints on the flight control system."

Letter, W. F. Rector III, MSC, to GAEC, Attn: R. S. Mullaney, "Contract NAS 9-1100, Landing gear design criteria," December 11, 1964.

December 14

ASPO's Operations Planning Division directed Grumman to provide six recharges of the portable life support system (PLSS) and three PLSS batteries (rechargeable and replaceable).

Letter, W. F. Rector III, MSC, to GAEC, Attn: R. S. Mullaney, "Contract NAS 9-1100, Resolution of M-5 mockup review chits 1-16 and 1-20," December 14, 1964.

December 15

Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight George E. Mueller informed MSC Director Robert R. Gilruth that the Integrated Mission Control Center at MSC should be renamed Mission Control Center. He said, "By calling it the Mission Control Center, it has the advantage of retaining as much as possible of the original name which has become so well known to the press, the Congress and the public."

Letter, Mueller to Gilruth, December 15, 1964.

December 15-16

Dalmo-Victor studied thermal-demanded weight increases for the LEM's steerable antenna. Investigators reported to Grumman and RCA that, in the plume of the CSM's reaction control engines, 1.18 kg (2.5 lbs) was necessary merely for the survival of the antenna; another 1.18 kg would be required for tracking during this impingement.

"Monthly Progress Report No. 23," LPR-10-39, p. 5; "ASPO Weekly Management Report" (December 10, 1964-January 7, 1965).

December 16

Aboard a KC-135 from Wright-Patterson AFB, the fecal canister and urine relief tube were first tested under zero-g conditions. Similar manned tests of a complete unit were scheduled for February 1965.

"Apollo Monthly Progress Report," SID 62-300-33, pp. 4-6.

December 16

A mission planning presentation was given to ASPO Manager Joseph F. Shea, Assistant Director for Flight Operations Christopher C. Kraft, Jr., and Assistant Director for Flight Crew Operations Donald K. Slayton covering missions AS-201, AS-202, and AS-203. Shea said he wanted either a natural decaying orbit of proper lifetime or reaction control system deorbit capability for the first manned missions. It was decided not to put a C-band beacon on the SM for the post CM/SM separation tracking. This decision came back to haunt the program much later.

Memorandum, Carl R. Huss, MSC, to JSC Historical Office, "Comments on Volume III of The Apollo Spacecraft: A Chronology," June 6, 1973.

December 16-January 15

Phase II service propulsion system engine tests at Arnold Engineering Development Center were begun under simulated high altitude conditions with a successful first firing of 30 seconds. A total of nine firings were completed.

"Apollo Monthly Progress Report," SID 62-300-33, p. 13.

December 16-January 15

Ames researchers conducted 23 runs in the Center's wind tunnel to confirm the flight test instrumentation's compatibility with the aft heatshield of the CM. The instrumentation performed satisfactorily.

"Apollo Monthly Progress Report," SID 62-300-33, pp. 10-11.

December 17

NASA announced the selection of two firms to supply electronics equipment for the Manned Space Flight Network:

  1. Dynatronics, Inc., to design and manufacture pulse code modulation (PCM) telemetry systems. (The main function of the PCM system would be to decode, or as the NASA news release put it, "decommutate," telemetry signals from the spacecraft). Dynatronics' contract would be worth an estimated 3.5 million.
  2. Univac Division of Sperry Rand, to furnish data processors. (These machines, as their name indicates, would process those signals received by the PCM system. This information then would be transmitted to the Mission Control Center at Houston. The value of Univac's contract was placed at $4.5 million.
NASA News Release 64-318, "NASA Selects Apollo Data Contractor," December 17, 1964.

December 18

Crew Systems Division (CSD) engineers, in their continuing effort to improve the design of the space suit, recommended a number of modifications to the thermal garment for example, a larger sleeve opening to facilitate inserting the second arm; and alterations to the neck and chest to increase the astronaut's downward view. By the middle of January, CSD's Robert E. Smylie could report several major design changes improved greatly the suit's don doff characteristics and made it less bulky. (See January 19, 1965.)

Memorandum, Francis J. DeVos, MSC, to Chief, Apollo Support Office, "Improved External Thermal Garment fit and donning, doffing studies," December 18, 1964.

December 18

NASA Administrator James E. Webb thanked Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara for providing aircraft support for the Apollo program. Webb informed McNamara that NASA had transferred $600,000 to the Electronic Systems Division of the Air Force, and "this should provide us the ability to initiate the definition phase of the C-135 Apollo support aircraft program." The aircraft would be used to supplement telemetry and communications coverage of the pre-injection phase of the flights.

Webb added that the Bureau of the Budget had the question of identifying four additional C-135's well on its way toward resolution; and that NASA would continue planning on the basis of 12 C-135 aircraft for the Apollo program.

McNamara had written Webb on November 27, 1964, that "The Air Force has completed a study of a number of alternative combinations of aircraft to meet Apollo requirements. They conclude that the optimum solution is to equip twelve C-135's to support Apollo . . ." Total cost of instrumenting 12 C-135's was estimated to cost $27.7 million, including the $600,000 for the definition phase.

Letters, Webb to McNamara, December 18, 1964; McNamara to Webb, November 27, 1964.

December 18

North American delivered spacecraft 001's CM to White Sands. The SM was shipped several days later, and would be used for propulsion engine development. Aerojet-General shipped the service propulsion engine to the facility on January 6, 1965.

NAA, "Apollo Monthly Progress Report," SID 62-300-33, pp. 1, 12

December 21

The Structures and Mechanics Division (SMD) summarized the thermal status of antennas for the Apollo spacecraft (both CSM and LEM). Generally, most troubles stemmed from plume impingement by the reaction control or radiation from the service propulsion engines. These problems, SMD reported, were being solved by increasing the weight of an antenna either its structural weight or its insulation; by shielding it from the engines' exhaust; by isolating its more critical components; or by a combination of these methods.

Memorandum, R. G. Irvin, MSC, to J. W. Craig, MSC, "LEM thermal design mission," December 9, 1964; memorandum, Ralph S. Sawyer, MSC, to Chief, Propulsion and Power Division, "Reaction control system engine plume impingement on steerable high gain antenna earth tracker," December 21, 1964.

December 21-22

In response to MSC's new criteria for the landing gear of the LEM, Grumman representatives met with Center officials in Houston to revise the design. Grumman had formulated a concept for a 419-cm (165-in) radius, cantilever-type configuration, In analyzing its performance, Grumman and Structures and Mechanics Division (SMD) engineers, working separately, had reached the same conclusion: namely, that it did not provide sufficient stability nor did it absorb enough of the landing impact. Both parties to this meeting agreed that the gear's performance could be improved by redesigning the foot pads and beefing up the gear struts. Grumman was modifying other parts of the spacecraft's undercarriage accordingly.

At the same time, Grumman advised MSC that it considered impractical a contrivance to simulate lunar gravity in the drop program for test Mockup 5. Grumman put forth another idea: use a full-sized LEM, the company said, but one weighing only one-sixth as much as a flight-ready vehicle. SMD officials were evaluating this latest idea, while they were reviewing the entire TM-5 program.

"Project Apollo, Abstract of Procedures, LEM Structures and Landing Gear Systems Meeting, December 21-22, 1964"; "Monthly Progress Report No. 23," LPR-10-39, p. 15; MSC, "ASPO Weekly Management Report" [January 7-14, 1965].

December 23

NASA Technical Services constructed the molds that would be used to make the one-piece bubble helmets for the Apollo space suits. These forms would be delivered to General Electric and to Texstar, the two firms that would actually fabricate the helmets, with the first shell expected about mid-January.

At the same time, Crew Systems Division completed drop tests on the new helmet concept. The division's engineers also began designing and fabrication of support items (neck rings, feed ports, and skull caps), as well as exploring methods of maintaining the helmet's hygiene and habitability.

Letter, Richard S. Johnston, MSC, to Curtis Jones, GE, December 23, 1964; "ASPO Weekly Management Report" [December 10, 1964-January 7, 1965].

December 24

To strengthen the Agency's managerial organization, NASA announced a realignment within the Office of Manned Space Flight:

  • The post of Deputy Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight Operations was eliminated. (It had, in fact, been vacant since April 24, 1964, when Walter C. Williams had resigned. In its stead, the position of Mission Operations Director was created and filled by E. E. Christensen.
  • Two positions as mission directors were created under Christensen. Each director would have overall responsibility for a particular mission.
  • A new organization to coordinate ground support efforts was created, the Operations Support Requirements Office, headed by B. Porter Brown.
Also included in this reorganization was a consolidation of activities at Cape Kennedy aimed at bringing assembly, checking, and launch responsibilities within the scope of a single organization. MSC's Florida Operations was absorbed; Kurt H. Debus assumed the title of Director of Launch Operations; and G. Merritt Preston, who had headed the local MSC group, became Debus' deputy.

NASA News Release 64-327, "NASA Realigns Manned Space Flight Unit in Gemini, Apollo Programs," December 24, 1964.

December 28

MSC directed North American to modify the CM so that the sight assembly could be used from either docking window.

Letter, James L. Neal, MSC, to NAA, Space and Information Systems Division, "Contract Change Authorization No. 283," December 28, 1964; "Apollo Monthly Progress Report," SID 62-300-32, p. 11.

December 29

The Lunar Sample Receiving Laboratory, currently being planned for construction at MSC, would support - in addition to its vital role as a quarantine area - two important activities:

  1. Research on the samples to support succeeding Apollo flights.
  2. Sorting and distribution of lunar samples to the scientific community.
Technical requirements for the facility were being defined by MSC's Space Environment Group, various Apollo science teams, and an ad hoc committee established by NASA Headquarters.

Memorandum, John M. Eggleston, MSC, to Distr., "MSC Requirements for Apollo Operational Lunar Sample Measurements," December 29, 1964.

December 31

After conferring with the Space Medicine Branch and with the Gemini and Apollo support offices, Crew Systems Division officials opted for identical bioinstrumentation in both blocks of Apollo spacecraft. Hamilton Standard would also try to use identical harnesses.

"ASPO Weekly Management Report" [December 10, 1964-January 7, 1965].

During the Month

Grumman ordered its major subcontractors supplying electronic equipment for the LEM to implement revised test programs and hardware schedules (in line with the new design approach). A similar directive went to RCA to modify the attitude and translation and the descent engine control assemblies as required for the new concept of an integrated assembly for guidance, navigation, and control of the spacecraft.

"Monthly Progress Report No. 23," LPR-10-39, p. 24.

During the Quarter

Crew Systems Division approved the use of modified Gemini space suits in Block I Apollo spacecraft. MSC and David Clark Company amended their Gemini suit contract to cover design and fabrication of a prototype Block I suit.

Memorandum, Robert E. Smylie, MSC, to Chief, Program Control Division, "Apollo Spacecraft Program Quarterly Status Report No. 10," January 19, 1965, and enclosures.

During the Quarter

Ling-Temco-Vought began large-scale developmental testing of the radiator for the Block II CSM environmental control system. One problem immediately apparent was the radiator's performance under extreme conditions.


During the Quarter

In September 1964, Hamilton Standard, manufacturer of the portable life support system (PLSS), had established a 108-watt-hour capacity for the system's batteries. And on the basis of that figure, Grumman had been authorized to proceed with the development of the LEM's battery charger (see November 5, 1964). (The size of the charger was determined by several factors, but primarily by the size of the battery and time limits for recharging.)

During November, however, Hamilton Standard and Crew Systems Division (CSD) engineers advised the Instrumentation and Electronic Systems Division (IESD) that the PLSS's power requirements had increased to about 200 watt-hours. (CSD had jurisdiction over the PLSS, including battery requirements; IESD was responsible for the charger.) Hamilton Standard placed most of the blame on the cooling pump motor, which proved far less efficient than anticipated, as well as on the addition of biosensor equipment. ASPO Manager Joseph F. Shea, reviewing the company's explanation, commented that "this says what happened . . . but is far from a justification - this is the type of thing we should understand well enough to anticipate." "How can this happen," he wondered, ". . . in an area which has been subjected to so much discussion and delay?"

Representatives from Grumman and Hamilton Standard, meeting at MSC on December 17, redefined PLSS battery and charging requirements, and Grumman was directed to proceed with the development of the battery charger. This episode was accompanied by some sense of urgency, since Grumman had to have firm requirements before the end of year to prevent a schedule slippage.

"ASPO Weekly Management Report" (December 10, 1964-January 7, 1965); TWX, W. F. Rector III, MSC, to GAEC, Attn: R. S. Mullaney, December 31, 1964.