The Apollo Spacecraft - A Chronology.

Part 2 (L)

Recovery, Spacecraft Redefinition, and First Manned Apollo Flight

May 1968


May 1

ASPO Manager George M. Low ordered LM Manager C. H. Bolender to establish a firm baseline configuration for the LM ascent engine to use during the entire series of qualification tests (including any penalty runs that might be required). Low's memo followed a telephone conversation the previous day with Apollo Program Director Samuel C. Phillips. Low cited to Bolender the need for a rigid design control on the engine. During a recent technical review, he explained, NASA officials learned that most qualification tests had been performed on one model (the E2CA injector), while all of the bomb stability tests had used another (the E2C injector). Ostensibly, the only difference between the two injectors was in the welding techniques. However, the first E2CA injector that was bomb-tested showed a combustion instability. Low emphasized that he was not charging that the different welding technique had caused the instability. Nevertheless, "this supposedly minor change [has] again served to emphasize the importance of making no changes, no matter how small, in the configuration of this engine." Once Bolender had set up the requested baseline configuration, Low stated, no change either in design or process should be made without approval by the Configuration Control Board.

Phillips followed up his conversation with Low a week later to express a deep concern regarding the ascent engine program, particularly small improvements in the engine, which could very likely delay the entire Apollo program beyond the present goal. The sensitivity of the engine to even minor design, fabrication, and testing changes dictated absolute control over all such changes. The ascent engine, Phillips told Low, was one of a very few Apollo hardware items in which even the most insignificant change must be elevated to top-level management review before implementation.

Memo, Low to Bolender, "Design freeze of ascent engine," May 1, 1968; ltr., Phillips to Low. May 6, 1968.

May 6

Lunar landing research vehicle (LLRV) No. 1 crashed at Ellington Air Force Base, Tex. The pilot, astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, ejected after losing control of the vehicle, landing by parachute with minor injury. Estimated altitude of the LLRV at the time of ejection was 60 meters. LLRV No. 1, which had been on a standard training mission, was a total loss - estimated at $1.5 million. LLRV No. 2 would not begin flight status until the accident investigation had been completed and the cause determined. (The LLTV's had not completed their ground test phase and were not included in this category.) MSC Director Robert R. Gilruth appointed a Board of Investigation, composed of: Joseph S. Algranti, Chief, Aircraft Operations Office, MSC; William A. Anders, Astronaut Office, qualified pilot; Charles Conrad, qualified pilot (temporary member, to be replaced by Donald L. Mallick); Donald L. Mallick, Chief, Research Pilots Branch, Flight Research Center; George L. Bosworth, Aircraft Maintenance - Quality Assurance Branch, Maintenance Officer; and C. H. Roberts, Aircraft Operations Office, Acting Flying Safety Officer. (See also May 16 and October 17.)

TWX, Richard H. Holzapfel, MSC, to NASA, Attn: B. P. Helgeson, May 7, 1968.

May 13

During an Apollo flight test program review at MSC, the question was left unresolved whether or not to perform a "fire-in-the-hole" test of the LM ascent engine (i.e., start the engine at the same instant the two stages of the spacecraft were disjoined - as the engine would have to be fired upon takeoff from the lunar surface) on either the D or E mission. At the review, several participants had suggested that the test be performed on the D mission because that would be the last Apollo flight containing development flight instrumentation (DFI). Later that day, ASPO Manager George M. Low met with several of the Center's Associate Directors (Christopher C. Kraft, Jr., Donald K. Slayton, and Maxime A. Faget) to pursue the issue further. At that time, Faget stated that, although desirable, DFI was not essential for the test objective. Most important, he said, was obtaining photographs of the base of the ascent engine following the burn. In view of Faget's contention - and because the fire-in-the-hole test added greatly to the complexity and risk of the D mission at the time the engine was first fired in space, Low and the others agreed not to include such an ascent engine burn in the flight. Low asked Faget to analyze ascent engine test experience and results of the LM-1 ascent engine burn before making any decision on such a test during the E mission.

Memo, Low to Faget, "Fire-in-the-Hole Test," May 13, 1968.

May 14

Robert R. Gilruth, MSC Director, announced reassignment of three officials. John D. Hodge was assigned as Director of the newly established Lunar Exploration Working Group. Aleck C. Bond, Manager of the Reliability and Quality Assurance Office and the Flight Safety Office, would be reassigned effective June 1 as Manager, Systems Test and Evaluation, Engineering and Development Directorate. Martin L. Raines, Manager, White Sands Test Facility, would become acting manager of the Reliability and Quality Assurance Office and the Flight Safety Office, in addition to his White Sands assignment.

MSC News Release 68-35, May 14, 1968.

May 16

NASA Headquarters established the LLRV-1 Review Board to investigate the May 6 accidental crash of Lunar Landing Research Vehicle No. 1 at Ellington Air Force Base. The Board would consist of: Bruce T. Lundin, Lewis Research Center, chairman; John Stevenson, OMSF; Miles Ross, KSC; James Whitten, Langley Research Center; and Lt. Col. Jeptha D. Oliver (USAF), Norton Air Force Base. J. Wallace Ould, MSC Chief Counsel, would serve as counsel to the group. The board would

  1. determine the probable cause or causes of the accident,
  2. identify and evaluate proposed corrective actions,
  3. evaluate the implications of the accident for LLRV and LM design and operations,
  4. report its findings to the NASA Administrator as expeditiously as possible but no later than July 15, and
  5. document its findings and submit a final report to the Administrator with a copy to the NASA Safety Director. (See October 17.)
Memo, Thomas O. Paine to LLRV-1 Review Board, "Investigation and Review of Crash of Lunar Landing Research Vehicle #1," May 16, 1968.

May 17

Christopher C. Kraft, Jr., MSC Director of Flight Operations, expressed concern to ASPO Manager George M. Low over the escalation of E-mission objectives; the flight now loomed as an extremely complex and ambitious mission. The probability of accomplishing all the objectives set forth for the mission, said Kraft, was very low. He did not propose changing the mission plan, however. "If we are fortunate," he said, "then certainly the quickest way to the moon will be achieved." Kraft did suggest caution in setting mission priorities and in "apply[ing] adjectives to the objectives." Specifically, he advised a realistic allowance of delta V limits at various points in the rendezvous portion of the mission, to ensure safe termination of the exercise if required. Also, he saw little value in a fire-in-the-hole burn of the ascent engine at stage separation of the LM. He believed that ground tests were adequate to provide answers on pressure and temperature rises on the ascent stage during launch from the lunar surface. The situation Kraft said was indicative of the engineer's desire to test fully all systems in flight in both normal and backup modes. However, reliance must be placed largely on the wealth of ground testing and analysis carried on to date in the Apollo program.

Memo, Kraft to Manager, Apollo Program, "Apollo Flight Test Program," May 17, 1968.

May 21

Following up on an earlier request to examine the potential for lunar photography of the moon from the CSM during Apollo lunar missions (see March 29), Apollo Program Director Samuel C. Phillips asked MSC Director Robert R. Gilruth to expand MSC's effort to include the potential for a range of scientific investigations. Specifically, he asked that MSC study the overall potential of the CSM for lunar science and the modification needed to support increasingly complex experiment payloads. Among experiments that might be carried out from the CSM Phillips cited infrared spectrometer radiometer, ultraviolet absorption spectrometer, passive microwave, radar-laser altimetry, and subsatellites.

Ltr., Phillips to Gilruth, "Lunar Scientific Experiments from the CSM," May 21, 1968.

May 22

Twist-and-solder wire splices were evaluated for ASPO Manager Low by Systems Engineering Division. The evaluation stated that twist-and-solder wire splices with shrink sleeve tubing had been used for many years and when properly done were adequate. It then listed three advantages and six disadvantages of this kind of splice. In summary, it stated that the splice could be phased into the LM program but was not recommended by the division because:

  1. there are too many variables;
  2. the present solder splice (either heat or ZAP gun) had none of the disadvantages or variables mentioned;
  3. a substantial amount of time would be required to establish and implement qualification; and
  4. qualification testing had proven the present solder splices adequate.
LM Program Manager C. H. Bolender had the memo hand-carried to George Low's office, since he was temporarily withholding approval of an engineering change proposal for Grumman to implement use of the ZAP gun for solder splices. Low, in turn, sent an "Urgent Action" note to his Assistant Manager for Flight Safety, Scott H. Simpkinson, asking his views on the problem and saying, in part, "Personally, I would only use the twist-and-solder splice - but I may be old fashioned." Simpkinson replied to Low with an informal note on May 23, agreeing with the recommendations of the Systems Engineering Division. Simpkinson said, ". . . The worst wire splice in the production world is the twist-and-solder, and cover with tubing. . . . I believe we should use the present LM splice method which has been qualified." He recommended the ZAP gun, "which controls the heat properly so that all the advantages of the present LM wire splices can be realized," recalling the phrase, 'Let's not improve ourselves into a new set of problems.'" On that same day Low instructed Bolender to proceed with the ZAP gun Grumman splices.

Memo, Owen E. Maynard, Chief, Systems Engineering Div., ASPO, to Manager, ASPO, "Evaluation of the twist-and-solder wire splice," May 22, 1968; note, Lyle D. White, Systems Engineering Div., to Low, May 22, 1968; Urgent Action note, Low to Simpkinson, undated; note, Simpkinson to Low, May 23, 1968; note, Low to Bolender, May 23, 1968.

May 24

Apollo Program Director Samuel C. Phillips requested from MSC Director Robert R. Gilruth a recommended program for spacesuit modifications to achieve greater astronaut maneuverability. The modifications were required for lunar landing missions, because extravehicular activities such as sampling and instrument deployment were difficult and time consuming with the present suit configuration. Phillips asked for trade-off studies to achieve optimized life support systems, an analysis of mobility requirements and techniques to enhance mobility, and studies of crew station requirements and problem areas such as suit repair, storage, and checkout.

Ltr., Phillips to Gilruth "Improvement of Apollo Spacesuit for Lunar Surface EVA Tasks," May 24, 1968.

May 25

ASPO Manager George M. Low informed Apollo Program Director Samuel C. Phillips of recent MSC work on the effects of launch vehicle-induced oscillations - i.e., "pogo" vibrations - on the spacecraft and its subsystems. MSC had made two key personnel assignments in this area:

  1. Rolf W. Lanzkron managed all MSC activities in connection with the space vehicle dynamic integrity problem; and
  2. astronaut Charles M. Duke coordinated all MSC's efforts with related work at MSFC.
Low also cited a number of decisions in the hardware and testing areas. He had decided to use CM 002B, SM 105, and LM-2 for pogo dynamics testing. Other ground test hardware included LTA-3 for manned drop tests and for additional structural verification tests, CM 102 to verify parachute-imposed loads on the spacecraft structure, and CMs 014 and 102 for additional structural tests at North American Rockwell. In deciding upon uses for these and other spacecraft hardware items, MSC had assigned first priority to the ground test program, second to another potential unmanned Saturn V flight, and third to the dual launch capability.

Ltr., Low to Phillips, May 25, 1968.

May 28

NASA and Grumman officials met to resolve the issue of the injector for the LM ascent engine. Chief NASA Apollo spacecraft program officials present included Director Samuel C. Phillips and MSC's ASPO Manager George M. Low and LM Manager C. H. Bolender; Grumman LM directors and engineers included LM Program Director Joseph G. Gavin. Several alternatives seemed feasible: continue the program with the existing Bell Aerosystems Co. engine and injector; furnish Bell Aerosystems Co. engines to Rocketdyne to be mated to the Rocketdyne injector; or ship Rocketdyne injectors to Bell for installation in the engine. After what Low termed "considerable discussion," he dictated the course to be followed:

  • The LM ascent engine would comprise Bell's engine with the Rocketdyne injector. Rocketdyne would be responsible for delivery of the complete engine, and would thus become a subcontractor to Grumman. (Bell could either remain as subcontractor to Grumman or become a subcontractor to Rocketdyne.)
  • An engine with the Rocketdyne injector would be immediately installed in LM-3, as well as in LM-4 and LM-5, with minimum schedule impact.
  • Grumman was to proceed forthwith on contract negotiations with Bell and Rocketdyne to cover these procurements.
  • Rocketdyne was to continue qualification on the present injector design, and engine firings at White Sands Test Facility in support of LM-3 were to use the Rocketdyne injector.
Grumman participants at this meeting, as Low almost casually phrased it, "indicated that they would interpose no objections to this set of decisions." After long months of technical effort and almost agonizing hardware and managerial debate, the issue of an ascent engine for the LM was settled.

Memo for Record, Low, "Ascent engine injector," May 31, 1968.

May 29

NASA's North American Management Performance Award Board sent a summary of its findings for the first interim period, from September 1967 through March 1968, to North American Rockwell's Space Division. The review board had been charged with assessing the company's performance under spacecraft contract NAS 9-150 and determining an award fee under the contract's incentive agreements. Board Chairman B. L. Dorman wrote Space Division President William B. Bergen that the Board had been impressed by the attention of North American's top management to the CSM program. Moreover, a cooperative attitude from top to bottom had afforded NASA an excellent view into problem areas, while the company's assessment of problems had helped to produce high-quality hardware. On the other hand, several activities needed improvement: cost control; tighter management control over change traffic; stronger management of subcontractors; and better planning and implementation of test and checkout functions.

Ltr., Dorman to Bergen, May 29, 1968.

During the Month

NASA Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight George E. Mueller recommended to the Administrator several alternative uses for the LM-2 vehicle, since that spacecraft was no longer destined for flight. (The successful LM-1 flight during the Apollo 5 mission in January had obviated the need for a second such unmanned flight.) Mueller suggested that LM-2 be used for nondestructive tests and for documentary photography. Additional drop tests with the craft, he said, would enhance confidence in the strength of the LM to withstand the impact of landing on the moon, with all subsystems functioning. (The LM drop test program using Lunar Test Article 3, Mueller said, would verify the LM structure itself; however, LTA-3 contained no operational subsystems, wiring, or plumbing and therefore could not verify the total flight vehicle.) Among several other possible uses for the vehicle examined but rejected, Mueller cited modifying the craft into a manned configuration for Apollo or using it for an early Apollo Applications flight. LM-2 was unsuitable for both these alternatives, he stated, because of the extensive structural modifications needed to make it a flightworthy Apollo spacecraft - and the attendant disruption of vehicle flow within the Grumman production line - and because of the many fire-proofing changes that would be required. The launch vehicle (SA-206), LM adapter, and protective shroud were to be placed in storage for further Saturn tests if needed.

Memo, Mueller to NASA Administrator, "Disposition and Usage of AS-206/LM-2 Hardware," n.d.