Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations

Chapter 15

Putting It All Together: LC-39 Activation

The Site Activation Board

In 1965 KSC officials prepared to put it all together at LC-39. After two years of construction, and midway through President Kennedy's decade of challenge, Kennedy Space Center approached a milestone known in NASA parlance as "site activation." Two parts of the task were complete: the brick and mortar construction of the facilities, including installation of the utility systems for power, water, heating, and air conditioning; and the electrical and mechanical outfitting such as propellant piping and intercommunications systems. Now came the installation, assembly, and testing of ground support equipment. Earlier chapters have dealt with the first two phases. The third phase in some ways constituted Apollo's greatest challenge. Hundreds of contractors sent nearly 40,000 pieces of ground support equipment to the Cape for installation at LC-39. On Merritt Island, KSC's Apollo Program Office had to integrate the activities of more than two dozen major contractors. Engineering and administrative interfaces numbered in the thousands. At NASA Headquarters, Gen. Samuel Phillips, a veteran of the Minuteman site activation program, and his boss, George Mueller, doubted that KSC would have LC-39 ready in time for Saturn V.1

Rocco Petrone took the first step toward site activation in September 1964 by appointing Lt. Col. Donald R. Scheller "Staff Assistant for Activation Planning." Scheller, a B-17 pilot in World War II, had just completed four years with the Atlas Missile Project Office. An October 1964 memo from William Clearman's Saturn V Test and Systems Engineering Office listed the responsibilities of Scheller's new position. He was to analyze:

  • Construction schedules of facilities under the cognizance of the Corps of Engineers.
  • Delivery schedules of all ground support equipment to be installed on complex 39 regardless of the source of the equipment.
  • Tests to be performed on the facilities by contractors prior to release to KSC as well as the tests on utilities, subsystems, and systems to be performed after these facilities are accepted by KSC.
  • Tests that are to be performed under the direction of KSC personnel after ground support equipment is installed.2
Drawing upon the support of KSC's various design and support elements, Scheller was to develop a work schedule for site activation. His plans would become the management tools to accomplish the task efficiently. After KSC began implementing the site activation plans, Scheller would prepare facilities description documents for LC-39.

Although Clearman was projecting no mean task, he underestimated the job. Scheller took several months to review the situation before organizing a Site Activation Board in March 1965. At the board's first meeting, he outlined his plans to 40 NASA and contractor representatives. The Site Activation Board, under the aegis of the Apollo Program Office, would work at the management level of KSC and the stage contractors; subordinate groups would handle daily site activation problems. The board was not to usurp other organizations' responsibilities.

Scheller's subordinates presented a performance evaluation and review technique (PERT) for the LC-39 activation. PERT schedules would provide three levels of control. At the A level, PERT would focus on the major control milestones for the Saturn V program, e.g., the first facility checkout of the Saturn V test vehicle, SA-500-F. B networks would track each major element required to support the key milestones, e.g., firing room 1 for 500-F. Level C networks, providing a further breakdown of B-level networks, would follow the progress of all subsystems within each major facility, e.g., the propellants loading panel in firing room 1. The Schedules Office, supporting the board, would maintain the A and B levels, while NASA line organizations and stage contractors prepared the C networks.3

The PERT networks brought order to LC-39 site activation. PERT defined each task, performer, and deadline in a descending and expanding level of detail. The top or A network also served as the site activation master schedule, establishing major milestones. This master schedule, prepared by Scheller's office, was divided into segments or "flows." Flow 1 charted the activation of the minimum facilities and equipment necessary for the checkout and launch of the first Apollo-Saturn V vehicle, AS-501. A preliminary objective was the arrival and erection of the facilities checkout vehicle, SA-500-F, which would be used for testing and validation of launch facilities and operating procedures. Flow 1 listed as minimum facility requirements:

  • Mobile launcher 1
  • Crawler-transporter l
  • High bay 1 in the assembly building
  • Firing room 1 in the launch control center
  • Mobile service structure
  • Launch pad A
  • Propellants and high-pressure gas facilities
  • Related mechanical equipment, electrical-electronic support equipment, and other ground support equipment.
Flow 2 charted the activation of additional facilities to support AS-502, including launcher 2, high bay 3, firing room 2, and related ground support equipment. Flow 3, originally intended for AS-503, tracked the activation of pad B and related facilities such as the crawlerway. A fourth flow covered the remaining LC-39 facilities.4

B and C networks supported each of the flows. The B networks eventually listed over 7,400 events, e.g., completion dates for equipment installation. These events covered all facilities and some major components within the facilities. The C networks, largely a contractor responsibility, listed 40,000 activities in sequence and set the dates by which one contractor would have to complete a job to make way for the next operation. A numbering system facilitated the transposition of data between C and B levels, matching as many as 15 C-level activities with their B counterparts.

Following the PERT description, the Site Activation Board discussed a second management tool, the equipment records system. NASA was compiling in Huntsville a list of 40,000 pieces of ground support equipment, the data coming from the engineering divisions of the three spaceflight centers. The lists provided: a name and number; an estimated-on-dock date, the expected delivery date at KSC; and a required-on-dock date, when KSC needed the item for installation. The board intended to use the equipment records system as the communications medium between KSC users and equipment suppliers. Representatives of the Facilities Engineering and Construction Division reported on the current status of key construction milestones, including rack and console installation. All agencies were asked to review the construction status in terms of their organizational needs for access, and to report any problems to the Site Activation Board. Scheller requested comments on the board charter and PERT networks within a week and an early submission of level C data.5

Under its charter, the board was responsible for ensuring that all facilities and support equipment comprising the Apollo-Saturn V operational launch base were "constructed, outfitted, installed, interconnected, and tested" in preparation for subsequent operations. This included equipment modifications during site activation. KSC division chiefs quickly expressed concern about these broad powers. In his comments Dr. Hans Gruene asked:

"Will decisions of the Board be made at the discretion of the chairman or by some other method?... Can a decision be appealed by the director of an operating unit [such as the Assistant Director for Launch Vehicle Operations] to the Director of Plans, Programs, and Resources [Petrone]?"6 Col. Aldo Bagnulo, acting Assistant Director for Engineering and Development, not wanting the board to assume any of his responsibilities for facility development, said: "The recent emphasis on performing work through normal procedures rather than by committee action should be followed."7 Raymond Clark, Support Operations Chief, raised the same sensitive issue: "Additional clarification is needed as to the depth of management control anticipated by the Site Activation Board."8 Despite these objections, Petrone had his way; when the board began operations, it enjoyed a wide-ranging authority.

Site activation schedules

Site activation schedules displayed in firing room 4 of the launch control center, January 1966.

The preparation of PERT schedules monopolized the board's attention for several months. The fashioning of the detailed C-level networks proved time-consuming, and when submitted, data from the contractors forced revisions in the B networks. KSC also had trouble bringing the equipment records system under its control. By August 1965, however, both that system and PERT were computerized and operational. Early that month Scheller initiated biweekly board meetings.9 In early October the board moved to new quarters in firing room 4 of the launch control center. Even desks and telephones were in short supply, but KSC got on with the installations, and the following month the board had work space, conference areas, and a management information display and analysis room. The display brought home the immensity of the board's task. Magnetic devices on a 21 x 5-meter metal wall revealed the status of each PERT chart and told the story of site activation. Tiered seats accommodated 90 people with standing room for another 50. Four rear-projection screens, above the metal wall, provided simultaneous or selective viewing of activation data. Apollo officials could view level A networks, milestone event charts, and major problem summaries on two rear-lighted display areas located to the right and left of the four screens. As activation moved into high gear, the display room was used to brief visiting dignitaries on program goals and progress. Level C networks had an area of their own behind the huge display wall. The Site Activation Board laid out the 40,000 events of the C networks on 418 square meters of metal wall space. A Boeing team, responsible for updating the network, worked at nearby desks. Offices and a graphics section occupied the rear section of the firing room.10