Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations

Management by Embarrassment

Although the Site Activation Board continued operations for another 20 months, it had made its major contribution to the Apollo program. The KSC team had successfully met its most difficult schedule, the activation of facilities for 500-F. Although some hectic days lay ahead, they involved the spacecraft rather than ground facilities. In July 1966, Rocco Petrone moved over from program management to launch operations. With him went much of the responsibility for site activation. From the beginning, program office representatives and launch operations personnel had argued over who should direct site activation. By the end of 500-F, the responsibility was shifting to Launch Operations and the Engineering Division.

Scheller, backed by Petrone, had won the opening rounds. At the time, the knowledge that the Site Activation Board had done its job was limited to KSC. Many outside observers did not believe that an American would be first on the moon. The Soviet Union had won the race to launch a multimanned spacecraft, sending Voskhod 1 aloft with three cosmonauts on 12 October 1964. The Russians conducted a second successful flight four days before the launch of America's first manned Gemini. Gus Grissom and John Young's three-orbit flight on 23 March 1965 went well, but earlier that month an Atlas-Centaur had exploded on the pad, causing over $2 million in damages. Aviation Week and Space Technology editor Robert Hotz commented after the successful Voskhod 2 flight: "Each Soviet manned space flight makes it clearer that the Russians are widening their lead over the U.S. in this vital area. It also makes it clear that the many billions the American people have poured willingly into our national space program for the purpose of wresting this leadership from the Soviets are not going to achieve that goal under present management."58

The activities described in this chapter helped render that judgment premature. One aspect of KSC management remains to be noted: the Site Activation Board developed a keen sense of competition. A "hit parade board," prominently installed in the display room of the Activation Control Center, listed the ten most critical problems and the organization responsible for each activity. Unlike television's Lucky Strike Hit Parade Board of older days, no one wanted this recognition. Civil servants, as well as contractors, were frequently embarrassed at the biweekly meetings. Hard feelings were inevitable, but the program's goal helped pull organizations together. North American, a company that took as much criticism as anyone, reflected the spirit of fellowship in a going-away present to Rocco Petrone several years later. A common practice at board meetings (and also at later Apollo Launch Operations Committee meetings) had been to ask if anyone had constraints - situations that would hold up a schedule. North American officials presented Petrone a model of a Saturn V with the second stage missing. The sign on the space vehicle read, "Rocco, S-II is ready for roll except for one constraint." The constraint: no S-II.59