Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations

Conversations with the Air Force

The purpose of the MFL staff meeting on 26 September 1958 was to determine the support requirements needed from the Air Force. A number of topics were discussed including safety zones, construction costs, fuel requirements, instrumentation, a service structure, and a launch site. The matter of a site, for what would eventually be launch complex 34, received further attention that Friday afternoon when Debus introduced the Saturn project to Maj. Gen. Donald N. Yates, Air Force Missile Test Center Commander. Debus suggested placing the new complex in the central part of the Cape near pad 26. That pad was presently in use for the Jupiter program, but would be phased out in 1960. Yates believed that construction near LC-26 would interfere with other contractors and pose safety problems. He suggested the use of areas near complex 20 (Titan), complex 11 (Atlas), or at the north end of the launch area, which had been tentatively reserved for large boosters.3

During the next two weeks an MFL facilities team made a preliminary survey of five possible sites. James Deese drew upon eight years of Cape experience in directing the survey. The team focused much of its attention on ground safety. The potential blast effect of an explosion on the pad established a ground safety zone and a minimum intraline distance. The safety zone, marking the danger area for exposed personnel, would be cleared of all persons 39 minutes prior to launch. The minimum intraline distance delimited the area within which a pad explosion would cause damage to adjacent pad structures or vehicles. Deese estimated that the fuel would have half the explosive force of TNT. With an estimated fuel load of 476 tons (equivalent to 238 tons of TNT), the three-stage Saturn would require a ground safety radius of 1,650 meters and intraline distance of 400 meters. The proposed firing azimuths (44 to 110 degrees) excluded sites that would result in overflying permanent launch facilities already constructed to the east.4

The Deese team recommended only one site, an area approximately 300 meters north of complex 20. By using the existing Titan 1 blockhouse (launch control center) at LC-20, costs and construction time would be minimized. The Air Force Missile Test Center objected to this location, contending that the Saturn pad should be at least 610 meters from other structures. This precluded joint use of the Titan blockhouse, because the data transmission equipment used in checkout of the Saturn would be adversely affected by voltage drops over a 610-meter circuit.* MFL arguments that the Air Force recommendation would increase facility costs by 30% and construction time by four months proved to no avail. In mid-January, after a six-week delay, the Advanced Research Projects Agency sited the Saturn complex 710 meters north of pad 20.5

* Some MFL officials believed the Air Force simply did not want to share blockhouse 20. The Air Force, however, consistently gave range safety a high priority. As General Yates recalled, the Air Force received numerous complaints from contractors because of concessions the Missile Test Center made to MFL.

3. Debus to C.O., Atlantic Missile Range (hereafter cited as AMR), "Juno V Program," 1 Oct. 1958; Robert F. Heiser, Technical Asst., Off. of the Dir., MFL, memo for record, "Juno V," 26 Sept. 1958.

4. Deese to Debus, priority TWX, "Feasibility Study and/or Criteria for a Launch Site at AMR for a Clustered First Stage of Juno V Project," 8 Oct. 1958; Koelle, ed., Handbook of Astronautical Engineering, pp. 28-1 to 28-10; MFL, Juno V (Saturn) Heavy Missile Launch Facility, 1st Phase Request, 2nd Phase Estimate, by R. P. Dodd and J. H. Deese, 14 Feb. 1959, pp. 2-3.

5. Deese to Debus, "Feasibility Study for a Launch Site"; Warren G. Hunter, ARP A Coordinator, SSEL, memo, "Meeting at MFL, CCMTA on Juno V Launch Complex," 10 Nov. 1958; Pan American Aviation, "Juno V Program Siting Study," 24 Oct. 1958, pp.1-3.