Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations

A Money Transfusion

In the meantime, Debus received good news. With the Saturn's metamorphosis from Army orphan into NASA prima donna, cost estimates at the launch facility could be revised upward to what were considered more realistic levels (see table 2). Limited Army financing had constrained the Development Operations Division to view the Saturn program as a minimum operation to demonstrate the feasibility of the clustered booster, and funding for its Cape Canaveral launch facility during the first nine months was piecemeal and unrealistic. As a later MFL study noted: "Prior to this date [31 July 1959] no budget submissions could be considered an estimate of requirements, merely a series of proposals on how to apply initial inadequate funding with the promise of additional operating funds to come."21 Rough estimates in September 1958 placed the cost of the launch complex at $4.5 million. The original project request, made on 9 March 1959, called for a total expenditure of $8.7 million. The price of the service structure alone had increased from $400,000 to $3,000,000. By 31 July 1959, revised estimates had increased the figure for MFL expenditures to $13.1 million, with an additional $8 million requested for ground support equipment. One year later MFL officials would be justifying a $38 million price tag for LC- 34. Their explanation would offer a number of reasons: underestimates, inflation, organizational changes, vehicle design alterations, and the Saturn program's changing guidelines and objectives.22

Besides the rising costs of LC-34, MFL faced the need for a backup Saturn launch complex. While the Silverstein Committee report was pending in late 1959, MFL began its own investigation of hydrogen-filled upper stages. A committee, headed by Charles Hall, examined equivalent TNT forces and concluded that an explosion would render LC-34 useless for a year. MFL reassessed its Saturn launch capability in light of that report. The LC-34 staging building, tentatively located near the pad, was moved back to the industrial area and the service structure was fitted with blow-out panels around the base. In January 1960, Debus notified Eberhard Rees, Deputy Director at Huntsville, of the Hall Committee findings and strongly recommended a second Saturn complex. Construction of LC-34's second pad would not do since the 730 meters separating the LC-34B site from LC-20 was too short for safety, with the new Saturn configuration. The Development Operations Division gave its approval and MFL was soon planning for what would become launch complex 37.23

With the transfusion of new money, construction of LC-34 proceeded apace. Reminiscent of Florida's Seminole Indian Wars of the 1830s, the first structure to take form was the blockhouse (launch control center). The dangers had changed and so, too, the design of the blockhouse. The interior diameter of the igloo-shaped building at LC-34 was 24.4 meters, its maximum height 7.9 meters. Two stories provided space for control instrumentation, measuring racks, and firing consoles. Construction took 13 months; the blockhouse was ready for occupancy in July 1960.

Table 2.

Launch Complex 34 Cost Estimates

(in millions of dollars)
                          9 March 1959  31 July 1959  August 1960
                          ============  ============  ===========
Blockhouse                    1.3           1.1           1.1

Service structure             3.0           4.6           5.1

Launch pad and area
    development               3.6           5.4           5.4

Capital equipment(high-
    pressure-gas systems,
    instrumentation)          0.3           2.0           2.5

Ground support equipment                    8.0          23.1

Operations support building                               0.9

Industrial facilities         0.5
                             ----          ----          ----
Totals                        8.7          21.1          38.1

21. J. P. Claybourne to Robert Heiser, priority TWX, "Saturn Launch Facility Costs," 7 Sept. 1960.

22. J. P. Claybourne, memo for record, "Cost of Saturn Launch Facilities and Ground Support Equipment," 13 Sept. 1960.

23. C. C. Parker, Technical Program Dir., memo for record, "Saturn Launch Facilities at AMR," 3 Dec. 1959; Connell and Assoc., Siting Study and Recommendation, Saturn Staging Building and Service Structure, Complex 34 AFMTC, Jan. 1960, pp. 2-3; MSFC, C-1, C-2 Comparison, p. 35; Debus to Rees, "Additional Saturn Launch Complex," 29 Jan. 1960; ABMA, A Committee Study of Blast Potentials at the Saturn Launch Site, by Charles J. Hall, report DHM-TM-9-60 (Redstone Arsenal, AL, Feb. 1960).