Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations

The Contractors Receive Their Due

During a visit by the Teague Subcommittee on 28 February 1969, the congressmen inquired into KSC relations with the contractors who were now playing so large a role in launch operations. With its lunar module atop Apollo 9, Grumman Aircraft and Engineering Corporation had joined the list of major contributors at KSC. The Boeing Company was supervising ground support equipment for all stages of the Saturn launch vehicle, a task involving design and logistics engineering for 17 launch support systems. In addition, Boeing had the S-IC stage and technical integration and evaluation of the total program. North American, besides the tricky job of developing the S-II, was building rocket engines for all three stages at its Rocketdyne Division, as well as constructing the spacecraft.* McDonnell-Douglas was building the third stage at its Huntington Beach plant. IBM, with over 900 employees at KSC, had a dual role in launch operations: the installation and flight readiness checkout of the IBM-built Saturn instrument unit and maintenance of the Saturn ground computer complex, the hub of the semiautomated system that had been designed and built by RCA. This was not the only instance of a computer company operating products built by a rival firm. General Electric was sharing in the operation of Honeywell-produced computers.

Congressman Teague and his committee members directed most of their questions to basic principles of the KSC-contractor relationship. Deputy Director of Management Albert Siepert answered for KSC. The congressmen wanted to know why KSC had not developed an in-house work force instead of contracting the work out. The answer was that since Apollo employment had rapidly risen to 300,000, then dropped back to 153,000 in 18 months, any attempt to handle such a short-term buildup with government employees would have disrupted the civil service. Committee members also asked why contractors were using KSC space and facilities instead of maintaining their own. Siepert explained this avoided duplication. KSC could wrap up the services needed by all the major contractors and handle them in a single service contract. Examples (not cited by Siepert): the Wackenhut Detective Agency's security contract and LTV Aerospace Corporation's contracts for audio-visuals, graphics, library, data management, and publications.

Siepert made the contractor representatives happy with his forthright answer to one question: Were contractors better informed than KSC personnel? He said that a contractor, who had designed and manufactured a piece of equipment, was the best authority on how it should perform. This warmed the hearts of some contractor employees who felt their NASA counterparts had been wanting in such appreciation.18

Even KSC's paperwork was testifying to the steady elimination of rough spots, technical and organizational. The first three Saturn V vehicles had been accompanied by a veritable mountain of printed documents that dealt with almost every conceivable topic and contingency within the purview of KSC. As each mission unfolded, numerous revisions in these materials took place before the launch itself: the final document not infrequently varied considerably from its predecessors on the same mission and topic. A change in this pattern began with the Apollo 9 mission. From September 1968 onward, the documents relating to any given mission (or to Apollo missions in general) became increasingly uniform. In this respect, the paper system was an outward manifestation of the increasingly "operational" character of both the vehicle and the facilities. The mobile concept had demonstrated its feasibility with the first Apollo-Saturn V mission, and the results showed up in the paperwork after AS-504.19

The test and checkout requirements document provides a good index of the operational complexities involved in the launch operations. Issued for each mission, this manual delineated the path of the vehicle through KSC facilities. As the program developed, the test and checkout requirements were modified. Examples of such changes were the elimination of the plugs-out overall tests and the rescheduling of the flight readiness test to precede the countdown demonstration.20

By the time of Apollo 9 an increase in the number of automated programs devoted to test and checkout was also apparent. The first two Saturn V missions had used 21 Atoll programs [see chapter 16-4]. A sharp increase had occurred on the AS-503 checkout, and this was countered by a drop in the use of programs written in the more difficult machine language. With Apollo 9, the total number of automated programs increased to 78, of which 36 were written in Atoll. Although this growth did not end with Apollo 9, it was clear that Atoll had proved its utility as a checkout tool. It made possible the launching of progressively more complicated missions from LC-39.

* North American merged with Rockwell Standard Corporation on 22 September 1967 to become North American Rockwell, later renamed Rockwell International.