Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations

The Leadership

Entries in the LOD Director's daily journal during 1961 indicate that Debus kept a close eye on SA-1 operations. Other problems, however, occupied his time: a new launch facility for Saturn V - eventually the moonport for the moon rocket; Centaur facility development; and Mercury-Redstone, Pershing, and Ranger launches. On account of these duties, Debus did not deal with the details of the SA-1 checkout. That burden fell on his operations office chiefs, their deputies, and the veteran test engineers.

Dr. Hans Gruene headed the Electrical Engineering Guidance and Control office. A native of Braunschweig, Germany, he had earned his engineering degree at the technical university in his home town. Gruene had joined the Peenemunde operation in 1943 and emigrated to Fort Bliss after the war. Since 1951 he had served as the electrical networks chief for the launch team. Small in stature and unassuming, Gruene enjoyed great respect from his associates. Gruene's deputy, Robert Moser, had joined the von Braun team as an Army enlisted man in 1953, three years out of Vanderbilt University. He had reverted to civilian status in 1955, but stayed on in Huntsville as Gruene's right-hand man. Moser's launch countdowns resembled an orchestral performance and earned him high praise as test conductor for Explorer 1 and Alan Shepard's Mercury-Redstone flight, Gruene's office supervised the performance of all equipment affecting rocket guidance and control. This required a wire-by-wire knowledge of the electrical systems, both on board the vehicle and at the launch site. Gruene's men also evaluated preflight telemetry records relating to guidance, stabilization, control, and electrical networks of the vehicle.

Albert Zeiler's Mechanical, Structural, and Propulsion Office handled missile receipt and transfer, stage erection, and assembly. The team tested pressures, located leaks, and made necessary replacements, repairs, or modifications. One of the branch's sections was responsible for fueling the rocket, another for the firing. After the launch, the branch evaluated flight data to check on mechanical functions and make corrections for future flights. The Austrian-born Zeiler had served at Peenemunde throughout World War II, testing and launching V-2s. Following duty at White Sands, he had moved to Huntsville and worked with MFL. Robert Gorman, deputy in the Mechanical Office, had begun his engineering career in NACA's wind tunnels at Langley Field. A ready ear for subordinates' ideas contributed to his success. His calm manner balanced Zeiler's excitable nature, and the two provided the office with effective leadership.

Quiet and intense, Karl Sendler, chief of the Measuring and Tracking Office, seemed aloof to strangers, but to colleagues showed a warmth that sparked loyalty. He was Vienna-trained and reflected the traditions of the old Hapsburg capital in his manner and attire. At Peenemunde, Sendler had tracked the V-2s fired northward along the Baltic experimental range. He, too, had worked at White Sands before moving to Huntsville in 1950. His deputy, Grady Williams, had graduated from Auburn in 1949 and joined the von Braun team three years later. Associates considered him one of the friendliest members of the team. Like Sendler, Williams had a penchant for order. The two gave the Measuring and Tracking Office a reputation for being immaculate. During checkout, Sendler's systems engineers tested and calibrated the Saturn's measuring instruments - pressure gauges, thermometers, accelerometers, and the telemetry that relayed the measurements back to earth. At launch his office collected the flight data. Supporting ground radars tracked the flight for deviations in direction and range, which would reveal problems in the guidance and propulsion systems. Along with the other offices, Sendler's group prepared designs and established criteria for launch facilities, The unit's work brought frequent contact with other agencies investigating telemetry, high-frequency signals, and the measuring and tracking of launch vehicle flights. The branch's previous efforts had contributed to the development of three specialized tracking systems: DOVAP, "Beat-Beat," and UDOP.* 5

The work of the three LOD operations offices involved close liaison with other Marshall divisions. Thus, Hans Gruene and his engineers spent more than half of 1960-1961 in Huntsville with the MSFC Guidance and Control Division. In turn, a dozen Guidance and Control engineers took part in the SA-1 checkout at the Cape. The launch team still considered itself an extension of Marshall. As one veteran recalled, "In the 1950s we looked at equipment when it came down here as not trusting a single thing in it. We were going to check everything from one end to the other."6 Consequently, LOD's checkout was precise and exhaustive, "a laboratory type check on the pad."7 Basic operating procedures were established and followed closely.

Debus detailed some of these procedures in a letter to NASA Headquarters shortly after the first Saturn launch. LOD employed a test sequence that proceeded from components, through subsystems and systems, to overall tests. "If the preceding less complex tests are eliminated, as is tried frequently to shorten overall test schedules, any failure of one single component in an overall systems test necessitates activation of all other components whether critical to running time or not."8 Debus insisted that his engineers conduct at least one systems test in its entirety to ensure a total working package. Other rules, established from long experience, included: calibrating sensors at the latest possible time, removing all connecting circuitry and components in a system when the cause for random irregularities could not be established, and disturbing a minimum of electrical and pneumatic connections after the final overall test. Some procedures concerned LOD's relations with other Marshall divisions. One provided for a speedy MSFC ruling on launch vehicle and ground support equipment modifications at the pad; another assured the availability of current Huntsville drawings.

The technical checkout of the various Saturn systems fell to LOD's test engineers. Debus considered these engineers "the backbone of LOD test activities"; they carried "full responsibility for preparing a launch vehicle to the point of launch readiness [and] merited equal status with... engineers in design, development, and assembly operations. While an error made in the design or development phase could be detected by a test engineer, a mistake by an LOD systems engineer would inevitably lead to mission failure."9

Conceding that launch site tests were part of a continuous program to assure reliability and quality, Debus stressed the lest engineer's need for autonomy. "Since the systems engineer carries the full responsibility for the flight-readiness of his assigned system, this responsibility should not be attenuated by assigning a separate inspection or quality assurance team to check on the systems engineer for compliance to test procedures and test performance." Although limited manpower ruled out a two-shift operation at the Cape, Debus opposed it on principle: "A systems engineer had to be kept informed continuously of the status of his assigned system and all occurrences during the test period."10 When problems arose, the launch team resorted to overtime. The work day during the SA-1 checkout varied from 8 to 16 hours.

* DOVAP (doppler velocity and position) was a velocity-measuring system that used a ground transmitter, a transponder on the launch vehicle, and a number of ground receivers. The change of frequency between the signal transmitted from the ground and that later received on the ground, called the doppler shift, could be converted to the velocity of the rocket. Integrating the velocity with time provided distance, which applied to the known departure point indicated the rocket's position. The "Beat-Beat" system detected the deviation of a missile from a predetermined flight path. It derived its name from the use of two receivers that compared, or beat, two frequencies against each other. The system consisted of a pair of DOVAP receiver stations placed symmetrically about the flight path. When the missile deviated to the left or right, one receiver would detect an increasing frequency, the other a decreasing frequency. See W. R. McMurran, ed., "The Evolution of Electronic Tracking, Optical, Telemetry, and Command Systems at the Kennedy Space Center," 17 Apr. 1973, mimeographed paper. "Beat-Beat" could be used equally well with UDOP or telemetry signals. UDOP (ultra-high-frequency DOVAP), operating at 440 megahertz, offered certain advantages over DOVAP , including higher resolution and less loss of accuracy from ionospheric refraction.

5. ABMA, Organizational Manual (Redstone Arsenal, AL, 5 Mar. 1959), Sec. 530, pp. 13-15, copy available in Historical Div., Sec. of General Staff, Army Missile Div., Redstone Arsenal, AL; Russell interview.

6. Moser interview, 30 Mar. 1973.

7. Grady Williams interview.

8. Debus to Joseph Shea, "Principles of Operations of the MSFC Firing Team at Cape Canaveral," 22 Mar. 1962, Debus papers, KSC Archives.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.