Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations

NASA Plans for a Lunar Landing

The task of extending the Martin and Douglas study contracts to include the mobile concept was complicated by an unanswered question: what rocket would be launched from LC-39? Since the fall of 1960, NASA officials had given much thought to ways of accomplishing a lunar landing. A meeting in early January 1961 revealed the divisions within NASA as to the best means to accomplish this goal. The Space Task Group, responsible for Project Mercury, and the Headquarters Office of Launch Vehicle Programs favored using the Nova rocket for a direct flight from earth to the moon.* Marshall Space Flight Center advocated the use of several smaller Saturn launch vehicles to rendezvous in earth orbit, refueling one vehicle for the flight to the moon. A group at Langley Research Center supported a third mode - a lunar-orbital rendezvous. This involved placing a spacecraft into lunar orbit where it would detach a portion of the ship for the short trip to and from the moon. During the month of January 1961, a committee headed by George Low, Program Chief for Manned Space Flight, examined the manned lunar landing program. The committee concluded in its 7 February report that both direct ascent and earth-orbital-rendezvous methods were feasible. Using the Saturn C-2, the latter could be achieved at an earlier date (1968-69), but posed a high launch rate in a short period of time (six or seven C-2s for a 3,630-kilogram spacecraft) and a mastery of rendezvous techniques. The direct ascent mode would take two years longer, depending on the development of the Nova rocket.34

Doubts about the adaptability of the Saturn C-2 to lunar landing missions appeared in March. Testifying before the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, Abraham Hyatt said that the Saturn C-1 would be used for an earth-orbiting laboratory and the C-2 for orbiting the moon. For missions beyond this such as a lunar landing, "payload capabilities greater than that of the Saturn C-2 appear to be necessary."35 NASA officials had in mind a Saturn C-3 employing the new F-1 engine. Under development by Rocketdyne Corporation since January 1959, the F-1 burned the same fuel as the H-1 engine in the Saturn C-1's first stage. The F-1, however, dwarfed the H-1 in size and thrust: two F-1s in the proposed Saturn C-3 would produce 13,344,000 newtons (3,000,000 pounds of thrust), nearly double the lift of the Saturn C-2's proposed first stage.36

NASA's revised budget request of 25 March sought and obtained additional funds for the Saturn C-2 launch vehicle and the F-1 engine. Plans to accelerate C-2 development were announced 31 March, but the program was shortlived. Marshall engineers concluded in May that a Saturn vehicle more powerful than the C-2 was needed for circumlunar missions. Von Braun announced the demise of the C-2 the following month, at the same time stating that NASA's effort would be directed toward a clarification of Saturn C-3 and Nova concepts.37

May 1961 found LOD personnel grappling with a changing launch vehicle, the dangers of blast and sound from the large vehicles, and the demand for new launch facilities. The Director's daily journal reflected the frequent changes in the organization's planning:

26 April - Marshall's Future Projects Office initiated with LOD help an extension of the C-2 operational modes study (Martin and Douglas).

1 May - Debus informed NASA Headquarters that he would probably reorient launch study from offshore to mobile concept.

9 May - Von Tiesenhausen directed to proceed immediately with preparation and issuance of following studies: 1. C-2 offshore facilities with high firing-rate capability; 2. facility for a solid booster of 44-88 million newtons (10-20 million pounds of thrust) from offshore, semi-offshore, and land; 3. add $100,000 to the C-2 operational modes study contracts to permit consideration of liquid-fueled vehicles of 22-44 million newtons (5-10 million pounds of thrust).

12 May - Von Braun requested a consideration of modifying LC-37 to accept a booster with either two F-1 engines or a 20-million-newton (4.5-million-pound thrust) solid motor.

15 May -Two contractors selected for offshore launch facilities study.

23 May - Cancellation of offshore study as designed.

26 May - C-3 launch facility contract with Martin initiated.

29 May - Nova offshore contract initiated.

5 June - NASA Headquarters notified LOD that C-3 and Nova studies were disapproved. Ostrander rescinded that disapproval at a Cape meetings.38

* Nova was the name used by NASA during 1959-62 to describe a very large booster in the range of 44-88 million newtons (10-20 million pounds of thrust). The rocket never advanced beyond the conceptual stage, as was also true of the Saturn C-2 and C-3.