Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations

The Questions Begin

Even before submission of the report, Debus had misgivings about NASA's grip on the purse strings in the event the moonport was located within the Air Force sphere of influence at Cape Canaveral. Someone in the Department of Defense, it appeared, had already initiated plans to take over funds for LOD instrumentation and facilities. During a conference with Eberhard Rees, Associate Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, Debus emphasized that the Launch Operations Directorate should control these funds at the Atlantic Missile Range and gave several instances of past problems to substantiate his position. Since Rees would be in Washington when Petrone was to deliver the report, it was agreed that Petrone would furnish Rees with arguments supporting NASA's retention of funding control.22

On 31 July 1961, scarcely a month after starting its work, the committee presented the Debus-Davis Report to Seamans in Washington. Two days later NASA Headquarters announced a worldwide study of launching sites for lunar spacecraft. Reflecting the concern of many inside and outside NASA, a Washington Post article stated that the size, power, noise, and possible hazards of Saturn or Nova rockets would require greater isolation for public safety than current NASA launch sites offered.23

At this juncture, Milton W. Rosen, Acting Director of Launch Vehicle Programs, submitted a report to Webb and Dryden that called for a more complete study of Cumberland Island before a final decision in favor of the Canaveral area. Rosen wrote:

At Cumberland, however, there is an opportunity, one which we should not lose, to operate in a much simpler and more effective and less time-consuming manner. At Cumberland there could be at the beginning, at least, essentially one project directed toward a single major objective. The newness of Cumberland would be an asset. Both White Sands and Canaveral had simpler and more direct and less time-consuming procedures in their early days, when they did not have to cope with their present volumes of traffic.
Rosen noted that personnel living in the northern suburbs of Jacksonville could drive to work at Cumberland through less traffic than employees faced at Cape Canaveral. The cost of duplicating instrumentation was minor in contrast to the total investment at either site.24

On the same day, however, the highly respected scientist-administrator Dr. Hugh Dryden sent in his conclusion: "In my judgement, the nation's interests would best be served by expanding the existing range rather than developing an entirely new and separate installation at this time."25 NASA Headquarters announced plans six days later (24 August) to acquire approximately 324 square kilometers north and west of the Cape Canaveral launch area, largely on Merritt Island, for manned lunar flights.26 While most observers felt that the deciding factor was financial, Gibbs believed that "the Hazard Report [of June 1961, pp. 87-88] was the whole basis on which the selection was really made."27 Petrone thought the decision had a wider base: the low cost, the proximity to available range resources, and compatibility with program requirements. In response to a direct question on the weight given in the Debus-Davis study to Merritt Island's proximity to the tracking system, Petrone placed it "very high." He also noted that when the decision was made, complex 34 was ready for operation and complex 37 was under construction on Cape Canaveral. With NASA making preliminary Saturn launches from these pads, locating the moonport hundreds of miles from the Cape would have created severe dislocations.28 Whatever the decisive factors, NASA was committed to launching its manned lunar flights from the Florida facility. Working out of the same geographical area, NASA and the Air Force would have to face the magnitude of the man-in-space program, and the Air Force would have to recognize that NASA was not simply another range-user, waiting in line for its turn. New policies and procedures were called for.