Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations

Congress Says NASA

The LOD director was to have his turn sooner than he knew, but for the time being NASA Headquarters appeared loath to cross swords with the Air Force. Nor was the Air Force ready to relinquish any of its perquisites. On 29 March, John H. Rubel, Assistant Secretary of Defense, presented a statement to the Subcommittee on Manned Space Flight of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics. Rubel reviewed the procedures at the Atlantic Missile Range during 11 years. He gave no indication that the Air Force saw any noticeable difference between the manned lunar landing program and the other programs that had used the Cape during that time. The range commander had to have authority to make decisions in the common interest of all range users. At the same hearing, Seamans pointed out that some of the launch pads for Titan III would be on lands funded by NASA, just as some of the Saturn C-1 facilities were located on land originally funded by DoD. He stated: "It is not a question of our land or their land. It is the country's land. It is a national range."53

The subcommittee chairman, Olin E. Teague (D., Tex.), told Rubel that the dispute confused him:

The main thing that troubles the committee is, we go to the Cape, for example, we talk with some of your responsible people there, we talk with some of Dr. Seamans' responsible people and we come away confused, frustrated, disturbed, and they don't agree on this overflight matter, and they don't agree to a Titan siting next to a Saturn. . . . We have some questions we are going to submit to you, Mr. Rubel and Dr. Seamans, which we want answered for the record.
As a result the Teague committee sent 28 questions to the Department of Defense and NASA. Typical of the questions were:
  • What is the management arrangement between DoD and NASA regarding NASA's utilization of the national missile ranges?
  • From a management and technology standpoint, does NASA lack the necessary capability to do their own siting and preliminary design for the new area?
  • Would it be considered undesirable duplication to allow NASA to develop their own support unit for activities at AMR?54
In a generally conciliatory set of answers, NASA recognized the contribution of the Air Force on the Cape, but strongly insisted that, "since NASA has MLLP [Manned Lunar Landing Program] responsibility to the Congress, it must exercise management and funding control of all its aspects."55 The Air Force felt that in answering Teague's 28 questions, NASA had shifted its position and was interpreting the terms of the Webb-Gilpatric Agreement in a manner that would place the Air Force Missile Test Center in a subordinate role to NASA in every range matter concerned with the manned lunar landing program. The Air Force felt it could not give up its traditional role in the management and operation of the range, including the new area, "without a deterioration of its services to all agents collectively."56

Having stated its case, the Air Force did something about it. When the question of custody of the title to the land on Merritt Island arose, General Davis requested the District Chief of the Corps of Engineers to transfer the title of all property on Merritt Island to the Air Force.57 Moreover, despite indications that land ownership was going to give NASA special status as more than an Air Force tenant, NASA Headquarters at Washington seemed ready to concede the point with the proposed new purchase. It would let the Air Force buy and hold title to the 60 square kilometers at the north end of the range which, it was agreed, should be acquired for NASA's use in lieu of the land lost to Titan III.

In looking back at the issues, Rocco Petrone stated flatly in an interview some years later: "The ownership of the land . . . was a key one." "In those days NASA was a pretty small customer," Petrone admitted, "and tackling DoD was a tough game . . . Webb knew that at all costs he had to have peace in a federal family, the two agencies that could go into space, NASA and DoD." Further Webb had to face one of the most prestigious men in the new administration, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara; and Webb had to recognize that the Air Force had long considered space its province. Petrone felt that only the presidential decision had given NASA priority in the lunar program.58

For the time being NASA Headquarters was cooperating with the Air Force to enable the latter to purchase the land earmarked for NASA in compensation for the Titan sites. Seamans wrote Webb on 13 April that "although the Debus-Holmes recommendation is that NASA seek to acquire the additional acreage, it is my feeling that since the Titan III program forms the basis for this need, it is more desirable for DoD to seek this additional land."59 Webb agreed and notified McNamara of NASA's acquiescence in the Air Force siting of the Titan pads, and the Air Force purchase of compensatory acreage.60 An article in Missiles and Rockets for 30 April 1962 reported that the Air Force wanted to put its Titan pads at the south end of the coastal area of the expansion tract (NASA's Merritt Island purchase), and that this would force NASA to relocate its pads. "The NASA position is that this is fine as long as the Air Force provides the funds."61 The Bureau of the Budget approved the Department of Defense request.62

By this time it appeared to NASA people at Canaveral that Headquarters in Washington had given in and agreed that the lunar team was only one of many tenants using Air Force facilities at the discretion of the Air Force. But help came from another quarter. Robert Seamans and Dr. Brockway McMillan, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Research and Development, appeared before the Military Construction Subcommittee of the Senate on 8 May to testify in favor of DoD's acquiring the additional land. Their testimony backfired. Henry Jackson (D., Wash.), Chairman of the Subcommittee, saw the wisdom in the purchase of the new land. But the testimony showed that the additional acreage would support NASA development. Since NASA was a civilian agency, he would not honor the request and so wrote McNamara on 21 May.63 In a reply three days later, McNamara explained the Air Force's position, but conceded the Senator's point that it could well be a NASA purchase "provided the use of this and all other land at the Cape is subject to the joint use policy under a single manager."64 McNamara concluded his letter with the assurance that NASA was in the process of presenting the request through the proper congressional committee. NASA then took over the task of pushing the matter with Congress.

On 14 June, Debus notified Davis of word received from Washington. NASA and the Department of Defense had agreed that NASA would buy the additional 60 square kilometers of land and was submitting the recommendation to Congress for the FY 1963 authorization bill. He understood that the concerned congressional committees had not opposed the purchase.65 James Webb appeared before the Senate Subcommittee on Appropriations on 10 August and explained in full the need for additional land. Chairman Warren Magnuson (D., Wash.) and Senator Leverett Saltonstall (R., Mass.) did most of the questioning as Webb went beyond the simple request for more funds to a wide statement on the whole program.66 NASA's 1963 Authorization Act, passed four days later, included funds for the additional land north of Haulover Canal and included a key statement as to jurisdiction: "All real estate heretofore or hereafter acquired by the United States for the use of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration shall remain under the control and jurisdiction of that Administration, unless it is disposed of in accordance with the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949 (63 Stat. 377), as amended."67

At this point the bureaucratic infighting reached a draw. The Air Force had placed its Titan III facilities on part of NASA's Merritt Island land, but NASA retained jurisdiction over the land, nailed down by its further acquisition of the last 60 square kilometers at the northern limits of the Florida launch area. NASA had established its status as more than a tenant of the Air Force. It would be a mistake to make too much of the disagreement. At the Cape, NASA and Air Force personnel were working together on a day-to-day basis, and the Launch Operations Center was always quick to acknowledge its debt to the Missile Test Center. There is some force to an Air Force suggestion that it was creating issues to get clear-cut decisions from Washington on the powers and responsibilities of the two agencies. The decision finally came down - NASA, and not NASA and the Air Force, would put a man on the moon. During the negotiations John Glenn and Scott Carpenter had orbited the earth, and the American public was cheering for its new space agency.