Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations

Intercenter Panels

The centers had begun coordinating their work on Apollo months before the GE integration role was proposed. In November 1960, the Space Task Group initiated Apollo technical liaison groups. Rapid program advances, following President Kennedy's 25 May 1961 address, prompted closer relations. In October 1961, von Braun and Robert Gilruth established the MSFC-STG (later MSC) Space Vehicle Board to resolve all space vehicle problems such as design, systems, research and development tests, planning, schedules, and operations.7 Four panels were initially set up to integrate the efforts of Apollo and Saturn working groups. These panels served as "idea-exchange platforms," where centers could discuss their plans before pursuing them in depth. The panels also established a formal level of agreement, a means of obligating each center to a course of action. Over the next two years, the panels provided working-level communication between the centers. Von Braun indicated their importance in a December 1963 letter to George Mueller, Holmes's replacement as chief of Manned Space Flight: "The intercenter panels have proved to be the only effective medium of working out technical problems in detail which cut across Center lines."8

A Launch Operations Panel was among the four panels initially established by the Space Vehicle Board. The charter stated that the panel would:

  • Ensure the compatibility of the launch vehicle and spacecraft ground support equipment.
  • Ensure that adequate space and facilities are available at the launch site for checkout and mating of the launch vehicle and spacecraft.
  • Integrate the overall space vehicle countdown and operational plan.
  • Define and resolve tracking and data requirements during launch.
  • Define and establish the overall ground safety plan for pad operations.
  • Review all areas of the space vehicle for compatibility and possible interface problems with launch operations.9
Saturn C-5 and Apollo design decisions and the selection of stage contractors crowded the MSFC and MSC calendars during the remainder of 1961, delaying the inauguration of the panels for five months. In early February 1962, the Preflight Operations Division at Houston asked LOD to join in an Apollo coordinating committee patterned after a Mercury group. Petrone's Heavy Space Vehicle Office rejected the suggestion, citing the October agreement between von Braun and Gilruth. Petrone proposed, instead, a Launch Operations Panel meeting to discuss Apollo requirements.

When Petrone repeated his proposal the following month, Preflight Operations acceded to such a meeting on 15 March. The 27 members who attended the first session agreed to set up sub-panels that would exchange technical information at the working level. The panel would consider problems raised by the sub-panels; concur, where appropriate, with sub-panel conclusions or agreements; evaluate unresolved problems; and assign new tasks and deadlines.10

Attendance at the second meeting on 20 June 1962 nearly doubled, as representatives from NASA Headquarters, General Electric, and the stage contractors joined the discussion. The group organized seven sub-panels: electrical; facilities and complexes; launch preparations; propellants and gases; firing accessories and mechanical support equipment; trajectories and flight safety; and instrumentation, tracking, and data acquisition. As Petrone reported back to Debus, "It is now possible for all operating level personnel in respective areas of responsibility to directly resolve technical problems on an expedited basis in groups of reasonable size."11 During the following year, the Facilities and Complexes sub-panel met monthly, the others less frequently. Seventy-five NASA and contractor representatives attended the fourth meeting of the full panel on 1 August 1963. Although spacecraft requirements were the major topic, the participants also discussed the role of a proposed Panel Review Board.12

An OMSF-directed Panel Review Board had emerged from conversations between Wernher von Braun and Joseph Shea in May 1963. Previously, when panel matters required adjudication, the three center directors had met as a review board. Von Braun considered the arrangement unsatisfactory because, in striving for compromise, the directors had sometimes passed up the best solution; OMSF's participation on the board might help correct this. Shea welcomed von Braun's offer. OMSF had found itself exercising little influence over the panels; further, the board could control the proliferation of integration groups. The number of intercenter panels had increased to seven, and there were ten other groups handling OMSF-center interface matters.* Many agreed with Robert Gilruth's complaint, "there are too many meetings."13 During its first session, held at Cape Canaveral in August, the Panel Review Board abolished two groups, placed several more under existing panels, and created a Documentation Panel to control the growing stacks of paperwork.14

* The seven intercenter panels were Launch Operations, Mechanical Design Integration, Electrical Systems Integration, Instrumentation and Communications, Flight Mechanics, Crew Safety, and Mission Control Operations. The ten other groups that had sprung up were the Integration Review Board, System Checkout Design Review Board, Reliability Assessment Review Board, Apollo Engineering Documentation Board, Policy Review Board for GE Project Effort, Systems Review Meeting, Communications and Tracking Steering Panel, Communications and Tracking Working Group, Systems Description Steering Committee, and the Apollo Reference Trajectory Working Group. Except for the Launch Operations Panel, the activities of these groups and panels go beyond the limit of this work.