Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations

New Contractors with New Roles

The Army Ballistic Missile Agency of the 1950s had represented the arsenal concept of weapons development - a largely self-sufficient government research and development program.* Although Pan American had provided limited support at the Cape, the Missile Firing Laboratory had been a government show. The Launch Operations Directorate, short of manpower at the start of the Saturn I program, resorted to "level of effort" contracts, under which companies such as Hayes International and Chrysler's Space Division supplied skilled technicians for a specified number of man-years. LOD assigned the technicians to particular tasks, directly supervised them, and approved their performance. Such contracts were not universally popular, and the terms body shop, flesh peddling, and meat market were sometimes used. LOD retained technical responsibility, and civil servants continued to work directly with hardware.15

A major change came in mid-1960 when MSFC awarded Douglas Aircraft Corporation a "mission" contract to build the Saturn I's S-IV stage and check it out at the Cape. LOD exercised responsibility for the launch vehicle and supervised the contractor, but Douglas was responsible for accomplishing a clearly defined task. In doing so, the company supervised its own employees. The following year NASA awarded Chrysler a mission contract to build, check out, and test 20 S-I stages for the Saturn I. Chrysler's role was subsequently expanded to include technical support for Saturn I and IB launch operations. The latter involved such things as the environmental control systems, umbilical arms, propellant operations, postlaunch refurbishment of support equipment, logistics, ground electrical networks, and telemetry checkout. On the early launches of the Saturn I block II series, Douglas technicians checked out the upper stage while a Chrysler crew worked alongside KSC engineers on the S-1 stage. SA-8 in early 1965 marked the first flight of a Chrysler-built booster with the contractor assuming responsibility for stage checkout. It also marked the end of an era for veterans of the Missile Firing Laboratory. Henceforth, KSC civil servants would no longer operate launch equipment, but would act more like traditional managers.

The transition to mission contracts was not always easy. LOD officials, accustomed to level-of-effort contracts, considered Douglas Aircraft uncooperative. In turn, the California firm, used to the Air Force's broad guidelines, resented NASA interference. An early difference of opinion involved the loading of Saturn I propellants. Looking ahead to Saturn V operations, LOD planned remote, automated controls for the Saturn I. Douglas officials accepted the LOD position regarding checkout and main loading operations, but wanted manual control of the S-IV stage's final slow fill. After meetings in March and May of 1961, LOD thought the matter was resolved. However, when Orvil Sparkman visited Douglas's Santa Monica, California, plant in September, he was surprised:

The Douglas S-IV GSE to be utilized at Sacramento [the contractor's test area] is designed and built with a complete disregard for instructions contained in the three referenced memorandums [minutes of March and May meetings mailed to Douglas as official working documents]. Not only are these panels designed for manual propellant servicing, but no attempt was made by Douglas to incorporate standard nomenclature developed by Douglas and LOD. . . . It is the intention of the contractor to furnish equipment of the same design at AMR.16
Douglas officials and Sparkman agreed that the control networks for SA-5 (the first two-stage Saturn I launch) could not be completed until the loading issue was resolved. The dispute was settled in LOD's favor at an October meeting of the Propellant and Gases Panel, but only after Marshall's intervention.

LOC's peculiar relationship with the stage contractors caused difficulties during the next two years. The stage contractors, still working under contracts with Marshall, looked to Huntsville for direction and contract management. The launch team's efforts to monitor contractor operations, suggest equipment modifications, or obtain information on contractor requirements were relayed by the contractor to his home office and from there to Marshall. Douglas officials pointed up the awkwardness of the arrangement during the SA-5 launch preparations when they questioned the launch team's right to reject company work. Douglas officials refused to yield until Col. Lee B. James, Saturn I-IB Project Manager in Huntsville, notified company management that LOC was responsible for the quality of S-IV stage equipment at the Cape.17

* The Air Force in the 1950s represented the opposite position: contractors performing R&D for a government agency. For more detail on this subject, see H. L. Nieburg, In the Name of Science (Chicago, 1960); and Government Operations in Space, the Thirteenth Report by the Committee on Government Operations, House of Representatives, 89th Cong., 1st sess., House report 445, June 1965.