Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations



While a great number of books have been written about the Apollo program, there has been no previous history of the launch facilities and operations. Liftoff, by L. B. Taylor, Jr. (see Books, below) provides a lively journalistic account of the spaceport in the 1960s. Unfortunately, the book ends before Apollo reached its goal. William R. Shelton's Countdown: The Story of Cape Canaveral is an entertaining eyewitness account of launch operations at the Cape during the 1950s. Gordon Harris's Selling Uncle Sam recalls Apollo events as seen from the Office Of Public Affairs at KSC. Michael Collins's Carrying the Fire contains an astronaut's views of the Gemini and Apollo programs. The Apollo 11 astronaut set himself a high goal - writing a book without a dull or confusing passage - and then accomplished it. His treatment of technical problems is to be envied. While there is no balanced account of the AS-204 fire, the near tragedy of Apollo 13 is well covered in Henry Cooper's Thirteen: The Flight That Failed. A good general account of the Apollo program is John Noble Wilford's We Reach the Moon.

The reader will find a wealth Of detailed information about Apollo launch facilities and operations in journal articles and conference papers. The popular aerospace magazines (Missiles and Rockets, Aviation Week and Space Technology, Space/Aeronautics, and Astronautics and Aeronautics) trace the progress of the Apollo program. Numerous scientific and engineering journals contain articles by members of the launch team. An even better source for technical exposition is the papers prepared for conferences such as the annual Space Congress held in Cocoa Beach, Florida. The proceedings for most of these conferences were printed.

NASA's dealings with Congress are revealed in thousands of pages of briefings, testimony, and hearings. The agency's Semiannual Report to Congress (1958-1969) provides a detailed account of the progress toward a manned lunar landing. At the annual budget hearings, top NASA officials made similar statements and answered numerous questions about specific activities. Special committee hearings at KSC regarding launch operations appear as appendixes in the annual hearings or as special congressional reports.

The authors relied on Astronautics and Aeronautics as a basic guide to aerospace events of the 1960s. NASA's History Office has compiled these annual chronologies since 1961; the first two years the work appeared as a report to the House Committee on Science and Astronautics and subsequently as a NASA special publication. Although there are several thousand entries in each volume, the series is well indexed. Another helpful source is Current News, a compilation of newspaper articles about NASA activities prepared by the agency's Office of Public Affairs. The authors obtained information on specific missions from surprisingly detailed NASA press kits (e.g., the Apollo 8 press kit is 105 pages), mission summaries, and the transcripts of press conferences. The publications are available in the KSC archives and other NASA installations.

KSC's public affairs publications proved very helpful. The Kennedy Space Center Story (1969, 1972, 1974) is a well-written informative account of events at the space center since the early 1960s. The first edition attempted no historical evaluation and ignored unpleasant events, such as the AS-204 fire. Hundreds of KSC news releases about the Apollo program provided interesting sidelights for the history. The Center's newspaper, Spaceport News, prepared under the direction of the Public Affairs Office, served a similar function. Distinctly a house organ, the paper avoided controversy, but was, nevertheless, useful for background and specific facts.

Three unpublished works, prepared at KSC, blazed a research path for the authors. Frank Jarrett and Robert Lindemann's "History of the John F. Kennedy Space Center, NASA (Origins through December 1965)" provides a detailed, carefully researched account of early center history. Even more helpful are the unpublished manuscripts of James Covington, James Frangie, and William Lockyer (Apollo Launch Facilities) and George Bittle and John Marshall (Apollo Launch Operations). Both manuscripts are in the KSC historical archives.

Concerning primary sources, the General Accounting Office's criticisms notwithstanding, the authors found an overabundance of source material at the Kennedy Space Center. Documents on the AS-204 fire, alone, occupy more than 60 large cartons in the KSC records-holding area. The card catalog in the center's documents department references several thousand studies and procedures for the Apollo/Saturn. Fortunately, KSC's records retrieval and library systems provide quick access to documents.

Dr. Kurt Debus's "Daily Journal" (1959-1963) and the weekly reports rendered to him by the KSC staff (1962-1972) were key sources of information. These documents are located in the center director's office at KSC. The authors found other valuable data in Debus's correspondence files, in storage at the Federal Records Center in Atlanta. While the originals can be retrieved through KSC's records management office, the letters used for this history have been reproduced for the KSC archives. Rocco Petrone's program office was another rich source Of reports, memoranda, and letters. Some carbon copies are on file in the KSC archives, but the bulk of this material has been retired to Atlanta. Similar documents from other KSC sources, numbering in the thousands, have been collected by the KSC staff during the past ten years.

The progress of design and construction of the three Saturn launch complexes is reflected in a series of reports: Saturn Monthly and Quarterly Progress Reports (published at Huntsville with a section on the Cape), the Monthly Progress Reports of the Launch Facilities Support Equipment Office (mainly about ground support equipment), and Construction Progress Reports and Project Status Reports on LC-39. These documents are available in the KSC historical archives along with the minutes of the Site Activation Board meetings and the Site Activation Status Reports. Important documents for the launch operations include the minutes of the Apollo Launch Operations Committee, the daily status reports for Apollo missions, Apollo/Saturn V test procedures, and the postlaunch reports. The daily status reports and the test procedures for the Saturn I launches were secured from Robert Moser's papers in the Federal Records Center at Atlanta.

A number of documents in the KSC archives concern the center's relations with other members of the Apollo team. The minutes of the Management Council Meetings relate important discussions while Brainerd Holmes was head of the Office of Manned Space Flight. Other sets of minutes from 1961-1963 cover the activities of the Launch Operations Panel and the Panel Review Board. Management instructions from the Headquarters and KSC program offices are contained in the Apollo Program Directives. The offices established the crucial scheduling dates in the series of directives referred to as "dash 4"; the frequent revisions chart the vicissitudes of the Apollo program from 1965 through 1972. Most of these directives are available in the historical archives or the documents department. The researcher may wish to make use of other documents in the archives including mission flight manuals and safety plans, interface control documents, and the Apollo Program Development Plans prepared by the Office of Manned Space Flight.

Interviews with participants were among the most valuable sources of information. Whenever possible, the authors evaluated the objectiveness and accuracy of an interview against other accounts of the same events. A list of the interviews is included in the bibliography. The transcripts are available in the KSC archives.