Chariots for Apollo: A History of Manned Lunar Spacecraft|
The Feasibility Studies
The Space Task Group had published the formal Request for Proposal on 12 September 1960. Eighty-eight firms sent representatives to the bidders' briefing, but only sixty-three picked up forms. By 9 October, NASA had received 14 bids.* Many aerospace firms teamed up, either in partnership or as subcontractors, to vie for the awards.
All bidders were told that even the losers should continue their efforts, thus strengthening their chances in competing for the hardware phase of Apollo. NASA assured them that the agency would not limit its choice of the designer and builder of the spacecraft to the three selected study contractors. Space Task Group people met later with representatives from the losing firms, discussed the weaknesses in their proposals, and offered to work with them informally to overcome these failings.42
Donlan and contracting officer Glenn F. Bailey prepared a detailed plan for the orderly evaluation of proposals, to begin on 10 October. Five technical panels were set up, and Donlan was appointed chairman of the evaluation board. Besides Faget and Piland (with Goett and Gilruth as ex officio members), Donlan's board consisted of Disher (NASA Office of Space Flight Programs), Alvin Seiff (Ames), John V. Becker (Langley), and Koelle (Marshall).43
On 25 October, after the panels had compared the bidders' proposals in trajectory analysis, guidance and control, human factors and radiation, onboard systems, and systems integration, Goett announced the winners: the teams led by Convair/Astronautics of San Diego, General Electric of Philadelphia, and the Martin Company of Baltimore. Contracts of $250,000 were awarded to each of the three.
Convair/Astronautics operated under a more complicated arrangement than the other two winners, using its Fort Worth division for radiation and heat protection, its San Diego plant for life support studies, the Lovelace Foundation and Clinic in Albuquerque for aerospace medicine, and the Avco Corporation's Research and Advanced Development Division in Wilmington, Massachusetts, for data on reentry vehicle design. General Electric's Missile and Space Vehicle Department teamed with Bell Aerosystems Company. Martin decided to go the whole route alone.44
Members of the Space Task Group who monitored the three study contracts developed into a fourth group, working out their own advanced designs just as the contractors were doing. Jack Funk, Stanley H. Cohn, and Alan Kehlet, for example, concentrated on trajectory analysis; Chilton, Richard R. Carley, and Howard C. Kyle studied guidance and control; Johnston, Harold I. Johnson, C. Patrick Laughlin, James P. Nolan, Jr., and Robert B. Voas investigated the human factors area; and John B. Lee, Richard B. Ferguson, and Ralph S. Sawyer looked into designs for onboard systems. This sort of work gave them the confidence they needed to act as monitors for the study contractors and an opportunity to compare their designs with those submitted by industrial experts. Most significantly, perhaps, the systems integration crowd (members who were studying how all the pieces would fit together) - Caldwell Johnson, Owen E. Maynard, Strass, Robert E. Vale, and Kenneth C. Weston - soon decided that the Space Task Group's own preliminary design was a good one.45
When the time came to draw up early specifications for Apollo - the technical aspects of the program - NASA Headquarters left its spacecraft and booster design people alone. The tasks of these two groups, still in the preliminary stage, were so well separated that there was no real need as yet for any arbitration of the problems that might arise when Gilruth's spacecraft group and von Braun's launch vehicle team began putting their pieces of the space vehicle together.46
Washington had, as a matter of fact, a more pressing problem on its hands: where to locate the center that would conduct future manned space flight activities. Glennan had begun to question the wisdom of moving the the Space Task Group to Goddard after Mercury ended. The new center was becoming more and more occupied with unmanned space science programs, which Glennan did not want to see diluted and engulfed by manned space flight. On 1 September 1960, Robert C. Seamans, Jr., replaced Richard Homer as Associate Administrator. That same day, Seamans talked with Glennan about the future home of manned space flight. Goett and Gilruth had discussed the matter and had concluded that Gilruth should ask for separate center status for his group.47
Caldwell C. Johnson's October 1960 sketch proposed the seating arrangement that was developed and adopted for the Apollo command module. The fourth figure illustrates the sleeping position.
At the end of the month, Glennan called for a special study of the relocation. A four-man team headed by Bruce Lundin began by collecting opinions from about 20 officials in the field and in Washington. Glennan's order basically restricted the candidate sites to an existing major NASA installation near which a proposed life sciences center might be built, insisted that Mercury not be disrupted by the move, and recognized that Apollo would use contractor participation to a far larger extent than Mercury. Glennan also decreed that Marshall, Lewis, and the High Speed Flight Station were not to be considered, which left only Ames and Langley as possible sites.
Lundin and his teammates Wesley Hjornevik, Ernest O. Pearson, Jr., and Addison M. Rothrock found their task difficult. Senior NASA officials did agree that manned space flight would soon need a center of its own. But where it should be and how it would be integrated into existing facilities was, it seemed, going to be a major issue. Lundin's group, after many administrative, political, and technical compromises, recommended rather weakly that manned space flight activity should probably be relocated in 1961 to Ames in California.48
Gilruth, his technical assistant Paul E. Purser, and others leading the Space Task Group, who may not have been enthusiastic about the prospect of being uprooted from their Virginia homes, had little time to worry about a move. Mercury-Atlas 1 had exploded in mid-air on 29 July, and morale among its managers was at its nadir. Unless these troubles could be overcome there might be little point in moving-there might not even be a Mercury program, much less a more advanced project. Gilruth was hard pressed to spare even enough of his experts to proceed with the feasibility studies for Apo1lo.49
The three successful bidders began discussions with the Space Task Group on the technical aspects of their tasks almost immediately, with General Electric visiting its Langley-based monitors first. Donlan appointed three liaison engineers to act as single points of contact for the studies: Herbert G. Patterson for General Electric, John Lee for Martin, and William Petynia for Convair. Monthly meetings between these special monitors and the contractors kept Donlan and Piland informed of progress.50
The industry conferences and the awarding of the feasibility contracts attracted the attention of the White House staff. George B. Kistiakowsky, Eisenhower's special assistant for science and technology, assigned Donald F. Hornig of the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) to the chairmanship of a six-man ad hoc Panel on Man-in-Space.** This Group would investigate both NASA's activities thus far and its goals, missions, and costs in the foreseeable future. After several field trips, Hornig's panel reported: "As far as we can tell, the NASA program is well thought through, and we believe that the mission, schedules and cost are as realistic as possible at this time."
Obviously, the report continued, "any of the routes to land a man on the moon will] require a development much more ambitious than the present Saturn program," calling not only for larger boosters but for lunar landing and takeoff stages as well. "Nevertheless . . . this new major step is implicit in the present Saturn program, for the first really big achievement of the man-in-space program would be the lunar landing."51
The cost of the moon landing would be determined to a great extent by the effort to develop, build, and qualify an extra-large and undefined Nova. Basing its estimates on Saturn costs to date, the PSAC panel placed this figure anywhere from $25 to $38 billion. Rendezvous schemes, as then envisioned, would afford little fiscal advantage: "Present indications suggest that alternative methods . . . of accomplishing the manned lunar landing mission could not be expected to alter substantially the over-all cost." In addition to its analysis of America's booster program in relation to a lunar landing objective, Hornig's panel summarized the worldwide significance of an expanded national space effort. "We have been plunged into a race for the conquest of outer space," the group said:
As a reason for this undertaking some look to the new and exciting scientific discoveries which are certain to be made. Others feel the challenge to transport man beyond frontiers he scarcely dared dream about until now. But at present the most impelling reason for our effort has been the international political situation which demands that we demonstrate our technological capabilities if we are to maintain our position of leadership. For all of these reasons we have embarked on a complex and costly adventure.52
Early in 1960 Glennan had established a Space Exploration Program Council to oversee program planning and implementation. Near the end of the year, Seamans thought it wise to convene that body. Goett, von Braun, William H. Pickering, Ira H. Abbott, Silverstein, Major General Don R. Ostrander, and Albert F. Siepert met with Seamans on 30 September for a briefing by George Low on "Saturn Requirements for Project Apollo." Low posed five questions and defended his answers to them as proof of the realism of the proposed schedule for Apollo: (1) Will the spacecraft be ready in time to meet the Saturn schedule? (2) Will the spacecraft weight be within Saturn capabilities? (3) Are there any foreseeable technological roadblocks? (4) Will solar flare radiation prevent circumlunar flights by men? (5) What are the costs for this program?
To each of the five questions, Low made positive assertions of competence and capability. He argued that an Apollo circumlunar prototype spacecraft could be ready in three to four years, a production vehicle in twice that time. Space Task Group weight estimates showed a reasonable margin between the weight of the spacecraft and the payload the C-2 Saturn could be expected to boost. No insurmountable technological obstacles were anticipated, Low said, not even reentry heating or solar flare radiation. Low concluded that the current cost level of $100 million a year would eventually rise to approximately $400 million annually. All of these considerations, in his opinion, argued for an immediate decision to go ahead. But the fact that this planning aimed at lunar circumnavigation rather than lunar landing seemed to be blocking approval of Apollo. NASA's top administrators appeared hesitant to fight for a mere flyby mission to the moon.53
Low recognized this reluctance and on 17 October told Silverstein he was taking another tack:
It has become increasingly apparent that a preliminary program for manned lunar landings should be formulated. This is necessary . . . to provide a proper justification for Apollo, and to place Apollo schedules and technical plans on a firmer foundation..
To this end, said Low, he and Eldon Hall, Oran W. Nicks, and John Disher would try to establish ground rules for manned lunar landing missions, to determine reasonable spacecraft weights, to specify launch vehicle requirements, and to prepare an integrated development plan, including the spacecraft, lunar landing and takeoff system, and launch vehicles.54
The Space Task Group, although still having difficulties with Mercury (in an attempted launch on 21 November, the first Mercury-Redstone had risen only a few centimeters off its pad), also moved to support a program that would be more than just a circumlunar flight. Gilruth had reorganized his people in September, setting up an Apollo Projects Office in Faget's Flight Systems Division. After getting the feasibility study contracts started, Faget, Piland (head of the new office), and J. Thomas Markley attended an Apollo-Saturn conference in Huntsville, at which they reported progress on the contracts. Later that afternoon, Faget and von Braun agreed to work together on a plan to place man on the moon and not just in orbit around it.55
Gilruth assigned Markley as liaison with Marshall. Spending most of his time in Huntsville, Markley learned the opinions of many of von Braun's group on future vehicles and mission approaches and became well versed in their preference for rendezvous in earth orbit rather than direct flight, which would require vehicles much bigger than Saturn as then planned. In December, Markley reported to Donlan that Marshall was studying orbital assembly and refueling techniques and was planning to let contracts to industry for further studies on these subjects.56
* From Boeing; Convair/Avco; Cornell/Bell/Raytheon; Douglas; General Electric/Bell; Goodyear; Grumman/ITT; Guardite; Lockheed; McDonnell; Martin; North American; Republic; and Vought.
** Panel members were Malcolm H. Hebb, Lawrence A. Hyland, Donald P. Ling, Brockway McMillan, J. Martin Schwarzschild, and Douglas R. Lord (technical assistant).
42. Disher to Admin., NASA, "Project Apollo Feasibility Study Bidders' Briefing," 14 Sept. 1960, with enc.; STG, "Summary of Statement of Work of Advanced Manned Spacecraft and Systems," n.d.; Robert C. Seamans, Jr., memo, "Debriefing of Unsuccessful Companies in Competitive R&D Procurements," 27 Oct. 1960; Robert O. Piland to Assoc. Dir., STG, "Visit of North American representatives to discuss North American Aviation Apollo study proposal," 2 Nov. 1960; idem, "Apollo activities," 9 Nov. 1960; idem, "Boeing representatives' visit regarding Apollo proposal," 9 Nov. 1960; Robert G. Chilton to Assoc. Dir., STG, "Visit of Hughes Representatives on November 8, 1960," 15 Nov. 1960.
43. Bailey memo to Procurement and Supply Office Files, "Project Apollo Proposed Feasibility Study Contracts," 30 Sept. 1960; STG, "Partial Set of Material for Evaluation Board Use," n.d.; STG, "Plan for the Evaluation of Contractors' Proposals for a Feasibility Study of an Advanced Manned Spacecraft and System," 6 Oct. 1960; Bailey to Project Evaluation Board, Attn.: Donlan, "Procurement Procedure," 12 Oct. 1960.
44. STG, minutes of meeting of Evaluation Board for consideration of contractors' proposals for Apollo systems study, 18-19 Oct. 1960; STG, "Select Three Firms to Study Project Apollo," news release, 25 Oct. 1960. In view of events a year later, of special interest are R. H. Rice to STG, Attn.: Bailey, "Proposal for Project Apollo, Request for Proposal No. 302," 60LA 9327, 7 Oct. 1960, with enc.; and North American, "Feasibility Study for Apollo Advanced Manned Spacecraft and System," NA-60-1247, 7 Oct. 1960.
45. STG, "Partial Set of Material for Evaluation Board Use" and "Plan for Evaluation of Proposals"; Johnson interview.
46. J. Thomas Markley, interview, Houston, 17 Jan. 1968.
47. Goett interview; Seamans, interview, Washington, 26 May 1966; NASA Hq. TWX to field centers, 25 May 1961; Gilruth to staff, "President's request for additional budget action," 26 May 1961.
48. Bruce T. Lundin et al.], "Report of Special Working Group on Location of Manned Space Flight Activity," 14 Oct. 1960.
49. Swenson, Grimwood, and Alexander, This New Ocean, pp. 203-204, ch. 9.
50. Herbert G. Patterson, minutes of technical negotiations meeting with General Electric, 27 Oct. 1960; John B. Lee, minutes of meeting with Martin Company, 1 Nov. 1960; William W. Petynia, minutes of meetings with Convair/Astronautics, 2 Nov. 1960.
51. George B. Kistiakowsky to Glennan, 28 Nov. 1960; Donald F. Hornig to Glennan, 28 Oct. 1960; Hornig et al., "Report of Ad Hoc Panel on Man-in-Space," 14 Nov. 1960.
52. Hornig et al., "Report of Ad Hoc Panel," pp. 1, 7-8.
53. Rosholt, Administrative History, pp. 152-53; Ad Hoc Saturn Study Committee, "Presentation of Results of Saturn Study," 30 Sept. 1960, with enc., Low, "Saturn Requirements for Project Apollo, Presentation to Space Exploration Council, September 30, 1960," 29 Sept. 1960.
54. Low to Dir., Space Flight Prog., "Manned Lunar Landing Program," 17 Oct. 1960.
55. James M. Grimwood, Project Mercury: A Chronology, NASA SP-4001 (Washington, 1963), pp. 117-18; Gilruth to staff, "Change in organization of the Space Task Group," 1 Sept. 1960; Markley to all FSD groups, "Trip Report," 21 Nov. 1960; Markley to Assoc. Dir., STG, "Meeting between MSFC and STG on mission for Saturn C-1 R and D Program and summary of MSFC trips by J. T. Markley," 8 Dec. 1960.
56. Markley memo, 8 Dec. 1960.