Other Means to the Same End

Besides Man-in-Space-Soonest of the Air Force, there were two other manned military space ventures seeking approval from ARPA in the summer of 1958. A rather heated competition was underway among the three armed services in the area of manned space flight. The Army's entry, much simpler than the Air Force approach, was supposed to lift a man into the space region "sooner" than Soonest. After the Sputniks, von Braun and his colleagues at Redstone Arsenal had had great success resuscitating their instrumented satellite project. Now they had unearthed one of their old proposals for using a modified Redstone to launch a man in a sealed capsule along a steep ballistic, or suborbital, trajectory. The manned capsule would reach an altitude of approximately 150 miles before splashing into the Atlantic about the same distance downrange from Cape Canaveral. The passive passenger would be housed in an ejectable cylindrical compartment about four feet wide by six feet long, which in turn would be housed in an inverted version of the kind of nose cone used on the Jupiter IRBM.82

The Army tried to justify the proposal partly as a step toward improving techniques of troop transportation. But, more important, such a ballistic shot supposedly could be carried out during 1959; this would recoup some of the prestige captured by the Soviet satellite launchings as well as furnish some much-needed medical information, especially regarding high g loading and the effect of about six minutes of weightlessness. Initially called "Man Very High," the [100] project called for the support of all three services. The sealed compartment would be modeled closely on the Air Force Manhigh balloon gondola then being used in a series of record-breaking ascents. In April the Air Force, already overloaded with plans for its own Dyna-Soar and manned satellite projects, had decided not to participate. So the Army had renamed the plan "Project Adam" and had begun pushing it as an Army project, with Navy cooperation expected in the medical and recovery phases.83

The Adam proposal began the formal climb from the Army Ballistic Missile Agency through the Pentagon hierarchy to the office of the Secretary of the Army, then to ARPA. It came under very heavy criticism from sources both inside and outside the Defense Department. The ARPA Man in Space Panel unequivocally recommended that the proposal be turned down. Hugh Dryden of NACA told the House Space Committee that "tossing a man up in the air and letting him come back . . . is about the same technical value as the circus stunt of shooting a young lady from a cannon. . . ." And Arthur Kantrowitz of Avco, whose company was still trying to get the Air Force manned satellite contract, termed Adam "another project which is off the main track because I feel that weightlessness is not that great a problem."84

On July 11, ARPA Director Johnson notified Secretary of the Army Wilbur M. Brucker that ARPA did not consider Project Adam a practical proposal for manned space flight. Consequently the Army could not expect to receive the $10-12 million it requested for the "up-and-down" project. Early in August, Brucker, mentioning that the Central Intelligence Agency had expressed an interest in Adam, defended the approach as a potential "national political psychological demonstration." Deputy Secretary of Defense Donald A. Quarles replied that in light of the Soviet achievement of orbiting an animal, the Air Force man-in-space project, and the creation of NASA, a decision on Project Adam would have to await "further study." In succeeding months the controversial "lady from a cannon" plan slipped quietly into the inactive category at Redstone Arsenal.85

Still a third military proposal for manned space flight came forth during the contentious first half of 1958. In April the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics presented to ARPA the results of its manned satellite study, cleverly acronymized "MER I" (for "Manned Earth Reconnaissance"). This approach called for an orbital mission in a novel vehicle - a cylinder with spherical ends. After being fired into orbit by a two-stage booster system, the ends would expand laterally along two structural, telescoping beams to make a delta-wing, inflated glider with a rigid nose section. The configuration met the principal MER I requirement: the vehicle would be controllable from booster burnout to landing on water. Fabric construction obviously implied a new departure in the design of reentry vehicles. At ARPA's direction the Bureau of Aeronautics undertook a second study (MER II), this one to be done jointly on contract by Convair, manufacturer of the Atlas, and the Goodyear Aircraft Corporation. [101] The Convair-Goodyear study group did not make its report until December. At that time it reasserted the feasibility of the lifting pneumatic vehicle but relegated the inflation of the craft to the postentry portion of the mission.86 By December, however, Project Mercury already was moving ahead steadily under NASA. Funds for a MER III phase (model studies) were not forthcoming from the Defense Department, and the intriguing MER concept became a little-known aspect of the prehistory of manned orbital flight.

MER, sometimes referred to as "Project MER," was by far the most ambitious of the manned space flight proposals made by the military in 1958. Its emphasis on new hardware and new techniques meant it really had little chance for approval then. Conversely, Project Adam was not ambitious enough for the time and money involved. Of the three military proposals, Man-in-Space-Soonest came closest to full program approval. But by August the Air Force's hopes for putting a man into orbit sooner than the Soviet Union, or than any other agency in this country, were fading rapidly before the growing consensus that manned space flight should be the province of the civilian space administration.

82 "Development Proposal for Project Adam," Army Ballistic Missile Agency, Redstone Arsenal, Ala., April 17, 1958. The Adam concept involved use of drag flaps to slow the nose cone's rate of descent and provide aerodynamic stability during reentry. At lower altitudes, parachutes would deploy to slow the capsule down still more. The development plan for Adam specified that several primate flights would precede the first manned shot. Unquestionably the most unusual technical aspect of Adam, and one that later produced considerable amusement among the engineers who directed Project Mercury, was the tank filled with water, into which the payload would be tossed by an automatic mechanism in case of booster malfunction on the launch pad.

83 Message, John B. Medaris to August Schomburg, Chief of Ordnance, Dept. of the Army, Feb. 12, 1958; notes, "Project 'Man Very High' (MVH)," Feb. 17, 1958; message, J. A. Barclay to "Col. Coffin," Washington, "Proposed Project Adam," April 1958; Norman L. Baker, "Air Force Won't Support Project Adam," Missiles and Rockets, III (June 1958), 40-41; Link, Space Medicine in Project Mercury, 26-27.

84 Astronautics and Space Exploration, testimony of Hugh Dryden and Arthur Kantrowitz, 117, 420, 516-517; Holmes, America on the Moon, 73-74. In August, Avco representatives presented a briefing to Brig. Gen. Homer A. Boushey, Director of Advanced Technology, Headquarters USAF. The Ballistic Missile Division still opposed the drag-brake device and advocated the Man-in-Space-Soonest approach. "Chronology of Early Air Force Man-in-Space Activity, 1955-1960," 66.

85 Memo, Roy W. Johnson, ARPA Dir., to Secretary of the Army, "Project Adam," July 11, 1958; "Project Adam Chronology," Army Ballistic Missile Agency, undated; memo, Donald A. Quarles, Deputy Secretary of Defense, to Secretary of the Army, "Project Adam," Aug. 15, 1958; Link, Space Medicine in Project Mercury, 27.

86 "MER II: Navy Manned Satellite Study, Summary," Convair Div., General Dynamics Corp., Dec. 1958; House Committee on Science and Astronautics, 86 Cong., 2 sess. (1960), Project Mercury, First Interim Report, 4.

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