Management Learns Its Limits

The astronauts were not alone in their need to become in some sense machine-rated. The managers of Mercury, both the civil servants and the contractors, had found truth in the maxim of industrial management that short-term estimates of accomplishment are nearly always overestimated. Mercury, like virtually all contractual development programs, entailed inherent technical and administrative difficulties impossible to foresee. A corollary to the rule of short-term estimates, namely that long-term predictions of accomplishments are very often underestimated, offered little solace at this stage of the development of Project Mercury. In its fifth status report at the end of January 1960, the Space Task Group related to Headquarters some of the lessons learned during its first year of contractual operations:
A new capsule delivery schedule has recently been indicated by McDonnell to reflect a delay in delivery of over 3 months in the early capsules. This revision was made necessary by a realistic appraisal of progress to date. Although various proposals for improving the situation have been considered, there does not seem to be any practical avenue open at this time for effecting any worthwhile change.

[251] Because of these delays and the fact that it has not been possible to substantiate the shingle structure adequately on the ground, it has been decided to cancel the vibration program on capsule No. 4 and instead to fit this capsule with an absolute minimum of equipment and instrumentation and to fire it on an Atlas as MA-1 . . . at the earliest practicable date.59

Gilruth, Charles J. Donlan, and their younger associates in STG grew older rapidly during their first 15 months as a contracting agency. Gradually attaining more autonomy, the Space Task Group still expected eventually to move to Beltsville, Maryland. But in February NASA Headquarters made clear its intention not to move STG until Project Mercury was essentially completed. Relations with the Langley Research Center, STG's parent organization, improved markedly with better organizational arrangements, such as job order procedures, and with the growth of STG's own administrative staff. Close working exchanges still prevailed in many areas, especially with the Langley shopmen under Jack A. Kinzler providing technical services. But on STG's first birthday, only two out of Langley's 12 applied research divisions could still say with regard to Mercury that "there is as much to be done as has been done."60

The Pilotless Aircraft Research Division (PARD), renamed the Applied Materials and Physics Division at the end of 1959, and the Instrument Research Division were still most actively supporting Mercury.

During STG's infant year, overall Langley support amounted to well over 100 separate preliminary data releases, contributed by more than 325 professional people, and costing approximately $1.9 million of Langley's own appropriations. STG's personnel complement in January 1960 was climbing above 500; the total cost of the prime contract with McDonnell, already modified in about 120 particulars, was approaching $70 million and rising. At the same time, McDonnell estimated that more than half its total effort on Project Mercury was still in engineering development; a third of its effort was on actual production; and about 10 percent was on tooling. According to McDonnell's assistant contract manager, the overall weighted percentage of contract completion was just below 60 percent.61

The magnitude of monitoring a contract of this size was reflected in another reorganization of the Space Task Group in mid-January. Formalized in the new block chart were the personnel office under Burney H. Goodwin, a budget and finance office under J. P. Donovan, a procurement and supply office under Glenn F. Bailey, and an administrative services office under Guy W. Boswick, Jr. STG simplified its three line divisions by making James A. Chamberlin chief of its "Engineering Division" instead of the "Engineering and Contract Administration Division." Under Chamberlin, Andre J. Meyer, Jr., and Norman F. Smith served as assistant chief and executive engineer, respectively. In Faget's Flight Systems Division, Robert O. Piland and J. T. Markley were confirmed in their posts as assistant chief and executive engineer.

At this time Faget unofficially set Robert Piland to work considering advanced [252] vehicles suitable for a circumlunar space flight. This soft-spoken Virginian had turned from mathematics to aeronautical engineering in 1947 and had served as technical assistant to James T. Killian and the President's Science Advisory Committee during 1958. Technically able and politically experienced, Piland directed the circumlunar pilot studies for four months before authorization for an advanced vehicle team on May 25, 1960, formally added eight other senior STG engineers to look to the future beyond Mercury.62

Robert Piland also learned something from his older brother, Joseph V. Piland, assistant head of the contracts and scheduling office, who had evolved from a mechanical engineer into a contract administrator. Joseph Piland was instrumental in smoothing STG's formal relationships with its industrial contractors. His counterpart in McDonnell's organization was C. F. Picard, and together they had now to supervise over 50 subcontractors and over 5,000 sub-subcontractors.

Charles Mathews' Operations Division was in a state of flux as he and Walter C. Williams shuffled men and positions in preparation for manned operations. Christopher C. Kraft, Jr., and Chris C. Critzos stayed put, while G. Merritt Preston went to the Cape and Scott H. Simpkinson was sent to St. Louis to help expedite matters at McDonnell. Other names on the STG organization chart of January 11, 1960, filled staff positions alongside Purser, Kenneth S. Kleinknecht, and Martin A. Byrnes. Another assistant to the director was Raymond L. Zavasky; heading the technical services liaison with Langley was Kinzler. The military officers originally assigned to STG as liaison remained aboard and active. They were Colonel Keith G. Lindell of the Air Force, who doubled as head of the astronaut and training section; Lieutenant Colonel Martin L. Raines of the Army; and Commander Paul L. Havenstein of the Navy. Even Langley Research Center, across the field, had its liaison man on STG's staff: W. Kemble Johnson.63

Beginning in January 1960, plans were made to integrate the astronaut with a flight-control team as well as with his machine. Team training of the remote-site ground crews required an extensive familiarization and orientation program. The initial proposal for training these teams began with an admonition:

It is essential that the training of the flight control personnel be closely integrated with that of the astronaut's. As long as the astronaut is conscious all ground commands must be executed through or with the concurrence of the pilot. To be effective, the pilot and the ground crew must work as a closely knit team. An efficient system is dependent upon adequate team training and development of mutual confidence.64
In preparing to train and integrate the flight-control team for final operations, Walter Williams first discussed the problem with Kurt H. Debus, the Director of ABMA's Missile Firing Laboratory, and Major General Donald N. Yates, the Defense Department's representative and Commander of the Air Force Missile Test Center at Patrick Air Force Base, near Cape Canaveral. [253] Manned missile operations were as new to them as to him, so on January 18, Williams wrote letters to each of these gentlemen formally proposing the establishment of new coordination committees for the upcoming flight tests. NASA Headquarters meanwhile had appointed another Air Force missile expert, Major General Don R. Ostrander, as Director of an Office of Launch Vehicles. His appointment, it was felt, would help interservice cooperation and relieve Silverstein of management responsibility for rocket development.65

In February Mathews and Williams organized a Launch Operations Branch within STG's Operations Division under Preston at the Cape. Then they specified the duties, organization, and responsibilities of the Mercury launch coordination office. Approaching a phase of heavy operational activity, different in kind as well as degree from Edwards and Wallops Island field operations, Williams and Mathews appointed Christopher Kraft as flight director, Stanley White as chief flight surgeon, Merritt Preston as launch operations manager, and Scott Simpkinson as capsule operations manager. By early March, 32 other position titles for ground operations - in the Mercury Control Center, in the blockhouse, at Atlantic Missile Range Central Control, and in the launch pad area - were specified. Capsule engineers at the Cape published quickly a thick "Manual for Launch Operations," which indicated their readiness to assume responsibility for launch operations. Williams also asked Destroyer Flotilla Four to plan for the recovery of MA-1 toward the end of May.66

If Debus and Yates were somewhat chagrined by the forceful speed and decision exhibited by Williams and Mathews in setting NASA firmly in control of launching operations, they were not alone in worrying about the future. Within other divisions of the Space Task Group there was also some worry lest the operations division should monopolize participation in the payoff phase of Project Mercury. William Bland, for instance, wrote a memo to Maxime Faget early in March urging that "the specialists who have matured with Project Mercury" not be diverted to advanced vehicular planning before getting a chance to prove in flight the systems they had designed:

As Project Mercury matures, the total workload with the Space Task Group will increase with the greatest portion of the load carried by the operations division. This change in relative work does not mean that personnel of the flight systems division should decrease their participation in the project. Actually personnel of the flight systems division, at this particular time, have a much wider and deeper range of experience in preparations for launchings, in launchings of rocket vehicles, and in flight data analysis than the Mercury launch personnel (NASA and MAC). This experience in detailed knowledge which was collected during the Little Joe and Big Joe flight programs, the beach abort tests, the different system development programs (such as those conducted on escape motors, pyrotechnics, parachutes, drogue chutes, controls, etc.), and in the development of individual components which make up the capsule system, must be available to the Space Task Group organization conducting launch operations in order to insure direct approach to successful launchings.67
[254] Bland expressed to Faget his concern about the possibility of being preempted from participation in Mercury operations. Faget, restlessly pursuing his first loves of conceptual design and initial development, first for Mercury and now for something soon to be called "Apollo," was in danger of losing the support of some of his lieutenants unless the Flight Systems Division got some role in the flying of their systems.

Part of this disaffection had been precipitated by a major meeting regarding the Mercury network, held on February 9 at Langley. Ostensibly this meeting was to discuss the operational organization, maintenance and operations training, and communications for the network. About 30 men from the Air Force, Navy, Western Electric, Bendix Radio, the oceanic missile ranges, and the Tracking Unit at Langley met with Williams, Mathews, Kraft, and John D. Hodge, but no representative of the Flight Systems Division was present. A week later Gilruth appointed the flight controllers and set C. Frederick Matthews, a Canadian whose name was often confused with that of his chief, Charles W. Mathews, in charge of coordinating the ground crew training programs. Walter Williams saw this as a full-time job in itself. By the first of March flight controller indoctrination and training plans were underway, and Philco contractors and medical monitors were being briefed for a larger role at various ground sites whenever their training should warrant.68

In mid-March Faget confronted another problem in machine-rating his technicians when he received another technical complaint, this one from William A. Petynia, a conscientious engineer he had assigned to watch complete systems tests of capsule No. 1. Petynia had been working with McDonnell project engineer A. M. Paolini since June 1959, preparing capsule No. 1 for the beach-abort launch from Wallops. But the complicated, specialized knowledge required to do a faultless job seemed to Petynia to be overwhelming by the spring of 1960:

To determine the "overall picture" is not difficult, but I found additional effort was required to be in a position to even partially understand capsule systems. I do not mean to become a specialist in each of the capsule systems, but I wanted to be able to recognize and understand problems and their relationship with the flight.

The flight systems capsule engineer is the one person in the test organization who clearly understands the flight test objectives and the performance of the hardware in order to fulfill them. This I think is important! However, I think that due to the complexity of the capsule, the engineer cannot hope to become familiar with the hardware to any great degree in the short period before CST [Capsule Systems Test]. I believe that training classes for the engineers [should] be started immediately under MAC's supervision.69

Petynia's awareness of the necessity to machine-rate himself so he could do an adequate job of inspection was one individual manifestation within STG of the problem of getting all the million or so people involved to do a perfect job in order to man-rate all the machines. From the highest level to the lowest, [255] supervisors sought better methods to inspire the men at work on Mercury to make the quest for reliability a personal matter.

One of the methods used to good effect was identification, both of parts and of workers in the project. The Redstone managers had adopted in 1959 a seal showing the anthropomorphic god Mercury in winged cap and boots bearing a missile and vaulting Earth. Atlas managers eventually selected the alchemical and astrological symbol for Mercury, enclosing a blue "R" for reliability, as their identifying label for Mercury-Atlas components and laborers. On personnel badges, these marks of distinction meant a record of highest performance, but on hardware these decals signified a test record that came closest to the nominal design desiderata. Machines or components that performed too well in certain respects were suspect as possible troublemakers in other respects for the future.70

The astronauts were now making periodic appearances along the production lines at McDonnell, Chrysler, Convair/Astronautics, and elsewhere to encourage the highest standards of craftsmanship among even apprentices or semiskilled workers handling or processing any components that bore the Mercury decal. Having shaken the hand of one of the pilots whose life depended on their work, the factory workers presumably would treat with the greatest care and tenderness the parts then still in their hands.

Credit for having first worked out the guidelines for a coherent plan to machine-rate everybody probably should go to Bernhard A. Hohmann and Ernst R. Letsch of Space Technology Laboratories (STL) and later of Aerospace Corporation. Together with Major General Osmond J. Ritland, former test pilot in command of the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division, Hohmann assured the astronauts that their interests would never be sacrificed. Hohmann's study of the "General Aspects of the Pilot Safety Program for Project Mercury Atlas Boosters" analyzed the differences between the ideas of reliability, quality control, and quality assurance before synthesizing them in a specific program adaptable to other areas of Mercury development. Hohmann combined the approaches of the mathematicians and systems engineers at STL with the viewpoints of production, inspection, and test engineers at Convair/Astronautics, Rocketdyne, and elsewhere.7l But some of the compromises he recommended, such as choosing most nominal instead of highest performance parts to assure a higher level of final quality, were appropriated only gradually by NASA and STG.

Upgrading the intensity of quality control over raw materials, of inspections and tests of systems integration in the plant, and of the requirements for a complete vehicle at the time of the "factory rollout" were significant parts of the pilot safety program. In the final analysis for flight readiness, a Flight Safety Review Board, patterned on Air Force practice, should take the technical responsibility for certifying the booster to be man-rated.72 Even after all these precautions there was always going to be an element of doubt. Procedural principles on paper would require two more years - and at least five flight experiments - to become realized in practice and working habits.

59 "Status Report No. 5," STG, 2. This status report continued on the next page with these significant remarks:

"It has also been found possible to make the configuration of the capsules for MR-2 . . . and MR-3 identical. The missions of these capsules remain unchanged. However, in order for the basic capsules to be identical, the quantities to be recorded for the primate carried in MR-2 must remain the same as those to be recorded for the man in MR-3. The advantage of making these capsules identical is that otherwise the first manned flight would have been in a capsule that differed in several respects from those that had been fired previously. Now there will be at least one firing of an identical capsule before inserting a man.

"The operations required for preparation and launch of the capsule have received very careful study, and it has been concluded that these operations will require much more time than was previously estimated. The resultant program with the delayed capsule deliveries was, however, felt to be unacceptable. For this reason, new, rather optimistic target times have been set for the checkout and launch period, and a study has been instituted to see whether these schedules can be met by careful planning of the work and facility utilization and by extra work shifts. The effects of all these factors are being considered in formulating a new schedule."

60 Memo, Gilruth to staff, "Prospective Move of the Space Task Group to Goddard Space Flight Center, Beltsville, Maryland," Feb. 25, 1960; memo for files, William A. Herrnstein, Jr., "Work and Travel Performed by Langley Research Center Personnel in Support of Project Mercury," Oct. 6, 1960.

61 "Anticipated Total Program Cost for Mercury Capsule," McDonnell Aircraft Corp., Jan. 14, 1960. Cf. "Contract NAS 5-59, Mercury Capsule Program - Financial Status Summary," with enclosures, McDonnell Aircraft Corp., May 31, 1960. C. F. Picard, McDonnell Aircraft Corp., Asst. Contract Manager, "Monthly Financial Report," Jan. 22, 1960, 2.

62 R. O. Piland, interview, Houston, Nov. 5, 1964; memo, Gilruth to staff, "Advanced Vehicle Team," May 25, 1960; Joseph V. Piland, interview, Houston, Oct. 21, 1964.

63 Memo, Gilruth to staff, "Changes in Organization of the Space Task Group," Jan. 11, 1960. See also Ms., Robert Merrifield and C. F. Bingman, "Organization: Technical History of Project Mercury," June 3, 1963.

64 Memo for files, anon., "Outline of Off-Range Remote Site Training Program for Flight Control Personnel, " Jan. 14, 1960. Cf. "Aeromedical Flight Controller Briefing," NASA/STG, May 23-27, 1960. "Operation and Maintenance: Flight Controller Remote Sites: Operation Manual, MO-118R," Western Electric Co., June 1960.

65 Letter, Walter C. Williams to Kurt H. Debus, "Proposal for Mercury-Redstone Coordination Committee," Jan. 18, 1960; letter, Williams to Donald N. Yates, "Mercury-Atlas Flight Test Working Group," Jan. 18, 1960; Howard Gibbons, "Ostrander's Job at NASA Not Related to Space Rift," Newport News Daily Press, Dec. 10, 1959. See also proposed memo of understanding, "Relationships Between OSFP and OLVP Groups at AMR," submitted to Ostrander and Silverstein April 29, 1960.

66 Memos, Williams to staff, "Responsibilities of Mercury Launch Coordination Office," Feb. 11, 1960; "Organization for Mercury Field Operations," Feb. 12, 1960; letter, Williams to Yates, "Position Titles for Operation of Project Mercury," March 9, 1960; letter, Williams to Cdr., DesFlotFour, "Test Objectives and Recovery Requirements for the Project Mercury Atlas Test One," March 15, 1960, with enclosure. The aborted "Launch Operation Manual for Project Mercury," compiled by Dugald O. Black, A. M. Busch, A. M. Eiband, John Janokaitis, Jr., and approved by Scott H. Simpkinson, B. Porter Brown, and G. Merritt Preston at the Cape in March 1960 is a rare but invaluable guide to its subject at this time.

67 Memo, William M. Bland, Jr., to Chief, Flight Systems Div., "Division Participation in Project Mercury," March 4, 1960. For an overview of the increasing tempo of Mercury operations at the Cape, see memo, Martin A. Byrnes for Assoc. Director, "Administrative Support for the STG Facilities at Cape Canaveral," March 4, 1960; and C. Frederick Matthews for staff, "Administrative Staff for Mercury Field Operation Organization," May 9, 1960.

68 Minutes, "Mercury Network Meeting," NASA/STG, Feb. 9, 1960; memo, Gilruth to Div. Chiefs, "Designation of Flight Controllers for Mercury Flight Operations," Feb. 8, 1960; memo, C. F. Matthews to all concerned, "Mercury Flight Controller Personnel Indoctrination and Training Plan Presentation," Feb. 25, 1960; Williams, interview, Houston, Aug. 23, 1965. See also Jim W. McCommis, draft Ms., "Flight Control Operations," for Mercury Technical History, Nov. 19, 1963.

69 Memo, William W. Petynia to Chief, Flight Systems Div., "Summary Report of the Duties and Responsibilities of the STG Project Engineer During Capsule No. 1 CST," March 16, 1960. For the best overview of the status of the program as seen by the STG managers at the end of this period, see memo for files, Purser, "Additional Background Material on Project Mercury," May 11, 1960; cf. Purser's similar memo, "General Background Material on Project Mercury," March 23, 1959.

70 See R. I. Johnson, et al., "The Mercury-Redstone Project," TMX53107, MSFC Saturn/Apollo Systems Office, June 1964, 5 - 39, 41; Ms., "Proceedings of the Mercury-Atlas Booster Reliability Workshop," Convair/Astronautics, San Diego, July 12, 1963, passim. See also ABMA/AOMC instructions, N. I. Reiter, Jr., "Mercury Project Symbol," Oct. 7, 1959, Code AP 940-13, ORDAB-DY.

71 Bernhard A. Hohmann, "Pilot Safety and Quality Assurance for Project Mercury," report No. STL-TR-60-0000-69047, Feb. 8, 1960; [Kucheman, Henry B.], "Reference File, AFBMD Support, Project Mercury," bound folder of documents, Air Force Space Systems Div., El Segundo, Calif., Jan. 4, 1961, Sect. 5, Table 11; Osmond J. Ritland, interview, Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Dec. 30, 1 964.

72 Hohmann interviews; see p. 189. See also Simpkinson, interview, Houston, Oct. 4, ] 965, and papers from the period between June 1961 and May 1962 when he was assigned to San Diego as Gilruth's special assistant For more technical details, see R. J. Smith, "Flight Proofing Test Report for Abort Sensing and Control Unit - Mercury - Missile-borne," Convair/Astronautics report No. 27A515 R, Aug. 5, 1960.

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