Chapter 8

CREATING A HOME

ON THE RANGE

DURING the closing months of 1955 and well into the new year the process of siting Project Vanguard checkout and launch facilities at the Air Force Missile Test Center (AFMTC) at Cape Canaveral proved nearly as troublesome, discouraging, and time-consuming as the negotiating of the prime contract between NRL and Martin.

In the fall of 1955 the 15,000-acre missile firing range on the snake-infested and palmetto-covered sand dunes of the Florida flatlands was completing its sixth year as the Long Range Proving Ground for American guided-missile development. Congress had established the range for this purpose in 1949. In 1950 the Department of Defense had assigned responsibility for its operation to the United States Air Force, and had named it the Air Force Missile Test Center (AFMTC). By the end of the following year the Air Force had set up administrative and telemetry headquarters eighteen miles south of the range at a former coast guard and seaplane base just south of the village of Cocoa Beach, to be known henceforth as Mason M. Patrick Air Force Base (PAFB). Three guided missiles had lofted from the Cape, and the range had received the official designation AFMTC that it would retain throughout the lifetime of Project Vanguard. The press called it "Cape Canaveral" and Air Force and Vanguard men often spoke of it as the Atlantic Missile Range (AMR),1the official designation it later received.

Vanguard's request to use the DoD launching site, aired unofficially in September 1955 and cast in formal form a few weeks later,2 elicited no cheers from AFMTC management or its parent body, the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC). On 2 December, ARDC Headquarters approved of Vanguard's request "in principle." but made it abundantly clear that the Air Force viewed with alarm the prospect of making room at a high-priority military installation for a no-priority scientific program. Vanguard's eventual acceptance at the range depended upon its ability to work out with AFMTC a modus operandi consistent with the National Security Council's order that the earth satellite project be so conducted that "it does not materially delay other major defense programs."4 Nor did ARDC's statement in December5 that Vanguard could communicate directly with the field do more than smooth somewhat a rough path, since on an informal basis project representatives had been communicating vociferously with the men in charge at Cape Canaveral for many weeks.

Since early fall, conferences at Patrick Air Force Base or conferences elsewhere relative to field problems had been taking place at frequent intervals. During September Vanguard's telemetry boss, Mazur, made several exploratory trips to the Cape, accompanied by Captain C. B. Ausfahl, an Air Force officer attached to the Naval Laboratory, and Alton E. ("Al") Jones, one of NRL's bright young men, whose calculations prior to the submission to the Stewart Committee of the NRL satellite proposal had been instrumental in the decision of the Laboratory and GLM to use two liquid-fuel rockets rather than one in the Vanguard vehicle.6

At Patrick the NRL team talked at length with high-ranking officers and with a number of engineers working for Pan American Airways. industrial contractor charged with servicing AFMTC operations, or for Radio Corporation of America, subcontractor responsible for field instrumentation. It was information gathered during these preliminary discussions that later impelled the Laboratory, in the face of objections from both the Florida test center and the Martin Company, to install at the Cape the newly developed radar antenzsas and data-acquisition equipment that would enable Vanguard to fly PPM/AM telemetry packages in the first stage of its vehicles.7

Although the NRL investigators' primary purpose in Florida was to survey the instrumentation available at the Cape, they also made inquiries as to the form in which the Vanguard people should prepare and present to AFMTC a list of the facilities and ground support equipment they would need at the range to put up their birds. One of their first discoveries was that where material to be provided by the Air Force was concerned, the test center preferred a statement as to the accuracies desired rather than the names of particular items. For a time at least this idiosyncracy on the part of the missile management was a stumbling block to old NRL hands, accustomed to asking their procurement unit for what they wanted by name or by general description without as a rule bothering to explain what it was supposed to accomplish.

"One of our problems in the early Vanguard days," Mazur would confess later with characteristic forthrightness-

was that we simply didn't know how to deal with a paper-type organization like the Air Force. Those of us at NRL had got our rocket experience flying Vikings at White Sands. That was a relatively informal and leisurely program. When we needed this item or that we got on the phone or sent a note up to the Lab people in Washington, telling them to buy the damn thing or to whack it together themselves and send it down to us. We didn't have to write up a thousand documents in quintuplicate, as we soon found we had to do for the Air Force. What we asked for in a hurry we got in a hurry because, as we were fond of telling the fly boys in those days. at NRL procurement existed for the Laboratory, not the Laboratory for procurement. The Air Force procurement cycle was a good deal slower, and for us at any rate a tough nut to crack. Quite frankly we might have ended up lacking many of the things we vitally needed at the field had it not been for the good offices of Colonel Gibbs.8

Mazur's reference is to Lieutenant Colonel Asa B. Gibbs, who in fall 1955 was director of tests at AFMTC. It was a happy day for the scientific satellite effort when in late September Gibbs was relieved of his duties as test officer and ordered to "report aboard" the Vanguard management staff as Air Force liaison or project officer.9 Although the heavy-set, cigar-puffing colonel impressed members of the satellite group as jovial,10 he could be effectively tough when it came to procedures he considered important. Gibbs knew his way around the Air Force. Throughout what Mazur called the "agonizing period,"11 the drawnout struggle to fit Project Vanguard into the Cape Canaveral picture, he made life considerably easier for the planning staffs by educating them in the ins and outs of the command setup at Patrick. It was a complicated one, and the planners escaped many irritating delays because of Gibbs' skill in opening channels of communication between Vanguard control center at NRL in Washington and Base headquarters at Cocoa, Florida.12 Gibbs also served the project as a gadfly. Repeatedly he scolded at NRL and Martin, urging them not only to put their list of requirements in a form acceptable to AFMTC, but to make certain it covered every conceivable item, "right down to the number of rolls of toilet paper you may eventually need." The conscientious project officer neglected to specify how the Vanguard people were to delineate the "accuracies" of this homely necessity; he did warn them, solemnly, that unless their list of requirements was complete they might come right up to the point of firing their first test vehicle, only to find that many of the items of equipment and supply essential to the undertaking were simply not on hand.13

Drafting the requirements list was a Martin responsibility, but in actual practice it became a joint effort since NRL had to supply the designers and engineers at the big aircraft plant in Middle River with a vast amount of information. Hundreds of man-hours of work-and talk-went into the preparation of the document. In its finished form it reflected every predictable aspect of the satellite operation, ranging from what those involved hoped to learn from the flight of each vehicle to the probable behavior aloft of all vehicles and scientific payloads. A preliminary list submitted to the range command in November 1955 brought an immediate demand for extensive revisions. To make sure that these were properly executed, Colonel Gibbs organized a team of NRL and Martin experts and arranged for them to spend a week at Patrick Air Force Base, working directly with range officials and technicians. The outcome of this effort was a respectable document labeled "Test Program for Vanguard Launching Operations." Satisfactory though it was, even this "final" list was tentative. Immediately after its acceptance by the range command in May, Project Director Hagen issued a directive outlining the procedures for making anticipated "changes, deletions," and "additions."14

The work of preparing the requirements list proceeded concurrently with other developments. ARDC's approval "in principle" of Vanguard's bid to use the Cape gave the project a foot in the door. The actual opening of the door required additional and in some cases ticklish maneuvers. These began to come to a head in mid-December during a four-day conference at PAFB attended by representatives of the Base, the Martin Company, and the Laboratory. Heading the Air Force contingent was slight, dapper, outspoken Major General Donald N. Yates, USAF, commander at AFMTC. A newcomer to the Vanguard forces was Commander, later Captain, Winfred E. Berg, who only a few hours before had joined Vanguard as official Navy representative and senior project officer. Slender and striking under a plume of thick black hair that the problems of Vanguard would quickly sprinkle with silver, Berg was no stranger to the oldtimers at NRL. He had worked with them at the Laboratory, leaving in the early 1950s to take a staff position in the Comptroller's Office at the Pentagon as technical adviser on missiles and related fields to Assistant Secretary of Defense Wilfred J. McNeil. As Vanguard's chief trouble-shooter from 1956 on-its "fire brigade" to use his own expression-Berg would enjoy ample opportunity to deploy his notable talents for cutting through red tape and getting things done.15

During the opening phase of the mid-December conference at Patrick, General Yates and his aides confirmed a worrisome fact, already spelled out in Air Force correspondence. To test and launch its hardware Vanguard must have a variety of facilities, notably a launching pad and adjoining blockhouse, and a hangar where it could assemble its three-stage vehicles and maintain offices, laboratories, and storage bins. For the time being all such installations on the Cape, including some under construction, or about to be, were assigned to high-priority military programs. To use the Cape, Vanguard must either construct its own launch complex and hangar or arrange to share facilities with some existing program.

The meeting warmed up when, on top of this revelation, the NRL Martin representatives informed the Air Force Commander that they were planning to launch their first test vehicle during the coming June. Yates' blunt reaction was "Ridiculous! It'll take you that long to get the money." At this point Commander Berg took over for Vanguard. Would the Air Force support use of the range, he inquired, if by the first of January, only two weeks hence, assurances were in General Yates hands that the requisite funds would be available as needed? Yates knew a sporting proposition when he heard one. "It's a deal," he snapped, and Berg hastened back to Washington to make swift use of his connections at his old stamping grounds, the Comptroller's Office in the Defense Department. His negotiations were well-advanced before he realized that it might be impossible to make good his end of the deal with Yates because the first of January was a holiday, with all government offices closed. He went ahead, hoping that either the desired assurances would reach him prior to the first or that Yates would overlook an insignificant delay. On the second he was able to inform the AFMTC commander that the authorization of funds was processing satisfactorily. Yates accepted this as fulfillment of their agreement. A week later formal authorization came from the Department of Defense, and Vanguard was assured a home on the missile range.16

The chronic afflictions of the scientific satellite effort, too little time and too little money, accounted for the decision not to erect a new launch complex but to opt for space in one already up or soon to go up. In 1956 the rocket team headed by von Braun for ABMA, the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, was in the midst of a five-year flight program at the Cape, testing versions of the Army's Redstone rocket, including the Jupiter-A and Jupiter C intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Acting for Vanguard, Berg, Rosen, Mazur, and Roger Easton visited both Cape Canaveral and the ABMA offices in Alabama in an effort to obtain quarters at the Redstone launch complex on a joint-use basis. The facts uncovered during these sessions were discouraging. The Redstone firing schedule at AFMTC was too tight to make a sharing arrangement feasible. In other words the Redstone people said no, and the Vanguard negotiators had to look elsewhere. Fortunately the Air Force had recently undertaken the development of the Thor, another intermediate-range missile, with Douglas Aircraft Company as prime contractor responsible for design and fabrication. No firing installations for the Thor were in existence as yet at AFMTC, but plans were underway for the construction of two blockhouses and four pads on what would shortly be labeled launch complexes 17 and 18 on the southern rim of the easternmost bulge of the Cape. The Thor program did not call for a flight from complex 18 for several years-a situation that enabled General Yates to accede to Milton Rosen's request in January 1956 that Vanguard occupy some of the facilities projected for that complex, sharing the blockhouse with the Thor project and testing and firing its vehicles from an adjoining launch area, subsequently designated as 18A.17 It was understood that the use of these facilities and any changes required in them were to be financed with Project Vanguard funds.

Shortage of time and money also entered into the decision not to build a new gantry crane for servicing the Vanguard vehicle but to adapt to Vanguard use the one the Laboratory rocket crew had recently developed but never used for its now abandoned Viking program at White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico. At a request from the Navy. the Jacksonville (Florida) District of the Corps of Engineers agreed to supervise the transfer of the ninety-five-foot Viking gantry to its new home. In April the Corps negotiated a contract under which the Treadwell Construction Company, of Midland, Pennsylvania. designers and makers of the Viking gantry, undertook to dismantle the crane at White Sands and see that it was reassembled and ready for use at AFMTC during the forthcoming September. The contract directed Treadwell to provide the crane with an additional working platform and other modifications, and the Air Force took steps to install at complex 18A a 225-foot railroad track on which the huge service tower could be moved up to and away from the vehicle-launching structure.18

The crane was not the only Viking hardware to become part of the scientific satellite development. During March a group of GLM and Laboratory men spent six days at White Sands examining the ground support equipment left over from the Viking program and tagging for shipment eastward those items that they believed Vanguard could utilize.19 Efforts to make do with what was "on the shelf" and other penny-pinching stratagems were a commonplace of the program. The usually stately, although at times opaque, official correspondence yields a plea from the Martin Company "that we be allowed to use a spring removed from a Victor Mouse Trap, manufactured by the Animal Trap Company, Liditz, Pa., for our magnetic disconnect doors in the second and third stages of the Project Vanguard vehicles.…Allowing us to use this spring will save considerable time. The spring will be cadmium plated with an Iridite Number l finish......"20 Signed by D. J. Markarisn, Vanguard Project engineer for GLM, this letter was dated 18 April 1956. A decade later John T. Mengel, NRL's radio-tracking genius, could still recall with a chuckle a trip to Sears Roebuck and Company to purchase 200 inexpensive screw-jacks for use on his multi-million-dollar antenna arrays.21

obsevation blockhouse at Cape Canaveral

Blockhouse used by Project Vanguard at Cape Canaveral.


To AFMTC as the Defense Department's agent fell the task of providing the permanent field facilities Vanguard would require. In February the Secretary of Defense authorized the Center to have built for the project a combination office and vehicle-assembly building, to be designated as Hanger S and located four and a half miles northwest of launch complex 18.

Word from the Corps of Engineers, responsible for the supervision of the construction work, was that the hangar would not be ready until April 1957, at the earliest. Meanwhile, Vanguard was to occupy half of an existing building, Hanger C, in the vicinity of the old lighthouse some two miles northeast of the Thor launch areas.22 Plans approved by the base put all the Thor pads 600 feet from the blockhouse. This was the standard distance, acceptable to range safety officers bent on making sure that the men assigned to the remote control room in the blockhouse during firings enjoyed as much protection as possible. Some groans arose at the range safety office when Vanguard requested a separate pad only 200 feet from the blockhouse. Following a few conferences, however, the Base command in the person of General Yates bowed to Vanguard's argument that the shorter distance would be a worthwhile economy since it would eliminate the "repeater" equipment necessary for the longer line-runs of a 600-foot installation. When in April the Corps of Engineers employed the J. A. Jones Construction Company of Charlotte, North Carolina, to build the six-million-dollar Thor launch complexes, an amendment to the contract required Jones to provide a simplified pad for Vanguard at a point about midway between the Thor-Vanguard blockhouse and Thor pad 18A.23

The made-to-order pad was one of several concessions Vanguard succeeded in obtaining from the Air Force. NRL and Martin insisted also on a "wet pad," one equipped with a plumbing system capable of supplying water for cooling the flame duct of the launch structure and for other purposes connected with static and flight firing tests. For Yates this request posed problems. It meant piping off the main line water intended for the Thor project. It also called for the emplacement of a spilloff basin for catching the water poured through the flame duct, and Yates feared that a basin in the Vanguard launch area would create later difficulties for the Air Force's IRBM program. He agreed to the wet pad only after receiving assurances from NRL and Martin that no interference with the Thor schedule would ensue.24

During the many conferences at Patrick, some of the Vanguard spokesmen reacted with what one of them called "incomprehension" to the punctilious manner in which General Yates carried out his duties as commanding officer of the range. In a report covering a lively session in February, Robert L. Schlechter, GLM's field manager for Vanguard, regaled his colleagues at Middle River with a picture of the General "fulminating" into the meeting room to assert that "some structural monstrosity Douglas [the Thor manufacturer] proposed" building on Complex 18 "would be erected over his corpus delicti." According to Schlechter, the general then asked Commander Berg what the Vanguard people would do if their desire for special facilities on the Thor complex were not met. Schlechter quoted Berg as replying that if "this were the case," Vanguard would make another effort to share the Redstone facility. "After further questioning." the eloquent Martin engineer's account continued, "General Yates learned that we still proposed to static fire on the Redstone pad in the event of sharing." This would have required a major modification of the Redstone complex. a prospect that brought violent repercussions. Schlechter's recollection was that "the well known matter hit the fan, with General Yates bringing his corpus delicti into the picture again. Whereupon the U.S. Navy told him he would have to accept this situation if directed by the Department of Defense. There was some profanity from the general, but the Navy held its ground."25

But if tempers flared occasionally in the heat of battle, the ultimate consensus in Vanguard circles was that on the whole General Yates was a good friend to the scientific satellite program. It was Yates who slipped into the contract covering erection of the Thor facilities a clause ordering the Jones Construction Company to complete the blockhouse on complex 18, the one scheduled for Vanguard use, two weeks ahead of the one on the other Thor complex. Nobody noticed this effort to speed things up for the satellite-orbiting program until November 1956, when glass for the heavy "horizon-seeing" windows arrived at the Cape. In the words of a Project official, "all hell broke loose" when the builder discovered that for the time being he had only enough glass for one window, and proceeded to put it into the Vanguard blockhouse in accordance with contract.

"Yates didn't always take kindly to our propositions," Berg has commented,

but he was open minded. He was responsible for providing service to all of the projects at AFMTC. He had no choice but to honor their priorities, but he did a wonderful job of finding ways of helping his one no-priority program, Vanguard, to meet its commitments. In the beginning, for example. he was most reluctant to let us install at AFMTC the then new high-precision radar, AN/FPS-l6, for the purpose of tracking the Vanguard vehicle during and immediately after the launch sequence. He contended that the Azusa tracking system already there was quite adequate, and that he didn't want every new project 'clobbering up my range' with its own special equipment. Later, when he saw how effective our tracking system was, he made some changes in his own and went out of his way to point out that ours had proved an asset. AFMTC still uses the Azusa system as improved by Yates, but it also uses the AN/FPS-16 brought in by Vanguard.26

Late spring 1956 found site-clearing crews gathering at Cape Canaveral to begin work on the Vanguard launch complex and hangar. NRL and Martin had established a series of "beneficial occupancy" dates, a schedule best described as a demonstration of the unending triumph of human hope over the facts of life. First the national steel strike of that summer, then a spate of local strikes created what scientists and engineers quaintly insist on calling "slippages," meaning delays.27

Since AFMTC's responsibility for construction extended only to permanent facilities, the Vanguard managers asked Martin to provide the "Static and Flight Firing Structure" the Vanguard field hands would need to test-fire and launch their vehicles. Beginning in January, Martin designers rapidly produced a set of acceptable drawings. The structure they called for consisted essentially of a flame deflector tube surmounted by a steel platform 9 1/2 feet high and capable of supporting two removable rocket stands. One of these was for use during static or free firings of either the first stage of the Vanguard vehicle or of the entire vehicle, the other during static firing tests of the second stage only. In all, the structure consisted of five major components: deflector tube, tube support, test platform, plumbing system, and rocket stands. There were also access stairs and such facilities as a shower and a fireman's pole-type escape hatch for the protection of men working on the erected rocket.28

In July both NRL and Martin experienced an uneasy weekend when an examination of blueprints revealed a discrepancy between the water outlet the Jones Construction Company had installed in the Vanguard pad and the corresponding water inlet on the launching structure, then still in the New York plant of Loewy Hydropress, the subcontractor charged with its manufacture. The opening of the manhole-like outlet in the pad was thirty-six inches, that of the inlet on the structure thirty inches, and the interphase-the elbow created by the makers of the structure to link the two units-was thirty inches at both ends. The situation was potentially troublesome. Vanguard construction had already suffered serious slippages. In an effort to hold these to a minimum the Jones gang at Cape Canaveral was working at top speed. Discovery of the discrepancy came on a Friday, and Jones was planning to pour concrete on the following Monday for that portion of the pad wherein the water outlet was located.

Commander Berg came to the rescue. At his urgent request, Jones agreed to delay the concrete pouring for one day. Berg then put in a phone call to John Manning, deputy engineering services officer for production at the Naval Laboratory in Washington. On Saturday and Sunday Manning's shop crew cast a 1,700-pound, thirty- by thirty-six-inch reducer to replace the unusable interphase. Early Monday morning the new elbow was on a plane. That evening it was at Cape Canaveral, ready to be installed. "A miracle!" said Berg. "Nothing of the sort," retorted shop-boss Manning. "At NRL doing the impossible is routine procedure."29

Since Project Vanguard was a step into the unknown, frequent changes of policy were inevitable. In the beginning the project managers thought of their launching program as consisting of two major phases, a test phase and a mission phase. For the test phase they had asked the Martin Company to manufacture at least seven vehicles-TV-1 through TV-5, plus two or more backup vehicles. For the mission phase, they called for at least six satellite-launching vehicles, SLV-l through SLV-6.30 Their plan, in those early days, was to use the first four test vehicles for vehicle-testing purposes only. Not until the time came to launch TV-4 did they intend to try sending a satellite into orbit. Soon after the project started, however, those in charge began changing these plans. By the summer of 1957, the Naval Research Laboratory had informed the Martin Company that from TV-3 on, all Vanguard vehicles were to have satellite-bearing capacities, and the company had reoriented its production plans accordingly. Meanwhile, the scientists and engineers working in the so called "ballroom" at NRL had developed the "grapefruit" satellite, having a diameter of only 6.4 inches and weighing only 4 pounds, much smaller than the 20-inch, 21.5-pound sphere the project managers had previously contemplated for use in their first attempt at orbit.

The official record fails to reveal the reasons behind these changes, but the memories of the men responsible for them supply the deficiency. The complete success of the launch of TV-1 in May 1957 had demonstrated the capacity of the new solid-propellant third-stage rocket, flown then for the first time, to meet all of its requirements. In addition the excellent performance of the previously untried spin stabilization system removed the necessity of carrying a heavily instrumented load on TV-3. In July 1957, therefore, the project planners decided to substitute the smaller six-inch spherical package. Outfitted with a beacon transmitter, it was to perform two functions: one, test the downrange instrumentation that the Vanguard people had installed to convert the Atlantic Missile Range into a satellite launching range and, two, lighten the load on TV-3 so that if all went well in this first test of the entire three-stage vehicle. a satellite would result. Current or foreseeable slippages in the launch schedule prompted the decision to begin trying to orbit a satellite with TV-3 instead of waiting until TV-4. The project managers reasoned that unless they attempted to fly a satellite earlier than planned they might find themselves unable to make good on their commitment to put one in orbit during the forthcoming International Geophysical Year. From Donald J. Markarian, who served as Martin's project engineer for Vanguard, comes a convincing summary of the thinking behind the development of the grapefruit satellite: "We had to put more instrumentation in the test vehicles than in the mission or satellite-launching vehicles. We were confident that the lighter SLV-the mission vehicle-would launch a 21.5-pound ball into orbit, but see were doubtful about the ability of the heavier TV-the test vehicle-to do so. Common sense suggested that we'd be better off succeeding with a smaller satellite than failing with a bigger one."31

Recurrent difficulties notwithstanding, Vanguard entered the fall of 1956 in fair condition. To be sure its hopes of launching a rocket during the preceding summer had gone glimmering. There was reason to believe, however, that its adjusted schedule calling for an initial firing in December was realizable. By the end of October an advance unit of the field crew had set up shop in the project's temporary hangar near the old lighthouse, the launching complex was far enough along to be used, the access roads to it were being completed, the gantry crane, freshened by a coat of green paint, stood ready for use, and the first of Vanguard's test and launch vehicles, TV-0, had arrived at Hangar C and was undergoing checkout.32 Progress was relatively satisfactory also in other aspects of the program, notably in those connected with tracking and with the acquisition of tracking and telemetered data.


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