The Last Obstacles

One source of delay was the still unsettled question of the place of rendezvous in NASA planning. The key factor was the size of boosters. The persistent appeal of orbital rendezvous for many NASA and Defense Department planners was its promise (and, in 1961, only its promise) of making do with lesser boosters. Even they were a long way from ready; the most powerful in operation in the United States at that time, the Atlas-Agena, could only put about 1,800 kilograms in Earth orbit. The smallest payload required for a lunar landing mission, even with rendezvous techniques, was thought to be ten times that figure. This was a matter of concern to both NASA and the Department of Defense, leading them to form a joint Large Launch Vehicle Planning Group in July 1961 under Nicholas E. Golovin for NASA and Lawrence L. Kavanau for the Defense Department.* 49

[68] Golovin, technical assistant to Seamans, spelled out what he believed to be the group's central goal. "The primary basis for organizing information and preparing recommendations for a National Large Launch Vehicle Program will be the assumption that this program will provide vehicle systems for the attainment of a manned lunar landing and return during the fourth quarter of calendar year 1967 or before."50 The group worked from July through October, its efforts yielding a massive preliminary report in November.51

The team, often referred to as the "Golovin Committee," essayed a detailed, quantitative comparison of direct ascent with several forms of rendezvous-based missions, and each of the rendezvous missions with the others. A subcommittee under Harvey Hall, Chief of Advanced Development in NASA's Office of Launch Vehicle Programs, took charge of this phase of the study and asked each of three field centers to prepare a brief for one form of rendezvous mission. Marshall was to work on Earth orbit, Langley on lunar orbit, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on lunar surface rendezvous. The lunar surface rendezvous scheme grew out of JPL's experience in the unmanned lunar exploration program. It proposed to automatically assemble unmanned modules on the Moon; this assembly would then serve as the return vehicle for a crew carried to the Moon via direct ascent from Earth. Hall's own office furnished data for direct ascent.** 52

By mid-September, preliminary analysis strongly supported some type of rendezvous over direct ascent as the best basis for a lunar mission, though no single rendezvous scheme had a clear edge over the others. The smaller boosters that could be used in such a mission would be ready sooner, which meant more flight tests and greater reliability for less money.53 When Hall reported to the full committee on 10 October, after the field center studies were in,54 lunar surface rendezvous was out of the running and direct ascent nearly so. The choice was narrowing to rendezvous in Earth or lunar orbit, with Hall's subgroup tending to favor some combination of the two.55

This view had the full, even vigorous, support of the committee as a whole.56 In its report, the Large Launch Vehicle Planning Group, after a detailed analysis of the rival schemes, found that orbital rendezvous promised the best chance for an early lunar landing, the lunar orbit version perhaps the quickest.57 Either form of rendezvous in orbit, or some hybrid of the two, would beat a direct ascent mission to the Moon, because the smaller boosters they needed could be ready sooner.58

Despite its elaborate quantitative analysis, the Golovin Committee [69] did not have the last word in the controversy over direct ascent versus rendezvous for an early manned lunar landing. Too many questions remained open, too many answers were equivocal, pleasing neither NASA nor Defense, and the committee had failed to produce the integrated national launch vehicle program it had been created for.59 So boosters remained the first order of business.

Early in November, Milton W. Rosen, author of NASA's first launch vehicle program in 1959 and Director of Launch Vehicles and Propulsion in NASA's new Office of Manned Space Flight, set up a working group to decide on a large booster program geared to manned space flight.*** 60 Drawing on the findings of the other committees that had been chewing on the problem since May, Rosen's 12-man group was able to submit its recommendations by 20 November.61

The intense two-week study centered on the technical and operational problems posed by rendezvous. The group decided that rendezvous looked good but preferred direct ascent for the lunar mission because rendezvous was still an unknown. That was something the group insisted had to be corrected. Rendezvous had too much promise, both generally for a broad range of future missions and specifically for an early lunar landing, to permit the techniques to go on being ignored. Prudence dictated planning based on direct ascent, but "vigorous high priority rendezvous development effort must be undertaken immediately."62

November 1961 also saw the structure of NASA revamped.63 Almost eight months had gone into a reorganization of the agency to handle a program the size of Apollo. Shortly after he took over the reins as NASA's second administrator, James E. Webb, at a retreat in Luray, Virginia, on 8-10 March 1961, met with his key people from Headquarters and the field centers. Webb stated that the three top leaders of NASA would act as a team in running the agency. He and Dryden would serve as co-equals and Seamans would function as the "operating vice-president," presiding over the daily affairs of NASA. Essentially, Webb said, Dryden would be concerned with "what to do" and Seamans with "how to do it."

After the retreat, the problems of getting Apollo defined, approved, and pieces of its hardware under contract, and to acquire land suitable for the erection of development, test, and operational facilities, gave rise to a surfeit of committees to study and recommend action on one phase of the program or another. [70] By September, however, Webb knew that NASA could no longer afford to wait on committees to convene and make recommendations. He needed decision makers at the program office levels. Moreover, the field centers seemed to be competing among themselves too much. So Webb, Dryden, and Seamans searched the country for someone who could come into NASA Headquarters and take charge of Apollo and the new Office of Manned Space Flight, an offshoot of the Office of Space Programs now to be a program office in its own right. Radio Corporation of America, which had earlier sent Robert Seamans to become NASA's Associate Administrator, now furnished the Director of Manned Space Flight in the person of D. Brainerd Holmes.64

The old program offices vanished. The four new offices - Space Sciences, Advanced Research and Technology, Manned Space Flight, and Application - were not the semi-autonomous bureaus their predecessors had been nor did they retain control of the field centers. They became less operating line offices, more advising staff offices. The field centers, including the new Manned Spacecraft Center, now reported to the Associate Administrator rather than to Headquarters program officers.

These changes furthered the cause of rendezvous but delayed the Mark II project. Seamans, a longtime supporter of rendezvous, won a stronger hand in NASA programming and a useful ally in Holmes. Silverstein, most powerful of the former program directors and foremost advocate of direct ascent, left Washington. His old office was gone, and, unwilling to accept the leadership of the new Office of Manned Space Flight, he instead assumed directorship of Lewis Research Center.

STG had reported to Silverstein's office. He himself favored the Mark II project, but he also knew that he was going to be leaving Washington after the reorganization. He was understandably reluctant to commit his successor to a large new program. Holmes, who arrived at NASA Headquarters in October, had little to do with the Mark II decision, anyway. The new order left that squarely in Seamans' hands.

Although the reorganization caused some delay, a larger obstacle loomed from another quarter. NASA still depended upon the Air Force for its boosters. In November 1961, smooth progress toward using a modified Titan II in the Mark II project hit an abrupt snag. John H. Rubel, Assistant Secretary of Defense and Deputy Director of Defense Research and Engineering, informed Seamans that the Air Force was now developing a

TITAN III Standard Launch Vehicle System. This vehicle is intended to serve as the single standardized TITAN vehicle to be used in support of both NASA and DOD programs as appropriate. We expect the design to meet any or all need which NASA may have for space application of the TITAN ICBM.
[71] Rubel asked Seamans to see that all NASA studies of Titan be routed through the Air Force Systems Command, which had just begun a design analysis as the first phase of the Titan III program.65

Titan III differed from Titan II chiefly in adding two very large solid propellant rocket motors. These motors, 3 meters across, were to be strapped to a core, a much strengthened Titan II, to become in effect the booster's first stage. Their firing would carry the booster aloft, where they would be dropped and the liquid propellant engines of what had been the Titan II first stage would ignite. The much more powerful Titan III was to replace Titan II as the booster in the Air Force's Dyna-Soar program. Its use in NASA's Mark II project might further justify its development.66

That the Air Force planned to develop Titan III as a standardized vehicle to meet both its own and NASA's needs for launching payloads [72] of up to 14 000 kilograms into low-Earth orbit came as no surprise to NASA. Seamans and Rubel had discussed the project, and the Golovin Committee had endorsed it and recommended launching Mark II with the Titan III core. NASA's response, at first favorable, had since cooled. By November 1961, NASA officials evinced little desire to adopt Titan III for any program, least of all Mark II.67 This may have been the real source of friction. NASA had expected to use a modified Titan II in the Mark II project, but Rubel's letter implied that the Titan III core was what NASA would get, like it or not. Not only was the reinforced core likely to be too heavy, but the central logic of the Mark II project demanded that it be done quickly because any delay raised the prospect of conflict with Apollo. Titan III development meant a major new program, which could hardly be completed in time to meet the tight Mark II schedule.68

The Department of Defense countered by claiming that the modifications NASA wanted in Titan II - lengthened tanks and redundant systems - also implied a new development program. This version of Titan II was now unofficially labeled Titan II-. Efforts to resolve this impasse led to a top-level meeting of NASA and Defense officials on 16 November. They decided to recall the Large Launch Vehicle Planning Group expressly to study the place of Titan III in the long-term national launch vehicle program and to decide whether the Mark II project really needed Titan II-.69 The order went out two days later, and the planning group reconvened on 20 November.70

When the Golovin Committee had finished its brief but intense study, Seamans and Rubel agreed that the Department of Defense should go ahead with Titan III. Titan II- they deemed unnecessary. The Mark II project could be adequately served by "TITAN II missiles, virtually unmodified"; the only changes to be permitted were those that mechanically adapted the booster to the spacecraft and others "specifically aimed at and limited to the marriage of payload and launch vehicle." Major changes in structure or tankage, or "the addition of new or the extensive modification of existing subsystems internal to the missile," were specifically excluded.71

Although NASA failed to get the lengthened tanks and redundant systems it wanted in Titan II, it did get Titan II. Until the day Rubel and Seamans made these recommendations, even that issue was in doubt. But, with the decision of 5 December, the last obstacle to the approval of Mark II vanished. And, as events were soon as show, NASA was not going to have to make do with "TITAN II missiles, virtually unmodified."

Seamans' approval of Mark II took the form of a note at the foot of a three-page memorandum from Holmes' Office of Manned Space Flight on 6 December, which offered a concise statement of Chamberlin's project development plan. [73] The statement identified the development of rendezvous techniques as "the primary objective of the Mark II project," with long-duration flights, controlled land landing, and astronaut training as "important secondary objectives." It went beyond Chamberlin's plan to point out that rendezvous would permit manned lunar landing to be achieved more quickly and that rendezvous took on special importance when it became part of the lunar landing maneuver itself, an oblique reference to the lunar orbit rendezvous scheme.

Holmes asked for $75.8 million from current fiscal year 1962 funds to start the project at once and promised a formal project development plan in short order. Seamans wrote "Approved" and signed it on 7 December 1961.72 The promised plan appeared the next day. Only the date on the cover and title page distinguished it from the plan of 27 October, copies of which now bore a large red "PRELIMINARY" stamp.73On 3 January 1962, NASA unveiled the first pictures of the new spacecraft and announced that it had been christened Gemini.74


* Serving under Golovin and Kavanau were Eldon Hall, Harvey Hall, Milton W. Rosen, Kurt R. Stehling, and William A. Wolman (NASA Headquarters); Warren H. Amster and Edward J. Barlow (Aerospace); Aleck C. Bond (STG); Seymour C. Himmel (Lewis); Wilson Schramm and Francis L. Williams (Marshall); Colonel Mathew R. Collins (Army); Rear Admiral Levering Smith and Captain Lewis J. Stecher, Jr. (Navy); and Colonel Otto J. Glaser, Lieutenant Colonel David L. Carter, and Heinrich J. Weigand (Air Force).

** John Houbolt was technical supervisor of Langley's effort; Peter deFries, of Marshall's; and John W. Small, Jr., of JPL's.

*** Rosen's group began with Richard Canright, Eldon Hall, Elliott Mitchell, Norman Rafel, Melvyn Savage, Adelbert O. Tischler, and John Disher, of NASA Headquarters; and William A. Mrazek, Hans H. Maus, and James B. Bramlet, of Marshall, who were soon joined by David M. Hammock of MSC.


49 Letter, James E. Webb to Robert S. McNamara, 7 July 1961, with enclosure, memo, Seamans to Adm., "Planning of a DOD-NASA Program for Development of Large Launch Vehicles," 7 July 1961; letter, McNamara to Webb, 7 July 1961.

50 Memo, Golovin to members of the DOD-NASA Large Launch Vehicle Planning Group (LLVPG), "Agenda - First Meeting," 20 July 1961.

51 [Nicholas E. Golovin et al.], draft of final report of LLVPG, ca. November 1961 (see memo, Milton W. Rosen to D. Brainerd Holmes, "Recommendations for NASA Manned Space Flight Vehicle Program," 20 Nov. 1961); [Golovin et al.], "Final Report: NASA-DOD Large Launch Vehicle Planning Group," 3 vols., NASA-DOD LLVPG 105, 1 Feb. 1962. Still a third report, [Golovin et al.], "Summary Report: NASA-DOD Large Launch Vehicle Planning Group," under the same number was issued 24 Sept. 1962.

52 TWX, Harvey Hall to Dirs., Marshall, Langley, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), No. 128, 24 Aug. 1961; TWX, Hall to John W. Small, Jr., et al., 14 Sept. 1961; memo, Hall to LLVPG staff, "Compairson [sic] of Mission Alternatives (Rendezvous versus direct flight)," 14 Sept. 1961; "Minutes of special JPL presentation [to LLVPG] on the lunar mission, August 3, 1961"; "System Considerations for the Manned Lunar Landing Program," JPL Technical Manual TM 33-52, 3 Aug. 1961; "Man-to-the-Moon and Return Mission Utilizing Lunar-Surface Rendezvous," JPL TM 33-53, 3 Aug. 1961.

53 Memo, Warren H. Amster to LLVPG staff, "A Federated Launch Vehicle Program," 18 Sept. 1961.

54 "Orbital Operations Preliminary Project Development Plan," compiled by MSFC Committee for Orbital Operations, P. J. deFries, chairman, 15 Sept. 1961; letter, Wernher von Braun to Harvey Hall, 15 Sept. 1961; John C. Houbolt et al., "Technical Problems of Lunar Orbit Rendezvous," unpubl. papers, draft dated September 1961; JPL contributed three papers prepared under contract: "The Lunar Surface Rendezvous Technique for Manned Lunar Landing and Return," JPL 950163, Space Technology Laboratories, Inc., 8634-0001-RC-000, 2 Oct. 1961; "Lunar Surface Assembly Techniques, A Preliminary Study of Refueling for the Lunar Surface Rendezvous," JPL 950167, Nucleonics Laboratory of Hughes Aircraft Co. FD-61-401, 2 Oct. 1961; "Analysis of a Lunar Surface Rendezvous Mission," JPL 960165, Space Craft, Inc., October 1961. (See "LLVPG Final Report," III, pp. VI-87, -88.)

55 James F. Chalmers, LLVPG secretary, "Minutes of General Meeting, 10 October 1961," pp. 3-4.

56 Chalmers, "Minutes of a General Meeting, 23 October 1961."

57 "LLVPG Final Report," III, chap. VI.

58 Ibid., III, IX-8; Edward H. Kolcum, "Rendezvous Is Urged for Moon Flight," Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6 Nov. 1961, pp. 26-27.

59 For an assessment of the Golovin Committee and its results, see John M. Logsdon, "NASA's Implementation of the Lunar Landing Decision," NASA HHN-81, September 1968, pp. 32-33.

60 Memo, Rosen to Holmes, "Large Launch Vehicle Program," 6 Nov. 1961.

61 Rosen memo, 20 Nov. 1961, with enclosure, "Report of Combined Working Group on Vehicles for Manned Space Flight," n.d.

62 "Report of Combined Working Group."

63 Robert L. Rosholt, An Administrative History of NASA, 1958-1963, NASA SP-4101 (Washington, l966), pp. 198-211.

64 Ibid., pp. 221-27; letter, Seamans to Holmes, 25 Oct. 1961.

65 Letter, John H. Rubel to Seamans, 7 Nov. 1961.

66 "LLVPG Final Report," III, p. IX-23.

67 Letter, Rubel to Eugene M. Emme, 12 Aug. 1969; memo, Max Rosenberg to NASA Historian, "Comments on Draft Chapter I-V and XIII-XV, Gemini History," 26 June 1970, with enclosure, "NASA Draft Gemini History, Comments on Chapters 1-V; XIII-XV," n.d.

68 Memo, William A. Fleming to Assoc. Adm., "Critique on Rubel letter, dated October 20, 1961, to Seamans," 27 Oct.1961; Chamberlin comments, 26 March 1974.

69 Letter, McNamara to Webb, 17 Nov. 1961; letter, Webb to McNamara, 28 Nov. 1961.

70 Memo, Rubel and Seamans to Dir. and Dep. Dir., LLVPG, "Request to Reconvene the Large Launch Vehicle Planning Group." 18 Nov. 1961; Chalmers, "Minutes of the Meeting of Monday November 20, 1961."

71 Memo, Rubel and Seamans to Sec. of Defense and NASA Adm., "Recommendations Relative to TITAN III and TITAN II-," 5 Dec. 1961.

72 Memo, Holmes to Assoc. Adm., "Mark II Preliminary Project Development Plan," 6 Dec. 1961, with Seamans approval, dated 7 Dec. 1961.

73 "Project Development Plan for Rendezvous Development Utilizing the Mark II Two Man Spacecraft," MSC, 8 Dec. 1961.

74 U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Science and Astronautics, Astronautical and Aeronautical Events of 1962: Report, 88th Cong., 1st sess., 12 June 1962, p. 1.


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