Running the New Project

Informal working arrangements and ad hoc groups had carried the Mark II project through its formative stages and handled the first steps in putting it under contract. But something more settled would be needed to oversee the future career of Gemini. By the end of December 1961, a Gemini Project Office was taking shape, though without official status as yet.23 Its first report,* issued on 5 January 1962, was little more than an educated guess at potential problems in meeting Gemini launch schedules. Original launch dates were revised, with the first flight optimistically set for late July or early August 1963 (instead of May). One notable, but unremarked, change spaced the first, second, and third launches only six weeks apart - mid-September for the second, late October or early November for the third - while the remaining flights remained at two-month intervals. Since hard data for real analysis did not yet exist, the report did little more than point up the need for placing subcontracts promptly.24

Setting up the project office was only part of the complicated task of reorganizing the Manned Spacecraft Center and moving it from Virginia to Texas. On 15 January 1962, Director Gilruth announced the formation of separate Mercury, Apollo Spacecraft, and Gemini Project Offices.25 The old Engineering Division was abolished, its staff divided between the new Gemini and Mercury offices. Chamberlin, former head of Engineering and prime mover of the Mark II project, took over as Manager of Project Gemini. Kenneth S. Kleinknecht, Gilruth's technical assistant, became head of the Mercury Project Office (then in the throes of trying to launch John Glenn into orbit aboard Mercury-Atlas 6, an event that took place on 20 February).26 Chamberlin's deputies separated - William Bland remained with the ongoing Mercury program and André Meyer moved into Gemini with Chamberlin. [81] Meyer recalled that he and Kleinknecht "split the Engineering Division in half. Just about as evenly as we could split it, put half the talent in one group and half the talent in the other group . . . just the two of us sitting across a desk and arguing - 'No, I don't want this man.' 'We want this man.'"

Gemini came out of these sessions with a roster of 44, Mercury with one of 42.** The 18-person staff of MSC's liaison office at the McDonnell plant in St. Louis, headed by Wilbur H. Gray, was assigned to Gemini but served both projects. Meyer took over as chief of project administration in the new office with a staff of 10. The other members of the project office were temporarily grouped in spacecraft management, launch vehicles integration, and flight operations support.27

The first members of what was to become the Gemini Project Office (GPO) arrived in Houston during December 1961; the transfer was largely complete by February 1962. Gemini was among the first MSC elements to be resettled in Houston, once it was fully divorced from Mercury. Meyer's chief task during this period was to recruit, interview, and hire people to fill out the project office, specifically seeking experts with at least ten years' experience in each of the essential disciplines required to manage work on both spacecraft and launch vehicles. This was the central function of the project office: to plan, direct, and coordinate all aspects of the Gemini program and, more specifically, to see that Gemini contractors produced systems that allowed the program to meet its objectives. GPO enjoyed a degree of autonomy that permitted Chamberlin to deal directly with McDonnell and Air Force Space Systems Division. He reported only to MSC Director Gilruth, and that was chiefly a matter of keeping Gilruth informed on the status of the project.28

One of Chamberlin's first concerns was choosing his key staff members. He had Meyer, but for his other two chief lieutenants he turned to the Astronautics Division of General Dynamics Corporation, in San Diego. When interviews with Duncan R. Collins and Willis B. Mitchell, Jr., convinced Chamberlin that these were the men he needed, he got NASA Headquarters to approve his choice, a necessary step because both Mitchell and Collins were appointed at salaries above civil-service levels - so-called excepted positions. Collins became spacecraft systems manager and Mitchell launch vehicle systems manager. Mitchell also took over most of the personnel and functions of "flight operations support" when that branch of the project office quietly disappeared.29

[82] When GPO officially settled in Houston in March 1962, the Manned Spacecraft Center was an organization without a home. Plans were under way for building a physical plant for the new center at the Clear Lake site south of Houston, but during most of its first two years MSC was housed in rented buildings (eventually a total of 13) scattered over much of the city and at Ellington Air Force Base, about halfway between Houston and Clear Lake. GPO, minus its manager, was installed in offices at the Houston Petroleum Center, a sprawling set of one-story buildings just off the Gulf Freeway. Chamberlin's desk was some distance away on the other side of the Freeway in the Farnsworth & Chambers building, which served as MSC's interim headquarters.30 Such mundane matters as getting from one office to another, phoning a colleague, or even finding a desk complicated life but scarcely slowed the pace of the program.

Coordination meetings between GPO and its prime contractors were already beginning.31 These meetings were Gemini's central management device. Chamberlin and Meyer set up six coordination panels, three for the spacecraft - mechanical systems, electrical systems, and flight operation - and one each for paraglider, Atlas-Agena, and Titan II. The panels provided a setting where design and engineering problems could be talked out and settled as they arose. They also helped to short-circuit such complex chains of command as might have slowed, for example, the target vehicle program, in which GPO had to deal with Marshall, the Air Force, and Lockheed - spokesmen for each sat on the panel and were able to resolve problems with far greater dispatch than might otherwise have been possible. Panel membership was not fixed, but shifted with items on the agenda for each meeting. But the essential experts were permanent, and outside help could be called in as needed.

Decisions reached at each panel meeting, usually once a week, were submitted to Chamberlin. They could be implemented only after he or Meyer had signed the minutes. This had the double advantage of letting those most familiar with the specific problems work out the technical details and, at the same time, keeping the project manager fully informed about what was going on. These coordination meetings remained the heart of the day-to-day decision-making process throughout Gemini's developmental phase. The number of panels grew as problems mounted and new areas needed closer attention. Later in the program, panels concerned mainly with development programs tended to give way to panels oriented more toward operations. At the same time, panels met less often, since there were fewer technical problems to reconcile as development faded into production and operation.32

GPO's function was to manage Project Gemini, not to build spacecraft or boosters. [83] That was the task of the contractors who, early in 1962, were gearing up for their part.


* Compiled principally by Nicholas Jevas and William C. Muhly, scheduling specialists who had worked on the project development plan.

** The division was actually 43 and 43; Walter J. Kapryan, in charge of engineering at Cape Canaveral, was transferred to Gemini on paper but was assigned full–time to Mercury until further notice.


23 Purser memo, 18 Dec. 1961.

24 "Project Gemini Schedule Analysis," GPO, 5 Jan. 1962.

25 MSC Announcements Nos. 8, 9,and 10, "Establishment of Gemini Project Office," "Establishment of Mercury Project Office," "Establishment of Apollo Spacecraft Project Office," 15 Jan. 1962; letter, Bailey to McDonnell, "Amendment No. 1 to Letter Contract NAS 9-170," 16 Jan. 1962.

26 MSC Announcement No. 12, "Personnel Assignments for Mercury and Gemini Project Offices," 31 Jan. 1962; "MSC Reorganization Plans Released; Many Changes," MSC Space News Roundup, 24 Jan. 1962.

27 "Personnel Assignments for Mercury and Gemini Project Offices"; André J. Meyer, Jr., interview, Houston, 9 Jan. 1967; memo, Meyer to Historical Office, "Comment on draft chapters of Gemini narrative history," 5 June 1969.

28 MSC Announcement No. 21, "Relocation of Manned Spacecraft Center Headquarters," 26 Feb. 1962; Bailey letter, 16 Jan. 1962; Meyer memo, 5 June 1969.

29 Letter, Thomas F. Dixon to Gilruth, 28 March 1962, with enclosure, Memorandum from the Administrator, "Establishment of positions and personnel under authority of Public Law 85-568, as amended," 23 March 1962, signed by Dryden; see "Telephone Directory, Manned Spacecraft Center," 15 Aug. 1962, for outline of Gemini Project Office divisions and positions, pp. xii-xiii.

30 Brochure, "Manned Spacecraft Center, Houston, Texas: Interim Facilities," as of 1 Aug. 1962.

31 TWX, Chamberlin to Dir., "Report of Activities for the Week Ending March 3, 1962," 5 March 1962; memo, Chamberlin to Dir., "Report of Activities for the week ending March 10, 1962," 12 March 1962.

32 Richard L. McCreight, "Minutes of . . . McDonnell Coordination Meeting, February 19, 21, and 23, 1962," 26 Feb.1962; McCreight, "Minutes of NASA Project Office - McDonnell Coordination Meeting, Feb. 27, 28, 1962," 6 March 1962; Meyer interview; Willis B. Mitchell, Jr., interview, Houston, 13 Nov. 1970; TWX, John Y. Brown to MSC, Attn: Bailey, "Contract NAS 9-170, Gemini Project," 16-DAH-1090, 9 Aug. 1962.


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