Tightening Launch Schedules

The revised flight program of April 1963 had projected the first manned mission, Gemini 3, for October 1964. But as 1964 approached, that prospect was dimming. The first Gemini flight was held up by the late delivery and protracted testing of its booster, and Spacecraft 2 was falling behind schedule at the McDonnell plant. Efforts to install spacecraft test and checkout equipment at the launch site in Florida moved slowly enough to suggest that time might be too short there as well. The already certain delay of the first mission, added to the all-too-likely chance that the second would also be late, made the prospects for launching Gemini 3 in 1964 look poor.69

At a meeting on 13 November 1963, the Gemini Management Panel* decided that the program's current schedule needed rethinking. The key question was just how much spacecraft and booster testing had to be repeated at the Cape to ensure a successful mission. Two panel members, MSC Gemini Program Manager Charles Mathews and [191] Space Systems Division launch vehicle chief Richard Dineen, set up an ad hoc study of work plans and schedules aimed at seeing men in orbit via Gemini before the end of 1964. Mathews reported the findings to the panel at its next meeting, 13 December 1963. Gemini 3 could he launched in November 1964 by cutting down spacecraft testing at the Cape that merely repeated work already performed in St. Louis and by better integrating the entire checkout effort. Launch-vehicle testing was already fairly well meshed between Baltimore and the Cape and needed only to be smoothed out.70

Spacecraft checkout procedures were altered sharply "to get a complete working spacecraft out of the McDonnell plant." All testing in St. Louis, along with whatever manufacturing tasks were left after systems testing began, was to be modeled on Cape practice. This meant that the McDonnell test crew had to be retrained. John J. Williams, Assistant Manager for Gemini of MSC Florida Operations,** took a Launch Preparation Group of 200 people, drawn from both NASA and McDonnell, to spend nearly nine months in St. Louis. They thoroughly revamped the testing process, training the St. Louis crew and actually checking out the second and third Gemini spacecraft. About half the group returned to the Cape with Spacecraft 2 in September 1964, and the rest stayed until Spacecraft 3 was ready in January 1965. The retrained McDonnell crew took over when Spacecraft 4 began systems testing. Basic to the new process was cutting down on repeated testing. Once a subsystem had been tested, it would take its proper place in the spacecraft and stay there. No longer was the spacecraft to be taken apart after it reached the Cape, tested, and put together again. Systems were to be rechecked, of course, but only as part of the complete spacecraft, not as individual pieces.71

The booster offered fewer problems in meeting Gemini schedules. Aside from efforts to speed up work on GLV-1, already at the Cape, the only major step was to strike flight readiness firing from the test program planned for the first three launch vehicles. With spacecraft checkout streamlined and booster testing smoothed out, GPO looked forward to getting back in step with the April 1963 schedule, even though the first flight was now going to be about three months late. The eight months that had been allowed between the first two flights was cut to five, with Gemini 2 only a month behind schedule, in August instead of July 1964. By then keeping to the three months between later flights, the first manned mission could be launched in November, a month late, but still in 1964.72

* MSC Director Robert Gilruth had formed the panel in October 1962 to deal with managerial and technical problems. It brought together the heads of the organization in charge of Gemini - from NASA, the Air Force, and major contractors.

** On 30 March 1964, Gilruth announced that the Preflight Operations Division had become an autonomous unit known as MSC Florida Operations. Directed by G. Merritt Preston, the group would perform much the same duties as it had in Mercury. The only major change would be the participation in testing at McDonnell.

69 "The First Gemini Executives Meeting," 27 March 1964, Tab C, "Problems - April 63 Plan," and "Manned Space Flight Schedule: Schedule Trend, First Gemini Manned Flight"; Quarterly Status Report No. 8, pp. 80-81.

70 Letters, Walter C. Williams to Burke, Funk, and von Braun, 12 Oct. 1962, with enclosure, "Draft Outline: Project Gemini Management Panel"; Purser, "Management Panel Meeting, November 13, 1963," pp. 3-4; Purser, "Minutes of Project Gemini Management Panel Meeting . . . , December 13, 1963," pp. 2-6.

71 Zavasky, "Minutes of Senior Staff Meeting, November 22, 1963," p.5; Purser, "Management Panel Meeting, December 13, 1963," pp. 5-6; Quarterly Status Report No. 8, pp. 79-80; Zavasky, "Minutes of Senior Staff Meeting, February 28, 1964," p. 6; Lewis R. Fisher, interview, Houston, 24 March 1966; John F. Yardley, interview, St. Louis, 13 April 1966; John J. Williams, interview, Cape Kennedy, Fla., 24 May 1967; MSC News Release 64-62, 30 March 1964; "MSC-Florida Operations Reorganization Announced," MSC Space News Roundup, 15 April 1964; G. Merritt Preston, interview, Cape Kennedy, 24 May 1967; Scott H. Simpkinson, telephone interview, 13 Aug. 1971; memo, Charles W. Mathews to Mgr., MSC-Florida Operations, "Letter of appreciation," GT-05241, 12 Nov. 1964; Yardley, "Spacecraft Check-Out," in "Gemini/Apollo Executives Meeting," 27-28 Jan. 1967, p. F-1; Mathews, "Gemini Summary," ibid., pp. G-3,

72 Purser, "Management Panel Meeting, December 13, 1963,"p. 2, Fig. 2-4; TWX, Mathews to Robert C. Seamans, Jr., GPO-52159-LV, 6 Dec. 1963; "Abstract of Meeting [on] Schedule Review of Gemini Launch Vehicle, November 27, 1963," 2 Dec. 1963; "Manned Flight Schedule: Master Launch Schedule," as of 24 Dec. 1963; "First Gemini Executives Meeting," Tab C, "Features of Dec 63 Plan."

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