Missions for Saturn

In the fall of 1958, the Army Ballistic Missile Agency's Missile Firing Laboratory (MFL), after five years at Cape Canaveral, was concluding its Redstone research and development program; the launch on 5 November was the last in a series of 38. A parallel program, training field artillery units to launch Redstone, was also nearing completion. With Redstone attaining operational status, MFL's Cape activities would center around Jupiter launches and the preparation of Pershing facilities. Big on the horizon was its greatest challenge - Saturn. Although Defense Department officials had approved the Saturn rocket and its Cape Canaveral launch site, wheels at Washington would grind another 18 months before the program was (to indulge in government jargon) finalized. The rocket teams at Huntsville and Cape Canaveral had to work, if not in the dark, at least in a twilight zone where there were few certainties. What was the United States going to do in space? What part would the Saturn have in the space program? What governmental agency would handle its development? How much money would be available? It was the beginning of the if-and-when planning that would bedevil the program for five years.

Even as initially set up by General Medaris and Roy Johnson, the project was dotted with question marks. Some were in the technological area, involving the working out of the overly simplified reference in the Medaris-Johnson pact to "booster flights which, without sophisticated upper stages, would be capable of placing limited payloads in orbit" (page 2). More questions developed from the involved process of transferring the Saturn project from the Army to NASA. In 1958, the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was dealing with the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) concerning the Development Operations Division's Saturn, and its Missile Firing Laboratory's Saturn launch facilities. By 1960 NASA'S Office of Launch Vehicle Programs was handling the same subject matter with the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) and its Launch Operations Directorate (LOD). All of this called for much clearing of the lines of authority.

Meanwhile, the space experts debated the use of the new booster in multistage vehicles. In December 1958, with Saturn still an Army project, ARPA ordered ABMA to study future Saturn configurations with second and third stages. Herman Koelle, chief of the Future Projects Office, directed a task group in an examination of 1375 configurations during the next three months. The study concluded that a modified version of the Atlas, the 3-meter-diameter Titan, or the 4-meter Titan could be used as a second stage on top of the Saturn booster already on the drawing boards at Huntsville. The Centaur was recommended as the logical choice for the third stage.* An ARPA evaluation committee, composed of NASA and Defense Department members, accepted the study findings and selected the 3-meter Titan for the second stage. In May 1959, ABMA was directed to develop the three-stage Saturn.14

Within days after completing the Saturn systems study, the Koelle group was attempting to devise an appropriate mission for the super-rocket. A 24-hour communications satellite, the only firm requirement for Saturn, did not justify ABMA's large expenditures. Koelle's answer was Project Horizon, a plan to place a military colony on the moon. The summary of the five-volume Horizon study appeared in June 1959. The report proposed a manned lunar landing in 1965, with establishment of a 12-man lunar outpost the following year. As logistical support for a lunar base would require the launching of 64 Saturns annually, approval of the Horizon project would secure ABMA's position for at least a decade.15

While ABMA and the Army examined ways to employ the Saturn, NASA was drawing up its own plans for programs beyond Mercury.** Suggestions included an earth-orbiting manned space station, manned circumlunar flights, manned lunar landings, and ultimately interplanetary flights.

NASA appointed the Research Steering Committee on Manned Space Flight, chaired by Harry J. Goett of Ames Research Center, to study those suggestions. On 25 May 1959, the committee recommended manned interplanetary travel as NASA's ultimate goal. As a more immediate objective, some members wanted manned flights around the moon; others wanted to land on the moon. George Low of Space Flight Development strongly urged the latter objective. He believed that, among other advantages, Congress would more readily fund this package. He further urged using existing vehicles, such as the Army's Saturn booster, rather than developing a completely new and larger launch vehicle. 16

Meanwhile, NASA'S Office of Program Planning and Evaluation, under the direction of Dr. Homer Joe Stewart, whose specific task was to formulate an overall program, set up a Long Range Objectives and Program Planning Committee. With the assistance of the Goett Committee, the Planning Committee submitted a working draft on 1 June 1959, spelling out the problems, costs, and equipment required for landing one or two men on the moon and returning them safely to earth after a period of exploration.17

* The Air Force began work on the Titan I missile in May 1955 as a backup to the Atlas. The missile was 30 meters long, burned LOX and RP-1, and relied on radio guidance. It first flew at AMR on 5 Feb. 1959. The Centaur, the earliest hydrogen fueled stage, was built by Convair and achieved 133,440 newtons (30,000 pounds of thrust).

** Mercury was the first U.S. manned spaceflight program. Its objectives - orbital flight and successful recovery of a manned satellite, and a study of man's capabilities in a space environment were achieved in a series of flights, 1961-63. See Loyd S. Swenson, Jr., James M. Grimwood, and Charles C. Alexander, This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury, NASA SP-4201 (Washington. 1966).

14. AOMC, Saturn System Study, pp. 4-5, 21; AOMC, Saturn System Study II, report DSP-TM-13-59 (Redstone Arsenal, AL, 13 Nov. 1959), pp. 1-2.

15. Dept. of the Army, Project Horizon, A U.S. Army Study for the Establishment of a Lunar Military Outpost, I, Summary (Redstone Arsenal, AL, 8 June 1959).

16. Minutes, NASA Research Steering Committee on Manned Space Flight (the Goett Committee), 25-26 May 1959, pp. 2-10, NASA Hq. History Office. The authors wish to thank historian Thomas Ray of NASA Hq. for assistance on this subject.

17. NASA Hq. working draft, "Long Range Objectives," 1 June 1959, NASA Hq. History Office.

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