A Marriage of Convenience

At this point the Army had a Saturn vehicle for which it was seeking a mission, and NASA had a mission for which it was seeking a vehicle. A marriage of convenience was indicated. Dr. T. Keith Glennan, first NASA administrator, had attempted to bring half of the von Braun team into his new organization on 15 October 1958. Secretary of the Army Wilbur Brucker and General Medaris successfully rebuffed that effort; the Army still had military projects to supervise (Jupiter and Pershing) and did not want to break up the von Braun team. Brucker suggested, as a compromise, that NASA place a liaison group at Huntsville and plan to use the Redstone Arsenal facilities for certain programs. Coveting the Saturn program, NASA accepted Brucker's proposal as the best of a bad bargain. In January 1959, ARPA and NASA representatives established a National Space Program. NASA would concentrate on smaller vehicles while the Defense Department developed larger ones including the Saturn. Although this understanding appeared to secure a role for Saturn, it actually spelled trouble for ABMA. The Huntsville organization had hoped that NASA would provide financial assistance for Saturn since the new space agency would likely use the big booster. NASA, however, unable to direct the Saturn program, refused to underwrite any of its costs.18

Saturn's prospects worsened after a key Defense Department official opposed the Army program. In the spring of 1959, Dr. Herbert F. York, newly appointed Deputy Secretary for Research and Engineering, assigned responsibility for future military space activities to the Air Force. Having previously disclaimed any Defense interest in moon exploration, York in April indicated a desire to cancel the Saturn.* He could see no military justification for the big rocket. ARPA, perhaps influenced by York, suspended studies of the second stage on 31 July, directing ABMA to conduct a new series of cost and time estimates based on a 4-meter Titan. The larger Titan offered several advantages, including compatibility with the Air Force DynaSoar, a manned space-glider program.19

Two decisions in September reaffirmed the Saturn program. An ARPA-NASA Large Booster Review Committee, after examining Army, Air Force, and industry programs, recommended the clustered Saturn booster as "the quickest and surest way to attain a large space booster capability in the million-pound thrust [4,448,000-newton] class."20 York and Dr. Hugh Dryden, NASA's Deputy Administrator, reached a similar conclusion in their comparison of the Saturn and the Air Force's Titan C proposal. (The latter would have employed a cluster of upgraded Titan I engines to provide a thrust comparable to the Saturn.)21 The York-Dryden committee also recommended that ABMA conduct a new study of second and third stages.

ABMA presented a second Saturn systems study to a Defense Department conference in Washington 29-30 October 1959. The report offered four alternative configurations, ranging from a Titan second stage and Centaur third stage to an optimum vehicle with a new 5.6-meter-diameter conventional second stage (burning RP-1), a new hydrogen-fueled third stage, and a Centaur fourth stage. Knowledge that President Eisenhower had decided to transfer Saturn and the Development Operations Division to NASA lessened the study's impact. After assuming technical direction of the Saturn in November, NASA initiated still another study of upper stages. Dr. Abe Silverstein, NASA's Director of Space Flight Development, headed a committee representing the Air Force, NASA, ARPA, and ABMA.22

* In a letter to the authors, York elaborated on his motivation. In early 1959 York viewed the U.S. space program as a "mess" and thought the transfer to NASA of the von Braun team and its big booster would improve matters. Neither the Army nor the Navy needed large rockets, and the Air Force was developing the Titan. NASA, on the other hand, required large boosters in future space programs. York wrote, "While ARPA did have other legitimate roles in Defense R&D, I concluded it was really just one more unnecessary layer in the management of large rocket and space programs, and so I recommended its role in Space be cancelled."

18. Medaris, Countdown, pp. 241-47; Eugene Emme, "Historical Perspectives on Apollo," NASA Historical Note 75 (Oct. 1967), pp. 14-17.

19. Medaris, Countdown, pp. 247-69.

20. Emme, "Historical Perspectives," p. 17.

21. Medaris, Countdown, pp. 262-66; ABMA, Saturn System Study II, pp. 1-2.

22. AOMC, Saturn System Study II, pp. 5-10; Report to the Administrator, NASA, on Saturn Development Plan by Saturn Vehicle Team, 15 Dec. 1959, p. 1.

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