URSAM Makes Its Debut

In August 1962, a Launch Operations Center committee asked the Corps of Engineers to select an architect-engineering firm to complete the criteria for the vertical assembly building, or the VAB as it came to be called. The Corps formed a selection board representing its South Atlantic, Southeastern, North Atlantic, and North Central Divisions, as well as the Jacksonville District Office. The selection board submitted a list of five firms. From these the Chief of Engineers selected a New York combine made up of a quartet of companies - Max Urbahn (architectural); Roberts and Schaefer (structural); Seelye, Stevenson, Value and Knecht (civil, mechanical, and electrical); and Moran, Proctor, Mueser and Rutledge (foundations).2 From the first name in each of the company names - Urbahn, Roberts, Seelye, and Moran - came a new acronym, URSAM.

The idea for the joint venture emerged in early 1962 when Max Urbahn and Anton Tedesko, of Roberts and Schaefer, discussed the possibility of designing the lunar launch center in Florida. Tedesko had directed the design of launch complex 36, the basic plans for the Minuteman facilities, and facilities at Chanute and Vandenberg Air Force Bases. Urbahn's firm, working in joint ventures with Seelye, Stevenson, Value and Knecht, had designed the intercontinental missile launching station at Presque Isle. Urbahn and Tedesko invited A. Wilson Knecht to join them; and Philip C. Rutledge of Moran, Proctor, Mueser and Rutledge, a firm that had designed foundations for more than forty projects in Florida, became the fourth partner.3

By March 1962 the combine had organized as URSAM. Although essential aspects of the Apollo launch facilities were yet to be determined, Urbahn and his associates set out to prove they could do a superior job in designing any concept ultimately selected. During the next five months, URSAM furthered its cause in a series of exploratory discussions at the Cape, Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Huntsville. On 10 August the Corps of Engineers asked the firm for a proposal on VAB design work. If URSAM's presentation appeared satisfactory, the Corps was prepared to offer the combine a criteria contract. Beyond that lay the possibility of the design contract. Shortly after the presentation in Jacksonville, URSAM received word that it had won a $99,000 criteria contract.4

In a day-long orientation session held at the Launch Operations Center in late August, 21 persons, representing the Launch Operations Center, URSAM, the Corps of Engineers, and such contractors as Douglas Aircraft, were introduced to the projected building program.5 Col. Clarence Bidgood of NASA Launch Operations Facilities opened the session with a discussion of the requirements of the VAB. Fie stressed practicality, insisted that a large portion of the criteria was available, and requested an early decision on the arrangement of the high bays: Should they be back-to-back or inline? R. P. Dodd, of the LOC Facilities Branch, explained the basic premises of the VAB design. He said that initially the building would have four high bays. No hazardous operations, such as propellant loading or simulated altitude testing, would take place in the building. N. Gerstenzang, also of LOC's Facilities Branch, outlined the format of the criteria book; R. H. Summarl of Douglas Aircraft discussed upper-stage checkout; and James H. Deese of Facilities Engineering gave a technical report that included wind loads on the VAB and the launch umbilical tower.

Gerstenzang set up a proposed work schedule from 3 September through 20 October and established 1 January 1963 as the date for foundation bids. He insisted that NASA wanted a free interchange of ideas directly with the architect-engineers during the criteria stage, with the Corps of Engineers as observer and monitor to assist in removing bottlenecks. He requested that the first man in Florida be a soils man from Moran, Proctor, Mueser and Rutledge, the foundations company of the URSAM combine.6

After winning the criteria contract, URSAM directors hired retired Col. William D. Alexander as project manager to coordinate the work and ensure firm adherence to schedules. Alexander had served as Chief of Facilities Design for the Air Force's Ballistic Missile Program in his last assignment. He took charge of the VAB design project when a 16-man team from URSAM began work at Cape Canaveral on 10 September 1962. The first major decision called for a back-to-back placement of the four bays. [see chapter 6-5]

On 17 September representatives of the Manned Spacecraft Center met with URSAM personnel to establish their guidelines for the VAB. They discussed the number of platforms, the size of the crew to work on each level, and the need for a dust-free room, called a white room. Three work levels would probably be needed, with 40 persons at each working level. The power requirements for the command module and the service module would be the same as in LC-34 and LC-37, but the requirements for the lunar excursion module would be double that of the service module. Houston wanted to bring representatives of North American into the discussion so that they would understand the anticipated checkout procedures.7

URSAM prepared preliminary draft criteria for the vertical assembly building based upon rough notes, sketches, and abstracts, which included a description of primary and supporting functions of the project, the estimated total number of occupants, functional flow lists of equipment, and the description of utility requirements within and adjacent to the VAB. When URSAM released this draft on 24 September, Bidgood's office immediately solicited comments from all agencies of the Launch Operations Center, as well as related offices at Huntsville.8

On 22 October 1962, URSAM submitted a 96-page report of descriptive material and 54 drawings, along with two scale models. Included were estimates of what each component would cost and when the bills would come due. URSAM sent copies to NASA Headquarters, LOC, the Corps of Engineers, Marshall Space Flight Center, and the Manned Spacecraft Center. During the following month, many individuals of the Launch Operations Center offered criticisms, pointed out problem areas, and recommended changes.9

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