Familial and Personal Tensions

The move of Hans Gruene's launch vehicle team and Theodor Poppel's design group in 1964 and 1965 brought about 1,000 families from Alabama to Brevard County. Except for 40 Boeing families, newly arrived in Alabama, most had lived for some time in the Huntsville area. In spite of the best efforts of the Community Impact Committee to provide information about Florida's east coast, relocation proved difficult for many of the newcomers. The families settling in the Titusville area found no large shopping center closer than Orlando. Titusville had only one small department store. Sears and Penney's would arrive three years later, in response to the rapid population growth.49

To provide a place where all could come together on occasion for relaxation, a group of employees developed a recreation area five kilometers east of Highway 3 on KSC, halfway between headquarters and the residential area farther south on Merritt Island. Situated on the west bank of the Banana River, with 762 meters of shore line and a boat basin, the tract, one kilometer square, boasted a setting of live oak, palm, persimmon, and pine trees, and provided playgrounds, picnic areas, and a swimming area.50 The Spaceport Travel Club also organized a year-round series of trips that specialized in Caribbean cruises and air journeys to Europe, Hawaii, and the Orient. In spite of these efforts, the KSC employees remained segmentized, close to their own division or contractor, united only in the purpose of sending men to the moon and bringing them back.

Mobility was a major factor in the lives of many on the Apollo project. Military men had grown accustomed to it and accepted it as part of their lives. Engineers who worked for a particular contractor expected a change of residence when a contract was completed. Some saw the east coast of Florida as only a temporary home and did not sell their residences near the Douglas or Boeing central plant. Others viewed it as their permanent home and intended to find permanent employment when their work at KSC ended. Still others lived in constant uncertainty - a factor that influenced their entire family life.

These tensions made family life difficult in many ways. Articles in the local newspapers and national magazines regularly carried features on the domestic strain in the space communities. As Time magazine was to state:

The technicians who assemble and service the rockets have chosen a tense career, and it has taken its toll on their personalities, their marriages and their community.... The rhythms of life at Cape Kennedy are set not so much by the clock or the seasons as by the irregular flights of the missiles. Bouts of furious activity and 14-hour days may be followed by periods of idleness.51

The Time article saw some difficulties stemming directly from the nature, training, and background of the engineering profession. Many engineers were perfectionist males, surrounded all day by scientific precision, who could not brook the sight of an unwashed coffee cup in the sink on their return home. Many carried their work home with them, spending the evening hours not with their families but in reading technical material. Intelligent, but not liberally educated, their interests focused primarily on the technical world.

Debus told an interviewer:

There is so much tension, so much anxiety in putting men into space. Yes, we've lost men because of family problems. When a man is so dedicated that the NASA program becomes his personal life, it takes much time away from wife and children. We need a great many understanding wives here... in the end we usually have to tell them their husbands will be working even harder next year.

Such exposure to stress is rare elsewhere. We live with it constantly. In fact, it is so much with us that we are studying it - how it is affecting our hearts, our nerves, our functions, our aging processes. We don't know yet.52

Putting men into space caused grave family problems. But readjusting to the decline in employment that followed was to cause even greater problems, especially to children. A prominent pediatrician of the region, Dr. Ronald C. Erbs of Titusville, noted a high incidence of ulcers in children, especially during the last half of the Apollo program. "Before coming to this area," he stated, "I did not see ulcers in children, except for rare examples."
It is my opinion that the life generated by the Space Program was basically unhealthy for the families of space personnel.... With the decline of the Space Program, these highly trained men became very insecure regarding their futures. It is extremely difficult to keep the emotions of work away from the emotions of the family, hence increased family tensions. These tensions then were felt by the children, and since the problems were not usually discussed, the children had no outlet for these emotions, leading to the development of ulcers.53
Dr. Erbs had recommendations for future space programs, but they came too late for Apollo.

One compensating social attitude was the almost total lack of snobbishness among the space workers in the neighboring communities. No doubt it stemmed partially from most of them being newcomers trying to set up homes on Florida's east coast. A major contributing factor was the sense of the importance of each member of the Apollo team to the success of the mission. The most brilliant design engineer knew that the man who bolted on the hatch hinges did an important piece of work. All saw the unheralded contributions of countless persons around them. This appreciation of the worth of the individual carried over into the communities beyond KSC. One technician asked: "Where else in America would my closest friends be two men who make twice as much money as I do?"54

Previous Page Next Page Table of Contents