The Impact of the Apollo Slowdown on KSC

NASA budgets translated into people at KSC. Center employment peaked at 26,000 during Apollo 7 operations in 1968, the same year that KSC's budget reached a high of $490 million. America's space program provided over 40% of Brevard County's employment. By the following spring, KSC faced sharp reductions in both money and manpower. Debus let community leaders know what was coming at a 30 April 1969 briefing. A revised FY 1970 budget, prompted by the Nixon administration's concern over inflation, lowered KSC's appropriation from $455 million to $410 million. The entire reduction came out of the $345 million earmarked for Apollo and reflected the intent to slow the program from five to three launches per year. In terms of manpower, the lower budget would reduce KSC's work force from 23,500 to 18,500 by 30 June 1970. A five-day work week would replace the six- and seven-day weeks that had been typical. Instead of three-shift operations, KSC would employ two, with only enough people on the second to continue necessary tests. Debus took an optimistic view of the cutbacks. The 20% reduction in force affected both stage and support contractors and could probably be met in large part through attrition. Contractor turnover rates at KSC in this period varied from an average of 14% annually for stage contractors to as high as 25% for some support contractors. He thought that "others will see the first lunar landing as a logical milestone in their career plans and move into other programs elsewhere." It would be "a difficult but orderly retrenchment."57

The reduction took a greater toll than Debus had predicted. By mid-1970 KSC's work force had fallen to 16,235. The numbers engaged in Apollo launch operations showed an even steeper decline, 50% from the 17,000 high of 1968. KSC civil service employment dropped less sharply in FY 1970, from 2,920 to 2,880. One reason NASA had contracted a large amount of Apollo work had been to avoid an excess of civil service personnel at the end of the program. Subsequently civil service enrollment at KSC was forced down to 2,425 by the end of the program. Newspapers captioned the plight of Brevard County: "Cocoa Beach Boom Reaches Perigee"; "Most of Brevard in Gloomy Mood"; "Depressed Brevard Banks on Space Shuttle." Reporters described long lines at the employment office and a buyer's market of empty homes and stores. The articles were exaggerated; unemployment never exceeded 6.5%. Realtors and the Chamber of Commerce launched an aggressive campaign in metropolitan newspapers, describing Brevard homes as the best buys in Florida. Within two years an influx of retirees brought stability to the housing market. In similar fashion small businesses were encouraged to locate in the Cape area. Many members of the Apollo team had found jobs in other parts of the country as stage and support contractors made a strong effort to relocate their personnel.58

Although KSC retrenched in orderly fashion, the atmosphere at the center showed a marked change. The pace slowed considerably as the time between launches stretched to eight months. Morale was jeopardized by the space program's uncertain future. As Alan Shepard, Apollo 14 commander, put it: "We kind of feel like the Wright brothers would have felt if they had been told there's not enough money for a second plane because there's no need for airplanes."59 During Apollo's last three years, the launch team's esprit was of concern to center and contractor officials alike. The presence of the astronauts remained a positive factor. Launch Director Walter J. Kapryan made them as visible as possible, encouraging their visits with workers at the assembly building and on the pad. Efforts were made to keep everyone busy. That morale never became a significant problem is a tribute to effective civil servant and contractor leadership and to the personal pride of the launch team members.60

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