Texas Tower vs. Landfill

Under increasing pressure to develop a greater launching capacity, LOD spent early 1961 examining the merits of offshore facilities and landfill proposals. In February the Office of Launch Vehicle Programs at NASA Headquarters asked LOD to step up its planning. Samuel Snyder, assistant director for Launch Operations, feared a pad explosion might shut down both LC-37A and LC-37B, and this in the face of a possible demand for nearly simultaneous C-2 firings on rendezvous missions. With space at the Cape already in short supply, he predicted it might be further limited if the Air Force stepped up its Dyna-Soar (glider-bomber) program. He asked LOD to plan a third fixed complex for FY 1963. Although Debus objected that the Saturn schedule did not at that time warrant an additional launch complex, LOD continued studies to find additional space.14

Debus then asked Col. Asa Gibbs in the NASA Test Support Office to obtain information on the cost of land reclamation, in either the Atlantic Ocean or the Banana River. Debus said he needed space for three additional dual-pad complexes and wanted to compare the expense of this operation with offshore Texas Tower facilities.15 Gibbs's office responded on 9 March with two proposals for land development in the Banana River using hydraulic fill. A "maximum" concept involved filling approximately 2.5 square kilometers of Banana River tideland. The pad and support areas would rest on compacted earth about five meters above mean low water. Two of the proposed launch complexes could be built in this area, with the third pad on existing land north of LC-37. The total cost was $25,200,000. A "minimum" concept provided for two islands in the Banana River, each 610 meters in diameter, with 15-meter-wide causeways to link each island with the Cape, and a cost of $5,830,000.16 Debus asked Gibbs in early April to secure Atlantic Missile Range approval for the tentative siting of the larger plan.17

At the same time, the survey of offshore facilities was accelerated. Concerned by a recent report on the blast hazards of the liquid hydrogen engine, Debus established an ad hoc committee under von Tiesenhausen's direction to select contractors who would conduct the offshore study. Early in February, Debus set the scope of the study. It should include expansion of the Cape northward by reclaiming and pumping up land; semi-offshore sites using Texas Towers or manmade islands; an offshore launch complex at some distance from the Cape; and a floating pad capable of location anywhere on the oceans.18 Plans to solicit proposals moved ahead in February and March, but the offshore launching sites encountered heavy going. Spark's study, submitted to Debus on 4 April, failed to satisfy the Director. He thought that transferring present launch methods to a Texas Tower would not suffice.19

Offshore facilities received a further setback in May with the presentation of Nelson Parry's land development scheme. Parry's list of drawbacks, two pages long, reflected the results of his interviews with Launch Operations personnel, Disadvantages included higher construction and maintenance costs, increased problems of communications and logistics, and a morale problem. While Parry's report did not give specific costs for remote offshore facilities, he was certain that land development would be cheaper than Texas Towers, His cost estimate sheets, prepared by James Deese of the Facilities Design Group, further indicated that building islands on the Atlantic shelf would be much more expensive than reclaiming land in the Banana River. A 2.3-square-kilometer island, 16 kilometers off the Cape, would cost $12.7 million; an island of 15 square kilometers, $59.9 million. He contrasted these figures with price tags of $18.7 million for dredging 7 square kilometers in the Banana River and $16 million for buying 750 square kilometers on Merritt Island.20 Working independently, Rocco Petrone's Heavy Launch Vehicle Systems Office reached similar conclusions. The construction costs for causeways in the Florida Keys convinced them that the expense of building facilities in the ocean east of the Cape would be prohibitive.21

The ad hoc committee finally selected two study contractors on 15 May, but events rendered the C-2 offshore launch study moot. Marshall planners dropped the proposed rocket and started planning for a larger C-3 model. An even more decisive vote was cast by the Air Force-NASA Hazards Analysis Board (Chapter 5-1), which found that "operational hazards for liquid and solid boosters did not dictate going to offshore launch sites."22 Large vehicles could be launched from the coastline if Merritt Island was purchased as a safety zone. On 24 May, Debus told von Braun the contracts would not be let as the studies were no longer required.23 Perhaps the biggest reason for the verdict against offshore facilities was seldom mentioned. In January 1961, a Texas Tower, part of the U.S. Air Force early warning system, had disappeared in a heavy storm with a loss of 28 lives.24 Despite assurances from engineers that a similar catastrophe could be avoided, LOD leaders did not want the task of convincing Congress and the American public that an offshore facility would be safe against storm hazards.

14. DDJ, 28 Feb., 2 Mar. 1961.

15. Debus to Col. Asa Gibbs, Chief, NASA Test Support Off., AFMTC, "Future Saturn Launch Sites at Cape Canaveral (SR 2953)," 14 Feb. 1961.

16. Parry to Charles J. Hall, "Future Launch Sites at Cape Canaveral," 9 Mar. 1961.

17. Debus to Gibbs, "Siting for Third Saturn Launch Complex at AMR (SR 2953)," n.d.; Debus to Gibbs, "Siting of Fourth and Fifth Saturn Launch Complexes at AMR," 6 Apr. 1961. The siting requests were canceled 22 Sept. 1961, after the MILA purchase had changed the situation.

18. Future Launch Systems Study Off., LOD, "Progress Report," Jan. 1961; DDJ, 6 Feb. 1961.

19. Debus to Poppel, "Offshore Launch Facility Study," 4 Apr. 1961.

20. Nelson M. Parry, "Land Development (Offshore and Semi-Offshore Launch Sites)," 14 Apr. 1961; Deese interview, 10 May 1972; DDJ, 12 May 1961.

21. Petrone interview.

22. Joint Air Force-NASA Hazards Analysis Board, AFMTC, Safety and Design Considerations for Static Test and Launch of Large Space Vehicles, 1 June 1961, p. I-B-1.

23. Debus to von Braun, "Offshore Facilities Studies," 24 May 1961.

24. "Death on Old Shaky," Time, 27 Jan. 1961, pp. 15-16; von Tiesenhausen interview, 29 Mar. 1972; Debus interview, 16 May 1972.

Previous Page Next Page Table of Contents