Debus-Davis Study

The Fleming Committee's final report, 16 June 1961, listed construction of the launch complex as a "crucial item" and recommended that a "contractor immediately be brought aboard to begin design."42 One week later Robert Seamans initiated a joint NASA-Air Force study of "launch requirements, methods, and procedures" for the Fleming Committee's flight program. LOD would concentrate on establishing mission facility criteria; Maj. Gen. Leighton I. Davis's Air Force Missile Test Center would determine support facility criteria.43 In a second letter Seamans stated the study's objectives more precisely. The LOD-AFMTC team was to examine launch site locations, land acquisition requirements, spacecraft and launch vehicle preparation facilities, launch facilities, and launch support facilities.44 The ensuing four-week study produced the Joint Report on Facilities and Resources Required at Launch Site to Support NASA Manned Lunar Landing Program (the Debus-Davis Report). Because of its major recommendation that Merritt Island be the launch site for the Apollo program, the report will be discussed at some length in the next chapter. But the study advanced LOD thinking in regard to the mobile launch concept and must therefore be taken up at this point.

Two of the ground rules governing the Fleming Committee complicated LOD's work on the subsequent Debus-Davis study. One was that intermediate major space missions, such as manned circumlunar flights, were desirable at the earliest possible date to aid in the development of the manned lunar landing program. This envisioned a flight program using two radically different launch vehicles, the C-3 and the Nova, and consequently two distinct launch procedures. The second involved NASA's intention to develop liquid- and solid-propellant rockets on parallel lines. LOD planners would have to calculate costs and requirements for a liquid Saturn C-3, a solid-liquid C-3, a liquid Nova, and a solid-liquid Nova (table 5). The study was further complicated by NASA's decision to examine eight possible launch sites [see Chapter 5-4]. The launch team faced the plight of a dressmaker, called on to outfit a beauty queen a month before she is selected from 50 contestants.45

The men who developed the Apollo launch facilities recall this study as one of the more hectic periods in the program's history. Some planning sessions extended into the early hours of the morning. One participant recalls arriving at his Cocoa Beach motel on a Saturday evening with the Miss Universe contest on TV. To his wife's amazement, his interest in feminine pulchritude gave way to fatigue and he was asleep before the final selection. Work on the study continued right up to the 31 July deadline, and the report was collated on the flight to Washington. Despite some embarrassing errors on the charts prepared for the NASA-Defense Department briefing, the 460-page survey was a real achievement.46

A spirit of competition with the Air Force Missile Test Center spurred on the LOD effort. Air Force personnel caused some friction by offering unsolicited assistance in LOD areas. One such incident involved an Air Force recommendation to build a liquid-hydrogen plant at Cape Canaveral. There was uncertainty at this time as to how long liquid hydrogen could be stored at 20 kelvins (-253 degrees C) and therefore a question as to how much production capacity was needed. LOD officials considered the Air Force proposal technically infeasible; the proposed plant's electrical power needs would far exceed what the central Florida area could reasonably provide. Instead LOD wanted to purchase liquid hydrogen commercially, and the final report clearly stated that view. Working relations during the study were generally good, but some LOD officials believed that their Air Force counterparts wanted to assume a larger role in the manned lunar landing program.47

Debus appointed Rocco Petrone, Heavy Vehicle Systems Office, to represent LOD on the study's Executive Planning Committee. As a young ordnance officer, Petrone had helped the Director launch the first Redstone in 1953. Impressed by his work, Debus welcomed Petrone's reassignment to the launch team in July 1960. The joint study began Petrone's rise to prominence in the Apollo program. In various positions during the next nine years he would direct the Saturn program, first the facilities planning and construction, later the launch operations. He would acquire influence at the launch center second only to Debus. Tenacity, intellectual honesty, aggressiveness, and ambition were the basic ingredients in Petrone's advancement. A native of Amsterdam, New York, Petrone had been a tackle on the Blanchard-Davis teams at West Point. A determined pursuit of knowledge characterized his tour with the Missile Firing Laboratory in the 1950s. Associates recall that he devoured every piece of Redstone literature. His knowledge of launch operations made him a logical choice for Saturn program management. Petrone could get along well with people and even be charming. He demanded honesty, however, and did not hesitate to brand poor work for what it was. Consequently, some controversy accompanied his success. Described by intimates as basically shy and sensitive, Petrone displayed an aggressive exterior. His drive made workdays of 12-14 hours typical. Perhaps most important, Petrone's high ambition matched the Apollo program's lofty goals.48



(Vehicle characteristics varied during rocket development;

figures represent an approximate average,)

Launch Vehicle 1st stage diameter
Total length
Weight at liftoff
Saturn C-3, July 1961
liquid fuel
8.2 70.1 1,254,000
Saturn C-3, July 1961
solid/liquid fuel
10.3 65.5 1,881,000
Nova, July 1961
liquid fuel
13.4 102.1 4,336,000
Nova, July 1961
solid/liquid fuel
13.7 97.5 5,561,000
Saturn V, Dec. 1961 10.0 84.9 2,860,000

42. NASA, A Feasible Approach for an Early Manned Lunar Landing (Fleming Committee Report), 16 June 1961, p. 26.

43. Robert C. Seamans, Jr., to Maj. Gen. Leighton I. Davis and Debus, "National Space Program Range Facilities and Resources Planning," 23 June 1961.

44. Seamans to Davis and Debus, "National Space Program Range Facilities and Resources Planning," 30 June 1961.

45. MSFC, LFSEO, Preliminary Concepts of Launch Facilities for Manned Lunar Landing Program, report MIN-LOD-DL-3-61, 1 Aug. 1961, pp. 4-6.

46. NASA-DOD, Joint Report on Facilities and Resources Required at Launch Site to Support NASA Manned Lunar Landing Program (hereafter cited as Debus-Davis Report), 31 July 1961, p. 3; Owens interview, 12 Apr. 1972; Petrone interview, 25 May 1972; Clark interview.

47. Petrone interview; Clark interview.

48. Petrone and Leonard Shapiro, "Guideline for Preparation of NASA Manned Lunar Landing Project Report," 7 July 1961; KSC Biographies, in KSC Archives.

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