Subcommittee Hearings at the Cape

NASA's budget went to Congress in February 1962. A month later, the House began hearings. Before the end of March, Congressman Olin E. Teague (D.-Tex.) decided to take his Subcommittee for Manned Space Flight of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics to Florida for on-the-spot hearings on 23 March. Teague wanted to "educate the subcommittee's members" and to "attempt to justify the money that's spent here before Congress."14 Headquarters and Houston representatives also attended the hearings, along with officers of the Air Force Missile Test Center.

After Debus outlined the Launch Operations Directorate's organization, mission, and operational concepts, Petrone described the FY 1963 funding requirements, together with total facility requirements for the manned lunar landing program. The initial reaction of the subcommittee was that LOD should spread its budget requests over several fiscal years. Some subcommittee members questioned the basis for LOD's budget figures. "You've got a great big ball of money, and it is very easy for someone to come along and cut it, really cut it," one unidentified congressman observed.15

The subcommittee members deliberately asked pointed and critical questions to fortify themselves so that they could justify the budget before the appropriations committee later on. In the day-long conference, the subcommittee stressed saving money, and the Directorate emphasized precise scheduling. "I'm sure the Doctor [Debus] feels that we are friendly," Chairman Teague justifiably remarked, for he was one of the most influential friends the space program had in Congress. "We don't want to delay this program one minute. . . . If you can give us your program timing . . . I think we can pave a smooth road to the appropriations committee." But he added, "If we don't take any action, I think the appropriations committee will."16

LC-39 costs

Cost of launch complex 39, as of November 1964. Authorizations (by Act of Congress) are on the left line. NASA obligations (contracts, purchase orders, etc.) are on the right, with the latter half being predicted.

The estimated total cost for LC-39, including FY 1963 and later increments, Petrone told the subcommittee, was $432 million. LOD was trying "to evaluate, not sell," the program. The budget figures were honestly arrived at. "We've got to live with them for years to come," Petrone declared.17 Program timing was based on schedules that had to be met for the manned lunar landing program and had to be responsive to NASA Headquarters schedules. To the men of LOD, time was critical. To the congressmen, however, the amount of money spent in fiscal 1963 was the critical issue.

Debus explained that the LOD budget was made out against scheduled facility completion dates and launch schedules. These provided a little leeway for some slippage, but on requirements that were pressing, slippage "would hurt very, very much." They wanted launch complex 39 ready by January 1965, Petrone said, since they hoped to launch the first Saturn C-5 in March or April of that year. As an example of facility scheduling, Petrone said that LOD expected the erection of steel for the VAB to begin in March 1963.18

The programming of funds tied in so closely to the scheduling of facilities that a slippage in one resulted in a slippage of the other, and the hard fact was that Congress rarely appropriated funds in time for use at the beginning of the fiscal year. In response to a subcommittee question as to when LOD began receiving funds after the fiscal year started, Petrone answered that in the preceding year it had been October. Drawing upon his long experience in construction, Colonel Bidgood added that he had never seen money "hit the market before the first of October." Contingency authority from the Appropriations Committee helped little in new or increased programs, since such authority permitted expenditures only for normal operating costs at constant rates. LOD had to have funds on hand before awarding construction contracts.

The subcommittee asked for a comparison of relative costs between mobile and fixed facilities. As against the $432 million for a mobile complex with four pads and a launch rats of 36 per year, Petrone said, fixed facilities would require nine pads costing $900 million. Additionally, mobile facilities made possible significant savings in manpower costs both in LC-39 and in the industrial area, even with a launch rate of only 24 per year. The biggest savings came in the reduction in the number of supervisors and other personnel at the higher grade levels. Dollar savings in manpower, the subcommittee observed, were the strongest argument for mobile facilities.

Subcommittee members then mentioned the possible impact of new developments, such as the atomic rocket motor, on the design of LC-39 facilities. Rather than sink a lot of money into this complex, might it not be better to wait and see what the future held in the next five years, and thereby save money in FY 1963? Debus explained that one of the basic decisions made early in the planning stages was to base the design on "the state-of-the-art and its most likely development." One of the basic presumptions was the use of liquid propellants. LOD had to be ready by 1965 and could not wait on the possibility of new developments. With the existing state-of-the-art, LOD could be ready in 1965. The subcommittee's view was that no decision should be so binding as to deny LOD flexibility to take advantage of new technology.19

In response to a question about the Department of Defense's role in funding the manned lunar landing program support facilities, Debus explained that LOD was limiting its funding to the new Merritt Island area and to LC-34 and LC-37 on the Cape. NASA Headquarters and the Department of Defense would coordinate downrange stations, including ships. LOD was coordinating other support requirements for the Merritt Island area with the officials of the Air Force Missile Test Center. Two of these support items - utility installation in the new area (causeways, roads, water, and power) and launch-phase range instrumentation - although in effect Air Force requirements, were included in LOD's budget. The range instrumentation that LOD would fund, in agreement with AFMTC, extended to a radius of 105 kilometers. NASA Headquarters would fund data acquisition and tracking requirements beyond that distance. So far as cost-sharing for maintenance and operations of the two areas was concerned, LOD was to handle funding on Merritt Island and the Air Force on the Cape.

When Dugald Black of the Manned Spacecraft Center presented facility requirements for checking out and testing the Apollo spacecraft, members of the subcommittee interrupted his presentation several times with questions regarding quality control and the overlap of functions and facilities. The MSC representatives explained that MSC would develop the spacecraft at Houston, but would check and test it at Merritt Island. Just as the Mercury and Gemini programs had overlapped in some instances, so the Gemini program would overlap Apollo. Facilities to support the Apollo and Gemini spacecraft had to be available simultaneously. The scheduling of the operations and checkout building, for example, was extremely tight. It had to be finished early enough to install and inspect equipment before the spacecraft arrived in October or November 1963.20

The scope and expense of the checking and testing requirements for the spacecraft led one member of the subcommittee to question the program, at least momentarily. Debus reminded him that "this is a research and development facility and is only slightly operational." This prompted Chairman Teague to observe:

That doesn't take away the argument that this entire operation is an expensive one. It gets more expensive with the buildings and personnel, and everything swelling in size. Perhaps we are trying to do too much in too much of a hurry. If we are subject to so many changes in so many places so that we are watching every nut and bolt right up to the time we are ready to shoot . . . .21

Teague's cautious remark ended the long, productive day.

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