Pressures by PSAC

The Space Vehicle Panel of the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) was apprehensive about lunar-orbit rendezvous well before NASA picked that approach. After the decision was made public in July 1962, Nicholas Golovin, at the behest of Jerome Wiesner, probed deeply into NASA's planning activities. If NASA was to reverse its decision, pressure would have to be applied before the development contract was awarded. Once that had been done, the course of Apollo would be virtually impossible to change.

PSAC's interest in manned space flight had begun with the Mercury program and had led to the establishment of the Space Vehicle Panel in the fall of 1961. Headed by Franklin A. Long of Cornell University, the panel had met in October and December for briefings by NASA officials on the agency's plans for launch vehicles. Long reported in January 1962 the group's observations and recommendations for strengthening the country's booster capabilities. Since Apollo planning had by then shifted from direct flight to earth-orbit rendezvous, the panel also pressed for the development of rendezvous and docking techniques.36

Thus, 1961 had closed with some degree of harmony between NASA and PSAC; but that soon changed. As the space agency began to waver on its mode choice during the first half of 1962, Wiesner, Golovin, and the panel wedged themselves into the daily activities of spacecraft development. When NASA began to look more favorably on lunar rendezvous, relations between the two organizations deteriorated rapidly.

Panel members visited Los Angeles during February for discussions on spacecraft and launch vehicle development by North American and then went on to Washington and several of the NASA centers later, looking closely at the mode comparison studies then in progress. They grew resentful of NASA's refusal to supply them with every draft document, both government and industry, the agency had on the subject. NASA, on the other hand, chafed at the panel's snooping into internal and contractual relationships, insisting that these activities lay outside PSAC's advisory authority.37

During May and June, Golovin asked for detailed information on launch vehicles and spacecraft for all approaches under consideration; he also requested progress reports from all Apollo spacecraft contractors and on engine development programs. Shea did not want to release this material while the mode comparison studies were in progress, and he sent a staff member to tell Golovin that schedules were not firm and that his request was premature. Golovin was, as a matter of fact, at something of a personal disadvantage in his pursuit of NASA information. He had stirred up controversy during the 1960-1961 period of Project Mercury with his statistical reliability analysis methods, which many Mercury engineers considered merely a "numbers game."38

Just before the lunar rendezvous selection was publicly endorsed, the Space Vehicle Panel met with NASA officials in Washington on 5 and 6 July. In preparation for this meeting, Golovin again asked Shea for the draft documents that had been used to produce the mode comparison studies. Shea advised Golovin that this material was still subject to final editing. Golovin said that all the panel wanted was a preview of the technical data and analyses of various mode alternatives, their feasibility, and advantages.

On 3 July, after examining some papers Shea had sent the day before, Wiesner and Golovin thought they had found a flaw. One table showed a higher probability of disaster for lunar rendezvous than for either earth rendezvous or direct flight. Wiesner called Webb, who, in turn, telephoned Shea and suggested that he see Wiesner immediately.

Shea tried to persuade Wiesner and Golovin that the reliability numbers based on Marshall's computations contained an error. The PSAC officials were also told that figures from the report of the Large Launch Vehicle Planning Group (of which Golovin himself had been chairman) were invalid because of unduly pessimistic assumptions about the reliability of rendezvous and the difficulties of abort. Calculations made within the Office of Manned Space Flight, Shea argued, showed success-failure probabilities essentially the same for all three modes. Shea got nowhere with his assertions, and he left the meeting discouraged. But he was still hopeful that the forthcoming session with the space panel would "allow us to get the facts squared away."39

At the 5-6 July assembly, Shea's hopes for clearing the air were dashed when panel member Lester Lees distributed a memorandum presaging the adverse tone of the panel's final report, to be issued later that month. (Lees, from the California Institute of Technology's Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory, was a paid consultant to North American, which did not favor lunar rendezvous. Shea was convinced that this was the reason for his antagonism to lunar-orbit rendezvous.) Lees agreed that all four mission modes were technically feasible. But, he asked, "which of these risky adventures involves the least risk to the astronauts, provides the greatest growth potential for the manned space program, and at the same time gives us the best chance of fulfilling the President's [goal] to land an American on the moon by 1970?" Lees recommended earth-orbit rendezvous with the Saturn C-5 as the prime mode and direct flight using an uprated C-5 as backup. He disputed NASA's claims that the lighter, more maneuverable landing craft was significantly better than the command module for being set down on the moon. Lees also discounted NASA's demands for extensive visibility for the hover and touchdown maneuver, which was looked on by some pilots, he said, as "probably similar . . . to landing 'on instruments' here on Earth."40

The Space Vehicle Panel's reservations about lunar-orbit rendezvous were reemphasized by Wiesner in Webb's office on 6 July. Shea, Brainerd Holmes, and Robert Seamans listened as Webb was forced to equivocate, to agree that the lunar rendezvous decision was only tentative. Later in the year, following additional mode studies, NASA would either reaffirm its July preference or pick one of PSAC's favored approaches.41

During the last half of July, the formal positions of the two sides were staked out. On the 17th Wiesner wrote to Webb spelling out PSAC's opinions of NASA's manned programs, particularly lunar rendezvous in relation to booster capabilities and America's military posture in space. Wiesner accused NASA of not adequately assessing such hazards as radiation and the potential problems of weightlessness. He had, Wiesner told Webb, "assured [President Kennedy] that there is ample time to make the additional studies . . . agreed upon before the contracts for the lunar landing vehicle need be awarded."

Webb assured Wiesner that NASA was, and had been, investigating weightlessness and radiation. The Administrator defended lunar rendezvous as a contribution to American space capabilities: "It is our considered opinion," Webb wrote, "that the LOR mode . . . provides as comprehensive a base of knowledge and experience for application to other possible space programs, either military or civilian, as either the EOR mode or the C-5 direct mode."42

The PSAC panel issued its final report on 26 July, still contesting NASA's justification for lunar rendezvous and affirming once again the desirability of two-man direct flight. "We can only note that the Panel was originally widely divided in its opinions, but that after hearing and discussing the evidence presented to us, there is no dissent in the Panel to the views presented here."43

Thus, in July, President Kennedy found the space agency and his scientific advisory body firmly entrenched in separate camps. The situation remained static until lunar module procurement activities accelerated. Then Wiesner and his panel tried once more to block lunar rendezvous.

Golovin knew that the Manned Spacecraft Center was getting ready to let the lander contract. In mid-July, he asked NASA to arrange a briefing at Downey so he could review the technical details of North American's studies of direct and rendezvous mission modes. Most North American officials favored almost any mode except lunar-orbit rendezvous, which kept the command module from actually landing on the moon. A humorous cartoon on the company walls during August 1962 depicted a rather bored and disgruntled man-in-the-moon eyeing an approaching command module with lander attached. The caption read, "Don't bug me, man." Golovin, hoping for a negative response from these contractor studies, insisted that NASA allow the briefing. Webb complained to Wiesner that NASA "had rather complex relationships with North American" and "did not want a disturbing influence brought to bear." When Wiesner offered to withdraw the request for the visit, however, Webb declined, saying he just wanted to be sure that Wiesner was aware of his concerns.

Golovin had his California briefing at the end of July. On the way back to Washington, he stopped off at Cleveland to see what the Lewis Research Center was doing on the mission mode comparisons. Associate Director Bruce Lundin told Golovin that if he wanted this kind of information he should ask NASA Headquarters for it.44

In August, Wiesner told Webb of the Space Panel's conviction that NASA had not selected lunar-orbit rendezvous because of any overriding technical reasons and had not satisfactorily justified its decision to PSAC. The Administrator admitted that he saw "some real value [in having PSAC's] independent judgment," but added, "we [-are] an operating agency and [can] not submit . . . our decisions for this independent judgment." Webb said that NASA "would have to find some [other] method of review that did not prevent [our] moving ahead." Wiesner conceded that "it was . . . important to keep in motion."45 Tacitly, then, he acknowledged the priority of President Kennedy's deadline.

But Wiesner and Golovin still did not stop their sorties. Golovin visited Shea on 22 August to suggest that NASA invite a number of independent experts to decide who was right on the mode question. Shea responded that NASA was already using outside help. This session with Golovin "reinforced [Shea's] feeling that we are in for another go-around with the PSAC Committee," He was certain that Golovin and Wiesner still believed that they could overturn the mode decision.46

The Webb-Wiesner and Shea-Golovin discussions had, if anything, widened the gap between NASA and PSAC. Early in September, Wiesner again wrote Webb, reiterating his concerns about lunar-orbit rendezvous and this nation's inferiority to Russia in the big booster field. PSAC, he assured Webb, stood ready to assist NASA in gathering "the best talents nationally available" to study the mode question. Wiesner sent a copy of this letter to the President, perhaps hoping that Kennedy might step in to settle their differences.47

President Kennedy did, in fact, become involved while on a two-day visit to NASA's space facilities on 11 and 12 September 1962. After viewing the Apollo spaceport being built in Florida, Kennedy flew on to Huntsville, Alabama. There, during a tour of Marshall and a briefing on the Saturn V and the lunar-rendezvous mission by von Braun, Wiesner interrupted the Marshall director in front of reporters, saying, "No, that's no good." Webb immediately defended von Braun and lunar-orbit rendezvous. The adversaries engaged in a heated exchange until Kennedy stopped them, stating that the matter was still subject to final review. But what had been a private disagreement had become public knowledge. Editorial criticism stemming from the confrontation-including the question, "Is our technology sound?" - forced NASA to justify its selection of lunar-orbit rendezvous to the public, as well as to PSAC.48

Accusations by Wiesner that lunar rendezvous had not been thoroughly studied particularly galled Shea. He compiled material for Webb to use in refuting this charge, outlining the many studies leading to the selection. Shea estimated that more than 700 scientists and engineers at Headquarters, at the field centers, and among contractors had spent a million man-hours working on the route comparisons.49

In early August, Shea formed a team to monitor contracts awarded to Space Technology Laboratories and McDonnell to rehash the feasibility of a direct flight by two men in either a scaled-down Apollo or a modified Gemini spacecraft. Gilruth worried that these studies might impede McDonnell's work on Gemini, especially after a NASA visitor reported that the St. Louis contractor apparently wanted to expand the scope of the study as much as NASA would allow.

Shea and his staff reviewed these studies and presented the results to the rest of the manned space flight organization early in October. The contractors agreed that either two-man direct flight or earth-orbit rendezvous was feasible but both were less attractive than lunar rendezvous because the probability for mission success was lower, the first landing would be later, and the developmental complexity would be greater. The vote was still for three-man, lunar-orbit rendezvous.50

Among the strongest criticisms of the PSAC-preferred two-man direct flights was an analysis that indicated they would be marginally feasible with cryogenic propellants in the braking stages and with storable propellants for the lunar takeoff and return to earth. Such flights were clearly possible only if cryogenics were used on the return leg as well. But Houston was unalterably opposed to cryogenics, which required complicated equipment and special handling, for the lunar takeoff stage.

Another indictment of PSAC's choice was that the panel members persisted in claiming that lunar rendezvous had no time advantage over the other modes. NASA was equally obdurate in its belief that adopting one of the other modes would mean a lag of ten months. A space tanker would have to be developed, critical refueling techniques would have to be perfected, and changes in the S-IVB stage would have to be made to permit long-term storage of cryogenic propellants. All of this would mean more money, perhaps as much as an additional $3 billion.51

The Office of Manned Space Flight assembled the meat of these studies into another "final" version of the mode comparison, which was issued on 24 October 1962. Earlier arguments for lunar rendezvous, the report stated, were as valid in October as they had been in July. That approach was still "the best opportunity of meeting the U.S. goal of manned lunar landing within this decade."52

The day NASA released this report, Webb wrote Wiesner that, unless the science adviser had objections serious enough to be taken to the White House for arbitration, a contract would be awarded for development of the lunar excursion module. He told Wiesner:

My understanding is that you . . . and your staff . . . will examine this and that you will let me know your views as to whether we should ask for an appointment with the President.

My own view is that we should proceed with the lunar orbit plan, should announce our selection of the contractor for the lunar excursion vehicle, and should play the whole thing in a low key. . . .

If you agree, I would like to get before you any facts, over and above the report, perhaps in a thorough briefing, which you believe you should have in order to put me in [a] position to advise Mr. [Kenneth] O'Donnell [one of the President's aides] that [you do not wish] to interpose a formal objection. . . . In that case, I believe Mr. O'Donnell will not feel it wise to schedule the President's time and that the President will confirm this judgment.53

Wiesner and Golovin were not reconciled by NASA's latest justification. Upon reviewing the report, Wiesner asked Holmes for material to expand on that abstracted from the proposals of those aerospace companies responding to the request for bids to develop the lunar lander. Not too surprisingly, the bidders had all emphasized the advantages of a lunar excursion vehicle and had played down the difficulty of rendezvous as an added operational step. All the proposals cited the benefits from lunar rendezvous, chiefly mission success and crew safety, with a craft specifically designed for lunar landing and the need for only one Saturn C-5.

Wiesner now wanted to examine these contractor documents in full, which Webb refused to allow because of the proprietary information they contained. Next, Wiesner asked that certain material be given Golovin without identification of the contractors. What the pair was seeking, Webb confided to Seamans, were the lunar weight estimates, but "I cannot see how the contractors' estimates can help [them] decide whether you, I, and Dryden have made the correct decision."54

Holmes did send Wiesner those sections of the proposals that dealt with estimated weights for the lander. Most of the figures assumed a target weight of around 10,000 kilograms. But, Holmes pointed out, estimates of the different subsystems had varied widely. More knowledge of the lunar surface and of radiation and meteoroid fluxes would probably "force weight increases in the landing gear and shields." Both Mercury and Gemini had demonstrated the need for keeping a margin of weight for additional equipment and redundancy, Holmes added.55

On 2 November, Wiesner and Golovin met with Webb and his staff once again. It was obvious that the two organizations still occupied opposing camps. Golovin presented a detailed re-analysis of the 24 October mode study, challenging both payload margins and reliability and safety considerations. He still contended that, of the two modes capable of using only storable propellants, earth-orbit rendezvous had a somewhat higher performance margin. Moreover, with cryogenic propellants in the landing stage (and for this he cited research done at Lewis), two-man direct flight was quite feasible.

But Golovin found more serious faults in NASA's stance on reliability and crew safety. As he wrote Shea later that day, "It has been surprising to [read in the report] that the Direct Ascent case is less likely to be successful, and to be more dangerous to the crew than the obviously more complicated LOR mode."56

Members of Shea's staff disputed Golovin's estimates of performance margins and reliability factors that made earth-orbit rendezvous and direct flight appear safer than lunar rendezvous. This exchange - NASA's final technical response to outside criticism of the agency's handling of the mode question - was actually a postmortem. After Webb's letter of 24 October, Wiesner decided not to take his objections to Kennedy, since the President was occupied with the Cuban missile crisis. Subsequently, Wiesner took the position that had the situation been different, his actions might not have been the same. Webb then advised the White House that Apollo was committed to lunar rendezvous.57 Wiesner had never argued that this mode was impossible; he had simply preferred other methods. He realized the depth of Webb's commitment to his technical organization. If Wiesner had carried the question to President Kennedy, Webb would have insisted that NASA alone must make crucial program decisions. The Chief Executive almost certainly would have backed the man he had appointed to run NASA. So, presumably, Wiesner decided to let the issue die. At the end of the first week in November 1962, NASA announced its selection of a manufacturer for the lunar module.58

36. Donald H. Heaton to Seamans, "Forwarding of Fleming and Heaton Summary Reports to Space Vehicle Panel," 20 Oct. 1961; Douglas R. Lord to Seamans, 5 Dec. 1961; Swenson, Grimwood, and Alexander, This New Ocean, p. 82; President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) panel, "Report of the Space Vehicle Panel," 3 Jan. 1962, p. 1; Jerome B. Wiesner to Webb, 5 Jan. 1962, with enc., "Report of the Space Vehicle Panel."

37. Franklyn W. Phillips to Seamans, "Meeting of the [PSAC] Space Vehicle Panel . . . at Aerospace Corporation, Los Angeles, Calif., February 23 and 24," 3 Feb. 1962; Webb to Wiesner, 22 Feb. 1962; agendas for PSAC Space Vehicle Panel meetings at MSFC, 5-6 June 1962, and at MSC, 26-27 June 1962; Nicholas E. Golovin to Phillips, "Agenda for PSAC Space Vehicle Panel Meeting at Houston, Texas, June 26-27, 1962," 11 June 1962; Bothmer for record, "Relationships with PSAC (Dr. Golovin)," 13 July 1962.

38. Golovin to D. Brainerd Holmes, "Request for Schedule Information on the Manned Space Flight Program," 4 May 1962; Phillips to Holmes et al., "Request for Contractor's Reports on Major NASA Projects," 22 May 1962; Bothmer to Golovin, "Request for Schedule Information on the Manned Space Flight Program," 16 May 1962; memo, Golovin to Bothmer, "Your Memorandum dated May 16, 1962, Concerning Schedule Information Requested by this Office," 22 May 1962; Bothmer memo, 13 July 1962; Swenson, Grimwood, and Alexander, This New Ocean, pp. 266-457.

39. Agenda for PSAC Space Vehicle Panel meeting, 5-6 July 1962; Golovin to Phillips, "Data Relevant to Choice of Mission Mode for the Manned Lunar Landing Program," 29 June 1962; Joseph F. Shea to Golovin, no subj., 2 July 1962; Golovin to Phillips, "PSAC Space Vehicle Panel Meeting, July 11-12, . . ." 28 June 1962; Shea memo for record, no. subj., 5 July 1962; Wiesner, interview, 7 July 1969, as cited in John M. Logsdon, "NASA's Implementation of the Lunar Landing Decision," NASA HHN-81, August 1969, pp. 73-74.

40. Lester Lees to Chm. and members, Space Vehicle Panel, "Comparison of Apollo Mission Modes," 2 July 1962; Shea memo for record, no subj., 9 July 1962; Bothmer memo, 13 July 1962; Bothmer memo for record, "Relationships with PSAC (Dr. Golovin)," 27 July 1962.

41. Logsdon, "NASA's Implementation," pp. 74-75; Bothmer memos, 13 and 27 July 1962.

42. Wiesner to Webb, 17 July 1962, with enc., Donald F. Hornig to Wiesner, "Summary of Views of Space Vehicle Panel," 11 July 1962; Webb to Wiesner, 20 July 1962.

43. Hornig et al., "Report of the Space Vehicle Panel (On the Matter of Lunar Mission Mode Selection)," PSAC, 26 July 1962.

44. Golovin to Phillips, "Space Vehicle Panel Meeting Downey, Calif. July 23-24," 16 July 1962; George M. Low to Eugene M. Emme, NASA Historical Off., 2 Sept. 1969; Webb to Phillips, no subj., 18 July 1962; Rector interview; letter, Bruce T. Lundin to Golovin, 30 July 1962.

45. Webb to Holmes, no subj., 7 Aug. 1962.

46. Shea memo for record, no subj., 24 Aug. 1962.

47. Wiesner to Webb, 5 Sept. 1962.

48. Carroll Kilpatrick, "President Schedules Two-Day Tour to Inspect U.S. Space Installations," Washington Post, 6 Sept. 1962; NASA, "Trip of the President: Huntsville, Alabama; Cape Canaveral, Florida; Houston, Texas; St. Louis, Missouri: September 11-12, 1962," brochure, n.d.; "Space: Moon Spat," Time, 21 Sept. 1962; E. W. Kenworthy, "Kennedy Asserts Nation Must Lead in Probing Space," New York Times, 13 Sept. 1962; Philip T. Drotning to Bothmer, "Comments by Mr. Webb on LOR mode selection," 20 Sept. 1962.

49. Shea to Bothmer, "Comments by Mr. Webb on LOR Mode Selection," 5 Oct. 1962, with encs., "LOR Mode Selection Considerations," "Study Reports Generated During Mission Mode Comparison Studies," "Apollo Mission Mode Comparison Studies-Manpower Estimates," and "Apollo Mission Mode Comparison Studies-Key Personnel."

50. See two documents with same title, "Direct Flight Study Using Saturn C-5 for Project Apollo: Statement of Work," n.d. These documents differed mostly in that one (to McDonnell) required the assistance of the Gemini Project Office in Houston, whereas the other (to Space Technology Laboratories, Inc.) depended on derivations from North American's three-man concept. Edward Andrews and Marshall E. Alper to Lord, "MAC-Two Man, Direct Flight Study," 9 Aug. 1962; Lord to Shea, "Direct Flight Studies," 10 Aug. 1962; Raymond L. Zavasky, recorder, minutes of MSC Senior Staff Meeting, 3 Aug. 1962, p. 4; Alper draft memo [to Shea], "Re Summary of Results of Two Man Direct Flight Studies," 28 Sept. 1962; Alper draft memo, no subj., 1 Oct. 1962; E. Phelps to William A. Lee, "Variations of Maximum and Minimum Weights of Command Module, Service Module Equipment, and Summation of Command Module and Service Module Equipment," 8 Oct. 1962.

51. William B. Taylor, "Feasibility of Two-Man Direct Flight and EOR Manned Lunar Missions," 15 Oct. 1962; "Summary of Findings," unidentified collection of miscellaneous items and charts, [ca. 3 October 1962].

52. NASA OMSF, "Manned Lunar Landing Mode Comparison," 24 Oct. 1962.

53. Webb to Wiesner, 24 Oct. 1962.

54. Holmes to Wiesner, 26 Oct. 1962, with encs., abstracts of proposals submitted by bidders on the REP; Webb to Seamans, no subj., 29 Oct. 1962.

55. Holmes to Wiesner, 30 Oct. 1962, with encs., LEM weight estimates contained in bidders' proposals.

56. Golovin to Shea, 2 Nov. 1962, with encs., rough draft of material under headings "Performance Considerations and Payload Margins" and "Mission Success Probability and Crew Safety."

57. Alper and Geoffrey Robillard to Shea, "OS + T Evaluation of the Mode Comparison Study Report, dated 24 October 1962," 5 Nov. 1962; Eldon W. Hall to Shea, "Comments on OS&T weight comparison (Table I)," 5 Nov. 1962; Shea to Seamans, "OST Calculations of Mode Feasibility and Reliability," 6 Nov. 1962; Lee to Shea, "Draft memo for Dr. Seamans on OST Calculations," 23 Nov. 1962; Logsdon, "NASA's Implementation," pp. 80-81. In his book Where Science and Politics Meet (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), Wiesner is surprisingly silent on all matters connected with space.

58. James L. Neal TWX to Grumman, Attn.: Joseph G. Gavin, Jr., 7 Nov. 1962; NASA Hq. TWX to all NASA centers, "Grumman Selected to Build LEM," NASA news release 62-240, 7 Nov. 1962.

Previous Page Next Page Table of Contents