Lunar Module

By 1966, the lunar module had achieved some degree of maturity. Grumman had brought the lander out of the design phase and was trying to move it in the production line. But there were indications that the contractor was going to have problems. Control of in-house costs was fairly efficient; the company's chief difficulties lay in overruns by its subcontractors. R. Wayne Young, MSC's lunar module project officer, estimated that by the end of June Grumman would spend $24 million more than its allotted funds. Moreover, since late 1965 Grumman's scheduling position had been shaky, with delays indicated virtually across the board.19

In light of these severe overruns, Houston sent representatives to Bethpage to discuss cost-reduction measures. This conference produced a list of items to either be reduced or chopped from the major subcontractors. Meetings were then held with project manager at each of the subcontractor plants to ram through cutbacks in requirements and manpower. The reviews, lasting a month and a half, culminated in tightened test procedures and performance requirements. To make sure that cost-reduction measures were enforced, Grumman switched from quarterly to monthly meetings with its subcontractors, inviting the appropriate Houston subsystem manager to attend.20

Despite these actions, lunar module costs had not leveled off by late spring. In-house cost control and forecasting had also begun to deteriorate, aggravating the problems already encountered. Against this backdrop, Gilruth met with Grumman's new president, Llewellyn J. Evans, to discuss cost control and management of subcontractors. At Evans' request, Gilruth sent a management analysis group to diagnose and recommend ways to remedy the company's weaknesses. The NASA Management Review Team, headed by Wesley L. Hjornevik of Houston, was composed of members from both Houston and Washington.21

Hjornevik's team assembled at Bethpage in June. After a ten-day review, the team reported its findings to company corporate officers and NASA officials. Looking upon the Hjornevik team as a "personal management analysis staff," Evans promptly carried out most of its recommendations on program management, costs, subcontractor control, and ground support equipment. To make sure all orders were followed and all decisions were relayed speedily to operating organizations, Grumman installed Hugh McCullough at the head of a Program Control Office. George F. Titterton moved from his vice-presidential suite to the factory building that housed most of the spacecraft's managerial and engineering staff, thus ensuring a high degree of corporate-level supervision.22

To bring about the kind of cost forecasting and control that NASA wanted, Grumman adopted "work packages" - breaking the program down into manageable segments, with strict cost budgets, and assigning managers to ride herd on each package. By linking tasks to manpower, program managers could better judge and control work in progress. This approach was a real departure from the commodity-oriented approach used by Grumman until that time. Shea watched these operations closely and on 19 September expressed his belief to Evans that the work packages could control costs and might even effect some modest reductions. In the next two months, however, costs still exceeded budgets in some areas. Unless discipline were enforced, Shea warned Titterton on 18 November, the work packages could turn into so many worthless scraps of paper rather than effective management tools.23

Hjornevik's team also discovered that no one person had been assigned responsibility for overall subcontract supervision. As a result, this whole area suffered from splintered authority. Grumman appointed Brian Evans to the newly created position of Subcontract Manager, reporting directly to Program Director Joseph G. Gavin, Jr. Evans then assembled a staff of project managers and assigned each to a major subcontract, with jurisdiction over costs, schedules, and technical performance. The strengthened structure was a welcome tonic; hardware deliveries improved and subsystem qualification moved ahead. Titterton also instituted quarterly meetings with presidents of the major subcontractor firms, similar to those held by Mueller for NASA's prime Apollo contractors.24

The weaknesses in ground checkout equipment, which had been a millstone around the contractor's neck since the early days of the program, had developed because Grumman leaders simply had not recognized the immensity of the task. In February 1966 Phillips had pointed out to Shea that this equipment had paced the start of propulsion system testing at White Sands, had hampered in-house activity at Bethpage, and threatened to delay operational readiness of checkout and launch facilities at Kennedy Space Center.* Shea replied that Grumman had put checkout equipment engineering and manufacturing on a 56-hour work week and was adding manpower to do the job.25

Despite Shea's reassurances and Grumman's attempts at remedial actions, the system failed to improve measurably. Grumman had made progress in engineering design, which was about 80 percent complete; the bottleneck was in fabrication. Phillips and Mueller became thoroughly alarmed. They suggested that Grumman purchase components for the system from General Electric and other vendors who were having more success in the field. Subsequently, Grumman did put a variety of ground support items up for competitive bid.26

At Bethpage, the Hjornevik team's difficulty in assessing the ground support equipment problem hinged on the fact that Grumman did not have a coordinated plan. The team suggested that Grumman devote more attention to specific areas such as deadlines for drawing releases, an intensified production effort, and a daily status review by program management. Llewellyn Evans named John Coursen to oversee ground-support-equipment manufacturing and set aside a separate building for the fabrication workers, whose numbers had grown considerably. Procurement was also strengthened, with Robert Brader heading a staff of a dozen purchasing people. And, finally, a "GSE command post" was established to track day-by-day progress.27

Actions at Bethpage were complemented by moves in Houston. In mid-July, Wayne Young appointed a team to meet with Grumman every month to assess status and tackle problems. At the end of the summer, with the last Gemini flight mission scheduled before the end of the year, Charles Mathews and William Lee shipped some surplus Gemini checkout items to Bethpage.28 Collectively, these measures brought a dramatic turnaround in Grumman's checkout equipment progress. As Gavin later observed: "The tide was turned in midsummer. We were effectively on schedule in mid-october."29

Successfully overhauling management practices and fighting rising costs were commendable accomplishments, but the lunar module faced problems in other areas that were equally dangerous to Apollo. Downey and the command module had been the big technical worry during 1965, Shea said at a meeting in San Augustine, Texas. The lander, which had begun the program a year late, must not be allowed to stumble into the same pitfalls. Echoing Shea's sentiments, William Lee commented that Apollo would be in deep trouble if the lunar module followed the pattern of Gemini and the command module.30

A significant hurdle vaulted about mid-1966 was the final solution of the long-overdue radar-optical-tracker question, the last of the lander's subsystems to be settled. Engineers in the Manned Spacecraft Center's Apollo office and in Robert E. Duncan's Guidance and Control Division had promoted an "olympics" - a contest that pitted the radar against the tracker - and performance trials took place in the spring of 1966. After tests and presentations by competing contractors RCA and Hughes Aircraft Company, a review board chose the RCA radar. Although both systems could be developed within the same time and cost ($14 million), the radar had more operational flexibility than the less versatile tracker. The radar was heavier, but the weight had little influence on the choice, because of Grumman's weight-reduction program of the previous year.

Perhaps the decisive factor in the selection was the outspoken preference of the astronauts. When asked by Duncan to support the olympics, Donald Slayton stated forthrightly: "The question is not which system can be manufactured, packaged, and qualified as flight hardware at the earliest date; it is which design is most operationally suited to accomplishing the lunar mission." In light of recent experience, Slayton and Russell L. Schweickart, the astronauts' representative on the evaluation board, believed that mission planning should make maximum use of Gemini rendezvous procedures and orbital techniques. This should include, they said, "an independent, onboard source of range/range rate information . . . with accuracy on the order of that provided by the existing LEM rendezvous radar." So Grumman, which had slowed down radar development, shifted RCA back into high gear.31

The lunar module engines, too, were still having technical troubles, troubles that seemed to defy solution, although none of them were grave enough to threaten eventual success. For the descent engine, these included rough burning; excessive eroding of the combustion chamber throat; burning of the throttle mechanism pintle tip, where fuel and oxidizer met and combustion began; and difficulty in getting presumably identical engines to operate alike.

Design engineers at the Thompson-Ramo-Wooldridge (TRW) Systems Group** made several changes in the pintle tip, the most significant being a switch to columbium to improve thermal characteristics. Other revisions included removing a turbulence ring around the interior of the chamber and realigning the flow pattern of the fuel that cooled the sides of the chamber wall. Although qualification testing was delayed six months, the problems seemed to be solved.32

Ascent engine technical problems were more fundamental. Bell was plagued by fabrication and welding difficulties and by severe gouging in the ablative lining of the thrust chamber. The injector, which had been fitted with baffles to combat combustion instability encountered during the shaped-charge bomb testing, was also a culprit. After an engineering review and resulting design revisions, including strengthening of the weld areas, Houston suggested that Bell begin work on a backup model. That would be expensive, but something had to be done. Subsequently, an improved injector demonstrated better burning characteristics. Late in 1966, however, another worry cropped up.

At a Manned Spacecraft Center senior staff meeting on 4 November, Max Faget reported two instances of unstable combustion: one, during a firing test at White Sands, with a flat-face injector; the second at Bell, during a bomb test for design verification of a supposedly improved, baffled model. In both tests, damages had been extensive. At this point in the program, with the first two flight vehicles already late for delivery, these failures were ominous.33

Schedule difficulties for the lunar module were nothing new, of course. Grumman had been under the gun from the very beginning, when the mode selection made the lander a late starter in Apollo. But during the summer and autumn of 1966, schedules became crucial. In July, every vehicle on the production line through LM-4 was late. Moreover, because of tardy deliveries by vendors, a serious bottleneck was shaping up in the assembly of LM-1. By late November, however, the earlier remedial actions seemed to be having some good effect and this continual slippage appeared to have slowed. At a briefing for Olin Teague's congressional Subcommittee on NASA Oversight in Houston on 6 October, Shea had said that he expected the first lunar module to be shipped early in 1967.34

By the end of the year, LM-1 and LM-2 were in the test stands at Bethpage, and LM-3 through LM-7 were in various stages of fabrication and equipment installation. But the coming of the new year did not yield the progress Shea had looked for the previous October. Toward the end of January, it was revealed that LM-1 would not reach the Cape in February, as expected.35 In short, the moon landing might be delayed because the lander was not ready. But the mission planners could not wait for the Apollo engineers to iron out all the problems. They had to plan for a landing in 1969 and hope that the hardware would catch up with them.

* After attending a lunar module status review at Bethpage on 18 May, Harold G. Russell, Special Assistant to Phillips for Operational Readiness, expressed his mounting concern about Grumman's chances for meeting the operational readiness dates for facilities at the Cape. The company was reporting delays of two and a half months in support of LM-1, but, Russell told Phillips, "from an analysis of the GAEC internal reporting system (if they really have such a system), the slippages may be worse than they are reporting. I seriously question the GAEC management visibility into their critical problem areas."

** In 1966, TRW's Space Technology Laboratories (the familiar "STL") was renamed TRW Systems Group.

19. R. Wayne Young to Aubrey L. Brady, MSC, "Status of LEM-1 Critical Design Review (CDR) and Status of GAEC Configuration Management," 4 Feb. 1966; John B. Lee, recorder, minutes of MSC Senior Staff Meetings, 18 March, p. 3, and 29 April 1966, p. 4; Young to Prog. Control Div., "GAEC Funding Situation," 28-March 1966, with enc.; Robert A. Newlander to Walter J. Gaylor, MSC, RASPO-Bethpage, "LEM Progress Report October 1965 to March 1966," 15 April 1966.

20. MSC, LEM Contract Engineering Br. (CEB), "Accomplishments," 2 March, 9 March, 13 April, and 27 April 1966; Young to Grumman, Attn.: Robert S. Mullaney, "GAEC Major Subcontractor Program Review; Confirmation of GAEC and NASA/MSC Agreements on Areas of Cost Reduction," 21 April 1966; Young memo, "LEM Subcontractor Review Meeting," 25 April 1966, with enc., Mullaney memo, "LEM Program Cancellation of Future Subcontractor Quarterly Program Review Meetings and Institution of Regularly Scheduled Monthly Meetings which will include Cost and Manpower Reviews and Discussion of Qualification Status," 12 April 1966.

21. Mueller, prepared statement for Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, exec. sess., 12 June 1967, pp. 2-3; Frank X. Battersby to Chief, Apollo Proc. Br., "Weekly Activity Report, BMR Bethpage, Week Ending June 24, 1966," 29 June 1966.

22. Mueller statement, pp. 3-4, 6-7; Young memo, "LEM Management Meeting," 11 July 1966; Battersby to Chief, Apollo Proc. Br., "Weekly Activity Report, . . . July 1, 1966," 6 July 1966, and "Weekly Activity Report, . . . July 8, 1966," 12 July 1966.

23. Mueller statement, pp. ii, 7, 8; William A. Lee memo, "GAEC Work Package Review." 30 Aug. 1966, with enc.; Shea to Titterton, 19 and 28 Sept. and 18 Nov. 1966.

24. Mueller statement, pp. 5-7; Battersby to Chief, Apollo Proc. Br., "Weekly Activity Report, . . . August 12, 1966," 17 Aug. 1966; Battersby memo for file, "Minutes of the Afternoon Session of the Grumman Subcontractors Senior Management Meeting, September 20, 1966," 21 Sept. 1966.

25. Phillips to Shea, 21 Feb. 1966; Shea to Phillips, 30 March 1966; Col. Harold G. Russell to Phillips, "Site Activation for LEM-1," 23 May 1966.

26. Mueller note to Phillips, 1 April 1966; Phillips note to Mueller, 6 April 1966; Phillips to Assoc. Admin., OMSF, "Utilization of G.E., Boeing, etc. for Subcontracting of LEM GSE," 5 May 1966.

27. Mueller statement, p. 5; Battersby to Chief, Apollo Proc. Br., 6 July 1966; "Manned Spacecraft Program Review, August 23, 1966, Apollo Spacecraft: Dr. Shea," briefing charts; John Coursen, interview, Bethpage, N.Y., 8 Dec. 1971.

28. Young TWX to Grumman, Attn.: Mullaney, "GSE Meetings at GAEC Bethpage," 18 July 1966; William Lee to Mgr., Gemini Prog., "Transfer of Gemini aerospace ground equipment to Lunar Module," 30 Sept. 1966.

29. House Committee on Science and Astronautics, 1968 NASA Authorization: Hearings on H.R. 4450, H.R. 6470 (Superseded by H.R. 10340), pt. 2, 90th Cong., 1st sess., 1967, p. 647; Mueller statement, p. 5; Coursen interview.

30. MSC, "Presentation Made at Apollo Program Planning Seminar, San Augustine, Texas, October 14, 15, 16 and 17, 1966."

31. MSC Quarterly Activity Report for Assoc. Admin., OMSF, for period ending 31 July 1966, p. 55; Robert C. Duncan to Chief, Astronaut Off., "Request for support: Evaluation Board for LORS - RR 'Olympics,'" 25 Jan. 1966, with enc., Young to Grumman, "Rendezvous Radar Testing," 25 Jan. 1966; Donald K. Slayton to Chief, Guidance and Control Div., "LORS - RR 'Olympics,'" 1 Feb. 1966; Slayton to Mgr., Apollo Prog., "Requirements for Apollo rendezvous," 5 April 1966; MSC news release 66-38, 2 June 1966; James L. Neal TWX to Grumman, Attn.: Elmer W. Laws, "Contract . . . with RCA for Rendezvous Radar Transponder," 1 June 1966.

32. Joseph G. Thibodaux, Jr., to Mgr., Apollo Prog., "LEM descent engine program," 27 June 1966; House, Subcommittee on NASA Oversight, Pace and Progress, pp. 1147-51.

33. Neal TWX to Grumman, Attn.: Laws, "Redesign Review of APS Injector Back Up," 11 Aug. 1966; House, Subcommittee on NASA Oversight, Pace and Progress, pp. 1153-54; John Lee, minutes of MSC Senior Staff Meeting, 4 Nov. 1966, p. 1; MSC White Sands Weekly Management Report, 13-19 Oct. 1966.

34. MSC, LEM CEB, "Accomplishments," 6 July, 14 Sept., 23 Nov. 1966; Newlander to John H. Johansen and Lewis R. Fisher, MSC, "Status and Scheduling of LM-1," 2 Aug. 1966; MSC, "Subcommittee on NASA Oversight, House of Representatives, October 6, 1966."

35. Phillips to Assoc. Admin., NASA, "LM Status Report," 30 Dec. 1966; Shea memo, "ASPO Schedule Bulletin No. 2," 25 Jan. 1967.

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