LINKING SCIENCE TO MANNED SPACE FLIGHT

1963: Progress and Prospects

As 1963 ended, manned space flight officials could look back at two and a half years of intense activity and considerable progress. Project Mercury had flown four earth-orbital missions, the last one remaining aloft for 34 hours. A new project, Gemini, was under way; its objectives were to explore some of the problems posed by the lunar landing mission, especially rendezvous.56 Apollo managers had made several critical decisions, including the choice of lunar-orbit rendezvous, the basic design of the two lunar spacecraft, and the configuration of the three-stage Saturn V lunar launch vehicle. Nine of the 12 men who would ultimately walk on the moon were in training for their part in the program. A new NASA Administrator, James E. Webb, had taken control, and the agency had been restructured for better support of Apollo. The new president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, had more experience with the space program than any other politician in Washington and would remain committed to it despite severe criticism and unforeseen tragedy.

The dominant position Apollo occupied in the space program was indicated by the changes imposed on Ranger and Surveyor in 1962 and 1963. Space science officials tried hard to preserve the priority of science in both projects, but with limited success. After thorough examination of the lunar exploration projects, the Space Science and Space Vehicle Panels of the President's Science Advisory Committee came down on the side of the Office of Manned Space Flight. In a mid-October report they concluded that Ranger and Surveyor must be planned so that the first few successful missions would provide the information engineers needed to design the lunar landing craft, and that those projects' technical management and funding should be integrated with Apollo's. Notwithstanding that concession, the panels insisted that after the first couple of landings science should determine the content of lunar missions and that the lunar surface activities must be planned with the full participation of the scientific community.57

Lunar science planning had begun, in the broadest sense, by the end of 1963, but how much science could actually be done during Apollo was still a question. Planners were contemplating as many as 10 lunar missions; what could be done on each one would have to await events. If the first lunar landing attempt did not succeed, and several attempts had to be made, science might have to wait. As 1964 began, Headquarters was preparing to deal with the details of the lunar missions: choosing landing sites, deciding what specific experiments would be done on the moon, and selecting the experimenters.


56. Barton C. Hacker and James M. Grimwood, On the Shoulders of Titans: A History of Project Gemini, NASA SP-4203 (Washington, 1977). Gemini is, to some degree, the forgotten manned space flight program, yet it was essential in determining that men could survive for as long as two weeks in zero gravity with no serious aftereffects, in proving the techniques of orbital rendezvous and controlled earth landing, and in developing the fuel cell as a power source, besides providing many hours of operational experience for mission control.

57. President's Science Advisory Committee, report by the Space Science and Space Vehicle Panels Donald F. Hornig, chmn.), "Objectives and Means in Lunar Surface Exploration," Oct. 15, 1963.


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