Apollo Expeditions to the Moon



How many prime contractors, we wondered, should NASA bring in for the development of the Saturn V? Just one, or one per stage? How about the Instrument Unit that was to house the rocket's inertial-guidance system, its digital computer, and an assortment of radio command and telemetry functions? Who would do the overall systems engineering and monitor the intricate interface between the huge rocket and the complex propellant-loading and launching facilities at Cape Canaveral? Where would the various stages be static-tested?

A photo of the J-2 engine One of the J-2 engines that power the upper stages of Saturn V. Liquid hydrogen, on its way from the fuel turbopump, is used to cool the walls of the thrust chamber regeneratively.

Understandably, the entire aerospace industry was attracted by both the financial value and the technological challenge of Saturn V. To give the entire plum to a single contractor would have left all others unhappy. More important, Saturn V needed the very best engineering and management talent the industry could muster. By breaking up the parcel into several pieces, more top people could be brought to bear on the program.

A photo of a F-1 engine being tested
Thunder echoed in the mountains when a mighty F-1 engine spoke out during qualification. At a remote high-thrust test complex near Edwards, Calif., fuel and LOX were pumped in and tons of water cascaded over the flame deflector while elaborate instrumentation measured the behavior of each new engine. It wasn't flightworthy if it didn't match specs.

The Boeing Company was the successful bidder on the first stage (S-IC); North American Aviation won the second stage (S-11), and Douclas Aircraft fell heir to the Saturn V's third stage (S-IVB). Systems engineering and overall responsibility for the Saturn V development was assigned to the Marshall Space Flight Center. The inertial-guidance system had emerged from a Marshall in-house development, and as it had to be located close to other elements of the big rocket's central nervous system, it was only logical to develop the Instrument Unit (IU) to house this electronic gear as a Marshall in-house project. IU flight units were subsequently produced by IBM, which had developed the launch-vehicle computer.

A photo of the S-IC stage being hoisted into the static test stand The first (S-IC) stage of the Saturn V launch vehicle being hoisted into the static test stand at Marshall Space Flight Center. This was the "battleship," or developmental test version of the stage, built heavily to permit repeated testing of flight-version working components. The first three flight S-IC stages were assembled at MSFC and tested in this stand. The massively reinforced construction of the 300-foot-tall stand was essential to withstand the 7.5 million pounds of thrust developed by the stage's engines during static testing.

Uniquely tight procurement procedures introduced by NASA Administrator Jim Webb made it possible to acquire billions of dollars' worth of exotic hardware and facilities without overrunning initial cost estimates and without the slightest hint of procurement irregularity. Before it could issue a request for bids, the contracting NASA Center had to prepare a detailed procurement plan that required the Administrator's personal approval, and that could not be changed thereafter. It had to include a point-scoring system in which evaluation criteria - technical merits, cost, skill availability, prior experience, etc. - were given specific weighting factors. Business and technical criteria were evaluated by separate teams not permitted to know the other's rankings. The total matrix was then assembled by a Source Evaluation Board that gave a complete presentation of all bids and their scoring results to the three top men in the agency, who themselves chose the winner. There was simply no room for arbitrariness or irregularity in such a system.

A photo of a tower used for pressure test The "pogo problem," a lengthwise mode of vibration recognized in the second Saturn V launch, was speedily solved through mathematical analysis supported by data collected in shake tests. To supplement shake tests in Marshall's Dynamic Test Tower, Boeing quickly erected this tower for special pressure tests at the Michoud Assembly Facility.

The tremendous increase in contracts needed for the Saturn V program required a reorganization of the Marshall Space Flight Center. Most of our resources had been spent in-house, and our contracts had either been let to support contractors or to producers of our developed products. Now 90 percent of our budget was spent in industry, much of it on complicated assignments which included design, manufacture, and testing. So on September 1, 1963, I announced that Marshall would henceforth consist of two major elements, one to be called Research and Development Operations, the other Industrial Operations. Most of my old R&D associates then became a sort of architect's staff keeping an eye on the integrity of the structure called Saturn V, and the other group funded and supervised the industrial contractors.

A photo of a skin section mounted to the Random Motion/Lift-Off Simulator
A test at the "Arm Farm". Just to the man's left a skin section representing the S-11 stage is mounted to the Random Motion/Lift-Off Simulator, which can simulate at ground level the swaying of the space vehicle in a Florida storm. A duplicate of the Mobile Launch Tower's S-11 Forward Swingarm projects from the left, carrying the umbilicals that are connected to the skin section.

That same year Dr. George Mueller had taken over as NASA's Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight. He brought with him Air Force Maj. Gen. Samuel Phillips, who had served as program manager for Minuteman, and now became Apollo Program Director at NASA Headquarters. Both men successfully shaped the three NASA Centers involved in the lunar-landing program into a team. I was particularly fortunate in that Sam Phillips persuaded his old friend and associate Col. (later Maj. Gen.) Edwin O'Connor to assume the directorship of Marshall's Industrial Operations. On September 7, 1961, NASA had taken over the Michoud Ordnance plant at New Orleans. The cavernous plant - 46 acres under one roof - was assigned to Chrysler and Boeing to set up production for the first stages of Saturn I and Saturn V. In October 1961 an area of 13,350 acres in Hancock County, Miss., was acquired. Huge test stands were erected there for the static testing, of Saturn V's first and second stages. Shipment of the oversize stages between Huntsville, Michoud, the Mississippi Test Facility, the two California contractors, and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida required barges and seagoing ships. Soon Marshall found itself running a small fleet that included the barges Palaemon, Orion, and Promise. For shipments through the Panama Canal we used the USNS Point Barrow and the SS Steel Executive. For rapid transport we had two converted Stratocruisers at our disposal with the descriptive names "Pregnant Guppy" and "Super Guppy". Their bulbous bodies could accommodate cargo up to the size of an S-IVB stage.

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