Chapter 8

Managing America to the Moon:
A Coalition Analysis

by W. Henry Lambright

Without question, the lunar landing program —Project Apollo— was one of the greatest examples of technological achievement in history. It was also a great managerial feat. Finally, the fact that it sustained political support long enough to implement the Kennedy goal was also remarkable. Today it is difficult to maintain momentum for any governmental program, it seems, beyond a single presidential election.

The Collier trophies have understandably gone in NASA's direction a number of times for extraordinary Apollo-related accomplishments. This essay explores the story behind the following awards:

The awards went for discrete accomplishments along the way, but they were part and parcel of a huge program that began in 1961 with the Kennedy goal "before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth." This prograin, which extended to 1975, when the final Apollo flight took place (Apollo-Soyuz) could have garnered any number of other awards for any number of other achievements.

It is somewhat arbitrary to single out any particular event, since what is at issue is a program in which one decision built upon another. The Collier awards really identify particular feats that are representative of the many. While they mention managers, or astronauts, or a government-industry team, what they are really about is a large group of individuals and organizations that combined for a relatively brief period of time to accomplish what in retrospect seems extraordinary. What made the lunar landing program possible? Who did what? How?




This chapter approaches the subject of Apollo as an achievement in program management. There is a great deal of academic and practical interest in this subject.1 In her introduction to this volume, Pamela Mack raises the issue of "big science."2 "Big science" stands as a symbol for billion-dollar research and development projects. Today, large-scale programs include the Space Station, the Genome Project, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the Earth Observation System. The Manhattan Project and Apollo are historical examples of "big science." For the most part, big science is a misnomer. What is entailed is technology, huge machines such as the Hubble Space Telescope. This is especially true for Apollo, with its $24 billion cost. Apollo was a large-scale technological program whose rationales were pride, prestige, and Cold War competition, not specifically science.

There are many ways such enterprises can be analyzed. Many sociologists have favored a "social constructionist" approach, in which societal forces shape science and technology. John Law and Michel Callon, in contrast to other social constructionists, see society and technology as affecting one another. In studying particular big science programs, they have isolated certain "actors" who are protagonists behind programs. In constructing programs, such actors build "local" and "global" networks.3

'Thomas Hughes, an historian, has written of society and technology as "a seamless web."4 But he also finds that certain actors, pursuing order and control, become "system builders" providing technological trajectories and momentum. These concepts have much in common with my own approach, rooted in political science, which focuses on the dynamics of large-scale technology as a political process. That is, the progenitors build coalitions of support behind these programs, coalitions of internal ("local") and external ("global") actors. Coalitions can grow, change, be strengthened, weakened, or unravel. The shape, scale, and direction of the program depends on the coalition —its size, cohesion, and leadership. Leadership in particular matters greatly in coalition building, for leaders are the coalition builders. Their strategies make the big science program go.5

Large-scale programs take time to be implemented, often a decade or more. Along the way politicians in the White House and Congress change, the economy goes through cycles, and international and domestic crises alter national priorities. What is possible for administrative leaders at one time may be impossible at another.

This chapter looks at Apollo as a long-term, large-scale program that had a beginning, middle, and end. The Collier awards reflect NASA achievements along the way as well as

1 . There are many books on Apollo. They include: Courtney G. Brooks, James M. Grimwood, and Loyd
S. Swenson, Jr., Chariots for Apollo: A History of Manned Lunar Spacecraft (Washington, DC: NASA SP-4205, 1979); Arnold S. Levine, Managing NASA in the Apollo Era (Washington, DC: NASA SP-4102, 1982); John Noble Wilford, We Reached the Moon (New York, NY. Bantam, 1969); Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox, Apollo: The Race to the Moon (New York. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1989) ; Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton, Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon (Atlanta, GA: Turner Publishing, 1994); and Andrew Chaikin, A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of Apollo (New York, NY. Viking, 1994).

2. James H. Capshew and Karen A. Rader, "Big Science: Price to the Present," OSIRIS, 2nd series, 7 (1992): 3-25. See also Peter Galison and Bruce Hevly, eds., Big Science: The Growth of Large-Scale Research (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992).

3. John Law and Michel Callon, "Engineering and Sociology in a Military Aircraft Project: A Network Analysis of Technological Change," Social Problems, Vol. 35, No. 3, 1988, pp. 284-97. See also Wiebe Bijker and John Law, eds. Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1992).

4. Thomas Hughes, "The Seamless Web: Technology, Science, Etcetera, Etcetera," Social Studies of Science, Vol. 16, 1986, pp. 281-92.

5. Jameson W. Doig and Erwin C. Hargrove, eds. Leadership and Innovation, (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987). See also Robert Smith, The Space Telescope: A Study of NASA, Science, Technology and Politics, (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1989).


Photo of Webb and Dryden receiving the Collier Trophy from Vice President Humphrey.
NASA Administrator James E. Webb and Deputy Administrator Dr. Hugh L. Dryden received the 1965 Collier Trophy for effective management of a large-scale research institution. Shown here are, left to right, Administrator Webb, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, and Mrs. Hugh Dryden, representing her husband and accepting the award for all of the Gemini teams who significantly advanced human experience in spaceflight. (NASA photo).

the total achievement. This process had an internal dimension (getting the work done) and an external dimension (getting the resources and political support). Behind the rise and completion of this program was a coalition building process. Behind this process were NASA leaders.

Seen historically, Apollo marked the culmination of many trends. It entailed the NACA tradition, set long before World War II, which linked government with huge inhouse facilities and laboratories. It expanded upon trends set during and after the war by which government accomplished big science through contracts with industry and universities. It added the visual drama of real-time reporting of man-in-space through satellite-based television. More than any R&D program before, Apollo merited the title of "national" endeavor, for the nation truly was involved and engaged, at least in the 1960s. There has been nothing similar since Apollo, for the conditions that made it possible have not repeated. The space program has continued, and built on some of Apollo's legacies, but it has never had the national priority it enjoyed then. What is significant is that NASA took advantage of that priority, making the most of the historic confluence of political and technological circumstances.


The Apollo Decision and Its Impetus

The Apollo decision of May 1961 was a reaction to the large political forces then at play. The Soviet Union was clearly ahead of the United States in space, and Congress, media, and the public were deeply concerned. American pride and prestige were bent. President Kennedy, who won an election by promising to get the country moving again, was depressed. The space flight of Gagarin and the Bay of Pigs fiasco symbolized Kennedy's own frustration. He —and the country— needed something dramatic as an assertion of national will. NASA had conceptualized Apollo in its plans since the Eisenhower years. But there had been no match between what NASA wished to propose and what Eisenhower wished to receive. There was now such a match in the case of Apollo and Kennedy. Apollo solved the immediate need the President and the nation had for a bold action.6

James Webb, NASA administrator, understood that he had to use the impetus of the decision to maximize NASA's administrative and political advantages for the long haul. Prior to Kennedy's announcement, he had told Vice President Lyndon Johnson that reaching the moon would require political support throughout the decade. Webb knew that this was the primary factor in success or failure. Some people spoke of a national "commitment," but not Webb. He regarded the decision as a beginning, one that gave him a brief honeymoon period he could use to get Apollo off to a fast start.7

Before 1961 was over, NASA had let many of its most important contracts: the three Saturn rocket stages that would sequentially boost Apollo beyond Earth's gravity went respectively to Boeing, North American, and Douglas; the Apollo spacecraft to North American; and the Apollo guidance system to MIT. In addition, the decision was made to create a new Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) and locate it in the area of Houston, Texas.

These decisions and others were all justifiable on technical grounds. However, they also had the effect of building a coalition of support for NASA in various regions of the country and among those legislators who represented them. Most notable was the decision to locate MSC in the Houston area, home of the Chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee responsible for NASA's budget, Representative Albert Thomas.

NASA leadership was indeed trying to accomplish multiple objectives, with coalition building being one of them. For example, NASA needed to work with universities to accomplish its objectives. Webb established a special program, Sustaining University Program (SUP), with broad goals. NASA had been accused by critics of taking scientists and engineers from other nationally-important endeavors. Webb reasoned that NASA would replenish the coffers through SUP, a program with a robust Ph.D. fellowship component. In addition, this program helped link potential critics in the nation's scientific community more closely to the space program. Winning support and neutralizing opposition were key to managing big science. NASA was a relatively weak and insecure agency before the President's Apollo decision. It had to be technically and administratively bolstered internally and externally afterward for the lunar mission. To be strong technically and administratively, it had to be strong politically.8

6. John Logsdon, The Decision To Go To The Moon: Project Apollo and the National Interest (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1970).

7. For the Webb role in Apollo, see W. Henry Lambright, Powering Apollo: James E. Webb of NASA (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995).

8. For Webb's perspective on "Big Science," see his Space Age Management: The Large-Scale Approach (New York, NY: McGraw Hill, 1969).


NASA's Managerial Coalition

The coalition concept was applicable to NASA's management, used at the very top of the agency and extending outward. At the apex of NASA was a management "triad" of three men. First was Webb, whose background was law and administration. He had been Budget Director and Under Secretary of State in the Truman Administration. At NASA, Webb had overall responsibility, but particularly concentrated on external political relations: President and Congress. The Deputy Administrator, Hugh Dryden, was a longtime civil servant and leader of NASA's predecessor organization, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). A physicist, Dryden was "Mr. Science" in the triad, and took special interest in NASA's international science activities. The third member was Robert Seamans, an engineer with both university and industry experience. He was Associate Administrator and "General Manager." There was thus a blending of skills at the top of NASA; the three men complemented one another and got along well. Webb was definitely the dominant personality, but he brought the other two into the most important decisions and used the triad to help his own credibility within the technical organization that was NASA. The three men presented a united leadership on decisions, a stance particularly strengthening the position of Seamans.9

Below the triad were the program managers. For Apollo, the key actor was the Director of the Office of Manned Space Flight (OMSF) an office created by the 1961 reorganization when NASA was changed to better match the Apollo priority. The OMSF Director had various subordinates. As OMSF developed, there were managers for the major manned projects: Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Apollo Applications (the planned interim follow-on to Apollo).

Then there came the centers —the huge operations that served as in-house laboratories and technical managers for most of the contracts. The three OMSF centers were Manned Spacecraft Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, and what came to be called Kennedy Space Center. The Manned Spacecraft Center focused on spacecraft development and astronaut training, Marshall on rocket development, with Kennedy Space Center being responsible for the actual launches.

This was the formal NASA organizational arrangement. Informally, NASA was composed of different cultures: the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics culture, the German rocket culture led by Wernher von Braun, Director of Marshall, and the systems engineer culture which largely ran OMSF at headquarters. What united the aeronautics and rocket cultures were their affinity for "hands-on" technical work. They liked to perform research and/or build hardware, and had to be prodded to become contract managers. The systems engineers liked to pull men and machines together on a large scale. They were accustomed to contracting out and managing. NASA's systems engineers were mainly drawn from industry and the Air Force, specifically to meet the administrative demands of Apollo.10

Under the first NASA Administrator, T. Keith Glennan, the decision had been made to contract out most of NASA's work to industry and universities. Webb continued this pattern, and often pointed out that 90-95 percent of NASA's Apollo work was spent outside government.11

9. On NASA's leadership, see Lambright, Powering Apollo. See also Robert Seamans, Aiming at Targets (Beverly, MA: Memoirs Unlimited, 1994).

10. Howard McCurdy, Inside NASA: High Technology and Organizational Change, in the American Space Program (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993).

11. Levine, Managing NASA in the Apollo Era.


Hence, the NASA organizational coalition included headquarters, centers, and contractors. It was diverse and competitive. What these elements had in common was a goal —to get to the Moon. They also had a NASA administrator, Webb, who believed that a management system had to have hierarchy, but also checks and balances. Thus, OMSF would have its own support contractors to give it technical strength to cope with centers and the major hardware companies. The centers would be kept strong institutionally as the technical core of NASA so they could deal confidently with industry. Worried that an imbalance could exist between NASA in-house expertise and industrial contractors in the electronics field, Webb established a new Electronics Research Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.12

Webb supplemented this vast system with personal consultants to himself, men he called "scouts," who would rove around the NASA-industry-university system and give him early feedback on problems. The informal supplemented the formal chain of command. At its height, the NASA system included 400,000 governmental and non-governmental personnel, held together by mutual dependencies and the lunar vision.13

Technological Choice and the President
as Coalition Member

The President was the most important member of the NASA external coalition. Kennedy's Apollo decision made him as dependent on NASA as NASA was on him. NASA's success or failure rebounded to his own prestige. The debate over how to get to the Moon illustrates the relationship. It also shows how technological, political, and administrative factors converged in specific decisions regarding Apollo.

There had been enough internal studies for NASA to know that the lunar landing was within the realm of scientific and engineering feasibility. Indeed, Apollo was much more an engineering than scientific enterprise, as scientific critics would continually complain. However, the engineering of Apollo was technological development in the most daunting sense. There had to be substantial advances in rocketry, heat-resistant materials, and computers if NASA was to succeed. The unmanned spacecraft NASA would send to photograph lunar landing sites and ultimately land on the lunar surface also pushed the state of technical art. This was technology at the frontier of innumerable fields. Technical success was possible, but by no means assured, and the addition of man to the equation added a host of novel technical requirements and immense risk. Webb felt he had to shield his technical organization and contractors from political interference and financial instability to give them a fighting chance to succeed. In order to accomplish this, he needed the President on his side.

When Kennedy announced the Apollo decision, NASA did not know precisely what approach it would use to get to the Moon. There were three options. One was called direct ascent, via a gigantic new rocket to be developed, named Nova. A second, called Earth orbit rendezvous (EOR), entailed assembling equipment in the Earth's orbit to go to the Moon. The third, lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR), also involved assembly, but in lunar orbit. Direct ascent was soon rejected because such a rocket would take too long to develop. The contest was between EOR and LOR. Webb allowed the debate to rage within his agency, feeling that this was the most critical technical decision in Apollo and his agency

12. Ibid. See also Robert Rosholt, An Administrative History of NASA, 1958-1963 (Washington, DC: NASA SP4104, 1966).

13. Lambright, Powering Apollo; Leonard Sayles and Margaret Chandler, Managing Large Systems: Organizations for the Future, (New York, NY. Harper and Row, 1971).


had to be united behind it. Eventually, the agency went with LOR because it promised the most savings in weight over the total mission without adding significant costs.

This decision was challenged by the President's Science Advisor, Jerome Wiesner, largely on risk grounds. It became an early test of who was in charge of Apollo. Webb's view was that NASA had to prevail on such an important technical decision. The conflict went to the President who backed Webb, and thus NASA.14

In 1962-63, there were other disputes within NASA and between NASA and outside forces. Perhaps the most important internal dispute was between Webb and D. Brainerd Holmes, the head of the Office of Manned Space Flight, an executive recruited to run Apollo. In 1962, Holmes felt Apollo was falling behind schedule and needed a substantial infusion of funds. He asked Webb to go to Congress for a supplement to the money already provided. Webb was anxious to show Congress that when NASA presented a budget request, it was a credible number. Congress did not know much about the details of space; it had to trust that NASA was well-managed. Credible budgets were critical to the management image Webb wished to convey. Webb said "no." Holmes then asked Webb to take the money from less important parts of the NASA program. Again, Webb declined. Holmes took his case to the media. The dispute escalated, reaching the President, who again backed his administrator. Holmes soon departed NASA.15

In gauging the management factors critical to the success of Apollo, there is no underestimating the important role Kennedy played as a supportive member of NASA's implementation constituency. While Webb was not a member of Kennedy's inner circle (as was Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense), he was a man Kennedy regarded highly for his accomplishments. Kennedy was anxious for NASA to succeed, and believed he had a good administrator in Webb. The NASA Administrator told Kennedy that if they worked together, NASA would succeed, but if they did not, he could not guarantee that would be the case. Kennedy chose to stick with Webb. However, Kennedy also hurt Apollo and Webb at one point in 1963 when he announced that instead of competing, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. might cooperate in space. This brought a negative reaction from NASA critics in Congress who were anxious to cut the agency's budget. Webb worked intensely and closely with Rep. Thomas to turn back this assault. NASA's budget went up over what it had been the year before, but the requested raise was reduced substantially. Meanwhile, the Kennedy U.S.S.R. initiative did not go anywhere, and the race to the Moon continued.

NASA and the Defense Department

Getting to the Moon required the cooperation of the Department of Defense (DOD), and for the most part, NASA received the cooperation it sought. However, the Air Force was a rival of NASA for space programs and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, while not a "space buff," saw space as a place where DOD had an appropriate role, at least in regard to using near-Earth orbit for manned reconnaissance.

McNamara wanted control of the Gemini program, which could give DOD the capability he sought. Gemini had been formulated after the lunar decision to fill a technological gap between Mercury and Apollo. Mercury ended in 1963. Apollo flights were scheduled to commence in 1967. Gemini (which carried two men) would be more complex than Mercury (which carried one man) and lead the way to Apollo (three men). With the LOR decision, Gemini was critical to NASA for learning how to operate in space and developing docking

14. See accounts of this dispute in Murray and Cox, Apollo: The Race to the Moon, and Seamans, Aiming at Targets.

15. See note above.


and rendezvous techniques. Finally, Gemini was important in keeping the media and general public part of the NASA coalition. It would show activity in the critical middle years of the lunar program, between Mercury and Apollo flights, and keep NASA before the public eye.

Webb and McNamara met, with Webb determined to hold the line on control. McNamara, who had to fight various battles on other bureaucratic fronts he accorded higher priority, backed off. Webb, for his part, compromised by permitting DOD experiments to be carried by Gemini. This agreement symbolized the basic relationship on space where NASA and DOD were concerned: NASA was the senior partner, even though DOD was the more powerful agency. DOD was subtly enlisted in the NASA coalition, largely on Webb's terms, and gave NASA important logistic support. It also supplied a number of key managers to Apollo after Holmes left in 1963, including Air Force General Sam Phillips. Phillips was appointed director of Apollo, reporting to George Mueller, head of the Office of Manned Space Flight.

President Johnson as Coalition Member

After Kennedy was assassinated and Lyndon Johnson became President in November 1963, NASA continued to have an ally in the White House. As Vice President, Johnson had been a strong advocate of NASA's going to the moon. This support continued through his presidency.

However, Johnson also wanted to build a Great Society and Apollo seemed far afield from this new national priority. Not so, said Webb, who argued that the space program was fully part of the Great Society, indeed embodying its deeper meaning. Webb's rhetoric soared as he described the Sustaining University Program as showing how investments in space could pay off in enhanced technological spinoff on Earth, how regional economic development and educational advancements could transform domestic America into a "Space Age America."16 Johnson was elated and had other agencies look to NASA as a model for linking technology, education, and economic development through university-based science centers throughout the country.17 Going to the Moon and creating a Great Society were linked rhetorically and strategically by Webb for LBJ.

Johnson also wanted to use the space program to project his image as a man of peace. He sent astronauts to foreign countries as ambassadors of good will. Johnson increasingly looked for ways to improve his peacemaking image. Vietnam, a relatively modest confrontation when Johnson came into office, was escalating steadily by 1965. He hoped his association with civilian space would counter some of the negative publicity Vietnam brought him.

Catching Up to the Soviet Union

What really helped NASA with Johnson, Congress, and the American people was the step-by-step, highly visible success of Apollo. The first Collier award for the lunar landing program came in 1965 when Gemini (firmly identified as a NASA program) was achieving one spectacular flight after another. Television was now capable of enhancing the space program through images transmitted from space to each American's living room. The

16. Walter A. McDougall.... the Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age (New York, NY Basic Books, 1985).

17. W. Henry Lambright, Presidential Management of Science and Technology: The Johnson Presidency (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1985).


American people participated as space technology advanced and men and machines seemingly worked to perfection. The coalition behind the lunar landing program extended to the media and general public.

Gemini was intended to be a technological bridge between Mercury and Apollo, and that it was. Major lessons were learned and transmitted by Gemini about rendezvous and docking in space, about human beings operating outside of their craft ("extra-vehicular activity"). NASA learned that men could live up to two weeks in space and how astronauts could work with operators "on the ground, in the control room, around the tracking network, and in industry."18 Gemini advanced technology in propulsion, "fuel cells, environmental control systems, space navigation, spacesuits, and other equipment. In the development stage of Apollo, the bank of knowledge from Gemini paid off in hundreds of subtle ways. The bridge had been built."19

Gemini, of course, was not without mishaps, but NASA seemed capable of turning problems into opportunities.20 All this contributed to an image of computer-guided managerial efficiency. Webb had been using the rhetoric of management innovation and calling NASA the best managed agency in Washington. Many observers believed Webb. For Webb, the words were not mere rhetoric. They were gospel, and he invited management scholars to come into NASA and observe for themselves.

Many, including Johnson, also believed that the U.S. was catching up to the Soviet Union, maybe even surpassing the rival. Something had gone wrong in the Soviet program in the mid-1960s. Its leading technological genius had died and there was no one immediately able to pull the factions of the Soviet space enterprise together. The U.S.S.R. was no longer demonstrating a vitally active program. It seemed to be in trouble. In contrast, the U.S. lunar landing program was in full thrust. By 1966, Gemini was proving to be everything its initiators hoped it would be: a great technical learning experience, confidence builder, and public relations tool.

Also, in the same year, NASA sent its first surveyor spacecraft to "soft land" on the Moon. The Ranger program was providing photographs of the Moon. Surveyor built on this and engaged in televised digging into the lunar surface. There had been some scientific speculation about the risks of a lunar landing by a relatively heavy manned spacecraft. Surveyor was developed to precede astronauts to the Moon. It utilized unique machinery and had to function almost perfectly to succeed. On June 2, 1966, the first Surveyor landed on the lunar surface. Surveyor was a probe able to show "that lunar soil was the consistency of wet sand, firm enough to support lunar landings by the lunar module."21 In 1967, the technical team responsible for Surveyor was awarded a Collier Trophy for their efforts.

The only drawback to these successes was that the Apollo program appeared to be going so well the Americans were getting complacent. This complacency —reflected by the President and Congress— did not impact negatively on Apollo funding. However, it did affect NASA's drive to acquire funds for long lead time items beyond landing on the Moon. Johnson, in particular, wanted to delay post-Apollo decisions. In late 1966, the President finally conceded to a modest effort in "Apollo Applications" that constituted an interim program to keep a production line of Saturn rockets and Apollo spacecraft going until a bigger decision (for a Mars trip or Space Station) was possible.

18. Roger E. Bilstein, Orders of Magnitude: A History of the NACA and NASA, 1915-1990 (Washington, DC: NASA SP-4406, 1989), p. 78.

19. Ibid.

20. Barton C. Hacker and James M. Grimwood, On the Shoulders of Titans: A History of Project Gemini (Washington, DC: NASA SP-4203, 1977).

21. Bilstein, Orders of Magnitude, p. 82. Howard E. McCurdy, Inside, NASA: High Technology and Organizational Change in the US Space Program (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), p. 64.


The Apollo Fire

Thoughts about post-Apollo were put on hold in January 1967, when the entire Apollo effort was threatened .22 A fire ignited in the Apollo spacecraft, while it sat on its platform at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Three astronauts were killed. Under the NASA system of management this should not have happened. Indeed, there had been a warning about the fire danger issued to Joe Shea, Apollo spacecraft manager in Houston, by a technical support contractor. But the warning was not heeded. In the wake of the fire, a nationwide furor erupted. As the space program had become an icon because of its seeming perfection, it now was questioned unmercifully by the national media. The coalition that had brought NASA to this point was in danger of unraveling.

No one was more cognizant of Apollo's political vulnerability than Administrator Webb. He determined that NASA had to find out what went wrong, fix the problem, and get back into space. All of this had to be accomplished in a manner that kept the coalition of supporters together.

Johnson held firm to the coalition, granting Webb's request that NASA be allowed to investigate itself. Congress agreed to hold off its investigation until the NASA inquiry was complete. Between January and April 1967 the NASA investigating team did its work, completing a report that castigated NASA and the spacecraft's prime contractor, North American, for shoddy engineering and carelessness. The fire was most likely caused by an exposed wire. Once the fire started, it could not be stopped because the spacecraft was filled with highly combustible materials and an all-oxygen atmosphere. Moreover, the door of the capsule opened from the outside, adding to the difficulties of escape. The media and Congress accepted the report's credibility, but questioned the Apollo timetable and whether the haste to get to the Moon led to shortcuts and thus caused the deaths.

The subsequent congressional inquiry went beyond the NASA investigation, which was primarily technical, to probe the NASA-North American relationship. A "Phillips Report" from 1965 had surfaced in which NASA Apollo manager Sam Phillips had sharply criticized North American's work and left at least the implicit threat of going to another contractor if North American did not improve its performance. Congress wanted to know more about the Phillips Report and any other internal studies of NASAcontractor problems.

Webb himself had been unaware of the Phillips Report and blamed Seamans for not better alerting him to problems. Seamans had become Deputy Administrator in 1965 after Dryden's death, while retaining his position as "General Manager." Exceedingly busy, Seamans relied on OMSF Director Mueller for information, and Mueller did not want interference from above. Mueller thought he had taken care of the North American issue in 1965-66 and that the work was back on target. As information had moved up the line from Phillips to Mueller, to Seamans, to Webb, the basic message of the Phillips Report had become increasingly sedated. Angry at both Seamans and Mueller, Webb was taking firm control now. He made "surgical" changes in NASA-replacing a few key people who had clearly made mistakes, most notably Shea with George Low, Deputy Director of the Manned Spacecraft Center. He also "supplemented" Seamans with Harold Finger, in topside management, and moved the individual who worked on budgeting for Mueller under his own wing. Webb's intent at this time of crisis was to manage Apollo much more closely and personally. Finally, he forced North American to replace its principal space manager with another individual, and ordered the President of North American to take greater personal responsibility for Apollo himself. To show he meant business, Webb brought Boeing

22. For an account of how NASA coped with the Apollo fire, see Lambright, Powering Apollo, pp. 142-88.


Photo of Hyland and Vice President Humphrey examining a model of Surveyor.
Lawrence A. Hyland received the Trophy in 1967 "representing the Surveyor Program Team at Hughes Aircraft Company, the jet Propulsion Laboratory, and associated organizations that put the eyes and hands of the United States on the Moon. Hyland and Vice President Humphrey are shown with a model of Surveyor. (NASA photo).

aboard to supervise the integration of North American's work on the rocket and spacecraft with that of other contractors.

In the congressional hearings that followed the NASA investigation, however, Webb was evasive about the Phillips Report and his actions in connection with North American. Webb did not want Congress to get involved in his negotiations with North American. He felt that NASA should manage Apollo, not Congress, and that there were those in Congress who were anxious to use this moment to assert control over the space program.

Congress was suspicious of how North American got the lucrative spacecraft contract in the first place. Was "politics" involved? What about the rumors of Bobby Baker, Washington wheeler-dealer and onetime aide to Johnson, and his involvement in the deal? More and more, Webb became the target of the investigation, and long-time antagonists of Webb, including Senator Clinton Anderson, Chairman of the Senate Space Committee, looked for the smoking gun that would get Webb out of NASA.

No smoking gun could be found. Important elements of the NASA coalition held together. Frank Borman, speaking on behalf of the astronauts, said that they had confidence in NASA management. Webb's allies in Congress, especially the most influential Republican on the space committee, Senator Margaret Chase Smith, stuck with him. The congressional investigation petered out as the summer of 1967 came on, with NASA


Photo of a mock-up of the Surveyor on the desert sand.
The Surveyor program received the Collier Trophy in 1967 together with the Hughes Aircraft Company, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and associated organizations which put the successful series of spacerraft on the Moon, and facilitated the success in 1969, of the Apollo lunar landing of humans on another planet. This mock-up of the Surveyor spacecraft was taken in 1966. (NASA photo no. 66-H-476).


promising to keep Congress better informed of emerging problems in the future. Webb did show Congress the Phillips Report and other internal documents —but on his terms, in closed session.

Of course, many legislators had already seen the report via leaks. A great deal of posturing and appeals to "principle" were involved. Webb interpreted his job as manager at this point to shield his agency and, if need be, even North American from excessive congressional strictures. He succeeded but at considerable cost to his own credibility with Congress and the media. He expended much of his political capital, and the coalition weakened —but it continued to function. Then, in November 1967, just 10 months after the Apollo fire, the first Saturn moon-rocket was launched. It was a great success, renewing confidence in NASA among doubters, and proving the wisdom of what was termed the "all-up" decision. This was a decision Mueller had earlier made, and Webb backed, to save considerable time by testing various components of the Saturn system all at once, in the first launch, rather than incrementally, as von Braun's team preferred. NASA had taken a large risk, and it paid off. The Apollo program could now recoup lost time.


The next two Collier awards went to Apollo 8 and Apollo 11. The former was the first circumlunar trip and the latter the actual lunar landing flight. Leading up to Apollo 8 were a sequence of unmanned flights capped by the first manned flight, Apollo 7, in October 1968. Astronauts flew in a spacecraft that had been significantly redesigned to make safety changes in the wake of the Apollo fire. These included a new escape hatch, fireproof materials, and better distribution and protection of flammable materials. The spacesuits were made virtually fireproof and changes were made in the spacecraft's atmosphere to enhance safety.

A moving force in redesigning Apollo 7 was George Low.23  Low had been Deputy Director of the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. He was persuaded to head the spacecraft development office in Houston with the mission of redeeming NASA's reputation following the Apollo fire. In 1968, while working on Apollo 7, Low realized that the lunar landing module that was to be developed and tested on the scheduled Apollo 8 flight later that year would not be ready. This could mean delays and ultimately missing the Kennedy deadline, unless a flight scheduled after that was moved ahead. The more advanced circumlunar flight would have to become Apollo 8. Flying men around the Moon was an extremely bold decision, not only technically, but psychologically. But Low believed the technical risks were acceptable since the rocket and basic spacecraft would be fully tested together in Apollo 7. Robert Gilruth, Director of the Manned Spacecraft Center, and von Braun agreed with Low.

Moreover, there was strong evidence, much of it classified, that the Soviet space program had been revived, and was pushing ahead again. The sense of competition burned deeply within NASA. The Soviet Union might well be gearing for a circumlunar flight and Low and others wanted to achieve this first.

What would Headquarters say? A key decision maker was Tom Paine, Deputy Administrator, replacement for Seamans, who had departed NASA at the beginning of the year, a casualty of the Apollo fire and deteriorating relations with Webb. Paine supported a circumlunar decision. Webb, abroad at the time, was contacted by telephone, and at first inclined to say no. Chastened by the fire, he saw the stakes as the nation's support for

23. See Murray and Cox, Apollo: The Race to the Moon for a description of the Apollo 8 decision process.


Photo of the flight crew of the Apollo 8 mission holding a small Collier Trophy.
The flight crew of the Apollo 8 mission, Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James A. Lovell, Jr., and Lunar Module Pilot William A. Anders, hold a replica of the Collier Trophy awarded for their historic first flight to the Moon. (NASA photo no. 69-H-914).

Apollo if anything went wrong. Never before had an attempt been made to send men the vast distance from near-Earth space to the Moon. On the other hand, he was aware that unless NASA took the risk, the Apollo goal might not be reached. Webb soon came around and gave a guarded decision to move ahead with the planning. Low had built a coalition within NASA for a major decision that was critical to NASA's Apollo schedule.

Apollo 7 proved successful and the stage was set for Apollo 8. When the Apollo 8 flight took place, and astronauts went around the Moon on Christmas Eve 1968, the effect on the country was almost magical. This had been a dreadful year: Vietnam had taken a turn for the worse with the Tet Offensive; Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated; there had been riots in Washington, DC; and Lyndon Johnson had gone on television to say he would not run for reelection. The country seemed to be coming apart. But on Christmas Eve, a quarter million miles from Earth, three brave men went around the Moon, and read from the book of Genesis. A divided country came together, at least for a while.

Next came a sequence of manned flights, equipment testing, and maneuvers in Earth orbit (Apollo 9) and lunar orbit (Apollo 10). Finally, Apollo 11 was launched July 16, 1969. As Apollo 8 had united the country, Apollo 11 brought the world together —one fifth of the planet's population reportedly witnessed the moment, four days later, when Neil Armstrong took


Photo of Earthrise as seen by Apollo 8 after rounding the moon.
A spectacular view of the rising Earth which greeted the Apollo 8 astronauts as they came from behind the Moon after the lunar orbit insertion burn. This view was also used for a United States postage stamp issued in 1969. Additionally, the views of Earth taken by Apollo 8 and subsequent astronauts are credited with giving visual stimulation to the environmental movement.

"one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."24 As the three astronauts splashed down safely in the Pacific four days later, Kennedy's 1961 challenge was met.

At the helm of NASA at this point was Paine; Richard Nixon was in the White House. Webb left NASA the previous October, in part to give Paine a chance to show success in the remaining 1968 flights. Conscious of the disruption in momentum a presidential transition could cause, Webb wanted to keep as much of the NASA management team together after January as possible. He wished to enlist the new President in the Apollo coalition. Without Webb, that was more likely. The best way to get Johnson's successor aboard was to "depoliticize" the agency. Nixon inherited Paine and kept him as Administrator. The coalition behind Apollo —minus Webb and Johnson— carried out the remarkable feat of Apollo 11.

Voyages to the Moon

The final lunar landing program Collier award came for Apollo 15, described as "man's most prolonged and scientifically productive lunar mission," culminating a series of voyages whose intent increasingly differed from Apollo 11. The Apollo program had focused on technology development up to 1969. After the first lunar landing, the mission of succeeding flights shifted increasingly to acquiring scientific data about the lunar surface. NASA was trying to get scientists and engineers within the agency and outside to work in closer harmony. This part of the NASA "working coalition" was difficult to assemble, but it was essential that scientists and engineers cooperate to make the most of the lunar voyages.25 The scientific

24. Bilstein, Orders of Magnitude, p. 91.

25. For voyages to the moon, see ibid., pp. 98-100; and William David Compton, Where No Man Has Gone Before: A History of Lunar Exploration Missions (Washington, DC: NASA SP-4274, 1989).


community had not been enthusiastic about Apollo, although a space science community had been built from the hundreds of millions of dollars NASA spent in universities in the name of Apollo in the 1960s. Now, however, NASA needed scientific support and help because scientists were in many ways users of the technological capability now in existence.

The voyages to the Moon lasted from 1969 to 1972 and were designed to learn more about the Moon. Apollo 12 essentially repeated the Apollo 11 journey but at a different lunar landing site. Apollo 13, launched April 11, 1970, was the flight that almost resulted in the first death in space when an oxygen tank ruptured, causing serious damage to the spacecraft. The trip to the moon was aborted and re-routed; the lunar module was used as a temporary "lifeboat." Through outstanding technical ingenuity on Earth and in space, the three astronauts made it safely back to Earth.

Apollo 14 lifted off January 31, 1971, and began more extensive scientific exploration of the Moon. A special cart was used to acquire rock samples and bring them back to Earth. Then came Apollo 15, launched July 26, 1971, which won the Collier award. Apollo 15 demonstrated the introduction of the lunar rover, an electric-powered, four-wheel drive vehicle, developed at a cost of $60 million. Using the Rover, astronauts roamed far and wide beyond their immediate landing site, observing lunar features and collecting rock samples. They covered seventeen miles of lunar surface during their visit, taking photographs of the craters and ravines. Because of the Rover, they conserved their energy and doubled the amount of time astronauts were able to stay on the Moon.

Photo of Frederick B. Lee presenting the Collier to Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin for Apollo Eleven.
Not surprisingly in 1969, Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, the crew of Apollo 11, received the Collier Trophy. The award honored the crew for their high courage, and stunning success in the accomplishment of one of history's most spectacular adventures-the first manned Moon landing. Frederick B. Lee, then president of the National Aeronautic Association, presents the award to Michael Collins and "Buzz" Aldrin. (NASA photo no. 70-H-772).


Photo of a single footprint in the lunar soil.
A view of astronaut footprints in the lunar soil at Tranquillity Base, landing site of Apollo 11 in July 1969. (NASA photo no. 69-H-1258).

In April 1972 came Apollo 16, and on December 7 Apollo 17 was launched, the last manned flight to the Moon. Both missions were scientifically productive, with Apollo 17 being a harbinger of the future in having a professional geologist, Harrison Schmitt, as a member of the crew.

With the exception of Apollo 13, the other flights did not have the dramatic impact of Apollo 11. Americans had different priorities now. Great social change had taken place over the years since the Apollo mission began. Neither government nor technology were in favor. A conservative regime was in the White House, and an anti-technology counterculture in the universities. The Vietnam war soured everything. Hugely expensive programs like Apollo seemed to many an embarrassing frill.

The space race was over; America had won. With no post-Apollo decision comparable to the Kennedy choice politically possible, Nixon in 1972 selected Space Shuttle, his minimal manned space option, to keep NASA going. The space program, whose budget had begun declining in 1966, had only one-third the buying power in the 1970s it had in its heyday. The coalition behind Apollo had declined and was now disintegrating.

The last Apollo flight was the Apollo-Soyuz mission of 1975. As Cold War competition had launched Apollo, so a thaw in the Cold War brought the world's two space powers together for a meeting in Earth's orbit. Apollo ended and moved into history.



The lunar landing program was one of the great technological successes in history. It garnered five Collier awards, all of which were well deserved. Recognized were Gemini, Surveyor, and Apollos 8, 11, and 15. While the awards cited specific individuals and achievements, they were really for an entire program and all those associated with it. This chapter has focused on the management of Apollo, specifically NASA. In the language of actor-network theory, NASA was the actor that established local and global networks (i.e., built and maintained both the working and political coalitions) to carry out the mission. Within NASA, the leaders of the agency did what actor-network theory suggests is essential for technical success, becoming an "obligatory point of passage" for decisions affecting the course of the program.26

What other factors were critical to success? How do these relate to central historical trends facing the agency, cited in this book's introduction, such as: (1) the growing web of bureaucratic and political obligations, (2) the increased complexity of R&D and disconnection between technology developers and users; and (3) changing attitudes towards funding?

Apollo did not succeed because of a mystical national "commitment." Such a consensus lasted but a moment in time, but it gave NASA leaders a year or two to procure major contracts, reorganize, found the Houston center, hire key managers, and launch a massive team of organizations capable of taking America to the Moon. The commitment to an ongoing coalition building and maintaining process was NASA's. Webb and his associates created a "lunar landing coalition" across Congress, the Executive Branch, and interest group constituents. Combined with working arrangements involving government, industry and universities, these political and administrative alliances were key to Apollo's technological success.

Strategies to mobilize such a huge coalition began in 1961 with the critical center and contractor decisions: choices not only of "who," but "where." Such strategies included the Sustaining University Program, which sought in part to neutralize scientific critics and win their favor for the space program. They continued in the mid-1960s, when NASA's Cold War rhetoric was supplemented by the rhetoric of the Great Society. Throughout, NASA management stayed in charge of the countless bureaucratic and political forces impinging on it, fending off challenges external and internal to its authority, thereby keeping an integrity to NASA decision-making and leadership in space policy. Webb created an "apolitical shield," using his political skills to insulate NASA's technical core from the political pressures of others.27 This was a relative autonomy that did not survive much beyond Apollo.

Apollo engaged 400,000 people from government, industry, and universities at its apogee. With the Apollo deadline as a discipline on all parties, NASA leaders stressed management excellence and backed rhetoric with clear-cut technological success, gradually overtaking the Soviet Union in space feats. The technological coalition had outstanding personnel who worked with zeal, insulated against political disruptions. Internal struggles over R&D priorities among programs and Centers, and between engineering developers and scientific users, were minimized by the unmistakable primacy Apollo possessed.

Whatever else it was, Apollo was a giant technological development program. Developing the technology to go to the Moon took precedence over other aspects of the space program. Scientists might not have liked these priorities, but they knew what the priorities were and for a long time-until NASA reached the Moon-there was little ambiguity about NASA's mission. Having a clear goal was both a factor in success and a "connect" for the disparate parties of NASA's technical, political, and administrative system.

26. Law and Callon, "Engineering and Sociology in a Military Aircraft Project," p. 90.

27. The concept of "apolitical shield" is developed by Eugene Lewis, Public Entrepreneurship: Toward a Theory of Bureaucratic Political Power (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1980).


Ranger and Surveyor were science in support of the Apollo goal. The SUP provided additional funds for space science. These, however, were possible only because of the larger support Apollo had, and many academic scientists realized this reality.

Then came the brief scientific use in the early 1970s of the technological capability that had been so arduously developed in the 1960s. The lunar voyages added enormously to the stock of scientific knowledge about the Moon, as users gained a measure of reward for their long wait. In succeeding years, however, the interests of developers and users would diverge sharply and eventually reveal outright competition.

NASA leaders were fortunate that they had moved quickly and adroitly enough to make visible progress toward the Moon by the mid-1960s. Gemini proved a political as well as technical link between Mercury and Apollo. There was thus an impetus in the latter 1960s to complete what had been started in 1961. However, the coalition supporting Apollo eroded steadily as the Great Society and then Vietnam changed national priorities and public attitudes toward funding large-scale science and technology. What was possible to launch at the outset of the decade was not possible at its conclusion as NASA learned when it sought to sell a post-Apollo program. This advocacy process wound lip with the Space Shuttle decision in the early 1970s. Considerations of cost-benefit were influential in the shuttle decision, nonexistent when Kennedy decided to go to the Moon. It was a new era in terms of public and political attitudes toward funding R&D. Reaching consensus within NASA and among NASA and external forces would become steadily more difficult.

Nevertheless, what NASA demonstrated through Apollo was that great achievement by government in alliance with the private sector is feasible where leadership is present and political and technological conditions are ripe. Occasions that make an Apollo possible are rare, perhaps singular. But other opportunities can arise. When they do, and individuals and organizations coalesce around a clear goal, a nation can rise to awesome challenges.

Photo of the Apollo fifteen landing site showing Irwin saluting the flag. The lander and rover are in the background.
The crew of Apollo 15, Cal. David R. Scott, USAF; Cal. James B. Irwin, USAF; and Lt. Col. A Alfred M. Worden, USAF and Johnson Space Center director Robert T Gilruth, received the Collier Trophy in 1971 for the most prolonged and scientifically productive mission of Project Apollo, and for demonstrating superb skill and courage. Astronaut Irwin is shown saluting the U.S. flag at the Apollo 15 landing site on the Moon, July 1971. (NASA photo no. 71-H-1414)

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