Precipitation From MR-3

The "unqualified" success of the Shepard suborbital flight brought immense joy and satisfaction to the managers, engineers, associates, and astronauts of the Space Task Group. They had labored almost two and a half years for this first triumph. Flight failures, schedule slippages, press criticism, and most recently the U.S.S.R.'s attainment of the first orbital flight, all had tempered the pride of [361] the Mercury team. But May 5, 1961, saw the Nation rejoice with relief and pleasure in the success and safety of Alan Shepard. President Kennedy's shore-to-ship radio telephone call to the astronaut was spontaneous, though difficult to link, and symbolic of the American mood that day. Although the seven-member corps of astronauts had combat records and test-pilot experience to their credit, one of them at last was truly a hero and not just a celebrity.

In the aftermath of the flight of Freedom 7, Gilruth once again published a morale memorandum for his staff. This time the subject was not a single favorable newspaper article, as had been the case of a story by Los Angeles newspaperman Marvin Miles the year before, but a compilation of formal congratulations to Alan Shepard from individuals in various walks of life, including the King of Morocco and a group of scientists in Peru.33

At the postflight press conference, Admiral Hilles quipped that the space race had turned into a world series played with a space ball, and that the Navy, naturally, had "caught the crucial fly." But the much more impressive Gagarin flight tempered everyone's pride but the Soviets'. What most enhanced the United States' prestige was not the technical prowess exhibited by MR-3 but the contrast between the open-door policy toward news coverage of its flight and the impenetrable secrecy surrounding the Soviet program.

One result of all this publicity was a widespread skepticism toward the space claims of the U.S.S.R. Many people around the world questioned whether a Red cosmonaut had flown at all. An Istanbul newspaper called Millyet, for example, reported that Turkish journalists, after viewing official films of both Shepard's and Gagarin's flights, asked of the Soviet consul general, "In the Shepard film we followed all phases of his flight, but in yours we followed only Khrushchev. Why don't you show us your space flight, too?" A Tass correspondent, replying for the consul general, was quoted as having explained, "We are mainly interested in the people's excitement and reaction. This is what we wanted you to see."34 Premier Nikita Khrushchev was supposed to have been much chagrined because the "up and down" flight of Shepard gained such extensive media publicity even though Gagarin had long since orbited the world.

Although NASA had kept a few secrets - such as ground-control command frequencies and persisting classifications of old military data - the agency made reasonable efforts to cooperate with newsmen.

[362] The President awarded NASA's Distinguished Service Medal to Alan Shepard in a Rose Garden ceremony at the White House on May 8. Although little notice was given, crowds of people lined Pennsylvania Avenue, cheering the veteran Navy pilot and new spaceman as he rode to the Capitol for lunch and back. Here and abroad, millions of people later filed by an itinerant NASA display to inspect Freedom 7 at close hand. Members of Congress sensed a formidable change in the public's attitude toward the space program. In place of widespread apathy or lack of understanding toward space exploration, many of their constituents now seemed aware of the meaning of the adventures into the space void. Congressmen who had been reviewing manned space flight plans and proposals since early April began thinking about increased allocations of national resources, such as scientific manpower, for future manned space exploration.

On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy presented a special message to Congress on "urgent national needs." At one point he spoke of space and of Shepard:

Now is the time to take longer strides - time for a great new American enterprise - time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.

I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decision or marshalled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.

Recognizing the head start obtained by the Soviets with their large rocket engines . . . and recognizing the likelihood that they will exploit this lead for some time to come in still more impressive successes, we nevertheless are required to make new efforts on our own. For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last. We take an additional risk by making it in full view of the world, but as shown by the feat of Astronaut Shepard, this very risk enhances our stature when we are successful. . . .

I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.35

The Congress, believing that the American people were also ready to support an expanded and ambitious long-term space exploration program, quickly endorsed these words of leadership from President Kennedy. Project Apollo shifted from a circumlunar expedition plan to a lunar landing endeavor, to be achieved before 1970, or "before this decade is out."

All through March, April, and May, members of the space committees of the Senate and the House busily quizzed James E. Webb, Dryden, Seamans, and other leaders of NASA about the implications of the Russian program and about how the planned time for the development of Apollo could be cut in half. But the appropriations debate was brief. By August 7, the Senators and Representatives [363] had agreed on $1,671,750,000 for NASA's fiscal 1962 budget. This was the first time Congress had appropriated over a billion dollars for NASA's space program at one time. Only $113 million less than President Kennedy had requested, this billion and a half dollars was but an initial appropriation, for the legislators understood that NASA would ask for a supplement about January 1962.36

Thus American aspirations in space, personalized by Astronaut Shepard on May 5 and codified by President Kennedy's endorsement of NASA's follow-on plans on May 25, 1961, gained clear direction, ample funds, and official sanction. The national mood for space had definitely changed from what it had been at the uncertain beginning of the Kennedy administration. A goal of developing space technology for space exploration was a tangible means to "get the country moving again."

Industries born of the frantic missile race of the mid-fifties would turn more and more to space-related research and development. Unlike military technology, such products were not needed in quantity; reliable performance was their highest criterion. Whereas Project Mercury, toward the end of its manufacturing phase in June 1961, supposedly affected approximately one out of 90 people in the United States through industrial support of some 10,000 companies, Project Apollo as redefined by NASA and approved by the President would take far more of a national effort.37 Kennedy had promised that expanded conquest of space would be difficult and costly. But so impressive and dramatic an enterprise was Apollo, so full of engineering and gadgetry, that the project seemed made to order for a new American destiny. To President Kennedy, the United States could win an open competition with the Soviet Union in space because of the inherent superiority of an open society.

Besides its portents, the President's decision had an immediate impact on the Space Task Group, an organization that had been studying the possibilities of advanced manned flight as early as 1959. In September 1960, the Apollo projects office formally appeared on the organization chart of the Space Task Group's Flight Systems Division, indicating the fulltime status of planners for Apollo. But the day after President Kennedy's speech of May 25, Wesley L. Hjornevik, formerly Glennan's administrative assistant and now Gilruth's, signed a notice to the Space Task Group that reassured the Mercury team of a future with Apollo. New funds and facilities, if approved by Congress as expected, would certainly affect the personal lives of the Space Task Group members by the necessity to reorganize and perhaps to relocate.38

NASA Headquarters had recognized for some time that a center was needed to survey the whole spectrum of manned space flight programs. On January 3, 1961, the Space Task Group had at last been designated an autonomous field element, no longer to be considered a part of the Goddard Space Flight Center. The Space Task Group's personnel strength had increased to a total of 794 people in mid-1961. Until Kennedy's lunar landing decision was [364] endorsed by the Congress, the Space Task Group had had only one responsibility, Project Mercury, and no authorization to proceed with more ambitious endeavors. The end of Project Mercury could have meant the end of the Space Task Group.

But President Kennedy's clarion message to Congress verified a new course for the Space Task Group's civil servants. Back in February 1961, Gilruth had asked his second in command, Charles J. Donlan, to begin considering the most feasible programs to succeed Project Mercury. Whatever the future programs were, they would require new, separate, functional facilities. By May a draft study was completed on how such undertakings should be managed. Entitled "Organizational Concepts and Staffing Requirements" for a "Manned Spacecraft Development Center," the study declared in its preamble:

One of the essential elements required to implement an aggressive national effort for manned space exploration is a capability within government to conceive, manage, and technically monitor the development of large manned spacecraft and to operate the spacecraft and related ground support equipment. This portion of the total job is in itself one of the largest, if not the largest research and development job ever undertaken in war or peace.

The nucleus of the capability now exists in the Space Task Group, which has handled, with industry and other government resources, the Mercury Program. However, a program of the much larger magnitude now contemplated would require a substantial expansion of staff and facilities and instituting an organizational and management concept consistent with the magnitude of the program. How - and how effective - the capability is organized will have a direct bearing on the success or failure of the total program.39

Only a few days had elapsed after President Kennedy's call to Congress for approval of the lunar landing program when the rank and file members of the Space Task Group began to read speculations in their local Virginia newspapers about where they might have to move. Few were eager to leave the Virginia peninsula. Many were glad to stop worrying about a move to Beltsville, Maryland, but no one knew what the alternative site would be. While wives and families fretted, the men and women of the Space Task Group were busier than ever before, because the group had just entered the final manned phase of the Mercury program. In August 1961, NASA Headquarters ordered John F. Parsons, Associate Director of the Ames Research Center, to head a survey team to recommend the permanent location for a manned spacecraft center. One of the members of the Parsons team, Martin Byrnes, was subsequently assigned to study relocation programs for STG's members.40

Responsibilities lay heavily upon STG. It had to accelerate the Mercury program to achieve its primary objective, manned orbital flight. It should start to recruit personnel and organize activities for the newly authorized Project Apollo. And, most immediately, it must carry out the second suborbital Mercury flight as scheduled. Once the next astronaut was recovered, the operations team in concert with the Space Task Group management would have to decide just how far to carry the Mercury-Redstone suborbital program. Many of the 30 or so [365] who had attended Shepard's postflight debriefing felt that this phase had served its purpose and that now the manned orbital phase should be initiated. This point was discussed in June but not by any means decided. From Shepard's success, however, one thing seemed clear: it was certainly not necessary to train all the astronauts on suborbital flights before trying to duplicate or triplicate Gagarin's feat.

33 Memo, Gilruth to staff, "Congratulatory Messages in Regard to MR-3 Flight," June 17, 1961.

34 "Documentation of the First Manned Space Flight without Earth Orbit by the United States of America," National Aeronautic Assn., United States Representative, Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, Washington, 1961. Shepard submitted certification of his flight on May 15, 1961. Regarding contrasts between reports of the Shepard and Gagarin flights, cf. The First Man in Space: The Record of Yuri Gagarin's Historic First Venture into Cosmic Space, trans. from Soviet press reports (New York, 1961). A large portion of the text is political propaganda. A photograph of the launch is obscured in clouds of smoke - much as the whole program was. The Shepard flight was reported in words and pictures without allusion to political ideology. The report of the Turkish journalists was extracted from Aeronautical and Astronautical Events of 1961, 24.

35 White House News Release, "John F. Kennedy, President of the United States, Special Message to Congress, May 25, 1961." Freedom 7 was displayed publicly at Cape Canaveral beginning on May 20, 1961, the day the launch area was first opened to the public.

36 For fiscal data on the fiscal year 1962 program, see House Committee on Science and Astronautics, 87 Cong., 1 sess. (1961), 1962 NASA Authorization, Hearings; Senate Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, 87 Cong., 1 sess. (1961), Independent Offices Appropriations, 1962, Hearings; House Committee on Science and Astronautics, 87 Cong., 1 sess. (1961), Authorizing Appropriations to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 28-38.

37 Mercury Project Summary, Including Results of the Fourth Manned Orbital Flight, May 15 and 16, 1963, NASA SP-45 (Washington, 1963), 1. This report says more than 2,000,000 people from government, industry, and institutions were involved in Project Mercury. For the components alone there were some 10,000 contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers. The Public Affairs Office of the Manned Spacecraft Center said that the Apollo program had about 40,000 contractors and suppliers as of May 1964. See also Tom Alexander, Project Apollo: Man to the Moon (New York, 1964), 8.

38 Memos, H. Kurt Strass to Chief, Flight Systems, STG, "Activation of Study Program Pertaining to Advanced Manned Space Projects," June 22, 1959; "First Meeting of New Project Panel, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 1959," Aug. 17, 1959; and "Third Meeting of New Projects Panel, Monday, Sept. 28, 1959," Oct. 1, 1959; memos, Gilruth to staff, "Advanced Vehicle Team," May 25, 1960; "Change in Organization of the Space Task Group," Sept. 1, 1960; and "President's Request for Additional Budget Action," May 26, 1961. A NASA-sponsored "Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Space" was also meeting at this time in Tulsa.

39 "Manned Spacecraft Development Center, Organizational Concepts and Staffing Requirements," May 1, 1961. Some 13 days before the Presidential pronouncement, a House appropriations authorization document foresaw an increased personnel requirement for STG, estimating the need at about 300 additional people. Moreover, it was noted that the organization would be carried as a separate research center for financial allocation purposes, beginning with fiscal 1962, although STG's work was then domiciled at the Langley Research Center and divided between Langley, Goddard, and the Cape. STG's personnel strength reached 1152 by the end of 1961, and it had proposed some 3,000 personnel spaces in the May study for a Manned Spacecraft Development Center. Authorizing Appropriations to NASA, 6.

40 Newport News Times-Herald, May 30, 1961; Newport News Daily Press, May 30, 1961; Aeronautical and Astronautical Events of 1961;memo, Paul E. Purser to Gilruth, "Log for Week of Aug. 7, 1961," Aug. 15, 1961. Besides speculating about the move, the press now began acquainting the public with the new manned space projects. What later became Project Gemini was described, and the lunar program was discussed. The estimated cost of these activities was mentioned frequently. (See Washington Post, May 24 and 26, 1961; New York Times, May 24 and 26, 1961; Baltimore Sun, May 26, 1961.) A cartoon by Herblock, of the Washington Post, pictured a launch vehicle and a spacecraft waiting on the pad while the pilot (President Kennedy) walked toward a service station and ordered an attendant (Congress) standing by a fuel pump, "Fill 'er up - I'm in a race."

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