Space Task Group Gets a New Home and Name

Between flight planning and scheduling launches in August 1961, a NASA site survey team headed by John F. Parsons, Associate Director of Ames Research Center, had inspected a number of sites competing for the permanent location of a center for manned space flight projects. The new center had been approved in principle by President Kennedy in accordance with his strategic decision, endorsed by the Congress, to accelerate the space program. The team appraised the sites on 10 points, briefly stated as follows: availability of educational institutions and other facilities for advanced scientific study, electric power and other utilities, water supply, climate, housing, acreage, proximity to varied industrial enterprises, water transportation, air transportation, and local cultural and recreational resources. On September 19, 1961, NASA Administrator James E. Webb announced that the new Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) would be established on a 1,000-acre tract to be transferred to the Government by Rice University, near Houston. The site was in Harris County, Texas, on the edge of Clear Lake, an inlet of Galveston Bay on the Gulf of Mexico.20

Webb maintained that selection of the Houston site had been influenced by [391] recent decisions to expand the launch complex at the Atlantic Missile Range and to establish a fabrication facility for large booster and space vehicle stages at the Michoud Plant, near New Orleans, where torpedo boats had been manufactured during World War II. The Manned Spacecraft Center, the Michoud Operations, and the Cape Canaveral complex would become a vast integrated enterprise coordinating the development, manufacture, and operation of the manned space flight program.

Not unexpectedly, there was some criticism of the Texas site chosen for the new development center. Charges of inordinate political influence involved the names of Vice-President Johnson, a Texan and chairman of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, and Democratic Representative Albert Thomas of Houston, Chairman of the House of Representatives Independent Offices Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee. NASA spokesmen categorically denied that there had been any improper influence. Particularly crestfallen were the citizens of the Virginia peninsula, who realized they were losing some of the activities at the Langley Research Center and the Wallops Station. All through August, September, and October, the dailies of Newport News echoed this disappointment. To Houston, of course, this was "wonderful news," as the Chamber of Commerce proclaimed, and local business leaders dispatched representatives to brief the transferring NASA employees in Virginia on the advantages of the Texas coast.21

Less than a month after Webb's announcement, a Houston journalist went on an inspection tour of the site planned for the spacecraft center. He found cowboys driving herds of cattle to new pasture, a crew of surveyors from the Army Corps of Engineers mapping the prairie near Clear Lake and fighting snakes, and a lone wolf hunter with the carcass of a freshly slain wolf. The hunter said he had just seen several wild turkeys, a fox, and many deer tracks.22

[392] Gilruth and other officials of the Space Task Group reacted quickly to the Webb announcement. The very next day they flew into Houston to begin a search for an estimated 100,000 square feet of temporary floor space. Moving began in October 1961, when Martin A. Byrnes, as the local manager, and a small cadre of center operations, procurement, and personnel employees opened offices in Houston's Gulfgate Shopping City. By mid-1962, when the move was completed, activities were scattered in 11 locations, occupying 295,996 square feet of leased office and laboratory space in the vicinity of Telephone Road and the Gulf Freeway. For both old and new employees, a street map was a necessity in the coordination of information among the various offices located in the dispersed buildings. Besides the leased quarters, NASA personnel liberally used surplus facilities available at nearby Ellington Air Force Base.23

By early October 1961, the Space Task Group had established an information relocation center in its Public Affairs Office to help personnel facing the move. Inquiries from the employees about schools and housing were numerous. Shortly thereafter, members of the Space Task Group received procedure directions for permanent change of duty station and then were advised on November 1, 1961, that "the Space Task Group is officially redesignated the Manned Spacecraft Center." The center was now a de facto NASA unit, a nerve center of the accelerated manned space flight program. It was several months, however, before the administration of projects was subdivided for management of the three major programs - Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. NASA outlined its building requirements for the center on October 13, 1961, at which time two plans were under consideration, one with 13 major buildings and the other with 14, to accommodate 3,151 people. The estimated cost was $60 million for the first year's construction.24

20 Grimwood, Mercury Chronology, 147; NASA News Release 61-207, "Manned Space Flight Laboratory Location," undated; memo, Gilruth to staff, "Location of New Site for Space Task Group," Sept. 19,1961. The team had surveyed sites in Tampa and Jacksonville, Fla.; New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Bogalusa, and Shreveport, La.; Houston, Beaumont, Corpus Christi, Victoria, Liberty, and Harlingen, Tex.; St. Louis, Mo.; Los Angeles, Berkeley, San Diego, Richmond, Moffett Field, and San Francisco, Calif.; and Boston, Mass. I. Edward Campagna, interview, Houston, June 16, 1963; "Manned Spacecraft Center," NASA/MSC brochure, June 1964. The Humble Oil and Refining Co. detached two tracts from acreage formerly operated as the Clear Lake Ranch and donated them to Rice University. Tract No. 1, consisting of 600 acres, was bought by the Government for $1,400,000. Tract No. 2, of 1,020 acres, was donated to the Government, the tracts being transferred simultaneously. J. Wallace Ould, Chief Legal Counsel, MSC, interview, Houston, Sept. 24, 1964.

21 "Manned Space Flight Laboratory Location"; Robert L. Rosholt, An Administrative History of NASA, 1958-1963, NASA SP-4101 (Washington, 1966); Stephen B. Oates, "NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center at Houston, Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly, LXVII (Jan. 1964). An editorial, "A Long View of What We Lost," in the Newport News Daily Press, of Oct. 3, 1961, reflects the public sentiment on the Virginia peninsula on the announced departure of the Space Task Group.

22 Houston Chronicle, Oct. 11, 1961.

23 Houston Chronicle, Houston Post, Houston Press, Sept. 21, 1961; "Manned Spacecraft Center Has Moved to Houston," NASA/MSC brochure, Aug. 1962. Activities of the new spacecraft center were housed in temporary facilities: Farnsworth and Chambers Building, Site 2, headquarters; Rich Building, Site 3, Spacecraft Research Division and Systems Evaluation and Development Division; Lane Wells Building, Site 4, Life Systems Division; Houston Petroleum Center and Stahl and Meyers Building, Site 5, Project Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Flight Operations Division; East End State Bank Building, Site 6, Personnel and Security Divisions; Office City, Site 7, Flight Crew Operations Division; Ellington Air Force Base, Site 8, Procurement, Financial Management, Photographic Services and Supply; Minneapolis-Honeywell Building, Site 9, Public Affairs Office; Canada Dry Building, Site 10, Technical Services Division; KHOU-TV Building, Site 11, Data Computation and Reduction Division; Peachy Building, Site 12, Facilities Division. Later on the center occupied additional temporary quarters in the Franklin Development Center and in a building formerly occupied by the Veterans Administration, and these became sites 13 and 14. The designation Site 1 was given to the Clear Lake site. "Manned Spacecraft Center Interim Facilities," NASA/MSC brochure, Aug. 15, 1963.

24 "Houston Relocation Office Opens," Newport News Times-Herald, Sept. 27, 1961; memos, Wesley L. Hjornevik to staff, "Relocation Information Center," Oct. 5, 1961, and "Procedure for a Permanent Change of Duty Station," Nov. 1, 1961; memo, W. Kemble Johnson (Relocation Supervisor), to staff, "Relocation Plans," Oct. 18, 1961; memo, Purser to staff, "Designation of STG as 'Manned Spacecraft Center,' " Nov. 1, 1961; memo, unsigned, "Manned Spacecraft Center Building Facilities Requirements," Oct. 13, 1961.

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