The Prime Contracts

Because so much of the preliminary design work had been done, MSC had a letter contract for the spacecraft prepared by 15 December.1 Since it called for a "Two-Man Spacecraft" to be developed from "the present Mercury Spacecraft, retaining the general aerodynamic shape and basic system concepts," there was no question of seeking competitive bids. The choice clearly fell to the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, which had not only developed and was building Mercury but had also been an active partner in drawing up the new design. The company's president, James S. McDonnell, Jr., signed the contract on 22 December.2

[76] The contract did spell out some major changes demanded by the broad goal of ending up with "a versatile general purpose spacecraft for the accomplishment of space missions of increasing complexity." There were, of course, more specific goals: 14 days in Earth orbit, controlled land landing, rendezvous and docking in orbit, and simplified countdown procedures. All this meant that the new spacecraft had to be larger to carry two men; include ejection seats; have an adapter section that stayed with the spacecraft in orbit to house stores and special equipment; carry systems that would allow it to be maneuvered and docked in orbit and to be controlled in flight and landing; and have its equipment packaged in modules, each independent of the others and located outside the cabin so they would be easy to reach while the spacecraft was being tested and readied for launch.3

Despite these changes, the two-man spacecraft was still viewed as an improved Mercury. The contract required McDonnell to outfit the new spacecraft chiefly with equipment that had already been developed so that in most instances expected changes were small. This permitted a much compressed schedule. McDonnell was to provide full-scale mockups of spacecraft and adapter within six months and of the target vehicle docking adapter (TDA) within ten. The TDA, though McDonnell-built, was to be mounted on the target; it carried the gear needed to connect spacecraft and target in orbit. McDonnell had 15 months to produce the first spacecraft, with others due every 60 days until 12 had been delivered. Because docking came later in the program, the contractor had 23 months for the first TDA.4

The new contract between NASA and McDonnell replaced the earlier contract that had authorized the company to procure long-leadtime items for extra Mercury capsules. Since it was a temporary device to cover expenses during the time it took to negotiate a final contract, the letter contract had a ceiling of $25 million. The final contract was expected by 20 April 1962.5

Although NASA could deal directly with McDonnell for spacecraft development, launch vehicles were another matter. Titan II and Atlas-Agena belonged to the Air Force, and the Air Force was clearly going to have to serve the new project in some role. Just what that role was to be, in fact, may have been the first question tackled after formal approval. On 7 December 1961, the same day that NASA Associate Administrator Robert Seamans approved the project, he and John Rubel, Assistant Secretary of Defense and Deputy Director of Defense Research and Engineering, issued a joint statement on "the division of effort between the NASA and the DOD in the development of space rendezvous and capabilities."

Seamans and Rubel agreed that the program belonged to NASA but that using the Air Force, in essence, as a NASA contractor could help the civilian agency achieve its goals and permit the Air Force [77] (and other Defense elements) "to acquire useful design, development and operational experience." The Air Force, acting as contractor, would see that NASA got its Titan II launch vehicles and Atlas-Agena target vehicles. (As in the case of the spacecraft, the nature of the project precluded any choice of vehicles to he used.) The Department of Defense also intended to provide launch and recovery support for Mark II missions (the project had not yet been named Gemini) and to help NASA in choosing and training astronauts. Making "detailed arrangements . . . directly between the NASA Office of Manned Space Flight and the Air Force and other DOD organizations" was the next step.6

This task was turned over to an ad hoc group that met for the first time on 13 December. Paul Purser, special assistant to MSC Director Robert Gilruth, headed the MSC contingent, and Colonel Keith G. Lindell led the Air Force team.* Group cooperation was so marked that a first draft of the plan was ready two days later.7 It was passed around in both NASA and the Air Force, and two weeks were enough to put it in final form as the "NASA-DOD Operational and Management Plan" of 29 December 1961.8

The plan assigned launch vehicle development - Titan II and Atlas-Agena - to the Los Angeles-based Space Systems Division (SSD) of the Air Force Systems Command. The set-up was simple for Titan II: SSD would simply act as MSC contractor. Like NASA, SSD itself developed and built nothing. Its role was to manage the "associate industrial contractors" who actually provided the vehicles, with help from the non-profit Aerospace Corporation of El Segundo, California, in general systems engineering and technical direction.9

Arrangements for Atlas-Agena added another organizational layer, however, because NASA was already using the vehicle in its unmanned space flight programs and there was a working Agena Project Office at Marshall Space Flight Center. NASA's newly created Management Council for Manned Space Flight** simply decided to let the Marshall office take care of Atlas-Agena for the manned program as well. [78] MSC, in other words, had to order the vehicles from Marshall, which, in turn, procured them from SSD.10

MSC set the guidelines for launch vehicle development and had the last word in any technical dispute, but the day-to-day direction of the work belonged to SSD. MSC was to be allowed only limited contact with SSD's contractors, watching but not touching. If MSC saw something that needed to be done, it told SSD, which would pass the word on to the contractor.***

The "Operational and Management Plan" assigned two other major functions to the Department of Defense, with SSD acting as agent. One required SSD to oversee the modification of launch facilities at Cape Canaveral, Florida, to meet the needs of the new program. The other involved SSD in the support of program operations - launching, tracking, recovery - along the same lines already worked out for the Mercury program.11

On 26 January 1962, the plan was endorsed as a working arrangement between NASA's Office of Manned Space Flight and the Air Force Systems Command by the heads of the two agencies, Brainerd Holmes and General Bernard A. Schriever.12 At the next step up the ladder, Seamans and Rubel were not so sure that everything had been taken care of. They had questions about the plan's provisions for Defense operational support and its failure to define in detail a pilot safety program, the astronaut selection and training process, and project scheduling and funding. These matters seemed less pressing, however, than getting on with the development of Titan II and Atlas-Agena. Seamans and Rubel decided to let the plan stand as an interim measure, until a better defined version could be worked out.13 That took another six months and largely confirmed the arrangements already in force.14

Contracting for launch vehicles was in motion even while NASA and Air Force spokesmen were framing the Gemini Operational and Management Plan. NASA Headquarters juggled its fiscal year 1962 research and development funds to come up with $27 million, which it allotted to MSC for Titan II on 26 December 1961. As soon as notice came that funds were on hand, MSC wired SSD that work on the Titan II could start. SSD told the Martin Company's Baltimore Division to go ahead on 27 December.15

In the meantime, the MSC group that was to take charge of Gemini was writing a formal statement of work for Titan II. [79] Ready on 3 January 1962, it went to SSD with a formal request to buy 15 launch vehicles for Gemini. Although it could hardly have been a surprise, Titan II now appeared to require many more changes than had been allowed in the NASA-Air Force agreement only a month earlier. The terms of the memorandum that Seamans and Rubel had signed on 5 December 1961 explicitly limited changes to the fewest needed to adapt the missile to its spacecraft payload. But that was not going to be enough. To fit Titan II for Gemini would require new or modified systems to ensure the safety of the crew during countdown and launch. This included specifically a system to detect existing or impending malfunctions and signal them to the crew. MSC also expected changes in Titan II to enhance the probability of a successful mission, though what these were to be was not spelled out. The Air Force had Martin Baltimore under letter contract by 19 January 1962.16

Putting Atlas-Agena under contract took longer, despite just as quick a start. The first steps had been taken before the Mark II project was approved. After its mid-November meeting with McDonnell,17 the MSC rendezvous group had been able to define what would be required of Agena in greater detail and to check back with Lockheed Missiles & Space Company, its builder, about how these needs might be met. The MSC group outlined its views on Agena requirements in a note on 19 December 196118 and requested that Lockheed be asked to assess Agena's role in a rendezvous mission. Lockheed responded on 26 January 1962 with a report on Agena systems related to rendezvous - propulsion, communications and control, and guidance - and some informed guesses about further development that might be needed.19

By the end of January, MSC had evolved a fairly clear idea of the rendezvous techniques it planned for Gemini20 and had prepared a statement of work for Atlas-Agena. This was forwarded to Marshall on 31 January, along with a request to buy 11 Atlas-Agenas. Atlas as launch vehicle for Agena was no problem, since it was already being used for just that purpose in other programs. But Agena needed a good many changes to adapt it to its rendezvous role - radar and other tracking aids, a restartable engine, better stabilization, more elaborate controls, and a docking unit were only the more important. Fortunately, time was not so pressing for Atlas-Agena as for the spacecraft and Titan II since it was not scheduled until later in the program. MSC wanted the first target vehicle delivered in 20 months, or about September 1963.21 MSC did not pay its first installment to Marshall for buying Atlas-Agena until early March 1962, and another two weeks elapsed before SSD told Lockheed to go ahead with Gemini-Agena development.22

By March 1962, all major Gemini systems - spacecraft, booster, target, and paraglider - were under contract. [80] This reflected the care and forethought that had gone into the project plan. It also mirrored the absence of any competition for major Gemini contracts. The project had been designed around an improved Mercury spacecraft, which made the company that built Mercury the only reasonable choice to receive the contract for Gemini. Of boosters powerful enough to lift the new spacecraft, only Titan could be ready in time for Gemini schedules. Atlas-Agena was the only likely target. And paraglider, the only major system to undergo the competition and elimination process and not really tied (on paper) into Gemini, had been under contract before the Mark II project was approved.

* Representing NASA were Dave w. Lang, Sigurd A. Sjoberg, Charles F. Bingman, Warren North, and Colonel Daniel D. McKee; Air Force members were Lieutenant Colonel Robert R. Hull, Majors Edward H. Peterson, William E. Haynes, James E. Fasolas, and Earl W. Anderson. and civilians Herbert L. Repetti and John F. Bankert, Jr.

** D. Brainerd Holmes, Director of NASA's Office of Manned Space Flight, had established the council and called its first meeting on 21 December 1961. It met once a month to coordinate manned space flight activities and to help overcome the obstacles to communications inherent in the fact that neither Marshall nor MSC reported directly to Holmes' office. Holmes served as chairman. Its membership comprised the two top officials of Marshall (Wernher von Braun and Eberhard F. M. Rees) and MSC (Gilruth and Walter Williams) and Holmes' five principal subordinates: Charles Roadman (Director, Aerospace Medicine), Joseph F. Shea (Deputy Director, Systems Engineering), George Low (Director, Spacecraft and Flight Missions), Milton Rosen (Director, Launch Vehicles and Propulsion), and William E. Lilly (Director, Program Review and Resources Management).

*** Scott H. Simpkinson, James A. Chamberlin's technical assistant, spent about a month as liaison at the Martin-Baltimore plant before turning these duties over to Harle L. Vogel, who served until the end of the Gemini program. A. B. Triche was the liaison with Lockheed at Sunnyvale throughout the program.

1 Glenn F. Bailey, interview, Houston, 13 Dec. 1966.

2 Letter, Bailey to McDonnell, "Letter Contract No. NAS 9-170," with James S. McDonnell, Jr.s signed acceptance.

3 Letter Contract NAS 9-170, Section I, p. 1, and Exhibit "A", 11 Dec. 1961, pp. 1-2.

4 Ibid., pp. 1, 8.

5 Ibid., Section II, pp. 1, 13.

6 Memo, Robert C. Seamans, Jr., and John H. Rubel to Sec. of Defense and NASA Adm., "Recommendation relative to the division of effort between the NASA and the DOD in the development of space rendezvous and capabilities," 7 Dec. 1961.

7 Memo, Paul E. Purser to Robert R. Gilruth, "Log for week of December 11, 1961," 18 Dec. 1961; Daniel D. McKee, draft, "Instructions to the Ad Hoc Group on the Mercury Mark II," 12 Dec. 1961; "Members of Ad Hoc Working Group on Air Force Participation in the Mercury-Mark II Project," ca. 13 Dec.1961; [Purser], draft, "NASA-DOD Operational and Management Plan for the Mercury-Mark II Program," 15 Dec. 1961.

8 Memos, Purser to Gilruth, "Log for week of December 18, 1961," 28 Dec. 1961, and "Log for week of December 25, 1961," 2 Jan. 1962; "NASA-DOD Operational and Management Plan for the Gemini Program," revised 29 Dec. 1961.

9 "NASA-DOD Plan for Gemini," pp. 5-6.

10 Ibid., p. 5; memo, William E. Lilly to dist., "Minutes of the Management Council, Manned Space Flight Program," 29 Dec 1961, with enclosure, "Minutes of the Management Council, Manned Space Flight Program, December 21, 1961"; letter, George J. Detko to Cdr. William R. Wakeland, "Management Agreements between AF/SSD and MSFC," 2 Jan. 1962, with enclosure, "National Aeronautics and Space Administration Agena B Launch Vehicle Program, Management Organization and Procedures," 14 Feb. 1961, signed by Seamans and Gen. Bernard A. Schriever; memo, Seamans to Dir., Space Sciences, Attn: Edgar M. Cortright, "Gemini-Atlas/Agena Management," 26 Jan.1962; Robert L. Rosholt, An Administrative History of NASA, 1958-1963, NASA SP-4101 (Washington, 1966), pp. 274- 75.

11 "NASA-DOD Plan for Gemini," pp. 6-9, 11-24; Scott H. Simpkinson, interview, Houston, 18 Jan. 1967; Harle L. Vogel, interview, Baltimore, 23 May 1966.

12 Letter, D. Brainerd Holmes to Schriever, 26 Jan. 1962, with statement of approval signed by both Holmes and Schriever.

13 Memo, Seamans and Rubel to Sec. of Defense and NASA Adm., "NASA/DOD Operational and Management Plan for Accomplishing the GEMINI (formerly MERCURY MARK II) Program," 29 Jan. 1962.

14 Letter, McKee to MSC, Attn: Wesley L. Hjornevik, 23 Jan. 1962, with enclosure, changed pages of "NASA-DOD Plan for Gemini"; memo, Holmes to Adm., Dep. Adm., and Assoc. Adm., "Selection of Additional Astronauts," 6 April 1962, approved 6 April by Seamans, 9 April by Hugh L. Dryden and James E. Webb, with enclosure, "Gemini and Apollo Astronaut Selection," 6 April 1962; letter, Seamans to Rubel, 10 July 1962, with enclosure, draft letter, Seamans and Rubel to Sec. of Defense and NASA Adm., "NASA DOD Operational and Management Plan for Accomplishing the Gemini (formerly Mercury Mark II) Program," undated and signed by Seamans only, 10 July 1962; letter, Rubel to Seamans, 27 July 1962, with enclosure, Gemini agreement (retyped); memo, Seamans and Rubel to Sec. of Defense and NASA Adm., "NASA/DOD Operational and Management Plan for Accomplishing the Gemini (formerly Mercury Mark II) Program," 28 July 1962, signed as approved by Seamans and Rubel, 27 July 1962.

15 TWX, Holt F. B. Watts, Jr., to Douglas R. Hendrickson, 26 Dec. 1961; Purser memo, 2 Jan. 1962; TWX, Walter C. Williams to Cdr., SSD, Attn: Col. Keith G. Lindell, PASO-A-6504, 27 Dec.1961; Howard T. Harris, "Gemini Launch Vehicle Chronology, 1961-1966," AFSC Historical Publications Series 66-22-1, December 1966, p. 1.

16 NASA-Defense Purchase Request T-2356-G, signed by Bailey, 5 Jan. 1962; Bailey to SSD, 3 Jan. 1962, with enclosure, "Statement of Work to Be Accomplished under Department of Defense Purchase Request No. ," 3 Jan. 1961 [sic]; memo, Purser for file, "Contract NAS 9-170, Project Gemini, NASA-SSD Purchase Request No. T-2356-G, Titan II Launch Vehicles," 23 Jan. 1962.

17 Memo, Raymond D. Hill, Jr., to E. M. Flesh, "Model 133N Coordination Meeting 1415 November 1961," PM-1467, 24 Nov. 1961.

18 John E. Roberts, Jr., "Agena-B requirements for Advanced Mercury rendezvous mission," Advanced Mercury note, 19 Dec. 1961.

19 "Preliminary Report on Agena System Capabilities for Advanced Mercury Rendezvous Mission," Lockheed LMSC/A004120, 26 Jan. 1962.

20 Memo, James T. Rose to Gemini Project Dir., "Recommendations for primary and secondary terminal phase techniques for the Gemini Rendezvous Program," 10 Jan. 1962.

21 Letter, Gilruth to Marshall, Attn: Wernher von Braun, "Procurement of Atlas-Agena Space Vehicles," 31 Jan. 1962, with enclosures, "Exhibit A to Atlas-Agena Procurement: Description of Proposed Rendezvous Techniques for Project Gemini," 30 Jan.1962, and "Exhibit B: Statement of Work for Atlas-Agena Rendezvous Vehicles to be Used in Project Gemini," n.d.

22 James A. Chamberlin, "Minutes of Meeting of Gemini Project Office and MSFC-Agena Project Office, February 28, 1962," 5 March 1962; "Gemini Agena Target Vehicle Program Progress Report, March 1965," LMSC-A605200-7, 20 April 1965, p. A-1 (hereafter cited as GATV Progress Report).

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