A Quick Smooth Start

Despite some doubts about the paraglider, Project Gemini was moving smoothly in the spring of 1962. GPO noted a certain tightness in launch vehicle schedules a might constrict the time needed to resolve any unexpected problems but concluded that close monitoring would help to bring the modified Titan II out on time. Late delivery of some components from McDonnell subcontractors threatened schedules for building the first two spacecraft, but the threat seemed modest. The target vehicle and its booster, Atlas-Agena, appeared to present no problems, even after a slow start, since a target was not needed until the fifth mission.64

Overall, August 1963 still seemed like a reasonable prospect for the first launch. But the ambitious timing of the second launch (the first manned flight in Gemini, earlier scheduled just six weeks after the first),65 was now adjusted to allow a more realistic three months and set for November 1963. The rest of the program held to an every-other-month schedule, the 12th and final flight to be in July 1965.66 From the viewpoint of the project office as it surveyed Gemini progress and prospects in its first half-year, there were no serious problems.67

Project Gemini had won approval in late 1961 over several competing rendezvous development proposals because its design was further along than those of its competitors and because its scope seemed to be limited enough to fit the relatively compressed span of time between the last flights in Mercury and the first mission in Apollo. That these reasons were valid appeared amply borne out by the rapid placement [94] of contracts during the first months of the project's official existence. Within a matter of six months, most major contracts had been awarded and a firm organizational framework had been established.

Even Congress appeared unperturbed that NASA had embarked on a large new project with scarcely any advance warning to those expected to furnish the money for it. In doing so, NASA had not exceeded its authority. Although obliged to lay out its spending plans during budgetary hearings, NASA at that time received a single appropriation for research and development and was largely free to distribute the money as it saw fit. The $75 million in fiscal year 1962 funds needed to get Gemini started were provided simply by shifting money from one account to another inside NASA.68

In hearings early in 1962 on the upcoming fiscal year 1963 budget, NASA spokesmen felt no need to apologize for the new project. Quite the contrary: from Administrator James E. Webb on down, they described it in glowing terms, stressing its role in the development of rendezvous techniques and in extending the length of man's stay in space - but all within the context of a merely enlarged (or advanced) Mercury. This was, of course, a fair picture of the thinking that lay behind Project Gemini, and none of the listening congressmen challenged it.69

Chamberlin summed up the optimism that pervaded Gemini during its first half year in his monthly report on project office activities as of 28 May 1962. He saw no problems that might imply delays for the program, although "all elements of the schedule are extremely tight." There were no technical problems that contractors and project office could not handle. "As technical problems arise they are being assigned to capable organizations for solution with close project office monitoring to assure progress. No technical problems are particularly outstanding at this time."70

Despite its complexity, Project Gemini was meeting only success. The project office remained silent about any doubts it may have had that Gemini's objectives could be achieved on time.

64 "Project Gemini Schedule Analysis," GPO, 14 March 1962; "Schedule Analysis," 4 May 1962.

65 "Schedule Analysis," 5 Jan.1962; "Official NASA Flight Schedule," NASA Office of Management Reports, approved by Seamans and Dryden 20 March 1962.

66 "Schedule Analysis," 4 May 1962; "Official NASA Flight Schedule," approved by Seamans and Dryden 25 July 1962.

67 Quarterly Status Report No. 1 envisioned no serious problems.

68 Letter, Gilruth to NASA, Attn: Ernest W. Brackett, "Transmittal of Procurement Plan for MK-II Spacecraft for Approval," 6 Dec. 1961, with enclosure, "MK-II Spacecraft Program: Procurement Plan"; Watts TWX, 26 Dec. 1961; DeMarquis D. Wyatt, interview, Washington, 13 Sept. 1966.

69 U.S. Congress, House, Subcommittee on Manned Space Flight of the Committee on Science and Astronautics, 1963 NASA Authorization: Hearings on H.R. 10100 (Superseded by H.R. 11737), 87th Cong., 2nd sess., 1962, Webb's remarks on 27 Feb. 1962, pp. 4, 13-14, and Seamans on 28 Feb. 1962, pp. 102-104.

70 Chamberlin, activity report, 28 May 1962, p. 17.

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