Organizing the Launch Operations Center

Recognizing the magnitude of Apollo, NASA Headquarters in late 1962 and early 1963 relieved the manned spaceflight centers of certain other responsibilities. Management of the Atlas-Centaur and Atlas-Agena was transferred from Marshall to Lewis Research Center. In February NASA released LOC from responsibility for launching these vehicles and gave it to the Goddard Space Flight Center's Field Projects Branch.24

As NASA's agent, LOC generally furnished support and services for all launches, manned and unmanned, conducted by the launch divisions from NASA's several centers. But in its chief role as a launch agent for the Office of Manned Space Flight, its principal business during this period was the planning and designing of launch facilities for Apollo. On 10 January 1963 NASA announced that LOC was responsible for overall planning and supervision of the integration, test, checkout, and launch of all Office of Manned Space Flight vehicles at Merritt Island and the Atlantic Missile Range, except the Mercury Project and some elements of the Gemini Project. What the phrase, "all OMSF vehicles," fails to reveal is that the only other authorized manned spaceflight project at the time was Apollo. Almost all of the work at Houston and Marshall in 1963 was devoted to the manned space program. At the Launch Operations Center, most of the planning and the new construction work was also for manned spaceflight, and this was increasingly Apollo.25

Indeed, the first task was to organize for the construction effort. The Webb-McNamara Agreement of January 1963 (see chapter 5-10) had helped clear the air by firmly establishing NASA's jurisdiction over Merritt Island. The question of whether LOC was to become a real operating agency or a logistics organization supporting NASA's other launch teams vas still unresolved. The Manned Spacecraft Center's Florida Operations, for instance, still received technical direction from Houston. Debus had no place in this chain of command. The transfer of launch responsibility for the Centaur and Agena vehicles from LOC to Goddard Space Flight Center, while a step toward LOC's concentration on Apollo responsibilities, was a step away from centralization of launch operations. The Launch Vehicle Operations Division remained under Huntsville until April. Several areas of overlapping jurisdiction called for resolution. A few section chiefs were certain that they were best qualified to determine their own functions. As Colonel Bidgood said, "Everybody was trying to get a healthy piece of the action."26

The publication of basic operating concepts in January 1963 made LOC responsible "for construction of NASA facilities at the Merritt Island or AMR launch site."27 The LOC Director was empowered to appoint a manager for each project and, in conjunction with other participating agencies, write a project development plan. Debus was also required to prepare a "basic organization structure" for the approval of Headquarters.

Debus submitted the required proposal early in 1963. It called for five principal offices: Plans and Project Management, Instrumentation, Facilities Engineering and Construction, Launch Support Equipment Engineering, and Launch Vehicle Operations.28 As so often under Debus, the changes in title did not involve changes in personnel. To the five key posts, he assigned men for whom the new responsibilities would be continuations of their earlier tasks - Petrone for Plans and Projects, Sendler for Instrumentation, Bidgood for Construction, Poppel for Launch Support, and Gruene for Launch Vehicle Operations. These staff elements carried out the major functions of management, design, and construction of launch facilities and support equipment for the Apollo program. Other staff elements (public affairs, safety, quality assurance, and test support) dealt largely with institutional matters. NASA Daytona Beach Operations, established on 23 June 1963 to represent NASA at the General Electric plant there, made up another element reporting directly to the Center Director. On 24 April 1963, Deputy Administrator Dryden approved LOC's proposed reorganization - except for the Daytona Beach office, which was approved subsequently.29

Under Petrone were two Saturn project offices, one responsible for the early Saturn vehicles, the other for a larger Saturn to come. Both offices were to plan, coordinate, and evaluate launch facilities, equipment, and operations for their respective rockets. Another office was responsible for projects requiring coordination between two or more programs. Other elements of Petrone's staff were responsible for resources management, a reliability program, scheduling, and range support. These responsibilities, especially for resources management and coordination, gave Petrone substantive control over the development of facilities, a control he showed no reluctance to exercise fully. Spaceport News, the LOC house organ that began publication in December 1962, described the role that Petrone would play in the new organization in its 1 May 1963 edition. As Assistant Director for Plans and Programs Management, the paper declared, Petrone

will function as the focal point for the management of all program activities for which LOC has responsibility. In this capacity, he is responsible for the program schedule and for determining that missions and goals are properly established and met. He will formulate and coordinate general policies and procedures for the LOC contractors to follow at the AMR and MILA [Merritt Island Launch Area].30

Bidgood organized his division along functional lines, with titles clearly descriptive of responsibilities - a Design and Engineering Branch, Construction Branch, and a Master Planning and Real Estate Office. Most of Bidgood's personnel came from the former Facilities Office, which he had organized several months earlier around a nucleus of R. P. Dodd's Construction Branch, the Cape-based segment of Poppel's former office. He recruited others from such agencies as the Corps of Engineers Ballistic Missile Division in California.31 Bidgood was shortly to retire from the Army and to relinquish his LOC post to another Corps of Engineers officer, the less outspoken but equally competent Col. Aldo H. Bagnulo.

Poppel organized the four branches of his division along equipment responsibility lines, extending in each case from design through completion of construction. One branch was responsible for launch equipment (primary pneumatic distribution systems, firing equipment, and erection and handling equipment); one for launcher-transporter systems; a third for propellant systems; and a fourth for developing concepts for future launch equipment.

Something more should perhaps be said to differentiate the last two divisions. In terms of specific launch facilities and ground support equipment, Bidgood was responsible for what was commonly, if inadequately, called brick-and-mortar construction: the vehicle assembly building, launch control center, launch pads, and crawlerway. Poppel supervised construction of the launcher-umbilical tower, crawler-transporters, and propellant and high-pressure-gas systems. Later, the arming tower was assigned to Bidgood. With the exception of the arming tower (later modified and redesignated the mobile service structure), Bidgood's area largely involved conventional construction. Poppel's responsibilities were more esoteric; no one could readily formulate plans and specifications in what were new areas of construction. The two divisions also operated differently. Bidgood's division used the Corps of Engineers for all contract work, from design through construction to installation of equipment. Poppel's division depended on commercial procurement and contracting. Although Bidgood and Poppel, like Petrone, reported directly to Debus, and although the organization chart showed no link between divisions, the functional statements in the "LOC Organization Structure" manual assigned responsibility for coordination of launch facilities to Petrone.32

The reorganization also clarified the relationship of Launch Vehicle Operations personnel to MSFC and LOC. Although assigned to LOC for operational and administrative matters, they remained under Marshall's technical direction for engineering. The "development operational loop" that had characterized the old MSFC-LOC relationship remained. This loop implemented the propositions that no launch team could be effective unless it participated in the development of a space vehicle from its inception, and that planners had to consider operational factors early in the design of the space vehicle and maintain this awareness throughout the development cycle. In representing Marshall contractors at Merritt Island and the Atlantic Missile Range, the Marshall Director retained authority to modify any responsibilities delegated to LOC, to interpret Marshall contracts for LOC and the contractors, and to direct the contractors with respect to contract implementation, including instances when disagreements might arise between LOC and the Marshall stage contractors.33

During these months, LOC spawned a great number of boards, committees, panels, teams, and working groups. In September 1963, C. C. Parker, Assistant Director for Administration, undertook to delineate the spheres and activities of these groups. Six panels dealt with facilities, propellants, electricity, tracking, launching, and firing. Committees handled incentive awards, grievances, suggestions, honors, automatic data processing, and five distinct areas of safety. Boards oversaw property, architect-engineering selection, and project stabilization. The personnel of these groups rarely overlapped, as distinctive disciplines required expertise of a particular nature. A significant team, by way of example, was the LOC MILA Planning Group, appointed by Debus on 6 February 1963 under the chairmanship of Raymond Clark. It looked into unsolved issues in relations with the Air Force Missile Test Center, recommended divisions of responsibility among various elements of LOC, and established priorities to assure cooperation.34 The informality of early operations on the Cape was disappearing in the growth of a mighty endeavor.

In the midst of all this organizational activity, one of the most able men to come to the Cape arrived as Deputy Director of the Launch Operations Center in early spring of 1963. Albert F. Siepert had been NASA's Director of Administration since its beginning in 1958. This 47-year-old Midwesterner had played a key role in the basic organization of NASA and in arranging the transfer of the von Braun team from the Army. Previous to his work with NASA, he had won the Health, Education, and Welfare Department's distinguished service award. A fine administrator and a great extemporaneous speaker - he could organize his thoughts in a few moments and speak without hesitation or repetition - he wanted to work in the field and requested a transfer to one of the centers. At LOC, he became responsible for the organization and overall management of center operations and had the further responsibility of maintaining good relations with local communities, the Air Force, the Corps of Engineers, other NASA field centers, and various contractors.35

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