Tastes of Triumph

1968: Second Half

The interval between the manned flights of Gemini and Apollo was less than two years (November 1966 to October 1968), about the same as that between Mercury and Gemini (May 1963 to March 1965). But before Apollo flew, the days were filled with more trauma, troubleshooting, and toil. Asked by a former college classmate to give an address, Houston Apollo manager George Low replied that he could not - he was already spending so much time with Apollo that his own family hardly saw him. That was only a slight exaggeration. For more than a year, his staff meetings had been crammed full of items that needed his personal attention. Every Friday without fail there were spacecraft configuration control meetings, leaving only Saturdays to visit the Downey and Bethpage plants to check on progress.

Shortly after midyear 1968, the feeling of dashing from one problem to another started to fade. George Mueller, manned space flight chief in Washington, was told at a monthly management council meeting that North American's command module 103 was moving through checkout operations at such an excellent pace that it would almost certainly be able to make a manned Saturn V mission before the end of the year.1

Now that such a flight seemed probable in 1968, there was sobriety, as well as elation, among Apollo workers. Apollo 7, they knew, would be the last of the Saturn IB missions in mainline Apollo. Saturn IB vehicles 206 through 212 were released to a follow-on Apollo Applications Program, although that project was faring none too well in Congress for fiscal 1969 money. Thus, ironically, even before the first astronauts lifted off the ground in Apollo, a problem in worker morale began to surface.* Low commented:

There has been increasing concern by the people in [the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office], as well as others at the center, about what we will do after we land on the moon. In light of recent budget decisions, many of our people are concerned about the future of [the Manned Spacecraft Center].2

But the members of the Apollo team who were working on the lunar module had little time to think about the future. Mueller and his deputy, Samuel Phillips, told Grumman officials in July that the launch vehicle and the command module were in good shape but too many changes were still being made in the lunar module. Unless Grumman speeded up its work considerably, it was going to be far-behind everyone else.3

When LM-3, listed as the first to be manned, reached the Cape on 14 June, the receiving inspectors found more than 100 deficiencies. Many were major. After more than a month of inspecting, checking, and testing, George C. White, reliability and quality assurance chief at NASA Headquarters, reported 19 areas - including stress corrosion, window failures, and wire and splice problems - that Mueller's Certification Review Board would have to consider. Charles Mathews, former Gemini manager in Houston and now working for Mueller in Washington, made a quick trip to Florida. In Mathews' opinion, the work that Rocco Petrone's launch operations team at Kennedy Space Center would have to do was far beyond what should have been required.4 This lack of a flight-ready lunar module forced Apollo planners to try for some short cuts on the route to the moon.

* Morale problems among agency workers arose at different points in the Mercury and Gemini programs. Mercury ended abruptly in June 1963 (after six manned flights). Most of the personnel simply moved on into Gemini or Apollo positions. Gemini suffered its morale drop after eight of its ten manned flights, and the scramble for new jobs in mid-1966 was more frantic than it had been three years earlier. The problems of hiring and firing in industry for short-term programs such as space and weapon system projects have never really been resolved. And the same is essentially true for federal agencies.

1. Configuration Control Board Meeting, 5 April 1968; George W. S. Abbey, ASPO Staff Meetings, MSC, 8 April, 20 May, 12 Aug., 9 Sept., 2 Dec. 1968; William B. Bergen, North American, to George M. Low, MSC, 3 May 1968; Low to Bergen, 7 May 1968; Samuel C. Phillips, NASA OMSF, to Low, 21 May 1968.

2. Assoc. Admin., NASA OMSF, memo, "MSF Planning Guidelines #1," 14 June 1968, with enc., "Manned Space Flight Base Plan," 14 June 1968; George E. Mueller, NASA OMSF, to Robert R. Gilruth, MSC, Dir., 22 Jan. 1969; William F. Moore memo for record, "House Floor Action on FY 1969 NASA Authorization," 3 May 1968; Paul P. Haney memo, "Budget action," 19 July 1968; Low to George S. Trimble, Jr., "Personnel management evaluation," 5 Sept. 1968; Mueller to Gilruth, 2 Oct. 1968.

3. Carroll H. Bolender to Mgr., ASPO, "Dr. Mueller's visit to GAEC on July 17, 1968," 19 July 1968; anon. memo to Lunar Module Team, no subj., 21 July 1968.

4. MSC, Apollo Spacecraft Program Quarterly Status Rept. no. 24, 30 June 1968, p. 2; Joseph M. Bobik to Chief, KSC Apollo Spacecraft Office, "LM-3 Receiving Inspection," 18 July 1968; Bolender memo) for record, "LM-3 certification status" 26 June 1968; Bolender to Mgr., ASPO, "Critique of LM-3 receiving inspection at KSC," 26 June 1968; George C. White, Jr., NASA Hq., to MSC, Attn.: Mgr., Reliability and Quality Assurance, "LM-3 DCR Areas of Concern," 2 Aug. 1968, with enc.; minutes of LM-3 Delta Design Certification Review (DCR), 7 Aug. 1968; Low to Bolender and Kenneth S. Kleinknecht, "Chuck Mathews review of KSC activities," 14 Sept. 1968.

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