Project Planning and Contracting

May through December 1961

By the end of April 1961, NASA's three top executives - James Webb, Hugh Dryden, and Robert Seamans - knew that Apollo would soon become an approved project aimed at landing men on the moon. The agency's engineers had done some thinking but little planning for that particular step, which they viewed only as a possible objective for the 1970s. When President Kennedy's challenge in late May abruptly made moon landing a goal for the 1960s, adjustment within NASA to meet the new charge was not an easy task. Although transfers from other agencies and a few recently created offices had resulted in a relatively strong and versatile organization, in May 1961 - and for months thereafter, for that matter - NASA was not really prepared to direct an Apollo program designed to fly its spacecraft around the moon. New and special facilities would be needed and the aerospace industry would have to be marshaled to develop vehicles not easily adapted to production lines, even though no one had yet decided just what Apollo's component parts should be or what they should look like.

Despite all the committee and task group work done since NASA opened for business, not one of the vehicles, from the ground up, was sufficiently defined for an industrial contractor to develop and build. Because of the time limitation imposed by Kennedy, Administrator Webb asked Associate Administrator Seamans to get the pieces of Apollo that were nearly defined under contract. With no appropriate project office to implement this order, ad hoc committees and task groups still had to do the work. For the remainder of 1961, until NASA could recruit enough skilled people and organize them to carry out Apollo's mammoth assignment, Seamans would continue to operate in this fashion.

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