SP-4209 The Partnership: A History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project

Estimating the Costs of a Mission


[175] The possibility of flying a joint mission with the Soviets in mid-1975 posed some interesting problems for Dale Myers' staff in OMSF. When they began to look at this problem in the fall of 1971, it became apparent that they would have to make some quick decisions about this yet-to-be-authorized project if they were to meet the proposed launch date. MSC would need to start the development work on the docking module and the docking system in early 1972. And modification of the CSM should start immediately. Limits on time and money were not the only problems. OMSF [176] had been advised by North American Rockwell that beginning in October 1971 the labor force that had been building the command and service modules (CSMs) would be reduced. A decision on which CSMs to set aside for an international rendezvous and docking mission (IRDM) had to be made quickly. Gilruth had requested that 115 and 115A be completed because they were of the most recent series of CSMs, with a scientific instrument module (SIM) bay into which earth resources survey instruments could be placed. The older 111 CSM was closer to being ready for launch, but it did not have a SIM bay. CSM 119, the Skylab backup and rescue spacecraft, could not be allocated to IRDM until the final Skylab visit, then scheduled for 1974. When the money, time, and labor issues were balanced against the wishes of the mission planners, some hard choices had to be made.28

Dale Myers had written to Bob Gilruth four days before the delegation's departure to Moscow to ask him to look over a list of "Suggested Guidelines for a Minimum Cost International Docking Module." This list, prepared by William C. Schneider, Director of the Skylab Program, reflected OMSF's concern for keeping the IRDM equipment simple and cost effective. Schneider, drawing from his experiences with Skylab, suggested that the module be kept as small as practical and that it be designed with a high safety factor. He thought it best to follow the Gemini design principle of placing many systems, particularly wiring, on the outside of the docking module, thus lowering flammability concerns. At the end of his recital of 20 items, he said:

The fundamental, you can see, is keep it simple. Of course, that's how Skylab started in 1966. I have no solution to maintain that posture other than a generalized observation that an active Headquarters staff is invaluable in detecting and controlling policy variations. . . .

I strongly urge that the Skylab system of PRR, PDR, CDR[*] be adhered to and that short cuts be resisted despite the immediate lure of maintaining schedule. Each time we've rushed, cancelled, or hurried by one of these milestones, I've come to regret it later on.29

Schneider had additional thoughts when it came to keeping costs to a minimum. He proposed that Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, develop and build the docking module; according to Schneider they had a proven capability (Saturn launch vehicles, Apollo telescope mount, multiple docking adapter for Skylab), existing facilities, and the [177] proper labor mix. These elements would permit Marshall to do the job more cheaply than MSC and a contractor. Furthermore, he believed that with Shuttle Orbiter and Skylab drawing heavily on Houston's personnel, the docking module development "probably would not receive much attention or would divert talent from the other tasks." Schneider could see only one area in which MSFC might have some difficulties - working with the Flight Operations Directorate at MSC. To solve that problem, he recommended that Clifford E. Charlesworth, Eugene F. Kranz, or Glynn Lunney be transferred to Marshall as "Module Manager to insure a clean interface."30

Myers sent Schneider's list of 20 guidelines to Gilruth, with the request that the MSC program plan include these points, but Schneider's other thoughts about building the docking module at Marshall were not included.31 Gilruth responded that his team basically agreed with Schneider's guidelines but countered that these points had already developed somewhat differently. He enclosed the fourth revision of the "International Rendezvous and Docking Mission Guidelines and Constraints Document" for OMSF's perusal. Gilruth told Myers that MSC "would be glad to discuss the guidelines and the method of implementation in detail with you and your personnel at the appropriate time."32 Implicit in his remarks was the idea that the IRDM was a Houston project. It involved Apollo spacecraft, and MSC knew how to get the job done. Only Frutkin, the interpreters, and several secretaries from Washington had joined the Houston delegation that went to Moscow in November. As the joint effort progressed, Marshall would be noticeably absent during the negotiations. The Americans might fly with Salyut, but it was not likely that the Soviets would rendezvous with Marshall's Skylab. At the November-December meeting, the Soviets and Americans ruled out a union with the first Skylab; if such a mission was ever undertaken, it would be with "a Skylab or another type [of station] to put into orbit after 1975."33

Continuing his dialogue with Gilruth, Myers sent his comments on the International Rendezvous and Docking Program Plan to MSC on 14 December 1971. Myers agreed that this document could serve as the basis for further discussions with the Advanced Missions Program Office at Headquarters, and he advised Gilruth that Phil Culbertson's staff would "work with you and your people in finalizing such a plan." OMSF and Advanced Planning had some specific items that they wanted Houston to look at again. MSC had proposed that North American Rockwell undertake developing the docking module on a sole source procurement plan. Myers' staff questioned the justification for not soliciting other contractors in open competition, and they wanted Gilruth to think about competitive selection. Likewise, OMSF preferred that the prebreathing requirement during transfer be eliminated, if [178] possible, and that the planing schedules be further refined.34 Gilruth's staff worked on these problems throughout December and into February 1972.

MSC's studies of the costs of an International Rendezvous and Docking Mission and the best way to contract for its equipment produced an avalanche of paper. Data indicated that such a mission, using CSM 115 and 115A, would cost in excess of $267 million and could run nearly as high as $280 million for three docking modules (one test, one backup, and one flight), seven docking mechanisms (two flight, four test, and one spare), and experiment packages. These investigations convinced the Center management that experience would produce economy in this case, so North American Rockwell should develop and fabricate the docking module and docking mechanism. As the builder of the CSM, Rockwell would be able to work with the command module docking module interface with minimum difficulty. In addition, they had the Apollo manufacturing equipment and the necessary labor skills, if the job were begun before the company started laying off their experienced employees. However, the ultimate decisions about how much money NASA could afford to allocate to the mission and who the contractor would be had to come from Headquarters.35

Dale Myers met with the top management** on 24 February to discuss the cost of the proposed docking mission, and they reached three key decisions. First, the planning effort was to be oriented toward a program that would include a demonstration flight, but the total program effort was not to exceed $250 million. Based upon the data already generated, this ceiling precluded the use of either CSM 115 or 115A. Second, Houston would have to base its planning on the use of CSM 111 as the likely flight test vehicle and CSM 119 as a potential backup vehicle (assuming that it was not flown during Skylab). The budget included the necessary modifications for CSM 119 to make it flight ready, but it did not cover the expense of an actual mission based on 119. The final decision made on 24 February concerned experiments. Since the 111 and 119 service modules did not have scientific instrument bays, the experiments would have to be much simpler than the earth resources survey originally proposed. Of the $250 million total, $10 million were allocated for developing experiments that could be housed in the command and docking modules. No more work on CSM 115 and 115A was contemplated.36

Managing the development of the IRDM hardware was the task of the Manned Spacecraft Center and its new Director, Christopher C. Kraft. Effective 14 January 1972, Robert Gilruth had assumed the position of [179] Director of Key Personnel Development for NASA, and Deputy Director Kraft had moved into the number one position. Like his predecessor, Kraft was an old-timer in the American space program, joining NACA in 1945 and becoming one of the original members of the Project Mercury team. Before becoming Gilruth's deputy in 1969, he had been Director of Flight Operations in Houston. The tasks facing his center in 1972 included preparing for Skylab, developing the multipurpose Space Shuttle*** and proceeding with Apollo/Salyut - whose teams were already preparing for the next round of discussions with the Soviets as Kraft settled into his new office.37

* Preliminary Requirements Review, Preliminary Design Review, and Critical Design Review were elements of the NASA spacecraft development cycle, which had evolved since the early days of Apollo.

** Those present were Administrator J. C. Fletcher, G. M. Low, W. H. Shapley, and A. W. Frutkin.

*** The Space Shuttle had received Presidential approval on 5 Jan. 1972.

28. Myers to George M. Low, memo, "Need for FY 73 Funding for Post Skylab CSM Mission," 22 Oct. 1971; letter, Myers to Gilruth, 16 Sept. 1971; Myers to Rocco A. Petrone, memo, "Excess Apollo Flight Hardware," 29 Oct. 1971; Gilruth to Myers, 25 Mar. 1971, with NASA, MSC, "Post Skylab Missions Summary Report," 17 Mar. 1971 enclosed; and Gilruth to Myers, 25 Aug. 1971. This latter letter from Gilruth had argued for completion of 115 and 115A for the IRDM mission and provided specific cost figures. In the final months of 1971, several briefings were held at MSC on the subject of how best to use the remaining CSMs. See [MSC], "CSM Utilization Briefing," 28 Oct. 1971; NASA, MSC, "Utilization of Apollo Hardware Between Skylab Period and Shuttle Availability," 15 Nov. 1971 and, as revised, 7 Dec. 1971.

29. William C. Schneider to Myers, memo, "Docking Module," 24 Sept. 1971; and Myers to Gilruth, 22 Nov. 1971. (HTML formatter's note: the book, from which this transcription was taken, omitted a reference to note 29. I have assigned it to the quote on page 176 of that book.)

30. Schneider to Myers, memo, "Docking Module," 24 Sept. 1971.

31. Myers to Schneider, note, 28 Sept. 1971.

32. Gilruth to Myers, 13 Dec. 1971.

33. "Summary of Results," 29 Nov.-6 Dec. 1971; and Myers to Lunney and Frutkin, memo, "Sample Summary of Results," 22 Nov. 1971.

34. Myers to Gilruth, 14 Dec. 1971, with enclosure, NASA, MSC, "International Rendezvous and Docking Mission Program Plan," 21 Sept. 1971.

35. A sample of the documentation includes [MSC], "International Rendezvous and Docking Mission Contracting Situation," 23 Dec. 1971; [MSC], "Cost Estimate for USA/USSR Docking Mission," 7 Jan. 1972; [MSC], "Cost Assumptions," 27 Jan. 1972; [MSC], "Cost Assumptions," 28 Jan. 1972; [MSC], "Cost Assumptions," 1 Feb. 1972; [MSC], "CSM/AMDS Status Briefing," 1 Feb.1972; [MSC], "Program Options," 17 Feb. 1972; NASA, MSC, "CSM/AMDS Planning Briefing," 8 Mar. 1972; NASA, MSC, "Residual Apollo Hardware Status," 21 Mar. 1972; NASA, MSC, "Residual Apollo Hardware Status," 27 Max. 1972; and NASA, MSC, "NR Sustaining: Currently Negotiated Manpower NR Recommended Sustaining," 14 Mar. 1972.

36. Myers, memo for record, "Compatible Rendezvous and Docking Study and Potential Flight Test," 29 Mar. 1972.

37. NASA News Release, MSC, 72-15, 14 Jan. 1972; and Carol H. Sweeny to distribution, memo, "Agreements and Action Items from January 11-12, 1972 Meeting [OMSF]," 31 Jan. 1972.