Lunar Exploration Program Office Established

As long as Apollo was a goal yet to be attained, the nation and the Congress seemed willing to support it at substantially the level NASA considered essential. Less exciting programs and less tangible space objectives fared less well when the federal deficit grew. This trend in congressional support of space programs from 1965 was not lost on NASA's managers, least of all on George Mueller. In 1963 he had begun looking for a viable post-Apollo program; since 1965 he had worked for a specific (though ill-defined, in the opinion of some) program to use the Apollo spacecraft and organization to produce useful results. His proposals, deferred in fiscal 1966 and again in fiscal 1967, only achieved concrete status as the Apollo Applications Program (AAP) in the fiscal 1968 budget - and then with pitifully small financial support.

In early 1967, Apollo Applications still included (at least on paper) all manned programs after the first few lunar landings - specifically, extended lunar exploration using improved Apollo spacecraft. From mid-1966 onward, however, Mueller's concept of Apollo Applications seemed to be narrowing. Congressional committees had not warmed to his plans for a wide-ranging, multifunctional program whose major goal seemed to be to use up the hardware already developed and exercise the organization. Debate within his own manned space flight organization and discussions with aerospace executives led Mueller to the conclusion that AAP should serve more specifically as a bridge to the next major manned space program - whatever that might be.43

Thus as 1967 wore on and the consequences of the AS-204 fire were dealt with, Mueller saw merit in separating lunar exploration from unrelated activities in AAP. Lack of enthusiasm for AAP outside his own office - particularly at higher levels of NASA management - undoubtedly contributed to this changing view. In May, management discussions led to a number of decisions that subordinated AAP to the main objectives of Apollo: the lunar landing had priority over AAP; no hardware would be modified (a key feature of AAP) unless authorized by the deputy administrator; and all AAP launch schedules and hardware assignments would remain tentative until progress in Apollo could be assessed and AAP payloads could be better defined.44 Under these conditions, continued exploration of the moon stood a better chance of support under the Apollo banner. Since planning for manned lunar exploration was more or less independent of which program office actually oversaw it, site selection, experiment development, and mission planning continued without regard to organizational lines.

In December 1967 Mueller established an Apollo Lunar Exploration Office under the Apollo Program Office in Headquarters. As director of the new office he named Lee R. Scherer, a retired Navy captain who had directed the successful Lunar Orbiter program (completed four months previously). Scherer's office would assume responsibility at Headquarters for directing all activities connected with lunar exploration. Two divisions, Flight Systems Development and Lunar Science, would oversee spacecraft modifications and science plans, respectively. The Lunar Science Division would look to the Office of Space Science and Applications for all science planning.45 The major functions of the old Manned Space Science Division were distributed between the Lunar Exploration Office and the Apollo Applications Program Office, and its director, Willis Foster, became assistant to the associate administrator of OSSA in charge of manned space flight experiments.

43. Compton and Benson, Living and Working in Space, chapters 3 and 5, deal with AAP's fluctuating plans and fortunes during the period before Apollo 11.

44. Robert C. Seamans, Jr., memorandum for the record, subj.: "Apollo Program Decisions - Manned Apollo Flights and Apollo Applications Program Plans," May 17, 1967.

45. "Unified Lunar Exploration Office," NASA Release 68-5, Jan. 4, 1968; Philip E. Culbertson to Wilmot N. Hess, Jan. 3, 1968.

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