PART III : 1958-1959

11. Large Engines and Vehicles, 1958



Transfer of Large Engine to NASA


[206] When Abe Silverstein came to NACA headquarters in early 1958 to organize a space program, one of his immediate concerns was increased launch vehicle capability. Consequently, his proposed FY 1960 budget, completed on 19 July 1958, contained $30 million to initiate development of a 4.5 meganewton single-chamber engine and $15 million for clustering existing ICBM engines to achieve the same total thrust (p.185).


By late July it became obvious that the large engine work sponsored by the Air Force would be transferred to the new space agency. To deal with this and other launch vehicle matters, Silverstein organized an informal propulsion committee in early August (p.195). At the 14 August meeting of this committee, the Air Force disclosed that its contract with Rocketdyne on the 4.5 meganewton engine would run out of funds in the fall and that $2 million more, to be supplied by NASA, would be needed by 1 October to continue the work for an additional five months. Since contract negotiations took 5 to 8 weeks, a decision by NASA was urgently needed. Silverstein, however, resisted this pressure for NASA to make an immediate commitment.


The problem of developing a large engine was further complicated by the need for facilities to test it. This matter was considered at the 28 August meeting of Silverstein's committee. Air Force representatives revealed that contracts would be let by the end of the month for a test stand at Rocketdyne's test facility capable of handling 4.5 meganewton engines. The Air Force already had a test stand capable of handling this size engine at Edwards Air Force Base, but it was tied up with Atlas missile development. Silverstein and his propulsion assistant, A.O. Tischler, were concerned that the Air Force plans essentially committed the large engine development to Rocketdyne. Silverstein decided at the meeting that any development of a large engine by NASA would be through competitive bidding. Richard Cesaro of ARPA argued that bidding should start immediately, but again NASA officials resisted the pressure to act at that time.


When the Silverstein committee met for the sixth time on 9 October, NASA was formally in business and moving. Tischler, placed in charge of the large engine, announced that requests for competitive bids would be out within two weeks. Five days later, NASA sent invitations to bid to seven contractors and a briefing on what was wanted was held a week later.


The invitations called for a single-chamber engine of either 4.7 or 6.7 meganewtons (1 or 1.5 million lb thrust), but at the contractors' briefing Tischler made it clear that [207] the higher thrust was wanted.* By 24 November, NASA had received proposals and appointed a technical and a management team to evaluate them. On 9 December the two evaluation teams reported to the Source Selection Board; and three days later, the Board recommended to Administrator T. Keith Glennan that Rocketdyne be awarded the development contract.** Glennan approved and the selection was made public the same day. In less than a month (9 January 1959), NASA signed a definitive contract with Rocketdyne for the development of the F-1 engine with a sea-level thrust of 6.7 meganewtons.3


* Tischler prepared the invitation with only the higher thrust value but included the lower value when Hugh Dryden, NASAís deputy administrator, pointed to prior agreements between NASA and the Air Force. At the bidderís briefintg, Tischler made it clear the higher value was perferred and in later negotiations, Silverstein confirmed it. Interview with Tischler, 25 Jan. 1974.

** Silverstein chaired the Board with J.W. Crowley, Abe Hyatt, R.E. Cushman, and R.G. Nunn as members; the author was a member of the technical evaluation team.