PART III : 1958-1959

12. Saturn, 1959



Transfer of Saturn and ABMA to NASA


[229] York's questioning the military need for Saturn forced the issue and the Air Force, Army, ARPA, and NASA had to reconsider and defend their needs for large launch vehicles. He appointed a committee to review the three vehicles under consideration-Titan C Saturn, and Nova-with himself and Hugh Dryden, NASA deputy administrator, as co-chairmen.* At the outset, the committee agreed on one point: only one large vehicle should be developed by the government. The presentations on Saturn were made by Canright and House of ARPA and Hardeman of ABMA. Some of the committee members recommended further studies to better define the Saturn upper stages. From committee deliberations, Saturn I emerged as the winner. Titan C was shelved, and Nova was too far in the future to be considered competitive to Saturn I.12


York concurred with his committee's recommendation to continue Saturn development. Soon after the committee meeting, he began negotiating with NASA Administrator Glennan for transferring ABMA to NASA. He had Secretary of Defense McElroy's support on this, because McElroy wanted to relieve the Army of the big vehicle program.13


In September 1959, there were two issues with respect to Saturn: the second stage configuration and the transfer of the ABMA Saturn development team to NASA. ARPA's stop order on second stage contracting, issued at the end of July, was still in effect, and ARPA had been allocating FY 1960 funds to ABMA on a monthly basis since July, pending resolution of the fate of Saturn.


On 23 September 1959, ARPA responded to the York-Dryden committee suggestions to restudy the second stage by requesting ABMA to make such a study. In the meantime, the transfer of the ABMA Saturn team had come to a head. The top officials of the Department of Defense and NASA were in agreement by October; what remained was convincing von Braun. A meeting had been set with the President on 21 October to formalize the transfer, and the night before, Glennan and Horner met with von Braun in a Washington hotel room.14 Even at that late hour, von Braun had some grave misgivings about the whole plan. His reluctance to transfer to NASA was not caused by any dislike for the new civilian space agency, the creation of which he had favored. However, several earlier discussions with Glennan had led him to doubt [230] whether the fledgling agency was ready and able to absorb the entire ABMA team of several thousand people. Von Braun believed that a transfer to NASA of only a portion of his team would seriously jeopardize the continuing development of the Saturn rocket, as well as the orderly completion of unfinished work for Jupiter and the Army's new Pershing missile.15


Glennan and Horner, however, convinced von Braun that NASA would support him all the way. The next day the transfer of von Braun's team to NASA was formalized. DoD and NASA officials met with President Eisenhower, who approved the transfer by executive order, subject to the approval of Congress. The transfer became effective on 15 March 1960.


* Other members were Richard Horner, NASA associate administrator; Abe Silverstein, NASA director of space flight development; Richard Morse, director of Army research and development; and Joeph V. Charyk, assistant secretary of the Air Force for research and development.