SP-4102 Managing NASA in the Apollo Era
 

Chapter 9

NASA's Long-Range Planning, 1964-1969

 

[239] The purpose of this chapter is to trace NASA planning from 1964, when NASA drafted its first tentative proposals for a sequel to Apollo, to 1969, when it sent a comprehensive plan to the President's Space Task Group. Rather than enumerating the details of each plan and task report, the discussion describes the assumptions behind NASA planning, maps the transition from one kind of planning to another, and above all, explains why NASA, having promised so much, delivered so little. To assess NASA planning one must break it into components. One must know where in NASA and by whom the planning was done, how the existence of certain kinds of technology (e.g., in launch vehicles) affected planning, and what kinds of organizational changes were preconditions for carrying out substantive programs. This chapter argues, first, that many disagreements over future programs, especially between NASA officials and non-NASA scientists, were really disagreements over governance; second, that the principal flaw of almost every agency plan-whether commissioned by general management or by the program offices-was the failure to describe organizational changes that would have to accompany the programs that officials were trying to sell; and third, that some of the most successful planning was embodied in the small-scale, incremental changes or adaptations made by the centers, which did not constitute part of any agency-wide plan. In the following discussion, NASA planning is scrutinized in the light of these assertions.

 

ORIGINS OF NASA PLANNING, 1959-1963

 

Certain features of the civilian space program set the terms on which NASA planning occurred. In the 1960s NASA was an agency with a single mission but with numerous subordinate goals, not all of which were consistent with each [240] other.* The Space Act was permissive rather than mandatory as far as ends were concerned. It was a shopping list as much as an enabling act, which freed NASA to pursue those programs that were technically possible, politically feasible, and challenging enough to enlist the support of key technical personnel. For these reasons, manned spaceflight was never so dominant as to crowd out all other program philosophies. For one thing, aeronautics remained an important part of the supporting research that NASA did for other agencies. For another, there were always a certain number of research programs within NASA that were independent of the major programs. So that the agency might keep abreast of technical developments, NASA thought it necessary to develop capabilities independent of any specific mission or use. This policy lessened the danger noted in a 1966 Senate report that "there may be a penalty attached to the 'approved mission' policy for advanced development. Premature obsolescence is one hazard. Commitment of resources before the full cost-benefit can be known is another. The narrowing of component and subsystem engineering is a third." 1

The substance of NASA planning was done by two groups, by center researchers and program managers, and by task forces and panels summoned from time to time to provide the agency with advice. Within NASA, the most important planning consisted of advanced studies conducted by or commissioned for the centers. The preceding account of the study programs stressed the measures taken by management to avoid jurisdictional conflicts with DOD and to prevent Congress from construing an approved study as an approved program. But this is not quite the whole story; management did not regard studies as a necessary evil. Studies did not normally lead to specific kinds of flight hardware. They were used instead to demonstrate how NASA could improve the efficiency of launch vehicles like the Saturn IB; develop future missions as extensions of current programs; or design models of in-flight experiments, especially those requiring the presence of man. In addition, many studies kept alive concepts that might serve as bases for programs not yet authorized by general management.

The studies began almost as soon as NASA came into being. The earliest studies on the design and purposes of Earth-orbital space stations dated from 1959. By 1962 enough work had been done to justify a space station symposium at Langley; and by 1968 one center, MSC, had conducted forty studies, which had cost $6.3 million. 2 Although most of the centers had formal planning groups, three centers-Langley, Marshall, and MSC, which established a Space Station Study Office in February 1962-were especially active in advanced studies. The concept of the orbiting space station fascinated NASA engineers because it could be used to further almost every goal that, at one time or another, was annexed to the U.S. space program. An orbiting station might serve for space exploration, for basic research, for national security purposes, and for scanning the Earth's surface. The [241] centers and various ad hoc NASA-wide task forces had to explain what a space station would entail before they could convince management that the ideal was, in fact, worth pursuing. They had to show that a long-duration station, one that would operate for a year or more, was technically feasible. They had to study the vehicles that would be needed to resupply and equip the station. They had to know the environmental requirements of supporting a crew of a given size. Above all, they had to establish the justification for a manned station. The presence of man in space was at once the main justification for the space station and its greatest stumbling block, for it had to be demonstrated that man could do what a completely automated system could not.

The immediately apparent feature of NASA study programs is the continuity of the research on space stations. What preceded and what was an alternative to the lunar landing program became, first, an "extension" of it and then a sequel to it. Between 1959 and 1969 center planning groups confirmed that the basic technology for orbiting stations was available, that such stations could serve a variety of purposes, and that their cost could be reduced considerably by having them supplied by means of reusable space transportation systems. 3 The impact of the studies was cumulative. Particularly as the first Apollo launches drew near, NASA increased the funding and manpower of the study groups. There was one agency-wide study in 1966, another the following year, and two in 1968. The roots of post-Apollo planning lay in the agency's beginnings; by 1969, planning involved the combination of elements and concepts that already existed.

By comparison, the planning offices reporting to the Administrator achieved very little. From 1959 to 1962 NASA prepared and updated a formal long-range plan, with projections of current and tentatively approved programs. In 1963 the plan was dropped, along with the Offices of Plans and Program Evaluation that drafted it. Other experiments, like the Policy Planning Board, were no more successful. The Board, a mixed panel of headquarters and center officials, met a few times in 1964-1965 before its dissolution; and its members were advised that Webb did not want to receive any formal reports or recommendations. 4 Except for the Future Programs Task Group, which was created under pressure from the White House, NASA management issued no formal statement of post-Apollo plans between 1963 and 1968. To be sure, the formal planning sequence worked badly: the long-range plan was not integrated with the budgetary process, offered little guidance to the program offices and centers, and tended to be distributed outside NASA before detailed project planning had taken place. 5 But none of these defects was beyond all remedy; presumably, if NASA management did nothing to improve long-range planning, it was because officials had no time and little use for it. By 1963 most of the funds that Congress was likely to vote were for currently authorized programs, leaving only modest sums for programs beyond advanced studies. Because Apollo and Gemini almost totally preoccupied key officials, it was difficult for most of them to spare much thought for a future that might be very different from the present. The tendency was mostly in the other direction, to a reduction of commitments. In the case of the supersonic transport [242] program, Dryden, according to one source, successfully argued that the agency should limit itself to R&D support since, with Apollo under way, "NASA could not politically sponsor two high-technology, enormously expensive programs in the same budget years without one of them being sacrificed to the other or killing each other off in competition for funds." 6 In any case, there seemed little point in presenting Congress with ten-year cost projections for programs that would have to be authorized one year at a time.

But the principal reason for the absence of a long-range plan, encompassing all the others, was Webb's refusal to authorize one.7 He would not commit himself publicly to new programs where costs were unpredictable, congressional approval uncertain, the likelihood of changes ever present, and the program offices themselves deeply divided over long-range plans. A formal plan would simply tie his and other agency officials' hands. Despite a certain flamboyance of language Webb behaved as cautiously as the head of an agency that employed over 400 000 persons and disposed of a $5.5 billion operating budget could be expected to behave. He was convinced that the agency could not plan unilaterally, that decisions about the sequel to Apollo were political decisions and, as such, the prerogative of the President and Congress. When he, or Seamans on his behalf, approved the annual study program, he did nothing more than encourage the program offices to focus on the near-term prospects for technology already being developed. Neither Webb nor Seamans saw his role as one of blocking out the outlines of future missions. That was the job of the program offices. In turn, they insisted on their right to be informed, the right to be consulted, and the right to warn. Later it is shown what Webb demanded of the program offices before their plans could become line items in the NASA budget.

 

THE FUTURE PROGRAMS TASK GROUP, 1964-1965

 

The real point of departure for a survey of post-Apollo planning is the report of the Future Programs Task Group. By the end of 1963, NASA had assumed the organizational shape it was to retain into the 1970s, insofar as the field centers reported to the directors of substantive program offices, NASA and DOD had staked out their respective jurisdictions, and the large construction projects were under way.

But there were also signs that the honeymoon of NASA, Congress, and the President was coming to an end. Congress had cut the Administration's budget request for 1964 by more than 10 percent and a NASA request for a supplemental appropriation by half. Potentially a more serious problem for NASA was the agency's shifting position on the purpose of the lunar landing. Was the investment in Apollo predicated on beating the Russians to the Moon?, to demonstrate American technological superiority ?, to inaugurate the exploration, not only of the Moon, but of the near planets as well? Or was the Apollo mission a means to create a capability to operate in space for whatever purposes the United States [243] chose? In practical terms, three-quarters of NASA's work force was working on some aspect of the manned spaceflight program. Unless NASA could sell a program to extend Apollo beyond the lunar landing, it would have to start disbanding most of the work force by 1966, when the major facilities would be completed and the Saturn V launch vehicle and the Apollo spacecraft would be in production.

The Future Programs Task Group was created to prepare a reply to a letter dated 30 January 1964 from President Johnson to Webb.8 With the 1965 budget due to go to the Hill, the President wanted to know what NASA was doing to lay the basis for future programs. The proximate reason for his letter pertained to the NERVA nuclear rocket program and the absence of near-term missions that would require it. But for Johnson, NERVA was only an excuse for what principally concerned him. Could NASA list possible space objectives beyond those already approved? What planned supporting research and technology would these aims require? How much of NASA's current R&D work, especially in launch vehicles, could be used in support of future programs? To prepare a reply Webb named Francis Smith, a Langley engineer and future Assistant Administrator for University Affairs, to head a special task force. Its summary report, dated January 1965, was released the following April. While the task force was drafting its report, Webb sent interim replies to the President, of which the first (20 May 1964) outlined several possible future missions without choosing among them. But in a letter of 16 February 1965 he endorsed two specific objectives: the exploration of Mars by unmanned vehicles, already recommended by the Space Science Board in October 1964, and the use of the Saturn booster and the lunar module for a variety of missions in Earth and lunar orbit and for exploring the lunar surface. In a sense, Webb's letters and the final report were more significant for what they left unsaid than for their explicit proposals, of which there were few. Indeed, the Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences seized on the lack of specific recommendations as a basis for criticizing the report: "Alternatives are presented, but no criteria are given as to how a selection would be made."9 This, however, was beside the point, since Johnson had asked only for "a statement of possible space objectives beyond those already approved." More serious criticisms were that the report contained little that was new, and that it said almost nothing about military applications and coordination with DOD.

In fact, the Senate committee had hinted at real weaknesses in NASA's planning structure. Although Smith and the task group adhered to the letter of Johnson's instructions, one would suppose that if NASA had a specific post-Apollo plan, it would have been presented. If NASA presented options without choosing among them, it was because there was almost no agreement within NASA as to what should follow the lunar landing. But even if there had been something approaching unanimity, the climate in 1965 was unfavorable to ambitious space programs. Webb or Mueller might have been able to carry the agency with them. They were much less likely to carry the Bureau of the Budget, Congress' or the public. Moreover, NASA planning was complicated by its relation [244] to military space programs. As shown, NASA had come to accept the Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) as a legitimate military program that in no way conflicted with Apollo. Webb ratified the December 1964 memorandum of understanding on the scope and purpose of MOL. But the Future Programs Task Group report was silent about the potential conflict between a military MOL and a NASA space station in areas such as the experiments to be flown, the availability of Apollo hardware for MOL, and the possibility of needless duplication. Also, the 1961 Webb-Gilpatric agreement required NASA to seek the approval of DOD before proceeding to develop a new launch vehicle. The 1964 AACB launch vehicle study demonstrated that NASA would save almost nothing should it decide to switch from the Saturn to the Titan family of launch vehicles. Nevertheless, NASA engineers were seriously considering the Titan III as the launch vehicle for major programs listed as options for the 1970s: space stations in synchronous orbit or unmanned payloads to the near planets. But NASA in 1965 had not arrived at any firm conclusions as to how or whether it would modify the Titan III for its own purposes.

To the extent that there was agreement, it was that Apollo had created a capability to operate in space. But that was about the extent of agreement. Webb, for example, stressed "capability" almost to the exclusion of the programs that capability made possible. In his view, the lunar landing mattered because it was the most dramatic proof that the United States had achieved the freedom to operate as it chose in space. At a 1965 briefing for Webb on "Apollo Extension Systems," he dismissed the idea that the lunar landing was any kind of end in itself. What NASA was developing, his argument ran, was the "capability to fire, to launch, to get into orbit."

 

We have got a hypothesis. . . that the lunar landing is the most useful way to do the development and to prove we have done it. But this could actually be displaced in terms of national objectives.
. . . Now I don't want the argument to center on whether we know that we are going in '68 or sometime later. I want it to center on the development of a capability which we have several possibilities to use.
. . . I want to begin to talk about the true situation [rather] than to continue so sharply to focus on that just because President Kennedy used language that none of the three of us [Webb, Dryden, Seamans] recommended to him when he said "we will put a man on the moon." 10

 

What kind of follow-on to Apollo would Webb approve? At the Apollo Extension Systems and other briefings, he said more, far more, about what the Apollo mission might lead to than what, in his opinion, it ought to accomplish. He was willing enough that proposals should percolate upward from the program directors. But no proposal would become a budget line item until it met specified conditions. First, it must involve minimal interference with the current Apollo mission; second, it should make the fullest use of existing hardware; third, it had to define with precision the goals and experiments of the proposed mission; fourth, it had to avoid the appearance of duplicating military programs, especially MOL; finally, it must not commit the agency to funding levels appreciably higher than [245] the current approved budget.11

Unlike the Administrator and general manager, the program directors were free to defend interests that were something less than agency-wide. As Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight, George Mueller had to tackle three problems, each of which could be resolved on condition that the other two were handled at the same time. He had to retain the funds and hold together the manpower assembled for Gemini and Apollo, arrive at programs that he could sell to top management and Congress, and ensure that Apollo itself should somehow generate its sequel. Mueller's design was nothing if not ambitious. For the "mainline" Apollo program, he envisaged an annual flight schedule of six Saturn IBs, six Saturn Vs, and six launches of the Apollo spacecraft-the "6-6-6" formula, later changed to 6-6-8.12 As for post-Apollo plans, Mueller enumerated five options: Earth-orbital programs for long-duration space stations; lunar operations; planetary landings; an all-out program in Earth-orbital, lunar, and planetary activities; and a "balanced" program that combined other options in a cost-effective way. 13 Each program would be directed to a precise objective. Thus, if the nation should desire direct economic benefits, the logical sequel to Apollo would be a program of Earth-orbital operations. In Mueller's view, Apollo Extensions-which became Apollo Applications in August 1965 and Skylab in February 1970-was not so much one of the five program options as it was an intermediate step from Apollo to future programs. It was his conviction that the agency had to organize around one big mission rather than risk seeing its resources frittered away on a number of smaller ones. To disperse what had been assembled, only to reassemble it, would be immensely wasteful. Any new goal must have the same national priority as Apollo. Without some precise goal, such as the lunar landing, "I do not believe that our progress would have been as rapid, as widely supported, or as sound as it has been." 14 By late 1965 Mueller had seized upon a national goal that would more than equal Apollo: a manned landing on Mars and return by 1980.

But this is getting ahead of the story. NASA was not a unitary, centralized agency; planning was done from the bottom up rather than the top down. Marshall and Houston had been doing space station studies since the early 1960s. In 1964-1965 these centers and OMSF divisions at headquarters had begun to block out the elements of a post-Apollo planning organization. At Marshall von Braun created a Future Programs Group in the fall of 1964. At headquarters Mueller appointed William Taylor in May 1964 to head a special studies office to design a post-Apollo program; in October it was strengthened by the addition of a thirty-man task force established to consider uses for Apollo hardware through 1971; and in August 1965 Mueller moved from advanced studies to project definition by establishing a Saturn/Apollo Applications Office at headquarters. 15 At that time and for several years beyond, OMSF planners considered two kinds of program: one using surplus Apollo hardware, the other pointing to the development of an Earth-orbital space station. Before the space station concept could become an approved program, Mueller, his center directors, and E. Z. Gray, the [246] head of the OMSF Advanced Manned Missions Division, had to specify what such a project would accomplish. In general terms, Mueller and Gray knew what they wanted a space station to do. It would have to support a variety of experiments, which would be developed in modules attached to the main station; it would have to be deployable in a number of orbits, ranging from a 30° inclination to synchronous orbits; it would require a minimum lifetime of three years; it would be designed for deployment in lunar orbit; and it should have "modular growth potential to fully utilize the launch capability of the Saturn V when the mission requirements develop to this level of size." 16 But working out the general principles was not easy; in late 1965 only three Apollo Applications experiments were under development. 17 In addition, OMSF plans had to satisfy two requirements: to furnish the Bureau of the Budget with precise cost estimates and to establish working relations with OSSA, which would make space science an integral part of a follow-on to Apollo.

Yet the differences between the program offices went deep. It was Newell's contention that "OSSA was established to be responsible for space science, not unmanned space science," a conviction not shared by Mueller.18 OMSF was mission oriented, while OSSA was organized around research disciplines; hence Newell's office was not locked into fruitless, interminable arguments over the merits of manned versus unmanned flights. Indeed, to most outside scientists, the burden of proof that man was necessary to operate in space fell squarely on OMSF. Specifically, some scientists, especially those working for NASA as principal investigators, thought that there was too little science and too much engineering in NASA; that flight experiments assumed the presence of man, whereas it was precisely his presence that had to be justified; and that the results obtained from Mercury and Gemini could have been obtained with much less expense from automated systems. It was not that manned programs were unnecessary. A case could be and was made that man was needed as a scientific observer, as a subject for medical experimentation, as a technician to maintain and repair equipment, and as an astronaut-pilot, once low-cost space transportation systems became available.19 The point was to consider each case on its merits and to decide, for instance, whether lunar exploration called for the trained astronaut-scientist, a package of scientific instruments left on the surface, or both.

While OSSA claimed the authority to plan space science for the whole of NASA, OMSF had the money to pay for and to fly approved experiments. In practice, the issues between the two offices had to be resolved by compromises that were not always acceptable to OSSA. In November 1963 Newell established a Manned Space Sciences Division whose director, Willis Foster, reported to him and to Mueller; and in January 1964 Mueller created a Manned Space Flight Experiments Board to evaluate recommendations for experiments to be flown on Gemini and Apollo. Under this arrangement, each program office was responsible for designing experiments within its own sphere: OSSA for space science, OART for technological experiments, and the OMSF Directorate of Space Medicine for medical experiments. Meanwhile, a DOD review board would submit military [247] experiments to be flown by NASA.20 While the program offices had full authority to design experiments, OMSF had the ultimate authority to accept and integrate them with the flight hardware.

 

THE SITUATION IN MID-I966

 

By July 1966 the only definite result of NASA planning was the existence of several program alternatives, none of them authorized. At headquarters planning was being done, not only by specialized divisions within the program offices, but also by a Planning Coordination Steering Group (PCSG) established by the three program associate administrators late in 1965. In a joint memo to Seamans, they had proposed creating ad hoc planning groups to draw together the plans already drafted by the offices they directed.21 As finally approved by Seamans the PCSG would be supported by five working groups, each of which would review the planning already under way, use that planning as their point of departure, and then develop programs within guidelines set by PCSG. As a new entity with no independent base, PCSG did not play an important role until 1968-1969 when, under Newell's leadership, it tried to develop an agency-wide plan for the 1970s.

Meanwhile, OMSF and OSSA continued to do the most important planning. In OMSF, planning centered on the Earth-orbital space station and on the concept of an "orbital workshop" using the spent upper stage (S-IVB) of a Saturn IB (later changed to the Saturn V). The orbital workshop, which was at the heart of Apollo Applications, was supposed to perform a number of missions, including lunar exploration, solar astronomy, and experiments whose general purpose was to establish the usefulness of man in space. The basic Apollo Applications hardware would consist of the orbital workshop; a multiple docking adaptor for the command and service modules that would house the astronaut crew; an airlock connecting the workshop with the modules; and an Apollo Telescope Mount (ATM) that, attached to either the service module or the docked lunar module, would be an observatory to study the Sun's fine structure in 1969 during the solar maximum.22 The ATM was intended to carry out part of the mission of the Advanced Orbiting Solar Observatory (AOSO) canceled in December 1965, but it would go beyond AOSO in making use of man. The astronaut-scientist could orient and point the ATM in the general vicinity of the Sun, determine and set camera exposures and the sequences of the various experiments, recover exposed film and magnetic tapes, and select solar events of interest.23 This, in simplest terms, was what Apollo Applications was about. But other considerations tended to complicate this scheme, which itself was the product of two years of designs, advanced studies, and negotiations between OMSF and OSSA. Flow would the orbital workshop feed into the concept of the long-duration space station? Where, precisely, would the ATM be located? Was the ATM really the most effective way of doing solar astronomy or was it make-work for Marshall now that work on Saturn was phasing down? Furthermore, the design and outfitting of the workshop [248] itself was not beyond criticism. The original plan-the one approved by Seamans in August 1966-called for launching a fueled S-IVB stage. After the fuel had been burned getting into orbit, the astronauts, who would be launched separately, would outfit the stage as a workshop. This "wet" workshop would enable NASA to use the Saturn IB instead of the Saturn V as the launch vehicle. But it also meant that the astronauts would have to assemble the workshop while working in space, something that Gemini had shown to be difficult and cumbersome.

Had the difficulties involving Apollo Applications been purely technical, Mueller would still have had his hands full. But organizational questions arose at the same time. Mueller wanted the entire program under OMSF control; in this and in the actual design of the ATM, he and Newell came to a parting of the ways. Newell argued that the ATM belonged on the service module-a proposal that even MSC Director Robert Gilruth had trouble accepting.24 The upshot was that Mueller managed to persuade Seamans to assign the ATM to Marshall and to accept his proposal for placing the ATM on the lunar module. Seamans signed the project approval document authorizing the ATM on 29 August 1966, two weeks after Mueller and the Management Council had worked out the "roles and missions" of Apollo Applications in a series of meetings at Lake Logan, North Carolina.25 Apollo Applications would follow the same pattern as the program from which it grew. Marshall was charged with developing the ATM and the workshop; Houston, with astronaut training, crew systems, and flight operations. The Lake Logan agreement confirmed that the management of Apollo Applications would be concentrated in OMSF and that experiments and proposals would be incorporated at the discretion of Mueller and his program directors.

But the most serious problems dogging the program pertained to its underlying assumptions: the role of man in Earth-orbital operations, the use of Apollo hardware, the wet workshop. All were subjected to very sharp criticism from NASA officials, from Congress, from the Bureau of the Budget, and from various scientific advisory groups; most of them stressed the lack of well-defined flight experiments and the possibility that the program would only duplicate MOL. In June 1966 Newell and his deputy, Edgar M. Cortright, drafted a memo pointing to "the lack of a substantial, visible end product to serve as a focus for the effort. After four or five years of activity, NASA will have spent many billions of dollars and have relatively little to show for it in comparison with where we could be in space for about the same amount of money.... [Apollo Applications] as now configured just doesn't seem to justify such high costs for an extended period."26 In Congress, critics of the program tended to seize on the possibility that Apollo Applications would wastefully duplicate MOL and that it was high time for NASA and DOD to come together in a joint program.27 For different reasons, the Bureau of the Budget shared this concern. Budget Director Charles Schultze and Budget examiners were sceptical that NASA needed more money. In negotiations with Webb, Dryden, and Seamans, he insisted that, while the Bureau had no wish to reduce U.S. manned capability in space, neither did he believe that the space [249] budget should be based on what could be done within the limits of U.S. technical capability, on what the Russians were doing, or on the peak level of industrial manpower for developing Apollo. The space program was not a WPA.28 With important decisions pending, the Bureau needed answers to certain pressing questions. Should the nation continue manned flight after the lunar landing? Should NASA buy more launch vehicles and spacecraft to keep production lines running? And what specific manned space flight capability did the United States need? In the summer of 1966 NASA officials had not yet arrived at precise, definitive answers.

 

THE ROLE OF THE OUTSIDE ADVISOR

 

The job of long-range planning was immensely complicated by NASA's need for outside scientific and technical advice. NASA's various committees reflected the diverse purposes of the committee members.29 Some, like the Space Science and Applications Steering Committee (SSASC) and its subcommittees, were primarily source selection boards for evaluating flight experiments. Others, like the missions boards established in 1967, were intended to map out long-range research and to serve all of NASA in a particular discipline. Last, there were bodies like the Manned Space Flight Science and Technology Advisory Committee (STAC), whose purpose was not so much to design future programs as to work out the details of programs already approved. The same diversity appIied to membership as to purpose. The members of the Lunar and Planetary Missions Board, for example, were appointed by the Administrator but reported to the Associate Administrator for Space Science and Applications, the same official who appointed all the members of the SSASC subcommittees.

What was the rationale for the mixed advisory boards? Why did NASA seek outside advice at all? What use did it make of such advice, and to what extent did advisors merely respond to the initiatives of NASA management? The principal reason for seeking outside advice was the impossibility of NASA providing it for itself. Unlike engineering, where NASA had talent comparable to the best in industry, NASA could not attract scientists of Nobel laureate caliber. Indeed, scientists of the highest rank were more valuable to NASA as consultants than as staff; a scientist not actively involved in ongoing research might find himself out of touch in little more than a year. Moreover, it was much more difficult to combine science and administration than it was to combine engineering with administration. As Newell complained in 1965,

 

We have not yet solved the problem of how to maintain the continuing scientific competence of a professional scientist while at the same time asking him to devote his working hours to administration.... We can achieve the best in our scientific programs only if those in the very topnotch group have a major influence on the planning of science as well as in carrying it out.30
 

[250] The best scientists-Luis Alvarez, Harold Urey, Charles Townes-were prepared to serve as consultants, as members of advisory panels, and as principal investigators, but they were not willing to abandon lucrative consulting work or to submerge their careers in the larger goals of NASA programs.

Indeed, NASA's use of outside advisors was of a piece with its policy of contracting for goods and services. The relation between NASA and its principal investigators was strictly contractual; the advisory bodies that passed on experiment proposals were, legally, source selection boards. For the rest, the NASA advisory panels served the same purposes as similar groups elsewhere in the Federal community. They provided independent appraisal by distinguished outsiders; they were sources of new ideas; and, to a degree, they served to legitimize programs that NASA officials independently decided the agency must have.

But whatever its virtues, the structure of the NASA advisory process had serious drawbacks, especially its extreme complexity. Writing in 1967, one official observed that "so many different types of institutions, organizations and relationships are evolving currently that it is difficult even to enumerate, much less describe the elements of the overall situation."31 There was no substantive body of policy that set forth how or even why NASA had to draw on these groups for advice; there were important jurisdictional overlaps between the Space Science Board and internal advisory panels; and the center planning groups and the agency advisory committees were virtually insulated from each other. To Webb and Newell the problem with the advisory process was that it was unpatterned and unsystematic and that it failed to involve scientists in policy making. Many scientists, including (or especially) those serving NASA as consultants or principal investigators, saw the problem as systemic rather than incidental to the NASA advisory process. Their most prominent spokesmen, such as Norman Ramsey, Philip Abelson, and Bruce Murray, wanted autonomy in the making of science policy that NASA was not prepared to give. Their argument boiled down to three propositions: that the separation of power and responsibility was deadly for science; that NASA space science was hit-or-miss, with little evidence of coherent planning; and that even a successful program like Surveyor ended as "a shallow imitation of what it was intended to be, or what could have been done with the enormous funds and extended time."32

A brief account of the Lunar and Planetary Missions Board illustrates these generalities. Earlier, mention was made of the Ad Hoc Science Advisory Committee established by Webb in January 1966 and chaired by Norman Ramsey, a Harvard chemistry professor. The committee was created not to advise on specific projects but rather to examine how to conduct the program and to suggest ways of involving outside scientists to a greater degree in science policy making. So thoroughly did the Ramsey committee do what it was asked to do, that all but two of its proposals had to be turned down. Its recommendation for a general advisory committee of outside scientists was rejected because it would have required a fundamental reorganization of the agency and because it might force the Administrator to choose between accepting the committee's advice and supporting the [251] President's program.33 Webb and Newell flatly rejected a proposal for strengthening the scientific competence of the laboratories at Marshall and for reorganizing the centers generally to give experimenters greater power. They did accept the suggestion for a consortium of universities to manage the construction of space observatories. Even the proposal that NASA did accept, for the creation of a Planetary Missions Board, had been tentatively approved by NASA before the Ramsey committee completed its work. Officially established as of 1 May 1967, the Lunar and Planetary Missions Board (and the Astronomy Missions Board established in November) was to be an advisory committee of outside scientists appointed by Webb, although the executive director, as required by law, was a NASA employee detailed from OSSA. 34 In three respects the Board's terms of reference were broader than those of any previous advisory body, even if they fell short of the general advisory committee recommended in the Ramsey report. It was chartered to perform its functions for all of NASA, not just OSSA; unlike the Space Science Board, its members had access to NASA internal documents; and "unlike previous advisory bodies, the LPMB was to consider both general and specific NASA objectives."35

The Board might have had a greater effect on NASA policy had it been created a few years earlier. The Board members wanted an integrated program as they conceived it, one with a balance between a few large missions and small-scale programs using automated spacecraft. The Board ultimately failed in its purpose largely because its members could not bring themselves to accept the cancelation of programs that they considered to be essential. Each program cutback or termination from 1967 through 1970 marked a stage in the deterioration of relations between the Board and NASA: the cancelation of Voyager in September 1967, Mueller's indifference to the Board's recommendations, the September 1969 report of the President's Space Task Group, the cancelation of two Apollo flights in 1970. Committed as they were to a vision of what was scientifically desirable, Board members had little patience for the budgetary pressures that shaped NASA from without and the internal forces that made it imperative to keep manned space programs alive at the expense of smaller unmanned ones. To them, as well as other scientists who served as principal investigators, the agency was simply the only available means for achieving certain important ends. It should be stressed that there was no basic difference between those scientists who supported and those who publicly criticized NASA; indeed, some of NASA's severest critics, like University of Iowa physicist James van Allen, often served as principal investigators. What disturbed Board members was the sacrifice of programs like Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter to what they regarded as engineering extravaganzas. When they learned the details of the report of the President's Space Task Group, which had recommended a manned mission to Mars before the end of the century, their first reaction was to offer to resign; and further decisions to replace several Apollo missions with Skylab and move the Viking project to 1975 only added to their frustration. The changes and cancelations strengthened their conviction "that science was accorded second-citizen status" [252] and that "the scheduling of the lunar exploration is matched more to engineering . . . than to scientific requirements." 36 The gulf between the Board and NASA was unbridgeable, and in August 1970 the Lunar and Planetary Missions Board held its final meeting.

Rather than specific recommendations concerning future programs, the overriding issue between NASA and the scientific community was governance-the decisions on what programs should be approved and at what level of funding and who should be charged with conducting space science supported with public Funds. In turning to the actual recommendations of the advisory bodies on which NASA drew, the surprising thing is how cautious they were in drafting post-Apollo programs. Most of them endorsed the validity of manned spaceflight and all argued in favor of a "balanced" program as they conceived it. The governance issue was seldom raised explicitly; for that, one must turn to the report of the Ramsey committee or the papers of the Lunar and Planetary Missions Board.

In the papers of the Space Science Board, one finds some cautiously worded criticism regarding the content, rather than the organization, of the space program. In 1965-1966 the Board released several reports bearing on long-range plans, three of which were based on a summer study held at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, in 1965.37 The study was sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences and funded by NASA. Two conclusions are noteworthy: that the national ;pace program should embrace a number of goals rather than a single overriding mission and that there should be a gradual shift from manned to unmanned programs and from lunar to planetary exploration. In July 1966, Harry Hess, a Princeton geologist and chairman of the Space Science Board, enlarged on the proposals in a letter to Webb. 38 The Board, he explained, was not prepared to question the value of a continuing national space program or of Apollo, but its members were convinced that there would have to be changes in emphasis during 1968-1975. Aside from repeating the proposals of the Woods Hole study, the Board recommended "continued manned lunar exploration with Apollo hardware but with decreasing allocation of resources toward the end of the period." The Board was even more sceptical of the need for a manned space station in Earth orbit. To be sure, not all scientists shared these views; Dr. Charles Townes, the chairman of STAC and recipient of the 1964 Nobel prize in physics, emphatically disagreed, but his was increasingly a minority view outside NASA.

The President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC), many of whose members served on NASA advisory bodies, showed the same mixture of praise for NASA achievements, ambivalence over its program planning, and reluctance to touch on the governance issue as the reports mentioned. In two 1967 reports PSAC carried the proposals outlined by the Space Science Board several steps further. The first, "The Space Program in the Post-Apollo Period," was released in February and represented the most ambitious survey of the space program in several years. The Joint Space Panels of PSAC proposed an elaborate but balanced program, "based on the expectation of eventual manned planetary exploration." 39 In common with the earlier reports, the PSAC report stressed "a balanced program . . . integrating manned and unmanned efforts . . . ," and that [253] "the most challenging ultimate objective for space exploration is the exploration by man of the nearby planets." 40 While the report endorsed several NASA objectives, it did so with reservations; it recommended one or two manned lunar explorations per year for several years as well as unmanned spacecraft "capable of landing significant scientific payloads anywhere on the moon." 41 But the report was far from enthusiastic about the conduct or results of NASA planning. In particular, PSAC sharply criticized the ATM-not the concept itself but the way that NASA proposed to realize it. The Space Science Board had said as much: Several Advanced Orbiting Solar Observatories "would have been an order of magnitude cheaper than a single Apollo Telescope Mount solar mission, and would have been available sooner, provided continuous long term observing, and supported a substantially larger number of experiments." 42 The Committee also recommended a greater integration of manned and unmanned mission planning.

The report of the PSAC Space Science and Technology Panel was completed in December but not made public. Whereas the earlier report had surveyed prospects for the ensuing decade, this report focused on the ensuing fiscal year. 43 In general, its criticisms were those of earlier PSAC and Space Science Board reports, although, if anything, its conclusions were even more pointed and sceptical. Beyond the governance issue, the PSAC panels and the Space Science Board wanted a different kind of program balance than NASA seemed able to provide. What did their reports have in common? First, an emphasis on the importance of stronger unmanned planetary programs, despite assurances by NASA that the agency was doing all that could be done; second, a tendency to question the value of Apollo Applications because it was competing with scientifically more valuable programs, because the role of man seemed to be inadequately justified, and because MOL hardware, suitably modified, could be used instead. 44 Finally, the PSAC reports, especially, pointed to certain economies that might be achieved in planning space programs, such as using DOD launch vehicles and MOL hardware, using a separately launched lunar-roving vehicle as an adjunct to manned missions, and combining unmanned spacecraft with ground-based studies. The PSAC report of December 1967 was especially critical of one argument advanced in favor of Apollo Applications: "Operational space systems for economic benefit are unlikely to be manned systems." 45 The overall effect of the reports was to cast doubt on the adequacy of NASA planning.

 

TOWARD A POST-APOLLO NASA, SEPTEMBER 1966-OCTOBER 1968

 

Since preceding chapters have described the administrative changes of 1967-1968, very little need be added by way of summary. Most of the important changes had their source either in the Apollo fire or in the budget cuts voted by Congress, which led to the elimination of Voyager and the reduction of Apollo Applications by one-third. The fire led to the headquarters reorganization of March 1967, to further delays in Apollo and Apollo Applications, and to the [254] creation of an Office of Organization and Management under Harold Finger as a check on the presumed freedom of the program and functional offices to do as they pleased. In particular, Finger worked to revise the project authorization system, so that the project approval document (PAD) would become "a single control document for each of our program activities" and would remove "from the program offices, particularly the large project program offices, some of their earlier flexibility to adjust funds among different projects and programs."46 In Apollo Applications, for example, there would be PADs for every financial management code, one each for the orbital workshop, the Saturn IB, spacecraft development, and the like; and each PAD would include the definition of major subsystems, estimates of total funds for completing the job, the principal headquarters-center program responsibilities, and identification of related PADs.

The reductions in NASA's budget requests also affected the nature and scope of agency planning. Webb became more determined than ever to salvage Apollo, even if it meant postponing decisions about its sequel. Thus Webb hesitated to sign a definitive contract with McDonnell-Douglas for the Apollo Applications airlock, even though both sides had fully agreed to its terms and NASA had the option to cancel it "if the clearing up of uncertainties makes it unwise to proceed with the work under this contract." 47 Moreover, the reductions in force at various centers, particularly Marshall, also added to delays in those programs that had been approved. Some of the effects of these losses in manpower are described in an earlier chapter, in particular, the rise in the average age of center personnel, the loss of morale caused by massive reductions, and the conversions of support contractor personnel to civil service categories. The effects on research and long-range planning at the centers took several years to work out. The process of adjustment is often difficult to trace, since it was the long-term result of many small, incremental changes made by the centers and headquarters. The nature of these adjustments is touched on at the end of this chapter.

There were, however, important developments in NASA planning that have not yet been examined. Take, for instance, the field of launch vehicle development particularly as it pertained to the Titan III. As shown in chapter 8, this Air Force vehicle had become an important element in post-Apollo planning. As early as 1964, NASA and DOD had carried out a joint study to establish the feasibility of switching from the Saturn to the Titan family. In addition, the Air Force had urged on NASA the use of Titan III for Surveyor and Voyager. In 1964-1965 NASA was too deeply committed to the Saturn IB to consider switching for unmanned payloads. But the Titan remained an increasingly attractive alternative for unmanned programs still in the planning stage. Since 1962 NASA had studied the Titan as a booster for unmanned payloads; in 1966 a Lewis center study showed the value of Titan III-Centaur for future high-velocity missions, and later that year NASA contracted with the Martin Company for a study of Titan III-Centaur integration.48 About the same time, NASA took note of the March 1966 report of the House Government Operations Committee recommending a [255] merger of MOL and Apollo Applications; at the Budget Bureau's request, NASA prepared a study to see if Apollo Applications could be designed around Titan III or Titan III-MOL. Predictably, NASA concluded that it could not, since its current programs were adequately supported by existing vehicles.

Future programs were a different matter, however. Three gaps were evident. No vehicle except the Saturn V was capable of putting a payload of 15 000 to 56 000 kilograms into low Earth orbit; several missions, such as a Mars-Venus flyby, were beyond the capacity of the Atlas-Centaur; and no current vehicle could resupply a large manned space station, in the event that one was built.49 In addition, decisions had to be made on reducing the costs and the number of launch vehicle types and whether to modify existing vehicles, make new combinations of existing stages, "or develop new vehicles for missions beyond the capability of existing vehicles."50 The Saturn V was too big and expensive, while the Saturn IB/Centaur and the large solid-fuel motor programs had already been scratched. In 1967-1968 NASA conducted a number of studies, including two joint studies with DOD, to establish its mission requirements for the next decade. In particular, a 1968 joint "economy study" recommended the Titan IIID-Centaur, a new combination of existing stages, as the most promising vehicle for future missions. In February 1969 NASA and DOD reached informal agreement on cooperating in the future development of the Titan III. NASA would be in charge of integrating the Titan IIID with the Centaur, would procure standard Titan equipment through the Air Force, and would handle the technical direction of Titan IIID Centaur launch operations.** 51

Another area of concern to NASA was aeronautical research. Although funding for aeronautical R&D steadily rose from 1963, it remained an insignificant fraction of the NASA budget-in 1968 a little over 2 percent. Yet the importance of planning aeronautical research was quite out of proportion to the amount spent on aeronautics programs. NASA had come under considerable pressure from Congress to spend more on aeronautics dating from a 1966 report of the Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, which had recommended a consolidated Federal aeronautics budget.52 The problem for NASA was to integrate aeronautical R&D with its other programs and to find the right organizational location for aeronautics. For many reasons, NASA continued to need an aeronautics program, one not separable from its other activities. Aeronautics remained essential to NASA programming. Most of the center directors and many headquarters officials had spent part of their careers in aeronautical research for NACA/NASA. At centers like Langley and Ames it was not possible to separate physically the different facilities for aeronautical and space R&D. NASA support and NASA facilities were highly valued by DOD and FAA. And hybrid programs like the X-15, the wingless lifting body, and the space shuttle marked the convergence of aeronautical and space technology. As NASA moved in the early 1970s [256] from Apollo Applications to the space shuttle, the experience gained in aeronautical research and testing became an exceedingly valuable asset in the conduct of the space program. In the early 1970s NASA management also decided that the best way to upgrade aeronautics was to strengthen it within an existing program office, such as the Office of Advanced Research and Technology (OART), rather than establish a separate "Office of Aeronautics." Had NASA established an aeronautics office separate from its own field centers, the office would have been "an external competitor for work in 'OART centers,"' and would have ended up weaker rather than stronger.53 And it was not practical to separate one OART center to report to a new aeronautics office since none of the OART installations, except for the very small Flight Research Center, was devoted exclusively to aeronautics.

Early in 1968 NASA made a fresh start in long-range planning. In January Webb appointed Floyd Thompson, the Director of Langley, to chair a task force to recommend a program for the post-Apollo period.54 At the end of January Webb named Thomas O. Paine, the director of General Electric's think tank TEMPO, to succeed Seamans as Deputy Administrator. In March Newell, who had moved up to become Associate Administrator the previous September, reorganized the planning groups set up some two years before. The Planning Coordination Steering Group became the Planning Steering Group (PSG) chaired by Newell and consisting of Wyatt, the deputy directors of the program offices, and the center directors. The working groups, increased from five to twelve, were assigned the job of drafting "Planning Source Documents," which were to serve as the basis of the program memorandums required by the Bureau of the Budget, as a source of material for project approval documents, and as the raw materials of long-range planning. In addition, a separate Planning Coordination Group (PCG) of headquarters planning officials was created under Arnold Frutkin, the Assistant Administrator for International Affairs, to guide the working groups and to submit their planning source documents to PSG for review.55 To complement the reports of the working groups, the PCG would draw on institutional working groups for analyses of the organizational elements in planning: the balance of in-house and contractor work, the effect of new programs on center operations, and the like.56 This was clearly a more ambitious planning process than the one-shot Future Programs Task Group of 1964-1965. The objective of the new planning system was to break down the parochialism that divided headquarters from the centers and, by bringing key NASA officials together, "to develop significant alternative program possibilities so that management decisions . . . can be . . . effectively determined."57 Given the decentralized nature of NASA policy making, this was asking a great deal of agency officials. Moreover, the new planning system aimed at replacing the general manager concept, under which Seamans had been responsible for all project approvals and for monthly reviews of the status of these projects, with group management. This was the rationale for the establishment of a Management Council in January 1968, to which the PSG would report, and for replacing the program reviews for [257] each program office held for the Deputy Administrator with a general management review before the Management Council.

The planning reforms were intended to reverse some of the byproducts of a decade of decentralized management. But to put the matter thus hardly accounts for the comparative failure of PSG/PCG to plan successfully. One has to know what the system was not before one can evaluate it. PSG/PCG did not present the Administrator, Congress, or the Bureau of the Budget with a single authoritative NASA program. Rather, it offered three authorized NASA planning groups. In 1968 there were more than a dozen ad hoc and standing advisory and planning groups, most of which had no formal connection at all with the PCG.58 Two that did, Bellcomm and the Mission Analysis Division at Ames, remained distinct and apart. Bellcomm, in particular, became a sort of in-house planning staff attached to Mueller's office.59 By 1968 Bellcomm officials were sitting in as observers at meetings; indeed, Bellcomm was commissioned by STAC to prepare a study on the uses of man in space.60 Within the NASA organization there was as much competition as cooperation in drafting a long-range plan.

Three additional problems impeded center-headquarters cooperation. Except for PCG, which consisted of headquarters planning officials, all the members of PSG and the working groups participated part-time. Second, the process itself was, or became, exceedingly complex; aside from the standing committees reporting to Frutkin and Newell, there was a special studies group within the PCG and a "synthesis" group of top headquarters officials within the PSG. The nomenclature and the process it tried to describe were both cumbersome, and early in 1969 the system was revamped and streamlined. Finally, Newell, Frutkin, and the chairmen of the working groups hesitated before two quite different courses. They could outline the programs they considered intrinsically desirable at whatever cost, or they could anticipate the sort of budget that the Executive Office and Congress would accept and design programs that could be managed within the lower budgets of the 1970s. Given the political atmosphere during the last two years of the Johnson administration, the problem, it turned out, was for NASA to keep what it already had rather than to make a completely fresh start.

 

THE END OF A DECADE-REPORT OF THE PRESIDENT'S SPACE TASK GROUP, OCTOBER 1968-OCTOBER 1969

 

At a White House press conference on 16 September 1968, James Webb announced his resignation as NASA Administrator, effective 7 October, his 62d birthday. After nearly eight years directing the space program, he was leaving to pursue interests in education and urban affairs and also to smooth the transition to the next administration.*** As President, Nixon would certainly want his own [258] man; Humphrey would necessarily want someone else as well. Webb left the agency at a time when NASA was making measurable progress toward the lunar landing but with few approved programs beyond it and with the design of Apollo Applications still in doubt. Webb's prognosis for the space program was almost grim:

 

I am not satisfied with the program. I am not satisfied that we as nation have not been able to go forward to achieve a first position in space. What this really means is that we are going to be in second position for some time to come.61

 

In the summer of 1968 Apollo Applications was more than a year behind schedule, owing to cuts made by Congress-the authorized $253 million was eventually reduced to $150 million-and to the reprogramming of funds from Apollo Applications to Apollo. Reporting in July, the Thompson committee endorsed the concept of Apollo Applications but expressed serious reservations about its design that ranged from the planning of experiments to the absence of backup hardware to the "questionable nature" of the ATM experiment. 62 Webb's departure made a complex situation Administrator and then, from March even more complicated. First as Acting 1969, as Administrator, Paine's view of long-range planning was very different from Webb's. Paine wanted an ambitious post-Apollo program, specifically one that included a program of manned lunar exploration after the first landing; and he believed that a large, long-duration space station-something talked about but not acted on in NASA for almost a decade-must be on the agenda.

Between October 1968 and June 1969 the NASA planning apparatus creaked into gear. To describe even briefly the plans and task force studies of the next year would take the discussion too far afield. Suffice it to say that Paine went far beyond Webb in planning for the future, undeterred by the practical difficulties in getting the White House to make funding available. He emphatically endorsed Mueller and Townes' proposal for extended manned exploration and even went beyond them. In December 1968 President-elect Nixon appointed Townes to chair a special task force to consider the space program over the next two decades. The Townes report, which was not released by the White House, did in fact call for a vigorous, multifaceted program, although it disapproved of any commitment to a large orbiting space station.63 Paine impatiently dismissed what he saw as the report's aversion to the word "commitment"; those who had drafted it, including Seamans, did not wish to "commit" the nation to anything. To this, Paine replied that while he could understand the reluctance to make commitments, he could not sympathize with it. The great value of Apollo was that it "gave more meaning to the space program because people identify more readily with men than with machines." And he continued.

 

We have been frustrated too long by a negativism that says hold back, be cautious, take no risks, do less than you are capable of doing. I submit that no perceptive student of the history of social progress doubts that we will establish a large laboratory in earth orbit, that we will [259] provide a practical system for the frequent transfer of men and supplies to and from such a laboratory, that we will continue to send men to the Moon, and that eventually we will send men to the planets. If this is true, now is the time to say so.... We in NASA are fully conscious of practical limitations.... In the light of these considerations, we can be sensible and moderate about our requests for resources-but we must know where we are going. 64

 

By early 1969 two groups in addition to PSG were weaving the fabric of NASA planning. Paine was meeting with his program and center directors to draft a specific plan for a follow-on to the first lunar landing, which was scheduled for July. Mueller and his staff, assisted by Bellcomm, were preparing their version of the shape of things to come. They had one great advantage over the members of PSG and its working groups: they knew (or thought they knew) where they were going. Mueller wanted both the space station and a low-cost transportation system. He saw the station as a logical and necessary step in a national space program, as a way station to the moon, as practice for planetary missions, and a step in reduction in the costs of space operations."65 The transportation system would have all the virtues of economy, plus the added virtue of changing the role of ground support from one of "being . . . the senior partner in the operation into a truly supporting role where it handles those things that require external coordination rather than internal operations."66

Almost as soon as Paine became Acting Administrator, he endorsed Mueller's plan for an orbital space station. In May 1969 Paine set up two task forces: one, headed by Charles Mathews, Mueller's deputy, to examine the concept of a manned space station in permanent Earth orbit; the other, headed by Mueller, to study the space shuttle, a low-cost transportation system for supplying the space station. Then on 22 July, two days after the Apollo 11 landing, Mueller announced that NASA was switching from a "wet" to a "dry" workshop, that is, an unfueled S-IVB outfitted on the ground and launched by a Saturn V. There were several reasons for this change: the cancelation for budgetary reasons of MOL on 10 June, which ended the debate over wasteful duplication; the knowledge of OMSF officials that Saturn Vs would be available for Apollo Applications after the lunar landing; finally, the conclusion of Mueller that, with the cuts in the 1970 budget, NASA would no longer be able to support the wet workshop schedule with the funds available.67 As one official put it,

 

We decided that we had no choice.... Obviously the Saturn-5 costs will be in excess of the Saturn IB costs. But you will see the program that we have here is one that predicates a space station and space tug coming up together.... one of the forcing functions, in addition to the dollars, was the fact that the weight of the workshop had been growing with time.... It is a good illustration of what happens when you put a program in a holding pattern.... And we have just recently gone out of that holding pattern and are now hopeful that we will get approval to go forward with this dry workshop and to move out and finish the job. 68

 

All this time Newell had been trying to persuade headquarters and center officials to produce a long-range plan. What had been the "Synthesis Group" of [260] the previous planning cycle became the Planning Steering Group; what went by that name in 1968 was now the Planning Review Committee and included the program and center directors; while the working groups, renamed planning panels, were "to guide the planning activity" but "not attempt to do all the planning within an assigned category."69 The flaws in the earlier planning structure only repeated themselves in 1969. There was the same inability of PSG to represent itself as spokesman for the entire agency, the same lack of adequate staff support, and apparently the conviction of some members of the planning panels that drafting an integrated plan was a futile exercise.

These difficulties were compounded by the unchecked decline in the NASA budget and by President Nixon's establishment in February 1969 of a Space Task Group (STG) to draft an overall plan for the next decade of the U.S. space program. The STG, chaired by Vice President Spiro Agnew, included Robert Seamans, who became Secretary of the Air Force that February; Thomas Paine; and Lee DuBridge, the President's Science Advisor. The existence of a high-level task force outside NASA meant that internal NASA planning would be done mostly in terms of what that task force found acceptable. In effect, planning within the agency proceeded along paths that alternately converged and moved apart. The various planning groups were drafting programs that were intrinsically desirable for NASA; they were thinking in terms of programs that were likely to be approved given current and projected funding levels; and they assembled the kind of program that could be sold to the STG. In the end, the STG represented a partial victory of the views of Paine and Mueller.70 In its September 1969 report to the President, the STG recommended a balanced program of manned and unmanned space exploration and singled out as a primary goal a manned Mars mission before the end of the century. This, it will be recalled, had been Mueller's proposal for a long-term objective to succeed Apollo; but the idea had remained dormant virtually until the launch of Apollo 11, when Vice President Agnew had advanced what he called "a simple, ambitious, optimistic goal."71 This was all that Mueller, von Braun, and Paine had needed and this goal, expanded into a plan of impressive scope, became the cornerstone of the STG report.

In addition, the STG sketched three possible NASA programs at three different funding levels:

 

1. A manned Mars mission by the mid-1980s; an orbiting lunar station; a fifty-man Earth-orbiting space base. Funding would rise from $4 billion in FY 1970 to $8-$10 billion in 1980.72
 
2. Mars mission in 1986; $8 billion maximum in early 1980s.
 
3. Initial development of space station and reusable shuttles, as in the first two options, but deferral of decision on Mars landing date, while maintaining goal of a landing at some point after 1980 but before the end of the century. The concurrent development of the shuttle and the space station would call for a rise to $5.7 billion in spending by 1976; if they were developed serially, funding would rise to $4-$5 billion.

 

[261] For all the boldness of its planning, the STG had no power to commit the nation to anything. It was merely a statement of alternatives, like the NASA reports to the STG or the various PSAC and Space Science Board reports of 1965-1967; and it pointedly avoided setting a specific date for a manned mission to Mars. In the event, it was as much as Paine could do to hold on to what the agency already had. Throughout 1969 NASA continued to lay off employees at the centers, and at the end of the year Paine announced the closing of the Electronics Research Center, even as work on the unfinished $60 million complex proceeded. By that time it was becoming apparent that, as one journalist wrote, there would be "no set goal for landing men on Mars, no plan to colonize the moon and no sudden push to orbit a permanent manned space station above the earth in the next five years.'' 73 The most ambitious goals of the STG report were tacitly dropped; Nixon's message of 7 March 1970, which was an endorsement of the third and least expensive of the STG options, made no mention of a Mars landing. The result of four years of studies and long-range planning was one "dry" orbital workshop launched in May 1973, four years behind schedule; three "visits" to the workshop by astronaut crews; and the commitment by President Nixon in January 1972 that a reusable space shuttle would be built. Strictly speaking, there was no post-Apollo space program. Instead, there were discrete programs, some of which, like the shuttle and Skylab, were what NASA managed to salvage from the manned programs of the 1960s.

 

THE ADEQUACY OF NASA PLANNING-INSTITUTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS

 

A summary account of NASA planning brings out its extreme complexity, the mixture of technical and administrative considerations that guided it, and the inability of NASA planners to design a plan around which the entire agency could rally. This concluding section concentrates on three aspects of NASA planning: how and by whom it was done, how well it succeeded, and the rather puzzling lack of attention paid by NASA officials to the administrative consequences of substantive programs.

Recall that in the 1960s there were at least four planning cycles, the last two of which overlapped. In the early 1960s NASA prepared and then dropped a formal long-range plan. This was followed by the Future Programs Task Group of 1964-1965, the various special studies and task forces directed by OMSF and OSSA, and the PSG/PCG planning exercises of 1968-1969. Having said this, were there any features common to all of NASA planning? The evidence suggests there were. NASA planning was additive rather than synthetic; that is, every agency plan tended to be the sum of its parts, not an integrated whole. Most planning, and almost all that mattered, was carried out by the centers and program offices, not by headquarters staff offices reporting to the Administrator. There was a persistent tension in the plans drafted by the program offices and agency task forces between the technically feasible and the politically acceptable.

[262] No plan had any chance of success until it was acceptable to the NASA Administrator, the Congress, and the White House. Lacking a rigorous analysis of the costs and benefits of each plan, NASA officials below the level of the Office of the Administrator relied on the technically feasible. And "feasibility" means only that something is possible, not that the method or program is the most effective means of accomplishing a given end. As shown, even the OMSF center directors were sceptical of the design of the ATM and its location on the lunar module.

What complicated the job of planning was the confusion between an "integrated" and a "balanced" program in the various reports and studies dealing with post-Apollo planning. The latter term was almost always used by those who attacked, as well as those who defended, NASA policy. The Space Science Board, PSAC, the Space Task Group, and the Townes committee all believed that what they proposed struck the proper balance between manned and unmanned programs, or lunar-planetary exploration and Earth-orbital applications satellites. Yet Webb, at least, was prepared to argue that NASA already had a balanced program within the funding authorized. The concept of a balanced program had meaning only in terms of some uniform standard to which all could refer and, lacking which, could be used to advocate whatever some official or advisory body considered desirable.

In theory, an integrated plan could be defined as the "framework that would meld many separate program elements into a coherent whole."74 Interpreted this way, the term was ambiguous. All too often, NASA officials tended to confuse means with ends; the space station was treated as a "mission" when it was only a "capability." In an agency that was no longer organized around one overriding mission, the proposal to design an unmanned interplanetary probe could be regarded from two quite different viewpoints: either as preliminary to a manned mission, or as an end in itself. The difficulties in drafting an integrated plan were part of the failure to consider what such a plan would imply for the organization and management of NASA. For the moment, one might distinguish between the short- and long-term difficulties of drafting such a plan. At the end of the 1969 planning cycle, Newell wrote a report to serve as a kind of balance sheet of the strengths and weaknesses of NASA planning. He was remarkably frank about the difficulties of getting all the agency divisions to participate. He noted that there was not enough center participation; that the scope of the planning task, added to other responsibilities, had overworked many line officials; that some (unnamed) persons could not separate their roles as heads of centers and operating divisions from their agency-wide responsibilities within PSG; finally, that fundamental conflicts over program priorities between OSSA and OMSF had been aggravated by impending budgetary cutbacks.75 None of this should have been surprising. The decentralized structure of NASA was designed to carry out the Apollo mission, but it was not calculated to lead to integrated planning. Precisely because manned spaceflight took so large a portion of the agency's budget and manpower, planning tended to be mostly in terms of devising a sequel to Apollo or moving as far from it as possible. It is also worth noting that the very same problems that [263] Newell cited in getting the centers and headquarters to work together had been anticipated in the problems that OMSF had working with its operating divisions. What Seamans singled out as the chief faults in OMSF planning in the summer of 1967 were virtually identical to those discussed by Newell over two years later:

 

The apparent absence of an agreed upon base underlying estimates and assumptions, the overly centralized direction to planning that forbids candid review and analysis of meaningful alternatives by providing only one program view for consideration; and an apparent lack of Center participation in the key elements of the planning process that deal with program objectives and realistic possibilities of contributing to their achievement. Above all, there appears to be a lack of candid communication within OMSF and between OMSF and other organizational elements of NASA that frustrates the possibility of developing and implementing the best total Agency program under the varying conditions that we must face.76

 

It was this lack of communication between agency divisions that made the long-term success of any planning exercise doubtful. In addition, there was no authoritative voice to speak for the agency. PSG and its panels might have evolved into a kind of standing committee for agency planning, but, before this happened their role was preempted by OMSF assisted by Bellcomm. There is also evidence that some officials would not or perhaps could not put all their cards on the table Adequate planning requires that the planners be kept fully informed about the organization's resources. But, as Newell observed,

 

We found that some of the centers would not discuss the question of their staffing because they were afraid that if they indicated that they could take on a new project that they wanted to get, the availability of people would be signalled for headquarters to take those people away and put them somewhere else.77

 

The attitude of "we have nothing to gain by speaking up" meant, almost inevitably, that a proposal presented by a working group "had more certainties than challenges; each element could be shown to be feasible in terms of projected time and effort, but the total effect in terms of forward motion was pedestrian, even timid."78

Perhaps one can account for the failure of NASA planning by asking what an integrated plan would have involved. A successful plan would have related three pairs of variables: aeronautics to space technology, the rationale for unmanned systems to that for manned systems, and substantive programs to institutional changes. Nothing is more striking than the failure of the working groups or the Institutional Working Group of 1968 to recommend changes at the centers or changes in the relations between centers and headquarters that would have accompanied the programs they advocated. In essence, the NASA organization of 1969-1970 was almost unchanged from that of November 1963. The reader may object that this is putting the cart before the horse and that there could be no agreement on organization in the absence of agreement on programs. It is true that the 1961 reorganization succeeded the lunar landing decision. But the situation in 1968-1969 was fundamentally different in two respects: the agency no longer had [264] an overriding mission comparable to Apollo, and in a period of declining budgets, the agency needed flexibility to adjust to changes. In fact, the phasedown of Apollo had raised questions that were basically administrative. What should be the division between advanced research and development at the centers? Should each center "belong" to a designated program office, or should emphasis on cross-servicing become more common? Should responsibility for applications remain the OSSA, be assigned to a separate program office, or be diffused throughout e agency? Should NASA maintain a separate Office of University Affairs despite the virtual demise of NASA support for university research? How should NASA avoid excessive dependence of DOD support? 79 In the area of manpower planning alone, some questions could not wait for new programs before they were solved, questions such as the following: Should work be moved from centers that had too much to centers that had too little? Was there any way of defining "wasteful duplication" in a way that would eliminate unnecessary, overlapping facilities at the centers? And how could NASA best maintain its in-house competence and promote employees with management skills to more responsible positions?

In 1968-1969 no key official dared to discuss publicly the organizational shifts that a post-Apollo program would entail, although task forces like the one that wrote the 1966 Hjornevik report had already done some of the necessary thinking. Organizational structure does matter, even if it only ratifies power relations that already exist. The restructuring of center-headquarters relations was potentially the most explosive issue facing NASA management. A major reorganization could easily have torn NASA apart, since almost certainly it would have meant that some centers would have gained at the expense of others.

Although no official discussed the scope of organizational change publicly, a few had ideas on what NASA ought to become. Mueller, for instance, proposed a restructuring of NASA that would have left the agency, in organizational terms, where it had been before 1961.80 He proposed a stricter demarcation between research centers like Langley, development centers like Marshall, and operational centers like KSC. In view of the availability of manpower at JPL and Marshall, he suggested the transfer of development projects to these installations. He went further in advocating clearer statements of roles and missions for the centers, the withdrawal of research centers from project management, the separation of research functions from development and contract administration at the research laboratories, the creation of a separate headquarters office to manage projects once they became "operational," and the delegation of responsibility for planning to the program offices, with a separate policy staff for general guidance. Finally, he urged that officials recognize that NASA's competence was in applied, not basic, research and that NASA should rely on universities for the latter. In effect, Mueller proposed a radical simplification of the NASA organization at a time when there was no consensus on a post-Apollo organization. Some of his proposals, like the one for an "Office of Operations," were workable. As one official observed at the end of 1969,

 

[265] At some point . . . we will be faced with the need for 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year operations with several manned and unmanned space vehicles in operation at the same time. This will mean greatly expanding and integrating launch and mission control capability on one hand, and simplifying and cost cutting of systems on the other. . . . At some point we will need to give serious consideration to a total operations organization here in Headquarters to manage an agency-wide operations program. 81

 

On the other hand, an attempt to work out a strict division of labor between the centers would have been fraught with risk, especially if a center's original reason for being should end. Also, as shown, some of the older NACA centers like Langley welcomed the assignment of flight projects because development work generated new research problems for the center's laboratories. The truth seems to be that no center could survive simply as a job shop. As Marshall officials explained to the Hjornevik task force,

 

A Center must have a central role and mission around which it builds its competence and achieves its place in the world. With a central role and mission firmly established and operating, a Center can take on related activities to fill in peaks and valleys in its workload, even working for other Centers, if necessary. 82
 

In 1969 the issue of the reorganization of NASA was simply too divisive to be raised. Yet changes in organization had to accompany-and in some cases were a precondition for-a functioning agency.

In sum, NASA failed to produce an integrated plan, either as a future course of action or as a means of adjusting to the actual funding levels authorized by Congress. Yet there is evidence that a few centers were able to plan successfully, even in the absence of guidance from headquarters or knowledge by top management that anything out of the ordinary was happening. 83 The evidence is fragmentary; successful planning at Goddard or Langley was not part of any agency-wide plan, was as much a response to the logic of current programs as it was to funding cutbacks, and has to be inferred from scattered documents. At a center like Goddard, which had eighteen ongoing projects in 1971, the emphasis was on plotting manpower requirements in order to maintain balance between the projects. All NASA center directors had broad discretionary powers; a director had the authority to control personnel assignments, to ask for more people if necessary, and to reprogram funds from one research task area to another within the same research subprogram. This flexibility is the key to understanding how a center like Goddard could cope with its responsibilities for developing unmanned Earth-orbital satellites, for managing NASA's data-reduction network, and for dealing with the growth and complexity of a new generation of spacecraft. As an example, consider the growth in complexity of the Orbiting Solar Observatories (OSO), the first of which was launched in 1962. By 1971 the OSO had evolved into a very large, very complicated orbiting laboratory: It had more than tripled in total weight, had greatly increased its relative pointing accuracy, and returned a much larger volume of data. As one center official remarked,

 

[266] Scientists no longer are satisfied with a static experiment and wish to perform as dynamic an experiment as possible. For example, the first OSO's were capable of only photographing the entire solar disk. Now the scientists want to examine specific portions of the solar disk of interest to them.84

 

Center management developed the ability to move employees from one project to another, to prevent an imbalance in the mix of skills at the centers, and to reduce or eliminate manpower in areas that no longer demanded top priority. This was not so much planning in the PSG sense, as it was adaptation to a tight budget, stricter personnel ceilings, and the perceived need (as of 1971) for a new in-house flight project that would have to be managed within the resources available. Not that Goddard's experience could be repeated elsewhere; the center was unique for its mixture of large and small flight projects, the coordination of science and engineering disciplines with those responsible for managing NASA tracking networks, and the ability of its project managers to perform in-house work that other centers usually contracted out. But it was precisely this kind of restructuring at the field level that represented the most successful planning within NASA at the end of the 1960s.

 


* Note that what was a mission for a center or program office might be a subordinate goal for the agency at large. There is no inconsistency in distinguishing a center's mission-e.g., to develop manned spacecraft-from the NASA mission of putting a man on the Moon and returning him safely.

** Production of the Saturn IB and Saturn V had already been suspended in the fall of 1967.

*** Another version of the circumstances behind Webb's resignation is heard inside NASA. In a meeting with the President, he sought to restore various budget cuts and threatened to resign unless he had his way. At this, Johnson called in the White I louse press corps to announce that Mr. Webb had something to say, whereupon Webb announced that he was leaving NASA.


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