SP-4106 Aiming At Targets

 

Chapter Two

The NASA Years

 

[61] One week before his assassination in November 1963, President Kennedy said, while flying over Cape Canaveral, "I think the most significant event that took place in the fifties was the launching of Sputnik." He was referring, of course, to the Soviets' success in orbiting a small artificial satellite on October 4, 1957, followed on November 3 by Sputnik II, a launch with a dog named Laika aboard. I think Kennedy was right. In the 1940s, the big events were World War II and the atomic bomb. In the 1950s we had the Korean War and Eisenhower taking over from Truman, but neither of these events had the sudden, decisive impact of Sputnik.

I first heard about Sputnik on my car radio while driving home from RCA. I pulled the car into the garage with a sinking feeling. It's hard to describe the feeling I had on that day. I think it was largely disappointment that another nation had succeeded first. I had given quite a bit of thought to space and satellites for a number of years. Since 1948, I had served in a minor role with the NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics), the forerunner to NASA. The NACA's subcommittee on automatic stability and control, of which I was a member, openly questioned what the NACA was doing to prepare America for possible activity in space. We had our wrists slapped. We were told that the NACA was for aeronautics, period. Forget space.

Space remained very much on my mind. In January 1953, I gave a talk on the subject, half in jest, to MIT alumni of southern California. I discussed work that I had done with Doc Draper and that I then was doing on Project Meteor. To conclude, I threw in a few thoughts on the possibility of space travel, just to end on a provocative note. People [62] asked when I thought space travel might happen.

I answered, "First a relatively small instrumented payload will go around the Earth."

"Do you think man will ever fly around the Earth?"

My answer was: "Sure, why not?"

"When do you think it might happen?"

"In about ten years." In 1953, my prediction was considered somewhat eccentric. Vostok, the Soviets' first piloted orbiter, made me a prophet.

Before Sputnik, no one seemed to care much about space. After Sputnik, every aeronautical engineer in America had been working on space forever! And the public was abuzz. People were suddenly speculating about Soviet satellites flying overhead. There was fear in some quarters that satellites might be used as platforms for nuclear bombardment, but the more likely threat was thought to be enemy reconnaissance. One Air Force hardliner, with whom I served on a committee, had a drawing showing Russian satellites ringing the earth. He asked at a conference how we felt about this "great web of satellites over our heads." This sort of hysteria was not uncommon, and it made me a little uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I saw a growing concern with space and the Soviets' presence everywhere I looked. While I was still at RCA, we obtained the first contract let directly out of the secretary of defense's office, known as SD-1. Code-named SAINT (for satellite interceptor), its stated purpose was to develop a satellite capable of intercepting, inspecting, and destroying another satellite.

In October 1958, the NACA became NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.1 I read in the papers about T. Keith Glennan's appointment as NASA's first administrator in October 1958. A Yale graduate, he had served on the Atomic Energy Commission. At the time of his appointment, he was president of Case Institute of Technology, which later became Case Western Reserve University. Within a week of his coming on board, Glennan announced plans to launch a capsule with one astronaut into orbit, a decision leading to Project Mercury, starring astronauts Alan Shepard, [63] Gus Grissom, John Glenn, and other early space heroes. I felt a little jealous of Glennan and the other people who were getting the opportunity to be involved in this exciting new arena. At the time, I had no official ties with NASA, my old NACA committee having been disbanded about a month after Glennan's arrival. Still, I had maintained some of my old NACA ties, and I was invited to serve on a new ad hoc committee on guidance and control, chaired by William H. Pickering, who ran the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which later became part of NASA. I also received a call from NASA, asking if I would be interested in moving to Washington and heading up the guidance and control program at headquarters. I turned down the offer as not challenging enough.

On June 27, 1960, I was sitting in my RCA office in Burlington, Massachusetts, when the phone rang. It was Keith Glennan. He asked if I was planning to be in Washington in the next few days. I said I really hadn't been planning to be down there at all, but would be happy to make the trip if he wanted to chat with me.

"Well," he asked, "could you have dinner with me tonight at the Hotel Statler in Boston?"

"Of course," I answered.

At dinner, Keith told me how things were developing at NASA. Then he took a letter-size organization chart out of his pocket, put his thumb down on one of the highest boxes in the hierarchy, and said, in words that were a bit stronger than this, "I'd like you to consider being the associate administrator of NASA."

Keith explained that in NASA's earliest days, he and his deputy, Hugh Dryden, had run the program. (Hugh was the highly respected former director of the NACA.) Glennan and Dryden had soon realized, however, that they needed to have a full-time general manager. "That's a term that generally is not used in the government," he said. "It seemed better to call this person the associate administrator." To fill this position, they had hired Richard G. Horner, the Air Force's former assistant secretary for research and development, who made himself available for one year only.

"Dick's year is almost up," Keith said, "and we're looking for somebody to come in and take over soon. We hope you'll consider it." After he told me more about the job and its responsibilities, I explained [64] to him that there were certain family things I wanted to consider. I told Keith I would be in touch in a matter of days. I went home and talked with Gene. We had already been over this business of moving recently. Three months earlier, my good friend Courtland ("Court") Perkins, then the assistant secretary of the Air Force for research and development, had asked me if I would consider running the NATO (North American Treaty Organization) systems laboratory in The Hague. But on May 1, a U.S. U-2 reconnaissance plane piloted by Gary Powers was shot down over central Russia, and Powers was taken captive as an American spy. This heightened international tensions and may have influenced the NATO countries to select a non-American for the laboratory. At least, that's what Court told me in the aftermath.

It was Court who had recommended me to Keith Glennan, who then checked me out with Hugh Dryden. Gene could see right away that I wanted to take the job, and she assured me that the move would work out well for everyone in our family. Less than a week after my first meeting with Keith, I accepted his offer.

 

First Weeks at NASA

 

Once you take on a fairly key government job, there's tremendous pressure to start immediately. Because your name has been mentioned, the organization expects you. I insisted that I could not begin work until the first of September. Keith agreed but said, "There's a three-day industry meeting in Washington at midsummer, and it would be wonderful to have you there. You'll learn a lot, and you can say a few words, so people get to know who you are."

Gene suggested that she come with me and find a house while I was at the conference. This worked out wonderfully. She went house-hunting the first full day we were in Washington. That night she was down to three choices. We finally settled on a new townhouse at 1503 Dumbarton Rock Court, just off P Street in Georgetown. I took a look in the garage and found a brand-new Rolls-Royce inside. The man who lived across the street had two of them and needed the garage space. Otherwise, it was a reasonably modest vertical house costing about $85,000. Gene's mother called it "the Rocket." We had a tiny backyard, which eventually became a garden. We found our [65] neighbors and friends most cordial, as people in Washington are used to families coming and going.

Our September arrival in Washington was far from perfect, however. I went ahead on the last day in August and spent the night in a hotel. The next morning I was sworn in promptly at 8:30. Keith Glennan had suggested that I spend my first month at NASA getting to know the outfit. From NASA headquarters on Lafayette Square facing the White House,2 I visited the various field offices or "centers," where NASA's research and testing work was done. My second day on the job I visited the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

Gene drove to Washington with Kathy and May. Our three boys were still in New England. Toby was at Lenox, while Joe's academic future had been uncertain until the very last minute. He had applied to St. Albans School in Washington, but his acceptance didn't arrive until the day the movers were filling their van in Beverly Farms. If Joe hadn't been accepted, he would have lived with the Lorings in Prides Crossing and continued his studies at Shore Country Day School. He and Daniel were scheduled to fly into Washington the day after Gene's arrival, accompanied by our long-time nurse, Hazel Whitney.

It was terribly hot, and the drive south was quite unpleasant for Gene and the girls, with the three of them crowded into the front seat of our little Fiat station wagon. In one of the more famous Seamans family pronouncements, Kathy, who was at Dobbs and feeling pretty sophisticated, said to May, who was seven and chubby, "Get your sweaty body away from me!" When they finally got to Washington, they discovered that the movers had lost their way, and there was no furniture in the house on Dumbarton Rock Court. So Gene and the girls spent the night at the Marriott. I arrived back from Langley in time to spend the night with them. The next morning I accompanied them to the house and found nothing in it. Daniel and Joe arrived from the airport with Miss Whitney. She was very concerned to find dusty paper on the floor, two dirty spoons and a tumbler in the cupboard, and dust everywhere. How could she feed Daniel, age eighteen months, his cereal? Fortunately, we had some friends in Washington, [66] Gene's second cousin, Connie Wood, and his wife, Nancy, and they were most supportive. Through them we were able to get what we needed, including mattresses to put on our gritty floor. That first night in our new townhouse, Gene and I slept on mattresses with nothing to cover us but our raincoats.

The next morning I said, "See you all!" Then I walked out the door and jumped into a waiting chauffeur-driven limousine. I was off to visit more of NASA. As the driver and I pulled away from the curb, the movers were pulling in. Gene was left alone to sort out the household.

 

Tour of the NASA Centers

 

NASA's centers were a mixed bag. Langley, the first stop on my September tour, was the first aeronautical research laboratory run by our federal government, established in 1917. It was NASA's "mother lode." Several other NASA centers grew out of Langley-among them the Lewis and Ames Research Centers and the Johnson Space Center (originally known as the Manned Spacecraft Center) in Houston. Langley had a number of wind tunnels, some of them large. One was big enough to contain a fighter plane. Some were vertical-wind tunnels, used to test helicopters. With such extensive facilities, Langley attracted exceptionally fine aerodynamicists. The calibe r of the work there was always high.

Floyd C. "Tommy" Thompson was the director of Langley. Meet him for five minutes and you would have said he was a waterman or a farmer. When you knew better, you realized he was remarkably effective. One of the top research people at Langley was Robert C. Gilruth, who headed up what was then known as the Space Task Group. This later split off from Langley, moved to Houston, and became the Johnson Space Center. Working for Bob Gilruth was a talented engineer named Max Faget. Together with their team of engineers, Bob and Max came up with the familiar gumdrop shape for the Mercury capsule-a foreshortened cone with a heat shield mounted on its rounded bottom. By the time of my first visit to Langley, the Mercury capsule had been fully designed, and I inspected a dummy version. John Glenn, one of the seven Mercury astronauts, took me in [67] hand, opened up the cockpit for me, put me inside, and closed the hatch, while explaining its workings.

The idea of sending a man to the Moon was still futuristic to most people in 1960, but a few Langley engineers were giving it prolonged thought. During my September visit, a Langley engineer named John C. Houbolt went over his ideas for lunar-orbit rendezvous (LOR) with four or five of us in a small conference room. LOR was one of three considered "modes" for landing an astronaut on the Moon. Direct ascent-in which a rocket taking off from Earth flew directly to the Moon, landed there, took off, and landed again on Earth-was the simplest to imagine, though ultimately it might have proved hardest to pull off. Earth-orbit rendezvous (EOR) was the most popular mode in those days of speculative thought. With EOR, a robot-guided rocket would be launched into orbit, to be followed later by the astronauts in another capsule. Once rendezvous had taken place in Earth orbit, the mission would proceed as in direct ascent.

In the LOR scenario the main capsule achieved lunar orbit before the lunar lander disengaged itself. It landed and then rejoined the main capsule for a return to Earth. One of the critical concerns with LOR was docking. If docking in lunar orbit was not successful, not only would the mission fail but crew members making the lunar landing would be cut off from transportation back to earth. It was thought that a similar problem in Earth orbit would be surmounted easily, since the capsule had the ability to reenter the atmosphere and to land. For me, the LOR docking had a remarkable similarity to the approach RCA had been developing for satellite interception (the SAINT program). But at the time of John Houbolt's informal briefing, few were giving it any real consideration. This mode question would be one of the last major decisions we made on the road to achieving the lunar landing.

Part of the Army's Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, was transferred to NASA on July 1, 1960. This center was as fascinating as any I visited that first month. (Within a month of my visit, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Keith Glennan would travel to Huntsville and rededicate this part of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency the "George C. Marshall Space Flight Center," after which it was known within NASA as "Marshall or MSFC.") The senior engineers at Redstone, most of them Germans, were working on NASA rocketry under the legendary [68] father of the German V-2 missile, Wernher von Braun. When I got to Huntsville, von Braun was nowhere to be seen, so I began discussing the space program with some of his lieutenants, or "cardinals" as they were known. Then Wernher came in, immediately dominating the scene. He spent time that day and the next showing me around.

Wernher had an amazing presence and made a most favorable impression on me. One seemingly insignificant incident sticks in my memory. When we got out to one of the gantry elevators to go up and take a look at a rocket, there were some workmen waiting to get on. When they saw Wernher, they all backed off. Wernher put his arm around one of the men-a large hard-hatted construction worker-and said, "You're the guys doing the work. Come on. You get in the elevator first." And together we went up in the gantry. I had expected to see a completely autocratic system in the German mold at Redstone. Though it was clear that Wernher thought of himself as the boss if not the Pope, he listened to what his cardinals were saying. Then, and only then, he would say, "Okay, this is what we're going to do," and they did it. He was much more humane than I had imagined.

At an October 1960 NASA management meeting in Williamsburg, Virginia, I got another insight into von Braun's team. I began a little talk by telling everyone that at RCA we had made almost a fetish of calling each other by first names and nicknames. One of the senior vice presidents of RCA was nicknamed Pinky. Though I had trouble calling him that, I finally got used to it. Then I added that I was impressed, while touring NASA facilities, that things there were much more formal, with people addressing one another, especially superiors, as Doctor This and Mister That.

At the cocktail hour afterwards people made a point of calling me Bob. Eberhard Rees, one of von Braun's cardinals, did so with his thick German accent. "Bob, you might be interested to know," he said, "that just the other day, Wernher said for the first time that I could call him Wernher."

"Do you mean," I asked, "that you've been working together for, whatever it is, twenty years, and you've been calling him Dr. von Braun all this time?"

"Oh, no!," Rees answered. "I always called him Herr Doktor von Braun."

[69] I also visited the Goddard Space Flight Center in Beltsville, Maryland, on the road from Washington to Baltimore. Goddard was an offshoot of the Navy that had been given the job of coming up with the Vanguard satellite during the International Geophysical Year, 1957-58. I also took a September trip to the west coast, where I visited the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Located very near the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, JPL was a key operation for NASA at the time, with responsibility for Ranger and Mariner, the robotic lunar and martian probes. But it was also a NASA oddball, because it was not civil service but privately operated by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). All the other centers were run by people on the government payroll. This caused considerable difficulties for Abe Silverstein, director of Space Flight Programs at our Washington office. Being private, JPL didn't like the firm hand of Abe Silverstein on the back of its neck, but there was reason for Abe to keep his hand there. We had about $100 million worth of effort being contracted out of JPL at that time. What's more, Caltech was bleeding off funds as "their fee" to pay for the risk they were taking. When we tried to negotiate these matters with Caltech's president, we were told, in effect, "If you don't like it, lump it. If you want us to run the program, we're going to run it our way." At an impasse, we finally decided that not all lunar and planetary probe exploration would go to JPL, as previously planned. We gave the Lunar Orbiter program, which JPL was expecting to manage, to Langley instead. This was a controversial move. Langley had never run a big project before, and there was a real question as to whether we ought to take our research people and put them on one. But we did it; Langley did a miraculous job; and we finally got JPL's attention.

My September tour of the centers set a good pattern for my years at NASA. I tried to move outside the circle of ten or fifteen people assembled around my office as often as possible. If an issue came up involving Goddard or one of the other centers, I would try, to the extent that time permitted, to get out to Beltsville or wherever the action was taking place. In this way I could understand the issues better while demonstrating that headquarters cared.

 

[70] Moving the Decimal Point

 

I was highly impressed with the number of extremely competent people I met in my first tour of NASA. What's more, there was an extraordinary team spirit in the whole endeavor. I won't say there weren't jealousies or animosities, but these struck me as minimal compared with those I had seen in academic and industrial settings. At NASA, there seemed to be a lot less competition and a lot more getting on with national objectives.

Like every other citizen, I had wondered about the inaction and waste of bureaucracies and about the heavy load they put on taxpayers' shoulders. So it came as a great surprise to find that these bureaucrats were, in the main, able, dedicated people. And when it came time to visit Capitol Hill and the White House, I was equally impressed with the level of competence of most everyone I met.

Everything at NASA was much bigger than anything I had ever encountered before. In my fifteen years at MIT, the largest program I had been involved with had a total budget of about $20 million over eight years. RCA operated on a billion-dollar budget, but my program was a tiny piece of that, with an annual budget of no more than $15 million. Now suddenly I was the de facto general manager of a billion-dollar-a-year program, with resources dotted all over the country and countless contractor personnel intimately linked to every phase of it.

In a way, though, it was only a matter of moving the decimal point over a couple of places. Or this was how it seemed to me. World War II had forced quite a few people in my generation to move into big jobs without much prior experience. In the armed services, twenty-five-year-olds had been promoted to full colonel in the field. If it hadn't been for the war, I wouldn't have been an instructor at MIT at the age of twenty-three, before getting my master's or doctor's degree. Ordinarily, you're not considered for a faculty appointment at MIT until you've got your doctor's degree.

Still, at RCA I had never had my boss come into my office and say, "Come with me. We need to go over to the White House to talk with the President and his budget director about a couple of things." And there was no denying the excitement and electricity of working in what would become perhaps the glamor program in American [71] government during the 1960s. I was working shoulder to shoulder with people who were going to orbit the Earth and fly to the Moon.

 

The Question of Organization

 

NASA was not all glamor during my first nine months there. The agency had so far failed, in the three years since Sputnik, to catch up with the Russians. We weren't even close. The American public had watched Vanguard and Centaur rockets blowing up on live TV. Only about half of our launches had even left the pad. For good reason, Congress and the public did not have the necessary confidence in the program, and NASA was getting lacerated by the press. We had to be pretty hard-boiled inside of NASA. That's essentially what I was brought in to do as general manager.

When I discussed this with Keith, he said, "We want you to get in there and take charge!" He clenched his fist and made a driving motion, and that was about it. I took this to mean that there was a real need to get on top of the management of the activities at each of the centers. But it wasn't yet clear how to do so.

After about a month on the job, he asked me, "When are you really going to get a hold of this organization?"

I said, "I'm working on it, Keith."

He said, "You'd better move."

This is how NASA was organized when I arrived in 1960. In the Office of the Administrator, there were two people, Keith and his deputy, Hugh Dryden, the only two presidential appointees at NASA. As associate administrator, directly in line beneath them, I was NASA's highest-ranking nonpolitical appointee. Eventually, I had a series of deputies-Tom Dixon, Earl Hilburn, and others. I was slow to name them at first. In response to Keith's promptings, I said, "I don't want to think about a deputy until I know what my job is. Then I can figure out who will be my deputy." It was only after I had been in government for some time that I realized that deputies were not only common, they were in most cases an absolute necessity. The heaving and hauling required of each key individual is so great that it's pretty hard to get the job done without a team of two (sometimes three) to put their shoulders to the same wheel.

[72] Below my office in the line organization were the so-called program offices located at our Washington headquarters. Space Flight Programs, under Abe Silverstein, was responsible for satellites of all types, from meteorological to manned. The Large Launch Vehicles office, under Don Ostrander, had responsibility for all of the booster stages and rocket engines used to launch satellites. Research and Advanced Technology (what amounted to the old NACA) was initially run by Ira ("Ez") Abbott, an old-line bureaucrat. This office continued state-of-the-art research in aerodynamics, propulsion, materials, and so on. The NACA research functions became less and less critical in the scheme of NASA as the nation's space program grew in stature, but we continued to believe that it was important to the country that research continue in aeronautics and long-term space technology.

Beneath the program offices in the hierarchy were the centers, out of which all contracting was done. In other words, the centers were where the work was accomplished. In the organization chart, each center fell under the program office with which it was most closely associated. So Abe Silverstein had Goddard and JPL. Don Ostrander's principal operation was Marshall. Ira Abbott had the old NACA laboratories at Langley, Ames, and Lewis, as well as Edwards Flight Test Center in the Mojave Desert.

Having centers and program offices might seem a redundancy. Why not have the people in the field do the work and forget about headquarters staff? Because an agency has to plan for the future, and it has to defend its programs before Congress, the media, and the public. If people kept coming in from the field to look after these things, work would never get done.

There was also a crying need for systems management, a responsibility of the program offices. We had to be sure that the capsule (designed at Langley and in Houston) and the rocket (designed at Marshall) fitted together!

There was always a very delicate balance between the program office and center. After a couple of years I had serious complaints from Harry J. Goett at Goddard, who said, "If I'm running this laboratory, I want to have the power to refuse having people from headquarters come in if I don't want them on my territory. I'm going to be the one to decide what goes on in my center."

That may have sounded like common sense. Only there were fifty [73] projects going on at Goddard, and there was no way that one person could stay on top of them all. The director would be the bottleneck. The people at the program level were complaining that they were not allowed in the Goddard door, and Harry was complaining that he was supposed to be responsible for something while decisions were being made he didn't know anything about! We finally came to the sad day when I had to ask Harry Goett to come and see me. I had known him since 1948. I admired and respected him, but I had to say, "Harry, you're not able to handle this job." C'est la guerre. Harry then became special assistant to the NASA administrator and a year later took a job in the aerospace industry.

Despite its inherent logic, the NASA organizational structure was fraught with contradictions. One example: Abe Silverstein was responsible for Space Flight Programs, but the Space Task Group, set up under Bob Gilruth at Langley to develop manned capsules, officially reported not to Abe, but to Ez Abbott, because Ez had the old NACA centers under him. Another concern was George Low's place in the organization chart. As program chief of Manned Space Flight, he had virtually the most important job in all of NASA, yet he was several levels down on the chart. He didn't even report to Abe directly.

I addressed some of these concerns at lunch one day with Keith Glennan and Hugh Dryden. I suggested that we make George Low director of Manned Space Flight, reporting directly to Abe Silverstein. I also suggested that, in effect, we promote Bob Gilruth and have him report to Abe rather than through Tommy Thompson and Ira Abbott. These steps were taken immediately and addressed a further concern of mine, that manned flight be given top priority. I believed that the future viability and funding of NASA would largely depend on whether or not we were successful in putting an American in space and bringing him back safely.

Still, as for taking charge (in Keith Glennan's fist-pumping sense) of this large, unwieldy network of program offices and centers, I had a hard time. The way the organization was set up, it was difficult for me to exercise my responsibility. There was no system of checks and balances. There was no place for me to grab hold of the total NASA program. It was not until the following summer when, under a new administrator, I took fiscal control of the organization, that I was able effectively to "take charge."

 

[74] What Will Kennedy Do?

 

On the first Tuesday in November, John F. Kennedy defeated Richard M. Nixon in the race to succeed President Eisenhower. At NASA, the same questions circulated as at every other federal agency: What is Kennedy's attitude to our work? Will he support or accelerate our programs? Will he cut them in part or altogether? December 19 saw the first successful launch of an unmanned Mercury capsule atop a Redstone rocket. Was this the beginning of something big, or the beginning of the end?

At a postelection meeting with President Eisenhower and his executive officer, Brig. Gen. Andrew Goodpaster, Eisenhower speculated about "what Joe Kennedy is going to try to get his son to do when he becomes President." Eisenhower was unhappy at that prospect, but he was also honorable about it. He said our responsibility was to leave everything in the best posture possible, so that the next administration could take it over effectively.

With this in mind, I requested that contractor studies on the feasibility of human spaceflight, which I had asked for in September, be intensified and extended to include a lunar landing. I also called for a January 1961 meeting at which the Space Task Group under Bob Gilruth and the Marshall Space Flight Center under Wernher von Braun would come in with detailed discussions of a lunar landing-what it would cost, when it might be accomplished, what launch vehicles would be required, and so on. We knew that the new administration would have its own ideas about space. It was our responsibility to have substantive material ready for them, so that the decisions could be made based on facts, not conjecture.

Jerome C. Wiesner, Kennedy's science advisor, headed a transition committee charged with studying what the incoming administration should do about space and the so-called missile gap. I had known Jerry at MIT, going back ten years or so, but surprisingly the NASA organization had no contact with him or his committee during this transition period. When the committee report was issued, we thought it quite unfair to NASA and quite personal with regard to certain key people at NASA, especially Hugh Dryden. It asked for new, young, imaginative people to run NASA, the implication being that Hugh, in his sixties, was old and doddering.

[75] I had lunch with Johnny Johnson, NASA's general counsel, and raised the question of NASA's future. "You know," I said, "we're hearing all these rumors about what the Kennedy administration will or won't do. What do you think is the chance that the next administration will, in effect, dissolve NASA, or reorganize it as a NACA-type operation, shifting more operational parts back into the military?"

"They might want to do it," he said, "but they'd never get it through the Congress." NASA had a lot of support on Capitol Hill. It was seen as a check-and-balance to the Defense Department. Still, even if NASA survived, my own position was tenuous at best. Clearly, I had to be acceptable to the new administrator under Kennedy, and I was quite prepared to leave if requested to do so or if I felt uncomfortable with the new administrator. I think anybody who has a reasonably senior position in the government has to be willing to get out quickly if he or she is not satisfied with the way things are going. Government work is similar to a relay race. The best you can hope for is to move the baton around the track, before passing the responsibility to someone else.

Keith Glennan was a political appointee of the Eisenhower administration. As such, he expected to be replaced by the incoming Democratic administration. He hoped that Kennedy's staff would select a replacement before the inauguration to work with him on a smooth transition. No appointment seemed to be forthcoming, however. After getting clearance from the Eisenhower administration, Keith called the Vice President-elect, Lyndon B. Johnson, to see where things stood on a new administrator. "Here we are," Keith told Johnson, "the sixth largest federal agency from the standpoint of budget, and we're still waiting to have an administrator selected. I just want you to know that I'm ready to do anything I can to help during this transition."

Johnson's reported response was: "That is very kind of you, Dr. Glennan. If there's anything that you can do to help, we'll certainly get in touch with you." With that Johnson hung up.

This was a very difficult period for Keith. At the Wright Brothers Dinner, which occurred in December, he was the principal speaker. Keith tried to make what was probably his last major talk a serious one. The audience paid little attention, many of them talking amongst themselves. NASA was not riding high in the community in those days.

Shortly before the inauguration, Gene and I had a group at the [76] Chevy Chase Club for lunch. Gene's cousin, Ezra Merrill, president of the Hood Milk Company in Boston, was there. I got to talking with him about this strange anomaly-a sizable agency having no contact with the new administration. He said to me, "You know, if you really want to find out what's going on, you ought to call Charlie Bartlett."

"Who's Charlie Bartlett?" I asked.

"A syndicated columnist and the godfather of the Kennedys' first child." Within NASA, we were desperate for intelligence in those days, so just after the inauguration, I called Charlie Bartlett on the phone and asked if I could come over to see him.

"What about?," he asked.

"Well, frankly," I said, "we haven't had any contact with the administration, and I'm told that you might be able to shed a little light on what's going on."

I met with Charlie and discussed my concerns. He said, "The President is wondering what he might do about the space program. Of course, he's planning to turn it all over to Lyndon. But just last night when I was walking around Lafayette Square with the President, we walked around your building, and the President noted it and said that that's where the headquarters of NASA was located, and that there had been considerable concern amongst his special task force about the competence of the people."

This made me wonder, but at least it showed that the President knew that NASA existed. I said, "Well, I'm sure the President has so many things on his mind. Who am I to say what's most important, but it would certainly be very helpful if in the near term we could have some conversation with the administration."

"I'll remember that next time I see the President." When I got up to go, he said, "Now, you realize that Lyndon Johnson is a very difficult person. He's a real problem for the President. If you have any problem with him, you just let me know and I'll see what I can do to straighten it out for you." I thought, "Seamans, you're getting yourself in a little bit deep on this one!"

On the day before the inauguration, Keith Glennan approved a big list of programs, including a 200,000-pound-thrust, hydrogen-oxygen engine and the so-called F-1 kerosene-oxygen engine with 1,500,000 pounds of thrust, which was eventually used in the first stage of the [77] Saturn rocket. Then he sat in the office waiting for word on his successor. When no word came through by a quarter to five, a few of us found a bottle of sherry and had a couple of drinks, to toast Keith for the job he had done. Then for the last time he walked out the door-and found himself temporarily trapped in Washington by a blizzard!

 

Life at the Rocket

 

Our whole family took enthusiastically to life in the Capital, its opportunities and conveniences, although we all missed family in New England. Our neighborhood proved to be a very pleasant place to live. In time, I went on the vestry of the church around the corner. Right up the hill behind us was Montrose Park, where our two youngest, May and Daniel, enjoyed playing with neighborhood children.

Joe began two years at St. Albans, and May went into the second grade at Beauvoir. These schools, on the close of the National Cathedral, are part of a large Episcopal complex. They offered topnotch schooling and sports, always against the background of religious faith. Joe learned the city with his new friends who lived nearby. May created her own niche and eventually attended the National Cathedral School for Girls, in Washington.

Our youngest son, Daniel, took endless walks. He loved the smelly buses and trucks, and the sirens. He and his nurse would stand outside the houses of notables, especially at the time of the Kennedy inaugural, and wave at the arrivals and departures. The day of the inauguration, January 21, 1961, was an exciting one for all of us. Having grown up in Washington, Gene knew the importance and fun of participating in inaugural events; so we invited my parents to stay with us, go to the parade, and soak up the charged and optimistic atmosphere of the Capital. The blizzard that had hit Washington the day before kept my parents' plane from landing, so it turned back to New York City. Luckily, their fellow passengers included Cardinal Cushing and a covey of nuns. The cardinal was to give the invocation at the President's swearing-in. Realizing the importance of His Eminence, the airline bused passengers on the flight to Penn Station in New York City, where they were put on a special car. There was much jollity en route and, to our amazement, my parents arrived at 4:00 a.m. on inauguration day, [78] very proud of themselves! We had pictured them hopelessly delayed in sixteen inches of snow.

Invited to an Inaugural Ball, Kathy arrived from the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, New York, where she was boarding. We all had a fine view of the seven-hour parade, then got Kathy off to the party. She was quite a sight as she marched down our snowy walk in her pumps and flowing evening dress held high. Her young man didn't appear very well organized, but he did wear a stunning top hat!

 

[78] The Coming of Jim Webb

 

It turned out that the Kennedy administration had been having great difficulty finding somebody to take the job of NASA administrator. They went through quite a list of people. When it became known that people were turning down the top job at NASA, it was not good for agency morale. Why would anybody not want to run NASA? It must mean that the agency doesn't have a high priority in the administration's planning.

Finally, a week after Kennedy took office, Hugh Dryden called me into his office and said, "Well, I've met the new administrator, and we may have a slight change of pace around here." By that point, I was very anxious to meet the new man, whose name, James E. Webb, didn't mean a thing to me. Appointed by Kennedy on January 30, and confirmed by the Senate on February 9, Webb was an old Washington hand. He had been director of the Bureau of the Budget and an under secretary of state in the Truman administration.

Our first meeting in his office was unusual. He asked me a lot of questions but none about space. I have a habit of twiddling the coins in my coat pocket. He noticed this and two or three times said, "Do you want a cigarette? I have some over in my desk." "No," I said, "I don't smoke." We talked about different management philosophies and styles. He asked if I knew how Sears Roebuck was organized. At Columbia University's advanced management program, which I had attended while at RCA, I had read a case study of Sears Roebuck. The company had a highly decentralized organization with responsibility spread out horizontally. Jim and I discussed this kind of management control as opposed to a straight, hierarchical kind of organization like that at Montgomery Ward.

[79] I felt it was a good conversation, that at least I had been able to keep in phase with the kind of thing that seemed to interest him. Finally, he said, "Well, it's time to go out to lunch. Will you join me?"

I said, "Sure." We put our coats on and started walking out the door of the building.

"Where would you like to go?" he asked.

I said, "I think that should be up to you, Mr. Webb. You know Washington better than I do."

"Well," he said, "what do you say we go to the National Democratic Club?"

"That's fine with me if they'll take Republicans." I wasn't sure he knew I was a Republican, and I figured we had to address the issue sooner or later. For quite a while after that, whenever he introduced me it was as "the Republican member of the NASA organization"-to show how bipartisan we were!

At lunch, he started giving me some of his philosophy on how government works. He told me the story of somebody who had been a hero to him. When asked at the time of his retirement how he had been able to stay in government as long as he had, the hero had answered, "I know when to bend a little." But, Webb added, there have to be thresholds. You have to begin by choosing the point beyond which you won't bend any more.

Webb told me that he really hadn't wanted to return to government, but that he had been persuaded to do so by Senator Robert Kerr (the chairman of NASA's Senate authorization committee, with whom Jim had worked), by the Vice President, and finally by the President. He said he had made it absolutely clear from the beginning that he would accept only if Hugh Dryden stayed on as deputy. By the end of the luncheon, he let me know that he wanted me to stay as well. Apparently, Hugh had urged him to keep me on.

 

Reorganization

 

There was no immediate change when Jim Webb took over. He seemed to follow an adaptive course, getting to know the people in NASA and their capabilities, as well as the organization and its needs. He often spoke admiringly of the Wright Brothers' success, noting [80] that they had recognized the need to turn and maneuver their aircraft. Similar adaptation was required in organizations, he said, in order to steer around or over obstacles while aiming at changeable goals. He liked to point out that NASA had both a brake and a throttle. During this period Jim Webb was also getting to understand the political ramifications of what we were doing, and the political support that he could expect to obtain. He took the temper of the executive office as well as the Congress.

As winter passed into spring and Jim developed some confidence that I could provide the support he wanted, I began explaining to him my concern that we had not centralized control sufficiently in the hands of the general manager. He encouraged me to gather in the reins more than I had with Keith. It seemed to me that to do so meant, first and foremost, to take charge of the funding-to approve on a project-by-project basis the funds that would be available to a given office. Under Keith Glennan, I had not had fiscal control. Funding was controlled at the program level, by Silverstein, Ostrander, et al. Silverstein had a first-rate assistant reporting to him named DeMarquis ("D.") Wyatt, who kept track of funding for him. Abe must have realized things were changing the day I said, "Henceforth D. Wyatt works for me." D. did so from that day until the day I left NASA in January 1968. Every dollar NASA spent for the next six years was itemized by D. Wyatt on forms he submitted to me for approval.

As general manager, I did not want random reporting-people informing headquarters when and if they felt like it. A general manager can't sit all by himself and, by reading the reports coming through, figure out what's going on and what needs fixing. A general manager needs to meet face-to-face with those reporting on a regular (preferably monthly) basis. This was my point of view, and it was controversial. But I saw the need for it.

Consequently, we began to hold management meetings for two days each month, during which the project people came in and talked performance, funding, and schedules. D. Wyatt and his staff kept track of project difficulties and successes, the rapidity with which resources were being used up, and the important schedules. They briefed me before I met with a particular program office. Then, when the presentations had been made, if people hadn't brought up things that [81] appeared to be serious in light of the Wyatt briefing, I would bring them up. I would ask, "Is that Eastman Kodak lens going to work or not? What data do you have? How far along are you?" Of course, this process was a two-way street. The project managers were able to share their needs and problems with me and my staff, so that we in turn could make available facilities, people, dollars-whatever was required to get around a problem.

In the organizational structure that evolved under Jim Webb, Hugh Dryden-the man derided as an old fogey by Jerry Wiesner's committee-continued to play an important role. Hugh's handwriting reflected his approach to everything: it was very, very meticulous. Hugh's lifestyle was very much wrapped up in the Methodist Church, where he was a deacon and preacher. He was not a gregarious person, so temperamentally he and Jim weren't alike. They didn't socialize a lot with one another. Yet, although Hugh was a very mild-mannered person, when he was upset, there wasn't any question about it. If he thought NASA was going off on a tangent or getting too political-whatever his concern-he would go in and give Jim a piece of his mind.

Jim sometimes had wild, mind-stretching thoughts. If he had just sprung them on the organization or on people outside the organization without any kind of constraint, it might have been catastrophic. So it was useful for Jim to have Hugh present, as a thoughtful, highly respected senior person to confide in and to use as a sounding board. For example, when the decision was made to go to the Moon, the Draper Lab got the contract for the navigation system. Soon afterward I got a letter from my old mentor, Doc Draper. He said that he had always found it important for people who designed and developed equipment to have a chance to test it, and that he himself was available to go on the first lunar trip. Jim thought this was terrific. As far as he was concerned, he was going to go over and see the President and say, "There may be some scientists in the country that aren't for the program, but here's one that's not only for it, he wants to go."

It would have been highly inappropriate for Doc Draper to go to the Moon. He was over sixty and couldn't possibly have passed the physical or survived the training. It was much more important for him to direct his laboratory and to build the Apollo guidance system than to go to the Moon. If Doc's offer (and NASA's willingness to consider [82] it) had reached the public, however, it would have caused all kinds of interest. Pretty soon a lot of other people would have wanted to go, and choosing the astronauts would have become a messy business pretty fast. Hugh said, "Wait a minute!" or words to that effect, and Jim never took Doc's letter over to the President. I'm not sure I could have put the same constraint on Jim that Hugh did.

Jim, Hugh, and I formed a triad at the top of NASA. Jim was the charismatic leader with long-range vision and a great knack for understanding how policy and politics interacted in Washington. Hugh, the universally respected scientist who had been the director of the NACA in the 1940s and 1950s, possessed a quiet, invaluable sense of practicality. As the "general manager," I managed NASA's programs while Jim lined up outside support and Hugh provided sound guidance on our goals.

 

Moving Forward

 

On March 22 at the White House, I met for the first time with President Kennedy. NASA had previously received a request from Kennedy's director of the budget, David Bell, to recommend substantive changes in our budget. We had met with Dave and had discussed several major items, including what we perceived as the imperative need of going ahead with the Saturn second stage, which had been omitted from the Eisenhower budget. We had also discussed the Apollo program (especially the desirability of going ahead with development studies for it) and the need for a government-financed communications satellite program. Bell had not accepted any of these proposals outright but instead had called for the March 22 meeting with the President at Jim Webb's request.

Kennedy and I had been classmates at Harvard, and I had had a speaking acquaintance with him as an undergraduate. He was very cordial when he came into the Cabinet Room, but he did not appear to recall our association at Harvard, nor did I remind him of it. Present at the meeting were Jim Webb, Hugh Dryden, Glenn Seaborg (head of the Atomic Energy Commission), Vice President Johnson, national security advisor McGeorge Bundy, and presidential science advisor Jerry Wiesner. The President asked many questions and listened carefully as he tapped his front teeth with his pencil. He brought up the question of [83] Alan Shepard's Mercury flight, which was scheduled for later in the spring. He wanted to know whether we thought the flight would be successful. He seemed to recognize that there was much to be gained if we were successful but also much to be lost if we failed. He questioned whether the flights should be completely open to the press or not.

We discussed launch vehicles, with the President trying to determine what restoration of the budget item for the Saturn second stage (S-2) would provide. At one point, I attempted to summarize some of the discussion, indicating that, if we went ahead with the S-2, it would give us an option for preliminary Apollo flights in 1965, circumlunar flights in 1967, and a lunar landing in 1970 or soon thereafter. The President turned, looked at me, and said, "That was a good summary. I would like to have that in writing tomorrow morning. And please send a copy to the Vice President."

Throughout the meeting, Kennedy appeared to be a master at generating discussion and listening carefully to differing viewpoints. But he did not tip his hand. When we left the meeting, we did not know what his decision on NASA's budget would be. I went home from the meeting and did my best to put in writing what I had said at the meeting. The next morning, I took the letter around to Jim Webb and said, "Here's the memorandum requested by the President." He did a double take. Associate administrators didn't write letters to the President! I said, "I believe he specifically asked for it, but it's in your hands. You decide whether to submit it to him."

That afternoon, as I was headed north for some skiing with my family at Mt. Tremblant, I read his cover note: "The attached memorandum prepared by our Associate Administrator, Dr. Seamans, responds to your request of yesterday.÷" In the end, we got a lot more in the NASA budget than we would have directly from Dave Bell. The Saturn S-2, for example, received the full increase of $70 million we had requested.

 

Moving Faster

 

On the day Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth, April 12, 1961, George Low and I happened to be testifying on Capitol Hill. This was not my first appearance before a congressional committee. That [84] had taken place the previous fall, in front of NASA's House appropriations subcommittee headed by Albert Thomas of Houston, Texas. I had heard stories about him and his committee, and I had approached this first appearance with great trepidation. I had heard that Dick Horner had spent most of his time in front of Thomas defending himself. Keith Glennan had had similar experiences. One day, while Keith read a prepared statement, Thomas went into a phone booth and waited until Keith was finished. Then he stepped out and said, "That was excellent, Mr. Administrator. Very fine presentation."

For some reason, Thomas was kind to me during that first session. I found him a remarkable man, like almost all the congressmen and senators with whom I dealt. In my opinion, they wouldn't have had their jobs if they hadn't had some capabilities. Not that these fellows were paragons of virtue, but I believed it was wrong to sell them short. Most of them worked hard at their jobs. Albert Thomas, for one, used to spend a great deal of time going through budget submissions and underlining them in red. When he came into the hearing room, he was ready, willing, and able to cross-examine a NASA witness, in a merciless way if necessary.

Congressional hearings took on a new tone after the Gagarin flight. Suddenly, the Hill wanted to know why NASA wasn't doing more in space. Jim and Hugh testified on April 13 and were somewhat beaten over the head for not coming up with more imaginative programs. The next day George Low was on the hot seat, presenting the Apollo program, and I was sitting beside him. The congressmen asked questions about specifics-capsules, life-support equipment, and so on. I drew some comfort from the studies on piloted flight that I had requested in September and had accelerated in November. It was good to have some facts about the costs of an expanded spaceflight effort. At least when we mentioned numbers, we could be pretty confident we were in the ballpark.

After a while the discussion broadened considerably. Congressman David S. King from Utah quoted from the gospel according to Luke, chapter 14:

Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?

[85] Congressman King wondered aloud what the Soviets were planning to do in space and how much effort they were going to put into it. If we didn't know the answers, might we not find ourselves outmanned like that biblical king? I said that obviously I was not privy to the Soviets' plans. At the same time we could see that they had had a very aggressive program in the past, and we could speculate that they were going to continue in an aggressive way.

Were they planning to go to the Moon in 1967, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution? Again I had to say that I didn't know the answer.

How soon were we planning to go to the Moon? I explained that the budget we were submitting would permit us to make a circumlunar flight in 1967 but that it was not paced for a lunar landing until 1969 or 1970.

Finally, Congressman King got around to asking whether we could get to the Moon by 1967. I said that obviously this was a question that couldn't be answered in a definitive way. When pressed, I finally said, "My estimate at this moment is that the goal may very well be achievable." Our preliminary studies told us that it could be done and that we could do it for between $10 billion and $12 billion. Little did we realize that Apollo would ultimately cost closer to twice that.

When our testimony was done, George and I stepped out of the conference room into something that was unique in my experience, the blinding light of television cameras. I was asked to repeat the statements I had made in the hearing room. Asked whether I thought we could beat the Russians to the Moon, I answered, "This obviously depends on how fast the Russians get there as well as how fast we proceed, and I don't think that we can guarantee that with any amount of money that we can get to the Moon before they do. Obviously," I continued, "it's possible to proceed faster if we proceed on a crash program basis. This is a matter of great national urgency to make a decision as to whether this is important enough to proceed with the kind of funding that would be required."

"Mr. Seamans," a reporter asked, "do you feel that we should put our plans to get on the Moon on a crash basis?"

"It is not for me to make a decision of that sort. This is a decision that must be made by the Congress, by the President, and basically by the people of the United States."

[86] When I finally got back to headquarters, I dashed into Jim Webb's office. Nina Scrivener, his secretary, said, "You look a little distraught."

"Well," I answered, "I got in a little bit over my head at the hearing, and I just want Mr. Webb to know that I did the best I could. But it may be that I'll be asked to leave NASA as a result of it all." On page 87 of his book Toward the Endless Frontier: History of the Committee on Science and Technology, Congressman Ken Hechler corroborates my concerns of the moment. He claims that my "job was in real jeopardy as a result of the incident." The administration felt that I had gone considerably further than I should have in favor of the lunar landing program. I was getting into a role that was presidential, not one usually played by an associate administrator.

In my defense, Jim Webb wrote a memorandum (from which the following is an excerpt) to the President's special assistant, Kenneth O'Donnell:

The members of the Committee, almost without exception were in a mood to try to find someone responsible for losing the race to the Russians and also to let it be known publicly that they were not responsible and that they were demanding urgent action so that we would not be behind.... In this atmosphere, we have had to go forward to try to present the material necessary to justify the authorizing legislation for our program as submitted by the President. This meant we had to go back day after day almost as if the hearings were a Congressional investigation of the program itself. We have presented the Program Directors but with Dr. Seamans... introducing witnesses, and stepping into the breach when the going got rough.... In this position, from a reading of the testimony, I believe Seamans has done an exceptionally fine job.... The Chair-man and the Democrats have given him little or no support....
 

Negotiating with DOD

 

One week after Gagarin's flight, the world learned of the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, a failed incursion into Cuba that had been under way for almost three days before it came to light. The Kennedy administration, which had begun with such hope and promise, had been hit [87] with two devastating setbacks within a week. The following day, April 20, the President sent a memo to the Vice President:

Do we have a chance of beating the Soviets by putting a laboratory in space, or by a trip around the moon, or by a rocket to land on the moon, or by a rocket to go to the moon and back with a man? Is there any other space program which promises dramatic results in which we could win?... I have asked Jim Webb, Dr. Wiesner, Secretary McNamara and other responsible officials to cooperate with you fully. I would appreciate a report on this at the earliest possible moment.

In other words, Kennedy wanted a goal that could move us ahead of the Russians. Like the coach of a football team on a losing streak, he needed a win. Jim Webb and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara were ordered to come in with a joint recommendation to the Vice President (who spearheaded administration space policy).

On April 28, Johnson sent a memo to Kennedy:

Largely due to their concerted efforts and their earlier emphasis upon the development of large rocket engines, the Soviets are ahead of the United States in world prestige attained through impressive technological accomplishments in space. The U.S. has greater resources than the USSR, etc. The country should be realistic and recognize that other nations, regardless of their appreciation of our idealistic values, will tend to align themselves with a country which they believe will be the world leader. The U.S. can if it will firm up its objectives and employ its resources have a reasonable chance of attaining world leadership in space. If we don't make a strong effort now, the time will soon be reached when the margin of control over space and other men's minds through space accomplishment will have swung so far on the Russian side that we will not be able to catch up.
 
Even in those areas in which the Soviets already have the capability to be first and are likely to improve upon such capability, the United States should make aggressive efforts, as the technological gains as well as the international rewards are essential steps in gaining leadership. Manned exploration of the moon, for example, is not [88] only an achievement with great propaganda value, but is essential as an objective, whether or not we are first in its accomplishment. . . .

In less than five months the administration had gone from doubting the value of any human spaceflight (in the Wiesner Report) to calling exploration of the Moon "essential." Still, President Kennedy held off on the Apollo decision partly, I think, because he wasn't sure NASA could deliver. He had been told by the Wiesner Report and other sources that NASA needed new leadership. And he had no proof that we could successfully get a man aloft without blowing him up. For this reason, Alan Shepard's maiden Mercury flight-a fifteen-minute, suborbital mission scheduled for Friday morning, May 5-was critical. We didn't have very much in the way of monitoring equipment in headquarters, but I had arranged to get some real-time information beamed in from Goddard while the flight was in progress. Edward C. Welsh, executive secretary of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, and I sat in the Dolly Madison House with our fingers crossed until we heard that Alan Shepard had been recovered.

In the midst of the extraordinary public jubilation that followed Shepard's splashdown, the President could see two things. One, NASA could manage a program, mirabile dictu. Two, sending an American into space had tremendous impact in the world arena. The following morning, Jim Webb, the Assistant Administrator for Planning Abe Hyatt, and I went over to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara's office at the Pentagon. Time had run out on Webb and McNamara. The administration wanted their joint recommendation without delay.

For starters, Jim and I indicated what NASA felt should be done. Our stated emphasis was on a lunar landing. There was quite a discussion of this objective. Some wondered aloud whether this was too short-range a goal. McNamara asked whether the Soviets could proceed immediately to a lunar landing, leaving us announcing a program and them carrying it out within a year or two.

Jim, Abe, and I explained that we didn't think the Soviets had a lunar capability. For one thing, they still had to build a booster, as did we. We felt that we had a fifty-fifty chance of beating them if we targeted the lunar landing. McNamara asked whether we shouldn't embark on a human planetary exploration program. Call me conservative, but I didn't think [89] that we were in any position whatsoever to take that on as an objective. Even now, near the end of the century, it's doubtful whether we could take it on. Thirty years ago there was no question in my mind that that would have been a foolhardy objective for the country.

DOD then trotted out its agenda, which was centered almost entirely around the development of solid motors. Solids need no maintenance while in storage. Liquid motors are cryogenic, meaning they have to be kept cold. What's more, the liquids tend to boil off, so they need to be constantly replenished and usually topped off before firing. For strategic purposes, DOD wanted the ever-ready solid. They also believed that solids were the wave of the future. (The space shuttle would be the first piloted NASA vehicle partly powered by them.) For a variety of technical reasons, we wanted liquids, not solids, for the Saturn. So we agreed that DOD ought to go ahead with solids.

With John Rubel, a deputy director of defense for research and engineering, I was given the responsibility of putting a report into final form for the Vice President. DOD had already written the preliminary version. When I went over it, I was appalled. The report ran counter to much that NASA, and more particularly Jim Webb, was trying to accomplish. It argued that there were too many companies in the defense business. With competition among many firms, the document argued, there was a lot of wasted time and motion in the procurement process. That was absolutely contrary to Jim Webb's view of the world. He felt that competition was essential, as long as the competition was fair. Jim was in the throes of planning for Alan Shepard's triumphal day in Washington on Monday, but I finally reached him Sunday morning. I said, "Jim, we've got a terrible problem with this report. I think it would be much better to start all over again."

"We cannot do that," he said. "I've agreed with McNamara. We'll use the report. It's up to you to work with Rubel to revise it until you consider it satisfactory."

Sunday afternoon, I was at the Pentagon negotiating word changes with John Rubel. I still was not satisfied with the document, and I called Jim Webb to tell him so. He said that as soon as he had had dinner with the Shepards and had made sure that they were properly taken care of, he would come over to the Pentagon. He arrived about 9:30 p.m.

[90] What happened between 9:30 and roughly 1:00 in the morning was one of the great experiences of my life-watching Jim Webb, who previously hadn't had a chance to read this report, start through it page by page with Rubel there and negotiate changes. He'd say to John, "Now, can you really make that statement at this time?" Or "Don't you think it would be better from the standpoint of the public to have it stated this way... ?" Or "If this ever is published in the New York Times-of course, we don't expect it will be-but...." Or "Don't you think the President would prefer to have it oriented a little bit this way?"

Thanks to Jim, a lot of things got deleted, and the report contained the ideas that we had agreed to in the first place. By about 1:00 a.m. the job was done. Three secretaries had stayed with us to help with the drafting, and as we got up to leave, Jim Webb said to Rubel, "How are these girls going to get home?" Rubel shrugged, so Jim went out and asked the women. One of the three didn't have a ride, so Jim said, "We'll wait until you're finished here, then drive you."

At about 2:30 in the morning of May 8, we were somewhere in the outskirts of Washington. As we approached the woman's house, the heavens opened. As she started to get out, Jim said, "Relax. No point in your getting soaking wet. Let's just sit here until the rain lets up." Within a few minutes, the rain stopped, the woman got out, and we finally drove ourselves home. It was a great display of southern gallantry.

I was back at the Pentagon by about 7:30 a.m. to take a look at all the retyped pages, making sure the changes we had wanted had been made. Before nine o'clock the document was ready for Webb's and McNamara's signatures. It was submitted to the Vice President that morning. At noontime, I was at a State Department luncheon hosted by the Vice President. When he got up from his chair to leave, I saw that he had our envelope in his hand.

Within days, the White House announced that President Kennedy would address a joint session of Congress on May 25, in what was widely billed as a second State of the Union address. At NASA we knew that spaceflight was one likely topic of this address, but what would the President say about it? His speechwriters, led by Ted Sorenson, were hard at work, and as soon as they had a draft of the space part of his message, it came over to NASA for our review. It called for a human lunar landing in 1967! The price tag was $20 billion, not our estimate [91] of $10-12 billion. (Jim Webb put an "administrator's discount" on our ability to predict costs precisely.) We were aghast. Jim called Ted Sorenson and convinced him and later, the President, that the stated goal should be by the end of the decade. In the final version, President Kennedy changed the deadline to "before this decade is out" and said, "No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish."

More than once during this period, I looked up at the Moon and wondered if we were all crazy. Intellectually, I believed we could do it. Each step seemed to make sense; yet when I grasped the enormity of the job, I wondered. The more we got into planning for the Moon, the more it became something that I accepted emotionally. I believed we were going to give it a good go, and I felt fortunate that I happened to be there at a time when the country was going to embark on a unique undertaking, one that conformed with my own experience and background.

 

Organizing for a Trip to the Moon

 

Once we knew what Kennedy was going to say, we didn't wait for the speech. We got going. The question of organization became paramount again. What kind of an office would be set up to manage Apollo? Where would it be located-in Washington or where the action was? What would be the lines of authority? How were the centers to be tied into this office and with headquarters?

We brought in my old boss from RCA, Art Malcarney, with Rube Mettler from Ramo-Woolridge and one or two others who had expertise in such organizational matters. We met in Jim Webb's conference room, where Jim and I presented our thinking about the alternatives, then got their feedback as well as their thoughts on the kinds of people we would need at the senior levels and where we might find such people. Before gearing up for the Moon, we had 18,000 to 20,000 people at NASA; now we were looking at six or seven times as many personnel. Were we going to increase the government operation by that amount, or were we going to limit the growth within the government and go outside to the private sector for most of the growth? In the end, our overall policy was not to increase NASA's size by anything [92] like that number, but-and this was very important-to have the skills and capability within NASA to make the key decisions.

The NACA had bequeathed to NASA a large number of highly respected and competent professional people at Langley, Ames, and Lewis, and we had inherited additional competence from the Army, Navy, and Air Force. We recognized that, for the Apollo program to succeed, we needed to tap these capabilities and, above all, not to destroy them through any ill-conceived reorganization. While we had to tighten down on the management and the discipline of the mission-oriented centers, we wanted to preserve their scientific freedom. Furthermore, Jim was very strongly opposed to having everybody who was working on Apollo going around with "Apollo" emblazoned on their foreheads. He believed the people in the program ought to think of themselves as NASA people first and Apollo people second. Consequently, he did not want the centers reporting to the Apollo director. Instead, they began reporting to the general manager, namely me.

When syndicated columnist Bill Hines got wind of this, he wrote an article calling me "Moon Czar." I was appalled when I saw it. Hines at least was logical. Seamans, he said, was the Moon Czar because in NASA's new organization the only place key decisions could be made was in Seamans's office. Surely, then, Seamans was the person responsible for taking us to the Moon. There have been few other times in my life when I have thought, "This is so far beyond what I ever thought I'd be doing that it's frightening."

At this time, we were looking for someone outside of NASA to take charge of day-to-day management of the Apollo program. When I came into NASA, all of the space projects had come under Abe Silverstein. Abe certainly wanted to run Apollo, but the chemistry would have been very difficult between him and von Braun in Huntsville, given their very different personal and professional backgrounds. NACA people like Abe were skeptical of von Braun and viewed him as a big spender and self-promoter.

Jim Webb and I started out thinking that we would try to get Levering Smith, who was running the Polaris program. We heard he was dissatisfied with having been a Navy captain for many years. When we floated that one at the Defense Department, he was made an admiral in about ten days!

[93] What about bringing von Braun into headquarters and having him run it? One rather late night Jim Webb and I got talking about this possibility. Why couldn't he run Apollo? After all, he had had considerable success at Peenemünde, the Third Reich's secret rocket lab. The more we talked, the more infatuated we got with the idea. The next morning Hugh Dryden got together with us. Jim turned to me and said, "Bob, why don't you tell Hugh about our recent thinking on running Apollo?" Hugh sat there for what seemed like an eternity (probably five seconds) and said, "Well, if you and Jim want von Braun, that's fine with me. I'll take early retirement." That was the end of our thinking on that possibility.

One summer night at a lawn party at Jim and Patsy Webb's house, I asked Jim and Hugh if either of them knew Brainerd Holmes. Neither did. I explained that Brainerd had responsibility for the biggest project that RCA ever ran, the ballistic missile early-warning system (BMEWS), with tremendous technical and logistical difficulties. They were intrigued, and the following day Jim called Art Malcarney, Brainerd's boss. When Jim asked Art's permission to talk with Brainerd, Art reluctantly agreed.

About three days later Brainerd Holmes met Jim and me at the Metropolitan Club for drinks and dinner. Jim was at his mind-stretching best, pointing out the importance of the Apollo program to the nation and the world, and explaining the role that Brainerd would play in this grand production. Brainerd tried to argue how important he was at RCA. Halfway through the dinner Brainerd turned to me and said, "This boss of yours is really something, isn't he?" Brainerd agreed to think about Jim's offer, and about three days later he accepted.

With Brainerd Holmes coming in, there was no place at the top for Abe Silverstein. One day, he came into my office and said, "If I'm not going to run Apollo, what I would like to do is go back to Lewis as its director."

I told him, "Abe, you've got a handshake on it. If that's the way it comes out, I'll be delighted." That is the way it came out, and Abe was a perfect director for Lewis.

Brainerd (and others) believed that he had to acquire a systems competence. Addressing this need, Mervin Kelly, former director of the Bell Laboratories and special consultant to Jim Webb, told us about Joe [94] Shea, who had worked at the Bell Labs before moving out to the west coast. Joe was brought into NASA to hire a systems group in Washington, but after two or three months, he hadn't put together a systems team. It's very hard to get a large number of top people to sacrifice a job in private industry that probably won't be held open for them, to take a significant pay cut, and to enter government work, unless they're being asked to fill top jobs. So we decided to set up something outside of the government. I was given the duty of talking to Jim Fisk, director of the Bell Labs, about setting up a systems lab. The resulting systems lab became known as Bellcomm. In a way this created a redundancy. The centers now had two parties looking over their shoulders: the program office to which they reported and the systems integrators at Bellcomm. This didn't bother Jim Webb. While recognizing the need for a line organization in order to get things done, he felt that there should be a multitude of paths through which information flowed to those in charge.

The interesting thing about organizations is that unlike scientific experiments, you never can repeat them to see how they would have come out if you had set them up differently. There is no perfect way to run programs such as those undertaken at NASA. It's not just how you draw the organization diagram, it's the people involved that are important as well. Still, the issue of organization is fundamental to success on large-scale projects.

 

Long Hours, Hard Work

 

Of course, while we were gearing up for the Moon there were current programs that needed managing. In the summer of 1961, the Mercury program still hadn't achieved orbital flight, and we had to make sure that it moved along. At the same time, we recognized that very little could be gained from Mercury, other than the experience of putting an astronaut in orbit for a day or so. There was no room in the Mercury capsule for anything that would permit the capsule to maneuver in space or to perform other activities relevant to a Moon mission. Mercury proved to be difficult to turn off, however. The astronauts all wanted it extended because they could see that Gemini, the two-man orbiter, was at least a couple of years away.

This question came up specifically when I went down to Florida to [95] greet Gordon Cooper, the last of six Mercury astronauts to fly, in May 1963. At a press conference, the question was asked, "Will there be another Mercury flight?" I answered that it was extremely unlikely, that it was time NASA moved ahead on the Gemini project. The astronauts and engineers who had been working on Mercury didn't like this answer at all, and I became their public enemy number one for quite a while.

In the robotics area, we had had several failures with the Ranger, a craft designed to make a "hard landing" on (bomb into) the Moon. Then there was the Surveyor, the soft-landing robotic lunar vehicle. It was clearly very important that we learn something about the lunar surface before sending astronauts there. There were many worrywarts, Tom Gold of Cornell University being the most outspoken, who said that the surface of the Moon was covered with dust. He thought the astronauts could well step out onto the lunar surface-and sink from sight! Others said the Moon must be "just like Arizona." Who knew?

Needless to say, there was a lot of work to do. In a nutshell, my daylight hours at NASA were a series of letters, phone calls, and meetings. We had "project status reviews" two days every month-plus time ahead with the people who were putting the agenda together and time afterwards to review the decisions and implications of the meeting. Once a month, on Saturdays, we had all-day "program reviews." In the course of a year, we would attempt to cover every aspect of every one of our programs in considerable depth, for the purpose of bringing the administrator and all of our key people up to date. The following Monday, almost the same presentations would be given for the benefit of key people from DOD, the White House, and Congress.

Then there were formal meetings with Mr. Webb and Dr. Dryden when we were considering procurements. Any time NASA procured billions of dollars worth of rocketry, there had to be a detailed plan for doing so. We had to figure out who the potential bidders might be and which ones were competent. We had to provide a schedule and enough information so that the bidders would know how to bid. How many development models were required? How were tests going to be conducted before designing the real articles? Would the procurement be cost-plus or fixed-price? Or would it be an incentive contract? All these questions had to be answered in the procurement plan.

Then a source-evaluation team had to be selected, one that [95] would be a cross-section of NASA. (In some government circles this is called "source selection team," but Webb insisted that the selection be made by the administrator. He never wanted to be locked into a decision.) Any given contractor might submit a stack of reports and papers two or three feet high. The source-evaluation team had to go through all of it.

Once the team had prepared their findings, Webb, Dryden, and I would sit at the head of a table and the team would make their presentation. If the project was something coming out of the Marshall Center, Wernher von Braun would be there watching, though he would have no say in the meeting. Our procurement people would be there as well. Webb used such meetings as a way of educating NASA, as well as a way of looking for hidden agendas. If anybody was trying to steer the project toward a particular contractor for whatever reason, we would try to smoke it out.

Afterwards, the three of us would go into Webb's office with our chief procurement person, Ernest W. Brackett, and with Wernher (or his counterpart from the interested center). "Okay," we would say, "we've heard what the source-evaluation people came up with. Now we'd like to hear from you, Wernher. What wasn't considered? Is there anything that was left out that you feel is important?" When he and Ernie Brackett had had their say, they would leave, and the three of us were left with the decision.

As the junior person, I always went first-"Okay, Seamans, how do you look at this?" We would discuss it back, forth, and sideways, as Hugh and Jim advanced their views, too. Finally Webb would say, "Okay, whom do you think we ought to pick, Bob?" I would tell him and why. Then Hugh would have his turn. The next morning Webb's exec would have prepared a one-page decision paper, which said the administrator of NASA had selected, say, North American Aviation for negotiation for the second stage of the Saturn and gave reasons for the selection. All three of us would sign it. The press release would be based on this document, but the document itself was kept on file at NASA in case there was ever a congressional investigation.

We had to put budgets together, then meet with the Bureau of the Budget (BOB)3 to get them approved. (Federal budgets occasionally were balanced in those days!) The officials at BOB were always trying to hack [97] away at our budget. As a taxpayer, I was glad they did, but as someone who needed money to get a job done, I took a different point of view. As we got closer and closer to putting the final budget together, the process became more and more excruciating. There were some items that had to be taken up with the President. Finally, the budget went up to the Hill, where it had to be presented to both the House and the Senate. That took a lot of time.

On the day the new budget was released, the media attacked. All over Washington correspondents nosed into the different agencies to find out what was important in each budget. We always had a press conference, which I conducted. As many as a hundred correspondents would be present. There might be TV, if the subject was sexy enough. I would run through what was novel in the budget, a process that might take two hours. Then there were questions.

I got a fair amount of scar tissue from my years in government, and a fair amount of that came from the media. The intense media interest in the space program was a shock to me. I liked working with many members of the press. I understood that I could get gored, but I tried my best to have a good relationship with them. Most of them were pretty interesting people and fun to chat with, but I had to be very careful.

Bill Hines, the syndicated columnist who had called me "Moon Czar," was particularly brutal on NASA. He would stand up and fire questions at us in a nasty, incisive way. Why were we so plodding? Why weren't we moving faster? Why weren't we more imaginative? When I came home Thursday nights, Gene would not let me read his syndicated articles until after dinner. Or she served me a martini first, which helped some.

I remember asking John Finney of the New York Times, "Why can't you do a positive, upbeat kind of story on NASA once in a while?"

His answer was: "Okay, I write a good article and if I'm lucky it will be on page 33. If I write something controversial, I have a chance of getting it on page 1. It's as simple as that. I'm paid by what page I get my articles on."

Just before I left NASA, we launched the first Saturn V at the Cape. I went down for the launching. It was a big deal. We must have had a thousand members of the press there, including some Soviet journalists. We got some terrible questions, and afterwards I said to [98] Kurt Debus, director of the Kennedy Space Center, "That was pretty rough. I'm sorry you have to go through this kind of bearbaiting."

He said, "It is rough, but you've got to realize that during World War II, we didn't have any competition in the German press. The story was told one way only, and I came to believe whatever Goebbels told me. This is tough, but it's a lot better than a controlled press."

NASA was phone calls; NASA was meetings and conferences; NASA was mail. The mail alone was a huge production. An exec in my office would determine who in the organization might need to see a piece of my mail before I did. By the time a letter got to my desk, it might be in a big folder attached to memos from two dozen people in the organization, all of whom had ideas about how I should respond. Then when my draft response had been written by me or by my assistant, there might be others I would want to review the response before it went out. So it might be recirculated with an endorsement attached, and each would initial his approval.

Of course, I got some personal letters, which I was first to see, like those from John Houbolt. John was the engineer who had briefed me and others on lunar-orbit rendezvous (LOR) during my first visit to Langley. In May 1961, he sent me what he called "a hurried non-edited and limited note to pass on a few remarks about rendezvous and large launch vehicles." He said he was for much greater effort on rendezvous and found the launch vehicle situation "deplorable." I answered him courteously. In November 1961, he sent me a second letter, nine pages long, in which he described himself as "a voice in the wilderness" on the LOR question. I found it disconcerting. He may have been right about the mode question, but you can be right and still be courteous. My first reaction was, I'm sick of getting mail from this guy! I thought of picking up the phone and calling Tommy Thompson, Houbolt's superior at Langley, and telling Tommy to turn him off.. Then I thought, "But he may be right. We've got to be sure we are considering this alternative. The organization may not be very keen about it, but it makes a lot of sense to me." So instead of doing what my emotions told me to do, I had the common sense to take the letter to Brainerd Holmes. "I've got another one of these zingers from John Houbolt," I told Brainerd. "I'd like to have you read it while I'm here."

He read it and grimaced. Then he said, "Well, we really are looking at [99] LOR, and it does seem to have a few benefits that the other modes don't." I said, "I'd really like to get a thoughtful response to the possibility of this mode within the next couple of weeks." A couple of weeks went by, and I hadn't heard from Brainerd. I called him on the phone and said, "Where's that letter?"

"We're seriously considering it," Brainerd said. "It really starts to look like the way to go. Bob Gilruth is sure it is. We can design a lunar lander to be used only for the landing. It never has to return to Earth, so it never has to reenter the atmosphere. So it can be made lighter, without any heat shield."

That, of course, is just how Americans finally got to the Moon and back. On November 7, 1962, Webb announced NASA's choice of LOR and of Grumman Engineering as contractor for the lunar module. As Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox put it in their fine book, Apollo: The Race to the Moon, "Eighteen months after the nation had decided to go to the Moon, NASA had decided how."

 

Bringing the Work Home

 

One Christmas week during the NASA years, everybody in our family was in Beverly Farms except for Joe and myself. The two of us were planning to fly north together on December 23, but when the weather soured we got tickets on a noon train out of Union Station instead. Before leaving Washington I had to go into the office. Joe came with me and sat in my outer office for a couple of hours. There was a lot going on. The phone was ringing, and people were rushing in and out. When we got in the car to be driven to Union Station, Joe said, "I can't believe it, Dad. Is this the way it is every day?"

"Well, it's not quite this bad," I answered. "When people know I'm going to be away for a few days, the office is always more hectic as people try to tie up loose ends and settle matters that need my attention." Still, we did have a great team of people working very, very hard all the time.

Like so many things for my generation, hard work and a belief in it went back to World War II. One year during the war, Doc Draper said he thought it would be a good thing if we took Christmas Day off! There were times when I would go to work in the morning, work [100] through the night, then work all the next day in order to get something out on time. My generation built up a do-or-die work ethic. It amazes me when I look back.

Unfortunately, such a busy professional life leaves little time for family. Each night when I came home from NASA headquarters, Gene would look to see if I was carrying two briefcases of work or just one. My policy was that whenever I could I would bring the work home, instead of staying at the office until the wee hours. The Defense Department operated differently under Robert McNamara. He expected his senior people to be at the office when he arrived and to stay until he left in the evening, period. He got to work at 7:30 and worked until 9:30 or 10:00 at night. To me, that's a terrible way to operate.

I preferred being in the house with the family. I had to bring stuff home every weekend, but at least by being home I could have meals with Gene and the children. "How about this afternoon?," Gene would ask. "I've got an awful lot to do, but why don't we take a walk from 3:00 to 3:30?"

Now that they were growing up a lot, the children fortunately were not especially conscious of these pressures. Kathy was graduating from Dobbs and finding her way to Stanford University. Toby was finishing up at Lenox, while Joe was boarding at Phillips Academy in Andover, studying hard, learning photography, and greatly enjoying crew. His team, of which he became captain, eventually went to the Henley Regatta, where they were beaten by a canvas in the final race. May, meanwhile, was swept up with school, friends, riding, and playing the cello. Daniel went to a school, the National Child Research Center, that experimented with new methods of teaching and equipment. Summers were spent at Sea Meadow, a blessing for us all, and I got away from Washington as much as possible to be with Gene and our children there. In the winters, we had many guests in Washington and plenty of visiting family.

 

The Politics of NASA

 

When I arrived at NASA, a Convair was used to fly people to meetings. On the plane there was a steward, who had liquor available for purchase. The first time Jim Webb took the plane, he was offered a drink. Almost the minute he got back to headquarters, he called me. [101] "Come on into my office. We've got a problem to solve." When I was face-to-face with him, he said, "Take the liquor off that plane."

"Are you against drinking?"

"No," he said, "but we can get into terrible trouble with the Hill if we serve liquor. How does it get paid for?"

"Didn't you pay for your drink?," I asked.

"I wasn't going to have a drink in the plane. Where does the money come from?"

I explained, "It's a revolving fund."

"Well, where did the money come from in the first place?"

To be honest, I didn't know. "I'll tell you tomorrow," I said. A day later I reported, "We got the service going by bootstrapping money from the Langley cafeteria. It is government-subsidized but people pay for their food when they go there."

"Take the liquor off the plane."

I said, "You're going to have a lot of unhappy people."

"They'll be even less happy if Congress climbs on us for something as silly as that."

The next time I saw him I said, "I've got an idea, Jim. What would you think if you and I both put up a hundred bucks and stocked the plane. Then we'll make sure we charge enough for liquor so that the fund is perpetual."

"Okay," he said, "I'll do it."

Not too long after that, the Space Task Group was moved from Langley to Houston. With all the travel back and forth, the old Convair chugging along at about 200 miles per hour was far from ideal. Here we were in the space age-preparing to send astronauts to the Moon-and we were flying around in an old clunker. I could see that we needed a jet airplane. This was a new issue to bring to Jim Webb.

"We're not getting any fancy jets in this organization!," he said. "As soon as you do that every congressman who is involved in our program will want to borrow the jet. No jets!"

So it was back to the drawing board. I finally came in with the suggestion that we get a Gulfstream I, a propeller plane with a jet engine. It was slow enough compared to Air Force jets that no congressman in his right mind was going to ask for it when he had access to Air Force [102] planes. We bought four, with one stationed in Washington, one at Marshall, one at Houston, and one on the west coast. Each carried eleven people. They went about 350 miles per hour-not fast but a lot better than the Convair. Thirty years later, NASA personnel are still flying aboard the Gulfstream I.

As these examples demonstrate, Jim Webb was a consummate political animal, who saw the political implications in everything. He spent a lot of time getting a feel for the viewpoints of senators he felt were important on the Hill, not only those on our space committees but those with close ties to the military. Obviously the administrator of an agency doesn't want to reach the point where he is beholden. Too intimate a relationship with the Congress can tie his hands. On the other hand, anything he does has to be authorized by the Congress.

Through Jim I got to know Senator Robert Kerr, who had taken over the Senate authorization committee for space from Lyndon Johnson. When the decision was made that the Space Task Group be transferred to Houston, in Congressman Albert Thomas's backyard, Kerr had some memorable advice for Jim Webb. "Okay," I recall him saying, "you've made the decision. [Congressman] Albert [Thomas of Houston, Texas] is going to want to have everything he can possibly get. He's going to want to see that center grow and grow. But be sure you don't give it to him all at once. Make sure that every time you add something in Houston, you exact a price for what you need somewhere else, for example, JPL." (Thomas was dead set against much-needed funding for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.) This was a new experience for me, and I found it absolutely fascinating.

In the summer of 1961, Kerr indicated to Jim that when the authorization bill came to a vote, he would appreciate it if I could be there with him on the floor of the Senate. Jim had made a point of calling NASA bipartisan and loved pointing out that I was Republican. In this case, it was thought that my presence on the floor would be more beneficial than having Jim there. Senator Kerr had picked the afternoon of baseball's All-Star Game for the vote, so there wouldn't be many people there to contest the bill. I sat at a desk beside him. (At one point, I lifted the cover of the desk and saw Harry Truman's name carved in it.) There were very few people on the floor when Senator Kerr proposed that the bill be passed. All of a sudden, Senator Proxmire came tearing in with a great [103] stack of papers-amendments limiting funds for JPL. (Thomas wasn't the only lawmaker who disliked the Pasadena lab.) Proxmire began to speak. He started in a measured way, but the longer he talked, the wilder he got.

When Proxmire had finished, Senator Kerr asked me for ideas as he stood up. I told him we needed more housing, the colloquial term for more office and laboratory space. Kerr gave one of the greatest speeches I've ever heard, about the poor scientists and engineers at JPL who haven't proper accommodations for their families, and so on. As he was talking, I tugged at his coat. He leaned down a little bit, and I said "laboratories, more space for laboratories." Without breaking stride, he went on about the need for more laboratory space.

Eventually, it was time for a vote on the amendments. The gongs rang and everybody came rushing in. A few of them went over to Proxmire, but most of them came to Kerr. Some asked, "We're against this amendment, aren't we, Bob?," and things like that. Kerr answered, "Yes, absolutely." Some of them asked a few questions, and once or twice Kerr said, "Bob Seamans can answer that for you." When the vote was taken, Proxmire had no more than a dozen supporters.

 

Brainerd Holmes Moves on

 

By the summer of 1962, Jim and I knew we had a problem with Brainerd Holmes. No question, Brainerd was a very exciting person for the media. He had a way of expressing himself that made news. He was determined to move forward as fast and aggressively as possible on the lunar flight, but he had difficulty visualizing the totality of NASA's program, one of Jim Webb's pet objectives. On at least one occasion, Brainerd told me, "I don't understand what the boss is talking about a lot of the time on these general things, and I couldn't care less. That's not my job."

Brainerd made his attitude pretty clear throughout the agency. He expected full support for Apollo from everybody else, but he wasn't about to help on matters other than Apollo. His people liked him. They thought, "It's wonderful to have a gung-ho leader!" And his people began adopting his attitude. At an organizational meeting at Langley, some of Brainerd's people raised disturbing questions about why we weren't giving Brainerd more authority.

[104] There were budget battles with Brainerd throughout the latter half of 1962. At one meeting, a question arose on the allocation of certain funds. We were faced with a reduction in our request, and I wanted to prorate it. This would have meant a slightly larger reduction in Apollo's budget than the congressional reduction called for. Brainerd raised a fuss, getting into a terrific argument with Ez Abbott. That night Ez called me on the phone and said, "I'm quitting." He may have been of a mind to do so before this, but Brainerd's outburst was the last straw.

Jim and Brainerd got into a battle over whether or not to request a $400 million supplement to NASA's 1963 budget. Brainerd leaked to the press that there was a rift between Jim and himself over the supplemental. He let it be known that either he or Jim would probably have to leave the agency over this and that the one to leave would not necessarily be Brainerd! When the President read of this in one of the big national weeklies, he immediately called a meeting with Jim and Brainerd. This meeting was held at the White House on November 21, 1962.

Jim asked me to present his view (and mine) at the meeting. The President turned to Jim and asked how long the presentation would take. Jim answered, "Mr. President, Dr. Seamans will take about thirty minutes."

"I have fifteen," the President retorted. Kennedy did not like formal briefings!

I started in, realizing I had to proceed a little faster than planned or else leave something out. After a couple of minutes the phone rang and the President said, "Excuse me a minute." He turned around in his chair and spoke into the phone, "Yes, Mr. Speaker. . . . No, Mr. Speaker. . . . No, Mr. Speaker. . . ." When the conversation was finished, Kennedy turned back to me and said, "Excuse me, go on." When I had completed my presentation, the President said, "Now I understand that Mr. Holmes wants a supplemental in order to speed up the program and perhaps go to the Moon before 1967. Is that true?"

I said, "Well, I think we might like to have additional funds, but I would very much doubt that we can go to the Moon in 1966. As a matter of fact, we would really need those dollars to hold the 1967 date."

The President asked Jim why we couldn't reprogram funds from other projects, thereby providing the $400 million for Apollo. When Jim demurred, the President said he was not certain that he and Jim [105] were on the same wavelength. "What is our principal objective in space?," he asked. Jim answered that it was to be preeminent. The President then asked for a letter explaining NASA's views, to be delivered promptly. Hugh and I wrote for Jim's signature a lengthy statement of the Webb-Dryden-Seamans position, which concluded: "The manned lunar landing program, although of highest national priority, will not by itself create the preeminent position we seek." The letter highlighted, in addition to the Apollo effort, NASA's important work in four areas: space science, advanced research and technology, university participation, and international activity. The question of a supplemental never came up again, leaving us to believe that the President recognized that there was more to our space program than landing an astronaut on the Moon.

Things went grinding along with relationships getting worse. Among other provocations, Brainerd took the NASA coding structure for handling funds and put it through a conversion matrix in his own office, so it was difficult to track funds when they went to the various centers and out to the contractors. He also called for the firing of Bob Gilruth as director of the Manned Spacecraft Center, a move Jim, Hugh, and I vehemently opposed.

Following the final Mercury flight in mid-May 1963, we had a luncheon in the big state dining room on the eighth floor of the Department of State building. Jim Webb wanted to use the occasion to thank the many groups that had helped us with Mercury-the Air Force, the Navy, the weather forecasters, the contractors, and so on. This was the theme of the luncheon, and I thought Jim presented the accolades most effectively. I went home that afternoon, where I got a call from Brainerd Holmes. He was very upset, to put it mildly, that he had received no recognition.

On June 12, 1963, Brainerd resigned. The press made a big deal of his departure. On July 13, the New York Times ran the headline "Lunar Program in Crisis" over a story about Brainerd's resignation and a perceived cooling of public interest in Apollo. I think the press made too much of the whole thing. When I was in Italy a year later, someone asked me how the battle was going between Jim and Brainerd!

 

Another Wedding

 

The crisis of Brainerd's last year at NASA coincided with what seemed at the time like a crisis in our family life.

Kathy was always the most high-spirited of our five children. I'm not sure Gene and I handled her joie de vivre very well. When we were living in Beverly Farms prior to the move to Washington, she had a tremendous number of friends. Buzzy Burrage, who was about a year older, would come flying down our driveway on a motorbike; she would hop on sidesaddle behind him with a great big straw hat on; and they would fly back up the driveway, accelerating all the way. Hold your breath! She would try anything.

Kathy's high spirits were matched by high intelligence. In her senior class at the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, New York, often called Dobbs, four girls applied to Stanford. Only Kathy got in. Now all of a sudden our high-spirited, very smart daughter was 3,000 miles away at Stanford. Great! Gene and I went out to visit in the spring of her freshman year. When we offered to take her out to dinner, she asked if we minded including Lou Padulo. Lou had just received his master's degree and was teaching at San Jose State. He also had charge of one of the fraternity houses at Stanford. I asked, "Didn't he used to work at RCA?" He did. Although we did not want to share our daughter with anyone, we agreed to take Lou along. He was clearly the man of the moment.

The following January we got a call from Kathy on a Sunday night. She didn't call often, but we loved hearing from her when she did. "Hey, guess what?," she said.

"What?"

"I'm engaged!"

"Well, that's wonderful, Kath. Who is it?" It was Lou.

The following Monday morning, I was scheduled to begin three days at Caltech. I mentioned this to Kathy and said, "So Wednesday afternoon on the way home, why don't I swing around and have a chat with Lou?" There was silence at the other end. She finally agreed to the meeting.

Tuesday, while at Caltech, I got a call from Gene. She was very upset. "I've just heard from Kathy," Gene said, "and she and Lou got married in Reno yesterday."

[107] "Well," I said, "I think I can get up there by two tomorrow afternoon."

"I'll be there," Gene said.

I called Jim Webb to explain the situation and to say that I would be leaving Caltech earlier than expected. He said he knew this was something I would want to deal with carefully. "If there's anything I can do," he offered, "let me know. Just feel that the full resources of the U.S. government are at your disposal." He meant well!

When I arrived at the airport, Kathy was there to meet me. We waited for Gene; then after a long chat, the three of us drove to Palo Alto to see Lou. There was a lot of sorting out to do. Gene and I both had to get used to the idea of Kathy's being married and of Lou being our son-in-law.

After two days together, the four of us left things in a somewhat unsettled state. Gene and I came home to tell the rest of the family about it. Two or three weeks later we got a call from Kathy, who said she wanted to come home and visit with us. She felt they had made a mistake, and they now wanted some kind of family service with the two families getting together. She wondered if there weren't some sort of service that would bless the marriage. We said we didn't know, but if so, it would be great by us.

We went to Canon Martin of the Washington Cathedral, who was also Joe's headmaster at St. Albans. He told us we could have such a service-one that was so close to a bona fide wedding service some witnesses might not even know the difference. He said he would love to perform it for us, but wouldn't do so until he had met Kathy and Lou. "If I don't think it's a good marriage, I won't do it," he said. He met with Kathy on a Saturday morning, and they spent about three hours together. People kept coming in to see Canon Martin while he was meeting with Kathy, and he turned them away. He devoted a lot of time and thought to her situation. When they were finished, he said he would be happy to perform the service.

It became a great family event. The Howard Johnson's across from the as-yet-unbuilt, soon-to-be-notorious Watergate complex had itself just been built. We took over the top two floors. A seven-year-old in our party set off a fire alarm. Fire engines came roaring. It was quite a time. We had a reception at our house on Dumbarton Rock Court, attended by Jim Webb and a few special friends. The whole affair was [108] a success. In retrospect, I think the young couple's great concern (and the reason they were reluctant to tell us about their relationship) was that his family and ours seemed on the surface to be worlds apart. As it turned out, we had a lot in common, and both sets of parents valued similar principles.

Not long afterwards, Lou received a NASA fellowship to go to Georgia Tech to get his doctorate in systems electrical engineering. I had nothing to do with his receiving the fellowship, though I certainly was pleased to get the news. I was also pleased that Kathy decided to transfer to Georgia Tech as a sophomore and changed fields from languages to mathematics. Lou had told her there was no money in languages and encouraged her to develop her proven aptitude for math. When she graduated in 1968, she was one of only twenty-three women in her class and one of a handful in sciences; and she had been elected to Tau Beta Phi. Our first grandchild, then about eighteen months old, sat in my lap at her graduation and shouted, "There's mamma!," as she paraded past us in cap and gown.

From what some considered a questionable beginning, Kathy and Lou have made a great success of their life together-and have helped many students along the way. From 1978 to 1981, Lou and I were deans of neighboring engineering schools-he at Boston University and I at MIT. We attended a number of national deans' meetings together with our wives. I came to admire his foresight and courageous style. While living in Brookline during this period, Kathy refinished her house in such a way that six international students could board with them. Each student was responsible for procuring and preparing one dinner each week. The students ate the meal at the kitchen table with Kathy, Lou, and their two sons, and many became lasting family friends.

 

George Mueller Moves in

 

By early July 1963, NASA still had not found a replacement for Brainerd Holmes. I was looking forward to my vacation. Caleb Loring, our neighbor Sam Batchelder, and I had entered Serene, which we jointly owned, in the Halifax Race. After the race we planned to sail back as far as the Maine coast. The week before I left [109] Washington, Jim said, "Our bill has got to go up before the Senate this next week. Couldn't you put off your vacation?" "We can't put off a race in which eighty-five boats are entered," I said, "but if you think I should, I can pull out of it."

"No," he said, "you've planned this, and it ought to be possible to arrange things in NASA so that you can get a vacation now and then." Racing with Caleb, Sam, and me was Eddie Parker, the navigator. Gene and Eddie's wife, Nat, joined us in Halifax and cruised back to the coast of

Maine with us after the race. We came out of the fog into a remote, idyllic place called Roque Island, Maine, where thirty or forty boats were getting together for a day-long rendezvous on a sandy beach. About two minutes after we broke out of the fog, somebody hailed from another boat, "Seamans! Are you aboard that boat?"

"Yes," I shouted back.

"Mr. Webb wants to talk to you on the telephone!"

We had a low-powered radiotelephone on Serene, but there was a good-sized motorsailer in the harbor that had some decent power, so I rowed over there and placed a call to Jim. He said, "We've had Dr. George Mueller in. Both Hugh and I are greatly impressed with him. We feel sure he can do the job, but we want to check once more with you before going ahead."

I knew George as an effective vice president at Thomson-Ramo-Woolridge (TRW), where he had a major role in their satellite hardware developments. "You've got my proxy on that one," I said to Jim. "It would be great if he could join us." On July 23 it was announced that Mueller would succeed Holmes, effective September 1.

In the two years prior to George's appointment, NASA had been highly decentralized, with all of the centers and program offices reporting to me as the associate administrator. Many concerns about this setup had cropped up. Program people said that they, in effect, didn't really have control over their destinies, because they didn't directly control what went on in any center. They had to negotiate with a center director to get things done, in competition with other program offices. For their part, the center directors were concerned that they didn't have anybody in headquarters who was really concerned about their centers as resources.

It was quite true that my schedule didn't permit me to put the [110] needed time on some of the issues. If you added up the number of people on the organization chart reporting to the associate administrator, it came to about twenty-way beyond what all the textbooks on management prescribed. They said that an individual can encompass no more than five or six people reporting to him or her.

When all was said and done, I was very much in favor of the Apollo reorganization that became effective in November 1963. Headquarters staff was reorganized by program objectives-Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and what became known as Apollo Applications (advanced missions). George Mueller brought in General Samuel L. Phillips to take charge of the Apollo program. He also assigned Charles ("Chuck") Mathews to run Gemini, William Schneider to wrap up the Mercury program, and Edward Z. ("EZ") Gray to take charge of advanced planning. The Apollo and Gemini programs had their own program, systems, test, and quality-assurance groups. These groups had counterparts in the three spaceflight centers.

George Mueller was a determined organizer. He held frequent meetings, maybe monthly, with what he called his board of executives, which included Wernher von Braun from Marshall, Bob Gilruth from Houston, and Kurt Debus from Cape Canaveral. Then a Sam Phillips or a Chuck Matthews would come in and present his program before this group.

George was also the kind of person who worked seven days a week and thought nothing of taking the red-eye overnight. So many charts were presented at his meetings-some showing dollars, some showing schedules, some showing drawings of new designs-that his meetings eventually were referred to as "pasteurized" (one chart after another going past your eyes). He was tireless. There was no such thing as Saturday or Sunday to him, and he had his people in all weekend long. There were complaints that George was pushing too hard.

There was another potential drawback to this new organizational setup: the center directors had a lower profile in this reorganization. Because they no longer reported to me, they didn't have the same kind of access to the top of the organization as they had had. I think Jim, Hugh, and I were sensitive to this and tried to find proper avenues for keeping in touch with them.

 

[111] President Kennedy

 

I was fortunate to meet and work with President Kennedy on a number of occasions during his thousand days in office. Several were memorable. On July 21, 1961, two days after Gus Grissom's Mercury flight, the President signed our 1962 budget authorization. Hugh Dryden was on vacation and Jim Webb was at the Cape presenting suitable honors to Grissom, so I represented the agency at the signing.

The President came into the Fish Room at the White House surrounded by a great battery of TV cameras. There was a terrible glare of lights. He came over to a table where maybe thirty of us were standing, including Vice President Johnson. He sat down at the table, faced the cameras, and discussed the space program for four or five minutes in a fluent, knowledgeable way, without referring to what looked like prepared remarks rolled up in his hand. He then started signing the bill. He had about three dozen pens there, and somehow or other he managed to use them all in signing, dating, and underlining his signature. He chuckled away as he did so. Then he stood up with a fistful of pens in his left hand and started handing them out. He came to me and said, "Here is one for you."

I said, "Thank you very much, Mr. President. I will give this to Mr. Webb, who is down at the Cape today."

He turned away and gave pens to others, including Senator Kerr. A minute or so later, he was leaving the room when he turned around (he was very lithe in the way he carried himself around a room) and approached me again, saying, "Well, here's one for you, too."

In September 1962, President Kennedy toured NASA's space centers. For this trip, I flew in the President's plane with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, press secretary Pierre Salinger, and others. The Vice President took another plane, since the President and Vice President never fly together. Jim Webb and others flew with Johnson.

We stopped first at Huntsville, then went down to the Cape. Then we flew across to Houston. Jim Webb had asked me, since we couldn't stop in New Orleans, to explain to the President what we were doing at the Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana, and I invited the President to discuss this on the flight from the Cape to Houston. He said we could talk as soon as we were airborne.

[112] After takeoff, I was sitting facing budget director Dave Bell with my back to Kennedy's compartment. All of a sudden I saw Dave stand up and nearly drive his head through the roof of the plane. I turned around to greet the President, who had come out of his compartment. He had taken off his tie and had on a sport shirt. He sat down with Dave Bell, Harold Brown (director of Defense Research and Engineering), George Miller (chairman of the House Space Committee), and myself.

We spent well over an hour together. He began by listening politely to what I had to say about Michoud, but soon he was entering into the discussion, especially with questions about the military's use of rockets. ("Do they really need the Titan III?") At the end of the discussion, he looked at me and said, "How long have you been with the government?" I told him. "What did you do before then?" I told him that too. Finally I couldn't resist saying that, as a matter of fact, I was a member of his Harvard class. "Gee," he said, "I thought you looked familiar!" For the rest of the trip, whenever we happened to be standing side by side, he would ask informally, "Let's see now, what house were you in?" and "Did you play JV football?" and "Did you know so and so?" He kept at this the whole trip.

In Houston, the President visited the Manned Spacecraft Center, then in temporary quarters, and made a major address at Rice Stadium on the hottest day I can remember. All except the President drove to the stadium in air-conditioned vehicles. Kennedy insisted on sitting in an open car as we drove past tall buildings close to the road. When we arrived at the stadium, we found that the large crowd was in the shade, but that the presidential party was to be seated out on the gridiron on a temporary stand facing the sun. As I sat there and sweltered, I tried with my imagination to nudge the very few fleecy little clouds over the face of the sun for a moment's relief. Yet the President stood up-completely composed, looking very trim, and not showing the heat at all-and delivered a thirty-minute speech with great enthusiasm. Then he walked out of the stadium, got back into the open car, and drove back down the same street. It was a fantastic display.

We flew back to Washington via St. Louis, where he stopped at the McDonnell plant. At each of the centers, the President obviously enjoyed the opportunity of shaking many more hands than the Secret [113] Service liked. At each stop, he also gave an informal but very exciting address. These visits were a great boost to morale at the centers.

One evening in mid-November 1963, just after arriving home, I received a call telling me that President Kennedy was thinking of a trip to Cape Canaveral. (The White House is always careful never to be too explicit about a presidential trip until things are all mapped out, for obvious reasons.) Following this, I received a call from Major General Chester V. Clifton, military aide to the President, who gave me more detail. He said that the President wanted to get a feel for how we were coming and that he would have about two hours. What did we recommend?

Julian Scheer, NASA's public affairs officer, came down to my office, and several of us sketched a map on the blackboard indicating where the President might land, what he might see up close, and what he might fly over. We felt that he couldn't cover it all without the use of a helicopter because a couple of bridges connecting the Cape with Merritt Island were not then in use. I called General Clifton back, and there ensued a series of phone calls and discussions of other opportunities for the President while at the Cape, among them a review of Polaris.

The next morning, November 16, 1963, the President flew from Palm Beach to the Cape, where he was greeted by Major General Leighton I. "Lee" Davis and Dr. Debus, the respective heads of military and NASA operations at the Cape, as well as by Jim Webb and myself. He was accompanied by Senator George A. Smathers of Florida, a good friend of his. The President said, with a smile, that he was very appreciative that we had all found the time to be there. Then he stepped into an open car with Jim and General Davis. They drove by the various complexes rather slowly. We joined them inside the blockhouse at Complex 37, from which the Saturn was soon to be launched. There was about a fifteen-minute briefing there with all kinds of models. The President seemed quite interested in what George Mueller had to say. When the briefing was over, he stood up and went over to the models. He expressed amazement at the fact that the models were all to the same scale, because the Mercury launch vehicle was completely dwarfed by the Saturn V. This may have been the first time he fully realized the dimensions of future NASA projects.

We then went out to the pad where the Saturn SA-5 (the fifth Saturn I) was sitting. We stood out in the open with Dr. von Braun, [114] discussing the Saturn and its dimensions. Before leaving, President Kennedy wanted to walk over and stand right underneath the Saturn. This eventuality had come up for discussion with the Secret Service the previous day. They hadn't wanted him to get too close to the rocket. But no matter what anybody thought, President Kennedy was going to go and stand under the Saturn. "Now," he said, "this will be the largest payload that man has ever put into orbit? Is that right?"

"Yes," we said, "that's right."

He said, "That is very, very significant."

We then climbed into the President's helicopter, which had been flown down from Washington on a transport plane for his use. My job was to sit with him as we flew over the new construction area on Merritt Island and to point out the future location of such things as the Vehicle Assembly Building and the launch pad (Complex 39). Afterwards we flew about fifty miles offshore to watch a live test of a Polaris missile. Admiral I. J. Gallatin, who was in charge of the Polaris program, described to the President what he was about to see, which led to a discussion of the whole concept of nuclear submarines-a classified matter about which the President was clearly interested and knowledgeable. We landed on the deck of a waiting ship. The President hopped out vigorously. In honor of his visit, he was presented with a Navy jacket, which, as a naval hero of World War II, he happily put on. He was obviously enjoying himself.

Then, as planned, President Kennedy gave the order to fire. There was a countdown. . .then a hold! I could feel the tension in the Navy personnel there, and I also noticed a couple of Air Force and Army men winking at each other. The President stood watching with binoculars. Fortunately, another Polaris missile was on hand, and the launch was shifted to the backup. When the missile breached the water, we could see that it had "Beat Army!" painted on its side. We got back in the helicopter, and the President wore his Navy jacket for the rest of the trip.

On the way back, he brought up the matter of the Saturn SA-5. "Now, I'm not sure I have the facts straight on this," he said. "Will you tell me about it again?"

I explained (among other things) that the usable payload was 19,000 pounds, but that we actually would have 38,000 pounds in orbit.

[115] "What is the Soviet capability?," President Kennedy asked. I told him. "That's very important," he said. "Now, be sure that the press really understands this, and, in particular, see..." (he mentioned one reporter by name). Just before we landed, he called in General Clifton, his military aide, and said, "Will you be sure that Dr. Seamans has a chance to explain to..." (he mentioned the reporter's name again).

We got off the helicopter and walked quickly over to the President's plane. He shook hands with Jim and the others, then turned back to me and said, "Now, you won't forget to do this, will you?" I said I would be sure to talk to the reporter.

"In addition," he said, "I wish you'd get on the press plane that we have down here and tell the reporters there about the payload."

"Yes, sir," I answered. "I'll do that."

Six days later, on Friday, November 22, I was holding a meeting in my office, when I got a call from Nina Scrivener, Jim Webb's secretary. She said, "Something dreadful has happened in Dallas. You'd better come on up to Jim's office."

"You mean the President's been hurt?"

She said, "It may be worse than that."

I closed down the meeting very quickly, then called Gene. "Watch the news," I said. "I don't think we're going to be having that NASA gathering tonight."

Jim Webb had three televisions in his office, so that he could have all three networks going at once and flip on the sound of the one he wanted to hear. We sat there watching all three networks. Finally, Walter Cronkite came on and said the President had died. Gene arrived at the office a little later, to distribute the food we had planned to serve at dinner. The following day, we had scheduled our regular monthly program review. I argued strenuously that we ought to go ahead with the meeting, that President Kennedy had been very interested in NASA's programs, and that he would have wanted us to press ahead. As a result, we were probably the only federal government organization doing business that day. When the review was over, Jim turned to Hugh and said, "I'm going over to the White House. Do you and Bob want to come along?"

The three of us and our spouses stood in line in the East Room, [116] where the President was lying in state with a Marine at attention by his side. Everyone wore black. The casket was closed and draped with the flag. There was immense grief on every face, and many significant symbols, such as the Great Seal of the United States of America over the door, were draped in black. There were no flowers, no music, only the murmur of hushed voices and the shuffle of feet. It was the saddest place and the saddest time in our lives.

The following day I was scheduled to give a talk at church. I had to comment on the assassination and tried to be positive, not maudlin. On Monday, Gene and I walked over from our Georgetown house to watch the funeral procession, pushing through the mourning crowds outside Arlington National Cemetery. After the committal, fifty fighter planes, representing the fifty states, flew over our heads in formation. They were followed by Air Force One, the President's own. The same plane that had flown President Kennedy to Cape Canaveral nine days before dipped its wing as it flew over his final resting place.

President Kennedy's assassination had a profound impact on the peoples of the world, and particularly on those working closely with him in the government. Those responsible for launching the Saturn SA-5, which he had observed and commented on during his inspection in November, wanted some way to express their gratitude for his interest and their grief for his loss. Rumors were rampant that special markings would be placed on the Saturn, which led to the implementation of special security provisions. In the aftermath of the launching, while still in the blockhouse, we all felt such an emotional upswelling that there was a near-unanimous request for a call to Mrs. Kennedy. I felt, perhaps wrongly, that such a call would be upsetting for her, and I suggested instead that I carry this thought back to her.

When I returned to Washington, I contacted Walter Sohier, NASA's general counsel and a friend of the Kennedys. He didn't think Mrs. Kennedy would be interested in a visit, so imagine his surprise when he and I were invited for tea the following afternoon! Mrs. Kennedy was very gracious; sat patiently as I explained the circumstances of our being there; brought in her children (both recovering from chicken pox); and sent us away exhilarated by our encounter.

My letter to her of February 7, 1964, which follows below, is self-explanatory, but her response of March 14 was unexpected and [117] deserving of comment. Mrs. Kennedy had had little time to move out of the White House into a house on N Street, Georgetown, loaned to her by a friend. Remarkably, she started immediately to reply to the huge number of people who had attended the funeral service or offered their condolences in other ways. Gene was among many who volunteered their assistance. Hence her longhand response to my visit and letter is truly remarkable.


February 7, 1964

 

Mrs. John F. Kennedy

Washington, D.C.

 

Dear Mrs. Kennedy:

Thank you for the pleasant visit you afforded us Monday evening. It meant a great deal to me to be able to tell you about the recent Saturn launch from the John F. Kennedy Space Center.

The accompanying detailed engineering model of the actual Saturn launched on January 29th is presented to you with appreciation from all of us. It was utilized by Dr. Wernher von Braun and the staff of the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center which has responsibility for the Saturn development.

Having seen young John's interest in space toys, and having barely escaped from your home with the other model that I brought, I am also sending some fairly sturdy launch vehicle models for his enjoyment.

Sincerely,

Robert C. Seamans, Jr.
Assoc. Administrator


 


[
118]

MRS. JOHN F. KENNEDY

 

March 14, 1964

Dear Dr. Seamans-

I do thank you for that most precious model of the Saturn-the one that Wernher von Braun and everyone worked on-(I could not believe my eyes when Walter Sohier brought it.)

John had a fleeting happy look at it-and then I sent it to Archives-to go in Jack's library.

Your thoughtfulness has touched me so much-that you would wish to come-and tell me about the Saturn booster-and think of calling me from the blockhouse when it was going off. All I care about is that people still remember what Jack did-and you were always thinking of him.

Then when you came and saw John-it was so kind of you to see how a little boy who had grown up so close to a father who always had exciting new plane and rocket models in his office to show him-who took him on his most cherished plane and helicopter rides-would still care so much about all those things-and feel so cut off now that they are no longer a part of his life.

Those "heavy duty" models that you sent him are his joy-taken apart and put together constantly-I do thank you more than I can say, for your thoughtfulness to him and to me-

Sincerely,

Jacqueline Kennedy


 

Family Times

 

The great tragedy of Kennedy's assassination notwithstanding, Washington continued to be pretty exciting, not just for me but for our entire family. Just after the first successful Gemini flight in March 1965, I got a call from Jim Webb's exec saying that I, together with the two astronauts, Gus Grissom and John Young, was to receive the NASA Distinguished Service Medal at the White House. He wanted to know whom I wanted to invite for the ceremony. I said, "Well, obviously I'd [119] like to have Gene and our children there. It would be wonderful if I could have my mother and father there, too, and if the Lorings could be there, so much the better."

He said, "I don't know if Jim is going to go for all of that." Webb was a little prickly about it, but all were invited and all were there, except for Kathy and Lou, whom we couldn't locate in time. A letter Gene wrote to her mother describes the whirl she and the children found themselves a part of:

Dear Mother:
 
This last week has been wild. Since writing you we've had one experience after another. [Bob's parents] arrived to visit Thursday evening along with Joe and Toby, who returned with Bobby tanned and smiling from Cape Canaveral....
 
The next morning we all drove in our best to NASA headquarters. Joe wore Congressman Moorehead's shirt, Toby's jacket, Bobby's shoes and socks, and shaved with his Grandfather Seamans' razor. He was a bit scruffy. From NASA headquarters we went whizzing by motorcade behind a police escort through all the red lights to the front door of the White House. The children loved such an exciting ride. Arriving a little early at the White House, we were told by an aide to make ourselves at home. This meant that we could wander at will through the dining room, the Green Room, Blue Room, Red Room, and so on, all so beautifully refurbished by Mrs. Kennedy and filled with glorious bouquets of flowers.

The citation I received that day was a true Webbian creation. He could really turn on the accolades in a most gracious way. It was given to me because I was the general manager of an organization that involved "50,000 government workers and 400,000 contractor employees," but it went on and on about me, the general manager, in such a grandiose way that only Mother and a few others would believe it!

The President and Mrs. Johnson had pictures taken with the astronauts. Out of the blue, Jim said very loudly, "Don't forget Bob Seamans!"

The President said, "Fine," and all of a sudden in a room full of people-and before national television cameras-my whole entourage trooped up beside the President and First Lady, who impressed all of us by their warmth. A few days later, my parents sent us a picture from [120] the Salem Evening News of Bob Seamans and his wife and family at the White House, with (according to the caption) astronaut John Young's son in the foreground. My mother's note read, "What a striking resemblance between John Young, Jr. and Daniel Seamans!" The boy in the picture was Daniel, then six years old.

Robert Wagner, the mayor of New York City, was very anxious to have the astronauts feted on his turf whenever we could supply them. He used to say, "You have no idea how few handles we have in our school system to motivate our kids. It's just wonderful to have these young astronauts come to New York and for all of our students to see them." Following the White House ceremony for the Gemini astronauts, Wagner invited Grissom, Young, and their spouses for a ticker-tape parade. Webb said, "Fine, we'll send them up, but Bob Seamans is going to come along, too." Jim Webb felt that the astronauts were getting too much credit for the space program. NASA wasn't just a lot of skilled hot rods up there in space, he said. It was also a huge number of technical, scientific people. He felt the country ought to be recognizing their contributions as much as it did the astronauts'.

"That's fine," Wagner answered. "I'm glad to have Bob Seamans come along."

But Webb went on. "He's not just coming along. He's going to get the same Medal of Freedom and the same key to the city that the astronauts do."

Wagner balked at that. Since Charles Lindbergh had received it, the Medal of Freedom hadn't been given to anyone except Alan Shepard and John Glenn. Now it was being given to two Gemini astronauts-and Bob Seamans?! He finally relented, however.

Vice President Humphrey was our escort, providing enthusiasm and wit, and Gene was able to accompany me. We found ourselves whisked everywhere by motorcycle escorts and the Secret Service. As we drove down FDR Drive, fireboats on the East River were arching huge streams of water while tooting their horns. Later, during the ticker-tape parade, looking up at the skyscrapers with showers of paper blowing down on us was a dizzying experience. Next, we stood in a receiving line at the Waldorf and shook hands with at least 2,000 VIPs. In the course of the day, we met some very interesting people, including Mayor Wagner, U.N. Secretary General U Thant, U.S. [121] ambassador to the U.N. Adlai Stevenson, and famed newscaster Lowell Thomas.

Despite my endlessly hectic schedule, the Seamanses did have some enjoyable moments away from the government during the 1960s. In 1965, we took a memorable family trip to Europe. Gene planned it for Christmas vacation. We all wanted to ski, but she thought we also ought to do something worthwhile to improve ourselves. So we laid plans to spend three days in London first, before flying on to Switzerland. Everything was going to be wonderful.

Three days before our scheduled departure, Jim Webb told me he was flying down to the Johnson ranch in Texas in a couple of days. He said it was very important that I go with him because I was familiar with the facts in the case.

I said, "I think I told you, Jim, that's the day we're leaving for Europe."

He didn't take that very well. "Well," he said, "your family can go to Europe, and you can join them a couple of days later. Surely that won't be any big problem."

That night I discussed it with Gene. "Something's come up," I said. "It's really important. A decision has to be made down at the ranch, and Jim wants me involved."

Gene said, "If you think I'm going to take Daniel, May, Joe, Toby, Kathy, and all their ski equipment alone into London for three days, maybe we ought to just give up the trip."

"Now, wait a minute," I said. "At worst, we can fly directly to Switzerland and give up London." Gene didn't like that at all. She had put a tremendous amount of effort into finding accommodations and activities in London.

The next morning I went back to Jim and said, "I've talked to Gene, and here's the way it is. Either I go with her and the family, or we're giving up the trip entirely."

"Okay," he relented, "I guess I can handle it alone." It was evident to me, though, that he was very unhappy about having to do so.

Gene and I had planned to fly to Boston from Washington with Kathy, May, and Dan; meet Toby and Joe, who were going to school in the Boston area; and fly over on BOAC from Boston. Lou decided to cross the Atlantic aboard a tanker and meet us in Europe. But by [122] the timethose of us from Washington got to Boston, BOAC was on strike. The only thing we could do was take the shuttle to New York for a connecting flight on Alitalia. The weather was bad, and the airports were mobbed with students heading home for the holidays. We couldn't all get on the same Eastern shuttle to La Guardia. I went ahead to make sure that our equipment ended up in one place. The airline said they couldn't guarantee that our luggage would fly with us. There was no simple way to transfer from La Guardia to Kennedy, where the Alitalia flight departed. We had to commandeer a whole fleet of taxis. In the midst of all my running and shouting, a stranger hailed me. He thought I was a redcap. I helped a couple of women with their luggage, and they handed me five dollars, which I refused. When we finally arrived in London, we discovered that London cabs have no luggage racks (for skis). We had to hire one cab just to carry our equipment, with the skis barely loaded inside on a diagonal. Somehow Toby and I got in with them. The children were quite hysterical until they realized that everyone in England drove on the left!

In Rome, May had another adventure awaiting her. A year or two before, Jim Webb had received a call from Father Hesburgh, head of Notre Dame University and a personal friend. Hesburgh had said Pope Paul VI was very interested in the American space program and would appreciate receiving special articles and reports. Before leaving for Europe, I got in touch with Father Hesburgh and explained that not only would we be delighted to give him any material he wanted but also at some suitable time, if His Holiness would like it, we would be glad to brief him on what we were doing.

Father Hesburgh thought that was a great idea. It turned out he was going to be in Rome when we were. When we arrived in Rome, we had a message waiting from him. "No news yet," it read. "Haven't been able to arrange anything so far." The following morning we talked on the phone. "You've got to realize," he explained, "that His Holiness has a lot of constituents, and it's not easy to make arrangements. Things aren't always as organized over here as they are at home, but I'm working on it."

Saturday morning he said, "We have an appointment for five o'clock." I asked whether I might bring along Gil Ousley, our NASA representative in Europe. Father Hesburgh said that would be fine. I [123] mentioned that neither Gil nor I was Catholic. He said that didn't matter. At four o'clock Father Hesburgh arrived at our hotel, the Hassler, with another priest who had on a great wide-brimmed hat. "Where are you going while we're at the Vatican?," Hesburgh asked Gene.

She said, "My daughter May and I are going out shopping."

"Oh, come with us," he said. "Why should the men have all the fun?"

So Gene, May, Father Hesburgh, the priest, Gil, and I all jumped into a small Fiat in the pouring rain and went steaming through Rome. As we approached the Vatican, Father Hesburgh said, "I always keep right on driving until somebody stops me." We went through a gate off St. Peter's Square, right past an officer of the Swiss Guard. We finally arrived in a courtyard and took an elevator with a St. Christopher Medal mounted on the wall up to the Pope's apartments, where we were met by one of his assistants. Gene and May were taken to sit in the Pope's private chapel, where May was especially intrigued by the reliquaries. Gil and I were taken to a small meeting room where Gil set up a projector. We had a filmstrip of photos taken by the Ranger as it approached the Moon. I had also brought along a large album filled with lunar pictures-all carefully laid out and documented-for the Pope to keep.

At about two minutes before five, I was standing by the door through which the Pope was going to come. I asked Father Hesburgh what to do when the Pope entered. He said, "First I'll kneel down and kiss his ring. Then I'll stand up and introduce you. Just shake hands with him."

"Okay. At the end, how will I know when to stop?"

"You'll know."

In came Pope Paul VI-a surprisingly little person, no more than five feet, six inches tall. When he sat in his gilt throne, his feet didn't touch the floor. They rested on a footstool. I said what a wonderful opportunity it was to have this chance to talk about the space program with him. I presented him the book, along with a letter from President Johnson, then said I thought he might like to see a few pictures from the Ranger mission. I showed them and made a few more remarks about NASA. The whole meeting couldn't have taken more than fifteen minutes. Then the Pope stood up, came towards me, shook my hand, and thanked me (speaking all the time through an interpreter). He presented me with medallions for Jim Webb and myself. "I understand [124] that your wife and daughter are here with you in Rome," he said.. "Where are they now?"

They were waiting in the chapel.

"I want to meet them," the Pope said. He was politely informed by an assistant that perhaps May in particular was not dressed for an audience. She still had on the yellow sweater and rain boots she had planned to wear shopping. "That doesn't matter," the Pope said.

As Gene later told the story, she and May were quite relaxed and enjoying the quiet of the Vatican when a Swiss Guard came running down the corridor saying, "Veni, veni!" They knew something was up. May, after following him along dark corridors, came tearing into the room from behind a tapestry, almost out of breath. She then composed herself and did a very nice curtsey-taught to her, no doubt, by the National Cathedral School for Girls. Gene followed and shook the Pope's hand, and His Holiness presented rosaries to her and to May. Then Pope Paul very kindly said good-bye and left with Father Hesburgh for another meeting, leaving Gil and the three Seamanses in the hands of the priest with the big hat.

In the down elevator, we were elated. It had been an amazing experience. Riding with us in the elevator was a wealthy Italian couple, dressed to the nines and steaming mad. They started gesticulating and almost yelling at our guide. He responded in a mild sort of way. We didn't know exactly what was going on. Finally in the car Gil asked him, "What was that all about?"

All he would say is, "Some people think they know more than the Pope." Apparently, the Italian couple had expected a private audience and didn't get it. By our demeanor, they could tell we had, and they obviously didn't like being shoved aside by Americans who hadn't even dressed for the occasion!

 

More Travel Overseas

 

Two years later, Gene and I left the country with a complicated itinerary. We first went to Paris so that I could meet with a NATO group known as AGARD (Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development). Each country sent three national delegates, and I was one of the three Americans.

[125] From there we went on to Kenya, where I wanted to visit the San Marcos Project, a joint venture between the United States and Italy. We provided the rockets; the Italians built two platforms near Rome, one for launch and the other for control and observation. These were towed through the Suez Canal to the coast of Kenya, close to the equator. Professor Emilio Broglio was in charge of the project. Gene and I flew to Rome to join him for connecting flights to Nairobi and then Mombasa. At the Rome airport there were again TV cables all over the place, but not because of our visit. It turned out that Josef Stalin's daughter, Svetlana, who had recently defected from the USSR, had arrived a couple of hours before.

Mombasa is a fascinating seaport, and we had very nice accommodations there in an ancient house-hotel overlooking the city. On March 11, we celebrated Gene's forty-fifth birthday with a joyful dinner hosted by the professor. The next day we took an amazing, bumpy drive in an oversized jeep with a Turkish driver. We drove up the coast through places where the brush was strewn everywhere from elephants having run amok. We finally reached the project base camp in a place called Campo Basa just north of a little town called Melinde. The camp had grass huts, and there were lots of cute monkeys swinging from the trees. We boarded rubber boats with outboard motors and headed out to the two platforms. To get us aboard, a crane was lowered to lift our entire boat from the water. Here at the equator, seated beneath a canvas canopy on a very warm day, we had one of the best Italian meals we've ever had. A Kenyan steward provided the toast, welcoming the Americans and thanking them for their contributions. He was a fierce man, who may have been primed with a bit of brandy. He shouted his remarks and ended with a startling yell, brandishing a machete.

The next day it was back to Nairobi for a flight to New Delhi. There we were hosted by the Galen Stones, a couple from the Boston area whom we knew in Washington. He was the number-two person at the American embassy. In fact, he was the one Svetlana had declared herself to when she had defected. So it was fun for Gene and me to hear firsthand how it had happened. We returned home via Australia, where Prime Minister Holt and I dedicated an Apollo tracking station at Honeysuckle Creek.

 

LBJ

 

Once when Jim Webb was away, I received a call saying there would be an important meeting with President Johnson and the heads of all federal departments and agencies in the Cabinet Room. Using barnyard vernacular, the President gave us quite a tongue-lashing about the need to cut expenditures and asked for a 5-percent cut across the board. When he was done, he said that he expected each of us to shake his hand as we filed out, to look him in the eye, and to say we would reduce the spending in our respective agencies by 5 percent.

I had time to agonize over this, because we left the room in order of rank, beginning with the secretary of state. I was just ahead of General William F. ("Bozo") McKee, head of the FAA. When I reached the President, I said, "Of course, we'll do everything we can to make the reductions you've asked for, but I'm sure you wouldn't want to jeopardize the lives of the astronauts in so doing."

The President didn't like that at all. Bozo caught up to me after both of us had left the White House and said, "You ought to know that the President said to me, 'Will you take that young guy Seamans out behind the barn and give him the facts of life?'"

President Johnson usually knew what he wanted and made no bones about asking for it. One Friday morning in August 1965, I was in the shower when Gene came running. "Bobby, come quick! The President's on the phone."

"Good morning, Bob," Johnson said, just as sweet as could be. "I just wondered if you'd care to come over to see me on my birthday today."

"Yes, sir. Happy birthday, sir." Jim Webb was out of town, and it was clear to me that I was invited in his place, as representative of the Office of the Administrator.

When I arrived at the White House, I was told the President was busy; so I went back to my office and returned later. My second time at the White House, I waited and waited and finally got in to see him. He pretended not to notice me, then suddenly turned and said, "Seamans, there you are." His tone had clearly changed since the morning phone call. "Sit down! Seamans, you guys over there at NASA, you're pretty good with your science and you're pretty good up there on the Hill, but as far as I'm concerned, Seamans, you're a [127] great big zero. You know why you're a great big zero, Seamans?"

Before I could answer, he asked, "What do you think is the most important thing in my life, Seamans?" Answering his own question, the President went on, "It's peace. It's peace." Suddenly I knew what the problem was. He and Jim were always disagreeing over whether astronauts should be used as national emissaries. Jim fought him like a steer, saying he didn't think it did any good. We had astronauts Cooper and Conrad in orbit aboard Gemini 5 at the time. It turned out that, upon their return, the President wanted to send them on a peace mission.

Then he said, "All right, Seamans. I want Jim Webb to be with me this Sunday down at my ranch in time to go to church with Dean and me." "Dean" was Dean Rusk, Johnson's secretary of state.

I said, "Mr. President, Jim Webb has been working very hard lately and has been very tired. He's hiking with his family in the mountains of North Carolina."

The President retorted, "Jim Webb is the best goddamn administrator we have in this government. You call me in one hour and tell me he's going to be there."

I went speeding out of the White House, got to my office, and fortunately reached Jim in Asheville, North Carolina.

Jim's response was: "You tell the President of course I'll be there. But Bob, since you obviously have the flavor of this thing, I think it would be awfully nice if you could be there too. You ask the President if you can come."

I called the White House and got through to Johnson immediately. "Mr. Webb would be very happy to be with you," I said. "He wonders if I might come along, too."

"Why, Bob, of course, come along! Bring your wife! Bring your family!"

I said, "That won't be necessary, sir. If you need to reach Jim and me, we will be at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston."

"Oh, Bob, don't do that. You and Jim come spend the night with me at the ranch."

I said, "I'll check with Mr. Webb, and we'll advise your office."

I called Jim Webb back to tell him the President did want me to come and also wanted us to stay with him at his ranch. I asked Jim [128] what he was going to wear. "You hear about people going out on horseback at the ranch," I said.

"I'm going to wear business clothes. You do the same. No fooling around. We're going to go in there, do our business, and get out." It was good advice.

We ended up spending Saturday night at the LBJ ranch in a small house separate from the President's quarters. We arrived late Saturday afternoon and waited in the President's study while he attended a neighbor's barbecue. All of a sudden we heard the slap, slap, slap of the rotors of the presidential helicopter. Pretty soon the President came in, accompanied by Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Bill Moyers, Johnson's public affairs officer.

"Okay," the President said, "I've got the press release about the astronauts' goodwill tour here, but I want to get your comments on it, Jim.. We'll let Bill read it."

Moyers started in, "After the most successful space flight of all time," and Jim cut right in.

"It wasn't that successful, Mr. President," he said. "We had trouble with the fuel cell."

"All right, Jim," Johnson said. "After the least successful space flight of all time-" While Jim bristled, the President gave me a big wink.

When the release had been read, Jim put up an argument, though not too strenuously.

"Okay, Jim," the President said. "If you want to read it over carefully and comment, you can look over Bill's shoulder, and if he thinks it's appropriate he will make the change." Johnson wasn't about to let Jim Webb hold onto the piece of paper!

"No, sir," Jim said, "it's fine as written."

The following morning, the astronauts landed at about nine o'clock. Johnson had a phone hookup to the ship that retrieved them and spoke with them, while the press gathered around him. He told them that they were going on a goodwill mission for the country. They, of course, said, "Yes, sir!"

We went back inside the house, where all the venetian blinds were closed so that the press couldn't snoop. Johnson was a very secretive person, and he didn't want anyone to know that with him in the house, in addition to Dean Rusk, were Larry O'Brien, the postmaster general-designate, and Arthur Goldberg, the Supreme Court justice, whom [129] Johnson was going to nominate ambassador to the United Nations. At one point he even said, "Get away from the windows!"

Then he organized the trip to church. "We leave at quarter past ten. Dean and Jim, you're going to ride with me. Bob, you go with Bird [Lady Bird Johnson]," and so on.

We headed off toward church as scheduled, with the President and First Lady driving their respective cars. We stopped at the cemetery so the President could put a wreath on his grandmother's grave, then visited a replica of the tiny house where Johnson was born, built on the site of the original house. We all trooped inside to look at his booties and other childhood memorabilia. We headed into Johnson City, where he wanted to show us the house where he and Mrs. Johnson lived when they were first married. He stopped in front of it, got out, and flagged down the First Lady's car. "We're going to be late for church!," she protested.

"Goddamn it, Bird, get out of the car and go through the house!" So we all got out of our respective cars, tore through the house, and jumped in the car again. When we reached the very simple church, there were four or five Greyhound buses for the press outside with their engines throbbing. I helped Mrs. Johnson out of the car, then stepped aside as the President approached. I naturally thought that he would accompany his wife into the church. Instead, Johnson said to me, "You take Bird in." So I marched up the church steps with the First Lady, ahead of the President and secretary of state. Lady Bird introduced me to the minister, who was waiting for us on the doorstep. Then we started down the main aisle of the church, which was packed except for the front pew on the right. I figured that if I followed her into the pew, I would end sitting between her and her husband, so I volunteered to go around to the other side. The pew quickly became very crowded with the President, the First Lady, both of their daughters, the secretary of state, Jim Webb, and so on. I whispered to Mrs. Johnson that I would slip to the back of the church. The President heard me. He turned to the people in the pew behind us and said in a very loud voice, "Will some of you back there please move so Dr. Seamans can have a seat?"

As we were driving back to the ranch, Mrs. Johnson said, "There's going to be another press conference, isn't there, when we get back to the ranch?" Nobody answered. Everybody knew, but one could get into [130] trouble talking about something the President was to be involved in-Johnson's secretiveness again. Colonel Emmerson ("Mike") Cook, who worked for me years later in the Air Force, told me that sometimes Johnson wouldn't even tell his pilot where he was flying. "But, Mr. President, I can't take off until I know our destination."

"You take off and head towards Kansas City! When we're airborne I'll tell you where we're going."

Mrs. Johnson repeated her question. "Isn't it true there's going to be a press conference?"

I finally spoke up. "I believe there is. I think I heard somebody mention something about it."

"Well, what time is it going to be?" she asked.

I knew what time it was scheduled for, and so did the others in the car, but nobody said anything. Finally someone said, "We're not quite sure, Mrs. Johnson. Things might have changed."

Driving along the highway at about sixty-five miles per hour, Mrs. Johnson picked up the radiotelephone on her dashboard and said, "Can anybody tell me where the President is?"

A voice: "Mrs. Johnson, he's two minutes and ten seconds ahead of you on the highway."

"Can you tell me what time the press conference is called for?"

"Twelve-thirty."

Then she said, "There's still birthday cake, is there not, from the President's party yesterday? I want to have it out for the press on the table under the oak tree. The pieces were too large yesterday, so have John at the ranch cut them all in two."

"Yes, Mrs. Johnson."

Sure enough, when we arrived, the press was there ahead of us and so was the cake! We had a very nice lunch, after which Jim and I departed. On the way back on the airplane I said to Jim, "I don't know Mrs. Johnson as well as you do, but I think she's something else."

"If there's a saint on Earth," he said, "she's it."

 

End of the Triad

 

NASA sustained a terrible loss when Hugh Dryden died of cancer on December 24, 1965. Hugh had played an extremely important role at the agency. He would have been the first to say that he wasn't an [131] administrator type, one who could hammer on Congress one day and the President the next, then lead a charge out to the Midwest to take on an industrial delegation the next. Nor was he the person to keep the pressure on programs morning, noon, and night, in order to keep projects on schedule and within funding limits. What he was, rather, was a man with excellent judgment on what NASA's objectives ought to be. He understood how things got done-and snarled up-in the government. He was also effective in relations with the university community and highly respected in the international community. Finally, he was a balancing agent for Jim Webb, on the one hand, and me, on the other. Both Jim and I frequently needed guidance. Together the three of us formed a triad. I used to meet with Hugh and/or Jim at least once a week with a list of up to two dozen items that I felt we had to agree on. We normally clicked through them, rapid-fire. That was the way we operated for five years. We disagreed on a few occasions, but on the big issues, we almost always came to unanimous agreement before taking action.

Hugh never let on that he was seriously bothered by his cancerous condition. But by 1965 he was undergoing chemotherapy that would have been pretty difficult for any human being to take, even one who wasn't reasonably active. He showed tremendous courage. While he was at the National Institutes of Health for treatments, his secretary, Jo DiBella, would go in every day to give him papers to sign. Jim and I would also go in and discuss issues with him. A few days later, Hugh would come out of the hospital and often fly off to Japan or some other distant place.

Still, we were obviously approaching the time when we were going to have to make some changes because we were not going to have anything like his full-time services. One night not long before Hugh died, Jim drove me home from a function in his trademark black Checker Cab. (Although he still used a driver who was separated from the back seat by a window, Jim did not want to be accused of using a limousine. "It's the little things that can get you into trouble in Washington," he noted.) When we arrived at Dumbarton Rock Court, he stopped me from getting out. He told me his plan was to submit my name to the President as the next deputy administrator of NASA. I thought that perhaps it would be better if he didn't. I felt it was highly desirable to [132] have both a general manager and a person like Hugh Dryden as deputy. Shrinking the triumvirate to a twosome seemed to me unwise.

Furthermore, I liked my job. I thought I understood it, and I felt that I could continue to be effective in it. I thought we had come a long way down the pike on the projects that had been initiated since I had first joined NASA, and I believed that to stay with those projects would be a logical way to wind up my work in the government. My feeling was that going to the Moon was a unique venture and that if we had an organization that was working, we shouldn't mess with it. We could all stand another couple of years of long hours, so why monkey around with the assignment? In addition, I was by no means sure I could be an effective deputy administrator. I wasn't a member of the National Academy of Sciences and couldn't perform a lot of the roles Hugh had taken on. So I pushed hard to stay where I was and to bring in a new deputy for Jim.

We finally came to the sad moment when Hugh wasn't with us. Jim told me that soon afterwards, when he was with President Johnson, the President asked, "What are you going to do about your vacancy? I suppose you're going to have Bob Seamans become the deputy?" Jim acknowledged that he was, and that was that. I immediately was given an interim appointment because the Senate was out of session. At my Senate confirmation hearing some time later, Senator Edward M. Kennedy said nice words about my service in his brother's administration, and Senator Leverett Saltonstall said I must be all right because my mother-in-law had been his wife's schoolmate. Following the hearing, I was formally confirmed by the Senate.

"Now, this is going to be a lot harder job, you know, than being the associate administrator," Jim said to me. "You've got to think in terms of the total responsibilities of the government. You can't just think in terms of projects. Other people have got to do that. You've got to work closely with me on the policy issues."

I moved from the sixth floor in Federal Office Building No. 6 to the seventh, where Jim's office was located. I initially had an office where Hugh's had been, in a corner opposite Jim's. I would have preferred to keep this distance, but eventually Jim insisted that I move into an office practically adjoining his. Jim had had a very close relationship with Hugh. Now that I was his deputy, I imagine he expected to have a [133] similarly close relationship with me. I had seen a great deal of him before this, but usually on my terms, when I had had a problem or when we had had full meetings. Now, with his office next to mine, we were cheek to jowl. I began to realize that I was feeling some of the pressures from Jim that Hugh had absorbed previously.

Not too long after I became the deputy administrator, Jim began to grow impatient with the organization. He said we had a system of management that was much too reliant on the two of us and our special capabilities and that he wanted me to help him build an organization that would provide continuity of management after he and I left. We were both working to our limits, he said. Could we come up with an organizational pattern that would not only spread the load in a more reasonable way but also permit us to do a better job and to have better information available for everybody? Jim liked the concept of the secretariat, which he had worked with while undersecretary of state. The secretariat, as Jim conceived of it, would be a central clearinghouse for communications within NASA. All written materials would go to the secretariat, which in turn would decide what level of management should receive it. Things would be passed up and down the chain in such a way that there would be less need for direct, one-on-one communication. I viewed this idea with some skepticism. Never in my technical experience had I seen information successfully transmitted through people who didn't know much about the subject.

Given a free hand at reorganizing NASA, I would have had Earl Hilburn, who had been one of my deputies, continue wading into the really tough technical and management issues. Willis Shapley had joined us in September, three months before Hugh's death, and had worked with him as a chief of staff for external affairs. I thought it would be best to have him continue this work, so that, in effect, Jim and I would have available to us two senior people for help with internal and external affairs, respectively.

Jim did not like this approach. "If you're not around," he told me, "I want to have one person I can go to who knows what's going on. I want a chief of staff across the board, and I want Shapley in that job. To give him something to button onto, I think he ought to take on the secretariat."

I said, "Well, this is going to be quite a load for him to take on. [134] The concept of the secretariat is not fully understood and accepted throughout NASA." All this did was upset Jim. I had a lot of confidence in Shap, and I was certainly very happy to work with him. He had been the senior person in the Bureau of the Budget examining the programs of NASA and the Department of Defense. I was concerned, though, that I was going to continue with all the responsibilities I had had and in a somewhat weakened position. I would not have as close a tie with Earl Hilburn, whom I predicted would leave under this arrangement, which he did.

During this period, Jim also put a lot of emphasis on job descriptions. He gave Jack Young, the deputy associate administrator for administration, the job of drawing up the entire organization in legalese. We had never done this under the old regime, so it involved a lot of new work. Jim wanted a clear-cut outline of what every person's job was and with whom that person dealt. My mind tends to work differently. I got lost trying to decipheran encyclopedic listing of job descriptions and, from this, to decipher how all the pieces fit together. I liked to look at a line chart and see where the responsibilities were. This told me if something had to go all the way through to the administrator for a final decision or if it could be decided at another level. There are different categories of decisions, which such a chart makes clear.

"Jim, you're absolutely right," I told him. "We can leave a better organization behind us when we exit NASA. But why at this critical juncture in the Apollo program do you want to change it?" I ended believing that he wanted to leave his stamp on the organization and that this was his way of doing so.

The Jack Young exercise did not go well. Jack ended up with stacks of paper, which I was asked to edit-a great big diversion at a time when we were coming down to the short strokes on going to the Moon. No job descriptions were approved, and there came a day when Jack elected to leave NASA.

In November 1966, Willis Shapley and I were invited to Jim Webb's house to discuss possible organizational changes-though invited may be too mild a word. Shap and I presented our ideas to Jim, who obviously had a lot of things on his mind. He didn't seem to understand, much less accept, our views. The whole next week Jim was tied up giving a series of management lectures at Princeton. While [135] he was away, a memo from him came across my desk. It said he was very troubled about my views on organization because he was not sure that I fully comprehended the problems of running a major organization in the government. He asked me to put my views in writing.

I thought at great length about the real issue facing us, then made a date to have lunch with Jim as soon as he returned to Washington. On Saturday we went to the Metropolitan Club, and I went through my views on what I thought should be done. He said this was very helpful and fine, but "When are you going to get me that paper?" So I was still on the hook for a written summary, which I delivered to him the following week. To my mind, this was just another diversion from our major responsibilities.

In my paper, I recommended new roles for several individuals. On the basis of my recommendations, we reassigned these and others, and we set up a task force to review what needed to be done organizationally. The task force did not come in with a plan during December or January. On January 27 at 6:31 p.m., a catastrophe occurred that relegated our organizational discussions to second place.

 

The Fire

 

NASA had had other accidents in its short history. For example, we had lost our top pilot, Joe Walker, at the Dryden Flight Test Center in the California desert. He was flying his test plane wing-on-wing with a B-70 and was swept up underneath the bigger craft. We also had lost two of our astronauts when they were coming in to land at McDonnell's facility in St. Louis. They had come down out of a low overcast and were not lined up with the landing strip. Instead of going back up and using normal procedures, they had stayed under the overcast, circled around for a landing, and smashed into a building.

We also had had close calls on a couple of missions. On Gemini 8, with Neil Armstrong and Dave Scott aboard, we tried to do something never done before-to rendezvous and dock with an Agena rocket that was already orbiting, then to have the docked vehicles carry out some maneuvers. Everything went well. The docking worked. Then, over China, the two vehicles started to spin.

That evening, March 16, 1966, I was at a large ceremonial dinner [136] at which Vice President Humphrey was the principal speaker. At the beginning of dinner, I had made a special announcement that we had a situation developing in orbit that might have a devastating result. People didn't believe it at first. When they realized I was serious, the whole tenor of the dinner became electrified. I was getting word from headquarters as developments unfolded, but I didn't have very complete information. Nevertheless, people expected me to know. Someone handed me a phone. It was Walter Cronkite asking whether we might lose the astronauts. After dinner the Vice President got up to speak. We had agreed beforehand that, if I got word that the astronauts were safe, I would let him know and he would convey the news. Our hope was that he would be able to announce a happy result before the end of his speech. Humphrey could talk for a long period of time, but even he was starting to run out of words when we finally received encouraging news. He was able to say that, while recovery hadn't yet taken place, Armstrong and Scott appeared to be safe.

Jim Webb was not very happy with my performance on this occasion. He felt that I had taken too big a gamble by publicly announcing information when I didn't have all the facts in hand. He was right, and it was obvious that we needed to do something a little different in the future, if and when we did have a mishap. I went back and looked at the procedural document for accidents and brought it up to date. I also made up my mind that if such a situation arose again, I was going to get to my office or someplace where I had good communication immediately. I felt that this would allow me to deal more effectively with situations that had serious implications and in which the media had intense interest.

Still, neither I nor anyone else at NASA was prepared for the Apollo 204 fire of January 27, 1967. The timing of the accident-in which astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee suffocated to death from a fire that broke out in their capsule during a test on the pad-was incredible. It occurred the day President Johnson signed a space treaty with the Soviet Union at an elaborate White House affair. Jim Webb used the occasion to honor the contractors who had been working on Gemini and to make known to the contractors' senior people on the Apollo program the importance of what we were doing in the international arena. The ceremony was to be followed by a formal dinner, to which the top executives of the space program were invited.

[137] Before all this was arranged, I had organized a dinner party at my home. Gene and I had invited my old boss, Doc Draper, along with Don Hornig, Johnson's science advisor, and a few other people. Jim Webb had encouraged me to stay home and host Doc Draper, who was playing an important role in the Apollo program.

I arrived home a little bit before seven o'clock in the evening. As I opened the door, the phone was ringing. Moments later Gene called and said, "Is that you, Bobby? It's George Low on the phone." I picked up. At first I couldn't understand what George was saying. It was something like: "They're all dead."

"Who's dead?," I asked. Then he named the three astronauts. I got some further particulars from George, then said to him, "I'm going to my office. I'll get back in touch with you from there to find out a lot more about what's going on."

I told Gene that we had had a serious accident. I said that I thought she ought to have our guests come to the house, have the dinner party, and not tell them what was going on. I felt that if, as they came in the door, she announced what had happened, it wouldn't be much of a dinner party, and our guests wouldn't know whether to stay or to go home.

When I got to the office, I went about the business of trying to be sure I knew the facts and making sure that everybody who should know about it did know. I started getting calls. One was from Defense Secretary Robert McNamara's office. He had heard something about the accident and wanted to know the particulars. While I was talking with him, an operator cut in, apologized, and said she had an emergency message. The "emergency" turned out to be Peter Hackes of NBC News. He said, "This is a national emergency.. The word is out. The country is almost in a panic, and you've got to go on TV and reassure the public!"

"That's ridiculous," I said. "How can I do that? I don't know all the facts. No, I'm not going to appear on TV." I probably would have not said the same thing if we hadn't been through the crisis on Gemini 8, but that incident had taught me that in an emergency, public information had to be released in a considered, careful way. This event was of such a magnitude that I knew only Jim Webb had the authority to release such information.

Nothing could be done until we knew more about the accident. We [138] had to grab hold immediately of all of the pertinent data and equipment for analysis. I hauled out the disaster plan that I had reviewed only a few months before and saw that one thing had to be changed: the accident review board would have to report directly to Mr. Webb, not to me, as the plan indicated.

By midnight George Mueller and I had put together a list of people we felt should be on the review board. Clearly it had to include an astronaut. Not only were the astronauts test pilots with technical degrees and broad experience within the program, but also they would want assurances from one of their own before proceeding with space missions. Frank Borman proved to be an excellent choice. We wanted to have a lawyer on the board and chose George Malley, the chief counsel at Langley. On down the list we went. But who should be the chairman? Clearly he, like the others on the board, should not have had an active role in the running of the project. Yet we also wanted to keep the review within NASA as much as possible. Floyd ("Tommy") Thompson, who ran Langley, was a person who would have everybody's respect and confidence. We chose Tommy.

I arranged to have one of the NASA planes pick me up in Washington the following morning at 6:00 a.m., then fly on to Langley Research Center for Tommy Thompson and George Malley before heading to Cape Canaveral. There I made sure everybody fully understood the ground rules-that the review board had complete authority over the investigation, that they were to select the consultants and to determine who at NASA worked on the review, that they were responsible for all of the documentation, and so on.

At the Cape, I met with Sam Phillips, Kurt Debus, Joe Shea, and three or four others. They told me what they knew about the tragedy. We talked about the dead astronauts' families. It was decided that I would be the one to take a look at the pictures of the capsule taken just after the door had been opened, since someone in authority needed to do so. When, on my next visit to the Cape, I met with the medical examiner and reviewed the photographs, the experience wasn't pleasant, but it wasn't as gruesome as might be imagined either. Ash from the fire had settled over everything in the capsule, including the astronauts' bodies, and the three of them were roughly in the same positions they had assumed before the fire broke out.

[139] In the Capital, plans had been made for the various funeral services. I accompanied the First Lady and the Vice President to West Point, where Ed White was buried. Jim Webb, together with his wife and mine, accompanied the President to Arlington, where Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee were laid to rest. By this time, Jim had worked out an agreement with the President that NASA would handle the review and that there would not be a presidential commission. We recognized that information on the review needed to be transmitted to the President, to the Congress, and to the public as the review proceeded, without limiting the options of the review board. Jim's solution was sound. It was decided that the board would not issue any kind of report before its final report. I was given the job of going to the Cape every week and meeting with the board. They gave me the facts as they knew them at the time; then I reported in writing to Jim Webb as soon as I got back to Washington. He personally took my report over to the President, and within a few hours it went up to the key chairmen on the Hill. The document was then released publicly. Importantly, it was never signed by Tommy Thompson, so that his and the board's hands would not be tied when it came time to file their formal report.

By the time I submitted my first report on the progress of the review board, Jim's demeanor clearly was not the demeanor of the Jim Webb I had been working with for the past six years. He was right that my report had an emotional tinge to it, with some expression of concern for the families. But the way he slashed those sections out! I was stunned. Even when I rewrote the report as a strict chronology of events and presented it to him, he didn't say, "Nice job." He was gruff. I hadn't seen him that way since the last days of Brainerd Holmes, when Jim knew he had a difficult personnel problem on his hands.

Everyone at NASA was feeling the strain. The trouble was not that our people didn't care enough about the fire; they cared too much. Key people from Houston would fly up to Washington to testify and literally sob all the way on the plane. I first realized the seriousness of this problem when I was down at the Cape for the two-day review of the preliminary findings and recommendations. Certain individuals seemed in very great need of sleep. I didn't fully appreciate the extent of the problem until the next day when I was flying back to Washington in the company of Chuck Berry, NASA's chief medical [140] officer. He explained to me that he had been ministering not only to the astronauts and their families (particularly those of Grissom, White, and Chaffee), but also to quite a few people in the NASA organization.

Joe Shea was the most affected. As the person in charge of the Apollo capsule, he was bound to take personally the fact that this had happened on his watch. In addition, if not for a fluke, he would have been in the capsule with the three astronauts, observing their work, when the fire broke out. He had planned to lie at their feet during the test so that he could follow their communications. At the last minute, his headset didn't work. He said there was no point in being inside with them if he couldn't hear what was going on, so he got out of the capsule and flew back to Houston, where he received the grim word.

I knew Joe well. We played a lot of tennis together. I could see that he was extremely upset. Jim Webb went way out of his way to be helpful to him. After leaving NASA, Joe went on to become vice president for engineering at Raytheon and served on several important committees of the National Academies of Science and Engineering. In 1990, he became an adjunct professor at MIT, where ultimately he and I shared an office.

 

Back to the Hill

 

Needless to say, Congress wanted to be involved in investigating the accident. We had several sessions on the Hill. For the first, an executive session of the Senate, it was agreed that I would appear with George Mueller, Chuck Berry, and others, and that right afterwards I would step outside with Senators Clinton Anderson (D-NM) and Margaret Chase Smith (R-ME), the committee chairman and ranking minority member, to summarize for the waiting media what had taken place. I knew when I walked into the hearing room that this press appearance would be lively because I had never before seen more coaxial cable strewn around a corridor.

Just before the end of the session, Senator Anderson left the chamber. Of course, he was caught by the networks, but I didn't know what he had said. When we were through, I went to Senator Smith and asked her if she wanted to join me in meeting the press. She was pleasant but made it clear that she thought it really would not be appropriate for her to do so. I walked out of the hearing room alone into blindingly bright [141] lights. Not knowing what Anderson had said, I had to be careful not to run the risk of contradicting him. The press, as always, was looking for a story and would have loved to have caught me in a misstatement. I don't think any great harm was done by what transpired there, but it was one of the livelier moments in my NASA career.

The next session in front of the Senate was thrown open to the media. The newspaper people were all behind us at the witness table, and the TV people were free to turn on their equipment in front of us at any time. Each of the senators on the panel questioned us. Senator Walter Mondale finally had his turn. He asked whether, prior to the accident, there had been a report critical of North American Aviation and possibly recommending that we change contractors.

George Mueller said no, there had not been a report. I knew George meant that there hadn't been a formal, bound report. But I suspected that Mondale may have had in his possession a version of the results of an informal "tiger team study," led by General Sam Phillips. The tiger team had never issued a report, per se; however, the team had prepared briefing charts in order to discuss perceived problems with North American. So in order to leave a crack in the door for future discussion (I was thinking of immediate discussion after the session with Mondale and the chairman of the committee), I interjected a few thoughts about the kind of review we normally carry out. I added that I wasn't aware of any specific report, which I wasn't. As far as I knew, there had never been a recommendation to go to another contractor for the spacecraft.

Jim Webb nabbed me outside the committee room and asked me to drive back with him and our general counsel, Paul Dembling. When we got into the backseat of his car, the first thing Jim did was crank up the window separating us from the driver. Then he lacerated me. "You don't volunteer information!," he said. "You can't look at these as ordinary hearings, like any we've had in the past. You've got to look at these as legal proceedings. Don't volunteer information unless you're sure. Don't volunteer information, period!"

"Well," I said, "I just thought there might be some kind of report."

"Don't speculate in front of Congress!" Before we got back to headquarters, I was able to say that I was very concerned about the Phillips study, that I felt it was the kind of thing that could cause very [142] great trouble, and that I thought the way to solve it was to get the facts up to Senator Anderson and others about what had really been done by the Phillips task force.

Back in the office, I was doing a slow boil when Paul Dembling came in and showed me the Phillips document. Copies of the briefing charts were bound together, and a letter signed by Sam Phillips was appended. "This report," the letter read, in effect, "was made after a careful review of management practices at North American."

I scowled, "Take it in to the boss." It was a bad time, and it would get worse.

Jim was forced to acknowledge that, contrary to our testimony, there had been a report. The next Senate session fell on the same day as our appropriations hearing in the House. Jim took the House session, and I took the Senate hearing, which again was open to the media. Representing NASA were General Phillips, George Mueller, Chuck Berry, and myself. I had a good chance to bring up the Phillips study and to have General Phillips discuss it in detail. He did an excellent job of presenting the material, cold turkey.

Senator Mondale asked of the report, "Well, shouldn't all of this have been released?"

I answered, "If every time we had an internal review, everything was released, good internal reviews would become unachievable. If they are made with the idea that they will be discussed on national TV, they will never contain controversial information. I agree, however, that the results should be available, and we have discussed them here in this hearing in a very open way." Indeed, we had.

At this point there was a roll call, and the senators all left the committee room to vote. As they came back in, Mondale walked right by me and said, "Well, I know some of your problems in the spacecraft." He was obviously referring to the crowded room with cables all over the place. I was not exactly filled with mirth, but I did smile at his comment. The next day the Washington Star carried a picture of Dr. Seamans testifying at the Senate hearing on the tragic Apollo fire-and smiling.

 

[143] Watershed

 

The Apollo 204 fire was tragic, and I have often asked myself whether it could have been avoided. The use of a 100-percent oxygen atmosphere at sea-level pressure accelerated the burning so that it could not be extinguished once ignited. A single-gas system had been used in both Mercury and Gemini capsules, and for rational reasons. Extensive testing had been carried out to find capsule fabrics that were most fire-resistant; however, while fire retardants and extinguishers had been examined, none had been found adequate to put out a fire once started.

What more might have been done? Comprehensive rocket testing was conducted by engine contractors and by the government at the Mississippi test facility. All manner of hardware and system tests were run under a wide variety of conditions. But a boilerplate capsule was never used to investigate the incendiary nature of a pure-oxygen fire at sea-level pressure. If such a test had been conducted, it is almost a certainty that the design would have been changed prior to the fire of January 27, 1967. Neither I nor anyone else, to my knowledge, suggested such a test.

This oversight led to tragedy, but the fire could have been much, much worse. We could have killed everybody on the pad outside of the capsule. On top of the capsule was the so-called escape tower with rockets in it, designed to take the astronauts away in the capsule if something happened just before or after liftoff. If these rockets had been triggered (the fire did scorch the outside of the capsule), the whole pad might have been destroyed. I'm not certain the Apollo program could have recovered from such a disaster. I have also thought that if we had not had the Apollo 204 fire when we did, we might well have failed in our overall mission of going to the Moon by the end of the decade, because a similar catastrophe might have hit us later on, when it would have been much more difficult to recover.

In certain respects, the impact of the fire was similar to that of the assassination of President Kennedy. There was tremendous shock in both cases. In both cases it was hard for people to accept the fact that it had happened. In both cases there was strong public identification with the individuals. Of course, this was much greater in the case of President Kennedy, but Grissom was well known to the U.S. public as [144] one of the first seven Mercury astronauts, and Ed White was quite well-known and greatly admired for his "spacewalk" during Gemini 4. Chaffee, who had never flown a mission, was relatively unknown. The public had also built up NASA as infallible. We had done miraculous things. Now suddenly we had made what seemed an inconceivable mistake. It would have been one thing if the fire had occurred in space, but on the pad? And not being able to get the men out! No one could understand such a colossal blunder.

Understandably, Jim Webb took all this personally. He became terribly tense. Migraine headaches, which he tended to have anyway, were exacerbated. I had the feeling I was dealing with somebody who could explode at any moment. I'm not a psychiatrist, but I would say that the fire came as a tremendous psychological blow to him. Before the accident, he and his program were riding high. He was front and center, getting acclaim from many, many quarters and deserving it. Given his age, sixty, Apollo would probably be the last major endeavor of his working life. It would be a fitting monument to his ability.

Now his house of cards was down. How? Why? Who had made the mistake? Who had destroyed his dream? It was necessary, of course, to carry out a complete and careful investigation, so that the engineering failures that had led to the fire could be corrected. But Jim was not interested in investigating the engineering. He wanted to know what individuals had failed him. He felt personally betrayed.

There was no question in his mind that North American, the contractor for the Apollo capsule, was one of the culprits. In particular, Jim felt that North American's project leader, Harrison ("Stormy") Storms, had failed him. When we selected North American, Dutch Kindelberger, a hard-hitting, forceful manager, had been the chairman. By the time of the accident, Lee Atwood had succeeded him. We were soon having meetings with Atwood. They were not pleasant meetings. Jim Webb made it clear that changes were going to have to be made, to which Atwood responded, "Let's not panic! We've had accidents before. We're not part of the government. We're a separate institution. We have to manage things the way we believe is right." In effect, he was saying, "You're not going to dictate terms to us." Partly at my suggestion, we had conversations with other potential contractors, so that North American would realize that although they had the [145] contract, we wouldn't necessarily continue with them. If they wanted to dig in their heels, we would dig ours in, too. Finally North American did agree to make substantive changes. They took Harrison Storms off the job and agreed to a $10 million reduction in their fee. Also, Boeing was brought in to be the systems integrator. That was an important move and one that we should have made earlier, regardless of the fire.

North American aside, there was no question in Webb's mind that people inside NASA also had failed him. He clearly had lost confidence in the ability of the organization. He started talking about George Mueller's shortcomings. I told Jim that George had deficiencies like everyone else, but at the same time, George had made many positive contributions. Pretty soon I started to hear that Jim was talking about my imperfections behind my back. As time went on, I found that assignments were being given that I didn't know about. At a meeting on the Voyager project,4 which was still being formulated, a report was presented by Mac Adams, the associate administrator for research and technology, about which I had been told absolutely nothing. As general manager, I had been Jim's line of communication to the organization. Now he was bypassing me.

"Jim," I said at the Voyager meeting, "if you don't mind my saying so, I think we'd make a little more progress if you'd let me in on some of these studies."

He froze, then turned on me and said, "No more of that kind of talk, Seamans!"

Jim Webb's reasoning was a little like a geometric theorem. He was a nontechnical person and believed that the technical staff had let him down. As de facto general manager, I was his bridge to the technical people. Therefore, the bridge had failed and needed circumvention.

In one notable instance I did fail badly: I had had discussions with the press that I shouldn't have had. By this time I had considerable experience dealing with the media. I knew the media weren't perfect, but I also recognized that there were many good journalists. I also [146] thought that Jim Webb was too paranoid about the media and that it would be helpful if a few responsible journalists were more knowledgeable about what was going on in the accident investigation. The media were hungry for information about the fire. All they had was what they could get out of the congressional hearings and my reports after visits to Cape Canaveral.

Julian Scheer, NASA's public affairs officer, came to me one day while Jim was out of town and said, "I'm thinking of inviting" (he named eight correspondents) "to come in for a little background on what's really going on." A backgrounder in press parlance is an interview not to be quoted but meant to give the media some insight. I felt that what Julian was suggesting could be quite positive. So we invited the correspondents to a luncheon. If Webb had been in town, probably we would not have done so.

It was an informal lunch, and the reporters asked questions like, "Why couldn't you get the astronauts out of there?"

I explained that we had designed the door to open inwards to avoid a mistake in space-an astronaut putting his elbow in the wrong place and suddenly losing all cabin oxygen. With the pressure that the fire created within the capsule, it would have taken an 8,000-pound pull to get the door open. The next day papers ran stories about the astronauts struggling to get out, clawing at the door-all of it horrible stuff greatly exaggerated. In fact, evidence showed that the astronauts had not burned to death, as most had originally assumed. They had suffocated and were unconscious no more than seventeen seconds after the first spark.

When Jim Webb returned to the office, he was beside himself. Julian and I had let him down. He had had a handshake with the President and the Congress that no information would come out without their getting something in writing first. From this point of view, I was clearly in the wrong. From then on my relationship with Jim Webb went almost straight downhill. It became obvious as the summer of 1967 evolved that our lack of rapport was not a good thing for the organization. I had been considering the possibility of leaving NASA prior to Hugh Dryden's death, because I had been there already twice as long as I had planned initially. I had also been asked to consider the presidency of a well-known university. I finally had decided, [147] a few months before Hugh died, that it would be inappropriate for me to leave at that time.

Now it was clearly time to leave. I felt the need to be with my family more, to begin a new professional life, to have a chance to relax and regain my perspective. The program that I had come in to work on, Mercury, had long since ended. I felt (and would always feel) very much a part of Apollo, but I also felt that to stick around for the sole reason of being there when we went to the Moon was the wrong way to make one's personal decisions.

I wanted to get out in such a way as to do the most good to NASA and the least harm to myself. This proved to be quite easy. I got in touch with a good friend of mine, Walter Sohier, who had been general counsel to NASA, and with my brother Peter, who is a lawyer. Together the three of us figured out the best possible exit. We sat in the warm autumn sun on the third-floor deck at Dumbarton Rock Court and composed a letter of resignation. Gene typed it. The next day, October 2, 1967, I handed it to Jim Webb.

Jim looked at the letter, then at me, and said, "What do you think your peers are going to say about the job you've done over the years here at NASA?"

"I think they'll feel that I did a satisfactory job."

He got up and left the room. He went immediately over to the White House to see President Johnson, and within just a few hours it was announced that I was leaving NASA.

 

Afterthoughts

 

After the announcement of my resignation from NASA, Jim asked me to stay on for three months, full time, which was fairly unusual. At no time during this period did I take public issue with him. I never said anything substantive to the press about my real reasons for leaving. I was invited over to the Washington Post to meet with their senior editors, who asked, "There must be some reason why you're leaving right now. Why not stay until you get to the Moon?"

I said, "Look, I've been down here seven years. I only intended to stay two. It's been pretty hectic, but we've got everything pretty well in place. What's the point in sticking around for some kind of big [148] group ceremony?" They accepted that explanation. If I had taken on Jim Webb openly, if I had left NASA making reckless statements, it would have hurt NASA, and I'm quite sure I would never have been asked to return to government service. By leaving without a confrontation, I left the door open for the future.

Jim made quite a big deal about swearing me in as a consultant on the day I officially retired. By that time, his demeanor toward me had started to change for the better. Not long after I left, I was given the Goddard award for my contribution to the space effort. President Johnson presented the award to me at the White House with Jim in attendance. Then Jim indicated that he wanted to have a little going-away party for me and asked me whom I wanted to invite. The date of the dinner happened to fall immediately after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Protests gave way to riots, and Washington, D.C., became an armed camp. Since a dusk-to-dawn curfew was in effect, we had the dinner at the Army-Navy Club and held it early enough so that we could all return home before the curfew.

Dr. Thomas O. Paine, a materials engineer from General Electric, replaced me as deputy administrator. With the presidential election coming up in the fall of 1968, Jim Webb, who was tired after seven and a half years on the job, decided it would be a good time to retire. He thought that by resigning before the election, he would give President Johnson an opportunity to install Tom Paine as administrator and that the new administration might keep Paine on. This, Jim thought, would help maintain some continuity in the NASA effort. On September 16, 1968, Jim went in to see President Johnson and said he had been thinking about resigning early. "I've been thinking along the same lines, Jim," the President said. "Let's step outside and tell the press that you're leaving, effective immediately." Suddenly, Jim was gone. Johnson was always direct and to the point!

In March 1969, soon after I had become secretary of the Air Force, I got a call from Defense Secretary Melvin Laird. "President Nixon," he said, "wants to know my views on keeping Tom Paine at NASA, not as acting administrator but as the administrator. What do you think?"

I answered, "Well, I can give you a very straightforward, simple answer, Mel. Ask the President if he wants to carry out the lunar landing this year. If he does, make Tom Paine the administrator. But if he [149] wants to run the risk of not going this year, then bring in somebody else." The next day the President announced that Tom Paine was his nominee for administrator. Jim Webb's strategy had worked, and the first Moon landing took place four months later.

My view of Jim Webb and of our last year together at NASA changed over time. I still think I did the right thing to leave when I did, for the good of all parties. But it was only after I had left and time had elapsed that I could fully appreciate the superb job Jim had done over the years. He made it possible for NASA to do what surely is one of the most difficult technical jobs ever accomplished. It's hard to dream up a model manager who could have come in and done as well as he did. Later, as secretary of the Air Force, I came to realize that my job wasn't comparable to Jim's role at NASA, because I always had the secretary of defense available when trouble developed. But when I got involved with the Energy Research and Development Agency (ERDA) in 1974, I saw that I had no place to turn but the President of the United States or the Congress, and I got a much better understanding then of the challenges Jim Webb had faced.

Fortunately, I had a chance to express my views at a dinner party given by Dave and Pat Acheson. Dave was the son of Dean Acheson, Truman's secretary of state, for whom Jim had worked. Gene and I were invited along with Dave's mother, Jim and Patsy Webb, and six to eight others. It suddenly occurred to me sitting there at the table that it might be appropriate to make a toast to Jim Webb and the job he had done at NASA. I said quite sincerely that I had never truly appreciated all that Jim had done until I became administrator of ERDA.

About a year later, Gene and I went to see the Webbs. Afterwards, Gene told me that Patsy Webb had taken her aside and had said, "You'll never know how much that meant to Jim, when Bob said what he did about the role Jim had played at NASA. You may not know it, but Jim didn't always have an easy time with Mr. Acheson in the State Department, so for Bob to have said what he said in the Achesons' house was doubly gratifying."

In the mid-1970s, Jim Webb was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and I periodically went around to see him. We would sit and chat, and pretty soon it was like the old days. Over time he got progressively worse. Sometimes he would be wheeled into the room or [150] drive himself in in a little electric cart. At other times he walked, but with great difficulty. After a while he couldn't focus his eyes and wore a patch over one of them. Invariably, though, he had a report, article, or book to show me. "I think you'd find this very interesting," he would say. "I'd like to know your thoughts on it. Drop me a note and tell me what you think"-as though I were still working for him!

The next-to-last time I saw Jim was in 1991. He had just had his eighty-fifth birthday and was hospitalized. When I came into his room, his wife, Patsy, immediately left so the two of us could chat. He had a lot of things on his mind about problems with the government and the country and things that I might do to help out. He was trying so hard to express himself that his whole body was almost writhing with the effort. As I got up to leave, he said, "Bob, I'm not going to live much longer, but I'd like to know what you hope to accomplish before you kick the bucket."

I wasn't quite sure how to respond to that, except to say, "Hey, Jim, you may be around for a long time."

But that wasn't in the cards. I saw him once more at his home. He looked better than he had in the hospital, and he was still bubbling with ideas. Not long after that he had a fatal heart attack.

 

Mission Accomplished

 

Gene, Joe, and I flew down to Cape Kennedy for the launch of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969. The night before the launch Gene and I were invited to a small dinner hosted by the former President and Mrs. Johnson. I made a few remarks about how much the program owed to Johnson's support.

After the launch, I went around to launch control to congratulate everyone for getting Armstrong and company off to a good start. I found Vice President Spiro Agnew there, making a speech about the future of NASA. Being far more political than technical, Agnew must have seen that there was a lot of glory in space and figured he wanted to be a part of it. He told the crew on hand that this was just the start. Before we knew it, he said, America would be going to Mars. I was very skeptical, to put it mildly.

We flew back to Washington later that day; then about three days later, we flew down to Mission Control in Houston for the Moon landing. We sat in a glass-enclosed observation room behind the control consoles. The landing was a close call. The computer was periodically overloaded [151] because a radar switch had been inadvertently left on, but Mission Control decided to override the error signal (wisely, it turned out). Then the lunar lander came within a few seconds of running out of fuel for its descent to the surface. After landing safely, Armstrong and Aldrin had a rest period of six or seven hours before stepping out onto the Moon. A bunch of us went out to get something to eat nearby while waiting. With us at dinner were Doc Draper and Jackie Cochran, the world-famous aviatrix.5 We finally went back to Mission Control and watched the astronauts walk on the Moon. That was incredible. I could hardly believe it.

I did not feel any regret about not being a part of NASA at this historic moment. By this time my plate at the Air Force was very full. I couldn't help but feel excited though, and I certainly felt proud not so much of my own accomplishments but of NASA itself and of the many gifted people who had made the Moon landing possible. People like the astronauts. People like Sam Phillips and George Mueller. People like Rocco Petrone, who had run the massive construction projects at the Cape. I felt great pride in taking my son Joe and other guests around the Cape and Mission Control and explaining how the whole fantastic system worked.

I can't help but look at the Moon today and think it's amazing that we were there more than twenty-five years ago. I believe we will return there someday, but mounting that kind of an effort is not something that's going to happen, in my view, for a long time, because there's not enough reason for doing it. As for Spiro Agnew's prediction that America would fly to Mars, I learned a long time ago that if you say something will never happen, you'll eventually be proven wrong.

 


1 Note that whereas the acronym NASA is customarily pronounced as a word ("Nassa"), NACA was always was always said as a string of initials ("the N.A.C.A.").

2 NASA's offices moved about a year after my arrival to FOB 6 (Federal Office Building No. 6) near Capitol Hill.

3 Now the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

4 The Voyager Mars mission then under discussion was canceled in the fall of 1967 as a result of congressional budget cuts. Several years later the project was revived as the Viking program and landed two spacecraft on Mars. The name "Voyager" was reused for the missions to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, beginning in 1978.

5 Later in my tenure as secretary of the Air Force, I was on hand to honor her when she retired from the service. Afterwards, Gene asked her if she had competed in the Powder Duff Derby, a cross-country race for women pilots. Jackie Cochran drew herself up with horror, sniffed, and said, "I only compete with men!"


 


Grandpa Bosson pointing out my first airplane, 1922.

Grandpa Bosson pointing out my first airplane, 1922.



Some thought we were too solemn during the ceremony, but not outside St. John's Parish, June 13, 1942.

Some thought we were too solemn during the ceremony, but not outside St. John's Parish, June 13, 1942.



On November 11, 1962, President Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson visited the Marshall Space Flight Center. Werner von Braun, the center director points out a large model of the Apollo-Saturn V, with an F-11 engine in the foreground. From right to left: Kennedy, von Braun, Johnson, myself, and Paul Nitze, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. The two men at the far left are unidentified. James Webb and Robert McNamara are obscured behind Kennedy and von Braun. Edward Welsh is wearing dark glasses, in the center background.

On November 11, 1962, President Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson visited the Marshall Space Flight Center. Werner von Braun, the center director points out a large model of the Apollo-Saturn V, with an F-11 engine in the foreground. From right to left: Kennedy, von Braun, Johnson, myself, and Paul Nitze, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. The two men at the far left are unidentified. James Webb and Robert McNamara are obscured behind Kennedy and von Braun. Edward Welsh is wearing dark glasses, in the center background.



I take a ride in the Gemini flight simulator with astronaut Neil A. Armstrong. In August 1963, I visited the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston for a review operations. (NASA photo number S-64-31305)

I take a ride in the Gemini flight simulator with astronaut Neil A. Armstrong. In August 1963, I visited the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston for a review operations. (NASA photo number S-64-31305)



President Kennedy visited Cape Canaveral on November 16, 1963. George Mueller briefed President Kennedy in the Complex 37 blockhouse. From left to right: George Low, Kurt Debus, myself, James Webb, Kennedy, Hugh Dryden, Wernher von Braun, Maj. Gen. Leighton David, and Senator George Smathers of Florida. Models of the Saturn V rocket on its crawler/transporter and of the Vehicle Assembly Building are on the table. Several periscopes hang from the ceiling. (NASA photo number LOC 63P-136).

President Kennedy visited Cape Canaveral on November 16, 1963. George Mueller briefed President Kennedy in the Complex 37 blockhouse. From left to right: George Low, Kurt Debus, myself, James Webb, Kennedy, Hugh Dryden, Wernher von Braun, Maj. Gen. Leighton David, and Senator George Smathers of Florida. Models of the Saturn V rocket on its crawler/transporter and of the Vehicle Assembly Building are on the table. Several periscopes hang from the ceiling. (NASA photo number LOC 63P-136).



President Kennedy inspected the Complex 37 launch facilities with Wernher von Braun (center) and myself. Kennedy points at the live second stage of a Saturn I rocket. Von Braun used the model in the foreground to explain the powerful rocket's mission. Six days after this photograph was taken, President Kennedy was assassinated. (NASA photo number LOC 63P-145).

President Kennedy inspected the Complex 37 launch facilities with Wernher von Braun (center) and myself. Kennedy points at the live second stage of a Saturn I rocket. Von Braun used the model in the foreground to explain the powerful rocket's mission. Six days after this photograph was taken, President Kennedy was assassinated. (NASA photo number LOC 63P-145).



The NASA management triad of Administrator James E. Webb (center), Deputy Administrator Dr. Hugh L. Dryden (left), and myself as Associate Administrator. This photo was taken in Webb's office. (NASA photo number 66-H-93).

The NASA management triad of Administrator James E. Webb (center), Deputy Administrator Dr. Hugh L. Dryden (left), and myself as Associate Administrator. This photo was taken in Webb's office. (NASA photo number 66-H-93).



James E. Webb swears in NASA's new deputy administrator, February 4, 1966. At left is Vice President Humphrey.

James E. Webb swears in NASA's new deputy administrator, February 4, 1966. At left is Vice President Humphrey.



The November 22, 1966, postflight press conference on the Gemini XII mission. From left to right are myself, astronaut James E. Lovell, astronaut Edwin E. <<Buzz>> Aldrin , and dr. robert r. gilruth the director of manned spacecraft center (nasa photo number s-66-65190 ).

The November 22, 1966, postflight press conference on the Gemini XII mission. From left to right are myself, astronaut James E. Lovell, astronaut Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, and Dr. Robert R. Gilruth, the director of the Manned Spacecraft Center (NASA Photo number S-66-65190).



On October 24, 1967, I had the privilege presenting a NASA award to my early mentor, Dr. Charles Stark Draper.

On October 24, 1967, I had the privilege presenting a NASA award to my early mentor, Dr. Charles Stark Draper.



In the Oval Office, fall 1969. From left to right: National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, Secretary of the Army Stan Resor, Secretary of Defense Mel Laird, President Nixon, Secretary of the Navy John Chaffee, and myself.

In the Oval Office, fall 1969. From left to right: National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, Secretary of the Army Stan Resor, Secretary of Defense Mel Laird, President Nixon, Secretary of the Navy John Chaffee, and myself.



Four F-15 airplanes flying in formation.

Four F-15 airplanes flying in formation.



The A-10 aircraft in flight over a prairie.

The A-10 aircraft in flight over a prairie.



An F-111 at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia.

An F-111 at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia.



After an F-111 flight over the Nellis Test Range in Nevada. We flew at a Mach 2 at high altitude, then used Automatic Terrain Clearance at subsonic speed to fly over hills at an altitude of only 300 feet.

After an F-111 flight over the Nellis Test Range in Nevada. We flew at a Mach 2 at high altitude, then used Automatic Terrain Clearance at subsonic speed to fly over hills at an altitude of only 300 feet.



Showing Predisent Ford the seal of the new Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA).

Showing President Ford the seal of the new Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA).



I watch as James C. Fletcher, NASA Administrator, signd a cooperative agreement between NASA and ERDA on energy research and development. (NASA photo number 75-H-678).

I watch as James C. Fletcher, NASA Administrator, signed a cooperative agreement between NASA and ERDA on energy research and development. (NASA photo number 75-H-678).



As head of ERDA, I took a trip with Admiral Hyman G. Rickover many feet below the ocean surface in the nuclear attack submarine Cravallus.

As head of ERDA, I took a trip with Admiral Hyman G. Rickover many feet below the ocean surface in the nuclear attack submarine Cravallus.



With Vice President Dan Quayle at the June 1991 release of a study on NASA future missions by the Space Exploration Initiative team. I served as vice chairman of this study panel.

With Vice President Dan Quayle at the June 1991 release of a study on NASA future missions by the Space Exploration Initiative team. I served as vice chairman of this study panel.



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