A Manned Satellite Plan

The establishment of an organization to carry through a manned space flight program depended upon gaining the national decision to create a space agency and then upon defining the objectives of the space agency as a whole and of its highest priority programs in particular. In July 1958 legislative debate had ended in the passage of the National Aeronautics and Space Act. In August administrative power struggles had abated with President Dwight D. Eisenhower's appointments and Senate confirmation of the administrative heads of the new space agency. By September the technical and jurisdictional questions remaining to be solved for an operational manned satellite program had been removed from the open forum by their assignment to the Joint NASA-ARPA Manned Satellite Panel. When Glennan proclaimed that the demise of NACA and the birth of NASA would take effect at the close of business on September 30, 1958, there was reason to suppose that a preliminary organization of the nation's space program was well in hand. But in Washington there was no clear commitment to the precise size or priority of the manned program within NASA, because NASA itself was as yet only a congeries of transferred people, facilities, and projects.2

Earlier attempts to coordinate interservice and interagency plans and procedures for putting a man in space had been ineffectual. During the middle of September, Glennan and Roy W. Johnson, Director of Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), had come to agree on the bare outline of a joint program for a manned orbital vehicle based on the ballistic capsule idea. A month earlier, Hugh L. Dryden, the veteran Director of the NACA, and Robert R. Gilruth, Assistant Director of Langley Aeronautical Research Laboratory, had informed Congressional committees of their plans for a manned capsule and had requested $30 million to proceed with the work. But only when the Joint Manned Satellite Panel was established by executive agreement between NASA and ARPA in mid-September 1958 did plans and proposals begin to jell into a positive course of action.3

Of the eight members of this steering committee, only two were from ARPA. Six had come from NACA and were the principal policy makers who laid down the guidelines and objectives for the first manned space flight program. This group began to meet almost continuously in late September in an effort to establish preliminary plans and schedules for the manned satellite project. Thousands of scientists and engineers over past years made possible their outline report, entitled "Objectives and Basic Plan for the Manned Satellite Project." But technical liaison between military and civilian groups on the immediate working levels provided the specific data for the outline drawn up by this panel: [111]4

The objectives of the project are to achieve at the earliest practicable date orbital flight and successful recovery of a manned satellite, and to investigate the capabilities of man in this environment.
To accomplish these objectives, the most reliable available boost system will be used. A nearly circular orbit will be established at an altitude sufficiently high to permit a 24-hour satellite lifetime; however, the number of orbital cycles is arbitrary. Descent from orbit will be initiated by the application of retro-thrust. Parachutes will be deployed after the vehicle has been slowed down by aerodynamic drag, and recovery on land or water will be possible.
A. Vehicle
The vehicle will be a ballistic capsule with high aerodynamic drag. It should be statically stable over the mach number range corresponding to flight within the atmosphere. Structurally, the capsule will be designed to withstand any combination of acceleration, heat loads, and aerodynamic forces that might occur during boost and reentry of successful or aborted missions.
The document outlined generally the life support, attitude control, retrograde, recovery, and emergency systems and described the guidance and tracking, instrumentation, communications, ground support, and test program requirements.

In only two and one-half pages of typescript, the "Objectives and Basic Plan" for the manned satellite were laid out for the concurrence of the Director of ARPA and the Administrator of NASA during the first week of October 1958. Verbal elucidations of accompanying charts, tables, and diagrams, plus scale models brought along from Langley Field, successfully sold this approach for putting man into orbit. Although the Air Force, Army, and Navy, as well as numerous aviation industry research teams, also had plans that might have worked equally well, the Nation could afford only one such program. The simplest, quickest, least risky, and most promising plan seemed to be this one.5

The fact that the Joint Manned Satellite Panel was "loaded" six to two in favor of NASA reflected the White House decision that ARPA would assist NASA rather than comanage the project. The plans of the panel gave the appearance of unanimity among aeronautical engineers on how to accomplish manned orbital flight. Keith Glennan and Roy Johnson were impressed by this consensus but they refrained from making public their commitments for several more months. The tacit agreement among the panel members that no basic technical or scientific problems remained to be solved before moving into development and flight test would be tested by industrial response to the basic plan. If previous research had been sufficiently thorough to allow NASA to begin immediately applying engineering knowledge for the achievement of orbital flight, then the panel's judgment of [112] the state of the art should be confirmed by the aircraft companies. Only Alfred J. Eggers wished to be placed on record as favoring concurrent development of a lifting reentry vehicle.6

The panel recommended three types of flight testing programs. First, development tests should verify the components of the manned satellite vehicle "to the point where they consistently and reliably perform satisfactorily, and provide design criteria by measuring loads, heating, and aerodynamic stability derivatives during critical portions of the flight." Second, qualification flight tests should determine suitability of the complete vehicle to perform its specified missions. Third, training and pilot performance flight tests should validate man's "potential for the specified missions."

In this program, all three types of tests will be made with full-scale articles. These tests will be initiated at low velocities, altitudes and loads. They will progress with a buildup in severity of these conditions until the maximum mission is reached. In general, development tests will be completed, followed by qualification tests, and pilot performance and training tests. However, there will be some overlap as the severity of conditions are built up in the flight test program. The number and type of pilot performance and training flights will be determined as the program develops.7
Although the conceptual design and the operating philosophy for the manned satellite program were remarkably firm at the time of authorization, specific technical difficulties in development could not be pinpointed in advance. The people who would have to solve them were only then being identified and appointed to their individual jobs. At NACA Headquarters in Washington, Hugh Dryden had presided during the summer over the metamorphosis of NACA into NASA. An established scientist and a proven technical executive, Dryden had been a logical choice if not for the Administrator, then for Deputy Administrator, the second highest position within the space agency. He must decide how many and who should move to Washington to manage the administrative side and to oversee the engineering work. What proportion of effort and funds should NASA spend on developing manned, as opposed to unmanned, spacecraft and rockets? On whom should the immediate responsibility for technical direction of the manned satellite program be put? Where should the locus for ground control of manned space flight operations be placed?

2 NASA First Semiannual Report to Congress, Oct. 1, 1958-Mar. 31, 1959 (Washington, 1959); "Historical Sketch of NASA," NASA EP-29 (Washington, 1965).

3 Memo, Roy W. Johnson to NASA Administrator, "Man-in-Space Program," Sept. 18, 1958; House Select Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration, 85 Cong., 2 sess. (1958), Authorizing Construction for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 17-21; Senate Committee on Appropriations, 85 Cong., 2 sess. (1958), The Supplemental Appropriations Bill, 1959, Hearings, 801-806.

4 Minutes, Panel for Manned Space Flight, Appendix A, 1, Warren J. North, secretary, Sept. 24 and 30, and Oct. 1, 1958. For membership of the committee, see p. 106.

5 See Paul E. Purser, "History," in Purser, Maxime A. Faget, and Norman F. Smith, eds., Manned Spacecraft: Engineering Design and Operation (New York, 1964), 6, 8. Cf. articles by William Leavitt in John F. Loosbrock, ed., Space Weapons: A Handbook of Military Astronautics (New York, 1959), 107, 177.

6 Alfred J. Eggers' advocacy of a higher L/D vehicle is discussed on pp. 68-69.

7 Minutes, "Panel for Manned Space Flight." The final report of the NACA Special Committee on Space Technology, chaired by H. Guyford Stever, was not published, but it did circulate as a 15-page endorsement by seven working groups generally favorable to these plans for manned space flight. See Ms. in NASA Hq. Hist. Archives, "Recommendations to the NASA Regarding a National Civil Space Program," No. VIII-C, Oct. 28, 1958.

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