SP-4208 LIVING AND WORKING IN SPACE: A HISTORY OF SKYLAB

 

5. YEARS OF UNCERTAINTY, 1967-1969.
 
Impact of the Fire.
Problems with the Cluster Missions.
AAP under Internal Attack.
Shrinking Budgets and Shrinking Program.
The Wet Workshop Goes Dry.
Retrospect and Prospect.

 

 

[83] Adversity marked the last two years of Lyndon Johnson's presidency. America's commitment in Vietnam grew more expensive, tying down 535 000 troops, taking 24 000 lives, and costing $2 billion a month. Civil disorders and assassinations contributed to the public malaise. The optimism of the early 1960s faded, taking with it much of the spirit of adventure behind the space program. Facing a 1968 deficit of $25 billion, the president accepted substantial reductions in nondefense spending. Though Apollo enjoyed continued support as a commitment made but not yet achieved, post-Apollo programs took sharp cutbacks in funding.1

Apollo Applications shared the hard times in full measure. The spacecraft fire at the Cape tarnished NASA's image, raising basic questions about the agency's competence. For some months NASA officials focused their attention on the lunar landing, leaving AAP planners to proceed in an uncertain environment, unsure of funds and largely dependent on Apollo's performance. Successive cuts in AAP budgets forced a retreat from the ambitious program laid out in 1966. Step by step, projected flights shrank and launch dates were postponed. The cluster missions remained two years from launch-a standing joke within NASA.2

In late summer 1968, AAP reached its nadir: its most ambitious project, the Apollo telescope mount, was threatened with cancellation. Costs were rising alarmingly, technical problems persisted. The general election brought to power an administration that had yet to formulate a space policy. Then successes in Apollo, particularly Apollo 8's flight around the moon at Christmas, acted as a badly needed tonic. A change of command at NASA helped as well. James Webb had taken care that nothing would interfere-or even seem to interfere-with the lunar landing His successor, Thomas O. Paine, would have to make his mark with the next program. Paine tried hard to sell ambitious plans for NASA's future Although his proposals were not adopted, their formulation gave AAP a boost.

[84] In the spring of 1969, the use of a Saturn V to launch a ground-equipped ("dry") S-IVB workshop became irresistible as a solution to the many technical problems of the cluster missions. And when in June the Air Force canceled its Manned Orbiting Laboratory, AAP could be regarded in a new light. The following month, in the afterglow of Apollo 11's lunar landing, NASA announced that AAP would be flown with a dry workshop launched by a Saturn V. Removal of the severe limitations imposed by the Saturn IB, as well as the difficulties of converting a fuel tank into living and working quarters in space, would allow the program to make real progress for the first time.

 

IMPACT OF THE FIRE

 

The day before the fatal fire at Kennedy Space Center, George Mueller had referred to AAP flights I through 4 as a firm program. But for all his positive tone, some important matters were not settled. Houston still opposed the plan to carry the solar telescopes on a modified lunar module, but had acceded for the time being with the understanding that the concept would be studied further. The center program offices considered a mid-1968 launch for the first mission unrealistic; the new director of AAP, Charles W. Mathews, had already named a committee to define tasks more clearly so that a reasonable launch date could be set.3

The committee-Mathews and the three center program managers-baselined i the first four flights in February 1967. Besides agreeing on the essential features of each mission (allowable payload, orbit, and operational modes), the group added a solar-cell array to the Apollo telescope mount and identified numerous tasks required of the centers.4

The center program offices spent the month of March assessing schedules and test programs, and on the 30th the committee affirmed that the June 1968 launch date could not be met. A new schedule was laid out, postponing the first launch to December 1968, with the solar astronomy mission following six months later. liven with the time thus gained, two problems remained. Development of the solar telescopes was lagging. Two of the five experimenters believed they could make a mid-1969 launch date, but the other three (High Altitude Observatory, the Naval Research Laboratory, and Harvard College Observatory) needed more time. Second, in the aftermath of the fire the assumption that command and service modules would be available for AAP missions became questionable. North American Aviation was still defining the basic tasks o modifying the spacecraft for the applications missions. Webb, determined that nothing would impede Apollo's recovery, proposed to have a different....

 


[
85]

An early version of the Apollo telescope mount. The solar array on the right is partially deployed.

An early version of the Apollo telescope mount. The solar array on the right is partially deployed.

 

....contractor modify spacecraft for AAP so that North American could concentrate on Apollo deficiencies. He also gave the Apollo program director sole authority to divert a command and service module for AAP The possibility that a new contractor might come into the program made modification uncertain, and little progress resulted.5

The accident touched off a period of hectic planning at the Headquarters AAP office. Although the full impact of the fire was not readily apparent, the certainty of lengthening delay forced a series of revisions in Apollo schedules, leading to even more changes in AAP schedules One mayor purpose of AAP had always been to give NASA flexibility, and AAP officials still tried to provide for every Apollo contingency; in the event of an early lunar landing or an unforeseen delay, Apollo Applications missions were to fill the gap. Mathews remembered the six months following the fire as a "trying time [when] we developed something like 57 separate program plans for AAP." His program control officer later asserted that the office prepared 55 different plans in a single month Whatever the number, program documents substantiate an enormous work load.6

At Houston the accident pushed AAP into the background. According to Max Faget, for a year there . . . we stopped arguing about anything except that damned fire." Shortly after the accident, Webb gave George Low the job of managing the spacecraft recovery, and his deputy Robert Thompson, was left to run the AAP office under adverse conditions. For months on end, paper work was tied down by indecision over reliability and quality standards.7

Once Mathews felt settled in his new position, he set out to review AAP plans in person with the centers. At Huntsville, he found von Braun and his AAP manager, Leland F. Belew, mainly concerned about the short deadlines for the solar instruments. At Houston, Gilruth and Thompson questioned North American's ability to provide spacecraft on schedule and doubted that a new contractor could accomplish the AAP modifications on time. They were even more concerned about the number flights proposed for 1969: a total of 10 manned launches, 6 Apollo [86] missions and 4 AAP flights. MSC's Flight Operations Directorate, however, was preparing to handle no more than 6 manned missions a year. Mathews said that some of the scheduled missions probably would not be launched, but were included to give OMSF flexibility in reacting to program contingencies. MSC officials were not impressed by that reasoning, preferring a realistic schedule that would allow them to make firm plans-a position with which the AAP manager at Kennedy Space Center fully agreed.8

Debate over the 1969 schedule became academic that summer as Congress pruned the AAP budget. The fire had diminished confidence in NASA. Don Fuqua (Dem., Fla.), who later served as chairman of the House space sciences subcommittee, thought that its impact was particularly great on congressmen who had been neither strong supporters nor critics of NASA. In more prosperous times the agency might have emerged from the accident without serious consequences; by mid-1967, however, the administration's growing deficit-to which NASA was one contributor-was the biggest issue on Capitol Hill. In a conference committee, Senate and House members concurred in paring $107 million from AAP's $454 million request. The AAP office prepared a new schedule, postponing the first missions by five months and eliminating the use of refurbished spacecraft. In August the appropriation bill set AAP funding at $300 million, nearly $50 million below the authorization level. President Johnson did not oppose the reduction.9

Each congressional cut prompted a flurry of planning as the AAP team adjusted the program. One plan avoided further postponement of flights by cutting deeply into funds for experiment definition and payload integration. Another provided more money for experiments and integration by delaying the launches three more months, flying the wet workshop in October 1969. In view of the distinct possibility that more reductions were to come, the AAP office set out a third program based on $250 million. This plan dictated an additional three months' delay, permitting postponement of launch vehicle deliveries and substantially reducing hardware purchases. Mueller considered $250 million the lowest acceptable level of funding. Anything less, he told Seamans, would delay the program's "real start" for another year and would prove wasteful in the long run. Earlier programs, such as the Air Force's ill-fated Skybolt and Dyna-Soar, illustrated the futility of maintaining a high level of design activity without beginning actual hardware development. Mueller con eluded, "The normal result is increased cost in subsequent years and often even an inability to bring the program elements to a logical conclusion. " 10

In September Webb ordered some AAP funds transferred to NASA' Office of Tracking and Data Acquisition, leaving $253 million for Apollo Applications in NASA's FY 1968 operating plan. The reduction ruled [87] out concurrent Apollo and AAP flights, for even if launch vehicles and spacecraft became available, NASA could not afford to launch and track them. The first AAP mission was now planned for January 1970, with wet workshop and solar astronomy missions following later that year. The October 1967 schedule called for 17 Saturn IBs and 7 Saturn Vs, a sharp cutback from the 40 launches listed the previous May. Even these figures seemed optimistic, as Saturn IB production was expected to end at 16 vehicles. 11

The sad fate of mission AAP IA epitomizes the program's problems in 1967. Because of the spacecraft fire, NASA decided that Apollo missions would carry only those experiments that contributed directly to the lunar landing-a decision that left half a dozen scientists without flights for their experiments. At the same time, AAP planners were struggling with payload weights and crew work loads on the workshop mission. Faced with these problems, OMSF started planning a new mission to inaugurate AAP: a two-week CSM flight in late 1968 to test the lunar mapping and survey system in earth orbit and conduct other earth and space science experiments. The mapping and survey system had been intended to supplement Lunar Orbiter and Surveyor in selecting Apollo landing sites. By the middle of 1967, however, information returned by those two projects was judged adequate. The lunar mapping and survey system seemed redundant and Seamans canceled it in August.12

Despite the loss of its principal experiment, AAP 1A moved ahead rapidly, drawing much of its support from the science side of NASA. For the Office of Space Science and Applications, 1A represented the first major effort at manned space science. One OSSA project manager noted after an August briefing (perhaps with some skepticism) that "the justification for the mission appears to be the experiments and not manned spaceflight." He added that "a 14-day flight does not seem to be a cost effective way of obtaining space data for the experiments selected." Nonetheless AAP 1A generated much enthusiasm within OSSA, where considerable effort was spent to accelerate development of the experiment hardware. 13

By this point AAP 1A was becoming an earth-resources mission, carrying half-a-dozen specialized cameras and four infrared sensors. Mission planning was under way in Houston and at the Denver plant of Martin Marietta, the payload integration contractor. On 25 August MSC published preliminary designs of an experiment carrier that would fit into the spacecraft-lunar module adapter, between the service module and the S-IVB. This module would provide a shirtsleeve atmosphere and enough room for one man to operate the instruments. Martin engineers worked out a flight plan providing six passes over the U.S. each day at an altitude of 260 kilometers in an orbit inclined 50° to the equator. 14

Apart from its scientific content, the AAP office also valued mission [88] 1A for its training potential. NASA had a tradition of progressively increasing the complexity of missions. Starting AAP with a relatively simple flight would allow attention to be focused first on management and operating relationships. AAP 1A would give Martin Marietta the chance to work with principal investigators and Apollo contractors as well as NASA centers. And if NASA switched to a new contractor for modifying and refurbishing the spacecraft, that firm would find IA a good training ground. 15

By late October 1967, AAP IA planning was in full swing. On the 27th the Flight Operations Planning Group held its first meeting; on 10 November MSC published a project plan; 10 days later the Manned Space Flight Experiments Board approved 10 earth-resource and meteorological experiments. In mid-December engineers met in Denver for a presentation by Martin Marietta on the experiments carrier. Then, suddenly, the mission was gone. At the end of the year, Mathews notified the centers that AAP I A had been terminated; NASA's financial squeeze was blamed. The decision caused considerable unhappiness in OSSA, where it was taken as more evidence that Mueller was not interested in science. At the AAP office, it seemed to be more work for naught. All the work was not in vain, however; when NASA officials resurrected earth-resource experiments three years later, several IA sensors found their way into Skylab.16

 

PROBLEMS WITH THE CLUSTER MISSIONS

 

Technical as well as financial problems intensified as 1967 wore on. The Apollo fire had brought the micrometeoroid hazard (p. 35) into renewed prominence. Early in the new year engineers at Douglas Aircraft Company, the S-IVB contractor, opted for "belt and suspenders" when they decided to cover the insulation inside the tank with aluminum foil and to add an external shield to the stage. Their shield design used a thin aluminum sheet, held flush with the S-IVB skin at launch and raised in orbit to stand 13 centimeters off the tank all around. Small particles striking this shield would lose most of their energy before reaching the tank itself. 17

On 27 February von Braun presided over a wide-ranging meeting at Huntsville to review the meteoroid problem. Engineers from four contractors and two MSF centers examined the data, looked at films of tests, and discussed Douglas's shield design. Clearly aluminum foil suppressed flame propagation and the shield reduced the chance of a serious penetration; as a dividend, Martin Marietta engineers showed that the shield would simplify control of temperature inside the workshop. Neither the weight of the shield (estimated at 320 kilograms) nor its cost (about $250 000) was a serious drawback, and the group concluded that it should be adopted. Studies would continue, however-testing the effect of liquid [89] hydrogen on the foil lining, looking for new and nonflammable insulating materials, even making contingency plans to apply insulation to the outside of the S-IVB if all else failed. 18

Payload weights were a continuing headache during the year. Early in January the weight of the AAP 4 payload (the lunar module with its solar telescopes) was approaching the Saturn IB's lifting capacity. Two weeks later planners increased the orbital altitude for that mission, reducing allowable payload still more, and MSC imposed larger power requirements, making a bigger solar array necessary. By midyear the ATM experiments canister required an active cooling system; two of the instruments generated enough heat to distort their optical axes beyond permissible limits. At the same time it became clear that heavy shielding would have to be added to film storage vaults to prevent fogging of film by radiation in orbit. Toward the end of April 1967 all of the payloads except AAP 1 were overweight, and design changes in the workshop were creating a weight problem for that mission as well. Rigid metal floors and walls had been added to the wet workshop, and the growing roster of experiments called for more power, to be supplied by adding two sets of solar panels to the workshop. The Apollo command module, undergoing extensive redesign after the fire, was also gaining weight; by midyear it would be 900 kilograms over its design limit.19

Mission planning had to deal with another problem; the growing list of experiments required too much crew time. A compatibility analysis in late 1966 showed that assigned experiments needed 313 man-hours, while only 288 were available. The director of flight crew operations at Houston complained that the experiments called for more training time than could be provided. In February, the experiments board found that weight, power, and crew-time requirements demanded a redistribution of experiments among the four AAP missions, a task which necessitated a system of experiment priorities. George Mueller passed this job to Douglas Lord, who reported in July with a scheme that the board accepted without substantial change. Besides the obvious factors (weight, space, crew time, power consumption, and availability of hardware) Lord's criteria included such intangibles as "the value of the experiment to the overall national space effort," which gave the priorities a certain negotiability. By the end of 1967 Lord and Bellcomm, OMSF's consulting systems engineering firm,ii had determined the relative priority of all approved AAP experiments; thereafter the assignment of experiments to missions was somewhat easier.20

[90] While the experiments board worried about priorities, program officials at the centers wrestled with more concrete problems. For the first half of the year the Apollo telescope mount provided more than its share: three of the five experiments were behind schedule. During May, schedule changes postponed the ATM mission to mid-1969, easing the development problem for one experiment but giving the other two no relief. At a meeting on 13 July, Harvard College Observatory and the Naval Research Laboratory estimated that their instruments would be delivered much too late for the scheduled launch. The thermal control problems promised to delay delivery still more.21

When the problems were discussed at an AAP review on 18 July, a number of solutions were suggested; but postponing the launch to accommodate the experiments was not among them. Upset, the scientists complained to higher management. At the July Management Council meeting, James Webb spoke of the scientists' concern. In AAP's circumstances, he said, it was important to keep the scientific community happy. Nevertheless, only two alternatives were debated: fly what could be delivered on schedule or relax certain requirements on the lagging experiments in the hope of speeding their development. Mueller met with the principal investigators, the OSSA program managers, and Marshall representatives in Washington on 27 July to discuss possible courses of action. Harvard proposed to reduce the complexity of its instrument to alleviate production problems; a simpler instrument could gather the desired data, provided the launch went off on time. The Naval Research Laboratory's principal investigator, Richard Tousey, was out of town, and NRL's representative was reluctant to change; but when Mueller declared that a second ATM would be flown about a year after the first and that NRL's original instruments could go on it, the laboratory's spokesman agreed to consider it.22

When Tousey returned to Washington, another meeting was called. OSSA expressed concern that schedule pressures were forcing scientists to settle for less than first-quality data ~a concern shared by Tousey, who did not want to simplify the NRL experiments. He wanted to hold to the original specifications and concentrate on finishing one instrument; he was willing to take the chance that the other would be left off if it could not be made ready in time. After much discussion, during which OMSF renewed its assurance of a second solar astronomy mission, NRL agreed to accept some reduction in the performance of its instruments and go ahead with both. OSSA's Space Science and Applications Steering Committee endorsed the new arrangement on 14 August. The scientists accepted the change, but the meetings apparently reinforced their belie that OMSF was more interested in flying missions than in doing goo' science. 23

Medical experiments also lagged badly throughout 1967. In April, [91] Mueller prodded MSC to get on with building the experiment hardware, citing $1.46 million authorized for that purpose in the preceding six months; of that sum, MSC had committed $876 000 but had obligated only $8000.iii Gilruth's response is not on record, but an internal MSC summary asserted that four major medical experiments were in various stages of preliminary work; some were in the final stages of contract negotiation. In any case "Headquarters' concern about alleged schedule slippage seems somewhat inappropriate," because it was self-evident that AAP schedules would have to be adjusted. As those schedules then stood, prototype hardware for use in training was to be delivered by mid-June of 1967-an obvious impossibility.24

 

AAP UNDER INTERNAL ATTACK

 

In spite of all the problems, Mueller stuck with his plans to fly the basic workshop and ATM missions as scheduled. Some people wondered whether he seriously intended to launch the wet workshop. If he did not, he kept that intention to himself. Difficulties were to be expected, but they had not yet proved insurmountable. Mueller's attitude was shared by Huntsville's managers and working-level engineers. Marshall was fully committed to the wet workshop; von Braun, proud of the center's "cando" reputation, wanted to preserve that image. If his managers had reservations about the feasibility of the AAP missions, they kept them quiet and bent all their efforts to working the problems.25

Officials at Houston had plenty of reservations and did not bother to conceal them from anyone. Since March 1966, when Gilruth had detailed the center's criticisms of AAP to Mueller (pp. 45 - 46), the Houston center had participated reluctantly in planning the workshop. Perhaps encouraged by Administrator Webb's unwillingness to push AAP strongly, center officials pointed out what seemed to them faults of both conception and execution. From the establishment of the AAP office at MSC, the Houston-Huntsville alliance was an uneasy one. One center saw itself making level-headed, practical criticisms of a poor concept and unsound engineering and management decisions; the other saw a series of roadblocks thrown up to thwart plans rather than cooperation to solve problems.26

Houston had no fundamental disagreement with the broad objectives of the missions; the fault lay in the means chosen to carry them out. As Bob Thompson and his staff saw it in mid-1967, the evolution from a group [92] of loosely related earth-orbital flights to the workshop cluster-the "Kluge,"iv they dubbed it-had committed AAP to a bad configuration. Thompson said later of the workshop mission, "Had we started with a clean sheet of paper, we would never have done [it] that way." With Gilruth's consent Thompson began assembling a detailed critique of the AAP missions. In MSC's Engineering and Development Directorate, designers began work on a substitute for the wet workshop.27

The Manned Spacecraft Center was not the only source of criticism. The associate administrator for advanced research and technology told Webb in August 1967 that he had no confidence in AAP. Scientific advisory groups, too, found much to criticize. At Huntsville on 11 April the Science and Technology Panel of the President's Science Advisory Committee toured the mockups and reviewed experiment plans. Some members took exception to the proposed allotment of experiment time, feeling that unless the medical experiments were given priority on the first mission the question of man's adaptability to space might be left in doubt. Indeed, other experiments should not be included if they jeopardized the medical objectives. Members of the Space Science Board's Life Sciences Committee, after a briefing in late June, faulted the tight scheduling of crew time. They felt that planning activities down to the minute negated the prime advantages of manned experiments: reflection, judgment, and creative response to the unexpected.28

Late in June Robert Seamans toured the MSF centers to see how well Apollo was recovering from the fire. While in Houston he evidently became aware of MSC's doubts about Apollo Applications, for on 26 July he asked Mueller about the validity of the program plans presented to Congress in May, and how much the centers had been involved in the preparation of those plans. Since Mueller had heard other reports of "NASA officials" complaining that AAP plans were irresponsible, he took the time to compose a seven-page defense of the program. Mueller insisted that every OMSF program had been thoroughly coordinated with all elements of his organization-including center personnel. This did not "always mean that there has been a complete meeting of minds," but there was no foundation to charges that anyone was not consulted. He went on to explain the planning and review that had gone into each major AAP decision, concluding that the program had achieved reasonable stability and was realistic in light of current funding levels.29

On 29 August 1967 Bob Thompson sent Charles Mathews some recommendations for consideration in the next round of AAP planning- which MSC management was sure would be necessary after congressional action on the budget. Thompson agreed with the broad primary [93] objectives of the program, but felt that the sequence of missions should be determined by mission complexity, rather than by preselected priorities which were, to say the least, debatable. He then outlined MSC's suggestions for AAP flights during 1969-1972.30

The Houston plan delayed the workshop missions for one year, separated the telescope mount from the workshop missions and delayed it for something more than a year, and ended with a ground-outfitted "dry" S-IVB workshop to be launched on a Saturn V. As a start, MSC proposed to develop a small experiments carrier to fit in the spacecraft-lunar module adapter, capable of carrying a variety of payloads.v One of these would be launched in 1969, carrying the leftover Apollo experiments plus some earth-sensing instruments; several more such missions could be planned as options for the 1969-1971 period. For 1970, Houston's plan called for one 28-day and one 56-day workshop mission, devoted to biomedical and engineering experiments and operations. The telescope mount would be flown in 1971 in a mission of 2-4 weeks duration with the lunar module and telescopes docked to the command module for the whole time. After that, new options might be opened up by the accumulated experience and by changing fiscal resources. MSC saw a number of advantages to this plan. It would begin with comparatively simple missions, progressing to longer and more complex ones. Earth-resource experiments on the first flight could provide an early payoff. Removal of the solar telescopes from the workshop (effectively discarding the cluster concept) resolved the critical problems of payload weight, crew workloads, and the combination of scientific skills required of the crew, besides simplifying operations. Finally, the plan neatly matched the expected availability of Saturn IBs.31

Reaction to this proposal at Headquarters was-from Houston's point of view-disappointing. Mueller, unconvinced, directed Mathews to answer each of Houston's objections and proceed as planned. Houston continued the alternate design studies, reviewing them informally with Mathews. A general review of OMSF's future earth-orbiting missions, from AAP to space stations, was scheduled for 18 November; the MSC contingent came prepared to present the case against the wet workshop.32

Mathews, Mueller, and Disher opened the review with assessments of the state of AAP. All acknowledged problems, but reflected a basic confidence in the program and the mission plans. Next, Robert Gilruth briefly introduced MSC's presentation, referring to AAP's many questionable aspects and stating concern over the complexity of the cluster missions. He admitted that no single problem seemed insoluble; it was the sum total of technical and managerial difficulties that gave pause.33

[94] Bob Thompson then took the floor to present MSC's proposed substitute for the wet workshop and orbital cluster. This was a smaller workshop module, built inside the spacecraft-lunar module adapter and fitted out as living quarters. At its lower end this module could carry any of several specialized experiment modules, such as the solar telescopes or earth-sensing instruments. Less than half as roomy as the S-IVB workshop, the laboratory was nevertheless big enough to house experiments and control panels for major external experiment packages. It could be equipped with solar cells to provide up to 3.7 kilowatts of electrical power. In their mission plans, MSC's main concerns became evident. Their proposed flight schedule called for 10 Saturn IB launches between 1969 and 1972-the same as current AAP schedules. Since the solar instruments would be fitted to the workshop and launched with it, however, the double rendezvous for the ATM mission (p. 38) was avoided and the lunar module-Apollo telescope mount was unnecessary. The first mission would perform the essential medical experiments and collect earth-resources data. A second visit to the smaller workshop would give up to 112 days of manned operation by the end of 1970 and would establish man's ability to work in zero g fully as well as could be done in the S-IVB workshop. In 1971 the solar astronomy mission would be launched without the medical experiments, eliminating the competition for crew time created by that particular pairing. With a revisit, another 112 days of orbital experience and 84 days of solar observations would accrue. For 1972 Houston projected two more missions, but had established no specific experiment plans.34

Turning to specific criticisms of the current program--Thompson referred to areas of concern as "warning flags"-he cited the crucial faults of the S-IVB workshop and the lunar module solar observatory. The plan to stow experiments in the multiple docking adapter at launch and move them into the workshop in orbit created unnecessary complexity. Equipment had to be designed both for storage in the adapter and for operation in the workshop. Some of the medical experiments had to be operated in both places. Much of the first four days of the mission was given over to outfitting the workshop, a considerable task which raised MSC's skepticism. Worse, it interfered with crucial medical measurements at the start of the mission-the period of adjustment to weightlessness for which no data were available. The problems of using the lunar module as the carrier for the solar experiments were well known and Thompson merely alluded to them once more.35

Thompson next questioned plans for preflight testing of cluster components and contingency plans in case of failure. How could the cluster be adequately tested before launch? What would the mission be worth if the crew could not open the workshop or move into it? The alternate workshop was small enough to be fully tested in its flight configuration, and it did not have to be equipped in orbit.36

[95] Touching on AAP's management structure, Thompson said that it created too many interfaces between centers and contractors. MSC's plan would greatly simplify program management, since each center could be responsible for one mission and supervise one prime contractor. He then summed up: the modified lab provided full preflight assembly, checkout, and testing; improved the program's flexibility; gave a better-balanced approach to program objectives; and created better center-contractor relationships. Houston recommended an early study to reevaluate the whole cluster concept.37

The next day, Sunday, the group flew to Huntsville to examine hardware mockups and to let Marshall respond to the objections. Point by point the "warning flags" were discussed, and only the MSC representatives found them disturbing. Huntsville officials argued that most of the problems required only diligent application of resources to solve them. Gilruth asserted once more that his center's proposal greatly simplified the program without compromising its objectives and made it easier to achieve with available resources. No one else, however, saw any advantage to switching to new hardware. Von Braun stated that the wet workshop and cluster missions were feasible and desirable. The alternative represented a new program, which would entail at least a year's delay and waste much of the time and money already spent. Kurt Debus, director of Kennedy Space Center, agreed; it was much the same to his center either way, but a change would only waste time and money without offering compensating advantages. Mueller noted that the smaller workshop might be better than the S-IVB, or it might not; but it could be expected to have its own development problems, perhaps as serious as those of the wet workshop. Further, the prospects for getting approval for a new start were extremely poor.38

Mueller summed up by asking three questions. Were there compelling technical factors that made the present approach infeasible? Were there compelling reasons why OMSF would not be proud of the results of the current approach? Were there compelling reasons why the present approach could not satisfy program objectives? He asked each person to respond to these questions; everyone present answered no. Mueller then said that the dominant problems were to support the program with adequate manpower at all three centers and to coordinate the total effort effectively. He directed Charles Mathews to see that the workload was equitably distributed so as to assure that the cluster program could be carried out.39 Houston's challenge had apparently been thoroughly debated and rebuffed.

After returning to Washington, Mueller briefed Robert Seamans on the weekend's discussions. Sporadic consultations among NASA's top managers during the next week convinced Webb to call for a full review. It was held 6 December, beginning with a review of the launch schedule, orbital configurations, and expected contribution of each mission to the [96] objectives of manned spaceflight. After sketching out MSC's proposal, the review examined the technical problems of the workshop and solar astronomy missions. Twenty-one of Houston's concerns were classified as either "problems which have been resolved or are now considered to be resolvable in a straightforward manner" or "major open problems which are common to present or alternate approach." Only four were listed as "major open problems which are peculiar to the present cluster configuration." After reviewing the status of AAP experiments, mission plans, and hardware components, the review ended with OMSF's evaluation of Houston's proposal-essentially the same as Mueller had expressed at Huntsville-and concluded, as had the weekend's review, that the "present approach is feasible and should proceed as planned."40

Mueller had made his own decision even before Webb called for the briefing. On 1 December he sent the center directors John Disher's notes on the 18-19 November discussions and a draft of a letter stating that there was no compelling reason to back away from the wet workshop. Mueller made his position quite plain: "I have decided that we should continue with the present AAP approach and request that you proceed accordingly in your implementation of AAP requirements."41

Von Braun's initial response reflected intense annoyance at Houston's sudden intransigence. He concurred with Mueller's decision, reproached MSC for waiting so long to raise objections, brought up some "warning flags" about mission AAP 1A and the Apollo spacecraft that Houston had somehow neglected to mention, and commented unfavorably on MSC's alternate proposal. The letter was on its way-Belew was carrying it to Washington-when it was recalled and a much milder version substituted. In it von Braun noted that what MSC saw as danger areas were really "a logical progression of techniques evolved in Gemini and the manned lunar landing." He offered the opinion that judicious trimming of long-term AAP plans could make the first cluster mission cheaper than the FY 1967 estimates had indicated. Finally, he urged Mueller to start studies for follow-on activities. "Our in-house and contractor studies to date," von Braun said, "show a dry Saturn V launched Workshop to be a highly impressive candidate for this next step." He enclosed summaries of several Marshall studies that rebutted MSC's warning flags, point by point.42

When Gilruth responded to Mueller's letter he tried once more to convey MSC's basic points. He did not agree that current plans should be followed unless they could be proved totally unsatisfactory. Instead, Gilruth said, "we should have the best program which is practical with the funds made available by Congress." Congress had not specifically approved either the cluster concept or the four projected missions; and since AAP funds for FY 1968 were being cut, a thorough review was desirable even though it might lead to changes in program content as well as [97] schedule. MSC was recommending a complete program review, not pushing a specific alternate configuration.43

In a separate letter Gilruth sent along eight pages of comments on Disher's notes spelling out the basic question in the baldest terms: Why borrow trouble ? Certainly the S-IVB insulation could be fireproofed, but "none of this would be necessary . . . in a ground fitted vehicle." Even Marshall admitted serious problems in making the S-IVB habitable; "this results from the compromises necessary to convert a liquid hydrogen tank to a living compartment." As for the problems OMSF said could be solved in straightforward fashion, "the necessity to solve them is not required in the alternate approach." The litany was long, but it came down to a single theme: Why do it this way when there is an easier alternative ?44

Webb evidently heard enough in the 6 December briefing to solidify his long-standing doubts about AAP. On 6 January 1968 he asked Floyd L. Thompson, director of Langley Research Center, to chair a review of alternate possibilities for post-Apollo manned spaceflight. Committee membership reflected Webb's view that it was an agency-wide concern: the directors of the three OMSF field centers, Langley, and Lewis, plus the director of the AAP office in Headquarters.45 Thompson, an old NACA hand about to conclude a 42-year career in aeronautical and space research, was a respected figure in the agency. He had been associate director at Langley when the Space Task Group, Gilruth's Mercury team, was formed there in 1958. His last extraordinary assignment had been heading the board that investigated the Apollo spacecraft fire. His chairmanship and the high-level membership of the Post-Apollo Advisory Group would assure a thorough review.

The group met four times from late January to late March, visiting each manned spaceflight center.46 The members reached considerable unanimity about the future of manned spaceflight. The next step should be to make man an effective participant in orbital science. Toward that end, several things could be done between 1971 and 1975: qualification of man for 100-200 days in zero gravity, determination of the need for artificial gravity, and development of the technology to support man in space. The group found the objectives of the early AAP missions generally in line with post-Apollo needs, but thought the program was scattering its shots too widely. The wet workshop was only marginally adequate to obtain the basic information about adaptation to weightlessness. "If unresolved difficulties do persist in the present near-term approach," the report concluded, "the better course may well be to develop plans for ground-assembling the workshop and launching it dry, using the more costly Saturn V, and to accept such schedule delays as will be required by this course." Thompson was realistic about the value of his committee's work; the real service rendered had been to get Houston and Huntsville [98] to look critically at AAP plans and develop a program that both centers could support. On the matter of the wet workshop, representatives of those centers could no longer talk to one another.47

Along with the Thompson committee, two other groups were established in the Office of Manned Space Flight to scrutinize specific aspects of AAP. One, chaired by George Mueller, was to review the solar astronomy missions. The other, headed by Douglas R. Lord, deputy director of the Advanced Manned Missions Program in Headquarters, was to define two versions of a ground-outfitted "dry" S-IVB workshop, to be launched on a Saturn V, as possible follow-on missions after the wet workshop.48

Lord's group comprised 150 persons at Headquarters and the centers, organized into six task teams. A set of 13 options was considered, from a simple wet-workshop-turned-dry to a highly advanced workshop with a sophisticated package of experiments. Cost estimates were rough, because hard engineering data were scarce; but it appeared that the least expensive option would cost $412 million more than current plans. This workshop would meet the specified launch date, but its experiments offered the least scientific return and the least advancement of manned spaceflight objectives. On the other hand, the advanced workshop with the most productive experiments overshot the desired launch date by more than a year and cost an extra $2.3 billion besides. Considered as a follow-on project, none of the options was appealing. Any of them would compete with the cluster missions for money. The wet workshop made its heaviest budgetary demands in FY 1969 and 1970-just the years when a dry workshop would need heavy financing to get going. Perhaps, as Mueller was telling Congress, logic dictated a progression from the wet workshop to a dry one; but it was money that made the programs go. For the rest of 1968, mention of a dry workshop to follow the cluster missions all but disappeared from official correspondence.49

Mueller's LM-ATM Evaluation Board set itself the task of examining every aspect of the astronomy module and mission that had been questioned by any element of OMSF-which amounted to a critical look at: Houston's repeated objections to the mission. Since Mueller was occupied with budget hearings, the board did not begin its meetings until early March. The experiments were found to be in good shape, although the scientists doubted that NASA could launch on schedule. The greatest concern was the rising cost of adapting the lunar module for its new functions. Most of the modifications were required to support the crew during rendezvous and docking-that aspect of the mission that MSC, tireless in criticism, had objected to once more. At last Mueller conceded. Manned double rendezvous and docking (p. 73) were dropped and replaced by automatic rendezvous and remote-controlled docking. Houston was content with this. The technique was not yet worked out, but it was something that ought to be developed in any case, and it was preferable [99] to the operational complexity and crew hazards of manned rendezvous and docking. Houston's victory on this point, however, owed as much to cost considerations as anything else.50

 

SHRINKING BUDGETS AND SHRINKING PROGRAM

 

While AAP was being reconsidered within NASA, Congress was pulling the purse strings tighter. NASA's budget request for FY 1969 was the smallest since 1963. OMSF had at one time hoped AAP would benefit from the decline in Apollo costs, down nearly $1 billion in two years; but the troubled passage of the FY 1968 budget had lowered that expectation. The FY 1969 request for AAP was $439 million, 16% less than the submission to the Bureau of the Budget the previous fall and less than half of what had been anticipated in the FY 1968 budget. Nearly half of the $439 million went for new launch vehicles and spacecraft modifications; experiments accounted for another 40%. No new spacecraft was included, and the two Saturn IBs and two Saturn Vs represented only a third of the number Mueller had hoped for. Gone were the second wet workshop, the second solar observatory, the earth-resources mission (AAP 1A), and the lunar exploration missions. In congressional testimony a possible new direction for AAP was indicated by increased emphasis on a Saturn V workshop. Webb told the House committee that the wet workshop was "an interim step toward the Saturn V workshop"; Mueller said that all of AAP's studies to date pointed to "the logic of progressing to the Saturn V launched workshop as the next follow-up step in the evolutionary manned program." In Mueller's view, this workshop corresponded to the orbital station proposed for the mid-1970s by the President's Science Advisory Committee report of February 1967. AAP's budget request proposed to spend $70 million for early work on a Saturn V station- more than twice the sum programmed for the wet workshop or the telescope mount, and more than that allocated for Saturn V production.51

Committee members' questions and remarks indicated that AAP was in for rough sledding. William Ryan (Dem., N.Y.), a vocal critic of NASA, questioned Webb about overlap of AAP with the Air Force's Manned Orbiting Laboratory. Webb assured the committee that the two programs did not duplicate each other, provoking Ryan's rejoinder, "Clearly there is duplication." The committee's ranking minority member, James Fulton (Rep., Pa.), questioned the need for additional Saturns ~n view of the expected surplus from the Apollo program. He feared that NASA was trying to maintain its Saturn industrial base at the expense of new research On earlier occasions, Fulton had characterized AAP as an defined program, and apparently he saw little improvement. When Mueller spoke of AAP having numerous objectives, Fulton called his remark "the understatement of the year." After Donald Rumsfeld (Rep., [100] Ill.) questioned Mueller about "overlapping" aspects of AAP and MOL, Fulton made several caustic remarks about the wet workshop's layout, questioning among other things the need for a shower costing $300 000. Fulton was critical of several specific details of the design, suggesting that Mueller review the whole thing. "When we looked at your wiring on the Apollo 204," he said, referring to the Apollo fire, "it didn't take much to see that somebody could do the panel wiring better."52

In spite of these criticisms, a majority on both congressional space committees concurred with Mueller's assessment that the AAP request would sustain only a minimum program. As Representative Emilio Daddario (Dem., Conn.) put it, further cuts would put NASA out of business. The supporters' main concern appeared to be that the practical benefits of space were insufficiently publicized. Daddario expressed the dilemma while asking Wernher von Braun about NASA's contributions to American technology: "We feel that we have seen great accomplishments . . . and yet . . . how do we, with the great expenditures made, prove that the technology that is developed from it is worth the cost?" The Senate Committee's ranking members, Clinton Anderson (Dem., N.M.) and Margaret Chase Smith (Rep., Me.), expressed similar feelings. Smith concluded, "We have not completely answered the 'why' question-why we should undertake each proposed project from the standpoint of the specific payoffs expected." Such comments were not lost on NASA officials; in March the AAP office reexamined the possibility of early earth-resource experiments, whose benefits were easily understood by the public.53

As the hearings proceeded, events conspired to undermine NASA's tenuous support in Congress. The Tet offensive in February threw U.S. troops in Vietnam on the defensive and increased the costs of the war. Two months later, riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King brought pressure for more domestic spending. Congress, preoccupied with the administration's request for a 10% income-tax surcharge and the opposition's demand for a $6 billion cut in nondefense spending, locked onto post-Apollo programs as prime targets for retrenchment. Webb later described what happened to NASA that spring as "a mass walkout of Congressional support."54

By March it was obvious that NASA's budget would be cut; the question was, how much? In that somewhat depressing atmosphere, the Management Council and AAP managers met at Kennedy Space Center on 21 March 1968 to assess the program in light of the special studies just concluded. AAP then consisted of three missions using five Saturn IBs. The wet workshop and its crew constituted flights AAP 1 and 2, a 28-day mission to set up the cluster and conduct experiments; these launches had slipped to the second half of 1970. Three months after the first crew returned, a second would go up to the workshop for a 56-day biomedical.....

 


[
101]

The AAP cluster as visualized in the Office of Manned Space Flight at NASA Headquarters, September 1968. MA68-7001.

The AAP cluster as visualized in the Office of Manned Space Flight at NASA Headquarters, September 1968. MA68-7001.

 

...mission, AAP 3A. The last two launches, in mid-1971, would take up the LM-ATM and its crew on AAP 3 and 4, devoted largely to solar observations. No other flights were defined, but the meeting brought agreement that some earth-looking experiments ought to be studied as possible additions. Planners also decided that a duplicate workshop should be built, to serve as a backup. There was still some talk of a Saturn V dry workshop as the follow-on to the cluster, but everyone agreed that intelligent planning for a dry workshop required information from the wet workshop, and AAP could not afford both.55

Mathews told AAP officials at the centers on 21 March that a strategy for slowing AAP work was needed, one that would minimize the cost of current work and defer new commitments while preserving the ability to go ahead. He warned that this would last for several months, since spacecraft modifications, a pacing item, could not begin until the FY 1969 budget was firm. Meanwhile the centers should try to bring all AAP work to the same stage of development. During April the Headquarters program office worked out a holding plan for the rest of 1968, imposing reductions that caused several contracting problems but brought AAP spending down by more than 50%. After the House slashed the AAP authorization on 3 May, Mathews put the holding plan into effect. 56

The extent of NASA's decline in congressional favor became evident that day on the House floor. During two hours of debate, Representative [102] Olin Teague (Dem., Tex.) presented a comprehensive defense of the agency's budget, including the $395 million his committee had recommended for AAP. Republicans professed support for space activities, but clearly felt that certain programs should be reduced. Representative James Fulton proposed to cut AAP funding to $253.2 million, the same as for FY 1968. His amendment, along with other reductions, passed by voice vote. Many representatives, like Donald Rumsfeld, regretted the action but thought it necessary to defer NASA programs in favor of others with higher priority.57

The Senate space committee considered the House cut too deep and recommended $350 million for Apollo Applications. On the floor, however, William Proxmire's proposal to reduce the NASA authorization by $1 billion failed by only five votes. Senate and House agreed on a figure just over $4 billion, with $253 million for Apollo Applications-about three-fifths the amount requested.58

NASA's authorization was still subject to the Revenue and Expenditure Control Act, which required the Johnson administration to refrain from spending $6 billion of its authorized funds. Exactly how this would affect NASA and AAP was uncertain; but on 20 June, the AAP office submitted a program based on $119 million in new funds. Saturn production lines were soon shut down. Webb instructed his management chief not to definitize any AAP contract, because "we have made it clear to the Congress . . . that we would not commit these funds until we [were] sure we were going forward with the AAP in some consistent and cohesive form. " 59

Far from being cohesive, the Apollo Applications Program now seemed about to come apart at the seams. Various expedients were considered to reduce costs: eliminating continuous occupation of the workshop, cutting back the number of experiments, and simplifying the experiment equipment. When solar scientists expressed serious misgivings about their participation under those conditions, NASA officials considered canceling the solar experiments altogether.60

The telescope-mount schedule had caused some unhappiness a year earlier when principal investigators from Harvard College Observatory and the Naval Research Laboratory indicated that they could not meet a 1969 launch date. Mueller had resolved matters temporarily by promising a second solar mission and securing the scientists' agreement to simplify their instruments (pp. 89 -90). In subsequent funding cuts, the second mission had disappeared and the launch date for the first had slipped to 1971. Understandably, the investigators lost some of their enthusiasm.61

On 16 May 1968, Leo Goldberg, director of the Harvard College Observatory, informed Harold Luskin, the new director of AAP, that he wanted to discontinue work on instrument HCO-C, a scanning ultraviolet spectrometer useful primarily for studying large flares during the [103] solar maximum, and to reinstate the original ultraviolet spectroheliometer (called HCO-A). Luskin replied that the ATM would be launched by June 1971 and directed Goldberg to continue work on HCO-C. Current plans were to stop funding for the HCO-A instrument, but NASA would attempt to review the Harvard proposal in June. Luskin's telegram was apparently the last straw for Goldberg, who vented his anger the following day in a letter to John Naugle. He reminded the head of OSSA that Harvard had agreed to fly the simplified experiment as a favor to NASA and with two stipulations: that Harvard would be able to fly its original instruments on a second ATM, and that the first mission would be launched in 1969. Under the latest schedule, however, the more versatile HCO-A would be almost completed when the solar mission was launched; and as Goldberg put it, "Based upon our past experience, I think you will agree that we [can expect] a further slippage of at least two to three months." With the ATM launch pushed back into 1971, two years past the solar maximum, the simpler instrument was no longer worth flying; in fact, the first mission "would be better off without it." Goldberg noted that the ATM was taking up a great deal of the observatory's time, leaving little for developing other interests. He concluded:

I think it is time to face up to the realization that our participation in the ATM project has been guided more by circumstance and expediency than by the requirements of first-rate science. If we do not jointly take the firm action now to reverse this trend we shall be doing astronomy and NASA both a great disservice.

By now OSSA was siding strongly with the scientists, and after Mueller made some other concessions to the ATM experimenters, Luskin agreed to stop work on the HCO-C and told Goldberg to proceed with the HCO-A. 62

Most of the other investigators seemed satisfied with the mission even if it flew as late as 1972, believing there would be sufficient solar activity well past the 1969 maximum. But the project was still in trouble. In July, Webb decided that NASA could no longer afford ATM and deleted its funding from the FY 1969 operating budget pending a full debate. Webb opened the review on 5 August with a few remarks about NASA's financial state. The appropriations bill had not yet cleared the Senate; it would be several more months before NASA had a firm budget. Until it did, he was setting a spending level of $3.8 billion and proceeding on a "course of peril." Half a dozen spokesmen then defended the ATM, both on its own merits and because of commitments that had been made to outside groups. Naugle praised Marshall's direction of the project, noting that there were no major unresolved technical problems. Floyd Thompson pointed out the program's technological importance; he [104] thought developments such as the control moment gyroscopes made the mission worthwhile, even if the science failed. Edward G. Gibson, an astronaut-physicist, said ATM would provide the first chance for an observer to apply his judgment to enhance the quality of space science. At last, Webb agreed to continue the ATM, but he was still concerned about winning congressional support. During the next few days, the FY 1969 operating budget was altered to provide $50 million for ATM's further development.63

 

THE WET WORKSHOP GOES DRY

 

Apollo Applications began the new fiscal year on 1 July 1968 uncle. conditions of real austerity. Most work was on a month-by-month basis, largely under letter contracts-an arrangement normally used only to get a contractor started on a project while a definitive contract was being negotiated. NASA's policy was to avoid letter contracts, which stipulated a level of effort and a limit of compensation; but in the uncertain climate of 1967 and 1968 they became common. By October 1968 there were 15 letter contracts covering AAP projects, including the airlock, the Saturn IBs, and the payload integration work.64

Webb had never been an enthusiast for AAP, and as the end of the decade approached and budgets tightened, his determination that it should not get in the way of Apollo intensified. Ever since the spacecraft fire he had concentrated his energies on ensuring the success of the lunar landing; when Congress reduced NASA's budget, Webb reprogrammed AAP funds to meet Apollo requirements. In 1968 he was "putting strong impedance in the system," as the AAP office saw it, by postponing all AAP procurement "unless there is a compelling urgency for the requirement." Apollo Applications, he told center directors in June, was nothing more than "a surge tank for Apollo."65

On 16 September 1968, however, Webb announced that he would retire early in October. His deputy, Thomas O. Paine, would take over as acting administrator. Paine had spent 19 years as a scientist and administrator with the General Electric Company before taking his first government job in January 1968. While he and Webb held generally similar views about the agency's future, Paine was more interested in post-Apollo programs. On 4 October he announced to his staff that AAP could proceed with some confidence. Anything done in the next several months to solidify the program would be beneficial; he suggested negotiating definitive contracts. Paine ended the meeting by encouraging his staff to "look for all ways to move faster."66

Although the change of leadership helped, successes in Apollo were at least equally important in getting AAP moving again. The October flight of Apollo 7, an 11 -day mission in earth orbit, redeemed the space [105] craft manufacturers and restored public confidence in NASA. For drama, however, nothing that had gone before surpassed Apollo 8's Christmas trip to the moon. By rekindling the country's enthusiasm for spaceflight, Apollo 8 did much to assure a post-Apollo program. The congressional space committees greeted NASA's budget in January 1969 with a warmth reminiscent of the early 1960s. In April the Nixon administration cut the AAP request by $57 million, but $252 million remained-enough to keep a modest program alive.67

When NASA had begun projecting its FY 1970 requirements in the fall of 1968, the mismatch between AAP schedules and prospective funding became severe. Marshall's allocation for Apollo Applications was only about two-thirds what the center needed to meet the current schedule. Houston's plight was worse; Gilruth estimated that AAP required 75% more than MSC was allotted for the program. Under these circumstances a dry workshop to follow the cluster missions seemed a luxury beyond the program's means. In a wire-service story in September, Webb indicated his doubts about post-Apollo plans. "We have no money for additional workshop flights," he said. "So after the first three missions we'll sit back and consider the next step. We could go to an interim step like the Saturn 5 workshop or we could begin planning for a multi-man space station, once again depending on the money available."68

When Paine became acting administrator, he too talked about a space station; but the idea got little support. President-Elect Richard Nixon set up a task force on space policy. In January 1969, this group recommended against committing the nation to a large space station. In February, the new president appointed a Space Task Group headed by Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew to make a more detailed study and report to him in September. The new administration was in no hurry to decide NASA's long-term future.69

At NASA Headquarters, interest in a dry workshop revived briefly in the first weeks of 1969. With payload weight and stowage space becoming critical for the cluster missions, the weight-lifting capacity of the Saturn V was too tempting to ignore any Longer, and the success of Apollo 8 raised the hope that a Saturn V could be spared from the Apollo program. John Disher presented a plan to use a Saturn V in place of a IB to the Management Council on 5 February; the intent was to cut the cost of the cluster missions by launching all the modules at once. Disher acknowledged that the change would "open a Pandora's box" of technical and administrative problems and that it might be seen as a recurrence of AAP's inability to define a program and stick with it. It would adversely affect costs, schedules, morale, and-worst of all-support from Congress, scientists, and the aerospace industry. When it became apparent in the ensuing discussion that no cost saving would result, the council shelved the plan.70

[106] In late April, Mueller told the Senate space committee that the progression from wet workshop to dry workshop to space station now appeared "inefficient and only marginally effective in advancing space technology.... the next step in earth-orbiting manned space flight must be a new, semi-permanent space station [and] a new low cost transportation capability"-that is, a reusable spacecraft to shuttle from earth to orbit and back. The AAP cluster missions would begin late in 1971 and end some time in 1972. The first module of a space station was expected to go into orbit by the mid-1970s, and in the following 10 years the modular station would be built up to its full size.71

Interest in the dry workshop was not completely dead, however. At Marshall, von Braun kept the idea alive; he did not want to risk losing the cluster missions or downgrading the experiment program on account of technical difficulties, and the weight and stowage problems refused to go away. At Houston, Max Faget was getting wind of continued interest in switching to the Saturn V. Pointing out that flying both a wet and dry workshop would be a lamentable waste of funds, he called Gilruth's attention to an MSC study on a dry workshop, implying that reconsideration might be in order. The center AAP managers did not concur. Lee Belew cited "substantial reasons for not changing from the present core program." After a meeting to examine the technical problems facing the wet workshop, Belew saw nothing to justify a change, and Houston's AAP manager agreed.72

Crosscurrents were running at Headquarters; Mueller now seemed inclined to change to a dry workshop, but the AAP staff was opposed. Talking with William C. Schneider,vi the new program director, Belew got the impression that he was under considerable pressure to change. Schneider felt that the dry workshop would be no cheaper and that a change would delay the first launch by at least a year; Belew gathered that Mueller hoped for yet a different approach.73

Belew, reporting these conversations to von Braun, was not unalterably opposed to the change; but he reminded von Braun of a few points that "sometimes get obscured with the light of something new shining in": all contracts would have to be rewritten and renegotiated, Grumman's work on the LM-ATM terminated, and Marshall's manpower assignments completely redistributed. It would be a massive job. The sheer inertia of a program as far along as the wet workshop was formidable.74

[107] Mueller kept the pressure on, at last convinced that the wet workshop was simply not practical and that only a dry workshop could save AAP. The weekend of 3-4 May he presented to center directors and program managers a completely new plan-an integrated program leading from AAP to the space station (and beyond), including three dry workshop flights between 1972 and 1974 that were expected to furnish fundamental information for the design of the station. He charged Schneider with defining the actions required to change the core program in case such a plan were approved. When the group reassembled the following week to hear Schneider's report, Marshall pointed out that an 18-month delay in the first launch was likely. MSC objected that the proposed program would only compete with the wet workshop and the shuttle studies for scarce funds. After a great deal of discussion, the group agreed to consider a different study: a mission using the dry workshop for AAP 2 only, followed by an improved dry workshop that would be revisited four times. Schneider developed a list of specific technical points to be assessed by the centers and called for a report by 15 June on the impact of shifting AAP to a dry workshop.75

On 15 May Belew reported preliminary findings from Marshall. With the benefit of several optimistic assumptions, a dry-launched workshop with integral ATM would entail a 10-month delay. Two complete sets of flight hardware would cost an extra $50 million to $100 million, and there would be added costs elsewhere for checkout, launch, and mission operations. The critical factor was getting a quick decision from Headquarters-Belew said it would have to be in 4-6 months. Above all, it was imperative to resist changes further down the line. He conceded that the dry workshop solved many problems and offered more confidence of success; but he pointed out that another major change could be demoralizing. Changes in experiments, mission plans, and program objectives had plagued Apollo Applications from the beginning; and the large payload capacity of the Saturn V would invite new experiments and encourage investigators to improve old ones, with costs going up and schedules slipping all the while. Belew saw no "technical show-stoppers" in the wet workshop program, and it could meet AAP's primary objectives. Considering all the problems that would arise, his center preferred not to change.76

There was an alternative, Belew said, which on brief examination looked better: simply shifting the present core program to a dry workshop with no other alterations or additions. This stood a good chance of meeting the current schedule and required little change in the design of the cluster modules. It removed some "very substantial" problems associated with using the S-IVB as a propulsive stage-problems that were giving Marshall more trouble than anticipated three years before. It meant using a Saturn V without taking advantage of its full payload capacity, [108] but that was the very thing that made it attractive: using that capacity entailed too much delay.77

On 21 May 1969, while the centers were still working on the impact of the shift to a dry workshop, Mueller presented four options for Management Council to consider as alternatives to the wet workshop. Alternatives 1 and 2 required a Saturn V to put up the cluster and a Saturn IB to orbit the crew and the telescope mount. Alternatives 3 and 4 launched the telescopes along with the cluster modules on a Saturn V and the crew on a IB. In each case there was the choice of using an AAP command and service module, the fuel cells of which could operate for 56 days, or a quiescent CSM, which was powered down after docking, its fuel cells producing just enough power to keep critical systems ready for a quick return to earth if necessary. In the discussion that followed, alternatives 1 and 4 emerged as clear favorites. The first-basically the minimum change dry workshop that Belew had described to Schneider-was technically inferior, but required fewer adjustments to the program. It was therefore the more salable, because alternative 4 required so many changes that it was, practically speaking, a new start. Mueller told the centers to report to him as soon as possible.78

During the following week first reactions crystallized into firm positions. Field centers and Headquarters preferred alternative 4 on technical grounds, but agreed that alternative 1 had the best prospects of acceptance by Paine and Congress. Von Braun's response first reaffirmed his conviction that no change was necessary; the wet workshop only needed some "hard-nosed scrubbing down" to get it on track. The dry workshop, however, was clearly superior. It would allow adding some experiments that had been put off because of weight and volume limitations. Although he clearly preferred alternative 4, von Braun feared that such a major change would lead to unwelcome examination by powers outside the agency.79

Schneider presented full details of the four Saturn-V options to Paine on 27 May. Alternative 1, backed by the centers, was estimated to cost about $50 million less over the entire program than alternative 4; but in the crucial fiscal years 1969 through 1971, alternative 4 showed a $200 million advantage. More impressive were the evaluations of probable success in accomplishing AAP objectives. The Saturn V cluster with the quiescent spacecraft outscored all other options and offered the hope of getting significantly more solar data as well. It was clearly OMSF's choice.80

Paine, conscious of the need to get Apollo Applications moving toward an attainable goal, concluded that the Saturn-V-launched dry workshop was the best choice available. He wrote to Senator Anderson that NASA was investigating the use of a Saturn V to launch both the workshop and the ATM; in view of the possibility of change, actions on [109] certain contracts would be held up temporarily. Schneider alerted the center program managers on 17 June to be ready with a dry workshop proposal for the July Management Council meeting. He expected alternative 4 to be the only option considered. In preparation for this meeting Schneider scheduled a review at Marshall on the 19th and a meeting with the executives of major AAP contractors the week of the 23d.81

Marshall had already started a dry-workshop study, which would not be complete until the end of the month, but by the 19th considerable information was available. This study was based on a configuration in which the ATM was mounted ahead of the multiple docking adapter on a hinged structure allowing the instruments to be swung out 90°. Marshall had produced favorable cost, schedule, and mission success projections for this configuration, which was quickly accepted. At the meeting with major contractors a consensus was easily reached on a launch date for planning purposes: July 1972.82

The decision to drop the wet workshop had effectively been made by the end of June. Formalization soon followed. Paine signed the project approval document change on 18 July 1969.83

In the meantime, action by the Pentagon had reduced the possibility that Congress might oppose the change. On 10 June the Defense Department announced termination of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory. The decision was made reluctantly, as $1.3 billion had already been spent on the program; but delays had increased the estimated cost to $3 billion, and MOL's continued funding threatened several smaller programs. MOL was a victim of technology as well as tight budgets. Since 1965 the Air Force had made large advances in the use of unmanned satellites for communications, meteorology, and observation, and the Manned Orbiting Laboratory was clearly obsolescent. The cancellation ended the Air Force's hopes for manned spaceflight and brought to a close a decade of political competition.84

Only one thing remained: positive assurance that a Saturn V would be available for Apollo Applications. Planners had assumed this as a matter of course, and Apollo 8, 9, and 10 had removed all but the faintest shadow of doubt; but until the landing was actually accomplished it was not prudent to suggest that Apollo did not need one of its launch vehicles. vii Public announcement of the change was delayed until Apollo 11 was on [110] its way home. On 22 July 1969, two days after the first lunar landing, the centers were formally directed to implement the dry workshop program.85 At the same time Schneider specified certain contract actions that were to be taken. Grumman's letter contract for lunar module modifications was to be terminated, as was the Allis-Chalmers subcontract to produce cryogenic tanks for the command-service module. Negotiations with North American on CSM modifications were to be suspended and a manpower limitation placed on that work while a reproposal was being arranged. Marshall was to amend McDonnell Douglas's contracts for the workshop and airlock, redirecting work toward the dry workshop. The impact on all experiments was to be examined and the necessary modifications made. Schneider then laid down a rule intended to avoid another endless parade of changes:

The basic objectives, tasks, experiments and mission durations will remain unchanged.... Only those changes which are dictated by the configuration modification to dry workshop are authorized.... All other desirable, but not required changes, will be discouraged and final disposition will be on specific merits.86

The decision was welcomed everywhere (except, probably, at those contractors whose AAP work was discontinued), nowhere more than at MSC. The Houston center, in fact, considered itself to have been the prime mover for the change-an attitude that was at least partially justified. Certainly MSC's antipathy toward the basic idea had kept attention focused on the wet workshop's faults; but the combination of technical problems and ever contracting budgets made the abandonment of the wet workshop virtually certain-at least in its ambitious form of early 1969. At Houston satisfaction with the change was moderated only by the delay in making the decision.87

Mueller followed the reorientation order with a letter to center directors on 28 July emphasizing the program's priorities. Flight safety was number one, with schedule and cost considerations close behind. The large payload capacity of the Saturn V was useful on both counts; it permitted heavier (and thus safer) components, eliminating the expensive test programs required by less conservative design. The increase in permitted launch weight had its dangers, however, and once more Mueller cautioned that the only allowable changes were those dictated by the change from wet to dry. (The requirement to operate medical experiments in the multiple docking adapter, for example, no longer applied.) No others would be made except by specific authorization of the program director in Washington. Mueller stressed the need to arrive quickly at a firm configuration, avoiding delays and elaboration of the program.88 Taken with Schneider's telegram of the 22d, this letter established a [111] minimum-change, minimum-cost philosophy that would produce some misunderstandings as the definition of the dry workshop matured.

At Marshall it was realized that the change was probably inevitable and, without doubt, technically desirable. Still, Belew argued that the wet workshop could-and should-have been carried through to a successful conclusion. This attitude might have contained a trace of parochialism, but much more was involved. The dry workshop imposed a great deal of extra work that could not be handled with the manpower available. Marshall had lost more than 600 positions in agency-wide cutbacks early in 1968 and had adjusted its AAP workload accordingly. Now new items of hardware had to be built (the payload shroud and the ATM deployment mechanism) and new analysis, design, and testing had to be done. The integrated launch configuration meant that all workshop and ATM components had to be delivered at once; previously there had been a six-month gap between the two, allowing manpower to be shifted from one to the other. Marshall's assessment showed at least a six-month postponement of launch if all of this work had to be done in-house. Belew accordingly proposed to have several major jobs done by outside contractors, which course was ultimately followed.89

 

RETROSPECT AND PROSPECT

 

With the decision made and the program defined (except for one set of experiments that would shortly be added), no one had much time to reflect on the program's short but eventful history. AAP had come a long way from the simple proposal of 1965 to get inside an empty S-IVB tank and conduct some experiments. Whether that exercise could have been done, or would have proved worth doing, is debatable; it seemed like a good idea at the time. Probably no one foresaw that this simple exercise would grow into the first major post-Apollo program; but it came along at a time when circumstances forced it into that role.

James Webb, determined to fulfill the commitment to the lunar landing, could see no clear mandate for a space program to follow that achievement Lacking such a mandate-and he had sought it, without success-he declined to press for a program of his own choosing. Possibly he felt that was for his successor to do. Possibly he felt that a national commitment to another program like Apollo could not be sustained; certainly his deputy, Hugh Dryden, had been sure that it could not.90

George Mueller saw an imperative in NASA's founding legislation: to build and maintain an unexcelled capability to operate in space for the national interest. Under that axiom he could not envision allowing the Saturn-Apollo technological accomplishment to be dissipated. If no clear mandate was forthcoming, then utilization of that enormous investment was mandatory until the next step could be defined. When the time came [112] to keep that capability alive, the wet workshop was what Mueller had and he determined to make the best use of it. As circumstances changed, he adjusted his program-postponing launch dates, trimming the experiment program, reducing the number of flights, shifting the work load between centers-to make the best use of his resources. Those resources dwindled alarmingly as AAP was caught in a period of rising inflation and increasing disillusion with sophisticated-and to some, pointless- technology. Mueller was, besides, in basic disagreement with elements of his own organization, especially MSC, where it was thought that the whole program had been conceived hind end foremost. That disagreement, however, kept attention directed at the program's weaknesses and eventually contributed to remedying them.

Webb left NASA at a critical time for Apollo Applications; and Tom Paine, trying for an ambitious space venture after the moon, saw his efforts come to naught in the face of public antipathy and presidential apathy. His attempt, however, probably provided the impetus to make the program's key decision, the change to the dry workshop. Mueller stayed on until late 1969, seeing Apollo through the first two lunar landings and Apollo Applications on the road to success. Speaking at the centers as he left, Mueller expressed confidence that the new, integrated plan would be the basis for NASA's future and that what was to be learned from the dry workshop would be of great importance to everything that would follow

The decade of Apollo came to an end as Apollo Applications geared up to carry out the dry workshop missions-only three manned flights now, a 28-day mission scheduled for mid-1972, a 56-day flight in October of that year, and a final 56-day mission early in 1973. Responsibilities were defined and the organization was set up to allow the two major centers to work together, which they would now do with better understanding than before. There would still be plenty of disagreements, but Huntsville and Houston were agreed on the basic purpose of the missions and ready to get on with them.


i Baselining means defining a point of departure-for hardware, mission, or program-to which subsequent changes are related.

ii Bellcomm was a subsidiary of American Telephone & Telegraph, created to perform independent systems analyses for OMSF and otherwise assist in making technical decisions. Numbering about 200 people, Bellcomm performed many evaluations of Apollo, AAP, and Skylab.

iii Funds are committed when agency officials agree among themselves to spend a certain amount of money on a given task. Subsequently, when the agency contracts with an outsider, the funds are said to be obligated. The former is a budgeting or bookkeeping exercise, the latter is legally binding.

iv A kluge is an assemblage of unrelated parts which, in spite of not being designed to fit together, performs the intended function.

v This idea dated back to the original plans for Apollo (see pp. 12-13); it was included in the statement of work for the Apollo spacecraft in 1961.

vi Schneider had taken over Apollo Applications in Dec. 1968, following 18 months as Apollo mission director. Born in New York City and educated at MIT and the University of Virginia, Schneider had joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, NASA's predecessor, in 1949. He was a veteran of Gemini and his work on Apollo 8 had earned him NASA's highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal.

vii It had taken all of James Webb's power of persuasion to convince Congress and the BOB that Apollo required at least 15 Saturn V launch vehicles, and he would tolerate no suggestion that any could be used for something else. In November 1966 a national magazine quoted von Braun to the effect that if all went well the fourth Saturn V might be sent to the moon in 1968. Webb directed him to back down from that position as soon as possible. Webb to von Braun, 17 Dec. 1966. Until the Apollo lunar mission was successful-and as long as Webb was administrator-AAP could not plan for the use of a Saturn V.


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