SP-4310 Way Station to Space

 

- Chapter 8 -

Growing Pains

 

 

[153] Recovery

The morning after Hurricane Camille, Mississippi Test Facility (MTF) employees opened their eyes and saw that their worst nightmares had come true. But the wreckage of the killer storm could not dampen their spirits. And Jackson Balch and his crew continued to reach for the "impossible dream" of securing the future of the MTF, while helping local citizens recover from the hurricane. Before the fruits of their labors were realized, however, the NASA crew and their community friends had to win the fight of their lives and suffer growing pains of great proportions as their empty office and laboratory spaces were filled with new and unfamiliar residents.1

Indeed, Balch's optimistic observation, "It's an ill- wind that blows no good," had a ring of truth. Help came from all quarters to lift the NASA employees and their Gulf Coast neighbors out of the 26-mile-long pile of debris. The bond between the NASA-MTF employees and local citizens [154] strengthened as everyone worked together to rebuild their Gulf Coast communities and find new missions for the ailing test site.2

 

Camille Recovery

As the recovery process got underway, Gulf Coast residents looked to NASA, with its technology, expertise, and facilities, to help guide the recovery process. Senator Stennis, Governor Williams, von Braun, NASA Administrator Thomas Paine, and even President Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994) looked to Balch and the MTF organization to lead the way. Although a large number of the MTF government and contractor workers suffered severe losses, even deaths in their families, their proven expertise qualified them to oversee the rebuilding on the Coast.3

At dawn on 18 August 1969, when he came out of his Pass Christian home, Balch could see the extent of the hurricane damage. Balch stated, "...I could see the awesome destruction surrounding what was left of my home. Other homes, belonging to neighbors, were completely gone. I immediately started searching and found that many had lost their lives." Just a few blocks from his shattered residence, Balch discovered that 29 residents died during the total destruction of the Richelieu Apartments. Balch remembered that by midmorning no help came, nor was any apparently forthcoming. He decided the only help available was at the NASA-MTF. Walking about 2 miles to the Bay of St. Louis bridge, he climbed over the "mountain of debris" left by the 27-foot tidal wave. On the west (Bay St. Louis) side of the bridge, he borrowed a car and drove 24 miles to the MTF for help.4

 


[
155]

This scene of destruction was typical of the damage left by Hurricane Camille when it ravaged the Mississippi Gulf Coast in August 1969.

This scene of destruction was typical of the damage left by Hurricane Camille when it ravaged the Mississippi Gulf Coast in August 1969. The eye of the storm passed directly over the Bay of St.Louis and killed or injured hundreds of Gulf Coast residents. (SSC-97-032).

 

Balch, arrived at the site at approximately 2:30 p.m. and immediately called Wernher von Braun. He described the disaster in graphic detail, and he told von Braun the devastation on the Gulf Coast was much like that suffered by German cities following massive Allied bombing raids in World War II. Von Braun stayed up all that night, helping pack one of the first truckloads of emergency equipment for the people on the Gulf Coast.5

Using NASA security vehicles, Balch led a caravan with supplies, such as water, medical equipment, and basic personal items, to the west end of the Bay of St. Louis bridge, which was impassable by vehicle. Balch and his helpers then carried the heavy, 10-gallon jugs of water and other supplies to the east end (Pass Christian side) of the bridge for distribution. The arduous path over the debris, piled several feet high, was difficult and dangerous. Balch then took Wayne Mooneyhan, Roy Estess, and others on an assessment [156] survey of the area. The MTF group, however, first held a planning session during which Balch named Wayne Mooneyhan his deputy for the ravaged Pass Christian community. Balch then gave Roy Estess the job of caring for the refugees in the area. He appointed other MTF employees to handle the clearing of streets and distribution of food, clothing, and other supplies.6

Balch mobilized his entire workforce to assist the Gulf Coast communities. Once the community assistance groups were functioning, Balch organized the MTF Camille Recovery Task Force, which had the primary purpose of attending to the needs of MTF employee victims of the hurricane. The task force included government and contractor managers, who were responsible for providing MTF personnel with housing, schooling, counseling, household goods, transportation, and community support. Of the total number of the MTF employees, seven either lost their lives or suffered a death in the family; 632 had extensive or total property loss; and 440 required emergency financial aid. The estimated property loss to the MTF employees was $7.6 million.7

The MTF task force worked around the clock in Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, and Long Beach. The MTF served as a communications center for the entire Mississippi coast because 90 percent of the communications lines were down. Hundreds of the MTF employees reported to work and volunteered for the disaster relief work crews. Dr. Jim Howell, MTF medical director, worked long hours with his staff during the week following Camille, treating 1,748 employees and evacuees. Ted LaMunyon later observed that Balch's emergency organization did a "remarkable job."8

Governor Williams declared martial law for the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast, an order that included all aspects of the government, except the court system. He quickly formed the Governor's Emergency Council (GEC), an agency responsible for overseeing all forms of federal, state, and local assistance. Recognizing the expertise and facilities available at the MTF, Williams called on Balch and his workers to continue their critical role in the recovery [157] operations. Later, GEC formalized the request in a resolution. The GEC resolution further requested the MTF "provide planning, coordinating, and review of projects and actions related to the recovery, rehabilitation, and future development of the Gulf Coast." And, furthermore, the resolution asked Governor Williams to request the President of the United States to assign the MTF the job of helping oversee the recovery. As a result, the MTF was given the assignment in coordination with the GEC by President Nixon.9

The MTF was not alone as it faced the crisis after Camille. Help poured in from sister NASA installations, from NASA Headquarters, and from contractor corporate organizations. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) employees sent three truckloads of food and clothing and $1,200 for the MTF employees. Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) employees raised $35,744 to help NASA-MTF workers, with von Braun personally organizing the fund-raising drive. 10

 


Henry Auster briefs visiting astronauts John Young (left) and Charles Duke (center) high atop the S-IC test stand during their 1969 <<morale boosting>> visit to the Mississippi Test Facility (MTF) shortly after Hurricane Camille.

Henry Auster briefs visiting astronauts John Young (left) and Charles Duke (center) high atop the S-IC test stand during their 1969 "morale boosting" visit to the Mississippi Test Facility (MTF) shortly after Hurricane Camille. The astronauts were among many notables who came to help and cheer up the workforce and their community neighbors after the hurricane struck 17 August 1969.

National leaders arrived on the Gulf Coast to offer their moral support to Camille's victims. The President flew into Gulfport on Air Force One and met with Governor Williams and the entire Mississippi congressional delegation. Nixon promised that the nation would support the recovery effort and predicted "that the people of Mississippi, particularly in the area of great [158] devastation, will come up from this destruction. You will rise from it and be a greater people than before."11

As communications lines were re-established across the 28-mile stretch of destruction, sad statistics grew in the coastal counties. The number of dead reached 144, with 27 people missing, and 541 seriously injured. Damaged or destroyed were 36,362 homes and 693 businesses, and the estimated damage total reached $1.2 billion.12

The unselfish and dedicated work of the MTF employees brought words of grateful appreciation from the President and the NASA Headquarters bosses. Nixon, in a letter to NASA Administrator Paine, expressed his appreciation of the MTF employees. "The record of what has been done is one which the entire nation greatly admires and deeply appreciates," Nixon said. Astronauts John Young and Charles Duke came to the MTF to thank the workers for their attention to the space mission, even while recovering from losses the hurricane incurred.13

 

A Blow From Huntsville

While the MTF employees were still recovering from the hurricane, the MSFC managers announced on 28 September 1969 that future Saturn V static tests at the MTF would be eliminated "because of dwindling budgets and to make way for advanced programs." The announcement was made following a 2- 1/2-hour MSFC "administrative" meeting and was made public in The Huntsville (Alabama) Times. William Tier, MSFC deputy director for program management, said that NASA was eliminating static firings in an effort to "push the Saturn V program away from research and development toward a 'production mode'."14

[159] The announcement shocked and angered Senator Stennis, the MTF personnel, and local community leaders. Everyone found the decision "uncaring and irresponsible" in the wake of the Camille tragedy. The untimely news proved embarrassing for Stennis, President Nixon, and NASA Administrator Paine, who had just pledged their future assistance for the MTF and Gulf Coast communities. Before von Braun and Paine could be reached for comment, the news was quickly spread by Mississippi and Louisiana newspapers. The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune carried a headline that read "Mississippi Facility May Be Erased - Space Engineers Feel It Is No Longer Needed." Other newspapers ran headlines that read "Future of Hancock Test Facility Eyed," "MTF May Be Closed Says Paper," and "NASA To Abandon Facility." Senator Stennis was placed in an awkward position with his constituency, and President Nixon and high-ranking NASA officials seemed to be portrayed as "callous and insensitive."15

The MSFC announcement that the MTF would be "erased" hit the streets while Jackson Balch and Van King were dining with Bill Spell, Senator Stennis's aide, at a Washington, D.C., restaurant. King said they were all "shocked" as they heard the news. Balch had just finished observing that NASA "would not close [the] MTF in the face of Camille." Stennis reacted to the news by issuing a strong statement the following day, 29 September 1969, discounting the report that the MTF would be closed. He said that activity would continue on a "high level."16

Balch's early work in contacting other federal and state agencies in an effort to attract them to the MTF gave Stennis some ammunition to answer the negative news of a possible closing of the test site. Stennis said in his statement that the MTF "would not only operate as part of the space program, but that other programs from other federal agencies are certain to be located [at the MTF]." The Mississippi senator stated that NASA Administrator Paine had assured the MTF employees and citizens of the Gulf Coast, immediately after Camille, that the MTF had a "long- term future." Paine told the MTF [160] employees during his August visit that a high-ranking group, comprised of the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, President's science advisor, the Vice-President, and himself, was completing a report to present to the President. This report would hopefully cause discussions regarding future growth of the MTF and the Gulf Coast. "It is very clear to us that the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and this general area is not going to be abandoned," Paine had told the MTF employees.17

In an effort at "damage control," NASA issued positive stories in the Huntsville area about the MTF's future. B.J. Riche wrote in The Birmingham (Alabama) News on 8 October that NASA was laying out plans to ensure that MTF employees would keep their jobs "at least through the mid-1970s." Riche said the MSFC officials were "considering ways to test-fire engines and stages of the proposed reusable Space Shuttle." The Riche story, however, pointed out a strong drawback to the MTF-Shuttle proposition - Congress had not yet approved the funds for it. The Birmingham News article pointed out that NASA had invited other agencies to study the MTF to see if they could their put programs there. Only the Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA), however, had made use of the facility.18

The controversy following the 28 September 1969 MSFC announcement that the MTF would be "erased" can now be seen as a "tempest in a teapot," but it did attract the swift attention of Senator Stennis, the President, and NASA Headquarters to the MTF plight. Why the possible closing of the MTF was discussed in such bleak times, immediately following Camille, is still not clear. Possibly, the individuals who made the statements were politically naive, or the tragedy of Camille had not yet registered with them. Nevertheless, the fracas was an omen of "things to come" and provided Balch with even keener insight into the ways the political power structure within NASA could and would be manipulated. Consequently, Balch set out to turn the future of the MTF around, since he seemed to have the support of some powerful allies.19

 

[161] A Strategy For The Future

After seeing the quick results his political friends could produce, Balch observed to his MTF colleagues that "the stars are right" to bring new resident agencies to the MTF. The Mississippi-Louisiana congressional delegations were among the most important in the nation. Stennis, his number-one ally, was now chairman of the Armed Services Committee and fourth-ranking member of the Aeronautical and Space Sciences Committee; Senator James O. Eastland, senior senator from Mississippi, was chairman of the Judiciary Committee and third-ranking member of the Agriculture and Forestry Committee; and Representative William M. Colmer of Mississippi, Fifth Congressional District (home of the MTF), was chairman of the Rules Committee.20

In addition, to strong Mississippi support, Balch found an equally impressive congressional delegation across the Pearl River in Louisiana. The proximity and connection of the MTF to the Michoud Plant in New Orleans and the Slidell Computer Complex provided major reasons for Louisiana congressional support. The strong Louisiana delegation included Senator Allen Ellender, chairman of the Appropriations Committee; Senator Russell Long, vice chairman of the Joint Committee On Revenue Taxation; Representative F. Edward Herbert, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee; and Representative Hale Boggs, the Democratic Whip.21

Although the powerful delegations of Mississippi and Louisiana provided sufficient congressional influence, Balch found another friend in Senator John L. McClellan, chairman of the Government Operations Committee. In addition, Governor Dale Bumpers of Arkansas was interested in joining his state's technical forces with the new MTF environmental movement. With Mississippi Governor Williams and Louisiana Governor John J. McKeithen supportive of the MTF, Balch had political backing during his search for new missions, thanks in part to the fact that both Mississippi and Louisiana had offices, representing their universities and State governments located at the facility. Balch made sure his political friends were fully informed and aware of what the "new MTF" had to offer in [162] economic growth and jobs. The Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas politicians who were connected to the MTF, also had appreciation and admiration for Jackson Balch, a maverick who was apparently not afraid to go outside the bureaucratic chain of command to accomplish his idealistic mission.22

With powerful Democrats controlling key committees and the purse strings of Congress, President Nixon, a Republican who needed support for his programs, paid particular attention to the needs of the Balch group in Mississippi. And, to the chagrin of the MTF rivals at the MSFC and its skeptics at NASA Headquarters, the Mississippi outpost held one of the keys, through Stennis, to the funding success in Congress of the Space Shuttle Program.23

Before Hurricane Camille, Balch and his group sought new missions and new tenants in random fashion, with a basic concentration on agencies with interests similar to the MTF's own pursuits. Generally, Balch considered his thrust to be in the environmental and oceanographic disciplines. His strategy was to work, as much as possible, within the NASA structure, and not be prohibited from going outside the chain of command. Most of his "outside" efforts were through the office of Senator Stennis. After scoring some success immediately after Camille, and gaining recognition for the MTF's work in assisting the devastated communities, Balch began to develop a strategy to broaden his reach and influence.24

After Hurricane Camille, Balch became selective about the type of disciplines he wanted to come to the MTF. For instance, he developed a concept that satellite-based technology could be a panacea for oceanographic and environmental research. He believed the development of satellites was the most important contribution NASA made to the world of science. Lecturing his staff and potential tenants he would hold his hands up in a level position and graphically depict "satellites," claiming that "The place to study the interactions of the weather, the oceans, and the land masses on Earth is from this new platform of space provided to us by the use of satellites. We can learn more [163] about our problems from this vantage point, looking down at the Earth from space." His concept of creating a utopia of scientists, working across disciplines, bureaucratic agencies, and state boundary lines covered practically every federal agency engaged in the study and regulation of space, Earth, and the oceans. His vision for the MTF appealed to "working" scientists and technical managers and made sense to the politicians who were dealing with shrinking federal budgets.25

Balch and his spunky team, comprised of a new breed of scientist-engineers, discovered an important phenomenon during their support of the Barbados Oceanographic Meteorological Experiment (BOMEX). The many scientific entities involved shared a common, technical weakness. They were fairly adept at acquiring data, but were unable to reduce the data into a format that could be analyzed and studied. When King, Estess, and other members of the MTF team began their marketing endeavors, they found this common weakness existed within technical agencies all across the country. This discovery offered the MTF the chance to "sell" its services and facilities to other agencies. After all, a major strength at the MTF was the ability to acquire thousands of bits of data from a rocket static-firing and reduce the information to a format that could be studied to certify a rocket flightworthy. The proven track record of the MTF in Project Apollo was well known to potential customers looking for expertise and for facilities in which to conduct their research.26

Balch committed himself and his staff to a rigorous study of government manuals, almanacs, trade publications, congressional directories, and popular books and magazines. He also encouraged his "marketeers" to read advertisements in trade magazines to "get the flavor" of a particular science such as oceanography. He recommended such books as Rachel Carson's The Silent Spring, Alvin Toffler's Future Shock, and Desmond Morris's The Naked Ape. Part of his own reading diet was the encyclopedia, which he devoured with the same zest some readers have for a popular adventure novel. His goal was to turn "smoke and fire" rocket engineers into hybrid-type scientists of many [164] disciplines. And, from the success of the small, approximately 100 people, NASA-MTF element, in snaring new business, Balch's "quick course" in relevant science seemed to pay off.27

Balch's practical planning efforts knew no bounds, as he reached out to some of the nation's foremost thinkers through GE, university study contracts, and government managers recommended by his political friends. The GE contract at the MTF was part of a much larger Apollo support effort, with strong ties back to the GE corporate offices and extensive, well-known laboratories. Through GE in the autumn of 1969, Balch was able to tap into GE's renowned think-tank TEMPO, which had a national reputation for technical planning and management research. Dr. Paine, NASA Administrator, was a former vice president of GE and was pleased that Balch secured a study contract with TEMPO that further focused a mission concept for the MTF. Balch later confided he was disappointed that Paine did not take a more active role in assisting the MTF in its endeavors.28

The GE TEMPO report proposed several alternative uses of the MTF: (1) a nuclear power-generation complex, (2) an aviation-oriented complex, and (3) a co-located environmental sciences, education development, and metro-systems management support base. The first two alternatives had some merit, but the lead-time for their establishment was 5 to 10 years. The Balch group felt the third recommended mission, the environmental complex, best fit with the MTF marketing group's own findings and the national need for coordination of the fragmented environmental efforts of government agencies and private activities. And the MTF could pursue the environmental goal immediately.29

Finding few to assist him within the NASA leadership, Balch developed his own contacts in the scientific world. In the process, he cultivated relationships and even friendships with some of the nation's foremost scientists and technical managers. Balch corresponded and met with such notables as Dr. H. Guyford Stever, director, National Science Foundation; Dr. James Wakelin, chairman of the President's Commission on Oceanography; Dr. [165] Robert White, and Dr. George Kavanaugh, assistant general manager, Atomic Energy Commission; Dr. Edwin Shykind, director, President's Marine Science Council; Dr. James M. Sharp, president, Gulf Universities Research Corporation; Dr. P.T. Bankston, director, Mississippi Office of Science and Technology; and Robert S. Finley, director, Louisiana State Science Foundation.30

During the search for new business and missions, Balch used a system that allowed him to work outside the NASA chain of command, which greatly aggravated his bosses at the MSFC and the Headquarters. Once he found the proper person to contact, he would draft a letter for Stennis, Ellender, Colmer, or others and "introduce himself" through the politician. His political allies would sign the letter and forward it to the person Balch wanted to visit or contact. When Balch received an answer, he would take the correspondence to his NASA superiors and point out that "someone must react." After many embarrassments, NASA officials stopped accompanying Balch and let him and his staff go about their business.31

Balch's political connections, however, extended beyond simple letter writing. Many of Balch's closest associates at the MTF were able to exert unusual pressure on the MSFC and the Headquarter's officials. For example, King remembered one instance when he was briefing a Headquarters's official in Washington. King kept getting interrupted by an MSFC person who was sent to "monitor" his presentation. After awhile, King yelled "Shut up!" at the monitor. The Headquarters's officials chuckled and encouraged King to continue. On more than one occasion during meetings in Washington with the Administrator and other high-ranking NASA officials, Stennis put an arm around Balch's shoulders in an affectionate hug and said, "This is my man." The NASA leadership received the powerful Senator's message.32

With interest stimulated by BOMEX and contacts by Stennis, Balch, and his staff, toward the end of 1969 elements began showing an interest in the MTF toward the [166] end of 1969. They included the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, the National Oceanographic Instrumentation Center of the Navy's oceanographic office, and the USGS Earth Resources Observation Program. In addition, Balch practically gained a commitment from the Coast Guard's data buoy project. The deal for the project to move to the MTF might have been consummated sooner, except for Hurricane Camille. In fact, the morning after Camille, Balch called the project's chief, Captain Peter Morrill, and told him in a depressed and distraught voice, "Don't come down to the Gulf Coast, it's gone!" Balch's troubling opinion of the state of the Mississippi Gulf Coast proved to be the description of a temporary condition.33

Although devastating at first, the long-term results of the hurricane had a positive influence on the MTF employees. The storm functioned as a catalyst for the renewal of a commitment to excellence. A source of encouragement serving to strengthen the MTF employee dedication came just before Christmas in 1969, when ESSA Administrator Robert M. White awarded a plaque and citation to the MTF and the MSFC for "outstanding contributions to the success of BOMEX, the most extensive study ever conducted on energy exchanges between ocean and atmosphere." Balch received the plaque from Dr. White on behalf of his NASA-MTF organization and the MSFC. Von Braun, obviously pleased at the success of Jackson Balch and the MTF, stated that "this excellent demonstration of significant contributions in fields other than rocket testing certainly enhances the position of the MTF, as well as NASA." As a result, the decade of the 1960s ended on a positive note for Balch and his MTF team. The years were, indeed, a time of "triumph and tragedy," building the giant center in the swamps, testing for the Moon mission, destruction by Camille, and venturing into the scientific world in search for new missions. 34

 

[167] A Storm Brews In Washington

A low-key observation by Philip E. Culbertson, NASA Headquarters director of Advanced Mission Programs, in early January 1970, indicated that another storm brewing in Washington could seriously affect the MTF's future. In the early days of NASA's struggle with a shrinking budget, Culbertson said, "Some very difficult decisions are going to have to be made, and NASA will be among those agencies which have to limit expenditures in a number of desirable areas." In answering a question asked about the fate of the MTF, Culbertson replied, "You have already seen one result of these decisions in the announcement of the shutdown of our Electronics Research Center in Boston. There will very possibly be other areas which are similarly affected. Whether or not the MTF will be among them I have no way of knowing, but we are going to have to be very careful in these considerations and arrive at a decision which will preserve the capability to move forward."35

NASA Administrator Paine announced on 14 January 1970 that huge cutbacks in the number of space workers nationwide and massive budget cuts would be included in Nixon's 27 January budget message to Congress. Paine said the shrinking workforce would be cut by an additional 50,000 people. And the former NASA budget of $5.176 billion in 1966 would not be more than $3.6 billion in fiscal year 1971. Even though his plans to conserve the space agency's funds included stretching out Saturn V flights, Paine said there were no plans to shut down the Michoud plant in New Orleans or the MTF, where the Saturn V stages were tested.36

The lean diet had already begun to take its toll at the MTF with its workforce down to just under 2,000 workers. North American Rockwell at the MTF, for instance, had reduced its force to 400 people working 40 hours to one shift, 5 days a week. During its peak Apollo testing at MTF, North American employed over 600 workers on three shifts, 7 days a week. Senator Stennis remained optimistic, saying, "It is not hopeless for MTF; there will be more testing at the site, perhaps in connection with some new programs." Apparently, Stennis believed that the MTF would play a major [168] role in the Space Shuttle program being widely discussed in Washington and in the aerospace industry.37

At the time of Administrator Paine's statement in Washington, Balch was briefing Presidential advisors on the potential of the MTF for future scientific programs. Dr. James Wakelin, chairman of the President's Committee on Oceanography, and more than a dozen noted scientists spent the day with Balch and his staff. Balch took time to inform members of the media that he could not comment on Paine's statement about the "slowing down of the NASA program." He also said that testing the Saturn V stages would "involve MTF throughout 1970." It is interesting to note that Balch's search for new missions, as early as 1967, was not initiated any too soon.38

Culbertson's remarks in 1970 concerning the unknown fate of the MTF were overshadowed by Paine's appointment on 20 January of a special task force, with Jackson Balch as head, to study the MTF utilization. Balch immediately called his staff together, giving the lead role to Van King. King divided his report on the MTF's "2-year search" for new business into three categories: active, dormant, and possible. The federal and state agencies in King's findings included several that came to the MTF as residents in some type of organization. These agencies included NASA's Earth Resources Technology Satellite Program and the Earth Resources Aircraft Program; Federal Water Pollution Control Administration; USGS's Oil Pollution Control and Survey program and the Earth Resources Observation Systems program; National Oceanographic Instrumentation Center; Naval Weather Command; U.S. Coast Guard's National Data Buoy program; and Bureau of Commercial Fisheries. In his report to Balch, King pointed out there was confusion due to the Headquarters, MSFC, and MTF personnel contacting the same agency. This was harming the search for new business and slowed commitments from potential tenants. At this time, the MTF was still working under the MSFC Industrial Operations; therefore, representatives from that organization, and its director's office, and the Headquarters could all become involved in negotiating with a prospective agency. Through this lack of coordination, King felt that interested parties were confused and uninformed.39

[169] Although Administrator Paine and his staff were working diligently with Balch and the MTF team, NASA seemed to be plagued with inopportune and uncoordinated public announcements. NASA Deputy Administrator Dr. George Low, during a trip to Huntsville on 3 February 1970, made a long-remembered announcement that the MTF would be reduced to "a caretaker status," employing no more than 150-200 persons. The announcement was made at the MSFC and was piped on an audio line to the MTF, where employees and members of the local press heard the bad news. Dr. Low also pointed out that "only 500 workers" would be reduced at the MSFC. At the time, the MTF had nearly 2,000 employees, and Low's continued employment prediction of 150-200 meant that 1,800 MTF employees would be without jobs. This was seen as a catalyst for economic disaster in an already ailing community that had not really begun to recover from Camille. The Tupelo (Mississippi) Daily Journal explained that the "economy of Hancock County, Bay St. Louis, Waveland, Slidell, Picayune, and, to a lesser degree, other communities in the coast area are closely tied to [the] MTF and the 2,000 employees of that facility."40

The Low announcement provided a "deja vu" experience for all concerned with the facility. Congressmen from Mississippi and Louisiana began immediately to protest the "planned mothballing of MTF." Senators Eastland and Stennis of Mississippi and Long and Ellender of Louisiana, plus Representatives Gillespie "Sonny" Montgomery and William "Bill" Colmer of Mississippi and Hale Boggs of Louisiana all pledged to work for future business for the MTF. The White House issued a statement that the federal government would make "every effort to locate other sources of employment during this phaseout period and have them ready to move in when the mothballing time arrives." The political forces backing the MTF picked up additional support from Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana, chairman of the Senate Public Works Disaster Relief Committee. Bayh was on the Gulf Coast conducting hearings when Dr. Low's announcement was made. Bayh said "Every consideration will be made to help relieve problems which may be caused locally by such [national] NASA cutbacks."41

The Low announcement resulted in a focused effort of congressional and executive support for new and expanded missions for the MTF. The reality of [170] a shrinking NASA budget, the plight of the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast, and the dwindling workforce at the MTF produced an urgency not felt earlier. Congressman Colmer told local citizens that "Senators Stennis, Eastland, and I are continuing our best efforts to lessen the tragic impact that would result from any attrition in employment." Colmer pointed out that they were "working on specific installations such as the Coast Guard, Oceanography Center, Department of Transportation experiments, and Gulf Universities Research project." Stennis took an even stronger and more optimistic stance when he stated, "I am exerting all possible efforts to see that this facility will continue to operate with some active federal program."42

NASA officials knew that the powerful Senator from Mississippi was extremely supportive of the MTF and was always vocal on affairs that affected the site. In addition, the Headquarters's managers knew the forward-thinking solon was one of NASA's most potent and consistent backers. With the support of such a strong ally, it is difficult to see why "dire announcements" concerning the MTF kept coming from the MSFC and the Headquarters. In all fairness to NASA Headquarters's officials, the Agency was faced with its most difficult budget crisis. Occurring in January 1970 during the Nixon administration, the crisis followed the first lunar landing in the midst of changing national priorities.43

The total budget outlay proposed for NASA in fiscal year 1971 was $3.4 billion, which was $436 million less than in fiscal year 1970 - a 12 percent decrease. Actually, the budget wound up at a lower figure - 3.381 billion. Thousands of contractor and civil service personnel were cut back nationwide. The agency was trying to stay afloat in the waning days of Project Apollo and, at the same time, start anew with the Space Shuttle program. During the buildup of Project Apollo, NASA built a massive infrastructure to support its programs. With the Vietnam War continuing to escalate and increasing national inflation, money for space exploration was decreasing dramatically. In response to expected reductions in funding, Paine and his budget managers had to make severe and unpopular decisions. In many cases, popular programs and installations fully funded a few years earlier were cut [171] from the budget. To compound the dilemma, Paine and his managers were caught between the President needing funds for the Vietnam War and the funds needed for the new environmental programs. A number of strong members of Congress, such as Stennis, wanted to keep their new-found pro-space constituency intact. With these factors in mind, astute managers such as Paine often tried to manipulate the system to provide enough funds to keep the Agency viable.44

Since Balch had already begun his move to transform the MTF into a multi-agency center for environmental and oceanographic studies, his strongest competition from sibling NASA elements existed in the Test Complex at the MTF, where the big rocket propulsion hardware was tested. Although Balch was both preoccupied and fascinated by the science agencies, he knew the MTF needed to remain a NASA facility - with rocket testing as its main focus - in order to sustain the huge $350 million installation. Thus, Balch's thrust for new missions continued outside NASA, while, at the same time, he kept an eye on the Space Shuttle program developments. Balch did so because he recognized the shuttle program as a sustaining project, until the environmental-oceanographic centers at the MTF developed to the point the facility could be self-sustaining. Administrator Paine knew Balch's strategy from discussions with Balch and from his own contacts at GE. The Administrator worked hard to help Balch in his search for new programs, as the other NASA centers were not similarly self-driven and they wanted continued funding from the dwindling NASA budget. A healthy respect was earned for the MTF for their efforts during the "hard times" of the early 1970s.45

 

A War of Words

As the MTF Balch-driven scheme heated up, a flurry of executive correspondence was exchanged between Balch, Stennis, Ellender, Paine, and the White House. Because of NASA correspondence staffing procedures, the letters [172] and studies flying back and forth consumed a great deal of work and served as notice to everyone close to the MTF situation that a powerful political delegation was at work. The paper battle initiated by the MTF also alerted officials in the scientific agencies outside NASA that Balch and his little band of engineer-scientists had the support of a congressional caucus that could certainly affect the future of governmental departments and agencies under its purview. The much ado about the MTF amused some and angered others, but, in all cases, the attention prompted all concerned to sit up and take notice of the growing strength of the fighting "Balchites" in Mississippi.46

The first half of 1970 represented a major offensive in Balch's battle for new MTF missions, and in the evolving concept of an "environmental center" for southwest Mississippi. A break in the unrelenting campaign waged by Balch and his MTF team came on 11 February 1970, when Dr. Lee DuBridge, Nixon's science advisor, endorsed the prospect of using the MTF as a "dedicated facility for the Earth resources and environmental programs." In a letter to Paine, DuBridge said a dedicated center for these programs appeared to be essential to the solution of the many problems encountered in acquisition and reduction of data gathered by NASA and the federal and state agencies involved in environmental research. DuBridge mentioned several advantages to having a center capable of supporting "coastal and marine environmental programs which would include massive amounts of data from surface, airborne, and spaceborne collection systems." His letter to Paine echoed Balch's concept for the "new MTF" that he had been trying to communicate for about 3 years.47

In an effort to bring the MTF situation to a head, Stennis wrote a powerful letter to President Nixon on 16 March 1970 "urgently requesting" that (1) an environmental center be set up at the MTF, (2) a National Earth Resources and Environmental Data Program be established at the Mississippi site, and (3) an examination be conducted of all applicable agencies budgeted, with a high-ranking body composed of the heads of all entities [173] involved meeting to ensure managerial, programmatic, and resource adjustments necessary to the Data Program.48

Paine also urged Nixon to support a similar program at the MTF, but not on a national scale as DuBridge, Balch, and Stennis had strongly suggested. The NASA Administrator made his presidential recommendation based on a paper prepared for him by the Balch group entitled, "A Proposal For The Future Utilization Of The MTF," dated 10 March 1970. Paine's recommendation to the President was made as a formal proposal and asked that a regional "Gulf Coast Environmental Center" be established at the MTF, along with a "Mississippi Gulf Coast Recovery Program" also located at the MTF to assist the Governor's Emergency Council. Paine possibly felt a "regional" center would be easier to develop, or, perhaps, less costly to set up. The regional environmental center suggested by Paine consisted of several agencies Balch had been working with, such as the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries's water pollution program for the Gulf region. Included also were the Coast Guard data buoy program, an environmental program proposed by the Gulf Universities Research Corporation; a meteorological and air pollution studies center for ESSA; and NASA's Earth resources facility, with the Gulf Coast region as the main focus.49

Paine's proposal to the President was obviously an earnest attempt to settle the MTF situation for NASA, Senators Stennis and Ellender, and the MTF Manager Balch. Paine's plan fell short, however, because it limited the proposed MTF program to a regional operation, when the President's advisors and Balch were aiming for a national enterprise. Balch later said that the programs at the MTF were "national in scope" and insisted they be named and referred to as such.50

As the battle over the future of the MTF continued, the Mississippi test team carried on with its Saturn V flight- certification tests, getting nearer with each static-firing to the end of its mission. The test engineers and people across the nation and around the world stopped everything they were doing and held their breath when an explosion in space curtailed the flight of Apollo 13. With a Gulf Coast native, Fred Haise of Biloxi, as lunar module pilot, the lift-off [174] from the KSC was on 11 April 1970. During a nominal launch and insertion phase with the MTF-tested rocket stages performing perfectly, James Lovell, commander; John L. Sweigert, Jr., command module pilot; and Haise became international heroes as they and their Mission Control colleagues guided the craft around the Moon and safely back to Earth. The MTF's Henry Auter, Terry Malone, and A.J. Rogers, Jr., stayed at the Haise residence in Biloxi during the mission, keeping the family informed and making every effort to allay their fears as the crippled ship made its way back to Earth.51

On the same day Apollo 13 lifted off, Bryce Harlow, Nixon's aide and counsel, wrote to Stennis and assured him that the "MTF offices, its laboratories, and the Slidell Computer Complex would remain open." Harlow's letter of assurance was not enough to satisfy Stennis, who was becoming increasingly impatient and tired of the promises made to him by the White House and NASA. In the midst of the promises and aggravation, The Los Angeles Times news service ran a nationwide lengthy analysis entitled, "How NASA Lowered The Boom: The Rape Of Bay St. Louis." The article chronicled the sad story of Bay St. Louis's investment in the Space Age and how the MTF would be cut from 2,000 employees to 200, spelling ruin to the local communities already devastated by Hurricane Camille. Stennis made promises at Logtown in 1961 to "protect and defend" the people who gave up their land for the NASA-MTF project. And, as a conservative and frugal man, Stennis could not tolerate being party to the government waste of a $350 million facility by "walking off and leaving the investment." In a real sense, the negotiations Stennis had with NASA about the MTF were personal, not political in nature as some imagined. Stennis had made a personal commitment that he intended to keep at all costs.52

Keeping the pressure on NASA and the White House, Stennis, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Ellender, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, sent strong messages to the NASA Administrator. Stennis told Paine on 19 May 1970 that he "continued to be concerned" and requested that Paine furnish him agency names, status of actions, and the NASA personnel responsible for establishing the new programs in Mississippi. Paine again [175] promised Stennis, on 1 June, that "NASA will keep [the] MTF offices open for other activities that the Agency [hoped] to attract." Senator Ellender, who had been vocal in the news media while proposing an "environmental center for [the] MTF" and future uses for the Slidell complex, wrote to Paine demanding answers about continued use of the MTF and Slidell facilities. Ellender questioned the "relevance of NASA" in the changing priorities of the nation and whether "the government [would] let this magnificent scientific complex become the world's biggest white elephant or do we give it another, and, perhaps, an even more important job to do." Furthermore, Senators Stennis, Ellender, Long, and Eastland notified the President of their regrets that no significant action as to the future of the MTF was realized as a result of all their efforts. Nixon immediately informed Stennis that (1) an Earth Resources Laboratory (ERL) would be established at the MTF and (2) that agreements had been reached with the National Data Buoy Project and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries to relocate to the MTF.53

The Data Buoy and the Fisheries programs named by the White House to be relocated to the MTF had begun taking shape back in 1968, at the very beginning of Balch's and King's searches for new missions. The MTF learned from BOMEX of the need for satellite and airborne observations for ocean and environmental research. Through BOMEX, the MTF also learned of the early work under way by ESSA and the Coast Guard on instrumental data buoys, used to help measure ocean dynamics. The MTF search for new projects led to the discovery of offices involved in Earth resources research under way at the MSFC and Goddard Space Flight Center, and by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The MTF also learned the USGS wanted to establish a center to use space and airborne information. Balch firmly believed that using satellites for "looking down at the Earth" and as communications links for data were the most important finds in the new space program. He and King felt that satellites constituted the very heart of their new center, which would specialize in gathering and reducing space-derived data. The "synergistic relationship" of the agencies, in Balch's words, "would make their collective information more usable to the decision makers of the country."54

[176] In order to ensure the national commitment to the MTF, Ellender's Appropriations Committee earmarked $10 million to create an environmental center. What shocked NASA so much was that the $10 million came from the space agency's $678 million research-program management fund, which the committee approved for NASA. The bill specified that the $10 million be used only at the MTF and the Slidell Complex to accommodate Earth environmental studies, furnishing basic institutional and technical services to other agencies in pursuit of space and environmental missions. Ellender summed up the significance of the bill by explaining that "until now, financial means have been lacking to make a truly attractive offer to many of the other federal agencies which are being encouraged to locate major activities at the MTF-Slidell." Ellender also explained that "the $10 million in the NASA appropriations earmarked for [the] MTF and Slidell [Complex] will allow NASA to offer technological services on a cost-free basis to other research agencies which otherwise would have to pay for these services." The funds, which came to be known as the "$10 million set-aside" funds, elevated the MTF from a relatively obscure sibling at the NASA family table to a rowdy "child" taking food from everyone's plate. Balch's political shenanigans now became known throughout NASA, especially by those who juggled daily operating funds during the lean, post-Apollo years.55

 

New Agencies Arrive

With a firm promise of funds for the multi-agency environmental center, Balch and his victorious band welcomed the announcement of the first tenant, or "resident agency" as Balch preferred to call the gathering environmental and oceanographic researchers. After at least 35 official contacts, meetings, and executive letters of remark, the Coast Guard's National Data Buoy Project announced its relocation to the MTF on 9 July 1970. King and Alex Peresich of the MTF group first made contact with the Coast Guard to discuss the fledgling data buoy program on 1 October 1968 when they were "fishing around" during the formative days of BOMEX. On Stennis's return to the MTF, King and Balch informed him about the program, and the Senator immediately took [177] a keen interest in developing the idea of a data buoy project located on the Mississippi Coast. Stennis told Balch to "explore the possibility of the MTF as a 'home base' for the data buoy project." The negotiations went on for another year, slowed only by the MTF-MSFC-Headquarters organization tangle and a reluctance by NASA to furnish even a small support arrangement. The Ellender-Stennis "set-aside funds" amendment apparently bridged the financial gap and paved the way for the final agreement. At any rate, many lessons were learned during the Coast Guard-NASA negotiations that were applied to other federal and state agencies that came aboard the MTF ship.56

No doubt, Administrator Paine was "relieved" when he and Admiral T.R. Sargent, acting commandant of the United States Coast Guard (USCG), signed an agreement in Washington, whereby the USCG would conduct its National Data Buoy project at the MTF. The agreement established basic operation support and a reimbursement relationship between the two agencies. The Coast Guard agreed to fund its program and reimburse NASA for additional, identifiable costs.57

The establishment of the data buoy project provided a precedent and credibility for the MTF to use in its negotiations. In addition, the National Data Buoy/NASA agreement provided the "blueprint" for other agencies to come and share in knowledge, as well as costs, as they pursued their own independent projects. Most importantly, however, prospective agencies knew they would have a certain amount of protection from severe budget cuts with Senators Stennis, Ellender, Long, Eastland, Colmer, Hebert, Boggs, and even the White House watching over their pocketbooks.58

With a sense that their National Data Buoy Project was "special" to the new MTF environmental concept, the Coast Guard stationed an extremely capable manager, Commander Peter Morrill, to head the operation. Later promoted to Captain, Morrill opened shop at the MTF with 23 people and "a very large budget." Balch gave Morrill the office suite just above his own on the third floor of Building 1100. In front of the building, Balch and Morrill raised the first of several "resident agency" flags when they hoisted the Coast Guard colors. The...

 


[
178]

The first federal government agency to join NASA and the Mississippi Test Facility (MTF) was the U.S. Coast Guard's Data Buoy Project in 1970. Capt. Peter Morrill, first Coast Guard onsite manager, at podium, is joined by Henry Auter, Jackson Balch, and visiting Coast Guard officers for an official welcome in front of Building 1100. The Data Buoy Project later became the NOAA National Data Buoy Center and in 1997 was under the direction of Dr. Jerry C.McCall. (SSC-70-449-3).

The first federal government agency to join NASA and the Mississippi Test Facility (MTF) was the U.S. Coast Guard's Data Buoy Project in 1970. Capt. Peter Morrill, first Coast Guard onsite manager, at podium, is joined by Henry Auter, Jackson Balch, and visiting Coast Guard officers for an official welcome in front of Building 1100. The Data Buoy Project later became the NOAA National Data Buoy Center and in 1997 was under the direction of Dr. Jerry C.McCall. (SSC-70-449-3).

 

...flamboyant Jackson Balch and colorful Peter Morrill became close friends. It was following many hours spent relaxing on the porch of Balch's new residence, built after Hurricane Camille, that Morrill observed and later commented, "The man had more feeling...he was totally dedicated to this area."59

Stennis was more than pleased with the Coast Guard's location at the MTF. Bringing the historic and prestigious Coast Guard in as the MTF's first new agency was a special coup for Stennis. Immediately after the agreement was signed, Stennis issued a statement that said the USCG project budget would reach $100 million as headquarters for a program to develop automated data buoys. Furthermore, he predicted the project would eventually employ 90 people. With the knowledge of other agencies contemplating relocation to the MTF site, the proud Senator stated that the Coast Guard was the "first of several projects expected to be established at [the] MTF."60

[179] Right on the heels of the USCG project's location at the MTF, NASA responded to the Ellender and Stennis strong request to locate an "Earth resources program" at the Mississippi site. On 9 September 1970, NASA announced the establishment of an ERL. A distinguished NASA researcher, Robert O. Piland, deputy director of Science and Applications at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, was named to head the new MTF Laboratory. Organized at the JSC, the ERL was set up for research in the applications of remote sensing techniques. The Laboratory used data generated by ERL aircraft flying out of Houston, and later from Stennis International Airport in Hancock County, and by the ERL technology satellite and the manned orbiting Skylab spacecraft - both were set for launch in 1972. The data gathered by aircraft and spacecraft were to be correlated with data gathered on the surface and then analyzed for potential benefits to interests such as the seafood industry, forestry concerns, and agriculture. The scientific unit would employ 75 people, who were experts in physics, geoscience, instrumentation, and data handling. These specialists were the kind of people Balch wanted for his new "crossroads of science." The growth potential was expected to reach as many as 185 people "within 2 years." This possible growth was especially good news to Stennis and Balch, because the MTF population in September 1970 had dropped to about 1,600 and was on a fast, steep, downward plunge. And the bottom was expected to fall out when all rocket testing was completed later in the fall.61

Piland had done an outstanding job putting the remote sensing program together in Texas, and he enticed a number of experienced scientists to make the adventurous move to Mississippi. Piland also asked Balch for a strong person to be his deputy for the new laboratory. The two managers agreed on Darden W. "Wayne" Mooneyhan, one of Balch's best engineers. Thrilled by the prospect of obtaining a major element of his "environmental center," Balch provided Piland with another engineer, Alex Peresich, to help the Houston team get the Laboratory started. The Headquarters stopped short, however, of giving Balch control of this organization. Organizationally, the ERL, located under Balch's nose at the MTF, remained under NASA-JSC [180] management, with a management hierarchy stretching over 400 miles back to Dr. Robert Gilruth in Houston. Members of the MTF team felt that denying Balch control of the laboratory was a "spiteful slap in Balch's face." Many years later, long after Balch retired, the folly of that long-distance management tangle was corrected.62

Outwardly, however, Balch and his MTF supporters seized the moment and accepted the ERL establishment at the MTF as a NASA centerpiece in the establishment of a family of environmental research agencies and a key move toward "full utilization." In addition, the ERL was an important building block in constructing the "environmental center" on the Gulf Coast.63

On the surface, NASA's search for new missions was gaining momentum, and the local communities felt somewhat relieved with the USCG and ERL announcements. But behind closed doors at the MTF, Henry Auter and a few selected engineers were quietly preparing a response to the NASA-MSFC "Downmoding Plan" to mothball the Saturn V Test Complex, including all S-II and S-IC facilities and their supporting infrastructure. The plan was being carried out by a joint committee - the MTF Downmoding Planning Group headed by Jim Shepherd of MSFC and Auter at the MTF. The intent of the plan was to ready the site for a standby mode no later than 1 April 1971. When talk of downmoding first hit the press back in January 1970, some hope existed that uses would be found in the future for Saturn vehicles. But, as the months wore on and production at Michoud was curtailed, the MTF personnel recognized that their test mission would end with the static-firing of the final stages for the first 15 vehicles. The downmoding plan had provisions to "retest" the remaining stages that would be stored in inventory, "with 12 months' notice" if they needed to support additional programs. The plan called for only 235 people to perform simple maintenance, building upkeep, and security patrol. With such a drastic cutback in the rocket business, the pressure remained on the Balch-MTF organization to move with haste toward attracting new agencies and finding new missions for the people left onsite.64

[181] While the grim work on the downmoding plan continued in secrecy, the Mississippi congressional delegation announced that another environmental research agency, the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, intended to locate at the MTF to "conduct long-range studies through the use of NASA's great outlay of technical equipment." Stennis and Colmer were advised 26 August 1970 that the fisheries bureau would conduct "aerospace sensing studies involving sightings with amplifiers, laser, and aerial photographs to help detect schools of fish from high altitudes." Ultimately, the first three agencies, the Coast Guard, ERL, and Fisheries, provided for an interrelated working environment involving space, Earth, and ocean studies at the MTF.65

The "new MTF" was materializing, even as the deep, thundering rumblings of the giant Saturn V rockets were about to be silenced. The final S-IC booster test took place at 6:17 p.m. on 30 September 1970. The successful test lasted a few seconds over 2 minutes. The S-IC-15 was the last of the booster stages manufactured by Boeing at Michoud. Only one test remained for the MTF, scheduled 1 month later on the same A-2 test stand where static-firings first began on 23 April 1966. As far as anyone knew at the time, the S-II-15 static-firing would be the last rocket tested at the short-lived, national, rocket-testing site.66

One month after the final S-IC booster-stage static- firing shook the Mississippi coastal plain for the last time, the final, Saturn V, second-stage S-II-15 was tested for its full duration of 6 minutes, 13 seconds, on 30 October 1970. The North American Rockwell test team ignited the powerful hydrogen rocket at 3:15 p.m., following a countdown that went "without a hitch." In fact, the test was actually 30 minutes ahead of schedule. With the test completed, and the last echo of the sucking sound produced at engine cutoff faded, a stillness returned to the forest around the complex that had not been felt since the first chain saws broke the silence of the swamp on 17 May 1963. Hundreds of employees, NASA officials, and community visitors attended the [182] historic static-firing. Jackson Balch told reporters that the S-II firing and the S-IC test on 30 September were the best prepared and executed during the entire Saturn V program. Both test teams started their countdowns with the conviction of going out "in a blaze of glory." And so they did. All told, the MTF government-industry team tested 27 Saturn V rocket stages, and all that were launched performed their missions in space without a single failure.67

 

Black Monday

With the last sounds of the big Saturn boosters silenced, the rocket-testing business at the MTF was in for some unexpected "loud noise" by NASA's top brass who came to the test site for a "final" awards ceremony. Since the 9 November 1970 ceremony heralded the end of testing at the MTF, as well as a "pat on the back" to the employees, the day was called "Black Monday" by The Huntsville Times. Few of the employees who lost their jobs at the MTF disagreed with the ominous tag. Acting NASA Administrator George M. Low was accompanied to the MTF by a host of NASA's top managers from the Headquarters and the MSFC. Balch and his staff members did not view the ceremony as a "special honor." Instead, they felt their NASA-MSFC bosses were coming down to say "Thanks for a good job; now get busy and shut this place down." And Balch conveyed the message to the entire Mississippi congressional delegation. The Balch "VIP" invitation list did not stop with Stennis and Colmer. He added Governor Williams, community leaders from the entire area, and top officials from at least 10 federal agencies that were either on site or considering locating at the MTF.68

On the other hand, Low brought practically the entire NASA hierarchy to pay tribute to the MTF rocket test team. With the Administrator were Dale D. Myers, associate administrator for Manned Space Flight; Eberhard Rees, director, MSFC; and Lee B. James, director, MSFC Program Management. In [183] addition, Low also brought Fred Haise, Apollo 13 astronaut and Gulf Coast native, and Wernher von Braun, no longer the MSFC director, but still considered the world's foremost rocket scientist and "father of the MTF."69

The closing ceremony for the MTF was originally scheduled as an outdoor affair so more employees and their guests could participate, but rain drove the crowd indoors into the Central Control building auditorium. The auditorium only accommodated 275 people, so hundreds more jammed the lobby and listened at other onsite locations through a sitewide communications hookup. Special plaques were given to representatives of NASA's MTF prime contractors for their contributions to the successful completion of the Saturn static-firing program. Many smaller MTF government and contractor agencies also received plaques. In addition, a special "honor roll" was engraved in gold and it hung for many years in the Building 1100 lobby and then, later, in the MTF Visitors Center.70

 


Jackson Balch (left) hurries Sen. Stennis (center) and NASA Acting Administrator George Low during a busy and well-remembered day at the Mississippi Test Facility (MTF) in November 1970.

Jackson Balch (left) hurries Sen. Stennis (center) and NASA Acting Administrator George Low during a busy and well-remembered day at the Mississippi Test Facility (MTF) in November 1970. A host of NASA Headquarters officials, agency heads, and members of Congress came to MTF for an "Apollo Awards Ceremony" that turned into an all-day business session with the future of the installation being the main topic of conversation. (SCC-70-751-2).

 

[184] The ceremony was important, but not nearly as important as the heavy politicking that went on behind closed doors with Stennis, Colmer, Williams, and Balch clashing with Low and the Washington dignitaries. Many MTF employees point to Black Monday as the "turning point" for the facility. The fireworks at the November awards ceremony made a lasting impression on Low, Myers, Rees, and their staffs, who received the brunt of the political onslaught. Stennis, Colmer, and Williams ushered the NASA dignitaries into the big conference room in Building 1100. There, Stennis outlined the importance of NASA supporting activities at the MTF. Colmer, according to Henry Auter, told Low that "Senator Stennis is noted to be a gentleman, and you may not understand his message, but I am telling you now that if NASA fails to support [the] MTF, we will withdraw our support from NASA." Colmer's blunt words were especially threatening to Low and the NASA officials who were already facing serious budget reductions in the near future. All those in attendance knew that the support of Stennis, Colmer, and their friends in the Congress was absolutely necessary, not only for the Agency to survive, but also to fund future programs such as the Space Shuttle.71

With rocket testing now officially over, the MTF turned its attention to its new environmental and oceanographic missions. On 19 November 1970,the Coast Guard brought its first vessel, the cutter Pointe Estero, to the MTF to begin work that the crew would be performing in conjunction with the data buoy project. The cutter was brought up the Pearl River and tied up at the dock where the buoy project was located. The Estero, originally stationed at Gulfport, was the support vessel for the worldwide, automated, data buoy project. The Estero's maiden and subsequent voyages highlighted the fact that the MTF's harbor had access to the oceans of the world. A crowd of new Coast Guard employees, along with fellow MTF personnel attached to NASA, gathered at the dock to welcome the Coast Guard vessel.72

The coming of the Coast Guard with the cutter Estero to the Mississippi facility, however, was not the only new agency joining the "MTF community." Balch formed a Planning Task Force to handle liaison activities with agencies already in residence and ones that were anticipated to locate at the new environmental center. Balch intended to organize the site to advance the [185] integration of the newly arriving agencies. He named Waldo Dearing as head of the Planning Task Force and prepared the necessary contracts to support the effort. A.J. "Jack" Rogers, Jr., was appointed as Dearing's assistant. The task force was responsible for new business activities and preparation of a procurement plan for a proposed technical services contract to interface with the new agencies. Balch made other appointments that included liaison positions, such as John Ivey and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Federal Water Quality Administration, and the Department of the Army (DOA) Munitions Command; Kenneth R. Daughtrey and the Department of Interior (DOI); William G. Spradlin and the instrumentation and laboratory analysis services; and Lelyn Nybo, assisted by James Taylor, and the data support services.73

Further appointments by Balch ushered in the beginnings of a "new" marketing function for the MTF-NASA that continued for years. A coordination role was now emphasized, as well as a marketing function, when Balch named Roy Estess, John Ivey, and Ken Daughtrey to "pursue opportunities" in their liaison positions with their respective agencies. They were to (1) keep the new ERL organization informed; (2) study all background material available and become "imaginatively" conversant with new agencies and opportunities; and (3) focus on the interagency concept, promoting synergistic interfaces with potential new agencies. The plan also called for Estess, Ivey, and Daughtrey to keep Balch informed through "constant" contacts and meetings. All three coordinators were to work closely with Dearing and Rogers of the MTF Planning Task Force, in addition to their coordination efforts with the MSFC and the Headquarters. Balch also directed the new "marketeers" to become involved in the "scoping out of requirements for the technical services contract." It is important to note, however, that few organizations in government or industry would have asked its marketing division to also be responsible for developing new programs and contracts requirements.74

New onsite business provided jobs for some NASA and contractor employees, but even the best of plans could not provide MTF employment for the 652 Boeing, North American, and Rocketdyne engineers and technicians. More than 200 GE personnel were also unemployed after the last Saturn V [186] test. Development and testing of a reusable Space Shuttle, which could be launched like a rocket, perform useful tasks in Earth orbit, and land like an airplane, were being discussed during this time. First envisioned by von Braun and then presented in a Collier's magazine article in March 1954, the shuttle was part of a broad scheme that included a space station. As planning continued during the late 1960s, budgets became tighter, and the space station was dropped from future planning. As a result, more emphasis was placed on developing a Space Shuttle with a reusable engine. The engine development and continued fitness-testing programs were considered an asset to any site, because of the long-range testing that would go on as long as the shuttle flew. NASA's Julian Sheer, assistant administrator for Public Affairs, said that before the site selections were made, "The program could go up to $20 billion - and we'd never build anymore." The Wall Street Journal commented on the site selections for the shuttle in an article entitled, "Roll out the Pork Barrel," and pointed out that NASA could launch from one site, test at another, and land at yet another location. The Wall Street Journal also noted that the MTF was well-suited for testing the engines, but could also be used as a launch site.75

Knowing that he needed a "bread and butter" program in the test complex, Balch asked Mooneyhan to prepare a proposal for the Space Shuttle engine testing to be done at the MTF. When Piland asked for Mooneyhan's services, Balch assigned Roy Estess, an engineer, to work on preparing the pitch scheduled at NASA Headquarters, on 12 December 1970, before a committee headed by Floyd Thompson, director of Langley Research Center. Balch later quietly admitted that he was not personally committed to the Space Shuttle program, but he knew that the MTF, still on life-support systems, needed the propulsion test project to survive. 76

 


Notes

1. Staff, The (Biloxi/Gulfport, MS) Daily Herald (henceforth referred to as The Daily Herald), "The Story Of Camille" (Gulport, MS: Gulf Publishing Company, 1969); E.W. "Van" King, interview by Mack Herring, Pass Christian, MS, 9 November 1995; Janet Balch, interview by Mack Herring, Pass Christian, MS, 9 November 1995, Stennis Space Center Historical Records Collection, Stennis Space Center, MS (henceforth referred to as SSCHRC).

2. "Marshall Center Donates $35,744," The (Jackson, MS) Clarion-Ledger (henceforth referred to as The Clarion-Ledger), 12 September 1969; "Dr. Debus Thanks Spaceport Employees For Camille Help," Spaceport News, 11 September 1969; "President Nixon Praises MTF Employees For Efforts," The (Bay St. Louis, MS) Sea Coast Echo (henceforth referred to as The Sea Coast Echo) 30 October 1969.

3. Special Task Force Of The Office of Emergency Preparedness and The Mississippi R&D Center, "Recovery Of The Mississippi Gulf Coast, A Special Report," Gulfport, MS, 5 December 1969, SSCHRC.

4. Janie Jones, MTF Public Affairs Offices, "Hurricane Camille And Aftermath," unpublished papers drafted immediately after Hurricane Camille, 18-26 August 1969, SSCHRC; Janet Balch, interview; E.W. "Van" King, interview; Jackson Balch, transcript, "Testimony To Special Committee On Disaster Relief, Senate Committee On Public Works, 7-8 January 1969, SSCHRC; For additional information, specifically photographic information, regarding condition of the Mississippi Gulf Coast following the hurricane, see: "Camille," A Hurricane, August 17-18, 1969 (Biloxi, MS: Graphic Press, 1969).

5. Ibid.; Interview, Janet Balch.

6. Jones, MTF-PAO "Hurricane Camille Aftermath."

7. Ibid.; For complete statistical account of property damage caused by Camille, see: Report on Hurricane Camille, 14-22 August 1969 (Mobile, AL: United States Army Engineer District, Mobile, Corps of Engineers, 1969); and R.D. Dikker, R.D. Marshall, and H.C.S. Tom, Hurricane Camille, August 1969 (Washington, DC: Bureau of Standards, 1971).

8. Etheridge, "Least We Forget," MTSD Booster newsletter.

9. Special Task Force Of The Office Of Emergency Preparedness, "Recovery Of The Mississippi Gulf Coast," 5 December 1969.

10. "KSC Quick Aid," The Marshall (MSFC) Star, 10 September 1969; "Marshall Center Raises $35,000," The Daily Herald, 10 September 1969.

11. "NASA Officials In Storm Damage Inspection Trip," The Huntsville (AL) News; Staff, The Story Of Camille, 1969.

12. Ibid.; Etheridge, "Least We Forget," MTSD Booster.

13. "President Nixon Praises MTF Employees For Efforts," The Sea Coast Echo, 30 October 1969; "NASA Officials In Storm Damage Inspection Trip," The Huntsville (AL) News, 2 November 1969.

14. Jack Hartsfield, "Launch Would Be First Firing, Saturn Testing To End," The Huntsville (AL) Times, 28 September 1969; Henry C. Dethloff, Suddenly Tomorrow Came... A History Of The Johnson Space Center (Washington, DC: NASA SP-4307, 1993), pp. 195-197.

15. "Mississippi Test Facility May Be Erased," The (New Orleans, LA) Times-Picayune, 28 September 1969; "Future of Hancock Test Facility," The Daily Herald, 29 September 1969; "MTF May Be Closed Says Paper," The Enterprise (MS) Journal, 29 September 1969; "NASA To Abandon Facility," The West Point (MS) Times-Leader, 29 September 1969.

16. Ibid.; John C. Stennis, "Statement Concerning Future Of MTF," 30 October 1969, SSCHRC; Thomas O. Paine, remarks after Camille, August 1969, SSCHRC.

17. Stennis "Statement Concerning Future of MTF"; Paine remarks.

18. B.J. Richey, "Space Agency Acting To Keep Jobs At MTF," 8 October 1969; "MTF Set For New Testing," The Huntsville (AL) Times, 8 October 1969.

19. Roger D. Launius, NASA: A History Of The U.S. Civil Space Program (Malabar, FL: Kreiger Publishing Co., 1994), pp. 107-108.

20. Michael Barone, Grant Ujifusa, and Douglas Matthews, The Almanac Of American Politics (New York City: Gambit Publishing Co., 1972), pp. 297-312, 413-425.

21. Ibid.

22. John Clements, Taylor's Encyclopedia of Government Officials, Federal and State (Dallas, TX: Political Research, Inc., 1969-1970) vol. II, pp. 59, 92-93, 106-107; Herman Glazier, interview by Mack Herring, SSC, November 1995, SSCHRC.

23. Launius, NASA: A History Of The U.S. Civil Space Program, pp. 104-105, 107; Bryce Harlow to John Stennis, 22 October 1969, SSCHRC.

24. King, Interview; Edmund R. Gray and Herbert G. Hicks, "The Mississippi Test Facility: A Study In Organizational Viability," occasional papers, no. 4, May 1971, Division Of Research, College Of Business Administration, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, pp. 39-51.

25. Jackson Balch, briefing transcript, 14 November 1969, SSCHRC; Jackson Balch, interview by Gateway Productions, 10 December 74, SSCHRC.

26. King, interview; NASA-MTF News Release, "BOMEX," 22 May 1969, SSCHRC; MTF Manager's Office, "MTF Management Plan For Evolving Mission," presented to Dr. George Low, 22 December 1970, SSCHRC.

27. Interview, King.

28. GE Center For Advanced Studies at Santa Barbara, CA, "The Future Use Of NASA's Mississippi Test Facility: A Preliminary Study For Economic Growth, December 1969, SSCHRC.

29. Ibid.; NASA Administrator's Office, "A Proposal For Future Utilization Of MTF, 10 March 1969, SSCHRC, Copy also at the NASA Historical Reference Collection in Washington, DC (henceforth referred to as NHRC).

30. See MTF Manager's office journal, "Significant Actions - Changing Utilization," to get a feel for the large number of high-ranking scientists and government officials Balch corresponded and met with from 1967-1975.

31. Ibid., 1969; Gray and Hicks, "...A Study In Organizational Viability."

32. Ann Westendorf, interview; Roy Estess, interview by Henry Dethloff, Mississippi Oral History Program, vol. 1991, p. 12, SSCHRC; Roy Estess, interview.

33. Captain Peter A. Morrill, interview by Steven Patterson, Mississippi Oral History Program, 4 March 1993, vol. 442, p. 5, SSCHRC; Chronology, "Significant Actions Leading to Coast Guard Location at MTF, 1969, SSCHRC.

34. "BOMEX Citation Goes To Balch, The Daily Herald, 24 December 1969; The citation, or "award," given to Balch for the MTF achievements during Project BOMEX was the first such commendation for work done outside of NASA's organization.

35. Harry F. Rosenthal, "Space Agency Plans To Draw Purse Strings," AP, The Daily Herald, 14 January 1970.

36. Ibid.

37."Balch Sees Rocket Testings Throughout 1970," The Daily Herald, 15 January 1970.

38. Paine to Balch, 20 January 1970, SSCHRC.

39. King to Balch, 20 May 1970, SSCHRC.

40. "Manned Program Suspension Rocket Tests," The Tupelo (MS) Daily Journal, 3 February 1970.

41. "Congressmen Protest NASA-MTF Mothballing," The Sea Coast Echo, 10 February 1970.

42. "Strong Pressure Being Exerted To Avoid Mothballing," The Picayune (MS) Item (henceforth referred to as Picayune Item), 26 February 1970.

43. Ibid.

44. "New U.S. Budget Reduces MTF To Caretaker Status," The Clarion-Ledger, 27 February 1970; Gray and Hicks, "The Mississippi Test Facility: A Study In Organizational Viability, pp. 38-52; NASA Pocket Statistics (Washington, DC: NASA SP 033-000-01150-4, 1995); Launius, NASA: A History Of The U.S. Civil Space Program, p. 104.

45. Gray and Hicks, "...A Study In Organizational Viability," pp. 49-51.

46. Balch to J.T. Shepherd, 19 May 1970, SSCHRC.

47. Jackson Balch, "Significant Actions Changing Utilization," Director's Office Files: Correspondence Log, 20 January-9 July 1970, SSCHRC.; DuBridge to Paine; From the content of his correspondence, Dubridge obviously felt the MTF was an excellent choice to locate an environmental center in a move to protect environment and make better use of existing resources. Although Nixon needed Stennis's support in the Senate, the DuBridge letters and his expressed feelings about the MTF appeared to be above expedient politics.

48. Stennis to Nixon, 16 March 1970, SSCHRC.

49. Paine to Nixon, 17 March 1970, SSCHRC.

50. Paine to Nixon, 10 March 1970, SSCHRC.; Paine's letter to the President expressed a willingness for NASA to move to achieve Stennis's and Ellender's goals to locate an environmental center at the MTF.

51. NASA-PAO, "20 Anniversary Press Kit," Release No. 78-133, 1978, SSCHRC; The Insertion Phase is the portion of the flight immediately following the launch and systems checkout in Earth's orbit. During the Insertion Phase the spacecraft is propelled from Earth's orbit into a trajectory that will take the craft to the vicinity of the Moon.

52. Harlow to Stennis, 11 April 1970, SSCHRC.; Baxter Interview; See Chapter 3, "The Thorn Before The Rose."

53. Stennis to Paine, 19 May 1970, SSCHRC.; Paine to Stennis, 22 May 1970, SSCHRC.; Paine to Stennis, 1 June 1970, SSCHRC.; Stennis, Ellender, Long, and Eastland to Nixon, 12 June 1970, SSCHRC.; Eberhard Rees to Jackson Balch, 14 June 1970, SSCHRC.

54. Balch to Governor John Bell Williams, 28 June 1971, SSCHRC.

55. "Funds For New Center Slated," The Times-Picayune, 26 June 1970.

56. U.S. Coast Guard, "U.S. Coast Guard Sequence Of Events Leading To Location Of National Data Buoy Development Program, and Summary," 1970, SSCHRC; Interview, Morrill.

57. NASA Headquarters News Release, No. 70-114, "Coast Guard To Use Mississippi Test Facility," 9 July 1970, NASA Historical Reference Collection (henceforth referred to as NHRC).

58. Gray and Hicks, "The Mississippi Test Facility: A Study In Organizational Viability," pp. 50-51.

59. Morrill, interview.

60. "Data Buoy System Assigned To MTF," The Daily Herald, 9 July 1970; "$100 Million MTF Deal," Picayune Item, 16 July 1970.

61. NASA Headquarters News Release, "Earth Resources Facility," no. 70-147, 9 September 1970, NHRC; "NASA Facility To House Earth Project," The Hattiesburg (MS) American, 9 September 1970; "Earth Resource Program Starts At MTF Today," MSFC Marshall Star, 9 September 1970.

62. Roy Estess interview by Mack Herring and Ms. Myron Webb, 7 July 1995, SSCHRC.

63. Ibid.

64. Henry Auter for Jackson M. Balch, Memorandum For Record, "Prepare Downmoding Plan," 13 August 1970, SSCHRC; NASA-MTF Test & Quality Evaluation Office, "Standby Plan," 8 September 1970, SSCHRC; Roy Estess, interview by Henry Dethloff, 18 June 1991, p. 11. Estess gave rich description of downmode process in this interview.

65. NASA-MTF News Release, 26 August 1970, SSCHRC; "Fish Studies Set At NASA Test Site," The (New Orleans, LA) States-Item, 27 August 1970; See description of Bureau of Commercial Fisheries activity proposed for the MTF in memorandum from E.W. "Van" King to Jackson Balch dated 19 May 1970. This activity became part of NOAA and was renamed "National Marine Fisheries." They worked closely with NASA's Earth Resources Laboratory, Department of the Interior's Earth Resources Observation Systems office, and Gulf Coast commercial fishermen.

66. MSFC Test Program Summary For Saturn V/Apollo S-IC Stage, October 1970; See Bilstein's Stages To Saturn for in-depth discussion of Saturn V test program.

67. Space Division, Mississippi Test Operations, "S-II Stages Static Firing Summary," November 1970, SSCHRC; Richard Glazier and Ted O'Boyle, "Last Rocket Tested: MTF's Mission Ended," The Daily Herald, 31 October 1970; See Bilstein's Stages To Saturn, pp. 232-233, 74.

68. "Final Awards Ceremony 'Black Monday' For MTF Employees," The Huntsville (AL) Times, 9 November 1970; NASA-MTF News Release, 6 November 1970, SSCHRC; NASA-MTF News Release, 9 November 1970, SSCHRC; Balch to Dr. Charles C. Bates, 23 October 1970.

69. NASA-MTF News Release, 9 November 1970, SSCHRC.

70. Ibid.; "Final Awards Ceremony...," The Huntsville Times.

71. Ibid.

72. NASA-MTF News Release, 19 November 1970, SSCHRC.

73. Memorandum for the Record, "Balch to distribution list, 30 November 1970", SSCHRC.

74. Ibid.

75. MTF Personnel Reports, 1970; Jonathan Spivak, "Roll Out The Pork Barrel: Space Agency May Shun Cape Kennedy Site, Launch $6 Billion Space Shuttle Elsewhere," The Wall Street Journal, 3 December 1970; Wernher von Braun, "Crossing the Last Frontier," Colliers, 22 March 1952, p. 24; NASA Headquarters PAO, "Space Shuttle Decision," 15 March 1972, SSCHRC; Roger D. Launius, "NASA And The Decision To Build The Space Shuttle, 1969-72," The Historian, vol. 57 (Autumn 1994), pp. 1-3.

76. Estess, interview; Estess, interview by Dethloff.


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