DESTINATION MOON: A History of the Lunar Orbiter Program
The Search for a Lightweight Orbiter
[16] On September 21 Oran W. Nicks, Director of Lunar and Planetary Programs in OSS, requested Lee R. Scherer a naval Captain on assignment to NASA, to form "a working group with appropriate representation from the Directorate of Lunar and Planetary Programs and consultants from other Headquarters offices, the scientific community and Field Centers ... to study adaptations of the Ranger and Able 5 spacecraft to conduct lunar reconnaissance missions beginning in 1964...."12 Nicks asked Scherer to confine his activity to the known spacecraft systems: the Ranger, the Able 5 built by Space Technology Laboratories (STL), and a system proposed by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA).

At the same time A. K. Thiel, Vice President in charge of Spacecraft Systems Program Management at STL, Sent a detailed summary of a proposed lunar photographic satellite to Nicks at NASA Headquarters on September 20. The STL proposal offered for the first time a conceptual basis for a lightweight orbiter. It presented a plan for launching a spin-stabilized spacecraft into lunar orbit with the Atlas-Agena D. Once there the spacecraft's photographic system would take pictures of the Moon with a 254-centimeter [17] focal-length spin-scan camera very similar to one which Merton E. Davies of RAND Corporation developed in 1958.

The STL system did away with a cumbersome television payload and used a film system instead. Film had the definite advantage over television as far as its ability to obtain higher resolution photographs. Thiel stressed the reliability of the STL proposal and stated that his firm would be prepared to build and launch three spacecraft within 22 months from the go-ahead date.13

On October 15 Nicks informed Thiel that his office had the STL proposal under consideration. Meanwhile, within NASA discussion continued concerning the priorities in the American lunar exploration program.