DESTINATION MOON: A History of the Lunar Orbiter Program
Langley Enters the Picture
[25] On January 2, 1963, while attending a Senior Council Meeting of the Office of Space Sciences at Cape Canaveral, Floyd L. Thompson met with Oran W. Nicks, who asked him if the Langley Research Center would be willing to study the feasibility of undertaking a lunar photography project. The Langley Director agreed to have his staff study the project.24

Nicks had suggested to senior staff members within OSS the idea of approaching the Langley Research Center about a possible lunar orbiter project for several reasons. First, JPL had more than enough to accomplish with Ranger and Surveyor. Its manpower and management capabilities could be stretched only so far. Secondly, the Langley Research Center, founded in 1917 to develop an aeronautical [26] research capability for the United States, had proved itself to be very successful in project management. Finally, a wider distribution of operational programs among NASA field centers appeared to Nicks to be a prudent management decision, allowing the centers to develop new and varied capabilities for future NASA ventures.25

Langley put forth an intensive effort and by March 1963 completed its assessment of the task of obtaining the required lunar photography and of its capability to manage a lunar orbiter project.

In the fall of 1962 Nicks had requested Lee Scherer and Eugene Shoemaker, a geologist on loan to NASA from the United States Geological Survey, to define more exactly the Apollo requirements for photographic data which an orbiter could best satisfy. The two men spent the remainder of the year and early 1963 examining Ranger and Surveyor spacecraft components which might be best used in a lightweight orbiter. Concurrently Dennis James of Bellcomm, a private research and advisory organization working with the Office of Manned Space Flight, conducted another review of existing technology and hardware which might be usable in a lunar orbiter.

[27] In October 1962 the Office of Space Sciences had followed up the recommendation of the first Scherer group in a further move to define the requirements for an Agena-class orbiter and had let a contract to the Space Technology Laboratories to "make a detailed preliminary study of a spin-stabilized lunar photographic spacecraft based upon the Able 5 development to be launched by the Atlas-Agena vehicle."26

STL conducted the study, and during a major planning and review meeting at the Langley Research Center on February 25, 1963, representatives from OSS, OMSF, Bellcomm, STL, and Langley reviewed the preliminary conclusions of the STL research. Following this meeting both Langley and NASA Headquarters stepped up their activities to formulate a viable basis for an Agena-class orbiter.

Space Technology Laboratories continued to work on a reliability assessment of a lunar orbiter photographic mission and analyzed the problem of having a lunar orbiter locate and photograph a landed Surveyor. Dennis James of Bellcomm. developed a study for Joseph F. Shea of OMSF and Lee R. Scherer of OSS concerning the role a lunar orbiter could play in the manned and unmanned exploration [28] of the Moon.27

Langley personnel continued to study the feasibility of a lightweight orbiter during the remainder of February. Their activity was independent of the STL study and, on March 5 at a second plenary meeting at Langley representatives from STL and Langley presented the findings of their two studies to officials from OMSF, OSS, Langley, and Bellcomm.28

Amazingly the two independent analyses came to very similar conclusions. First, the probability factor of one mission success out of five attempts was approximately 93/100, based upon known systems. The probability of two successes in five was about 81/100. In addition the studies confirmed that an orbiter using existing hardware could photograph a landed Surveyor and thus definitely assist in Apollo site verification. On the basis of these data the members of the meeting concurred that an unmanned lunar orbiter had an extremely important role to play in the pre-Apollo phase of the Moon's exploration.29 The next major step was to convince top Headquarters management [29] that an Agena-class orbiter could best accomplish exploration for both the Office of Space Sciences and the Office of Manned Space Flight. To this task OSS and Langley now turned.

Following the March 5 meeting at Langley, Floyd Thompson's staff made a presentation of Langley's assessment at NASA Headquarters to Associate Administrator Robert Seamans, Jr. Clinton E. Brown acted as spokesman for the center and presented the following basic points to Dr. Seamans and members of the Office of Space Sciences:

1. Langley had the capability to handle a lunar orbiter project, but it would require an additional 100 persons if it was to avoid serious interference with its commitments to the Office of Advanced Research and Technology.
2. Analyses showed that it was feasible to obtain the desired lunar photography.
3. The contract for the project should be made on a competitive basis despite the work which STL had conducted on a preliminary Agena-class lunar orbiter system.30