DESTINATION MOON: A History of the Lunar Orbiter Program
Preparing for Contract Bids
[52] At NASA Headquarters Lee R. Scherer, the Lunar Orbiter Program Manager., issued a status report to Oran W. Nicks and Homer E. Newell on September 4, stating that Seamans had signed the Project Approval Document on August 30. It called for five flight spacecraft using the Atlas-Agena D launch vehicle. The program would rely on the tracking and data-acquisition facilities of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Deep Space Network which JPL was under contract to NASA to operate. The Deep Space Network (DSN) consisted of the Deep Space Instrumentation Facility (DSIF) and the Space Flight Operations Facility (SFOF). Langley had the responsibility to establish interfaces between its Project Office and those offices at these facilities which would assist the Lunar Orbiter Program.3

[53] NASA's decision to build a new lunar orbiter attracted several aerospace firms engaged in research and development for America's space exploration effort. While Congress questioned NASA and the Office of Space Sciences continued planning, five major aerospace companies began to develop proposals in the hope of submitting the winning bid for the new spacecraft.

In Aviation Week & Space Technology, a major aerospace periodical, Richard G. O'Lone briefly surveyed the nature of NASA's Lunar Orbiter contract. He stated that the Lunar Orbiter Program was to be "the first major National Aeronautics and Space Administration project that will include cost, delivery and technical performance incentives as part of its contract." 4 O'Lone stressed that "selection of the orbiter as its first major incentive venture illustrates the urgency NASA attaches to the program." 5 In addition NASA included substantial incentives based upon predetermined rates for all underruns and penalties for overruns on deadlines. These it had made explicit so that the contractor would know the limits within which he could work.

However, NASA officials were quick to state that the [54] Lunar Orbiter incentive contract did not "mean that NASA has shifted its emphasis from a firm's technical management ability to the price it quotes for a job." 6 More significantly for Lunar Orbiter, "incentive contracting compels both NASA and the contractor to define what they want at the earliest practical date." 7 This had been Langley's major intention with the Request for Proposal document, and the aerospace companies bidding for the contract had to reflect in their proposals a well-defined understanding of the RFP.

While the potential contractors developed proposals for a lunar orbiter spacecraft NASA's Office of Lunar and Planetary Programs accelerated its planning for the new lunar exploration venture at Headquarters. The Langley LOPO did likewise. Oran W. Nicks met with Floyd L. Thompson, Clinton E. Brown, Clifford H. Nelson, Charles Donlan, Eugene Draley, and Harold Maxwell at the Langley Research Center for a management conference on Tuesday, September 11, to discuss at length the major management aspects of the program. Lee R. Scherer and Leon Kosofsky, the Program Engineer for Lunar Orbiter, also attended.8

[55] Nicks expressed the belief that Headquarters and Langley had to maintain a well-defined, firm understanding on major policies to ensure the success of the whole undertaking. He sought from the beginning, through meetings such as this, to establish strong links of communication between the two groups in order to expose and resolve any problems quickly rather than allowing them the opportunity to grow into a major crisis for the program.

Thompson emphasized the importance of achieving an early understanding on all responsibilities by those in the program. There could be no room for inference; instead each member of the Lunar Orbiter Program had to recognize and agree upon an explicit basis for understanding what he was to do. The early establishment of a fixed point of reference from which future changes could be worked out was essential to the conduct of the program.

The September 11 meeting clarified the position of Headquarters and Langley. Each organization's representatives sounded out the others about delegation of authority and responsibilities. This approach was to be characteristic of relations between Langley and Headquarters throughout the program.9