DESTINATION MOON: A History of the Lunar Orbiter Program
Funding and Technical Problems - 1965
[199] During the course of 1965,funding and technical problems exerted significant influence upon the Lunar Orbiter Program's schedules. Already in April 1965 the total projected cost of the program was up by $10 million, of which $4.5 million was required in fiscal 1965. Scherer expressed surprise at this increase because NASA had been maintaining very close communications with Boeing.40
Langley had known early in February that the total estimated cost of the Boeing contract was about $94.8 million, of which $4 million was to be spent for authorized changes and $10.3 million for estimated overruns.41 By [200] mid-March the cost picture had changed slightly: $96.4 million for the Boeing contract, $4.4 million for authorized changes, and $11.5 million for estimated overruns.42 By the end of March Langley had changes under review amounting to $7.9 million which were not yet authorized.43 The situation did not seem to reach a plateau and level off, and on April 26 Langley and Boeing began discussions to curb rising costs and keep expenditures within planned funding levels.44
One problem in the funding situation had arisen in communications between Boeing and the two major subcontractors: Eastman Kodak and RCA. The majority of the overruns were occurring in their or, rations. Eastman Kodak projected an increase of 26% in costs and RCA a 32% increase over original estimates. The estimates reflected a basic underestimation by Boeing management of the costs of the hardware the two subcontractors were obligated to supply. Boeing had had inadequate communications with the two companies during contract negotiations, and the talks had taken an unusually long time to reach final agreements. Langley realized that the situation could be controlled only [201] through vigorous cost reduction efforts among all participants in the program. As things stood, the program had $49.5 million for FY 1965, which meant that $5.8 million in unfilled orders would carry over into FY 1966.45 Boeing also realized that in order to protect its incentives in the contract, it would have to make an effort to reduce the pace of expenditures while tightening up schedules with Eastman Kodak and RCA.
NASA Headquarters directed Langley to conduct specific cost reduction studies to combat surprise jumps in the expenditure rate. Langley requested the same of Boeing. Both actions were initiated at the beginning of May. By may 4 the Lunar Orbiter Project Office had turned UP-32 items where potential cost reduction might be possible. At the same time Langley and Boeing officials visited Eastman Kodak and RCA. Their purpose was to bring under control the costs of these two subcontractors, to prevent surprises such as the $10-million jump which had occurred in April, and to submit recommendations for cost saving items which would not affect schedules or disturb performance incentives.
Boeing officials conferred with Langley on May 11 and 12. They informed Langley that Boeing was assigning one [202] assistant project manager to RCA and one to Eastman Kodak. These two Officials would control changes in negotiations for changes and keep completely informed of cost projections. Moreover, Boeing would send Langley and NASA Headquarters weekly cost project statements. The assistant project managers assigned to RCA and Eastman Kodak were answerable directly to Robert J. Helberg, the Boeing Lunar Orbiter Program Manager.46
In addition to strengthening its management Boeing submitted 53 specific items for cost reduction consideration. Nelson and Scherer were pleased at the rapidity and extent of the Boeing probe for ways to cut costs. The 53 items totaled approximately $8.8 million, of which, by June, NASA had accepted over $4 million. There was still $1 million in items being reviewed for possible cost reduction.
Some specific examples of major items deleted or reduced were: 1) The program ended the requirement to use the RCA test chamber as a back-up for the Boeing chamber at the new Kent facility in the testing phase, saving $280,000. 2) The need for, and frequency of, certain kinds of documentation was reduced, saving $40,000. 3) The redundancy of photo-receiving equipment at the Deep [203] Space Instrumentation Facility sites was reduced, saving $250,000. 4) The need to perform burn-in on all electronic parts of the photographic subsystem at Eastman Kodak was altered to encompass burn-in of certain selected parts where this process had merit, further saving $350,000.47
Boeing and Langley program representatives met at Langley on May 11 to discuss cost reductions. Langley decided that because of funding problems in FY 1965 It would fund Boeing on the basis of actual costs for the remainder of the fiscal year which ended on June 30.48 By the third week in June Langley and the contractor had reached agreement on 22 specific items for cost reduction at an estimated savings of $4 million. Other items were undergoing further cost reduction review.49
The decision to reduce by one the number of test spacecraft was a major change in the development phase. While it was part of the cost reduction efforts, this change increased the risk of an operational failure. As originally planned, Set C of the components was to be built up into subassemblies f or system testing. After this use, it was to become a complete spacecraft for system design verification [204] (SDV). Qualification testing was to be performed with Spacecraft 1. Spacecraft 2 was to be used for mission simulation tests, and Spacecraft 3 was scheduled for performance tests at the Goldstone DSIF site and for integration tests at the Eastern Test Range at Cape Kennedy. The change would have the last two tests performed with the spacecraft built from the Set C components. Spacecraft 3 would be assembled according to the existing schedule. It would become a flight spacecraft unless required for further testing. Should it be required for either of the last two tests, it would, nevertheless, be refurbished and used later as a flight spacecraft. Boeing agreed to this, making it possible to build one less spacecraft at a saving of $1.8 million.50
Lunar Orbiter Program Manager Scherer felt that the entire cost reduction effort of April, May, and June had proved valuable for the program. The schedule was very tight and events in the program were moving faster. This effort had forced people to re-evaluate themselves, their procedures, and the requirements of their jobs, and it had generated a new respect for cost effectiveness. Exactly how much would be saved in the long run was unpredictable, but Scherer believed that the impact of the cost reduction effort would certainly increase the likelihood that the [205] program would meet its launch schedule dates and that planning and management would become more effective.
The Quarterly Review of mid-June at the Boeing Company indicated that the program would indeed keep its original launch date schedule. Boeing had brought hardware problems under control, save for the line scan tube which had already caused a three-week schedule slip in the photo subsystem.51 The photographic subsystem still remained the pacing item of the program. Boeing and NASA were completing required test and storage facilities on schedule while twenty-eight of the thirty-three major Lunar Orbiter components were in their testing programs.
The critical testing phase of the program would tell whether or not the original launch dates could be met. During the summer, while Mission A was being developed, several significant hardware problems arose to hamper progress. The line scan tube of the readout subsystem had been failing tests, but by the end of July a new assembly procedure had eliminated the cause of failure. Excessive heat during the sealing of the glass envelope had been damaging the drum bearing on which the tube rotated, causing the electric motor to stall after a few hours of operation. A new tube was fabricated once the problem had been pinpointed, [206] and it successfully completed a 200-hour test. This delay affected schedules of the ground spacecraft, but did not alter the flight spacecraft schedules.
The propellent tanks of the velocity control engine also presented a problem. Bursting during pressure storage tests at the Bell Aero Systems Company, they seemed to show significant stress corrosion of the-titanium alloy by the oxidizer. This complication necessitated a major meeting among Orbiter, Apollo, and Bell officials at North American. the prime contractor for Apollo, to review the history of the tanks. The Apollo Program, the prime user of these tanks, would have to find the reason for failure before Lunar Orbiter Program officials could accept the tanks for use in their spacecraft. In the meantime Boeing decided to use boiler plate oxidizer tanks whenever possible during the testing program to avoid further delays.52
By September 9 Boeing was conducting its own testing program of the Bell tanks, subjecting ten of them tests in various configurations to determine their safety margin for Orbiter applications. OSSA also requested NASA's Office of Advanced Research and Technology to perform basic research t define the specific phenomenon causing the tanks to burst. [207] Despite tests the tanks remained an unresolved problem. The problem could not be pinpointed quickly, and early in November the Lunar Orbiter Program Office reluctantly decided to decrease stress levels by installing heavier, thicker walled tanks with a weight penalty of two kilograms.53 Fortunately this addition did not absorb the remaining weight margin for the spacecraft, which was relatively generous by design.
A problem of leakage in the nitrogen tank was more easily overcome during the same period. Nitrogen, a gas of low atomic weight, was detected leaking through teflon bladders and saturating the oxidizer for the velocity control engine. The bladders were subsequently coated with a layer of aluminized mylar which eliminated leakage.54
Progress was also hindered when Boeing Lunar Orbiter personnel discovered excess drift in the inertial reference unit (IRU) of one of the ground spacecraft. An investigation revealed dirty gyros. The discovery necessitated examination of all gyros for the IRUs in the remaining spacecraft a task which would hold up completion of the attitude control subsystem by thirty days. Boeing disassembled nine of [208] twenty-nine gyros that Sperry Rand, the fabricator, had delivered. All nine were found to be badly contaminated.55 By the beginning of November Sperry Hand had reworked four of the nine. but this rate was insufficient if an impact on the schedules was to be avoided. Yet the time factor would be doubled if NASA decided to procure gyros from another vendors a fact which clearly revealed that Boeing and Langley were all but frozen to their present course.56
These setbacks had not yet jeopardized the schedules of the flight spacecraft, and overall progress was good. The major exception by November was the delivery of Flight Spacecraft 3. Delays in the delivery of the photographic subsystem had caused slippage in its delivery. By late October Lunar Orbiter management had narrowed the reason behind Eastman Kodak's failure to meet schedules to two hardware items: the shutter for the 60-mm-focal-length lens and the Velocity-over-Height (V/H) sensor. Both of these were being manufactured by a subcontractor to Eastman Kodak, Bolsey Associates, Inc.
Langley sent James S. Martins the Lunar Orbiter Assistant Project Managers to talk with Eastman Kodak and [209] Bolsey officials about schedules. Martin found that although Eastman Kodak and Bolsey had very qualified people performing the work for Lunar Orbiter, their management did not seem to place great significance on meeting schedules. Bolsey, a small firm of about 80 people, had only the v/H sensor and the focal plane shutter as its two major jobs on a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract. The company had absolutely no financial incentive to accomplish its work on time. Bolsey's work affected the work at Eastman Kodak, which in turn impacted upon the delivery date of Spacecraft 3.57
Martin insisted on major corrective actions in coordination and control by Boeing and Eastman Kodak management. Subsequently, Eastman Kodak assigned six full-time persons to the Bolsey plant. The Lunar Orbiter Project Office at Langley followed up Martin's initial visit with a complete schedule review on November 5 and followed this with another visit to Bolsey on November 10.58 Martin's investigations revealed that each firm had the technical competence to do the work, but neither was particularly devoted to completing its work within the given time. This situation caused extensive delays, permitting the photographic [210] subsystem to be integrated with the flight spacecraft only at Cape Kennedy facilities, very late in the prelaunch schedule of activities.59