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The Course and the Future

Two major questions faced NASA planners during 1965. Was Apollo on course, at what was essentially its midpoint, to meet the goal of a lunar landing before the end of the decade? And what should follow Apollo in the manned space flight arena?

To find the answer to the first question, the House Subcommittee on NASA Oversight, led by Teague, set up a special staff in June to assess schedules, funding, and spacecraft management. After three months of probing, a staff study published under the title Pacing Systems of the Apollo Program identified seven bottlenecks in Apollo. For the lander, pacing systems were the descent engine, rendezvous radar, weight growth, and ground support equipment; for the command and service modules, they were engineering drawing releases, subassembly delivery and certification, and tooling and fabrication of the heatshield. The subcommittee concluded that NASA was applying its resources effectively to these problems and the program was progressing on schedule.55

NASA leaders, meanwhile, were worrying about what would come after Apollo, in view of the rising demand for dollars for human resources on the domestic front and military commitments abroad, particularly in Southeast Asia. Out of this concern came a new Headquarters program office called Apollo Applications (AAP), headed by David M. Jones, an Air Force major general assigned to NASA. Mueller had two objectives in setting up this office: preserving the Apollo team and using the hardware to get some pay-offs in science and earth resources.

To Houston this was evading the issue. In a lengthy letter to Mueller, MSC Director Gilruth manifested "deep concern that . . . a critical mismatch exists between the present AAP planning, the significant opportunities for manned space flight, and the resources available for this program." Speaking both for himself and his deputy, George Low - who as much as anyone within NASA had helped chart the course for Apollo - Gilruth proposed that "the next major step in manned space flight should involve a large permanent manned orbital station," which would be "an operational step leading to man's exploration of the planets." As structured, he said, AAP would simply maintain the status quo in the production and flight of Saturn-Apollo hardware. "Merely doing this, without planning for a new program, and without doing significant research and development as part of AAP, will not maintain the momentum we have achieved."56

Thus the total climate of opinion surrounding Apollo had altered. No longer did the moon seem the all-important - and all-consuming - goal it had been. Other objectives in the new ocean of space were taking shape. But conditions were not ripe: 1966 would be a year of progress for existing manned space flight programs, not a curtain-raiser for any major new projects. In one more flight, Little Joe II would complete its series of Apollo tests; after five more missions, which made orbital flight routine, Gemini would phase out and Lunar Orbiter and Surveyor would phase in; and Saturn and Apollo vehicles would taste the first fruits of success.

55. House Committee on Science and Astronautics, Subcommittee on NASA Oversight, Pacing Systems of the Apollo Program: Staff Study, 89th Cong., 1st sess., 1965, pp. 1, 6, 11, 12.

56. Maj. Gen. David M. Jones to Apollo Executives, "Apollo Applications Goals," 22 Nov. 1965.

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