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Reorganizing Around Apollo

The establishment of the Manned Space Sciences Division coincided with a major reorganization of Headquarters. From 1961 to November 1963 the field centers reported to the Associate Administrator but might be conducting projects under the authority of any or all of the Headquarters program offices. Under the new organization each center reported to one of three program offices, the heads of which were now designated Associate Administrators for Manned Space Flight, for Space Science and Applications,* and for Advanced Research and Technology. This change greatly simplified the lines of authority between the program offices and the centers, as well as freeing NASA's three top managers to attend to matters of broader concern. The greater autonomy of the program offices, however, tended to make them more self-sufficient and parochial and to make interoffice cooperation more cumbersome.49

In September 1963 Brainerd Holmes, who had steered the lunar landing program through some of its most critical decisions, left NASA to return to private industry. His replacement was George E. Mueller. Headquarters scientists did not know what to expect from the new chief of manned space flight, but they could hardly anticipate less consideration than Holmes had given their projects. One historian has characterized Holmes as "masterful, abrasive, and determined to get what he needed to carry out his assignment, even at the expense of other programs."50 Considering the state of the manned space flight organization when Holmes took charge and the development problems that had to be solved to put men on the moon by 1970, it is hardly surprising that he gave science such a low priority; but the science community was not inclined to accept that as an excuse for his indifference to their suggestions.

Mueller, like Holmes, was an electrical engineer. He had managed Air Force missile and space development projects for Space Technology Laboratories, Inc., for five years before joining NASA. But he also held a Ph.D. in physics, and his experience included several years of teaching and research at Ohio State University51; it was at least conceivable that his attitude toward science might be different from Holmes's. No less committed than Holmes to the success of Apollo and no less determined to have his own way,52 Mueller came to Washington about the time the public debates concerning Apollo and the space science program had subsided [see Chapter 1], so he was in a position to see that it would be politically advantageous to accommodate the scientists if he could.

Mueller moved quickly to reorganize his office and strengthen its lines of communication with the centers. He also brought in several high-ranking Air Force officers familiar with his management style to fill key positions in OMSF. One of Mueller's first priorities was to evaluate the general health of the Apollo project. He detailed two experienced Headquarters officials to study the progress of its components and estimate its chances for success by 1970. After surveying current plans in light of recent progress and anticipated funding, they reported that in their judgment the project had about one chance in ten of meeting its stated goal. Mueller then imposed some drastic changes on the Saturn program: he canceled the scheduled earth orbital test flights of the Apollo spacecraft on the Saturn I and ordered that the Saturn V be tested "all up" - with all stages and systems complete and functioning from the first test flight - rather than proving each stage's readiness separately.53 Then, while the centers adjusted to their new boss's ways, he turned his attention to the science program.

Mueller believed that his office had to have ultimate control over every part of every manned space program, including the science experiments; and by the end of the year he had decided to set up a Manned Space Flight Experiments Board (MSFEB) to review all experiments proposed for manned missions. The board's charter established four categories of experiments (scientific, technological, medical, and Department of Defense** and the channels through which they were to be submitted. Assessment of the scientific merit of a proposed experiment was left to the sponsoring agency. The board would assess the operational feasibility of each proposal by referring the experiment plans to the appropriate field center (usually MSC) for review. In case the board could not agree on whether to fly any particular experiment, Mueller, as chairman, could make the final decision. Experiments accepted by the MSFEB and assigned a priority comprised a fist from which those to be flown on a particular mission were to be taken. Mueller assigned responsibility for developing the flight hardware for each experiment to the field center involved (again, normally MSC), which appointed a technical monitor to work with the experiment's principal investigator in developing the flight-qualified instruments.54

Not everyone was happy with the new experiments board; some space science officials protested that Mueller was usurping their prerogatives to select and evaluate experiments.55 Experimenters complained that Mueller's system took too much time and paperwork and unduly increased the cost of manned space science. Nonetheless, Mueller had to ensure that a proposed experiment was compatible with the spacecraft in all respects and that it could be carried out without interfering with mission operations. As long as OMSF was still learning how to get people to the moon and back, science took second place when it came aboard at all.

* Newell's responsibilities were extended to encompass the space applications program (communications, weather, and navigation projects), which since 1961 had been managed by the Office of Applications (abolished in the reorganisation).

** For the involvement of DoD in the early manned space flight programs, see Barton C. Hacker and James M. Grimwood, On the Shoulders of Titans: A History of Project Gemini, NASA SP-4203 (Washington, 1977), pp. 117-22, and W. Fred Boone, "NASA Office of Defense Affairs: The First Five Years," NASA Historical Report HHR-32 (Washington, 1970).

49. Robert L. Rosholt, An Administrative History of NASA, 1958-1963, NASA SP-4101 (Washington, 1966), pp. 289-302; Arnold S. Levine, Managing NASA in the Apollo Era, NASA SP-4102 (Washington, 1982), pp. 5-6, 38-46.

50. Levine, Managing NASA, p. 19.

51. House Committee on Science and Astronautics, 1965 NASA Authorization, Hearings on H.R. 9641, 88/2, pt. 1, pp. 113-14.

52. Levine, Managing NASA, p. 119.

53. Brooks, Grimwood, and Swenson, Chariots, pp. 128-31; "Apollo Schedule and Cost Evaluation," presentation to George E. Mueller, Sept. 28, 1963, copy in JSC History Office files, box 063-65.

54. NASA Management Instruction 9000.002, "Establishment of a Manned Space Flight Experiments Board," Jan. 14, 1964; Compton and Benson, Living and Working in Space, pp. 61-62.

55. Willis B. Foster to Chief, Lunar & Planetary Branch [OSSA], "Establishment of Manned Space Flight Experiments Board," Jan. 9, 1964.

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