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On Mars: Exploration of the Red Planet. 1958-1978

[139] During the spring and summer of 1968, Don Hearth at NASA Headquarters and Jim Martin at Langley wrestled with two familiar problems- project management and project budgets. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory management still wanted to control such planetary missions as Titan Mars 73. And the 1968 debates over the fiscal year 1969 budget were threatening the agency's Mars lander goals.
JPL Director Pickering began a high-level management debate in April 1968 with a letter to Charles Donlan, the acting director at Langley. * After cordial comments about the "excellent working relationships" being established between JPL and Langley, Pickering went on to say that his organization agreed with "the previous position taken by LaRC [Langley] representatives relative to Voyager. namely that Project Management and Orbiter System Management should be the responsibility of a single center because the total mission design is so tightly coupled to the Orbiter System functions of acquiring scientific data and transporting an entry-lander to acceptable release conditions." To conform with this management concept, Pickering thought it might be wise to assign "both Project management and Orbiter System management responsibilities to JPL, particularly in follow-up of the Mariner Mars 71 Project." A second alternative would assign project and orbiter management to Langley, with JPL providing "Project-level missions support and Entry-Lander System management." With either approach, Pickering believed his team in Pasadena was the one that should work with Langley in managing the 1973 Mars lander mission. 34
Eugene Draley, Langley assistant director for flight projects, recorded in a memo for the record that JPL seemed to prefer working on the lander rather than on the orbiter, but Jim Martin's proposed management did not agree with JPL's suggestions. Langley wanted to oversee the project and the development of the lander with JPL supervising the work on the orbiter, which would evolve from the 1971 Mariner orbiter. 35 While sympathetic to the merits of JPL's alternatives, the Langley team wanted to pursue its proposed management scheme for several specific reasons. First, an anticipated tight budget for the 1973 mission required NASA to keep the modifications of the Mariner 71 orbiter to a minimum. Since JPL was responsible for that project, it seemed logical from the standpoint of continuity and cost-effectiveness that the Pasadena facility adapt the 1971 orbiter [140] for the l973 flight. If Langley were to manage the orbiter, the technological and fiscal risk would increase, since the essential experience and important test equipment were at JPL. Additionally, Langley would have to hire more personnel at an increased cost to the project. Second, the Langley managers believed that their center had entry expertise and other technological experience that would permit them to carry out the lander part of the project more successfully than JPL. Although the California laboratory could claim abilities in this area based on experience with the Surveyor lunar lander, Langley's planners insisted on managing both the overall project and the lander.
Langley's people, having worked hard on planning for a mission to Mars, believed they had won the right to manage the project. Development of the lander was a technological challenge, and they wanted to meet it. According to the planetary experts in Virginia, the lander was important for a host of reasons:
In addition, three other considerations led the Langley people to believe that they should manage the 1973 project. They believed they had a better understanding of experiments that should be carried aboard a Mars lander. Equally important, they argued that Langley needed the management of a major project for the prestige it would bring the center and for developing their management skills. 36
The management issue was resolved at a May meeting between representatives of Langley and JPL, where after a detailed discussion the laboratory participants agreed to the Langley proposal. In an attempt to improve communications between the two teams, a Mission Design Steering Committee was established, with members from the project management office and from the four major system areas-orbiter, lander, launch vehicle, and tracking and data acquisition. Jim Martin was chairman, with Israel Taback representing the lander system, J. L. Kramer of Lewis acting as launch vehicle delegate, and JPL employees Charles W. Cole and Nicholas A. Renzetti temporarily serving as orbiter and tracking and data acquisition specialists. Walter Jakobowski represented the headquarters Office of Space Science and Applications. 37 Concurrent with the formation of the intercenter [141] design committee, Cortright redesignated Langley's Lunar Orbiter Project Office the Advanced Space Flight Projects Office. The director chose this broad title as "a hedge against the Mars mission getting scrubbed."
As the Mission Design Steering Committee set up working groups to address specific technical topics, renewed budgetary battles were being fought in Washington during the fall of 1968. The Bureau of the Budget cut NASA's initial request by about $l billion before it went to Congress. Compared to the preceding years, the lunar and planetary proposal was lean, but then so was the total research and development figure- $3.677 billion for fiscal 1969, dropping from budget plans of $3.970 and $4.175 billion for fiscal 1968 and 1967. 38

Table 23

Lunar and Planetary Exploration Budget Plan, FY 1969

(in thousands)

Budget Item

FY 1967

FY 1968

FY 1969

Lunar and Planetary Exploration

$184 150

$141 500

$107 300

Supporting research and technology/advanced studies

22 350

19 800

30 000

Advanced planetary mission technology


12 000

6 700

Data analysis



2 600


79 942

35 600


Lunar orbiter

26 000

9 500


Mariner IV and V

13 058

3 800


Mariner Mars 1969

30 130

59 200

30 000

Mariner Mars 1971



18 000

Titan Mars 1973



20 000



1 000


SOURCE: NASA "Background Material NASA FY 1969 Budget Briefing, " news release, 29 Jan. 1968

For whatever consolation it offered, NASA managers and engineers knew that the space agency was not the only organization suffering budget cutbacks. Federally funded science and technology faced bleak times generally. At the beginning of February 1968, the journal Science reported, "A scientific community that is already in a state of alarm over a tightening of federal funds in the current fiscal year will find scant cause for rejoicing in the budget that President Johnson presented to the Congress this week." The Johnson administration proposed a five percent increase over fiscal 1968, which would, given inflation and other factors, only keep programs even with the preceding year's levels. The Science article concluded that the lesson seemed clear there is a long and rocky road between proposing a budget and actually rendering support to the scientist at the bench." NASA's road looked particularly rough, since apparently only two-thirds of the dollars requested for space activities would be appropriated. 39
[142] On 2 May, the House of Representatives accepted reductions recommended by the Science and Astronautics Committee and made additional cuts before voting 262 to 105 for the FY 1969 space authorization bill. The approved amount, $4 031 423 000. was $1 billion less than NASA had originally proposed to the Bureau of the Budget and about $370 million below the budget submitted to Congress. On 21 May, the Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences lopped an additional $27.35 million from NASA's request. The amount finally approved by conference committee in October 1968 was $3.7003 billion. 40
While waiting for final action on their appropriations bill, NASA officials worked up an interim operations plan based on anticipated reductions. Under the interim plan, work on Apollo, aeronautics, and space applications would proceed at the authorized levels. Activity in other areas would be adjusted, meaning there would be additional personnel cutbacks, with civil service ranks being reduced by 1600 persons and support contractor numbers by at least 2000. Personnel reductions would hit new programs the hardest, since agency leaders believed that Apollo and other ongoing programs could not be pared any further if they were to be executed successfully and on schedule.
Apollo Applications, Titan Mars 73, Saturn launch vehicle development, and the nuclear propulsion program, NERVA, were among the projects most affected by the budget crunch. The Apollo Applications Program would receive about $140 million of the $440 million requested. Only one Saturn IB Workshop would be flown, with an Apollo Telescope Mount. With the exception of the backup launch vehicle and workshop, production on Saturn IB and Saturn V boosters would be terminated. Only 15 giant Saturns would be produced instead of the projected l9. NERVA was once again delayed, with only limited development approved. The plans for a Mars 1973 mission were revised "to conform to sharply reduced funding in FY 1969. The instrumentation to be landed on Mars and the scientific return will be substantially less than in the program presented in the FY 1969 budget." 41 As Don Hearth and his colleagues juggled the various options so that money, limited as it was, could be made available for the 1969, 1971, and 1973 missions, the space agency was mustering outside support for these projects. 42

* Former Langley Director Floyd Thompson had been appointed special assistant to Administrator Webb to evaluate future manned space programs in February 1968. He was scheduled to retire at age 70 in November. Edgar M. Cortright became Langley director on 1 May. Donlan was acting director in the interim.