Five Years After

On the morning of 16 July 1974, a large crowd gathered at the LC-39 press site to dedicate the launch complex as a national historical site. At the front of the press stands, a countdown clock ticked off the minutes. At 9:32 a.m., exactly five years after the liftoff of Apollo 11, astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins unveiled a plaque commemorating their historic journey. The inscription read in part:

Men began the first journeys to the moon from this complex. The success ofthese explorations was made possible by the united efforts ofGovernment, and Industry, and the support of the American people.

Without question, the teamwork that joined together thousands of men and machines was Kennedy Space Center's greatest contribution to the lunar landing. Other elements undergirding KSC's success included the confidence, diligence, and technological skills of the launch team and the generous support of Congress.

A spirit of optimism marked the launch team's efforts throughout the Apollo program. Wernher von Braun exemplified this attitude in 1962 when he defended the choice of a mobile launch complex for LC-39. As von Braun noted, the fundamental question was whether NASA leaders believed "a space program is here to stay, and will continue to grow." Grumman workers typified this same outlook ten years later with their Apollo 17 slogan, "This may be our last, but it will be our best." At times during the program, the optimism wavered, most notably in 1967 in the aftermath of the AS-204 fire and with the interminable checkout of AS-501. Despite these setbacks, the launch team continued to believe that it could meet President Kennedy's challenge.

Another vital ingredient in KSC's success was the old-fashioned virtue, perseverance. Problems were the norm during most Apollo launch operations. With so much new, exotic hardware, strenuous efforts at quality control did not eliminate defective parts; equipment failures were common. The situation was complicated further by frequent last-minute modifications to the spacecraft, particularly in the hectic years of 1967-1968. From the Debus-Davis Study to the Apollo 13 rescue, there were numerous occasions when time clocks, Sundays, and holidays were ignored. The launch team's diligence allowed KSC management to recover from many schedule slips and maintain NASA's timetable.

The launch team overcame significant technical problems on its way to the lunar launch. Although the design of the Merritt Island facilities was generally straight forward and within the state of the art, LC-39's size posed a great challenge. URSAM's assignment on the vehicle assembly building was to design one of the world's largest buildings on a marsh, in hurricane country, with openings along the sides that precluded a conventional framework. The extensible platforms, enclosing the space vehicles inside the assembly building, did not allow any appreciable sidesway. The 8,000-metric-ton load intended for Marion's crawler-transporter ruled out any pre-construction tests of its design. The many changes in space-vehicle requirements and the pressing construction schedule added to the problems of size. As Col. N. A. Lore of the Corps of Engineers wrote in 1966, nearly all of LC-39 "was designed prior to [firm] definition of Apollo systems and built to support concepts rather than detailed systems." Consequently, important parts of the launch facility required extensive design changes; the swing arms and mobile service structure were prominent examples.

While visitors marvel at the size of LC-39's major facilities, the automating of launch operations represented KSC's most important technological advance. The Saturn V ground computer complex and the spacecraft's automated checkout system were in the vanguard of industrial automation. Whereas computers had been employed previously in monitoring industrial operations, KSC's electrical engineers used their computers to command lengthy processes. The automation of launch operations took nearly a decade and caused many frustrations, at times threatening the entire operation. It is unlikely, however, that KSC could have launched an Apollo-Saturn V on time, without computers.

A major reason for the launch team's success was its ability to profit from mistakes. The AS-204 fire prompted necessary changes in test procedures and safety requirements. Just as importantly, it brought the Cape's spacecraft operations completely under KSC's direction for the first time. The lightning strike on Apollo 12 caused a thorough review of LC-39's electrical protection and a tightening of weather restrictions. After the blind flange incident on the SA-5 countdown, launch officials adopted the countdown demonstration test as the final test. The launch team failed to anticipate problems in a number of areas; when difficulties appeared, however, officials profited from the experience.

Congressional support paved the way to the moon. When the launch facilities were planned in 19611962, Congress was willing to fund whatever was necessary to overtake the Russians. NASA's ambitious requests were largely met. With a decline of congressional support after 1962, KSC had to lower its sights - the assembly building shrank from six to four high bays and there were similar reductions in other facilities. Although congressional generosity declined, the launch operation fared well through 1969. There were ample funds for overtime, cost overruns, and special efforts such as the Boeing-TIE contract. The cutback after Apollo 11 brought a sizable reduction in KSC's workforce, but in other areas (e.g., civil service grade level and contractor overtime) there were no significant changes until the program's end.

In retrospect NASA and Congress appear to have overbuilt the launch complex. NASA engineers developed the plans for the launch facilities in 1961-1962 when other aspects of Apollo were still undecided. (The decision to employ a mobile launch preceded the selection of lunar orbital rendezvous.) The plans for LC-39 were based on predictions of high launch rates. For two decades the von Braun team had employed a building-block approach to rocket testing. It was assumed that a new launch vehicle would undergo many test flights before qualification; 16 were scheduled initially for the Saturn I. The Huntsville center also believed that lunar landing could best be achieved via earth-orbital rendezvous, which required several launches per mission. Together, the building block philosophy and earthorbital rendezvous might require 50 launches per year, a rate justifying a mobile launch complex. However, the high launch rate never materialized, partly because of NASA's "all-up" decision (made after congressional cutbacks in 1963). After Apollo 11, a significant portion of LC-39 was not needed.

Changes during the Apollo program had a similar impact on spacecraft facilities. Several activities planned for the launch site, such as parachute packing and static test-firing, were eventually conducted elsewhere. The size of the facilities also anticipated a higher launch rate. In some cases the vacant space was used for other purposes; thus the parachute-packing facility became a news center in 1968. KSC had few white elephants at the peak of Apollo operations, but much of the spacecraft facilities went unused during the program's last three years. Viewed from the perspective of the mid-1970s, midway between the eras of Apollo and the Space Shuttle, the manned launch complex appears grossly overbuilt. It can be argued, however, that the Apollo-Saturn launch facilities provided a margin for error in the hectic months of 1968-1969 when KSC had three vehicles in the operational flow. It can also be argued that those facilities may be used in the future.

Apollo placed a severe strain on the larger Cape community. Brevard County had grown with amazing rapidity during the 1950s. The increase brought about by the Apollo program further taxed the social and economic resources of the area and took a heavy toll of family life, as the divorce rates of the time indicate. Race relations at Kennedy Space Center seemed harmonious, but the limited numbers of black engineers and trained technicians kept most blacks in service or maintenance areas.

Labor disputes were among the most distressing aspects of the launch facility construction. Unions quarreled with NASA over tasks performed by civil servants; union members refused to work alongside nonunion labor; and most frequently they fought each other over jurisdictional rights to jobs. While not noticeably greater than in most industrial areas, work stoppages seemed as totally out of place in the space race as they had during World War II. The contrast between the total dedication of some workers intent on getting men to the moon, and others arguing about jurisdiction in areas of employment, tended to shock the nation.

The conflict at the Cape was not limited to the labor unions. Some members of the Air Force viewed the civilian agency's program as an infringement on their preserve. The manned spaceflight centers questioned each other's performance and objectives. Houston's and Huntsville's mistakes were magnified at Merritt Island, where the launch team corrected space-vehicle errors. It was easy to forget the thousands of parts that worked when the failure of one piece delayed a launch. The subordination of Houston and Goddard launch teams to KSC also caused hard feelings. Finally there were differing opinions as to the relative contributions of contractor and civil servant at KSC.

While many disagreements sprang up during the launch operations, the Apollo team subordinated its differences to the goal of a lunar landing. At the fifth anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch, James Webb noted:

The successes achieved here resulted not only from teamwork between individuals, not only from effective interfaces between men and machines, but also because Dr. Kurt Debus and his associates in NASA, in the Air Force and other government agencies, in industry and in universities have created a team of organizations which is a much more difficult undertaking than to create a team of individuals.

The leadership was the more remarkable, coming in large part from engineers with little previous schooling in management. The demonstration of this teamwork of organizations - from the planning for LC-39 through the successful launch of Apollo 17 - is the most impressive legacy of the Apollo launch program.

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Appendix A

LA UNCHES OF SA TURN IB AND SA TURN V

Mission_AS-201_AS-202_AS-203_Apollo 4 Apollo 5_Apollo 6 Apollo 7_Apollo 8_Apollo 9 Apollo 10 Apollo 11_Apollo 12 Apollo 13_Apollo 14 Apollo 15 Apollo 16 Apollo 17

Launch

Repeat

Repeat

First

Lunar

Launch

Manned

Manned

Manned

Manned

Lunar

Deploy

Deploy

Repeat 13

Extended

Repeat 15

Repeat 15;

vehicle

AS-201;

AS-201;

Saturn V

module

vehicle

test of

flight of

test of

test of

landing

lunar

lunar

investiga

return

Objective

develop

suborbital;

test

launch

develop

develop

command-

Saturn V

lunar

lunar

experiments;

experiments;

tions with

largest

ment; sub

test heat

liquid

ment

ment

service

and

hardware

hardware

investigate

photograph

lunar

load of

orbital

shield

hydrogen

module

lunar

in earth

near

Surveyor III

later

rover

lunar

systems

orbit

orbit

moon

sites

samples

Vehicles

launch

SA-201

SA-202

SA-203

AS-501

AS-204

AS-502

SA-205

AS-503

AS-504

AS-505

AS-506

AS-507

AS-508

AS-509

AS-510

AS-511

AS-512

command-

service

009

Oil

017

020

101

103

104

106

107

108

109

110

112

113

114

lunar

10R

1

2R

B

3

4

5

6

7

8

10

11

12

Facilities

high bay

1

3

__

1

3

2

1

3

1

3

3

3

3

mobile

launcher

1

2

_

1

2

3

1

2

3

2

3

3

3

complex,

pad

34

34

37B

39A

37B

39A

34

39A

39A

39B

39A

39A

39A

39A

39A

39A

39A

firing room

1

2

1

2

3

1

2

1

2

1

1

1

Erection

launch veh.

25 Oct 65

11 Mar 66

21 Apr 66

19 Jun 67

11 Apr 67

14 Jul 67

11 May 68

14 Aug 68

7 Oct 68

30 Dec 68

5 Mar 69

22 May 69

1 Aug 69

14 May 70

17 Sep 70

6 Oct 71

27 Jun 72

spacecraft

26 Dec 65

2 Jul 66

20 Jun 67

19 Nov 67

10 Dec 67

9 Aug 68

7 Oct 68

3 Dec 68

6 Feb 69

14 Apr 69

30 Jun 69

10 Dec 69

5 Nov 70

8 May 71

8 Dec 71,

23 Aug 72

5 Feb 72

CDDT

9 Feb 66

5 Aug 66

1 Jul 66

13 Oct 67

19 Jan 68

31 Mar 68

17 Sep 68

11 Dec 68

19 Feb 69

6 May 69

3 Jul 69

29 Oct 69

26 Mar 70

19 Jan 71

14 Jul 71

31 Mar 72

21 Nov 72

Schirra

Borman

McDivitt

Stafford

Armstrong

Conrad

Lovell

Shepard

Scott

Young

Cernan

Crew

Eisele

Lovell

Scott

Young

Collins

Gordon

Swigert

Roosa

Worden

Mattingly

Evans

Cunning

Anders

Schweick-

Cernan

Aldrin

Bean

Haise

Mitchell

Irwin

Duke

Schmitt

ham

art

Lunar

Sea

Ocean

(Fra

Fra

Hadley

Descartes

Taurus

landing

of

of

Mauro

Mauro

Apennine

Littrow

site

Tran

Storms

intended)

quillity

Test

supervisor

Donnelly

Phillips

Donnelly

Henschel

Phillips

Harrington

Phillips

Schick

Harrington

Phillips

Schick

Harrington

Grenville

Henschel

Harrington

Turner

Schick

Lunar

29 Jan-

window

16-22 Jul

10-17 Nov

7-14 Apr

3 Feb

24-30 Jul

16-23 Apr

5-17 Dec

Launched

26 Feb 66

25 Aug 66

5 Jul 66

9 Nov 67

22 Jan 68

4 Apr 68

11 Oct 68

21 Dec 68

3 Mar 69

18 May 69

16 Jul 69

14 Nov 69

11 Apr 70

31 Jan 71

26 Jul 71

16 Apr 72

Launch Complex 39

Vehicle (Vertical) Assembly Building (VAB)

Dimensions: 218 x 158 m, 160 m tall. Compare to Statue of Liberty, 93 m tall.

Volume: 3 665 000 cu m. Compare to Pentagon, 2 181000 cu m.

Features: 4 high bays for assembly and checkout of launch vehicles with spacecraft, low bays for checkout of individual stages. 4 high bay doors, opening height 139 m. 71 lifting devices. 2 bridge cranes of 227-metric-ton capacity. 9070 metric tons of air conditioning, 125 ventilators.

Construction: 89400 metric tons of steel, 49700 cu m of concrete. 4225 open-end steel pipe piles, 0.4 m diameter, driven to depth of 49 m. Siding of 100800 sq m of insulated aluminum panels and 6500 sq m of plastic panels.

Cost of construction: $117000000.

Launch Control Center (LCC)

The 4-story, electronic brain of LC-39, the LCC was built adjacent to the VAB and 5.6 km from pad A. During launch, 62 TV cameras provided closed-circuit pictures to 100 monitor screens in the LCC. The LCC was connected to the mobile launchers by a high-speed data link.

1st floor: offices, cafeteria, shops.

2d floor: telemetry, RF and tracking equipment, instrumentation, data reduction and evaluation equipment.

3d floor: 4 firing rooms, one for each of the high bays in the VAB. Each active room had 470 sets of control and monitoring equipment.

4th floor: conference and display rooms, offices, mechanical equipment.

Cost of construction: $10000000.

. Mobile Launchers (3)

Weight: 5715 metric tons, with unfueled vehicle.

Height (on pedestals): 136 m to top of crane.

MOONPORT

Launch platform: 2-story steel structure 49 x 41 m, 7.6 m high. Exhaust hole 14 m square. 4 hold-down arms, each 18 100 kg, held rocket vertical during thrust buildup, approximately 8.9 seconds to reach 95% of total thrust. Platform supported by 6 steel pedestals 7 meters high when in VAB or on pad. 4 additional extensible columns used at pad, to stiffen platform during firing.

Umbilical tower, mounted on platform, 18 levels, 2 elevators. 9 swing (service) arms for personnel access, propellant, electrical, pneumatic, and instrumentation lines. Arms weighed 15 900-23 600 kg, length 13.7-18.3 m. Top arm (9) used by astronauts to enter spacecraft. 4 arms retracted before liftoff, 5 at T-0.

Cost of construction: $33 963 000.

4. Transporters (2)

Used to move mobile launcher, with assembled space vehicle, from VAB to pad, also to move mobile service structure to and from pad.

Weight: 2720 metric tons, largest tracked vehicle known.

Dimensions: 35 x 40 m, with top deck about size of baseball infield; height, 6-8 m.

4 double-tracked crawlers each 3 m high, 12 m long. 8 tracks per transporter, 57 shoes per track. Each tread shoe (or link in the track) weighed 0.9 metric ton.

Power: 16 traction motors powered by four 1000-kw generators, driven by 2 diesel engines; two 750-kw generators, driven by 2 diesel engines for jacking, steering, lighting, ventilating; two 150-kw generators for power to the mobile launcher.

Maximum speed: 1.6 km/hr loaded, 3.2 unloaded. Pad-to-VAB trip time, loaded, 7 hrs.

Levelling: top of space vehicle kept vertical within ±10' of arc, including negotiation of 5% grade leading up to pad.

Cost of construction: $13 600000.

5. Mobile Service Structure (1)

Weight: 4760 metric tons.

Height: 125 m.

Elevators: 2 for personnel and equipment in tower, 1 from ground to base work area.

Work platforms: 2 self-propelled, 3 fixed. Top 3 platforms served spacecraft, bottom 2 served Saturn V.

Parking position during launch: 2100 m from pad A.

Cost of construction: $11 600000.

LAUNCH COMPLEX 39

6. Crawlerway

Length: VAB to pad A, 5500 m; VAB to pad B, 6800 m.

Width: 2 lanes, each 12 m, separated by 15 m median.

Depth: average 2 m.

Cost of construction: $7 500000.

Construction: 52000 cu m of concrete, roughly octagonal in shape. 2 pads are virtually identical, 2660 m apart.

Flame trench: 13 m deep, 18 m wide, 137 m long.

Flame deflector: 635 metric tons, 12 m high, 15 m wide, 23 m long.

Lighting: 40 xenon high-intensity searchlights in 5 clusters around perimeter.

Emergency Egress System: 61-m escape tube from mobile launcher platform to blast-resistant room 12 m below pad, which contained survival supplies for 20 persons for 24 hours. Also, cab on slidewire from 98-m level to revetment 763 m away.

Appendix C

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