The Webb Gilpatric Agreement

On the same day that NASA announced its intention of obtaining land on Merritt Island, it signed an agreement with the Department of Defense that set guidelines for managing and funding the Manned Lunar Landing Program. This agreement, which took its name from James E. Webb, whom President Kennedy had just appointed to head NASA, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric, set down three preliminary considerations: the Department of Defense and NASA recognized the great impact of the Manned Lunar Landing Program on the Atlantic Missile Range; in the national interest, the two should pool their resources to make the most effective use of the facilities and services; and the traditional relationship between range-user and range-operator would continue. 29

The agreement contained 11 provisions that gave NASA ultimate responsibility for acquiring the new land, improving it, constructing necessary buildings, and operating the Manned Lunar Landing Program facilities on the new site and elsewhere. The seventh provision read:

(7) As agent for NASA, the Department of the Air Force will: a) prepare and maintain a master plan of all facilities on the new site, to include the selection of sites for mission and range support facilities (NASA will be represented on the Master Planning Board); b) prepare design criteria for all land improvements and range support facilities subject to NASA approval, and arrange for the construction thereof; c) design, develop, and procure all communications, range instrumentation, and range support equipment required in support of NASA at or near the launch area.30

Unfortunately, this hastily drafted document neither defined some critical terms nor included interpretative guidelines. The two parties resolved some simple disputes easily; others they found harder to overcome.31

Disagreement centered on the definition of the word agent in paragraph (7). According to NASA, an agent was one who acts for or in the place of another by authority from the principal. In the NASA view, the intent of the Webb-Gilpatric Agreement was not to give authority to the Air Force for master planning on Merritt Island; rather, the Air Force was to exercise the master planning functions by authority of NASA and subject to its approval. The Air Force, in contrast, stated that since range users never had the right to locate their launch facilities at the Atlantic Missile Range, it was the range commander's responsibility to site all facilities in accordance with needs of all users. The Air Force, however, had no intention of assuming responsibility for design planning of any NASA mission facilities, such as launch pads.32

The Air Force quite simply viewed the new area as an extension of the Cape Canaveral Missile Test Annex. To avoid unnecessary duplication of facilities and personnel, it seemed best that a single manager should control the operation. Responsible for development of the Eastern Test Range since

October 1949, the Air Force had supported other agencies, including NASA, with manifold facilities in the areas of range safety, logistics, and tracking. From November 1958 to August 1961, first as the Atlantic Missile Range Operations Office, then after 1 July 1960 as the Launch Operations Directorate, NASA had funded the construction of blockhouses, launch pads, and assembly buildings for its specific programs on the Cape. The Air Force Missile Test Center had purchased and improved land and incorporated the new facilities into its real property accountability system. "Only certain specified services and functions," the History ofthe Air Force Missile Test Center pointed out, "were provided NASA on a reimbursable basis." 33

Now there was to be an important departure from the Air Force policy of retaining control of all real property at Canaveral. The Department of Defense could not provide money for an immediate purchase of Merritt Island. NASA would have to buy the land. During deliberations in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, preliminary to the Webb-Gilpatric Agreement, the Department of Defense Research and Engineering representatives had inserted a clause in the draft agreement to the effect that all land acquired in behalf of NASA should be transferred to the Department of Defense and incorporated into the Atlantic Missile Range. Gilpatric had questioned the need for such a clause and transfer, saying that the land belonged to the government. Gilpatric's attitude would prove an unfavorable harbinger to Air Force enthusiasts who viewed Merritt Island as an extension of their Cape.34 NASA eventually took the position that the Air Force, as the agent for NASA in relation to the new land, had assumed a completely new management position, and that NASA had the authority to control the management actions of its agent in these new and separate areas.35

For the time, a reading of the Webb-Gilpatric Agreement, especially the controversial seventh provision, along with an understanding of the traditional Air Force viewpoint, might lead one to wonder how the Director of the Launch Operations Directorate had presumed he would have sufficient freedom of movement. Sometime later Debus recalled his reasons for agreeing to these arrangements. He stated,

Although it may appear that this agreement was to the advantage of the Air Force, you must remember that the Air Force did everything - everyone else was a customer. All their efforts were space oriented and anyone encroaching on this area was considered a challenge by the Air Force. During this period we had to continually make an effort to understand the Air Force's position.36

At the time, Debus discussed the tenancy aspects of the Webb-Gilpatric Agreement with Samuel Snyder, Associate Director of Launch Operations at NASA Headquarters, and General Ostrander. While he had suggestions for improving several points, Snyder had urged that "if we could live with it," NASA should sign.37 Debus and the Commander of the Missile Test Center hoped that they could avoid referring most issues to Washington, preferring to settle them locally.

The Launch Operations Director came to feel during the ensuing months that he needed a stronger hand in site selection and approval of facilities and could not live with the Air Force assumption that Merritt Island was simply an extension of Cape Canaveral. Even a casual observer could see that the two groups would not always be working in harmony and that their areas of operation overlapped at certain points. A new arrangement would eventually have to succeed the Webb-Gilpatric Agreement of August 1961.

Previous Page

Table of Contents

Next Page

Merritt Island Purchase

On 1 September, NASA asked Congress to authorize the purchase of 324 square kilometers of land on Merritt Island, immediately north and west of the existing missile launching area at Cape Canaveral. In support of the proposal, Senator Robert Kerr of Oklahoma, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, stressed several factors. Stringent time schedules for the lunar program made the area ideal. NASA could reduce costs by use of existing resources, facilities, and personnel. The tracking network stretched almost 14,500 kilometers into the Indian Ocean. If NASA tried to start from scratch in another area, this one aspect of the program would be prohibitive. NASA could plan efficiently for future expansion in the new complex. And lastly, Senator Kerr insisted that this facility would be used for many years to come. Congress was favorable.38

Land acquisition, 1962 -1964.

On 21 September, Seamans requested the Army Corps of Engineers to undertake the land acquisition. 39 Congress adjourned before authorizing the purchase. Without such authorization, NASA could not ask for the appropriation; but the agency's reprogramming authority made it possible to start purchasing land before the end of 1961. NASA transferred funds from its Research and Development account to its Construction of Facilities Account, and advanced the money to the Army Corps of Engineers, its agent in purchasing the land, and balanced the books the following year. 40

The use of the Corps of Engineers in this way followed an established pattern of cooperation between NASA and the Corps.41 Morris A. Spooner, Chief, Real Estate Division, Jacksonville District Engineers, supervised the buying of the land. After notifying the public of NASA's plans and the exact boundary of the area involved, the Corps opened an office in Titusville, the county seat, before the end of September.* When all owners had listed their holdings, 440 tracts were involved. Three-fourths of the owners were absentee; three-fifths lived outside of Florida. The Corps hired experienced land appraisers from firms in Lakeland, Miami, Jacksonville Beach, and Melbourne and issued a booklet to explain the procedures to property owners.42 First, the Corps would identify the owner, map the land, and describe it legally. Then the appraiser would evaluate each tract. Finally, the Corps would negotiate with the owner. If negotiations proved successful, the direct purchase representative closed the deal; sometimes negotiations broke down and the government had to begin condemnation proceedings. 43

According to the NASA plan, one group of owners had to vacate their property by the end of February 1962. Many complained to the Titusville Star-Advocate that the Corps had not gotten in touch with them and offered a fair price. An editorial on 17 February 1962 maintained that the Corps had not moved as fast as it should have. It insisted that the agents of the federal government should have placed an equitable price on each piece of property and mailed the offer to the owner with a self-addressed return envelope. If the homeowner agreed, he could have notified the Engineers. If he did not, the Engineers could proceed with the suit in court.

It is common knowledge [the editorial went on] the Corps of Engineers is making offers for property subject to negotiation. Is this proper? Should the federal government agents go into the horse-trading business?. . . To send in negotiators is nothing less than high-pressure tactics to get the most for the least.

It urged the owners not to allow the Engineers to high-pressure them. If any delay occurred, the editorial concluded, "the Corps of Engineers should carry this delaying responsibility."44 In spite of this and other complaints, most land acquisitions moved ahead without too much delay. Many individuals took the Corps and NASA into court, but in almost every instance the jury verdict was in the government's favor or close to the figure the government had offered.45

While not involving a great number of people, the exodus had its poignant elements - as do all such transfers. This was home for many people, and a lovely home. One family had come down from Savannah, Georgia, a few years before and purchased a small estate near Happy Lagoon, about three kilometers north of where the assembly building was to rise. Husband and wife had come to cherish their new location. The Corps of Engineers assured them that if they purchased similar land north of Haulover Canal, they need never worry about moving again. They took the advice, only to have NASA subsequently reassess its needs and decide to expand farther north. The couple moved to Orlando.46 The government retained 60 homes for interim use by NASA, the Corps of Engineers, or the Air Force.47 Some individuals moved their houses to the mainland or to the south end of Merritt Island.

* Relations between LOD and the Corps did not always run smoothly. After a March 1962 visit to the Jacksonville office of the Corps, an LOD finance officer noted that the Corps was anxious to "dump" administration charges on NASA. In interviews, NASA officials have commented that Corps support did not come cheaply.

Previous Page

Table of Contents

Next Page

The Titan III Problem

During the fall of 1961, the Air Force was faced with the problem of finding a launch area for its new Titan III. This 39-meter missile consisted of a liquid-fueled central rocket flanked by two solid boosters of great power. Launch sites on Cape Canaveral, including pad 18, pad 20, and the tip of the Cape, were deemed unusable on account of blast and toxicity factors. Events took a collision course when Missile Test Center administrators decided the new NASA land on Merritt Island could be considered as a possible Titan launch site. The Air Force would place the Titan complex just north of complex 37, spacing the pads for use of class IX* explosives. On the premise that the Air Force had master planning powers over the entire launch area, including the land NASA was acquiring on Merritt Island, the recommendation to site Titan III north of complex 37 and partly on NASA land (and submerged land) was accepted by Air Force Headquarters and approved by the Department of Defense. Further, a Titan overflight of LC-37 appeared to be no problem, and the corrosive effects of the Titan rocket exhaust would be negligible. The Missile Test Center proposed that NASA move its launch pads north to accommodate Titan III.48

To this, Debus could not agree. LOD believed the corrosive effects of the Titan exhaust would pose a serious hazard to NASA space vehicles on launch complexes 34 and 37, and that any overflight would create serious safety restrictions. Placing the Titan III integration building on Merritt Island would interfere with NASA's canal and bridge plans. The proposed Titan III firing rate would close down launch complex 37 or pad A of launch complex 39 once every ten days. Moving LC-39 farther north would double the distance from assembly building to launch area, increase the cost of communications lines by $1 million, and force NASA personnel to detour around the Titan III area in going from the Cape to LC-39. In sum, LOD believed a Titan III failure could seriously endanger NASA's flight hardware, pads, and personnel; that Titan launch operations would interfere with NASA activities; and that a heavy concentration of escaping propellants from Titan III might cause serious corrosion problems in NASA spacecraft. Finally, LOD did not intend to launch spacecraft over Air Force sites and did not want Air Force missiles flying over its pads. The Launch Operations Directorate concluded that Titan III should be located north of the NASA area and recommended the purchase of an additional 60 square kilometers of land above the Haulover Canal for that purpose.49

The Air Force was agreeable to buying this land and earmarking it for NASA, but this was no balm to LOD. The Titan affair seemed to say, if not in so many words, that the Air Force was standing on its rights as master of the entire launch area and deemed Merritt Island an extension of the Cape. Debus and his staff were troubled about the implications of the situation and tried - for many weeks without success - to convey their concern to the NASA administration.

In an effort to work out some of the problems, General Shriever, General Davis, and their staffs met on 19 February 1962 with a NASA team of D. Brainerd Holmes, Debus, and others. The conference produced a lamentable communications gap. Shriever understood that Holmes and Debus were agreeable to siting Titan III in the south where the Air Force wanted it, deferring selection of a moonport site, and purchasing additional land north of Haulover Canal. The actual NASA position, as set out at a Management Council meeting under Holmes's chairmanship on 27 February, was that "the preferable solution to Cape siting problems is immediate acquisition of additional land to the north and siting the Titan III at the north, Nova in the center, and [Saturn] C-5 to the south."50 Much of the following month was devoted to the solution of this impasse, a process complicated by misunderstandings within the NASA command. Much to Debus's disappointment, NASA agreed tentatively to the southern sitings. 51 On 27 March a statement of the acceptability of overflight was signed by L. L. Kavanaugh, for the Department of Defense, and Robert Seamans. A still unreconciled Debus told the Management Council that NASA should retain control over NASA-purchased lands and seek an amendment to the Webb-Gilpatric Agreement providing for joint master planning. 52

* In the U.S. military forces, this designation identifies high explosives such as dynamite, materials that are very susceptible to ignition by spark or friction and burn with explosive violence.

Previous Page

Table of Contents

Next Page

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment