The Boeingmarshall Space Flight Center Collaboration

The Marshall Space Flight Center had always been a very autonomous NASA center, whether it was engineering and building its own hardware in support of the Apollo program, or overseeing contractors responsible for building the hardware MSFC required. Although Boeing won the contract to build the LRV, test units and related equipment, MSFC would remain very much in Boeing's back pocket for the entire duration of the program. Marshall managers and engineers knew from

Lrv Blueprint

GM-DRL built a % -scale model of a proposed LRV design in 1968 to illustrate the stowage and deployment from the Lunar Module. GM worked closely with Boeing in preparation of the LRV proposal to NASA. (NASA/MSFC)

experience that very close collaboration between the contractor and the NASA engineers was essential to ensure that any problems arising would be addressed and resolved in a timely manner to stay on schedule and on budget. This collaboration was also to ensure that the contractor did not stray too far afield in its design engineering, adding undue complexity or unwanted additional cost and impacting on the delivery deadline. While this was certainly true of practically every piece of Apollo hardware, it was especially true for the Lunar Roving Vehicle because of the compressed development and production schedule.

What was MSFC's structure to handle the LRV program with Boeing? Morea headed up the LRV Project Office, but there were no individual departments within that office to handle the various systems that would comprise the LRV. Instead, the Marshall Center relied on its various laboratories, divisions and branches to work on design development with Boeing and its subcontractors. It was a system that had worked well for the development of the Saturn launch vehicles.

''There was no one specific area at Marshall for development of the LRV,'' Morea stated. ''There were areas in each of the Laboratories that had a responsibility for a particular system. We had an Avionics Laboratory to develop navigation, Structures and Propulsion handled those areas, Human Factors handled those issues, and so on.''

The MSFC also had to coordinate with other NASA centers in areas where the LRV would impact upon spacecraft design or crew training. There were issues involved with the Lunar Module that would carry the LRV. The LM came under the purview of NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas, and they were quite firm in stating that they would not allow any radical changes to the LM to accommodate the LRV. The MSC also imposed weight limits for the vehicle. MSFC also had to coordinate with the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), which involved everything from LRV checkout and flight validation, to deployment tests and crew training, both in the air and on the ground at KSC itself. The LRV program would even involve other governmental entities, such as the U.S. Geologic Survey and the Army Corps of Engineers. The LRV may have been small in relation to such gargantuan vehicles as the Saturn V and its crawler transporter, but it would prove just as all-encompassing in its design development, construction, testing, flight readiness and crew accommodation and safety.


The Apollo Command Module built upon the lessons learned from the Mercury and Gemini capsules. The Saturn V drew heavily from all that was learned from the Saturn I and other smaller launch vehicles. The Lunar Roving Vehicle, however, had no such evolutionary legacy. It was a spacecraft unlike anything else ever done by the United States space program. Boeing's LRV project manager in Huntsville, Henry Kudish, wrote in the July 1970 issue of Space Flight that the LRV was, in fact, ''a very complex spacecraft.'' However, MSFC and the Boeing-GM team did have nearly a decade of previous vehicle studies and prototypes to draw upon that

Lunar Lrv Sixth Scale Model

GM-DRL was responsible for the Mobility and Electrical Power Subsystems of the LRV. The company built this test mule to validate early hardware designs. This vehicle received its electrical power via a cable from the truck following behind. Astronaut Jack Lousma drives, with astronaut Gerald Carr (standing). Both men would later fly on Skylab missions. (Courtesy: NASA/MSFC)

GM-DRL was responsible for the Mobility and Electrical Power Subsystems of the LRV. The company built this test mule to validate early hardware designs. This vehicle received its electrical power via a cable from the truck following behind. Astronaut Jack Lousma drives, with astronaut Gerald Carr (standing). Both men would later fly on Skylab missions. (Courtesy: NASA/MSFC)

dramatically focused the various systems that would ultimately make up the final Lunar Roving Vehicle design. That work certainly contributed not only to successfully meeting the mission requirements and deadlines, but also to the utter reliability of the LRV while operating on the Moon.

Boeing's contract called for the company to build four flight-ready LRVs. In addition, it was required to provide a full-scale mockup to make sure the vehicle met the astronauts' human factors requirements; a mobility test unit to assist in developing and verifying the design of the electric motors, wheels, suspension, hand controller and drive control electronics; a Lunar Module unit to determine the stress loads on the Lunar Module and check for envelope clearances; and two one-sixth-weight units to test the deployment mechanism that would unfold and deploy the LRV from the Lunar Module. On top of these, they had to supply a 1-G unit for use by the astronauts for training in either shirtsleeve casual dress or full-up EVA suits; a vibration test unit to ensure both the LRV and the LM would withstand the stresses that accompanied the launch, space flight and landing on the Moon; and finally the qualification test unit, which was essentially a complete LRV but would be used for testing in vacuum and extremes of temperature.

Like many other flight hardware development programs within project Apollo, the Lunar Roving Vehicle was a prime example of concurrent engineering; the demanding schedule would allow nothing else. At first glance, the proposed LRV appeared relatively straightforward since very little of the vehicle was actually hidden, but in fact it was deceptively complex, being made up of eight primary subsystems. These included the Mobility Subsystem, the Electrical Power Subsystem, the Navigation Subsystem, the Communications Subsystem, the Thermal Control Subsystem, the Crew Station Subsystem, the Control and Display Subsystem, and the Deployment System.

While not all of these subsystems needed backup capability, the mission-critical systems did require redundancy. ''That included the ability to steer the vehicle,'' Morea emphasized. ''One of the nightmare scenarios was, 'What if we get to the Moon and something happens to the electronic steering and we don't have the capability of steering the vehicle?' It would be a total loss for us. So, we had redundant steering so that both the front and rear wheels could steer. All four wheels were electrically driven so even in the unlikely event of losing three of the drive motors, the remaining motor had enough torque to get the LRV slowly back to the LM.''

Boeing had only ten weeks to nail down the engineering details of the eight systems before it would have to present the entire vehicle design during a preliminary design review. That design review took place on 28 and 29 January 1970 at MSFC, involving roughly 120 personnel from the Center in Huntsville, as well as Boeing engineers and managers and those from Boeing's primary subcontractor, General Motors, plus others involved directly or indirectly with the LRV program. Astronauts John Young, Charles Duke (both of whom would fly on Apollo 16) and Gerald Carr were also present to review the design and offer their essential input. The purpose of the preliminary design review was to ensure that the design presented met the Statement of Work and contract details, but was realistic both in its design and schedule delivery. Two of the systems Boeing presented came under criticism as overly complex: the navigation system and the deployment system. Every aspect of the LRV Boeing presented was discussed and out of that design review, work immediately began on the design engineering of these systems. The Critical Design Review would follow in June 1970 to give approval for production of the LRV. As it would turn out, the next year would prove as rugged and unpredictable as the lunar surface itself.


One of the key contract provisions between Boeing and MSFC was the selection of the A.C. Electronics Defense Research Laboratories to be the subcontractor for the largest system making up the LRV, the Mobility Subsystem. This consisted of the wheel assembly, suspension assembly, traction-drive assembly, steering assembly, drive control electronics, brakes and hand controller assembly. The folding chassis itself, which was also part of the mobility subsystem, would be engineered and built by Boeing. But it became clear by mid-January 1970 that Boeing would have problems with its subcontractor in endeavoring to meet cost, weight and schedule milestones. Only three months had passed since contract signing, and already the LRV program was over budget, there were fears of schedule slippage, and the LRV was over its 181.8 kg (400 lb) target weight. Program management logistics were showing the difficulty of coordinating the work between Boeing, its subcontractor, the NASA centers and the numerous MSFC departments working on the LRV's subsystems. After nearly a decade of Apollo program management, MSFC knew how to manage large programs, but the LRV was beginning to slip away from its control in several areas.

There was a program review at the end of February, and on 2 March, Saverio Morea sent a letter to Henry Kudish, Boeing's LRV program manager in Huntsville, detailing the reasons for schedule slippage and cost overrun, and requesting the company's detailed LRV plans, a schedule assessment, and a recovery plan. Morea was clearly dissatisfied with Boeing's performance to date, and he expressed the fear that Boeing would miss delivery of the first flight unit by one to three months, thereby delaying the launch date. Kudish met with Morea on 5 March to address the crucial issues and in a letter the following day, stated that the company's recovery plan would be submitted by 10 March. MSFC continued to put pressure on Boeing to accelerate its design development and to better control its subcontractor. In addition, Morea established a MSFC "Tiger team'' to assess all technical, schedule, cost and programmatic aspects of the LRV program at Boeing and General Motors. One of the issues the Tiger team uncovered was the lack of a definitive contract between Boeing and General Motors' AC-Electronics Defense Research Laboratories.

During a static load test of the chassis at Boeing on 29 April 1970, structural failure occurred before the required test load had been reached. At the time this seemed no less significant than the fuel tank failures that occurred during development tests of the Saturn V launch vehicle years before. Nevertheless, Boeing, GM, MSFC and the many companies working on the LRV program labored to resolve the engineering and schedule problems during May. With the Critical Design Review looming in June, there were serious questions regarding Boeing's ability to meet the letter of the contract. On 18 June, Morea hosted a confidential meeting in Huntsville to discuss government options on whether to continue or terminate the LRV program. Present were several individuals involved in the area of NASA contracts and one from the Chief Counsel's Office. They discussed the pros and cons of either continuing the program or terminating it. One issue sensitive to MSFC was the extremely challenging schedule - roughly seventeen months to deliver the first flight-ready LRV. It was believed that Boeing might use the argument of "impossibility of specification compliance'' which might prove detrimental to NASA's case. Also discussed was the fact that the LRV was very much a high-profile program and would be counted on to provide many touted potential discoveries. If

Sonny Morea
MSFC program manager of the LRV, Saverio "Sonny" Morea, checks an early mockup. The pistol grip hand controller was retained until late in the LRV development program. (Courtesy: NASA/MSFC)

NASA cancelled the program, it would prove damaging to the agency, so it appeared that this was not a viable option. Weighing all the possibilities, it was decided to continue the contract, with its multiple overriding incentives on cost, technical performance, and schedule. Failure by Boeing to meet any of these incentive areas would result in a fee to them of only one per cent.

In the book, 50 Years of Rockets & Spacecraft in the Rocket City (Turner Publishing Company), Morea explained at length the problems that the program faced:

''It was during this time that our team experienced some of the most stressful and difficult days. Congress had picked up on the potentially large percentage overrun of a NASA project, and initiated action for the GAO to run a full audit of the program. I was asked to put together a briefing to NASA headquarters personnel.

''Some members of NASA headquarters were critical of the use of a 'performance specification' approach, indicating that it would have been more 'politically' acceptable to have a 100 per cent 'cost growth' rather than a 100 per cent 'cost overrun.' The former puts the blame on the government for directed changes and allows the contractor to earn more profit, while the latter approach punishes the contractor for perhaps coming in with an undoable low bid just to win the contract, or for mismanaging the project, or both.

''Much to my surprise, I learned that the congressional staffers were so impressed with the incentive contract negotiated and the performance-spec approach used by the MSFC team that they arranged to call off the GAO audit. To our knowledge, never before had a GAO audit ever been called off, once such a request had been made. Ben Milwitski indicated that the congressional staffers were well pleased with how the government's interests were protected and expressed surprise that a contractor such as Boeing would sign such a contract. Needless to say the LRV team at MSFC felt vindicated in their judgments.''

One of the cost drivers of the LRV program was the fact that there were more than 600 people working on it. With the bulk of design engineering completed and following the CDR, these numbers were drastically cut to less than 300 by September. The issue of deliverable hardware from Boeing and its subcontractor dogged the program during the summer, but Boeing could finally report that the various LRV units, apart from the flight units needed early the following year, had

Images Mail From 1870
Morea studies a Mobility Subsystem test fixture at GM-DRL in Santa Barbara, California during October 1970. (Courtesy: Sam Romano)

all been manufactured by the September-October time frame. Boeing and A.C. Electronics Defense Research Laboratories actually underwent program management changes over a period of months in an effort to accelerate individual component and system qualification testing and manufacturing, and to support delivery of the important 1-G trainer. The decision was made to move LRV manufacturing and testing from Huntsville to Boeing's facility in Kent, Washington, a decision enthusiastically supported by Boeing itself. This also put assembly activity closer to its subcontractor. Due to the cancellation of missions after Apollo 17, the third LRV mission, parts for the fourth LRV were not assembled but were earmarked for spares.

The biggest change Boeing and GM had to confront at this time involved the hand controller. Several astronauts complained about lower arm and hand fatigue and an inability to set the parking brake. A technical review in August at the renamed Delco Electronics Division in Santa Barbara resulted in the Manned Spacecraft Center accepting responsibility to evaluate the hand controller problems and recommend design changes. With input from the astronauts, the MSC proposed changes in the design of the hand controller the following month. These included a T-bar design so that the astronaut's hand rested on top of the grip horizontally, a mechanical reverse inhibit switch included in the grip, an automatic spring-loaded lock on the parking brake and modifications to the brake lock to enable a hard left steering command to release the brake. MSFC directed Boeing to incorporate these changes on 16 September, but there were other concerns. The flex splines in the wheel harmonic drives showed fatigue cracking and subsequent failure during qualification testing and the harmonic drives themselves exhibited low efficiencies in terms of torque. Stress analysis was performed on the failed flex splines and the machining vendor was informed to make proper changes. The harmonic drive qualification units were returned to the vendor for test and evaluation in October.

In mid-October, Dr. Robert Gilruth, Director of the Manned Spacecraft Center, and Dr. Eberhard Rees, the new Director of the MSFC (Wernher von Braun had moved to NASA Headquarters in Washington), along with Saverio Morea and O. M. Hirsh of the Contracts Office, visited Boeing's facility in Seattle and GM's facilities in Santa Barbara. This high-profile trip by MSFC and JSC management served to reinforce to Boeing's management the importance of the LRV Project meeting its technical, schedule, and latest budget objectives for NASA's last three Apollo missions - Apollo 15, 16 and 17

As late as November, deployment system tests revealed problems. The MSC and MSFC did a wholesale review of the system, which called for a complete redesign. The deployment system, like virtually everything else about the LRV, had to be failsafe. If the LRV failed to deploy correctly on the Moon, the entire mission profile would effectively be lost. Astronaut input on this system was vital as well. Charlie Duke contributed considerable design information to assist Boeing in the redesign and a drawing review of the new design was scheduled for the end of November. This was also the month that Boeing finally received the change order for the new hand controller and implementation of the design change was made with stunning speed, since qualification hardware of the new hand controller was needed by December.

The schedule for completing the No. 1 flight unit for Apollo 15 was accelerated and in fact, the schedule for all aspects of the LRV program was so closely followed by MSC and MSFC, as well as Boeing and its subcontractors, that the Qualification Test Unit was scheduled for delivery from A.C. Delco to Boeing on 14 December 1970 at 3:26 a.m. The QTU would undergo an exhaustive series of acceptance tests at Boeing during January, February and March to find any potential failures. Any necessary changes would be implemented and incorporated in the flight units. Nevertheless, in his notes reviewing the LRV program that December, LRV/Apollo Program Director H. J. McClellan could confidently write: ''Consolidation of manufacturing and engineering liaison activities at Kent, Washington, adjacent to the test activity, has significantly improved our confidence to meet the 1 April 1971 commitment for delivery of the No. 1 flight article.''

Boeing completed assembly of the first flight unit, LRV No. 1, and began the series of acceptance tests on the heels of the Qualification Test Unit. The first flight unit passed all the acceptance tests and Morea received the call from Boeing informing him LRV No. 1 was ready. Morea flew to Seattle and on 10 March 1971, accepted the first LRV destined for Apollo 15. It was folded, secured in its shipping fixture and prepared for its flight to Kennedy Space Center two weeks ahead of schedule.

The Lunar Roving Vehicle subsystems

The Lunar Roving Vehicle had eight primary subsystems. These subsystems were engineered and tested concurrently. It is extraordinary that the design, testing, production and delivery of the flight units was achieved in less than eighteen months.

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