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Determining the Facts

Reading 1: Preparing the Way

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established on October 1, 1958, a year after the USSR sent Sputnik, the first earth satellite, into space. In 1961, after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, the new agency was assigned responsibility for meeting President Kennedy's commitment to put a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s. Accomplishing the goal under this strict time constraint was an enormous challenge. By 1966, the 10,000 people employed at the space agency in 1960 had grown to 36,000. NASA's annual budget increased from $500 million in 1960 to a high point of $5.2 billion in 1965, 5.3 percent of the federal budget for that year. Approximately 50 percent of that amount went directly for human spaceflight; the vast majority of that went directly toward Apollo. The project eventually cost $24 billion. According to John Noble Wilford, space correspondent for the New York Times, Apollo was the "greatest mobilization of men and resources ever undertaken for a peaceful project of science and exploration."¹

When NASA began operations in October of 1958, it absorbed into it the earlier National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics intact; its 8,000 employees, an annual budget of $100 million, three major research laboratories--Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, and Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory--and two smaller test facilities. It quickly incorporated other organizations into the new agency, notably the space science group of the Naval Research Laboratory in Maryland, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory managed by the California Institute of Technology for the Army, and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency in Huntsville, Alabama.

With the advent of Apollo, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory took over responsibility for developing the necessary guidance and communications technologies and for learning more about the lunar environment. The Marshall Space Flight Center was formed around the Army's ballistic missile team at Redstone Arsenal, which was led by Dr. Wernher von Braun and the other engineers who had developed the first successful rocket, the German V-2. Marshall was responsible for building and testing the rockets to power the spacecraft.

NASA created three new facilities specifically to meet the demands of the lunar landing program. In 1962 the agency built the Manned Spacecraft Center (renamed the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in 1973), near Houston, Texas, to design the Apollo spacecraft and the launch platform for the lunar lander. This center also became the home of NASA's astronauts and the site of mission control. The scientists and engineers in the control room monitored all the details of the moon flight once the rocket was launched. The Launch Operations Center (renamed the John F. Kennedy Space Center in 1963) at Cape Canaveral on Florida's eastern seacoast was greatly enlarged. All of the Saturn/Apollo rockets were assembled in Kennedy's huge 36-story Vehicle Assembly Building and fired from Launch Complex 39. Finally, in October 1961, NASA created the Mississippi Test Facility, renamed the John C. Stennis Space Center in 1988. It was here that the Saturn rockets were tested. The cost of this expansion was great, more than $2.2 billion over the decade.

NASA's leaders made an early decision to rely upon outside researchers and technicians to complete the Apollo project. Between 80 and 90 percent of NASA's overall budget in the 1960s went for contracts to purchase goods and services from private industry, research institutions, and universities. Contractor employees working on the program increased more than 10 times, from 36,500 in 1960 to 376,700 in 1965. NASA found that this was both good politics and the best way of getting Apollo done on time. It was also very nearly the only way to harness talent and institutional resources already in existence in the emerging aerospace industry and the country's leading research universities.

More than 500 contractors worked on both large and small aspects of Apollo. For example, the Boeing Company was the prime contractor for the first stage of the Saturn rocket, North American Aviation for the second stage, and the Douglas Aircraft Corporation for the third stage. The Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation was responsible for the rocket engines and International Business Machines for the instruments. These prime contractors, with more than 250 subcontractors, provided millions of parts and components for use in the Saturn launch vehicle, all meeting exacting specifications for performance and reliability.

Getting all of these people to work together challenged the men and women responsible for managing the program, whether they worked for the Federal Government, a private industry, or a university. According to Dr. Leonard R. Sayles and Dr. Margaret K. Chandler of the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University, NASA's most significant contribution was "getting an organizationally complex structure, involving a great variety of people doing a great variety of things in many separate locations, to do what you want, when you want it--and while the decision regarding the best route to your objective is still in the process of being made by you and your collaborators."²

Questions for Reading 1

1. What event led to the creation of NASA? What event contributed to the decision to send an American to the Moon by the end of the 1960s?

2. What evidence indicates that the Cold War affected the American space program? Why do you think the program was sometimes called "the space race?" (Additional information is included in Setting the Stage.)

3. How many different kinds of work and workers can you identify from this reading?

4. Why was the work for the Apollo program spread out over so many sites? What do you think the advantages and disadvantages might have been if it had been concentrated in one place? Discuss.

5. Why did the project rely so heavily on private industry, research institutions, and universities? What advantages and disadvantages do you think this might have had over using government employees exclusively?

Reading 1 was compiled from "Project Apollo: A Retrospective Analysis" web site, History Office, Office of Policy and Plans, National Aeronautics and Space Administration; "Human Space Flight: A Record of Achievement, 1961-1998" web site, History Office, Office of Policy and Plans, National Aeronautics and Space Administration; and from Edward M. Cortright, ed., Apollo Expeditions to the Moon (Washington, D.C.: Scientific and Technical Information Office, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1975).

¹John Noble Wilford, "$24 Billion for Big Push to the Moon," The New York Times, Special Apollo Supplement, July 17, 1969, 34.
²James E. Webb, "A Perspective on Apollo," in Edward M. Cortright, ed.,
Apollo Expeditions to the Moon (Washington, D.C.: Scientific and Technical Information Office, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1975), 17.

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