|astronautix.com||Decision that Apollo 8 should be a lunar orbital mission|
ASPO Manager George M. Low initiated a series of actions that led to the eventual decision that AS-503 (Apollo 8) should be a lunar orbital mission.
Events and the situation during June and July had indicated to Low that the only way for the "in this decade" goal to be attained was to launch the Saturn 503/CSM 103 LM-3 mission in 1968. During June and July the projected launch slipped from November to December, with no assurance of a December launch. Later, Low recalled "the possibility of a circumlunar or lunar orbit mission during 1968, using AS-503 and CSM 103 first occurred to me as a contingency mission."
During the period of July 20-August 5, pogo problems that had arisen on Apollo 6 seemed headed toward resolution; work on the CSM slowed, but progress was satisfactory; delivery was scheduled at KSC during the second week in August and the spacecraft was exceptionally clean. The LM still required a lot of work and chances were slim for a 1968 launch.
On August 7, Low asked MSC's Director of Flight Operations Christopher C. Kraft, Jr., to look into the feasibility of a lunar orbit mission for Apollo 8 without carrying the LM. A mission with the LM looked as if it might slip until February or March 1969. The following day Low traveled to KSC for an AS-503 review, and from the work schedule it looked like a January 1969 launch.
August 9 was probably one of the busiest days in George Low's life; the activities of that and the following days enabled the United States to meet the "in this decade" goal. At 8 :45 a.m. he met with MSC Director Robert R. Gilruth and told him he had been considering a lunar orbit mission. Gilruth was highly enthusiastic. At 9:00 a.m. Low met with Kraft and was informed that the mission was technically feasible from ground control and spacecraft computer standpoint. (A decision had been made several months earlier to put a Colossus onboard computer program on the 103 spacecraft.)
At 9:30 a.m. Low met with Gilruth, Kraft, and Director of Flight Crew Operations Donald K. Slayton, and they unanimously decided to seek support from MSFC Director Wernher von Braun and Apollo Program Director Samuel C. Phillips. Gilruth called von Braun and, after briefly outlining the plan, asked if they could meet in Huntsville that afternoon. Low called Phillips, who was at KSC, and asked whether he and KSC Director Kurt Debus could participate and a meeting was set up for 2:30.
Present at the 2:30 p.m. meeting at MSFC were von Braun, Eberhard Rees, Lee James, and Ludie Richard, all of MSFC: Phillips and George Hage, both of OMSF; Debus and Rocco Petrone, MSFC; and Gilruth, Low, Kraft, and Slayton of MSC. Low outlined the hardware situation and told the group it was technically feasible to fly the lunar orbit mission in December 1968, with the qualification that Apollo 7 would have to be a very successful mission. If not successful, Apollo 8 would be another earth-orbital mission. Kraft made a strong point that to gain lunar landing benefits Apollo 8 would have to be a lunar orbital rather than a circumlunar mission. All were enthusiastic. Phillips began outlining necessary events: KSC said it would be ready to support such a launch by December 1; MSFC felt it would have no difficulties; MSC needed to look at the differences between spacecraft 103 and 106 (the first spacecraft scheduled to leave earth's atmosphere) and had to find a substitute for the LM. The meeting was concluded at 5:00 p.m. with an agreement to meet in Washington August 14. This would be decision day and, if "GO," Phillips planned to go to Vienna and discuss the plan with Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight George E. Mueller and NASA Administrator James E. Webb (who were attending a United Nations Conference). Preliminary planning would be secret, but if and when adopted by the agency the plan would be made public immediately.
Still on August 9, in another meeting at MSC at 8:30 p.m., Low met with Kenneth S. Kleinknecht, George Abbey, and C. H. Bolender of MSC, and Dale Myers, North American Rockwell. Bolender left immediately for Bethpage, N.Y., to find a substitute for the LM; and Myers left for Downey, Calif., to get the CM going.
On the following day there were still no obvious insurmountable problems that might block the plan. Kleinknecht was studying the differences between spacecraft 103 and 106, where the high-gain antenna might be a problem. It seemed possible to use LM-2 to support the flight, but Joseph Kotanchik, MSC, suggested flying a simple crossbeam instead of a LM in the event the pogo oscillation problem remained and pointed out that even if pogo was solved the LM would not be needed. Low called Richard and Hage, who agreed with Kotanchik but still wanted mass representation to avoid possible dynamic problems. Low then called William Bergen, of North American, who was not too receptive to the plan.
On August 12 Kraft informed Low that December 20 was the day if they wanted to launch in daylight. With everyone agreeing to a daylight launch, the launch was planned for December 1 with a "built-in hold" until the 20th, which would have the effect of giving assurance of meeting the schedule. LTA (LM test article)-B was considered as a substitute; it had been through a dynamic test vehicle program, and all except Kotanchik agreed this would be a good substitute. Grumman suggested LTA-4 but Low decided on LTA-B.
Kleinknecht had concluded his CSM 103-106 configuration study by August 13 and determined the high-gain antenna was the most critical item. Kraft was still "GO" and said December 20-26 (except December 25) offered best launch times; he had also looked at January launch possibilities. Slayton had decided to assign the 104 crew to the mission. He had talked to crew commander Frank Borman and Borman was interested.
Participants in the August 14 meeting in Washington were Low, Gilruth, Kraft, and Slayton from MSC; von Braun, James, and Richard from MSFC; Debus and Petrone from KSC; and Deputy Administrator Thomas Paine, William Schneider, Julian Bowman, Phillips, and Hage from NASA Hq. Low reviewed the spacecraft aspects; Kraft, flight operations; and Slayton, flight crew support. MSFC had agreed on the LTA-B as the substitute and were still ready to go; and KSC said they would be ready by December 6.
While the meeting was in progress, Mueller called from Vienna to talk to Phillips. He was cool to the proposed idea, especially since it preceded Apollo 7, and urged Phillips not to come to Vienna, adding that he could not meet with the group before August 22. The group agreed they could not wait until August 22 for a decision and agreed to keep going, urging again that Phillips go to Vienna and present their case.
At this point Paine reminded them that not too long before they were making a decision whether to man 503, and now they were proposing a bold mission. He then asked for comments by those around the table and received the following responses:
von Braun - Once you decided to man 503 it did not matter how far you went.
Hage - There were a number of places in the mission where the decision could be made, minimizing the risk.
Slayton - Only chance to get to the moon before the end of 1969.
Debus - I have no technical reservations.
Petrone - I have no reservations.
Bowman - A shot in the arm for manned space flight.
James - Manned safety in this and following flights enhanced.
Richard - Our lunar capability will be enhanced by flying this mission.
Schneider - My wholehearted endorsement.
Gilruth - Although this may not be the only way to meet our goal, it enhances our possibility. There is always risk, but this is in path of less risk. In fact, the minimum risk of all Apollo plans.
Kraft - Flight operations has a difficult job here. We need all kind of priorities; it will not be easy to do, but I have confidence. It should be lunar orbit and not circumlunar.
Low - Assuming Apollo 7 is a success there is no other choice.
After receiving this response, Paine congratulated them on not being prisoners of previous plans and said he personally felt it was the right thing to do. Phillips then said the plan did not represent shortcuts and planned to meet with Mueller on August 22. He reiterated Mueller's reservations, and then agreed to move out on a limited basis, since time was critical.
On August 15 Phillips and Paine discussed the plan with Webb. Webb wanted to think about it, and requested further information by diplomatic carrier. That same day Phillips called Low and informed him that Mueller had agreed to the plan with the provisions that no full announcement would be made until after the Apollo 7 flight; that it could be announced that 503 would be manned and possible missions were being studied; and that an internal document could be prepared for a planned lunar orbit for December.
Phillips and Hage visited MSC August 17, bringing the news that Webb had given clear-cut authority to prepare for a December 6 launch, but that they could not proceed with clearance for lunar orbit until after the Apollo 7 flight, which would be an earth-orbital mission with basic objectives of proving the CSM and Saturn V systems. Phillips said that Webb had been "shocked and fairly negative" when he talked to him about the plan on August 15. Subsequently, Paine and Phillips sent Webb a lengthy discourse on why the mission should be changed, and it was felt he would change his mind with a successful Apollo 7 mission.
Apollo 7 - flown October 11-22 - far exceeded Low's expectations in results and left no doubts that they should go for lunar orbit on Apollo 8. At the November 10 Apollo Executive meeting Phillips presented a summary of the activities; James gave the launch vehicle status; Low reported on the spacecraft status and said he was impressed with the way KSC had handled its tight checkout schedule; Slayton reported on the flight plan; and Petrone on checkout readiness. Petrone said KSC could launch as early as December 10 or 12. Phillips said he would recommend to the Management Council the next day for Apollo 8 to go lunar orbit. Following are the reactions of the Committee members:
Walter Burke, McDonnell Douglas - the S-IVB was ready but McDonnell Douglas favored circumlunar rather than lunar orbit;
Hilliard Paige, GE - favored lunar orbit;
Paul Blasingame, AC - guidance and navigation hardware was ready, lunar orbit;
C. Stark Draper, Massachusetts Institute of Technology - we should go ahead;
Bob Evans, IBM - go;
George Bunker of Martin, T. A. Wilson of Boeing, Lee Atwood of North American, Bob Hunter of Philco-Ford, and Tom Morrow of Chrysler - lunar orbit.
At the Manned Space Flight Management Council Meeting on November 11 Mueller reported that the proposal had been discussed with the Apollo Executive Committee, Department of Defense, the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC), and the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC). STAC had made a penetrating review and reacted positively and PSAC was favorably disposed toward the plan but made no firm recommendation.
After a series of meetings, on November 11 Paine said Apollo 8 was to go lunar orbit. The decision was announced publicly the following day. Low's initiative had paid off; the final decision to go to the moon in 1968 was made with the blessings of all of NASA's decision-makers, the Apollo Executive Committee, STAC, and PSAC. References: 16 .