“The contractor role in Houston was not very firm. Frankly, they didn’t want us. There were two things against us down there. Number one, it was a Headquarters contract, and it was decreed that the Space Centers shall use GE for certain things; and number two they considered us (meaning GE) to be Headquarters spies.” Edward S. Miller of General Electric.
During 1962, NASA faced three major tasks: first the mode selection and its defense (covered in episodes 106-109), second keeping North American moving on the command and service modules (covered in episode 110) and third finding a contractor to develop the separate landing vehicle required by that approach. Which we will cover today in episode 111.
The Apollo contract specified a shirt-sleeve environment. For this reason, North American was told not to include in its design a hatch that opened by explosives, like Mercury’s. An accidentally blown hatch in space would cause an instant vacuum and certain death for an astronaunt not wearing his pressure suit.
President Kennedy proposed the manned lunar landing as the focus of the US space program but, at the time of his address, only one American, Alan B. Shepard, Jr. had been into space, on a suborbital lob shot lasting 15 minutes. No rocket launch vehicle was available for a lunar voyage and there was no agreed upon method for placing any kind of spacecraft safely on the lunar surface and getting it back to the earth. Nor was there agreement within NASA itself on how it should be done.
This brings us to Project Gemini. Gemini started after Apollo had begun, in part to answer a crucial question for Apollo. Was rendezvous and docking in orbit a feasible basis for a manned lunar landing mission?