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A History of the Kennedy Space Center Hardcover – August 12, 2007
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In the 1950s the marshy, mosquito-infested lowlands of Florida, christened Cape Canaveral (place of the cane), began to be covered with concrete for ICBM launching pads. As authors Lipartito (Constructing Corporate America: History, Politics, Culture) and Butler (Manufacturing the Future: A History of Western Electric) relate, although Americans remember the cape and its control center, the Kennedy Space Center, as the site of media circuses surrounding early manned space missions, between 1958 and 1967 several hundred unmanned rockets blasted off into the Florida skies, sometimes two a day. NASA divided its early years on the cape between fighting turf battles with the military and moving tons of earth to fill in the marshes. As the authors describe, many of the space center's early administrators—notably Kurt Debus, who had worked on the V-2 rocket with Werner von Braun at Peenemünde—were hands-on engineering types who eventually gave way to professional administrators. Writing fine, vivid prose, Lipartito and Butler wisely avoid concentrating on the hot-shot astronauts, focusing instead on the center itself and on the dedicated men and women behind the scenes who worked on the engineering required to lift a rocket out of Earth's gravity and made the American space program a success. 97 b&w illus. (Aug. 12)
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"A valuable addition to studies of NASA field centers." -- Stephen P. Waring
"A good characterization of the history of KSC . . . well written and easy to read." -- L. D. Solid
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During the Apollo era, there were two distinct programs, the Launch vehicle or Saturn, and the spacecraft, Apollo, which consisted of the Service Module, the Command Module and the Lunar Module at the KSC. This is the origin of the two different philosophies discussed in the book. Too often in the text, no differentiation is made between the two programs and the associated personnel nor a concise description of the differences, if any.
In addition, there are several errors. The Mercury Program had no association with KSC, it was a project of the Space Task Force and the Manned Space Center, later, the Johnson Space Center (JSC)). It was during these programs that the KSC Spacecraft method of doing business was developed and used on Gemini, Apollo, and early Shuttle. The method is not described but has many negative commends directed toward it. Had it been understood by the authors, it would have cleared up or eliminated a considerable amount of text in the following chapters.
In the Introduction, the book defines the geographical and organizational differences between the NASA KSC, which is really the upper end of Merritt Island, and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which is normally referred to as the "Cape" but says they are used interchangeably. Only people that are not associated with KSC make that assumption. To often in the text, the "Cape" means "KSC".
The term "Hands On" is used throughout the book and gives the impression that NASA personnel were in deed turning the wrenches, screwing the screws, and operating the ground equipment. Nothing could be further from the truth except maybe for the early days when the launch function was an arm of the Army. In general, KSC has always had a contractor performing the tasks with NASA providing detailed requirements and oversight. Other terms are used, like Ship and Shoot, but are not defined other than the title.
The book implies that there was considerable German influence on all programs at KSC. That is not the case. It may have influenced the Saturn launch vehicle to a degree but the spacecraft programs were all influenced by the rules established by the Space Task Group and the efforts of the personnel trained at the American missile manufacturers. I worked there twenty years and the only German that I knew was Gunter Wendt (Author: The Unbroken Chain ), a contractor.
Too much is made of the conflict with the other NASA Centers. KSC participated in the various Design Reviews as the Shutter was developed. The comments were evaluated on their merits. Undoubtably, many proposed operational changes were rejected by the design centers, not by a desire to be uncooperative, but under the constraints of time, weight, and money. To make an issue of these differences is to ignore the facts and present only "sour grapes". As the loss of two orbiters illustrates, there was not enough money or time to do the real important things that needed fixing, let alone the items that make it easier to process the equipment.
The "Ship and Shoot" concept has always been an accounting dodge, like the "160 hour turnaround" and was intended to reduce the costs in the outer years of the funding proposal. Most rational engineers were/are "non-believers " and never expected "Ship and Shoot" to be incorporated into the Shuttle Program or any other significant program. The risks are too great. However, had the Gemini Program been discussed, it would show it to be partial example of this proposal as the integrated vehicle required only integrated testing at the launch site prior to flight. Components were not tested individually before being mated to the launch vehicle
In the section devoted to making the Shuttle work like a commercial jet, the people that are quoted aren't the ones that are signing the Discrepancy Reports (DR) that assure that the vehicle is safe for flight. That is the job of the System Engineers, Contractor and NASA, and there used to be only two signatures, not a dozen, to accept the responsibility. There may be more today but the two mentioned represent the majority opinion. To quote "Easy to use, is easy to say".
If you are looking for a political history of the Orbiter, other Shuttle items, Space Station at KSC, this is a good reference. However if you are looking for a complete history of KSC, you will have to find it in other documents.
There are many excellent books in print about the design, manufacture and flight of unmanned and manned NASA spacecraft. Many of them are stories about building and testing the hardware, filled with engineering details and scientific minutia sure to satisfy the most fanatic technophile. "A History of the Kennedy Space Center" is different. Its subject is limited to the operations that take place at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) from the time an aerospace contractor delivers a space vehicle to the Cape until it is launched, weeks, months or (in some cases) years later. This is the story of the "wrench turners" and "pad rats" who toil unsung behind the scenes to prepare spacecraft for launch, and of the various types of organizations that NASA has tried over the years--mostly unsuccessfully--to make the pre-flight process faster, simpler, cheaper and safer.
During the Apollo era, former German ex-V-2 engineers held most supervisory positions at the Cape. They brought with them from Peenemunde a "hands-on" engineering tradition with very tight working relationships between the hardware designers and testers, and between factory and field personnel. As the Apollo program showed (notwithstanding the Apollo 1 launch pad fire), this approach was right for the lunar program, and was a major factor in America's defeat of the Soviet Union in the "moon race." However, in later years, the experienced Germans retired, and the "hands-on" tradition faded as less-experienced managers decided they could manage better without getting their hands dirty. Tensions between designers at the factories and launch preparation teams at KSC increased. The designers thought they knew best, and did not welcome critical feedback from the blue-collar launch pad "techs" who had the nerve to suggest better ways to design hardware from an "operations" perspective. This attitude--among other things, of course--contributed to the losses of Space Shuttles "Challenger" and "Columbia." Exacerbating the problem was Washington's relentless drive to privatize spaceflight operations, a "shoot yourself in the foot" strategy that turned NASA employees into contract managers rather than knowledgeable engineers, with predictable consequences.
The authors show convincingly that the Cape is really "where the rubber meets the road," and that it is the dedicated work of the "wrench turners" there that makes much of the difference between a successful space mission and a failure. NASA would be well-advised to heed the lessons of the past as related in "A History of the Kennedy Space Center" as it grapples with today's problems of an aging Shuttle fleet, an International Space Station in search of a mission and the burgeoning international competition for space launch services.
Well-written, comprehensive and authoritative, "A History of the Kennedy Space Center" deserves a place on every space buff's bookshelf.