Lapas attēli
PDF
ePub

one of the first seven Mercury astronauts, and Ed White was quite well-known and greatly admired for his "spacewalk” during Gemini 4. Chaffee, who had never flown a mission, was relatively unknown. The public had also built up NASA as infallible. We had done miraculous things. Now suddenly we had made what seemed an inconceivable mistake. It would have been one thing if the fire had occurred in space, but on the pad? And not being able to get the men out! No one could understand such a colossal blunder.

Understandably, Jim Webb took all this personally. He became terribly tense. Migraine headaches, which he tended to have anyway, were exacerbated. I had the feeling I was dealing with somebody who could explode at any moment. I'm not a psychiatrist, but I would say that the fire came as a tremendous psychological blow to him. Before the accident, he and his program were riding high. He was front and center, getting acclaim from many, many quarters and deserving it. Given his age, sixty, Apollo would probably be the last major endeavor of his working life. It would be a fitting monument to his ability.

Now his house of cards was down. How? Why? Who had made the mistake? Who had destroyed his dream? It was necessary, of course, to carry out a complete and careful investigation, so that the engineering failures that had led to the fire could be corrected. But Jim was not interested in investigating the engineering. He wanted to know what individuals had failed him. He felt personally betrayed.

There was no question in his mind that North American, the contractor for the Apollo capsule, was one of the culprits. In particular, Jim felt that North American's project leader, Harrison (“Stormy”) Storms, had failed him. When we selected North American, Dutch Kindelberger, a hard-hitting, forceful manager, had been the chairman. By the time of the accident, Lee Atwood had succeeded him. We were soon having meetings with Atwood. They were not pleasant meetings. Jim Webb made it clear that changes were going to have to be made, to which Atwood responded, "Let's not panic! We've had accidents before. We're not part of the government. We're a separate institution. We have to manage things the way we believe is right." In effect, he was saying, “You're not going to dictate terms to us." Partly at my suggestion, we had conversations with other potential contractors, so that North American would realize that although they had the con

tract, we wouldn't necessarily continue with them. If they wanted to dig in their heels, we would dig ours in, too. Finally North American did agree to make substantive changes. They took Harrison Storms off the job and agreed to a $10 million reduction in their fee. Also, Boeing was brought in to be the systems integrator. That was an important move and one that we should have made earlier, regardless of the fire.

North American aside, there was no question in Webb's mind that people inside NASA also had failed him. He clearly had lost confidence in the ability of the organization. He started talking about George Mueller's shortcomings. I told Jim that George had deficiencies like everyone else, but at the same time, George had made many positive contributions. Pretty soon I started to hear that Jim was talking about my imperfections behind my back. As time went on, I found that assignments were being given that I didn't know about. At a meeting on the Voyager project, which was still being formulated, a report was presented by Mac Adams, the associate administrator for research and technology, about which I had been told absolutely nothing. As general manager, I had been Jim's line of communication to the organization. Now he was bypassing me.

"Jim," I said at the Voyager meeting, "if you don't mind my saying so, I think we'd make a little more progress if you'd let me in on some of these studies."

He froze, then turned on me and said, "No more of that kind of talk, Seamans!"

Jim Webb's reasoning was a little like a geometric theorem. He was a nontechnical person and believed that the technical staff had let him down. As de facto general manager, I was his bridge to the technical people. Therefore, the bridge had failed and needed circumvention.

In one notable instance I did fail badly: I had had discussions with the press that I shouldn't have had. By this time I had considerable experience dealing with the media. I knew the media weren't perfect, but I also recognized that there were many good journalists. I also

'The Voyager Mars mission then under discussion was canceled in the fall of 1967 as a result of congressional budget cuts. Several years later the project was revived as the Viking program and landed two spacecraft on Mars. The name "Voyager" was reused for the missions to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, beginning in 1978.

thought that Jim Webb was too paranoid about the media and that it would be helpful if a few responsible journalists were more knowledgeable about what was going on in the accident investigation. The media were hungry for information about the fire. All they had was what they could get out of the congressional hearings and my reports after visits to Cape Canaveral.

Julian Scheer, NASA's public affairs officer, came to me one day while Jim was out of town and said, "I'm thinking of inviting" (he named eight correspondents) "to come in for a little background on what's really going on." A backgrounder in press parlance is an interview not to be quoted but meant to give the media some insight. I felt that what Julian was suggesting could be quite positive. So we invited the correspondents to a luncheon. If Webb had been in town, probably we would not have done so.

It was an informal lunch, and the reporters asked questions like, "Why couldn't you get the astronauts out of there?"

I explained that we had designed the door to open inwards to avoid a mistake in space—an astronaut putting his elbow in the wrong place and suddenly losing all cabin oxygen. With the pressure that the fire created within the capsule, it would have taken an 8,000-pound pull to get the door open. The next day papers ran stories about the astronauts struggling to get out, clawing at the door-all of it horrible stuff greatly exaggerated. In fact, evidence showed that the astronauts had not burned to death, as most had originally assumed. They had suffocated and were unconscious no more than seventeen seconds after the first spark.

When Jim Webb returned to the office, he was beside himself. Julian and I had let him down. He had had a handshake with the President and the Congress that no information would come out without their getting something in writing first. From this point of view, I was clearly in the wrong. From then on my relationship with Jim Webb went almost straight downhill. It became obvious as the summer of 1967 evolved that our lack of rapport was not a good thing for the organization. I had been considering the possibility of leaving NASA prior to Hugh Dryden's death, because I had been there already twice as long as I had planned initially. I had also been asked to consider the presidency of a well-known university. I finally had decided,

a few months before Hugh died, that it would be inappropriate for me to leave at that time.

Now it was clearly time to leave. I felt the need to be with my family more, to begin a new professional life, to have a chance to relax and regain my perspective. The program that I had come in to work on, Mercury, had long since ended. I felt (and would always feel) very much a part of Apollo, but I also felt that to stick around for the sole reason of being there when we went to the Moon was the wrong way to make one's personal decisions.

I wanted to get out in such a way as to do the most good to NASA and the least harm to myself. This proved to be quite easy. I got in touch with a good friend of mine, Walter Sohier, who had been general counsel to NASA, and with my brother Peter, who is a lawyer. Together the three of us figured out the best possible exit. We sat in the warm autumn sun on the third-floor deck at Dumbarton Rock Court and composed a letter of resignation. Gene typed it. The next day, October 2, 1967, I handed it to Jim Webb.

Jim looked at the letter, then at me, and said, "What do you think your peers are going to say about the job you've done over the years here at NASA?"

"I think they'll feel that I did a satisfactory job."

He got up and left the room. He went immediately over to the White House to see President Johnson, and within just a few hours it was announced that I was leaving NASA.

Afterthoughts

After the announcement of my resignation from NASA, Jim asked me to stay on for three months, full time, which was fairly unusual. At no time during this period did I take public issue with him. I never said anything substantive to the press about my real reasons for leaving. I was invited over to the Washington Post to meet with their senior editors, who asked, "There must be some reason why you're leaving right now. Why not stay until you get to the Moon?"

I said, “Look, I've been down here seven years. I only intended to stay two. It's been pretty hectic, but we've got everything pretty well in place. What's the point in sticking around for some kind of big

group ceremony?" They accepted that explanation. If I had taken on Jim Webb openly, if I had left NASA making reckless statements, it would have hurt NASA, and I'm quite sure I would never have been asked to return to government service. By leaving without a confrontation, I left the door open for the future.

Jim made quite a big deal about swearing me in as a consultant on the day I officially retired. By that time, his demeanor toward me had started to change for the better. Not long after I left, I was given the Goddard award for my contribution to the space effort. President Johnson presented the award to me at the White House with Jim in attendance. Then Jim indicated that he wanted to have a little goingaway party for me and asked me whom I wanted to invite. The date of the dinner happened to fall immediately after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Protests gave way to riots, and Washington, D.C., became an armed camp. Since a dusk-to-dawn curfew was in effect, we had the dinner at the Army-Navy Club and held it early enough so that we could all return home before the curfew.

Dr. Thomas O. Paine, a materials engineer from General Electric, replaced me as deputy administrator. With the presidential election coming up in the fall of 1968, Jim Webb, who was tired after seven and a half years on the job, decided it would be a good time to retire. He thought that by resigning before the election, he would give President Johnson an opportunity to install Tom Paine as administrator and that the new administration might keep Paine on. This, Jim thought, would help maintain some continuity in the NASA effort. On September 16, 1968, Jim went in to see President Johnson and said he had been thinking about resigning early. “I've been thinking along the same lines, Jim," the President said. "Let's step outside and tell the press that you're leaving, effective immediately." Suddenly, Jim was gone. Johnson was always direct and to the point!

In March 1969, soon after I had become secretary of the Air Force, I got a call from Defense Secretary Melvin Laird. “President Nixon," he said, "wants to know my views on keeping Tom Paine at NASA, not as acting administrator but as the administrator. What do you think?"

I answered, "Well, I can give you a very straightforward, simple answer, Mel. Ask the President if he wants to carry out the lunar landing this year. If he does, make Tom Paine the administrator. But if he

« iepriekšējāTurpināt »