Space: Blind Spot

  • Share
  • Read Later

(3 of 3)

Privately, NASA officials have long complained about what they call North American's "time clock" approach to its $2.8 billion Apollo contract. One year, the company was running $250 million over its budget until NASA finally cracked down and forced the paring of 3,000 employees it considered superfluous. NASA also assigned extra teams of quality-control inspectors to police workmanship.

High Point. Despite his surprise at the report's severity, NASA Administrator James Webb did not dispute its findings. Instead, he accentuated the positive. "The board has found error, but it has also found the capability to overcome error," he said. Displaying a flash of the evangelical fervor that has characterized his six-year reign as NASA's boss—a job that the North Carolina born lawyer owed to his solid friendships with Lyndon Johnson and Oklahoma's late Senator Robert Kerr— Webb declared: "If any man in this room asks for whom the Apollo bell tolls, it tolls for him and me, as well as for Grissom, White and Chaffee. It tolls for every astronaut test pilot who will lose his life in the space-simulated vacuum of a test chamber or the real vacuum of space."

To Webb, the drive to explore space is "a high point in all mankind's vision." In the wake of the Apollo tragedy, he conceded that the venture is a dangerous one, but added that "either the country is going to take the risk and get on as we did in Mercury and Gemini, or we will not have a manned-space-flight program." U.S. policymakers have already made their choice. Though the tragedy at Cape Kennedy has set back the first manned Apollo flight by a year, they are still committed to sending men to the moon by 1970.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. Next Page