Encyclopedia Astronautica

Debus, Kurt Heinrich (1908-1983) German-American engineer. At Peenemuende from 1940, designed and operated V-2 test launch facility. In US from 1945, headed design, build, and operation of launch facilities for the V-2, Redstone, Jupiter, and Saturn rockets for Apollo.

Debus obtained a doctorate in electrical engineering from the Technical University of Darmstadt in 1939. He was on track for a chair there, but World War II intervened and he ended up on von Braun's rocket team at Peenemuende. There he laid out the V-2 test launch facility and eventually headed its operation. In 1945 he came to the United States with von Braun's rocket team, becoming head of V-2 launch operations in New Mexico, then moved with the team to the Army's Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama in 1950.

Debus was instrumental in selecting Cape Canaveral for the Bumper-Wac V-2 two-stage launch vehicle test and subsequent long-range Redstone missile tests. From 1952 Debus was chief of the missile firing laboratory of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency at Cape Canaveral. When von Braun's team became part of NASA in 1960, Debus continued to supervise site selection, design, construction, and launch operations of the Saturn I and Saturn V rockets through completion of the Apollo moon-landing and Skylab space station projects. He retired from NASA in 1974, becoming a supervisory board chairman of the German OTRAG firm, which sought to develop low-cost storable liquid propellant rockets to be launched from Congo and Libya. This plan was thwarted by the big powers on grounds of ballistic missile proliferation, and to defend their high-cost commercial launch industries.

Debus was professorial, methodical, serious and orderly - he would take items he deemed nonessential from other people's desks and throw them in the trash. His authoritarian single-mindedness was ideal for conceiving and executing the concepts for the Saturn V launch facility in 1961-1968, and essential to accomplishing the 100% launch success rate for the largest boosters ever built - and winning the moon race for the United States.

Birth Place: German.

Born: 1908.11.29.
Died: 1983.10.04.

More... - Chronology...

Associated Countries
See also
  • Launius, Roger D, NASA Chief Historian, NASA History Office Home Page, Web Address when accessed: here.
  • Gray, Mike, Angle of Attack: Harrison Storms and the Race to the Moon, Penguin Reprint edition, 1994.

Debus Chronology

1961 June 23 - . LV Family: Nova; Saturn C-3; Saturn I.
  • NASA / DOD agree to define support requirements - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Debus. Program: Apollo. NASA Associate Administrator Robert C. Seamans, Jr., requested Kurt H. Debus, Director of the NASA Launch Operations Directorate, and Maj. Gen. Leighton I. Davis, Commander of the Air Force Missile Test Center, to make a joint analysis of all major factors regarding the launch requirements, methods, and procedures needed in support of an early manned lunar landing. The schedules and early requirements were to be considered in two phases:

    1. in line with the Fleming Report, a direct flight to the moon would be assumed, using the Saturn C-1 and C-3 launch vehicles in early support phases and liquid- or solid-fueled Nova launch vehicles for the lunar landing;
    2. as a possible alternative or parallel program, orbital rendezvous operations using Saturn C-3 and liquid-fueled Nova.
    The analysis should include recommendations on mutual NASA-DOD range responsibilities, authority, management structures, and other allied subjects. On June 30, Seamans notified Debus and Davis that the evaluation of tracking and command stations should not be included in the study. He stressed that the factors of immediate concern with regard to launch operations were those of launch site locations, land acquisition requirements, spacecraft and launch vehicle preparation facilities, vehicle launch facilities, and other facilities and requirements at the launch site. (Phase I of the Report was submitted on July 31.)

1961 July 31 - . LV Family: Nova; Saturn C-3; Saturn V.
  • NASA-DOD report on launch sites for Apollo - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Debus; Seamans. Program: Apollo. Phase I of a joint NASA-DOD report on facilities and resources required at launch sites to support the manned lunar landing program was submitted to Associate Administrator Robert C. Seamans, Jr., by Kurt H. Debus, Director, Launch Operations Directorate, and Maj. Gen. Leighton I. Davis, Commander of the Air Force Missile Test Center. The report, requested by Seamans on June 23, was based on the use of Nova- class launch vehicles for the manned lunar landing in a direct ascent mode, with the Saturn C-3 in supporting missions. Eight launch sites were considered: Cape Canaveral (on-shore); Cape Canaveral (off- shore); Mayaguana Island (Atlantic Missile Range downrange); Cumberland Island, Ga.; Brownsville, Tex.; White Sands Missile Range, N. Mex.; Christmas Island, Pacific Ocean; and South Point, Hawaii. On the basis of minimum cost and use of existing national resources, and taking into consideration the stringent time schedule, White Sands Missile Range and Cape Canaveral (on-shore) were favored. White Sands presented serious limitations on launch azimuths because of first-stage impact hazards on populated areas.

1961 November 6 - . LV Family: Nova; Saturn C-3; Saturn V; Titan.
  • Working group on large launch vehicles - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Debus; Holmes, Brainard; Rosen, Milton; Maus; Mrazek. Program: Apollo. In a memorandum to D. Brainerd Holmes, Director, Office of Manned Space Flight (OMSF), Milton W. Rosen, Director of Launch Vehicles and Propulsion, OMSF, described the organization of a working group to recommend to the Director a large launch vehicle program which would meet the requirements of manned space flight and which would have broad and continuing national utility for other NASA and DOD programs. The group would include members from the NASA Office of Launch Vehicles and Propulsion (Rosen, Chairman, Richard B. Canright, Eldon W. Hall, Elliott Mitchell, Norman Rafel, Melvyn Savage, and Adelbert O. Tischler); from the Marshall Space Flight Center (William A. Mrazek, Hans H. Maus, and James B. Bramlet); and from the NASA Office of Spacecraft and Flight Missions (John H. Disher). (David M. Hammock of MSC was later added to the group.) The principal background material to be used by the group would consist of reports of the Large Launch Vehicle Planning Group (Golovin Committee), the Fleming Committee, the Lundin Committee, the Heaton Committee, and the Debus-Davis Committee. Some of the subjects the group would be considering were:

    1. an assessment of the problems involved in orbital rendezvous,
    2. an evaluation of intermediate vehicles (Saturn C-3, C-4, and C-5),
    3. an evaluation of Nova-class vehicles,
    4. an assessment of the future course of large solid-fuel rocket motor development,
    5. an evaluation of the utility of the Titan III for NASA missions, and
    6. an evaluation of the realism of the spacecraft development program (schedules, weights, performances).
    Rosen set November 20 as a target date for a recommended program.

1964 December 24 - .
  • Realignment within the Apollo Office of Manned Space Flight - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Debus. Program: Apollo. To strengthen the Agency's managerial organization, NASA announced a realignment within the Office of Manned Space Flight:

    • The post of Deputy Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight Operations was eliminated. (It had, in fact, been vacant since April 24, 1964, when Walter C. Williams had resigned. In its stead, the position of Mission Operations Director was created and filled by E. E. Christensen.
    • Two positions as mission directors were created under Christensen. Each director would have overall responsibility for a particular mission.
    • A new organization to coordinate ground support efforts was created, the Operations Support Requirements Office, headed by B. Porter Brown.
    Also included in this reorganization was a consolidation of activities at Cape Kennedy aimed at bringing assembly, checking, and launch responsibilities within the scope of a single organization. MSC's Florida Operations was absorbed; Kurt H. Debus assumed the title of Director of Launch Operations; and G. Merritt Preston, who had headed the local MSC group, became Debus' deputy.

1966 October 13 - . LV Family: Little Joe II. Launch Vehicle: Little Joe II.
  • General Electric support of Apollo automatic checkout equipment consolidated - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Debus. Program: Apollo. KSC proposed to MSC Director Robert R. Gilruth that the two General Electric Co. efforts at KSC supporting automatic checkout equipment (ACE) for spacecraft operations be consolidated. KSC pointed out there was a supplemental agreement with MSC for General Electric to provide system engineering support to ACE/spacecraft operations. Both the KSC Apollo Program Manager and the Director of Launch Operations considered that merging the two GE efforts into a single task order under KSC administrative control would have advantages. The proposal listed two:

    1. A single interface would exist between KSC and all local GE AEC/spacecraft operations.
    2. Through more efficient use of personnel, the contractor should be able to reduce the manpower level and still be responsive to the demands of the Apollo program.
    Gilruth replied Nov. 1 to KSC Director Kurt H. Debus that MSC had evaluated advantages of transferring certain ACE/spacecraft responsibilities to KSC and had also considered advantages of continuing the existing system. These advantages were:

    1. "To maximize manpower utilization, the current ACE management philosophy provides only optimum manpower for each operational site. A central support group, located at Houston, supplies the required support to any site experiencing special peak activity. This philosophy has created maximum management flexibility."
    2. "The original intent in establishing ACE-S/C checkout philosophy was to assure standardization in checkout procedures and/or program unity from factory checkout through launch activities. By continuing to have all GE ACE-S/C site personnel responsible to the central design/engineering group located in Houston, this continuity is assured."
    3. "Logistics support to KSC ground stations is unified under the present management control. Personnel responsible for providing logistics support to KSC ground stations are administratively linked to the personnel at KSC requiring the support."
    4. "MSC currently provides reliability support, configuration management support, engineering support, management support and logistics support to all ACE-S/C ground stations. By continuing the present contractual arrangement we avoid the possibility of costly duplication in these areas."
    Gilruth said that it was the MSC intent to support system engineering requirements in ACE/spacecraft areas and that further support in these areas was normally supplied by the spacecraft contractor. "Actually it has been our impression that GE/MSC ACE/spacecraft support at KSC and all other locations was sufficient to meet all requirements. . . . It is our opinion that the existing ACE/spacecraft management organization is required to assure optimum fulfilment of the Apollo program."

1967 February 4 - .
  • Apollo 204 Review Board established an Advisory Group - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Debus; Petrone. Program: Apollo. Flight: Apollo 204. Summary: Apollo 204 Review Board Chairman Floyd L. Thompson established an Advisory Group to support the Board in its investigation. . Additional Details: here....

1967 April 21 - .
  • Apollo 204 Review Board findings reviewed - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Debus. Program: Apollo. Flight: Apollo 204. Summary: NASA Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight George E. . Additional Details: here....

1967 July 18 - .
  • John Bailey Chairman of ad hoc Apollo Safety Group - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: von Braun; Debus. Program: Apollo. Summary: Kurt H. Debus, KSC Director, appointed John Bailey of MSC Chairman of an ad hoc Safety Group, following discussions with George E. Mueller of NASA OMSF, MSC Director Robert R. Gilruth, and MSFC Director Wernher von Braun. . Additional Details: here....

1967 November 3-December 19 - .
  • Apollo launch site recovery and rescue - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Debus. Program: Apollo. Spacecraft: Apollo CSM; CSM Recovery. In an exchange of correspondence, KSC Director Kurt H. Debus and MSC Director Robert R. Gilruth agreed that close coordination was required between the two Centers regarding launch site recovery and rescue in the event of malfunction leading to an unsuccessful abort before or just after ignition during a launch phase. Coordinated recovery and rescue plans were being formulated for such an emergency. Plans would also include the Department of Defense Eastern Test Range and required coordination with DOD. On December 19 Debus was informed by NASA Hq. that his proposal for a slide wire emergency system had been reviewed and approved.

1968 August 8 - .
  • Test and checkout problems for Apollo AS-503 and AS-504 - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Debus; Petrone. Program: Apollo. Flight: Apollo 8; Apollo 9. ASPO Manager George M. Low and several members of his staff met at KSC with Center Director Kurt H. Debus, Launch Operations Director Rocco A. Petrone, and KSC Apollo Program Manager R. O. Middleton to discuss test and checkout problems for AS-503 and AS-504. Additional Details: here....

1968 August 14 - . LV Family: Saturn V. Launch Vehicle: Saturn V.
  • During a key meeting of Apollo senior figures - top NASA management first approached regarding an Apollo 8 lunar mission in December - reaction: negative. - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: von Braun; Low, George; Debus. Program: Apollo. Flight: Apollo 8. Spacecraft: Apollo CSM. 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. Additional Details: here....

1969 December 18 - . LV Family: Saturn I. Launch Vehicle: Saturn IB.
  • LC-34 would be used for Saturn IB-related AAP manned launches. - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Debus. Program: Skylab. KSC Director Kurt H. Debus announced that LC-34 would be used for Saturn IB-related AAP manned launches (scheduled to begin in mid-1972), while LC-37 would be placed in a semi- deactivated 'minimum maintenance' condition. Thomas W. Morgan, AAP Manager of the Florida Center, said that design of modifications to LC-34 to meet the needs of AAP would begin on 1 January 1970, while the modifications to the pad itself would begin around the end of the summer. The current estimate for the cost of modifying the complex and bringing it to a state of readiness was about $3.7 million.

1983 October 4 - .
  • Death of Kurt Heinrich Debus - . Nation: Germany; USA. Related Persons: Debus. Summary: German-American engineer. At Peenemuende from 1940, designed and operated V-2 test launch facility. In US from 1945, headed design, build, and operation of launch facilities for the V-2, Redstone, Jupiter, and Saturn rockets for Apollo..

Home - Browse - Contact
© / Conditions for Use