Born: 1908-11-29. Died: 1983-10-04. Birth Place: Germany.
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.
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:
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.
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:
To strengthen the Agency's managerial organization, NASA announced a realignment within the Office of Manned Space Flight:
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:
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.
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....
During a key meeting of Apollo senior figures - top NASA management first approached regarding an Apollo 8 lunar mission in December - reaction: negative. 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....
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.