Status: Study 1959. Gross mass: 1,360 kg (2,990 lb). Height: 2.40 m (7.80 ft). Diameter: 1.80 m (5.90 ft).
The simple ballistic capsule, using parachutes for a water landing, would weigh between 900 and 1360 kg. The capsule would be 1.8 m in diameter and 2.4 m long, and completely automated. The capsule's life support system would be designed for single-crew missions of up to 48 hours. The re-entry vehicle was the 'Discoverer' type being developed for the Corona project. For this kind of capsule, where the direction of G-forces was reversed between ascent and return, the pilot's couch proposed by Harold J von Beckh of ARDC's Aeromedical Field Laboratory was necessary. This was attached at pivot points at the head and feet of the pilot, so it would rotate freely to bring the pilot's back against the G forces, regardless of their direction. An ablative heat shield would allow re-entry deceleration to be kept below 9 G's, and the cabin temperature below 65 deg C. Multiple small solid propellant retro-rockets would brake the capsule back into the atmosphere at the end of its mission.
The capsule had an abort system that used high-thrust solid fuel rockets at the base of the capsule to fire it clear of the booster in case of an emergency. The final estimated cost of the program, using the Atlas launch vehicle, was $106.6 million. That cost included establishment of a worldwide tracking network and continuing with design of the Thor WS-117L and Thor-Able as backups in case the Atlas proved to be unreliable.
On 16 June 1958, Wright Field issued competitive design study contracts to North American and General Electric for the capsule. Each contract was nominally valued at $370,000 and was to run for three months. Each contractor was to complete design of the capsule and present a mock-up of their planned spacecraft. A down-select would be made in September, once fiscal year 1959 had begun.
But by 25 July NASA had been created and it was clear that President Eisenhower wanted the new civilian agency to handle the manned capsule program. Ballistic Missile Division's General Schriever promised that if the Air Force was awarded the program, he would release of the final tender documents to the contractors within 24 hours, and orbit the first man in space by June 1960. But Eisenhower's people were unshaken. NASA would handle the program.
The Air Force program limped along until NASA formally came into existence in September. It was not known if North American completed the contracted mock-up. Harrison Storms at North American was informally told he would have been given the MISS capsule contract. But NASA became operational on 30 September 1958, and the Air Force took only a logistical support role in the new program.
NASA ran a new competition for the manned capsule, which was to be produced to Faget's precise specifications. McDonnell, which had worked so closely with Langley, unsurprisingly won the award in January 1959. McDonnell's corporate commitment, preparation, and kowtowing to Faget's preferences were noted by Harrison Storms at North American. He vowed not to make the same mistake again. Four years later he convinced North American's management to take the same approach, and won the biggest plum of all, the Apollo moon-landing contract.
Crew Size: 1.
Project 7969, entitled 'Manned Ballistic Rocket Research System,' was initiated by the Air Force with a stated task of recovering a manned capsule from orbital conditions. By December of that year, proposal studies were received from two companies, and the Air Force eventually received some 11 proposals. The basis for the program was to start with small recoverable satellites and work up to larger versions. The Air Force Discoverer firings, which effected a successful recovery in January 1960, could be considered as the first phase of the proposed program. The Air Force program was based upon a requirement that forces no higher than 12g be imposed upon the occupant of the capsule. This concept required an additional stage on the basic or 'bare' Atlas, and the Hustler, now known as the Agena, was contemplated. It was proposed that the spacecraft be designed to remain forward during all phases of the flight, requiring a gimballed seat for the pilot. Although the Air Force effort in manned orbital flight during the period 1956-58 was a study project without an approved program leading to the design of hardware, the effort contributed to manned space flight. Their sponsored studies on such items as the life-support system were used by companies submitting proposals for the Mercury spacecraft design and development program. Also, during the 2-year study, there was a considerable interchange of information between the NACA and the Air Force.
The Air Research and Development Command convened a committee to prepare a final planning draft of an Air Force Astronautics Program for presentation to Mr. W. M. Holaday. The Air Force proposed five year space program included development of research and test vehicles, satellite reconnaissance systems, a lunar based intelligence system, defense systems, logistic requirements of lunar transport, and strategic communications. If the program wei.accepted in its entirety, $1.156 billion in initial funding would be needed in fiscal 1959. (Memo, Col L. D. Ely, Dir Tech Div, to Col C. H. Terhune, AFBMD, 28 Jan 58, subj: Trip Report.) The Air Force invited the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) to participate in "a research vehicle program to explore and solve the problems of manned space flight. " Specifically, the Air Force objective was to achieve the earliest possible manned orbital flight which would significantly contribute to development of "follow-on scientific and military space systems." An immediate decision was therefore necessary to determine the best approach to the design of an orbiting research vehicle--should it be a glide vehicle or one designed only to accomplish the satellite mission? Inasmuch as both NACA and the Air Force were well along in their investigations of the best approach to be taken in the design of a manned orbiting research vehicle it was suggested that, "These efforts should be joined at once and brought promptly to a conclusion. " Accordingly NACA was invited to collaborate with Air Research and Development Command on an over-all evaluation of relevant space plans and projects and any program resulting from the joint evaluation would be, it was suggested, "managed and funded along the lines of the X-15 effort. " Specific guide lines were furnished the Advisory Committee to facilitate its response to the Air Force request. (Ltr, Lt Gen D. L. Putt, DCS/D, Hq USAF, to Dr. H. L. Dryden, Dir NACA, 31 Jan 58, no subject.)
A conference was held at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, to review concepts for manned orbital vehicles. The NACA informally presented two concepts then under study at Langley Aeronautical Laboratory: the one proposed by Maxime A. Faget involved a ballistic, high-drag capsule with heat shield on which the pilot lies prone during reentry, with reentry being accomplished by reverse thrust at the apogee of the elliptical orbit involving a deceleration load of about 8g, and proceeding to impact by a parachute landing; the other Langley proposal called for the development of a triangular planform vehicle with a flat bottom having some lift during reentry. At this same meeting there were several Air Force contractor presentations. These were as follows: Northrop, boost-glide buildup to orbital speed; Martin, zero-lift vehicle launched by a Titan with controlled flight estimated to be possible by mid-1961; McDonnell, ballistic vehicle resembling Faget's proposal, weighing 2,400 pounds and launched by an Atlas with a Polaris second stage; Lockheed, a 20 degree semiapex angle cone with a hemispherical tip of 1-foot radius, pilot in sitting position facing rearward, to be launched by an Atlas-Hustler combination; Convair reviewed a previous proposal for a large-scale manned space station, but stated a minimum vehicle - a 1,000-pound sphere - could be launched by an Atlas within a year; Aeronutronics, cone-shaped vehicle with spherical tip of 1-foot radius, with man enclosed in sphere inside vehicle and rotated to line the pilot up with accelerations, and launched by one of several two-stage vehicles; Republic, the Ferri sled vehicle, a 4,000 pound, triangular plan with a two-foot diameter tube running continuous around the leading and trailing edge and serving as a fuel tank for final-stage, solid-propellant rockets located in each wing tip, with a man in small compartment on top side, and with a heat-transfer ring in the front of the nose for a glide reentry of 3,600 miles per hour with pilot ejecting from capsule and parachuting down, and the launch vehicle comprising three stages (also see July 31, 1958 entry); AVCO, a 1,500-pound vehicle sphere launched by a Titan, equipped with a stainless-steel-cloth parachute whose diameter would be controlled by compessed air bellows and which would orient the vehicle in orbit, provide deceleration for reentry, and control drag during reentry; Bell, reviewed proposals for boost-glide vehicles, but considered briefly a minimum vehicle, spherical in shape, weighing about 3,000 pounds; Goodyear, a spherical vehicle with a rearward facing tail cone and ablative surface, with flaps deflected from the cone during reentry for increased drag and control, and launched by an Atlas or a Titan plus a Vanguard second stage; North American, extend the X-15 program by using the X-15 with a three-stage launch vehicle to achieve a single orbit with an apogee of 400,000 feet and a perigee of 250,000, range about 500 to 600 miles and landing in the Gulf of Mexico, and the pilot ejecting and landing by parachute with the aircraft being lost.
Air Force headquarters instructed the Air Research and Development Command to expedite man-in-space projects. Air Force headquarters instructed the Air Research and Development Command, in collaboration with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics to " expedite the evaluation of existing or planned projects, appropriate available proposals and other competitive proposals with a view to providing an experimental system capable of an early flight of a manned vehicle making an orbit of the earth." Furthermore, it was asserted that it was "vital to the prestige of the nation that such a feat be accomplished at the earliest technically practicable date--if at all possible before the Russians. " It was therefore important that the evaluation determine whether the objective of a manned space flight could be accomplished more readily under the Dyna Soar program or by means of an orbiting satellite. The minimum time to the first orbital flight and the associated costs were to be determined. The approach to this objective was also to furnish tangible contributions to the over-all Air Force astronautics program. Furthermore, the hazard accompanying such a flight was to be the minimum dictated by sound engineering and experimental flight safety practices. If at all possible, pilot safety was to be secured by furnishing an emergency escape system. (Ltr, Lt Gen D. L. Putt, DCS/D, Hq USAF, to Cmdr, ARDG, 31 Jan 58, subj: Advanced Hypersonic Research Aircraft.)
Lieutenant General Donald Putt, Air Force Director of Research and Development, sent a letter to Dr. Hugh Dryden, Director of NACA, inviting NACA participation in the Air Force effort in the manned ballistic rocket program. Dr. Dryden informed the Air Force that NACA was preparing manned spacecraft designs for submission in March 1958.
A working conference in support of the Air Force 'Man-in-Space Soonest' (MISS) was held at the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division in Los Angeles, California. General Bernard Schriever, opening the conference, stated that events were moving faster than expected. By this statement he meant that Roy Johnson, the new head of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, had asked the Air Force to report to him on its approach to putting a man in space soonest. Johnson indicated that the Air Force would be assigned the task, and the purpose of the conference was to produce a rough-draft proposal. At that time the Air Force concept consisted of three stages: a high-drag, no-lift, blunt-shaped spacecraft to get man in space soonest, with landing to be accomplished by a parachute; a more sophisticated approach by possibly employing a lifting vehicle or one with a modified drag; and a long-range program that might end in a space station or a trip to the moon.
The President, basing his recommendation on the March Z6th report of his Science Advisory Committee, stated it was essential that the nation adopt the program because it represented the next step forward in man's compelling urge to explore and discover, it would develop space technology essential to our defense, enhance our national prestige, and furnish the nation new opportunities for scientific observation and experiment which would add to man's "understanding of the earth, the solar system and the universe." The President therefore advised Congress that a National Aeronautics and Space Administration be created to furnish, "a civilian setting for administration of space functions [which] will emphasize the concern of our nation that outer space be devoted to peaceful and scientific purposes." (History, Hq ARDC, 1 Jan 31 Dec 1958, p. 13; Max Rosenberg, The Air Force in Space, 1959-1960, dtd Jun 62, USAF Hist Div Liaison Ofc, p.3.)
The Air Research and Development Command informed the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics that it had initiated a 30 day effort at the ballistic missile division to prepare a detailed development plan for "an extended manned space vehicle program of which man in space at the earliest practicable date is an integral part." The advisory committee was invited to participate in the preparation of the plan and to advise the Air Force of their anticipated action. (Msg, 04-9-01, Cmdr, ARDC, to Cmdr AFBMD, 9 Apr 58.)
Major General B. A. Schriever takes on initial responsibility for the Manned Military Space System Program. In an attempt to define more clearly the role of the ballistic missile division in space projects, Major General B. A. Schriever, division commander, outlined his understanding that he was assigned initial responsibility for "planning, initiating and managing the Manned Military Space System Program. " Planning had advanced to the point of contractor selection, awaiting only allocation of sufficient funds to begin the Man-In-Space-Soonest program. Moreover, General Schriever was arranging to meet with Dr. H. L. Dryden of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, "... at the earliest practicable time," to establish the highest level of support and mutual cooperation possible. Working level conferences were already underway to develop concrete application of this cooperative interest in the program. It was also intended that other organizations were to be used as appropriate to "insure maximum utilization of the Air Research and Development Command's Resources. (Ltr, Maj Gen B. A. Schriever, Cmdr, AFBMD, to Lt Gen S. E. Anderson, Cmdr, ARDC, 21 May 58, no subject.)
After serving as a liaison officer of NACA and as a participating member of an Advanced Research Projects Agency panel, Maxime A. Faget reported to Dr. Hugh Dryden on resulting studies and attending recommendations on the subject of manned space flight. He stated that the Advanced Research Projects Agency panel was quite aware that the responsibility for such a program might be placed with the soon-to-be-created civilian space agency, although they recommended program management be placed with the Air Force under executive control of NACA and the Advanced Research Projects Agency. The panel also recommended that the program start immediately even though the specific manager was, as yet, unassigned. Several of the proposals put forth by the panel on the proposed development were rather similar to the subsequent evolvement. The system suggested by the Advanced Research Projects Agency was to be based on the use of the Atlas launch vehicle with the Atlas-Sentry system serving as backup; retrorockets were to be used to initiate the return from orbit; the spacecraft was to be nonlifting, ballistic type, and the crew was to be selected from qualified volunteers in the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
A conference was scheduled at Air Force headquarters on 25-26 Jun 1958 to discuss the "over-all problems of the manned satellite development program." The conference was sponsored by the Advanced Research Projects Agency with representatives of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, Air Research and Development Command, Air Force Ballistic Missile Division, Space Technology Laboratories, and Convair invited to the meeting. Questions to be attacked were: Could the booster be an Atlas without a second stage? What would be the subsystem distribution of payload weight? What was Atlas maximum payload weight performance? question of ablation or heat sink capsule design was to be resolved before the conference. If it was concluded that Atlas weight lifting performance was inadequate an alternate choice would be the Atlas with a 117L second stage. Complete funding plans covering program options were to be available to the conferees. (Msg, AFDRD 51947, Hq USAF, to Hq ARDC, 13 Jun 58.)
The Advanced Research Projects Agency had not yet directed a "go ahead" for the man in space program. However, Air Force headquarters considered it a certainty that direction of an Atlas boosted manned space flight would be given to the Air Force at an early date, that funds for the project would probably total $66 million and that a series of Thor boosted, instrument and animal capsule flights would precede the Atlas full sized instrumented capsule, chimpanzee, and manned shots. The Air Force would probably re-program to obtain whatever additional funds were required to support the program. The ballistic missile division was advised that while waiting for an authoritative "go ahead" it should continue preparation of work statements for industry competition and contractor selection so they might be coordinated with the Advanced Research iProjects Agency and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. (Ltr, Maj Gen J. E. Smart, Asst V/CS, to Lt Gen S. E. Anderson, Cmdr ARDC, 19 Jun 58, no subject given, quoted in TWX, RDZGW6-33-K, Hq ARDC, to Hq AFBMD, 27 Jun 58.)
In a US Air Force briefing a preliminary astronaut selection for the Man-In-Space Soonest project is made. The list consisted of USAF test pilots Robert Walker, Scott Crossfield, Neil Armstrong, Robert Rushworth, William Bridgeman, Alvin White, Iven Kincheloe, Robert White, and Jack McKay. This was the first preliminary astronaut selection in history. The project was cancelled when NASA was formed in and took responsibility for all manned space flight on 1 August 1958. Prospective contractors estimated it would take from 12 to 30 months to put the first American in orbit. In retrospect the orbital flight portion of NASA's Mercury program was paced by the availability of the Atlas booster. Therefore it is unlikely Man-in-Space-Soonest would have put an American in orbit any earlier than Mercury.
General Electric Company personnel presented a briefing at NACA headquarters on studies related to manned space flight. The company held contracts let by the Wright Air Development Center for study and mock-up of a manned spacecraft. NACA made no official comment.
Cook Electric Company submitted a proposal to the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation as a part of a preliminary study and design effort by McDonnell for a manned satellite. McDonnell, prior to being awarded the Mercury prime development contract in February 1959, spent 11 months under a company research budget working on a manned orbital spacecraft concept.
Air Force Ballistic Missile Division representatives again presented a series of Washington briefings. These were to Lt General S. E. Anderson, Commander, Air Research and Development Command; the Air Staff; Secretary of the Air Force and Staff; and Director Roy Johnson, of the Advanced Research Projects Agency. The latter presentation, in addition to reporting detailed man in space planning, requested prompt program approval and emphasized the urgency of firm funds commitment if further delay was to be avoided. Johnson's response to the briefing may be summarized as follows: (a) the man in space program would not be approved at this time; (b) it appeared that $50 million would be an optimistic estimate of man in space funding until the Space Council, authorized by recent legislation, was organized and working, an event that was not probable before Thanksgiving; (c) planning anything over a $50 million program, the maximum likely to be approved under any circumstances, was wasted effort; (d) statements of prominent scientists had convinced the White House there was no currently valid reason for Man-InSpace: (e) when the Space Council became a viable organization, man in space would probably become a joint effort of the Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics; (f) The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (the National Aeronautics and Space Act creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was to become law on 29 July 1958) was already thinking of an independent but very similar space program that would cost about $40 million in fiscal 1959. After these two days of briefings it was clear that quick approval of a military man in space program was not forthcoming. (MFR, Col J. D. Lowe, Ch, Space Sys Div, AFBMD, 30 Jul 58, subj: MISS Briefing to Hq ARDC, Hq USAF, the Secretary of the Air Force and ARPA on 24-25 July 1958.)
The President signed the law by which the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics would be succeeded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The new agency would have custody of all space programs except those clearly oriented toward military objectives. Air Force headquarters obtained approval of the Office of the Secretary of Defense to establish within the Deputy Chief of Staff, Development, a Directorate of Advanced Technology. Brigadier General H. A. Boushey was appointed director of the new office and its primary function, although the words "space" and "astronautics" were conspicuously absent from its mission description, was to serve as the control point for all Air Force space projects. (Bowen, The Threshold of Space, p. 21.)
Despite mounting evidence that the Air Force would not be assigned management of any national lunar program, it continued to press for a manned space program. On this date there was a meeting of Dr. Dryden, National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics; Mr. R. Johnson, Advanced Research Projects Agency; and Secretary of Defense Neil McElroy but future management of a manned space program was not resolved and it appeared that resolution would only bp attained at the Presidential level. It was assumed, however,that the Air Force would have at least $50 million in fiscal 1959 funds to further its space program. (MFR, Col J.D. Lowe, AFBMD, 29 Jul 58, subj: Man-In-Space Program, cited in Chronological Space Hist, 1958.)
Republic Aviation representatives briefed NACA Headquarters personnel on the man-in-space studies in which the company had been engaged since the first of the year. They envisioned a four-stage solid launch vehicle system and a lifting reentry vehicle, which was termed a sled. The vehicle was to be of triangular shape with a 75 degree leading-edge sweep. Aerodynamic and reaction controls would be available to the pilot. For the launch vehicle, Republic proposed a Minuteman first stage, a Polaris first stage, a Minuteman upper stage, and a Jumbo rocket fourth stage. Other details relative to reentry and recovery were included in the briefing.
The future of the proposed Air Force space program was uncertain due to the creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It appeared probable that final over-all space program would be adopted until the large area of overlapping jurisdiction between the two agencies was sorted out. In addition, the Department of Defense was required to transfer some $117 million in fiscal 1959 funds to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of which $58.8 million was Air Force money. Thus it appeared that of the various proposed programs already within National Aeronautics and Space Administration's legitimate area of interest it might well take over the man in space program primarily because it had the money to undertake its development. In respect to the lunar probe program, the Air Force had to wait for further direction before proceeding further. The large booster (one million pound thrust) authorized for Air Force development was transferred to the civilian. space agency. The Air Force would continue development of the 117L system under the over-all direction of the Advanced Research Projects Agency. (Memo, Col C. R. Roderick, Committee Liaison Div, Ofc of Legislative Liaison, to Asst Dir, Legislative Liaison, Sep 58, no subj.)