Apollo Program Review

NASA thus decided to go through a formal consultation process before mak­ing a final decision on how to proceed. On August 5, Paine wrote John Findlay, chairman of the Lunar and Planetary Missions Board (a NASA-chartered advisory group) asking him to provide the board’s views on the question “what additional values accrue to lunar science by retaining Apollo 15 and 19 in the lunar exploration program?” A similar letter was sent to Charles Townes, chair of the National Academy of Sciences Space Science Board, on August 13. NASA alerted the White House to what it was contemplating, saying that it was assessing two program alternatives. One would involve fly­ing Apollo 14-17, then launching Skylab and the planned three astronaut vis­its to the workshop, and then launching Apollo 18-19; the other option was canceling Apollo 15 (the last mission without the lunar roving capability) and Apollo 19 and flying the four remaining Apollo missions before Skylab. The latter choice, which was preferred by NASA, would make two Saturn Vs avail­able for future uses—“such as space station launches.” NASA told the White House that it “would be in touch with you about September 1 to let you know the conclusions” of its review. Peter Flanigan responded quickly, saying that “it certainly seems to me that you are giving this problem the careful con­sideration it deserves” and asking whether someone from the White House “could profitably sit in on” the final review meeting “in order to hear the pros and cons of the arguments,” rather than just having the White House be informed of NASA’s conclusions after the review was completed.7

The review meeting was held on August 24. Myers presented a plan call­ing for the deletion of Apollo 15 and Apollo 19, a step he estimated would save approximately $800 million over the next several years. Findlay reported that both the Lunar and Planetary Missions Board and the Space Science Board strongly preferred flying the remaining six lunar landing missions as “markedly superior from the point of view of scientific yield,” but if a mis­sion had to be canceled, “the loss of Apollo 15 from the program is serious, but the loss of Apollo 19 would be much more serious due to its capability for longer lunar surface EVA and its significant transverse capability.” In response to Flanigan’s suggestion, NASA had invited several White House representatives to the meeting. No one came from Flanigan’s office, but Bill Anders from the Space Council and Russ Drew from the Office of Science and Technology attended. Anders was “extremely concerned” that, if Apollo 15 and 19 were canceled, there could be a hiatus of up to four years in human space flights between the end of the Skylab program and the first flight of the space shuttle; he was later to suggest flying several Earth-orbiting mis­sions using leftover Apollo spacecraft in this period.8

As NASA was preparing to make its decision, science adviser Lee DuBridge added his thoughts, writing Paine on August 28 to say that even if Apollo 15 were canceled, he would “favor making every attempt to retain all of the other flights and I hope very much that it will not be decided to elimi­nate Apollo 19. This can cap the climax [sic] of all the others.” DuBridge added “I understand the desire of some to keep Saturn V’s in reserve. But they have been built for the Apollo purposes and there is no emerging purpose which seems clearly able to take precedence over the use of the Saturns for the additional Apollo missions. In addition, one must recognize that. . . there is a certain non-zero probability that one will be lost as in the case of Apollo 13.”9

None of the arguments that NASA heard in August changed the agency’s July’s thinking—that the prudent course of action, given NASA’s antici­pated budgets for the next several years, its desire to get FY1972 approval to start developing the space shuttle, and the high risk associated with each Apollo mission, was to fly Apollo 14 in January 1971, to cancel Apollo 15 and Apollo 19, and to re-number Apollo 16-18 as Apollo 15, Apollo 16, and Apollo 17, with Apollo 17 being the final lunar landing mission. Paine informed President Nixon of this plan on September 1, saying that “the most compel­ling reason for the decision to delete these flights, which we have arrived at reluctantly but with overwhelming consensus, is the current and reasonably foreseeable austere funding situation for NASA.” Paine told Nixon of the views of the scientific community in favor of not deleting the missions,” but said that the scientific benefits of the two missions being canceled “do not, in our judgment, outweigh the benefits of other ongoing and future NASA programs and the risks involved in these difficult missions.” Paine noted that “in view of Soviet progress on large launch vehicles, it is prudent to retain a modest Saturn V capability. . . Deleting the Apollo 15 and 19 missions pro­vides a national reserve of two Saturn V’s.”10