A White House Status Check

While the locations for new Apollo facilities were settled expeditiously, NASA was slower in selecting what approach to use in getting to the Moon and thus what spacecraft and launch vehicle would be needed for the lunar land­ing. On November 20, 1961, almost six months after President Kennedy’s May 25 speech, Jerome Wiesner provided to Theodore Sorensen an “outline of major problems” with respect to NASA’s progress in implementing the lunar landing program.21

Wiesner noted that “six months have elapsed since the decision was announced to put man on the moon, yet none of these crucial hardware programs have progressed beyond the study phase. Lead times on these development and construction programs are of critical importance.” He also noted that “it is hoped that there will be no further field stations beyond these already announced. However, there are major problems related to the activation of these centers.”

NASA was aware of these White House concerns. Webb told Dryden and Seamans that he had “scouted around” and had discovered that President Kennedy “has some concern as to whether we are proceeding rapidly enough and with enough procurement and program commitment activity to accom­plish the goals he has set for the nation.” NASA had issued a contract on August 10 to the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory for the Apollo guid­ance system, and on November 20 was one week away from contracting for the Apollo command and service module, one element of the spacecraft needed for the lunar landing. However, delays in selecting the design of launch vehicle for the lunar mission had meant that its procurement had had to wait. While NASA had chosen the locations for its Apollo-related facili­ties, Webb also reported that “there is some evidence that the President has had some doubts raised as to whether our decisions with respect to the Cape Canaveral, Michoud, and Houston installations were based on the needs of the program or had political overtones.”22