TAPE 1, SIDE 1
MR. COLLINS: Before we get into a closer examination of the evolution of the Apollo command module contract and the S II contract with North American, I thought it would be useful to get an overview of what your involvement would be with major contracts like these, beginning with the proposal effort and after the contract award, and the organization of the corporation to implement these contracts.
MR. ATWOOD: Well, we had a very strong technical cadre, and we had divisionalized in a definite sort of a way, in almost a single move in the '56 time period, I believe. Each division had its technical objectives and capabilities. I was doing everything I could to enhance that, spending as much money and effort for research as I thought I could, and generally encouraging the forward movement in technical things, and trying to define the differences in role between the various divisions, and adjudicating various things, personnel matters, and trying to keep abreast of what they were doing. I thought I needed to keep abreast to the point that I could judiciously and effectively apply the resources we had. That would probably describe my role as well as I could do.
COLLINS: What was the nature of the mechanisms that you used to keep informed on these major contracts?
ATWOOD: Of course, at first there weren't too many contracts to keep up to date on. We began to get larger numbers when we went into the Rocketdyne Division, the Autonetics Division activity, and of course they were pursuing various missile programs, and I of course never considered myself in the position of judging the validity of what they were doing in all these contract and proposal fields. I could only take the generalities and my engineering sense and trust the people that I worked with and trusted before.
When it came to the bigger contracts, like the engines for the Atlas, Thor, there was a lot of push on that, and of course I'm not a rocket engineer by profession, but the general concepts and the problems are fairly easy to relate to my responsibilities and we pushed that pretty hard during the period of the Navaho program, and worked to convert the technology to the Atlas, and Jupiter, Thor, and then the engines that they used for Redstone which von Braun was much interested in. And we got the Santa Susana test facility at a very timely and early date, I think it was around 1947.
So early in the Autonetics Division, we pushed for the proficiency in the inertial guidance system program. We had an inertial guidance system installed in a KC-97 which is an old Boeing four engine cargo plane, which was about the size of a good-sized office desk. It was a manifestation of the principles of that gyroscopic inertial platform and the accelerometer integration method and platforming programming which they eventually used in all inertial guidance systems.
We, of course, were involved in the missile and airplane business very deeply, bringing along the F-86 Saberjet, the B-45 jet bomber, there were only 150 or so B-45's built. We went on of course into the X-15, and the company was divisionalized after 1956, so I considered my duties to support structure, generally control it financially, control it in risks that were taken, at least understand them, control it in the sense of roles and missions between the divisions, and generally make sure that our contract administration and legal affairs and financial affairs balanced out to some degree. So that's the way I applied myself.
COLLINS: One of the comments of the review efforts in the sixties was this issue of the visibility of the programs to top management. First of all, what did that criticism mean to you, and what does that mean organizationally? What is the requirement there?
ATWOOD: Well, it's something that will never be fully resolved, and I thought I was better informed than most of my contemporaries in companies, but then, you're never well enough informed. So I don't know how to classify it. It certainly wasn't for lack of application, being there, reviewing and keeping up with things. It seems it's really, with the NASA work, after a certain point, I know I was better informed technically than Jim Webb could possibly have been, and even I thought that my decisions on these technical things were sound. I know we weren't veering off on any blind alleys.
I forget the engineering projections, but--this form of criticism is a mystery to me, it really is. I guess if you look through my schedules you see how most of them applied to the operating and technical aspects of the company. I never took long vacations or much vacation of any kind or tried to manage from a golf course. No one man can keep up with those things. But I had a very good start.
The engineering and technical staff was excellent. We had technical committees to cover most everything that we had to do, from metal finishing and joining to all kinds of engineering standards, technology meetings on everything from aerodynamics and wind tunnels to structures. We had a very strong mutual support arrangement between divisions and their technical interface, and a good method of transferring personnel as needed. But I have to admit that when I got the Apollo command module on top of the S-II, we were overloaded, very definitely, having to staff with people faster than we should, except in wartime or some other emergency. We didn't have the work well enough divided; engineering and tooling to bring it along the way you would production work, and it was a period of considerable stress and strain, there's no doubt of it.
COLLINS: What were the general guidelines, either informal or formal, under which a problem would be brought to your attention? Under what circumtances did you expect to be made aware of something that needed your attention?
ATWOOD: Well, of course we had program reviews at least every month and maybe oftener. They were informal. The engineers would have their charts and generally we'd go over drawings and things that weren't so formal, and I did have my first serious concern about the progress on the S-II back in about '63 or '64, when the tooling problem began to spread out. It was a big bite for us to try to develop that structure the way we did.
As a matter of fact, I wrote a paper called "The Wright Brothers Lecture," I think it was in 1976. I was talking about aviation progress, and I was applying some of the structural advancements that had been made in the industry, and related these to efficiency and carrying capacity of aircraft. I was trying to graphically show the improvement from the DC-3 to the DC-6, for instance, and relate it to the structural engineering that was done, and I also brought in the comparison of the common bulkhead on the S-II, because I wanted to give one example of the major advances in structural engineering. So that's a matter of record.
So, perhaps if I had gone on some kind of a counter-attack, like getting together comparable data on the S-II, but I didn't have anything to compare, really. So as I missed a chance of getting them to understand a little better, and helping cooperate better, other than just throwing me brickbats, I might have done better.
COLLINS: I'm unclear about what you mean. In what appropriate terms? How was your relationship with the Air Force different from what it was with NASA?
ATWOOD: Well, the Air Force had pretty steady progression. I worked for the Army Air Corps my first job out of college, in Wright Field as a junior engineer. I felt that they had a continuum of relationships with contractors, technical problems, advancement, and we never had this kind of thing with a military customer. We've had troubles. We've had failures, actually. But those failures have been, not in performance, but we've had failures in objectives. But risks are generally postulated when the Air Force called for the project, and it was implicitly understood. Here the risk factors on the Saturn were widely varied, I guess you'd say. They were taking little technical risk on the S-IC except for lightning and acts of God and things that they couldn't foresee. On the S-II, they were taking risks that were patently great. They were right at the edge of structural capability, and that's the kind of thing you do for an experimental airplane.
COLLINS: I guess part of your point is that somehow or other, if you had the appropriate data or presented it in the appropriate way, this would have been--
ATWOOD: If I'd been able to expain better, I'm not very good at verbalizing. I never have believed in over-killing with words and insulting people's intelligence and emotional appeals or anything like that. I don't believe in them. But I could have done better, on the S-II, at least. When you've got something that closely designed, and you take the weight out of it and have it collapse in the static test just at the critical point, that's almost a toss up as far as whether it's going to hold together, or whether it's going to collapse at that point. The static test has always been done that way. Frequently you let them fail, and then you have to reinforce locally, but this thing was awfully big for that, and time was critical.
COLLINS: On the question of the shared technical understanding of what was involved--you had very capable people in your organization, you had very knowledgeable people on the NASA side. How could there be a failure to understand what was involved technically?
ATWOOD: Well, there was the emotional factor. Take Eberhard Rees. I understand he's not a technical man by education, but he's a capable guy, very emotional, and he used to use heavy-handed forms of persuasion. He had people working for him who were well aware of the critical nature of the design problem. I cannot effectively answer your question. I can only point to the final weights and weight ratios. It should not take great technical experience to appreciate the problem.
COLLINS: Yes, I understand that. But from your point of view, what could possibly be someone like Eberhard Rees's motivation in not grounding his professionalism in technical matters?
ATWOOD: Well, somebody told me that he had a doctorate in social science or something, I don't know. Whatever it was, he was obviously very emotionally alienated from what North American was trying to do. And he let that accumulate. First of all, I knew von Braun understood better than that. I know he did. I used to see him frequently, and he might have been pretty curt a time or two, but he understood these things. The idea of trying to explain something like that to von Braun is bringing coals to Newcastle. He knew better than I. But of course, they were all caught up in a schedule panic, which I can understand. It's a political problem as much as anything.
COLLINS: Yes. I guess this sort of touches on a related issue. In engineering as in science, there are different traditions of how you do a job. Do you think that that came into play here? Did North American and Marshall have different engineering styles, or however you want to characterize it, in how you accomplish an engineering objective?
ATWOOD: To begin with, I wasn't aware of any fundamental psychological conflict or even enmity with Marshall. I wasn't aware of any. I don't know that there was any. The staff--well, we could adapt to that, and we tried to, whatever it was. I think it would come and go, the attitude would go on and off like a red and green light, depending on what had happened.
COLLINS: How were you getting these signals? How were you getting this information? How was it coming to you?
ATWOOD: Well, of course, I probably wasn't getting everything I should. People never do. You can't be overrun with message carriers and people like that. That's easy to happen. Well, general contact. I kept up with all the tests of any consequence. Structural tests, the flight tests, engineering progress. But the number of projects we had going, and the number of ramifications of each certainly were beyond the ability of any one person to keep up with in any detail. That's quite obvious.
COLLINS: Yes. Was that recognized by you at the time? Was thought given to how one attempted to manage that situation?
ATWOOD: Well, of course it was recognized. Each division had a president. They had a pretty wide scope of decision. They had their engineering staff and their personnel and financial, and they reported to me, but not necessarily through me. I didn't necessarily get my information through them. I always had access to anything that I needed to know. But nothing's perfect, by any means.
COLLINS: Did you have--apart from after this crisis period, if you will, after the Phillips Report had come out and that sort of thing--regular meetings with NASA officials as part of the review of the program, or just an assessment of where things stood? I know George Mueller established something called the Apollo Executives Group that consisted of the presidents and CEO's.
ATWOOD: First, as you know the Phillips report was not made public although the notes and general criticism certainly were about the meetings. I'll tell you what I told George Mueller fairly recently, along that line. Of course I attended those executive meetings and got the briefings, which usually had little that I didn't know about. I told George, "George, you should have had meetings of the equivalent engineers instead of the top executives of the company in your briefings." I think if we had had that kind of brainstorming sessions among the design engineers, responsible design engineers, the Apollo fire would never have happened. I think the same thing about the Challenger, the danger would have been uncovered if people had taken a weekend to brainstorm each other and go through these things. But they weren't interfacing at the right level, I felt. I felt that they could have been. Those are prime examples, but there are other things that I think could have been done better.
COLLINS: Are these observations in retrospect, or things you thought at the time?
ATWOOD: In retrospect. I had no idea that the Apollo was going to be inflated with high-pressure oxygen. I've got some letters from various people, Walt Williams and Chris Kraft and others who pretty much acknowledge this.
COLLINS: I still want to get a better handle on when you would expect one of the presidents of the operating divisions or a program manager to bring some problem to your attention? Was there some threshhold of schedule slippage or cost overrun or engineering problem of some dimension that would, as a matter of course, be brought to your attention?
ATWOOD: We did not, could not have, written procedures or protocols for all of that but those things weren't real secrets. If they were known, our accounting people and technical staff knew it and I knew it. It's those things that weren't apparent that were the problem, frequently.
In other words, I'd see people working on trying to complete their drawing program. It's almost as simple as, well, I hope I'll get through, and somebody runs in with an interfacing problem or change, and they have to back off and start bringing those things in. They didn't know it on Thursday but they know it on Friday. Well, it isn't quite that small or intimate to change a big program, but when things began to accumulate, it is a good point you're making: when can it be unravelled or re-established that the whole thing's got to slip? Do you have to wait until you have a year's worth of problems and then slip a year? That's grossly out of line. As you say, somebody's almost got to do that analytical review of the progress of the program, or have enough feel for it to raise a signal flag and get a re-examination. That always happens, but not necessarily at the right time.
COLLINS: I'd be interested in gaining an understanding of, at what points things were brought to you for a decision? One area I'm curious about is, you mentioned that the awarding of the command system module placed an additional burden on the corporation. In putting out that proposal and seeking that work, was that something that you were aware of when you sorted it out? ATWOOD: Oh yes. You see, all the ramifications don't unfold at once, naturally, and our people were very enthusiastic, and I knew we had a good part of the program, with the rocket engines and the S-II. I was feeling that in view of the general size of the program, that was probably a good portion for the company. But the command module came up, and of course Stormy was just almost desperately eager to bid on it. So they were getting some things together, and they were working awfully hard, and I had little reason to believe that we would win it, because Martin had received the first assignment to study the problem.
But along about then, I can't remember exactly, Jim McDonnell called me from St. Louis and he said, "You know, this bid on the command module is going to involve a lot of things. It's going to have other components with it." I guess he meant the service module. And he said, "Why don't we join together and bid on this thing? You know, there'll be plenty for us all to do and everything." I said, "Well, Jim, I'll look into that," and I either went over or invited (Harrison) Storms and his troops over, I've forgotten which, and we talked about it.
They were very, very strong on bidding on their own, and, not that I had any overwhelming confidence in it, but I thought about it all and talked to them several times. I called McDonnell back and said, "Jim, we've decided to enter our own bid. You go ahead and bid on yours, or whatever combination you want." I was influenced by their feeling on it.
COLLINS: By the feelings of your top engineering staff.
ATWOOD: Yes. They had so much enthusiasm, they were going so strong, and they seemed to feel that the S-II problems were not going to hold them back. We under-estimated the number of people it would take, for one thing. Everybody did. We all did. So we turned in the bid. I did nothing other than sign it.
COLLINS: But in these situations for major contracts, was it your final decision on whether or not to submit the proposal?
ATWOOD: Oh, yes. I was set up to operate everything, pretty much. I didn't even have a committee system to decide on these expenditures of research funds. I was generally dependent for what I knew on the teams from the divisions, and what I felt we could afford. We had no surrounding red tape and groups of people out in the bushes.
COLLINS: So, in the case of proceeding with a major contract proposal, it would be the judgments of your top engineering staff, their ability to convince you, and then your decision.
ATWOOD: Yes. Of course the final arbiter is the customer.
It's awfully hard to fail to bid on something, in an industry where your life blood depends on getting contracts. The pressure is very strong to try, especially in those days, the thing was moving so fast, it really didn't cost us proportionately nearly as much as it had been costing to bid on fighter planes or bombers or other military equipment.
COLLINS: You mean, the cost of proposal preparation and submission?
ATWOOD: Yes. The engineering work going into it. Sometimes test articles, all sorts of expensive things, in a technical sense. I think about the time before I retired in 1970, I spent 35 million dollars bidding on two military planes. One was the F-15 and the other was the B-1.
COLLINS: Just to follow up your comment about Jim McDonnell, is this fairly typical, for CEO's to call up one another and say, "Let's join in submitting a bid on something" ? How did that work?
ATWOOD: It wasn't--we were very careful about any kind of collusion or collusive bids. But team bids have always been acceptable, and in some cases, quite the proper thing to do.
COLLINS: Typically under what circumstances would you consider it useful for the corporation to pursue a team bid?
ATWOOD: Well, you know, when certain abilities or skills are reportedly on one side and certain others are on the other. For instance, the vacant factory, some machinery. Or theoretically let's say, some large wind tunnel, something like that. Or frequently just the size of it, division of labor. You can rationalize many things, you know. You don't have to go through the Supreme Court to make decisions on these things.
COLLINS: Well, once the CSM contract was awarded, and you had these two substantial NASA contracts in addition to the engine work, what role did you play in helping the corporation to get organized to take on this level of work?
ATWOOD: One of the first things I did was help implement a recruitment drive, for people. They wrote back to me in pretty stark outline what the problem was in expanding. We levied people from existing divisions, of course, and we recruited from the outside. We've had that kind of experience before, during the war, and it usually ends up in some kind of overload problem, because things never work out as scheduled. When you're doing heavy research or development work, call it what you will--it isn't exactly research, it's more engineering iterations, reiterations, another set of drawings, improvements, and all your schedules tend to slip, which it did there.
George Mueller used to carry around a little set of charts that he'd devised. We called them "Muellergraphs." They were very suitable for the purpose. They showed the schedule, and changes of schedule against time. So, in January 1964 your schedule was to finish in March 1966. Next January 1965 your schedule slipped and your finish date is March 1967, a year for year slip. They wanted to get everything ready well before they were making their first manned flights, you know. They couldn't, because things weren't finishing up.
George had this plan, I guess it had come from the Air Force missile program for all-up-testing and concurrency of development and production. They called it concurrency in the Air Force and that was a big word in those days. We applied that pretty well, and so, when we got everything working right, of course component testing was done, rocket engine testing was done, testing was done on the stages of all our engines. Then they put the stages together and ran the test, ran the first all-up saturn launch in November, '67, about three years ahead of the mission deadline. This was badly behind schedule but the concurrency practice made the first manned launch in 1968 quite feasible.
TAPE 1, SIDE 2
ATWOOD: I think, to generally respond to your question, I can't think of anything really important that I wasn't aware of in a pretty timely way.
COLLINS: That's the awareness question, but the other part of my question is, what things did you, as the chief executive officer, have to make decisions about that couldn't be made, say, by the president of one of the operating divisions?
ATWOOD: Well, of course, in the final analysis, I did relieve Storms of his job. I don't remember too well, but I know I directed certain things. I had to, once in a while. I think the category of items would be, when there appeared to be foot dragging or lack of response to a customer requirement, something like that, I generally thought some enforcement was necessary. I never had occasion as I remember it, to just countermand an order of a division president. Things never went that far, that I can remember.
COLLINS: Correct me if I'm reading into this. My impression then is that your presidents had a great deal of discretion in how they handled the business in their divisions.
ATWOOD: Yes. Certainly they did. You have to. In ordering material, subcontracting, completing orders. You see, we write everything against a contract number, and there's a regular category of things that has to be done to fulfill the contract, and they run from personnel staffing to material procurement, authorization of drawings and tooling, and testing, and the discretion has to pretty much follow the people that are doing the work. They're generally competent to handle it. I think the only real problem that I think I would agree with NASA on, 100 percent, was the fact that we had quite limited visibility on our schedule. I know I did, and on the other hand, you simply could not expect an agreed-on schedule, almost a mandated schedule, could be met. A schedule established through arm-twisting and lack of knowledge or lack of foresight is certainly only a piece of paper. It's an objective. But in a program like this, there had to be give and take on both sides. You couldn't simply say you agreed to a schedule, therefore you're in default if you didn't make it. There's a little bit of that kind of pressure used. But it was only for arguing purposes.
COLLINS: Was it your experience that in your work for the Air Force, there was more flexible interaction about the utility of the schedule as a milestone device?
ATWOOD: Well, we've had some real set-tos with the Air Force. I remember, we were building the B-70, XB-70, very difficult plane. It was made of stainless steel, and we were pioneering. It was really a remarkable plane. It had a lift to drag ratio of 8, at Mach 3. Nothing has ever approached that since. It had a range of 6500 miles without being refueled. But we ran into trouble on the schedule. We couldn't seal the fuel tanks. The method we were using didn't work and we had to fix that one. The whole Air Force was kind of trembling on the brink--they thought if we got it done in a certain time, they'd get contract authorization to build a bunch of them, and we really essentially failed. But the Air Force was so tied into it--well, we had a few fights, and ultimately General Gerrity came out, I remember, a big squabble in the engineering conference room. But generally they knew why, and we finished the plane, it made its performance and all that, but it was too late, and Eisenhower wouldn't buy a quantity. This is something I remember very well. It's never really different, but I feel on the S-II especially, I feel that the NASA schedule people got unreasonable.
COLLINS: Now, setting the schedule is not, as I understand it, a capricious exercise, and you attempt to do a fairly thorough engineering analysis to determine what the schedule ought to be. In developing the schedule, say, for the S-II, was it a joint exercise between the North American engineers and the NASA engineers? Do you recall how that worked?
ATWOOD: Of course, we had an end point derived from the Kennedy mandate, but the time when the schedule got so tense was really when the static test article failed, and finally, when we blew the test tank with helium. Those were two very sad incidents that I think really made enemies of the company and NASA, and that's the S-II. I don't think anybody thought that the command module wouldn't be ready, even after the fire. I don't believe they did, because it was pretty obvious, it could be done. But the second stage, I think they felt that some way, that might be the Achilles' heel of the whole program. At least that's my opinion.
COLLINS: Well, in your paper on the S-II--the essay to which we referred yesterday and which we appended to the interview--I was unclear on one point. Given the differences between NASA and North American on the proper technical approach, what were the nature and frequency of the discussions about these kinds of issues? Did you have any sense of how that developed over time?
ATWOOD: Well, you'll note from the record that the North American people, especially Storms and his engineering supporters, were following their instincts. Storms had always been a performance-minded man. He had always reached for everything he could get out of a design, and it's demonstrated time and again in work that he has done for the company on airplanes. And he pushed in that direction. He went beyond his real function in the NASA scheme of things in pushing, for instance, for that common bulkhead, and for the 93 percent mass fraction which was accepted as the goal in that S-II program. But of course, the book STAGES TO SATURN relates how the NASA people thought he shouldn't try the common bulkhead, the 33 feet being a little too big, and it was marginal. But then later, of course, before the big fights took place, pushing to shave weight out of that stage, go back and thin this down, thin that down, change this and change that, which they did. By then, of course, the common bulkhead was taken for granted. But that was, would be considered, not only complicity in the crime, but egging it on.
COLLINS: When you refer to the "NASA scheme of things," what are you thinking of?
ATWOOD: Well, just take the conservative design philosophy, which is spread all through the record. They had every reason to believe that in any static test they ran on a stage of Saturn, it would readily withstand the maximum load with the 1.5 magin factor and be available for use for further tests. This was an underlying assumption, in the conservative design philosophy. And yet, the S-II was never projected for that kind of a margin of strength and safety and weight. Storms didn't project the extra margin. So he was number one in the complicity factor, reaching for performance, optimistic, sanguine. He was abetted naturally when the weight crunch came by everybody involved in responsibility for the booster. The engine people at Rocketdyne also responded. But NASA didn't really make any effort to reduce the weight on the other two stages, for various good reasons. They were well along. So that's what I really meant, the NASA scheme of things on boosters.
COLLINS: On the S-II, I'm a little unclear and I don't know whether you're the person to answer this question, but for a major design element of this stage, wouldn't it be up to Marshall Space Flight Center to set the requirement for something like the common bulkhead? They clearly had taken a lead role in directing many other of the technical aspects of the project.
ATWOOD: Now you're asking a question you've asked a couple of times before. And it's a good question. Was NASA designing to a performance specification or to a money and schedule specification? It was a mixture, undoubtedly. NASA controlled the S-IC stage. In fact, they essentially designed it, leaning over the Boeing engineers' drafting tables, looking over their shoulders, or specifying from day to day how to do it. Some remarks on that are recorded in Stages to Saturn how the Boeing people felt they were being basically supervised, or words to that effect. The Douglas stage was different, but it was designed for Saturn I which was only used for testing up to orbital speeds, no translunar type of mission, no heavy lunar lander in addition to the command module, so the S-IV design was essentially stabilized and was in production before the critical weight problem appeared. Now, that was more a Douglas design. So as I say, you've asked a good question. Should NASA have decided whether we used a common bulkhead, or just decided that we needed so much fuel and so much impulse? Apparently this was an unclear ground rule, and when--as reported--North American and Storms insisted on using that common bulkhead, apparently the NASA design people went along.
COLLINS: Well, how would you as president-CEO, be involved in this kind of issue? Would it just be something that was reported to you and you'd be aware of, or did you have some more direct involvement?
ATWOOD: Frankly, in this case at least, they never asked me, when they bid on it, and to me it seemed, I guess it would have seemed a kind of a background situation, because in these experimental things, and particularly in that stage of them, I certainly couldn't have been critically concerned about the nature of the stipulation or any flat guarantee they were making. It just wasn't that clear. Now, I did not know exactly what they were offering technically. I knew what their estimates of costs generally were. They were almost unreasonably low, of course, as it turned out. But that's understood when you're bidding only a few weeks or months after Kennedy's announcement of a moon mission. It couldn't be very accurate, could it? No, I didn't know what they were offering in the way of a mass fraction. It only became fairly clear to me, as I said, in 1963, '64, when the design was unfolding, and all estimates were going up, and the nature of the tooling and the manufacturing problem became clear, and the real strength of the company's manufacturing group went into action to cope with it.
COLLINS: This point where the problem became pronounced and you were very much aware of it, you acquired that knowledge simply through review meetings or some other way?
ATWOOD: Oh yes. Well, yes, looking at things, talking to people, getting a briefing, estimates and so forth.
COLLINS: Well, I mean, as part of the regular system of review meetings?
ATWOOD: You see, we never had, I never saw a complete test schedule and engine performance related to it at any time during Apollo. A complete performance schedule, weight of the S-I, fuel, thrust, speed of cutoff. In an airplane, of course, we would have that almost pasted on the wall as you go along. Almost. Keeping up with the performance margin and all that.
COLLINS: This was because NASA did not provide that information to North American?
ATWOOD: Oh no. We were a component manufacturer. That's one of the differences, and it's part of the question you've asked repeatedly, where does the established responsibility lie? Well, it's a mixed bag--the overall is certainly with NASA, because nobody else really had it; but item by item, contractor designers have some responsibility for their functional utility, at least, and in the case of a booster stage, certainly some responsibility for performance, for the engines for the lunar lander, for the lunar take-off, those were all contractor-designed, and the individual performance envelopes were circumscribed to that function, but the contractor did have some performance responsibility, for efficiency, at least. Function, efficiency, weight.
COLLINS: What was your feeling then when NASA reared up in mid-1965 to conduct this Tiger Team evaluation of North American's operations?
ATWOOD: Well, as I've written, this had become kind of a tool of the Air Force. It had been used on the Minuteman. I had no compunctions or apprehensions or anything else. It was certainly their business. They had inspectors throughout the company, of course, always did, representatives of all kinds, and it was a fair enough application of their interest. So I had no thoughts at all about it, except take and do what we can with it. It was just after the failure of the static test article, that was in September of '65, and I think that was a shocker to the schedule people, very much, because they had two consecutive stages they were going to put on the vertical stand at Huntsville and vibrate the whole stack right up through vibration tests, and they lost them both (the second in May 1966). On the other hand, I couldn't see how they could be so surprised, completely, nearly unhinged by it, I mean in the schedule sense, by having that static test article fail at about the load it was supposed to fail at.
COLLINS: You readily accepted the involvement of the Tiger Team in analyzing the corporation's operations.
ATWOOD: Oh, yes. Of course.
COLLINS: But the results of that activity, the "report" that followed--the criticisms were pretty wide-ranging, I mean, from concerns about management to how various aspects of the engineering were being handled. Were you surprised by the breadth and pointedness of these criticisms?
ATWOOD: Well, quite a lot, although once your engineering output of drawings and specifications gets ragged as far as the schedule is concerned, everything else gets ragged. It doesn't necessarily excuse shortcuts and things that are clearly improper, but it may be an environment in which they are more likely to occur. I realized that the engineering was not on time. It was being redone to some extent. A lot of backtracking. I could see why, in the analysis and re-analysis.
You may not know it, Martin, but these days everything on an engineering release that takes any force or load or vibration or stress is mathematically analyzed by structural engineers, to determine its strength and margin. In other words, it's related to everything else on the airplane or on the stack. Is it strong enough? Is it overweight? Those things had to be cleared before the drawings are released. And that particular part of it, which is shaving for weight, is likely to be a recirculating type of an activity, and we were experiencing a lot of that.
It had made the engineering at least a problem, at recall. An engineering change is really a recall of something that's been released. You stop it, recall your drawing, you get an instruction to change it, bring it back, and the shop is full of that. That's why I tried to concentrate on the engineering, while we had our other teams going over the irregularities and improper activities that were going on with respect to other functions. The things that are most apparent are usually picked up a couple of weeks' surveys because everybody has some kind of a schedule. Are you on it? Are you not? Well, of course you're not, and the whole place looked like a wreck. It was stop orders, hold orders, missing parts, material procurement had to be modified in many cases.
So I was really seriously surprised at the language in some of the notes that I went through, and at the substance of them, although it's not hard to exaggerate the effect of two or three things that are wrong, and to generalize about a group or a department on their inefficiency or their inability to do the work right. Now I was seriously concerned about it. I'd heard from others that--representatives at Houston, for instance--the instructions had gone out sub rosa, "write it bad." Those were the words that were supposed to be running through the group informally, "write it bad."
COLLINS: For what reason would that be the case?
ATWOOD: Well, stir things up, make it happen, make the schedule happen. You know. Things were bad in the schedule sense. I haven't any source on that, but this is what they told me. Anyway, they were bad, in a lot of ways. So you might as well write it bad. I'm not complaining about that. I'm not criticizing at all. You just asked me, what is my reaction. Of course, along about March or April, I asked Phillips again how things were going. He said, "Well, things are doing much better, much better." Just verbal. And talking to Webb during about that period, Webb said to me, again verbally, he said, "Well, it looks like when you really get into things, things really start to move."
Of course that is an overstatement, I think, because my face is there every day or every other day, you can easily tie something to that. It overrates my capacity to do anything about it. But you see, we had Bob Greer put on the program then about that time. He'd come as Storms' asssistant, and he was a retired air force general and very good man on development, engineering and all that. He became S-II program manager, and he made the decisions and I thought they were OK. But it was shortly after that when things were looking pretty good that in May of '66, I think, that S-II tank down at the Cape blew again, and poor Bob Greer had been on the job only six months or so, and I think that sort of blew the fuse in the NASA circuits. But it was a tough job. Very difficult.
COLLINS: Was this unprecedented in your experience, the problems that North American experienced, in relation to other large programs it had undertaken?
ATWOOD: We had a couple of problems on the rocket engines, of course. We had the time when we were trying to fly the X-15. It went up in a B-52 for 15 or 20 consecutive days and couldn't be flown because something wasn't working right. We've had that sort of thing before. But losing two stages that were part of the integral schedule of the program was a little unusual, yes. That was exceedingly bad luck.
COLLINS: If I'm understanding some of your comments correctly, you did feel after the Phillips Report was prepared that it did open your eyes to some problems within your organization.
ATWOOD: Well, though I didn't see it, the effects of the report certainly did focus the whole thing. I didn't feel that it was pointed so much at the CSM. I know Dale Myers had just finished a year when expenditures were almost exactly what had been estimated. That was considered a big plus. But of course, the parts were being made in the same shop, Martin, in a large degree, and under effective supervision. I'm sure that they had their problems with change traffic like everybody else, but we'd always prided ourselves on handling changes, did everything we could to make it not a show-stopper but a part of the general flow, you know.
Being overwhelmed in that type of thing was very difficult for us, very unusual. But we never quit trying, and so, I really felt that the real brunt of the criticism of the operation there was pointed at the S-II program rather than the CSM. The CSM did have a lot better integrity of its funding, its programming, its progress than the S-II because it was just further along in engineering and manufacture.
We had several vehicles that had been finished. They were test articles which were flown first at White Sands for parachute and recovery tests and escape tests, and they were being flown on the Saturn I down in Florida, went into orbital fight and returned, and had been sent out to several thousand miles and fired up again to enter the earth at lunar return speeds. All that progress was good, and as I reported it, put it in my paper. We never had an electrical failure in any of those tests. And I thought Dale Myers was pretty well on top of it.
COLLINS: I guess there's a certain irony there, that may be apparent or real, I'm not sure which, and that is that for the command system module, Houston was probably less attentive to getting the design specifications for this thing set than the Marshall people were for the S-II. There was I think a more laissez-faire or evolutionary sense of how the command system module would eventually be, compared to the S-II.
ATWOOD: Well, no, there was another distinction there. The command module commanded the attention of so many astronauts and so many other people, engineers from Houston and all that. They all had their ideas of how things should be arranged, how controls should be set up, and an awful lot of brouhaha over the actual arrangement, what they were going to have in the command module. One of the astronauts said, in connection with that, "You know, we've got a pretty strong union." And they really did. They really did. And Dale had to face the problem of arrangement, and inter-astronaut compatibility and cooperation, which is subject to many, many points of view. That was more his problem, plus electrical changes, which came from other parts of the stack and from the ground equipment itself. Everything was programmed, you know. They had their computers, their data dumps, and all the read-outs from the command draft, I mean from the control room itself.
So there were more just infinite refinements and changes, more than the S-II, which was fundamentally structural, a weight problem, and the people at Huntsville weren't so much detailing what changes should be made, the way they were in Houston. They were really urging a weight reduction, almost a general pressure on weight reduction, whereas the impact on the command module was almost screw by screw, and estimate by estimate and switch by switch. They were all trying to seek some kind of optimization, naturally.
TAPE 2, SIDE 1
COLLINS: I'd be interested in attempting to categorize the amount of time, the fraction of time that you spent attending to your work with NASA, during the period after the award of the contract, say up through '64, '65, before things started to boil, and then afterwards up through the fire.
ATWOOD: Well, I really can't do that, Martin. I could talk around it. Of course I was interested. Of course I tried to keep up with it. We had at the same time a very heavy program on the XB-70. We'd had the F-100 in production. I guess the F-86 was tapering out by then. And we had a heavy load at Columbus for the Navy. For a considerable period in the early sixties at least, I was spending nearly a week a month in Columbus, and later, of course, not so much. Of course, there was Rocketdyne coming along. Autonetics was going very fast. And I'm an engineer, I'm not the type that sits in the office reading reports, or spending much time looking over financials. I always administered that in a gross sort of a way.
I had some very reliable people in accounting. My philosophy was, lean towards giving the government something rather than trying to chisel it from them. So we never had any problems there. I said, "If there's any doubt, charge it to company money," and that sort of thing. I tried to spend my time on engineering and physical manifestations of what we were doing. This included of course, the Space Division. I think it was probably a proportional amount of time. I know I spent quite a bit of time at Palmdale, when they were trying to see how the tanks on the B-70 were coming along--of course, that's just a half an hour's flight, and we had a shuttle plane going up there. We had helicopters, two or three of them, we used for various executive functions, and we'd get around pretty well.
COLLINS: Just to use that as an example, you had a problem on the B-1, you said?
ATWOOD: No, sorry it was the B-70.
COLLINS: B-70, with the fuel tanks, and you had spent time there. What would you do? What would be the nature of your involvement in the engineering problem?
ATWOOD: Well, actually, I'd get a review. You see, we'd gone to stainless steel on that plane, because the temperature of the wings at cruise was too hot for aluminum. We had some titanium in the plane, but steel tanks were thin steel, we used corrugated material under all these surfaces, and they thought they'd designed for fuel tightness. It didn't work, and we were trying to select various materials, for one thing, the kind of viton sealer they were using. Then they were using different methods of access to these tanks. They'd cut various holes in the tanks and were working inside. They were doing about all they could with their crews.
They'd have to be ventilated when they were working, and all that. Then at the same time they were perfecting some of the welding devices, for welding under a vacuum, and I was going up there, not to spend a lot of time, but to get briefed on progress and outlook. Because Curtis LeMay, the chief of staff, was on my neck about, if we don't get it done by so and so we're going to miss this Congress appropriation, and one thing and another. I think he was fighting a losing battle all the time because Eisenhower wasn't convinced we needed the Mach 3 bomber, anyway, but our contract was with the Air Force and we were doing everything we could. So I guess, I only mention that, not that I spent days or weeks of my time on it, but it was one of the things I was trying to expedite, see if I could help.
COLLINS: Yes. What I was trying to get at there would be the nature of how you would involve yourself to expedite the situation.
ATWOOD: Well, I certainly wasn't going to get in the tanks and try to improve the sealing technique, but I think it was pretty important that I, I thought it was pretty important that I be right up to date on the progress, have a good feel for it.
COLLINS: I assume this is sort of in part symbolic, in a sense, I mean your presence there conveys the notion that this is a serious thing and must be accomplished.
ATWOOD: Certainly that is a matter of emphasis. It is emphasis, and we discussed some things.
COLLINS: Did a situation arise in a similar fashion with the S-II or the command system module activity?
ATWOOD: Well, we never had, as I remember, any program stopper on the manufacture of the command module. We made a kind of a drop tank with big swing on it, to simulate the dropping of the command module into the ocean. I think the module was only 13 feet in diameter, something like that, but it required a good structure and water proofing, and that was more or less a matter of, I guess you'd say, empirical loadings. There wasn't any real criterion except the height of the drop and the speed of the drop, and it impacted the waves in a cross velocity. But I followed that progress, to some extent. I don't know exactly what to say, but I think, there were very few things I could apply what I considered background expertise as well as I could in judging the criticisms of the S-II stage. And I decided the engineering, the design, having examined it and convinced myself it was sound and well done. I didn't follow the CSM in that particular way because I didn't see any problems with the structure. In fact, we weren't stretching any technologies that I could see. I knew little about heat shielding. I know, the dummy spacecraft tests, I just kept pieces of the heat shields in the office. They were quite conservative, you know. They only charred about that far in, 1/2 to 3/4 inch in about a two inch depth. So as I say, I didn't attempt to second guess them. There wasn't any basis on which I could do it.
COLLINS: In that it wasn't just a concern about engineering, it was also a concern about how resources were organized to do the job?
ATWOOD: Oh yes, I think the organization was quite rational. But we had two or three changes in management. First we had Scott Crossfield, who had been a full time NASA engineering test pilot. I don't think he lasted, he was not manager very long. We had a man named John Paup, an Air Force officer, who was very effective in his work. He had a fine reputation, but he seemed to be a little too military, and wasn't in a position to judge him too well. Dale Myers had been an engineer with the company a long time and was project manager on the Hound Dog missile, which was a fairly advanced thing for its day, quite successful. So we got him onto the command module management fairly early on, and he finished out the program. He had some good help with him, and of course, the chief engineer was Gary Osbon, who nearly worked himself to death. The command module did not represent an engineering disciplinary stretch, a reach. It was just the problem of getting it all put together and satisfying everybody.
COLLINS: Resuming after a brief pause, you were discussing the stretch or lack of stretch in the command module.
ATWOOD: Yes, well, I think of a technical stretch as having to build some key technology or improve that technology, like aerodynamic drag or thrust on an engine or electronic refinements of some kind, something in that class, or an improvement in structural strength or efficiency. I don't think that you can consider that the command module had any of those challenges. They were more electrical, mechanical arrangements, and all the weight saving. Weight had to be considered, extremely critical and much effort was expended on that. That was my only comment. I don't know that it's especially significant.
COLLINS: What was the nature of your contacts with Jim Webb during this period, before the Apollo fire?
ATWOOD: Oh, I saw him quite frequently, I think, perhaps once a month or in that bracket. He, of course, was a very active guy, and pushing hard. I'd say once a month. I'd guess that.
COLLINS: Generally, what was the purpose or content of your meetings?
ATWOOD: Well, I'd usually be in Washington for a variety of reasons, when I'd go. Some were contractual. Some were organizational. Of course, NASA Headquarters was a place for exchange of information and general gathering of suggestions, attitudes and general knowledge. Of course I'd go to the Pentagon quite often. And that would be about my circuit.
COLLINS: Would these meetings be to apprise Jim Webb of progress?
ATWOOD: Well, he'd usually have a specific item or two, to talk about, "How are you doing on this?" For a while it was the big engine, F-1. Of course, we had the instability problem there. It was an awfully big chamber to get stabilized. The J-2 had similar problems, and he was usually aware enough of these things to ask questions. I was usually well enough informed to bring him up on the status, and I'd usually see other people too, the NASA group. If Phillips or Mueller were there, I'd usually see them, and of course, it was just interfacing, looking for information, improvements, whatever, in most cases. Some things were specific but I don't recall any details of how they went.
COLLINS: Was it primarily your responsibility to maintain this contact with Jim Webb, or would say Harrison Storms go in and sit down and talk with him as well when he was in Washington?
ATWOOD: I don't think Storms had too many contacts there. He was well acquainted with the people at Houston and Huntsville. See, he was in the element of the people at NASA, being an aerodynamic engineer, kind of a leading engineer in the business, so he was more or less at home in the environment of the centers that NASA established. The first one, of course, was at Langley. That was almost a home base for aerodynamic engineers. So I don't think he went into Headquarters too often on his own for any major meetings, although I'm sure he'd go there once in a while. No, I think the primary contact at the top level was done by me, or of course, we had a Washington office. Bill Clark was very well acquainted up there, and possibly some of the others. I know Ralph Watson was a former Air Force guy, and he wasn't a technical man really but he seemed to be good at getting information and various items of traffic from the NASA people.
COLLINS: What sorts of things are we talking about here?
ATWOOD: Well, I think he's the one who first told me--it was either him or Ed Goss--about the Phillips Report, and what he told me was that Phillips made a report that recommended that the S-II be turned over to the Los Angeles division of North American instead of the Space Division. This was probably an error and of course, nothing ever came of that, although eventually Ralph Ruud, head of the Los Angeles division, did go to the Space Division to run it under Bergen. But Watson was a, what you'd call a professional contact man. He was a World War II ace, famous in the Air Force, and pretty much at home on the Hill with the Congressmen, and he had access to almost any government office. So he was more of a general information guy rather than a technical man.
COLLINS: So this in part fits into the pattern of understanding what was going on at the agencies and Congress, that we talked about in relation to Fred Black.
ATWOOD: Oh, yes. Watson had good entre. I mean, the same general field of endeavor, but not normal lobbying, not being a licensed lobbyist.
COLLINS: To return to one of the things we were talking about just before we paused for a few minutes there, and that was, the concern not just about engineering issues of North American but management, and a question that occurred to me was, to what degree were you involved in assessing the effectiveness and capability of program managers, other people in responsible management positions? Was that strictly a prerogative of the presidents of the operating divisions, or did you have any input into that at all?
ATWOOD: Well, I'd say mine was secondary. The way things were set up, it was necessary for me to approve any promotion of anybody in that category, or even any pay increase for them, and any transfer, demotion, came across my desk. It wasn't very heavy traffic. It was for people at the level of a leading engineer, a good engineer, program manager, manager, some superintendent in the factory or general foremen. There were maybe a hundred or two people in that category, and I knew them all and their work and was keeping up with it--but rarely was I in a position to initiate a complaint against some particular manager, or to go out of my way to recommend another, unless something came to my attention very strongly. I often questioned the performance of individuals, to their superiors, which is only natural. And usually I'd get a good answer. Sometimes I'd see that they changed, not necessarily because I asked about it, but perhaps it might have been connected. Hard to tell. That's about the best I can describe it.
COLLINS: In the case of the situation after the Phillips Report and after the fire, there were a number of personnel changes made. How did you go about assessing what needed to be done in that context?
ATWOOD: Well, take the case of Bob Greer. He didn't come to me to apply for a job necessarily. That was worked out without my intimate knowledge. Apparently he made himself available to Storms. Maybe he saw an opportunity to do some good. He was retired from the Air Force, had his length of service, and I don't know how the contact initiated. I heard about it as soon as it was seriously proposed, of course, and thought it was a good idea. To tell you the truth, I did not do much personnel recruiting myself.
Bill Bergen came to me. He left Martin, under what circumstances I don't know, but I guess he and Bunker didn't hit it off too well. He'd worked his way up. In years gone by he was an engineer from MIT, I think, and he'd done good work and was recognized for his background. So he came to me, and said he was leaving Martin, and was I interested. Interesting thing, Bergen told me later that he came to North American because he felt that Jim McDonnell was too oppressive in personal ways to work for, and Bill was having marital troubles and he did get a divorce later and married another woman. I think he felt that Jim McDonnell would frown on that kind of a contretemps, and he came to me.
Of course, I didn't have anything, to just tell Bill to take over, but I more or less created a staff position with some prestige and I employed two other people about that time. One was Austin Davis from the Air Force, a former general, and Bill Bergen, and another whose name I can't quite remember who worked for Convair. I thought they might have something we'd need, and Bill had been working on assignment to assist various divisional capabilities in technology and management, and it was really kind of a holding pattern, I'll have to say, because he wasn't offered any executive authority at the time. But Stormy had some health problems, as I put in that write-up, and I never got into it very deeply. He wasn't out very long, but he did hire Bob Greer, and I thought that was a big improvement.
But in the meantime, I'd been using a team of people from our corporate research and engineering staff. There was Bernie Haber as head of that. He still lives here in Santa Barbara. He was vice president for Engineering and Research. He had a group of people over at Downey working in support of the Downey people, trying to add all the help he could, you know. Among them was an airplane engineer from the company named George Jeffs. He's still with the company, in a top executive position now, and Stormy replaced Gary Osbon, who was chief engineer on the command and service, with George Jeffs. That was before the fire. He thought he would be two things, a good relief from a relay point of view and a good man to run it. Osbon was pretty well ground down, I guess. So he was replaced, and of course Wickham was under so much fire. I just couldn't see anything wrong with Wickham's work. Yet he might have been pretty tired. But we had another engineer--I mean, we had many, but we replaced Gary Osbon.
Anyway, we made a few changes like that, but the main one I considered most important was getting Ralph Ruud to help Bill Bergen. The two had pretty good division of work, and Ralph knew every nook and cranny of all our facilities and all the production people, all the inspectors, and I thought that it was the best possible arrangement I could conceive of to deal with the problem at the division. I guess it worked out that way. Bergen knew nothing about the company, really, but he was an experienced executive, and in facing NASA, he was quite successful. Ralph just continued to do what he'd been doing, and he was very good.
COLLINS: I think you've answered my question in part, but just to be clear then, you took a very personal involvement when it came to making these rather widespread personnel changes.
ATWOOD: Well, frankly, Storms himself replaced Osbon with Jeffs without my recommendation. I might have recommended him but I didn't. It just happens I didn't. Raiklen is the one that replaced Wickham. That wasn't my personal selection either. But that was done after the fire. I don't know whether Bergen did it or not. It was probably Dale Myers. I really don't know that sequence. But I was convinced that Ralph Ruud could do more, both in stabilizing and in dealing with the entire crew of people whom he probably knew as well as anyone in the world, and I think he did. Of course, as I said, maybe almost in a negative sort of a way, that frequently when the engineering problems are resolved, people attribute all the progress to management change. I have never done that. I understand the cycle too well to come to that conclusion because once your engineering is finished, complete and fine-tuned, it's relatively simple to complete the other part of the program.
COLLINS: Was it your sense that the organizational and personnel changes that were made in the aftermath of the Phillips Report, were more cosmetic than real? I mean, did they serve a real function for the corporation, or was it something that you did that you thought was just to satisfy the customer?
ATWOOD: No, I think it was about--not the customer so much to satisfy. I'll put it another way. What would have happened if the personnel changes hadn't been made? And what difference did the new people make? If you take out wear and tear factors, I think that George Jeffs would have done a little better than Gary Osbon would have done. I don't think Raiklen did any better than Wickham at all. Although he did a creditable job. I know Ralph Ruud did a better job than any other individual, including--well, this relates to only a short time, that of Bob Greer being a deputy to Storms. See, Ralph is a factory manager. Storms is a talented engineer. But now, whether Bergen did better than Storms or not, I don't know. His temperament was a lot better, more stable, let's say, and he did his job with stability, you might say. Ralph Ruud did the same thing. So I can't say that I'm confident that if we'd left Storms and his deputies there with no change, that we'd have had the same schedule. It's kind of a hard question in the first place, can you say that there's an improvement? It's a hard distinction to make.
COLLINS: Yes. Well, I guess the other part of my question is, your motivation. Was it that you really thought that the organization needed improvement in terms of personnel and structure? Or was it done simply in response to the customer's wishes?
ATWOOD: I didn't have much choice, on Storms. I guess he was something that had to come down.
COLLINS: Resuming our discussion after a brief pause. You were starting to comment about Jim Webb and Harrison Storms.
ATWOOD: Well, I got some pretty strong signals that Storms had to go, and I'd gotten them before that. I got the message verballly from George Mueller a couple of times, that he didn't want Storms, and he handed me the word, years ago, of course, which implied that, but he'd talked to me personally and told me he felt that Storms wasn't doing the job. It was hard for me to see how he wasn't doing the job. I couldn't blame him for some of the things that happened. Certainly not for the destruction of those static tests tanks, not for the design of the S-II or structural work, and I didn't feel he was doing too badly on the command and control module actually at all. And yet, it just became really impossible. I guess Webb had reached the point when we decided, he would force me to do it, if I didn't. In fact, I'm sure he had reached that point.
COLLINS: What mechanisms were at his disposal to force you to do this kind of thing?
ATWOOD: Well, contract mechanisms. It would have been pretty self-destructive if I'd been really, you know, one of these intransigent types that stood in the doorway and wouldn't let people through. It would have been head to head knock. It would have--see, actually, I had, I wouldn't do anything--well, I guess, to put it another way, I would have done nearly anything to enhance the program. I believed in it very strongly. I wasn't in it just for the money. We had, in those days, plenty of opportunity, and I think that if I'd put more effort into military work than I did, the company would have had a more stable ride through the ensuing years.
But, in spite of what some people say, that was not my principal motivation. Technical progress was. And most of all, I didn't want to do anything to hurt the company that I'd spent so much effort trying to help build. So it was no really no fundamental contest, on my part, at all. Just trying to optimize things as best I could with what I had. And Storms was showing signs of turmoil, I have to admit that. After his sickness, he had never come back as strong as he was, and he had such a tremendous record, so much capability, it seemed that somehow it would show, and it had showed, for quite a while. But in the later phases, I could see that NASA was not going to tolerate him, and the first thing that they would do, if they hadn't done it, was to shut off communications with him. And that would be pretty much it, and I sure wasn't going to wait for that.
COLLINS: Okay. I'm at the end of the tape. This is the end of Tape 2, side 1, the end of our discussion today. Thank you very much.