Interviewee: Dr. Robert Seamans

Interviewers: Mr. Martin Collins and Dr. Harry Lambright

Location: Dr. Seamans' office, MIT

Date: December 16, 1988


MR. COLLINS: To initiate this discussion, I think it would be useful to begin with an overview of the situation that prior to the fire. What the NASA contractor relationships were like prior to that, in assessing contractor performance, with special reference to North American, with NASA considerations about its own management systems for effectively monitoring its work, the contractors' work, and NASA's relationships with the contractors, and what changes may have been in the works prior to the fire, to work on some of these issues.

DR. SEAMANS: All right, now, it happens to be sort of in the front of my mind, and this is something that took place prior to the actual fire. It has to do with accidents. Then we get onto how well was North American doing and what steps were being taken to try to improve their performance. But NASA had had a series of accidents that they had to deal with prior to the Apollo fire.

    For example, we lost our top pilot out at what is now called Dryden, a guy named Joe Walker, when he was flying wing on wing with a B-70 and was swept up underneath the plane, and was lost. The B-70 was able to land, and so we had the evidence, as to what happened, and we put together an accident review board and used procedures somewhat akin to what the military does when they have an accident.

    We also lost two of our astronauts when they were coming in to land at St. Louis. They were going to McDonnell Aircraft. One of them was an astronaut who had actually come from GE, one of the relatively few civilian astronauts, and they came down out of a low overcast, not in a position to land, and they felt that instead of going back up and using the normal procedures, that they could stay under the overcast, circle around and land, and they ended up hitting one of the McDonnell Douglas buildings.

    We also lost a plane that came in at a low altitude, a bird, large bird had gone through the windshield of one of our airplanes. So we'd been through accidents that were serious, but never one that had been as much in the public domain as the fire.

    We had a very, very close call, and I can't remember the exact date, but it was less than a year I believe before the fire, and that was the--a Gemini 8 flight, when Dave Scott was aboard and so was Neil Armstrong. Neil Armstrong was the senior person. We were trying to do something that we'd never done before, which was to rendezvous and actually dock with the Agena, and have then the assembled vehicles carry out some maneuvers. It just happened that everything went well and the locking took place, just prior to the Gemini flying over China.

    At that point, I jumped in. I waited at home before leaving for the Goddard dinner, sort of an annual event in Washington, black tie, big event, 1400 people or something, and by the time I got to, I guess it was the Shoreham, one of the two big hotels, I was greeted by very long faces, and tremendous concern, because the capsule had started to spin over China, and there was great difficulty in bringing the capsule out of the spin. And it wasn't sure whether they'd actually succeeded or not.

    What I should have done was to have immediately left that dinner, but I was at the head table. I was right next to Vice President Humphrey. I was involved in the program. And I felt that a kind of stiff uppper lip attitude was the way to proceed. And it was a terrible evening, because I was in public. I wasn't getting very complete information as to what was going on, and yet I was supposed to know what was going on, and you know, somebody would hand me a phone, it was Walter Cronkite, and what I was saying was suddenly ending up in the news with my photograph so it was almost a live interview.

    And I had to announce to the whole group, everybody at the dinner, that we had this situation, that could have been, could have had a devastating result. People didn't believe it at first, and then of course the whole tenor of the dinner was sort of electrified, and when Humphrey started to speak, our hope was that we could announce, that he could announce before he stopped his speech that everything was under control. And he's a man who could talk for a long period of time, and even he was starting to run out of gas before we received a reasonably positive announcement by phone, and so he did say that while the recovery hadn't taken place, that Neil Armstrong appeared to be safe, or words to that effect.

    Mr. Webb was not very happy with all of that and with my performance, feeling that we'd taken sort of a gamble there, that we were announcing publicly what was going on, or I was, when we didn't really have the facts well in hand. And it was obvious that we needed to do something a little different in the future if we had an impending accident, about you know gathering the data. So afterwards I went back and looked at the procedural document for accidents, and we did change it somewhat, in case we had another serious accident, and then personally I made up my mind, if it ever happened again I was going to get to my office or some place where I had good communication, where I could, you know, better deal with a situation that had very serious implications and in which the media had intense interest. That's sort of my little personal background on what happened prior to the accident.

    Now, as far as the North American situation was concerned, first of all they had a tremendous responsibility, because they had the second stage of the Saturn, as well as the Apollo and the service module. We'd gone through a series of sort of project people out there at North American that we'd considered less than satisfactory. I can't even remember the name of one person who came to North American with a military background, and he used to stand up every morning, get all the key people like a hundred or so together and he'd sort of stand up everybody almost at attention and he'd sort of pound out what the order of the day was. We didn't think that was--you know, his transmitter would be on but not his receiver, if you know what I mean. We thought that's not the way you run a high technology kind of project. I think by the time just before the fire that he was no longer involved.

    Harrison Storms was the senior person, directly day to day involved in the project, and he was a man of considerable capability who'd been actively involved in the X-15 project and other of the major projects at North American. But we were concerned about him. He was very, very hyper. We weren't sure that he was as thoughtful as he should have been when NASA concerns were brought up about you know, everything from schedules to dollars to workmanship and so on. And over him, there was really only one other person, and that was Lee Atwood, and Lee was a very, very fine person. At that time he seemed to be a little on the old side to most of us, though I guess in fact he was about 60 or thereabouts.

    But the problem as we saw it was that North American obviously had other interests than just these major NASA interests, and Lee Atwood was the only one in their top executive office running things, whereas in the past there had been Dutch Kindleberger, who was you know one of the aviation greats, a man of tremendous talent, and Lee Atwood and a person whose name I always forget who was their vice president for engineering. Then within a relatively short time, and I would guess maybe three or four years before the accident, Lee Atwood ends up really running everything himself, and as I say he's a very fine person. He was not, however, a Dutch Kindleberger. He wasn't as dynamic a person as Dutch. He was definitely a thoughtful very capable individual, however.

    Now, we had--as one of the management tools that we used on running NASA--project status reviews that occurred on a monthly basis, with me, the associate and then deputy administrator, as the chairman of the meeting, and NASA was divided I think at that time roughly into four parts, of which manned spaceflight was one, obviously the largest, and I met individually with each one of the major program offices on a monthly basis. I had a small permanent staff I'd meet with before I met with the project or program people, and tried to get some feel for things like the dollars and the schedules and slippage, possible schedule slippages and so on beforehand.

    But the substantive part of this review process was the interchange with the program people, and in the case of manned spaceflight it was obviously George Mueller, overall, and it was Sam Phillips on the Apollo program, and I guess Chuck Matthews and Bill Snyder and others would usually be there in connection with the Gemini and other activities. And I'd say that for--previous to the fire, maybe several previous monthly sessions, we'd have a lot of discussion about North American, and Sam gave me a summary of the results of a status review that they had run.

    It was called a special review of North American, where they'd sent a team in, to try to gather the facts on what was really going on, where the problems were, as measured in terms of performance in all its ramifications, and then came up with what they thought North American ought to do about it. And it was supposed to be a tough review. You didn't go in there for the purpose of sort of an overall calibration of North American, you went in there to find out what the problems were. And so if you just looked at that special study, you'd say, jeez, things are really bad at North American.

COLLINS: Let me just interject here, on what basis would a decision be reached to proceed with such a review? Was this a standard practice with other contractors as well? Or did some special event call it forth?

SEAMANS: Well, if you put together a Tiger Team, that's what these were, that would go in, it was within the purview of each program office to decide whether they felt it was necessary. You know, it takes manpower and so on to do it. I don't remember ever myself saying to one of the program officers, "We've got a big mess over there, let's go send a Tiger Team," although if I felt it was necessary, I would have. I think I'm right in saying these were always self-generated within the program offices. But they'd tell me about it.

COLLINS: These were program decisions.

SEAMANS: Program decisions, sure. And Sam Phillips was one of the pros at doing things, I mean, because he'd been through the ballistic missile endeavor, and they had their crises, and so he knew how to run them, and he put together a team of people, almost like an accident review--you want to have at least a reasonable number of people who hadn't been directly involved in things, who might tend to have too much empathy with the people they were judging. You want to get some "objectivity" in there, but obviously you want to put people on who know something about the subject matter. You'd have to really check the records, but I believe that at the project status review before the fire, I had been briefed on the findings of this, call it Tiger Team.

COLLINS: Which later came to be called the Phillips Report.

SEAMANS: Which came to be called a report. In discussion with me, incidentally, it was not called a report. It was a fact finding kind of study which had led to Sam Phillips going out, probably George Mueller, I'm not sure of that, and actually laying it on Lee Atwood. I mean, he got Lee Atwood, sit down and go through the flip charts and explained what they'd found and what they felt ought to be done about it. And that had all taken place before the fire.

    And this is jumping ahead, just for the moment--we talked yesterday just a little bit about the time, at the hearing, which I guess was an executive session, it was, it must have been an executive session, when (Fritz) Mondale had asked if there had been any kind of a report on the performance of North American and George Mueller said no, there's no such report. And of course what he meant was there wasn't, you know, sort of a bound report.

    What Mondale obviously had in his possession was a version of the results of this study, which had xerox copies of all the flip charts that were used, but did have a couple of pages of text up front, as I remember it, and I think almost the first sentence was, "This report indicates" so and so and so and so, and the word "report" was right there on the first page. Of course, a lot turned on those words before we were through.

    But that had been used as a way of transmitting formally, I think to Lee Atwood rather than to Stormy, the result of this Tiger Team effort, and this was transmitted to Lee Atwood after the more informal briefing, but wanting to have something on the record out there that showed that this study had taken place.

COLLINS: Well, prior to the fire, you'd been briefed on this, and what was your feeling about how to proceed, having had this information in hand?

SEAMANS: Well, my feeling about it was that first of all, it's unfortunate that these things happen, but we've been through these kinds of drills before, glad that somebody like Sam Phillips was managing the program, and had brought all these matters to the attention of the senior people at North American, an expectation that if the recommendations were followed, that the program would be satisfactory.

COLLINS: At this time was Mr. Webb knowledgeable about these problems, or was this information forwarded to him previously or at that time, do you recall?

SEAMANS: The way we worked with the status reviews, there was no formal transmission of the status reviews to Mr. Webb. It was really up to me to take to him those issues that I felt were of a substantive and policy nature. It didn't necessarily have to involve a lot of dollars. Obviously, if something involved lots of dollars I would take it to him. And I honestly can't remember whether at some point--because I met with him so often--that I said, "We're having our problems out there with North American," and gave him a brief summary of what we were doing about it.

    In general I would do that, and I think that what we're discussing here was of such a nature that he should have known about it because, you know, in his circle of endeavors, Lee Atwood may have been miffed by all of this and may have gone to his Senator, at some point in conversation with the Senators from California or something, may have said, "Hey, North American's you know way off base, they're trying to treat us like a bunch of kids, they ought to get off our back," and pretty soon that might filter around to Mr. Webb, so you wanted Mr. Webb to know ahead of time so that he could say to the Senators, "Those people had better understand, this is serious business and they're not doing their job very well. You'd better tell Lee Atwood that." Or maybe he'd pick up the phone and call Lee Atwood.

DR. LAMBRIGHT: I guess the question is at this point, when it finally got to you, was it put to you in a way that you were informed that North American was doing something positive about the criticisms?

SEAMANS: Yes. My recollection is that they had been informed of our dissatisfaction, and I believe that they had said, yes, they were reviewing the recommendations, but at that time, since this all happened in a very compressed period of time, you couldn't say whether they had truly responded in a substantive way or not, although we were concerned that Lee Atwood was adamant about Harrison Storms staying on the job. I do remember that that we felt that somebody else was needed to manage these projects.

COLLINS: To go back to an earlier comment, you mentioned that Harrison Storms didn't seem to manifest the proper concern for some of the problems that NASA was raising.


COLLINS: How did this come to the fore and how was this manifested?

SEAMANS: Well, you know, I can't give you the specifics at this late date, but there could have been any number of problems related to, let's say, the heat shield. Avco was making the heat shield under subcontract, and people we had here in Burlington, MA, looking at the work that was going on, and this is a hypothetical case, felt that Avco wasn't getting enough weight out of the heat shield.

    It's a complicated matter where the thickness varies depending on the position on the undersurface which again depended on where we expected the heat to be, and all that kind of thing. And if that had been the case, you went to Storms and he'd say, "Oh, they're doing a great job, to heck with it." Or he could have said, "We're on top of that, now just don't worry about it, we're going to fix it," but then nothing would happen.

    You know, these are the kinds of things that you run into, where what you observe, what's observed by the project people as they view not just the lines and assemblies and stuff at North American or the results of tests at North American, but they were going over and looking at what all the subcontractors were doing, and were concerned about AC Sparkplug was working on the navigation equipment, or maybe there was concern about the interfaces with the LEM, which was going on at Grumman, not on a subcontract but on a direct associate contractor basis. All kinds of things--you know, just a myriad of things that get reviewed on a month by month basis, and sometimes there'll be differences in judgment on whether something is satisfactory or not. But you don't want to have somebody who's running the thing tend to sluff it off, tend to say, "We know what we're doing, get off our back" kind of attitude.

COLLINS: And this in your judgment wasn't just a matter of personality or way of expressing himself, but an actual performance.

SEAMANS: It was judged to be affecting the performance of the endeavor. Now, obviously, again, personality does come into it, and Stormy is the kind of guy who is abrasive. And you want guys who are somewhat abrasive if you want to get the job done. But there's sort of a time and place to be abrasive.

COLLINS: Following this question of personality, you also mentioned a kind of feeling that Lee Atwood wasn't quite forceful enough.

SEAMANS: Yes, and that's again slightly a personality judgment. I don't know if you've ever met him, but he's just an awfully nice guy you'd like to go and lie on the beach with on a sunny day, or go on a surfboard or something. He's just that kind of guy.

LAMBRIGHT: Sort of non-involved.

SEAMANS: Yes, you questioned whether he really knew what was going on.

LAMBRIGHT: What about this issue that, getting before the fire-- having to do with a contract, a week, day to day contract, a letter contract--Did that have anything to do with what you're talking about?

SEAMANS: Well, let me just tell you about them in general. First of all, in these kinds of development programs, it's very unlikely that at the time that the contractor starts work, you'll have a definitized contract. Because a definitized contract, there's a lot of work involved in putting them together, and the work is--it takes work to be sure that there's a meeting of the minds and it's in writing as to what the total job entails. And on top of that, there's usually a lot of boilerplate that the lawyers love to work with, and the combination of the two involves in something as complicated as the Apollo a lot of time and effort, so you usually start off with sort of a letter of intent and so on.

    But then, of course, it tends to be in the contractor's interest to keep it that way. The fuzzier the contract, the more difficult it is for the government to extract dollars if there are overruns, because you don't quite know what the base is, and as I remember the North American contract, it wasn't definitized for quite a period of time, but it was definitized while Brainerd Holmes was still there, I believe.

    I know that he took that whole matter very seriously, and you know, it's like buying a car or something. You say you want to have whitewalled tires and the radio and tape deck and the whole thing, but then you find, if you're proceeding on something like the Apollo, which was many more factors, that this is what you thought you were getting, but over time for a variety of reasons the number of items had doubled and there were some cost figures associated, or even some of the cost figures for the whitewalled tires suddenly seemed to be a little on the high side, higher than you thought the paperwork indicated. So instead of costing 1X the whole thing was coming out to be 1.6 X when you tried to definitize it. So then you end up with tough negotiations to try to get the 1.6 down closer to 1, and you end up at 1.32, and that's the definitized contract.

    It's not a question of two people working this out. This involves a lot of people on both sides bringing this all together and in focus so that it can be definitized. And you also have to realize, it's not just a question of the contractors being recalcitrant. The people who are running the program, in our case the government people at NASA, over time could very well realize that things had to be added for the project to be a success, and all of that has to be factored in, to finally get a definitized contract. But it's obvious that the contractor wants to have as big a base as possible to work from, with as many dollars as possible, and the government is trying to get that cost down, so there's a real push-pull situation there.

    But that's going to serve, you see, that datum is going to be the basis for the fee that North American's going to get. They're going to get paid for the work. The question is really, what's their fee going to be? And in the past, these have always been cost plus a fixed fee of a certain percent, so if you get the cost up the fee goes up, and then if you have a change order, that again gets the base up so the fee goes up. Now, to try to put more of a ceiling on this, we attempted at that time in NASA to generate incentive arrangements, so that there would be some incentive for the contractor to lower the cost and share the savings with the contractor, and I think we ended up, in the case of North American, with an incentive fee contract.

COLLINS: So what was the status of the North American contract?

SEAMANS: I think it was definitized at the time we had the accident. But that's a good thing for you to check. I'm almost positive we had a definitized contract. But the timing, I think it may be--let's see. Brainerd Holmes had left years before we had the fire. But there may have been some parts that weren't definitized. It's a good thing to check on. I can't quite remember the detail.

COLLINS: Let's pause for a minute. I think I have something here that might bear on this.

SEAMANS: All right. ....

COLLINS: Resuming after a brief pause, we'll set aside further discussion of the North American contract for a little while, and let's proceed with an examination of the NASA management's instrument for assessing problems prior to the fire, and whether or not it was felt to be effective before the fire.

SEAMANS: Okay. First I think again, it's got to be realized that not only are there tensions between contractors and say the government, but there are tensions within an organization, and in particular, between Headquarters and field operations. And we've been through this in NASA on quite a few occasions.

    One of them had to do with the running of Goddard, and in that particular case, the projects were all managed directly from Goddard, so it wasn't exactly identical to the North American one or the Apollo situation, but the program people in Headquarters who had the responsibility for putting together the overall plans, the budgets and were the ones who were testifying before Congress and all of that, felt that they weren't being allowed to find out what was going on at Goddard.

    In other words, the center director, a fellow named Harry Goett, was managing everything close to the belt, was not sharing information with Headquarters, and the feeling of the program people, the Homer Newells, the Ed Cortrights, the ? Nixes, was that they ought to be able to go out to Goddard and talk to the project people directly, and that they didn't have to do this working through Harry Goett. Now, Harry Goett was afraid if they did that, that they would perhaps unintentionally subvert his leadership role, and so he refused to let them, and it came to such a crease that we replaced Harry Goett. So this whole matter of the Headquarters-center relationship was something that we were dealing with in a pretty general sort of way.

    But the Apollo was even more difficult, because no one center had the capability of managing all of the contracts and all of the projects. It had to be split a number of ways. However, there were three principal centers involved, which obviously were the Houston Manned Spacecraft, now Johnson Center, the Marshall Center, and what is now the Kennedy Center down at the Cape.

    Goddard was involved because they were responsible for all the tracking and data acquisition, and if you looked, you could find some piece of the program in every one of the centers. But to actually have the detailed scheduling and programming and all of that in a non-center did create tensions that we hadn't had to deal with before at all of the centers.

    It took a lot of effort to get Marshall to set up an internal organization that permitted this kind of a relationship. We finally agreed that Marshall could build one or two prototypes, but that they still had to go out and contract externally the production of the Saturn, and instead of dealing in every case with Wernher von Braun and his twelve cardinals, that he had to set up a project organization in Marshall, and we brought in Bob Young from Aerojet to head that endeavor at Marshall, so then there were--then you could have Sam Phillips and his project people dealing directly with Bob Young and the project people at Marshall.

    And within each project office you tried to have the same general functions--the engineering, the test, quality control and so on--so that even a level down, you could have counterparts dealing with counterparts. But then you've got this Harry Goett syndrome coming in--saying, "Well, as center director what the devil am I doing?" kind of syndrome, and that's what George Mueller tried to solve by having what could be thought of as a board of directors, where he, George, was the chairmen, and the other members of the board were Wernher von Braun, Bob Gilruth and Kurt Debus.

    Once a month the project people, Sam Phillips, the Headquarters people as well as the people from the centers, would lay out before the board of directors, the board, what was going on and what the trouble spots were, and they would try to resolve I guess you wouldn't quite call them policy issues, but the sort of overall funding and scheduling and technical issues while that group were present so that they would be part of it, and so that they would know what was being laid on their centers that might be in addition to what they'd anticipated.

    But you know, this involves people, and there were complaints about it, a lot of people thought--and George Mueller was the kind of person who worked seven days a week, thought nothing of taking the Red Eye all over the place, and would often have these meetings on weekends that might be--I don't think he ever had them on Christmas, but this was a pretty tough schedule everybody was working on, and there was a lot of material, and sometimes I'd get people complaining, I'd get some complaints that people weren't really finding out what was going on, that all this information was, they called it, "pasteurized." You could call it distilled out to the point where it didn't tell you very much, or pasteurized so damn far you couldn't absorb it.

COLLINS: Did this mean it was coming through so many hands or layers?

SEAMANS: Well, there was some implication. There was so much to digest, I think was really what they were implying, that it was pretty hard for them to sort of take it all in.

LAMBRIGHT: That's important.


LAMBRIGHT: Because there's an implication here that NASA--that there was an overload situation.

SEAMANS: Well, you know, it was pretty close to it. Let's face it. But I think the overall concept that George worked out was a sound one, except, if you accept, if you say, "We're going to live with the NASA organization." I mean, obviously you could do it in the mold of the Navy on the Polaris or the Air Force with the ballistic missile, but we hung to the basic premise that we wanted to have these projects involved our centers, and that there was technical capability in the centers that we wanted to bring to bear on these projects, that we did not want to just contract everything out externally. You finally get down to an act of faith, you know, whether that's right or wrong. I'm a believer myself. I happen to believe it's good to have some supporting research work going on and some people who are not in the mainstream of these projects but are available when you get into emergencies.


SEAMANS: I just want to finish the thought--because what I was getting on a monthly basis was a distillation of what was occurring at these George Mueller management meetings, and I was obviously, I had to depend in large part on George Mueller and Sam Phillips and those people's willingness to discuss some of their problems. If they decided they wanted to stonewall me, they could. That's the reason I always like things like these single- minded scheduling charts, where you show each month when things are supposed to happen, because sooner or later the truth has to come out. If you say you're going to launch on a certain date, you can fool me when it's two years ahead, but when you actually get to the date, if you don't launch, I know it, anyway. So that's one way.

    Another way of trying to get people to really lay things out is not obviously to blow your stack every time you hear something that's adverse, but to realize that these people are trying to do a tough job and you're there to try to help them out. But you can't just be a patsy either. So it's a tough role, to try to be supportive at times and at times to be somewhat unpleasant and demanding, and insist that certain changes take place.

COLLINS: Did you ever feel that stonewalling was going on, that things were being over-filtered for your benefit in some way, or for their benefit?

SEAMANS: Well, in all honesty, I did when Brainerd Holmes was the associate administrator. He even went to the extreme of putting in a different management system than we had in Headquarters, so that you tended to be stonewalled that way, as though he were dealing in yen and we were dealing in dollars or something, and getting things back and forth was not always easy to match up, but kind of problem. But I really didn't have that feeling with George Mueller or with Sam Phillips.

    I think another element of this that's important is to have these kinds of sessions on a regular basis, and close enough together in time that you can really remember from one meeting to the next what happened. I'm sort of a nut on this, I'll have to admit, and I think if you have quarterly meetings, that's once every three months, you cannot possibly remember enough of the detail to have them meaningful. You tend to start off de novo each time.

    Another thing I believe is very important is to insist that all of the different program people that come in use the same formats. The senior person shouldn't have to mentally look at charts where sometimes time is running left and right and other times time is running vertically, okay, to take an extreme case. Anyway, this was a little bit philosophical here.

LAMBRIGHT: My understanding with respect to the fire is that there was a point in history where Shea got information from outside about real problems, and he just didn't do anything about it.

SEAMANS: I know, in reading your paper, you indicated not only that, but that he had been warned that there was an incipient fire hazard there. And that I don't remember, because if you looked over this sort of a think piece I put together myself, almost more for my children than anything else, I said there that we were fortunate to have a John Houboldt who kept banging away at us when he thought we had the wrong mode of operation, and would that we had some people who were experts on fire and so on, who were doing a similar job, or, I said, "Perhaps they were and we weren't listening." And if that had come up to Joe Shea, assuming it was a credible group or person and assuming that they had, you know, really laid it on and said, "How do you know that once a fire starts you can never put it out?" Then I would say, that I was right, that there was such a person but we hadn't listened properly.

    Just parenthetically, Joe went through a very traumatic period after this accident. And Jim Webb I think went way out of his way to be supportive and helpful of Joe, to try to bring him back from near insanity, and by golly, Joe Shea has. He's done a tremendous job at Raytheon and he's done a lot of very good work the last five or ten years with the National Academies. As a matter of fact, he's going to come over to MIT on a shared time basis with Raytheon and be working over here, and his mail is even coming into my office.

COLLINS: A propos of the fire question, there's something that we've uncovered that is relevant to this, and if you could sort of scan that for a moment, we'll talk about it and see if it has any significance.

SEAMANS: All right.

COLLINS:... Resuming after a pause, we've been looking at a memorandum from Harry Finger to Jim Webb dated 6/20/67 which has as an attachment a letter from Hilliard Paige at GE to Joe Shea, dated 9/30/66, in which there is some discussion about the flammability issue of certain materials in the Apollo cabin.

SEAMANS: Yes. Well--

COLLINS: Just having a chance to scan that, what do you see as the significance of that kind of concern expressed by a contractor about a possible problem area? Is this obviously something that comes up frequently, and what were the mechanisms for responding to these things and for assessing whether or not this was an issue that had a priority for following up and further assessment?

SEAMANS: Well, first, there obviously were concerns expressed by various contractors that would go to the organization at various levels. This is obviously two very responsible people. Hilliard Paige was the senior person at Valley Forge. I believe he was in charge of the operation there. GE had a major role to play in the Apollo program, helping with the preparation of test procedures and running tests and all of that side of it. And Joe Shea was the project person at Houston on the spacecraft.

    So Hilliard Paige did the right thing. He wrote the right person, and you really can't tell from this whether or not Joe Shea did "the right thing." He certainly did take this, feed this into the organization, and made, as you can see from the documentation, didn't just give it a lick and a promise. Hilliard Paige mentions the need to have some kind of a suppressant, and mentions freon.

    They point out that it's not an open and shut case that that's the way to do it, that if you start shooting freon around in the cabin, you can actually, they say, spread the fire. I don't know whether that's true or not, but the fact that you're setting up an airstream with the freon in it going in a certain direction could move that hot--the hot gasses somewhere else and maybe spread the fire. I don't know. But you know, if you read this, you can say that Joe Shea didn't completely ignore the letter.

    The subject was not a new one, either. There had been discussions of flammability from early on. There was concern about oxygen-rich atmosphere in the cabin, and how rapidly different materials would burn, and the materials were picked that burned the slowest, for obvious reasons. So NASA was not unfamiliar with the need to put material in there that would burn slowly. They were obviously, as Joe points out, familiar with the possibility of short circuits and putting in the right kind of circuit breakers and so on, to try to avoid a fire starting electrically, which the Apollo fire did, presumably, start electrically.

    There was the very strong belief that we should operate with a single gas system, that is an oxygen system, and it was felt that the way to get there was to have it a full oxygen system at atmospheric pressure at the time of lift-off, and that had been followed throughout. So there was definitely consciousness there of this as a hazard, fire as a hazard.

    But we didn't do the right thing, and I've tried to bring this up on quite a number of occasions, and I mentioned this to you yesterday, Martin, that we felt it very important to test out our systems under nominal conditions as well as adverse conditions, and everything. We'd shake it and we'd do all kinds of things to it, and then we ran all the engines at the Mississippi Test Facility, you know, to try to find out how things worked normally as well as what might, how we might lose performance under adverse conditions.

    The thing we never did, and obviously should have done, is to have had a boilerplate capsule and put in materials inside of it similar to what we were going to have in the cabin, and start a fire, and a) see if you could put it out, not just conjecture whether free freon would cause the fire to spread or not, but run the test and find it, and so help me, I don't know why we didn't. I guess it's a case where we had a blind spot. And I have yet to see anybody who recommended that we run such a test. I've been looking in there to see if that was suggested.

    And we did after the fire, and we found, with 100 percent oxygen, at atmospheric pressure, it didn't make any difference what you did. You could have freon or anything, no way you could put that fire out. And nobody seemed to know that if you had pure oxygen at the same partial pressure, at the same pressure that you have in partial pressure here in this room, that the fire spreads the same way it does in this room. In other words, put it another way, the nitrogen in the air is not a suppressant. And as far as I know, that was not known at the time we had the fire.

    In other words, it wasn't just NASA that had some lack of understanding of fire and fire spreading, but I have yet to find any knowledge that anybody else had it either. And we were, I think, supersensitive to the need for system testing, and tried to system test. And yet here's a case where we didn't do any testing, and if we had, we'd have caught this problem, and obviously then changed the design. And it wasn't just a question of the fire spreading, it was a question of the--and I haven't seen any mention of this either before the fire--of the pressure building up because of the fire in that container to the point where you couldn't open the door, and where the capsule finally had to explode. It wasn't designed to contain the pressures that built up.

    And I mentioned in my little report that it was a very, very tragic fire, but it came within a smidgeon of being much much worse. We could have killed everybody on the outside of the capsule. When that fire suddenly burst out, and you could see the scorching on the outside of the capsule, and there was the escape tower, you know, on top of the capsule, with the rockets in it, that were there for the purpose of taking the astronauts away in the capsule if something happened, just before or after lift-off, if that thing had ever exploded--I mean, my God, the whole damned pad would have gone! The drama of that would have been seen for miles around.

LAMBRIGHT: Could I ask another question?


LAMBRIGHT: The Finger operation, that was put in motion prior to the fire, wasn't it? Did that have anything to do with some problem perceived of a management kind?

SEAMANS: That's a good question, and a very perceptive one. I mentioned this yesterday to Martin. Not too long after I became the deputy administrator, Jim got you know very sort of impatient. You could talk to Shap about this too, because he and I were the ones that were sort of right there on the firing line, and it wasn't too clear what Mr. Webb had in mind, but he clearly wanted to change the organization. He was not satisfied with it.

    And the kind of words that I remember his expressing were that he felt that we had a system of management that was much too reliant on a couple of individuals and their sort of special capabilities, not necessarily good but there was too much built around a couple of people, namely himself and myself, and that what he wanted to see was an organization, he wanted to have me help him build an organization such that when he left or I left or we both left, you'd have some real continuity of management, with positions of, I guess you'd say spreading the load a little more, because that's one of the things I talked to him about.

    We were obviously both of us, you know, working nights--the question was not whether I took a brief case home, but whether I took one or two, you know. And he was, and I wasn't working any harder than he was, and a lot of other people were working hard, and the question was, couldn't we come up with an organizational pattern that would not only spread the load in a more reasonable way, but also permit us to do a better job, to have better information available for everybody.

    That was the concept of the secretariat, which he had described to us as something that he had installed or had been installed or he honed it up or something in the State Department, the kind of thing where when the Secretary comes in in the morning there's right in front of him everything that's happened in the last 12 hours since he left the office. Or people out in the field know what's going on in Headquarters, or you name it.

    I have to say that this was viewed by me with some skepticism. I had never in my experience with technical endeavors had too much confidence in transmitting information somewhat automatically by people who didn't know much about the subject. But I wasn't sure that he was wrong. But I was sort of trying to understand what he wanted, and trying to help him, and so was Shap, and we spent, we'd be invited to come over to his house and sometimes on rather short notice and discuss this, and he was obviously quite impatient, and impatient with us.

    Now, it wasn't just the secretariat. There was also the concept of an office of organization and management that would have within it the structure to do on a broader basis the kind of thing I was trying to do with my project status reviews. And Harry Finger had done a very good job managing the nuclear program, and was certainly respected throughout the organization. ... And so it was a logical choice to fill that position, and I could see that something like that could be helpful, where under Harry I guess you'd pull in the procurement office and several of the other functional offices, as well as giving Harry more responsibility than anybody had at that time outside the office of the administrator (I include myself within it).

    It wasn't too clear that, you know, okay, what would let's say my role be, Shap's role be, if you did this. I also had a little bit of an uneasy feeling that we had a pretty full plate trying to pull off the Apollo, and I wasn't sure that was exactly the time to make some major organizational changes. So these were gutsy kinds of things that were going on, before the Apollo fire, for about a year. But let me go back a little bit.

    When Hugh Dryden was obviously a very sick person with cancer, I remember Jim Webb driving me home one night, in the back of the old taxicab with the window up between the driver and ourselves, and he parked in front of our house there but sort of kept me in the car, and he was telling me that at the appropriat time, he wanted me to take Hugh Dryden's place, be the deputy administrator. And I remember saying at the time that I would really prefer not, that I felt that we needed to have the general manager and we also needed to have a Hugh Dryden kind of person as the deputy.

    I felt that we all three had--were carrying pretty big loads, and I wasn't sure that to shrink it down to two was a wise move, because the thought was that I would still be the general manager, not that we would hire another person to take the job on that I was doing, and I would do what Hugh was doing, because I couldn't. I wasn't a member of the National Academy of Sciences and couldn't perform a lot of the roles that he was doing.

    So anyway, when he told me not long after that that President Johnson, who knew Hugh Dryden well and Hugh had testified before him and he was very concerned about Hugh's health, and Jim told me that he'd been with the President and the President had said, "Well, what are you going to do when Hugh dies?" And he said to Jim Webb, "I suppose you're going to want Bob to take his place." And Jim said, "I told him that that's what I want to have happen." And I had been over in an office, I had been down on the 6th floor for quite a while, with a sort of a separate, there was a staff on the 7th floor that Jim and he had, and then I had sort of a staff for managing the day to day stuff down on the 6th floor.

    Well, the first step was, I moved up to the 7th floor in a corner opposite Jim's, and was still you might say day to day somewhat separate, except I would drop in and see Jim every day he was there and I was there before going home. But then as we went into this reorganization discussion and so on, he wanted me to move over and be on the same side of the building with him. You know, and there I was.

    You know, it didn't take any great imagination to see that Jim had some definite things in mind, and he was sort of perhaps mentally he was thinking that Harry Finger would do much more of what I had been doing, and I'd be more in the role of doing some, not all which I couldn't, but some at least of the outside things that Hugh had been doing. But he was, Jim had a great interest in management and a great pride in his ability to manage, and it was as though he wanted to run this as a sort of a statement or something that could be looked at in the future as what he had bequeathed to--not just NASA, but to the government in general, as how to run things.

COLLINS: That's right.

LAMBRIGHT: And when Jim Bates gave a talk one time for a public administration group, he said that the fire was extremely significant to Webb because Webb was trying to create the "perfect management"--

SEAMANS: --the quintessence--

LAMBRIGHT: And something happened that didn't work, with the fire.


LAMBRIGHT: And it threw Webb into a tailspin.

SEAMANS: That's true.

LAMBRIGHT: Bates didn't say that, that it threw Webb into a tailspin.

SEAMANS: Oh, it did.

LAMBRIGHT: I said that. But that's the impression, because of what you just said. NASA was a statement, the quintessence of what was right about management. So something went wrong with management, and the fire happened, and Webb got into a tailspin.


LAMBRIGHT: Do we want to--is it too quickly to move to the fire now, or shall we stay--

SEAMANS: I think it's time.

COLLINS: Yes. Let me just ask one question,

SEAMANS: Fine, all right.

COLLINS: With regard to your management review and the way information came to you. Did you have any other mechanism, besides these two, to keep apprised of problems that might be arising?

SEAMANS: I certainly did. And again, how things get managed is a question of individuals. There's no, in my view, "right" way to do it. It depends on the people and the person and everything. But I've always been, I was brought up by Doc Draper, Stark Draper, to be a hands-on person kind of manager. Some people, Jim Webb himself is a person who tends to stay in his own office, and let things, I won't say let them come to him, but deal with them without going out into the field.

    Now, he was dealing externally and out of his office with Lyndon Johnson or with the Congress, don't misunderstand me, but when I came into NASA to begin with, Keith Glennan said two things, one is, he made my predecessor, Dick Horner, available to me for a month, and he had, you know, a contractual consulting arrangement with Dick so that Dick had the time to do this, whenever I wanted, but I didn't have to.

    And he also said, "This is the best chance you'll ever have to get out and see what's really going on." Keith was more of a hands-on person, and so I went to every installation in that first month, and in between visits or sometimes on location, I'd have Dick Horner with me to help interpret what I was seeing, and there were some amazing things going on.

    I mean, the relationship between all the people down at Marshall was absolutely amazing to me, that you know, I'd expected that this would be a completely autocratic system there, in there real German mold. Well, in some ways it was, but in some ways, Wernher would have his cardinals with him or his apostles, and you could tell what he thought of himself, see, because he was their god, and their Christ, but anyway, he would really listen to what they were saying, with all of them. Then he'd say, "Okay, this is what we're going to do," and by gosh they'd do it. So in that case, since it was autocratic--but he really listened. And he was so much more of a humane human person then.

    He was taking me out to show me one of the gantries and we were going to go up in an elevator, and there was a black construction worker right there, and we were about to get in, and all of a sudden this guy with the hard hat on started to draw back, and Wernher said, "You go in, you've got immediate work to do. We can wait." Well, that to me was a very, very revealing little incident, and it wasn't put on.

    Anyway, when I went around these different places, I found each one of them had their own religion, you might say, or way of doing things or idiosyncracies or however you want to phrase it. So anyway, I tried to keep doing that. In making decisions, I would try to go to, in working with Brainerd Holmes, I wouldn't have him come into my office, I'd go over to his office, where he was set up in another part of Washington, D.C. Or if there was an issue that involved Goddard, I would try, to the extent that I could and time permitted, to get out there to Beltsville or wherevere it was, and that way get to know more than just the 10 or 15 people who were normally assembled right around the offices that we were working in.

    And I think having a, and people when they see you around, they begin to say, "Hey, he's really interested." I think that's the reason John Houboldt wrote me those three letters, for example, which made me increasingly annoyed, but he was right in doing it. So I think you've got to, actually I felt the same way when I was in the Air Force. Harold Brown was my predecessor. I found out over time, he'd spend the morning sometimes just going over all the detailed reports of what was going on in Southeast Asia. I just kind of managed that way.


SEAMANS: I've got to talk to the general who's running the thing and get up in an airplane and fly over the battlefield and see what's going on. It's just the way I'm built.

COLLINS: But in your mind, this kind of set a tone for communication.


COLLINS: I want to follow up on your comments about Harold Finger. Was it your sense that the organization and management office was in some sense in part to take over some of the responsibilities of the associate administrator?

SEAMANS: Yes. No question about it. You can read the, in that material that you showed me, that was obviously the way he was using Harry Finger. This was at a time when I was still nominally general manager there, and yet he was writing directly to Harry Finger to review with Bob Gilruth or something what was going on.

LAMBRIGHT: He was using Finger to do this, do that.

SEAMANS: Yes, obviously in a program area. This was the area where I had had, until the fire, I guess you could say, that was part of the turning point--he would never have done that, he would have talked to me and said to me, "I think you ought to go see Bob Gilruth and find out about such and such."

LAMBRIGHT: I'd like to ask a question about this. Webb makes so much of this triad situation which then became a dyad situation, just you and him--before the fire, did you have any sense at all that there were changes taking place in the human relationships between you and Webb?

SEAMANS: Well, let me just say, up until the time that Hugh was incapacitated, you know, some time before he actually passed away, Jim talked a lot about the triad, and I think he really believed it. And I believed it.

LAMBRIGHT: He still talks about it.

SEAMANS: And he was very proud of it. And Hugh's role--I thought a lot about this, after I became the deputy and before the fire, I realized what an important role Hugh had had. I'd call it a moderating role, that a lot of things that--you know, Jim Webb, ideas are just a mile a minute coming out, and how do they get filtered in a sensible way, in a thoughtful way? Because there were a lot of good ideas. And Hugh was such an astute bureaucrat, and I say that in the right sense of the word, that he knew what would fly and what wouldn't fly. He knew where the problems were. And he was awfully good at saying, "Well, Jim, do you really think that so and so would respond that way?" Or, I don't know, he'd have some way of making Jim rethink one of his propositions. And so, all of a sudden he wasn't there. And I realized that I was probably feeling some of the pressures from Jim that Hugh himself had been absorbing prior to that. It's a little bit conjecture, but that's the sense I had of what was going on.

COLLINS: One last question before we proceed to the actual incident of the fire, and that is, with these organizational changes that were taking place approximately a year before the fire, what was the response of the program offices to these changes? Did they see them as a positive enhancement of their ability to do their work?

SEAMANS: I don't think that they were experiencing anything prior to the fire. This hadn't been carried out to the point where it was really affecting them very much. They were still meeting me the same way. I want to be sure I've made a correct statement. I think that this was still pretty much in the planning, organizational planning stage. There was one person who was heavily involved and that was Jack Young. If anybody's really doing research on this, they'd get a little different perspective on it than either talking to me or talking to Shap, Shapley.

    One of the things that intrigued me about some of these issues that Jim was bringing up was the whole matter of how decisions are really made, and this way--shows how our minds worked somewhat differently. Jim would try to define a job in words, and he wanted to go sort of over the book and re-work the job descriptions, I guess you'd call them. And he had Jack Young working on this.

    The way my mind tends to work, what I wanted to look at was on a sort of a line chart, where the responsibilities are, so that you could tell that certain things had to go all the way through to the administrator for the final decision, other things could be solved or decided at the program office level, some things out in the field, and look at all the different categories of decisions, you know, procurement, personnel, all the different areas, and sort of think of them that way.

    I tended to find myself getting lost trying to read almost an encyclopedia of job descriptions, and seeing who, how all the pieces fitted together. Because one thing that Jim had done from the very beginning, and he was right, was to be the only one who would sign a document that changed the organization. You know, these organization charts with the boxes. But what we were trying to do was to go beyond showing the boxes and the lines, who reports to whom. When you get into this amount of sort of detail on how you're going to run things, you've got to think in terms of specific functions and to, who's going to make sure that certain things happen.

LAMBRIGHT: I just have one other question, because I know we really have to move on, but you mentioned something about Jim Webb staying in his office, not necessarily being hands-on the way you were hands-on. Are you implying that he tended to be isolated from the goings-on in his own organization, prior to the fire?

SEAMANS: No. It's a curious thing. "In his own office" was a little bit too stark. He definitely wanted me to run the projects, and he looked at this triad as, that was my role. But he did seem to really enjoy meeting in his office with a lot of different individuals in the organization. As they came into town, he'd like to sit down and not talk about the project status, but try to give them a mind-stretcher on, had they thought about the possibility of having a little group of people from universities meeting with them every other month to discuss how what they were doing running Apollo might have a bearing on how to solve--I don't know, a medical problem in the inner city or something. Oftentimes, you know, quite--people would hear this and they'd wonder, what's he talking about? And he would do the same thing at what we called our program reviews.

    Now, the program reviews were run once a month, and in the course of a year we attempted to cover all of the programs, and they were full day affairs, and we would run them with NASA people solely on Saturdays, and then we'd re-run it on Monday and invite in people from the Department of Defense and Interior and from all over the government. And those would be occasions when there'd be a lot of Webb philosophy trotted out, about trying to get more bang for your buck, you might say, by thinking of broader issues than just going to the moon, or, and he would do the same kinds of things often at the, which I know he enjoyed, these--on the large procurements that would involve in effect his decision, the Source Evaluation Board would come in and present their findings, and he'd cross-examine them on why they did this and why they did that, and these were, he would look at it as an educational tool for people from all over the organization.


SEAMANS:... sort of finding out what was going on in extravehicular activity or something. He'd go there if a couple of Senators were going to be there. ...

COLLINS: At the risk of carrying this on too far, I have one more question before the fire. Just before we stopped, you were talking about communication with Mr. Webb. I got the impression you were not always clear on the kind of information, discussion, that he expected from you.

SEAMANS: I don't think that's quite what I meant to say. If I did say it, it's not quite accurate. I felt that I knew him quite well. I still feel I know him quite well. He was a man of great complexity, very high standards, lots of experience, so I had a pretty good idea in my own mind of the kinds of things that he should know, he'd want to know, and I felt that it was just common sense to keep him advised of what was going on, and common sense to get in there at the earliest possible time on the tough decisions and acquaint him with something that was about to happen. Not a big deal, but I'd been down to Houston, I guess it was before Gemini 4, which was going to be the second manned flight, and found that they were experimenting there with hand held jets maneuvering around on one of these steel cables with air cushion to see how difficult it was to maneuver, the idea being that they might very well want to do that extravehicular to the Gemini on the next flight, which was only a few months away.

    Well, that had all kinds of implications because Leonov had already gone EVA and this was a big deal, and if we did it it would look as though we were just "me-tooing" the Russians, and if we ran into any kind of a problem with it, we'd be castigated for trying to do something when we weren't prepared to do it, and you can see what all the--you know, I got back as soon as I could. Within 24 hours I went around to see him and explained this, and I wasn't ready to make a recommendation, but then when it came formally maybe a week later up through channels that it was recommended by the manned flight people that we carry out that experiment, I went around to see him and he had Hugh Dryden there and he was dead set against it. He felt that it was too risky and that we weren't prepared enough.

    So at that point, I wrote Jim a two paragraph memorandum in which I said that I felt that there was risk in every flight, and we had a responsibility to accomplish as much as we could on each flight, without taking unnecessary risks, to be sure, and he told me that he wanted to be sure that Hugh Dryden was on board before approving it. And then the next day I got my memorandum back and a little scribbled note on it, "Approved, Jim Webb."

    But anyway, maybe that's more, that's a fairly important decision, but anyway it's the way I tried to work with him, to acquaint him as early as I knew something was coming along that I felt he should be involved in, and then when the actual documentation came through, and we were ready to make the decision, to take it and not blindside him with it.

COLLINS: Let's start with the fire, and the immediate, your immediate knowledge of circumstances and responses to it.

SEAMANS: All right. Okay. The timing was certainly incredible. It was tied in with the signing of a space treaty by United States and the Soviets, with an elaborate affair at the White House, and this occasion was used by Jim Webb to sort of honor the contractors who had been working on Gemini, and sort of you might say encourage or make it known to the contractors' senior people on the Apollo program of the importance of what we were doing, in an international and national arena, and to have the senior people there at the White House, and then to have a dinner afterwards where the senior executives would be present.

    Now, before this was arranged, I had set up a dinner party at my home. My old boss Doc Draper was going to be down there, and I think I had Don Hornig who was the President's Science Advisor and a few other people coming to my house, and it was a question whether I ought to give that up to go to this dinner or not. I definitely was going to be at the White House. And okay, this is the kind of thing I talked over with Webb too, and I said, "What do you think? I can go either way on it." He said, "No, you've got this set up with Doc, and he's doing an important part of the Apollo program," Anyway, that's the way it was decided. That's the reason I was not at this dinner. The formal dinner with the chief executives.

    I'd left the White House, and I'd arrived home, I would guess around 6 o'clock, and I walked in and the phone was actually ringing as I opened the door, and moments later my wife called and said, "It's George Low calling." And I picked up the phone, and I really couldn't understand what George was saying. I could hear him say something about, "They're all dead," or something like that. I said, "Who's dead?" Then he named the three astronauts. I mean, I could identify the astronauts. I didn't know that that particular test was going on at that particular time. So I got some further particulars from George, and then said to him, "I'm going to go immediately to my office and I'd like to get back in touch with you and find out a lot more about what's going on."

    I then told my wife that we'd had a serious accident. I don't think I described it in any detail. And said that I thought the thing to do was for her to have the people come to the house, maybe fifteen people, have the dinner party, and not tell them what was going on. I felt that if as they came in the door she announced what had happened, it wouldn't be much of a dinner party, and they wouldn't know whether to stay or go home. We could have cancelled the whole thing, but it seemed better just to go through with it.

    And when I got to the office, then I went about the business of a) trying to be sure I knew what was going on, and b) made sure, tried to make sure that everybody who should know about it, knew about it. And I found out immediately that yes, the President knew and the Vice President knew and Jim Webb knew. And then I started getting calls. I got a call from McNamara's office. He'd heard something about it and he wanted to know the particulars, and while I was talking to him, there was that little incident of Peter Hackes getting the operator to cut right in on the call, because Peter Hackes said, "This is a national emergency. The word is out. The country is almost in a panic kind of frame of mind, and you've got to go on TV at 11 o'clock and reassure them." I said, "That's ridiculous, how can I do that? I don't know all the facts. No way I'm going to do that."

    I probably would have said the same thing if we hadn't been through that Gemini situation, but I knew damned well, with emphasis coming from that incident, that I should not do anything of a public nature. That anything that came out publicly had to be done in a very considered careful way, and this was of such a nature that only Mr. Webb could make that decision. Then of course, the third part of what had to be done was to lay the plans for examining the accident in depth, and nothing could really be done until we had more information on the accident, about the re-design and so on. That had to be something that happened in the future, but we had to immediately grab ahold of all of the information that we could and examine it, and haul out that revised policy paper that we'd only approved months before.

    The one thing that obviously had to be changed, it had in there that the Accident Review Board would report to the deputy administrator. Clearly this was of such a nature that it had to report to the administrator. And by I would say 11 o'clock at night, while still in the office, I was working with George Mueller on the names of the people we felt should be on that review board, and he already had a list in mind. Of course, the key question was, who should be the chairman. Clearly the people involved in this review should not have had an active role in the running of the project. They had to be people external to it. But we also wanted to keep it as much as possible within NASA. You've got the actual documents there. The first time around, I don't think we had a person from the Bureau of Mines, or did we?

COLLINS: It's down at the bottom there.

SEAMANS: And I don't think the first time around we had the Air Force person who had been in charge of the accident review on the Titan fire, where I think 45 people were killed in a silo. Tommy Thompson, his real name being Floyd Thompson, who ran Langley was clearly a person who would have everybody's respect. Langley was sometimes called the Mother Lode of NASA. They had spawned the Lewis Center, the Ames Center, the Manned Spacecraft Group had grown up at Langley before being transferred to Houston, Bob Gilruth and so on, and so Tommy was an absolutely ideal person to be on that group. And then we proceeded from there.

    Clearly there had to be an astronaut on it for a lot of reasons. The astronauts at that time were not only test pilots but they had, you know, technical degrees and different ones had different experience in the program. Frank Borman was one of the choices, and proved to be an excellent choice for the job. And on down the list. Before we're through, let's see, it says here we had George Malley, who's the chief counsel at Langley. We wanted to have a counsel for the board, to know how to deal with some of the things that were bound to come up, and to be sure that any documentation would also not get into various kinds of problems that you could foresee, lawsuits being one of them. Van Dalah, the explosives expert from the Bureau of Mines, I think he was not on there the first time around but we had him on in less than a week's time.

COLLINS: For the record, let me just quickly refer to the documents. The first document is dated January 28, 1967. It's called "Memorandum for the Apollo 204 Review Board," and is essentially the first instruction of formulating and composing the board, and then the other document dated February 3 provides some more explicit instructions and provides the full list of the board.

SEAMANS: Okay. I see that we did have Colonel Strang on there from the very beginning. He was the one who'd been in charge of the investigation of the Titan accident. The first time around, we had somebody on there who had a tie with North American, and we took him off, because of the obvious potential conflict of interest. I'm surprised we put him on in the first place. And Frank Long who had agreed to go on the board, when he realized how time-consuming it was going to be, asked to be relieved of that, and so we took him off the board. But there were no--it was not contentious, anywhere along the line, the selection of this group. And the decision-making on it was entirely between George Mueller and myself.

    Now, the question was, how to get started on it. Obviously the sooner the better. Everything down there was impounded immediately after the accident. And I can't quite remember whether that was something that George Mueller did or I did or Jim Webb did, but I know I found out about it when I went over to my office, made damn well sure that that had taken place. I think maybe Sam Phillips did it, because I think Sam went down there immediately. And let's see--then I arranged to get one of the NASA planes cranked up, and I think I left Washington something like 6:30 in the morning, picked up Tommy Thompson at Langley with George Malley and on we went.

    Now, before, obviously before leaving Washington, before going to bed that night, which I think I did about 2 in the morning actually, I was in touch with Jim Webb by phone, and from my home, and I told him what we were doing, that we were setting up this Accident Review Board, that Tommy Thompson was going to be the chairman of it, and that I was going to pick him up the next morning and go down with him to the Cape, and make sure everybody down there fully understood what the ground rules were going to be, and that that board had complete authority over the investigation and they were the ones who were going to select the consultants, were going to determine who at NASA worked on the review. They were responsible for all of the documentation, etc. etc., and it's all pretty well spelled out in here.

    Now, when I arrived down there at the Cape, I didn't have this absolutely complete. I had the policy directive with me. I took with me what do I want to say, Wilkinson, my assistant, whose name I'll think of in just a second, came along with me, and I think by the time that we left the Cape--was the fire on the 27th?


SEAMANS: So we were able to have this as a signed document available to everybody at the time that we left for the Cape.

COLLINS: The January 28th document.

SEAMANS: Yes, that's right. It was really important to have that all, you know, nailed down. And then, when I was down there I of course met with Sam Phillips, and Sam told me what--this wasn't done in private. I had I guess Kurt Debus and Sam Phillips and Joe Shea and maybe three or four others, and they told me what they knew at that time about what had happened. We got into some discussion about the status of the families. I sort of forget whether the wives were there or not, or whether they were over in Houston, but we did not get into anything that related to funeral services or any of that sort of thing, but I did get into certain of the medical side of it. As a matter of fact, that was one area I sort of took upon myself. I was the one who would actually take a look at the postmortems and a few of those things that weren't very pleasant. And pictures that were taken as soon as they opened the door of--you know, the status inside that cabin after the fire.

    And after this was all done, I headed back for Washington. And then of course immediately, I guess by the time I was back, the plans had been pretty well laid for the various services that were going to take place. The President was very upset about this, from a human standpoint, you know, the family side of it and so on. It turned out that Ed White was going to be buried at West Point, as I remember it, and I guess Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee were to be buried at Arlington. And all done at the same time. I took Mrs. Johnson and I think Mrs. Humphrey, no, I guess it must have been the Vice President, and I flew up to West Point, and then Jim Webb was with the President and so on at Arlington for the services there.

    The area that Jim worked on, I think you've all described in your paper, that he had to work out first of all, an arrangement with the President that NASA would handle the review, that there would not be a Presidential commission. And fortunately, Jim Webb had the confidence of the President and it was possible to proceed on that basis, which is one of the major differences between the Challenger of course and the Apollo. But then there was the whole matter of how information would be--about the review, and so on, would be transmitted to the President, to the Congress and to the public, while at the same time preserving the options for the review board, not making them go public until they had all the facts.

    And the arrangements were I think amazingly sound and satisfactory, that the board would not issue any kind of report until the final report, that I had the job of going down on a weekly basis and meeting with the board, and they would give me the facts as they knew them at that time, and then I would report on my view of what was going on, in writing to Jim Webb, as soon as I got back to Washington. He would then take it personally over to the President, and within a few hours it would go up to the key chairmen on the Hill, and the supposition was that there would then be a document that would be released publicly. The pressure from the media was intense, all the way along. Sam Phillips had been forced to have some kind of press conference at the Cape, the morning I think after the accident, and we weren't too happy with that taking place, but it worked out all right.

    And so we started proceeding on that basis, and the first time I went down, which was obviously the most critical time, I was able to get--by then they had pieced together sort of what happened, second by second, right after the fire started. And so I had that information, and I guess you couldn't help but be down there--you couldn't be down there and not feel the sort of emotional intensity of the thing. The report I wrote that I presented to Jim Webb, he didn't like. There was, the first time around, we had sort of a rough session over it, and then sitting there, and I wasn't very happy about it, in my office, what I did was to take out all the, what might be thought of as the "human side" of it and just write an absolutely factual account of what we knew about the time line and so on, and he accepted that, I would say, without really any major change, and that's what was published in the NEW YORK TIMES in to the following day.

    While this was going on, there was another whole sort of avenue of concern, and that was what appeared to be happening to the individuals involved. Joe Shea was the most affected, I would say, because you know, but for a fluke he would have been in the capsule. So in addition to being the person in charge of the project, and sort of bound to take personally the fact that this had happened. I mean, he felt guilty for what had happened. He came within a smidgeon of being in the fire. He was going to lie on the bottom of the capsule with the three astronauts in their couches above him, and he was going to be in there with a head set on so that he could follow all the communications, and at the last minute, his head set for some reason didn't work, and so he said, "Well, there's no point in being in there and not hearing what's going on, better I'm on the outside," where they had a headset that worked, but it wouldn't reach, they couldn't close the door and Joe still have it on.

    And you know, he's a person that I knew personally well, I played tennis with him a lot and so on, and I found out that he was just, you know, all of a sudden he was slugging down whiskey a mile a minute. He was obviously very, very upset. Chuck Berry, who was the physician for the astronauts, was suddenly not just their physician but he was physician and advisor to Joe Shea and he was looking after the astronaut wives and you know, I went down to Houston to meet with him and find out, see what we could do to help out on that front. And then you know, each week I'd go down to the Cape and find out what's going on, come back and report.

    The Congress, needless to say, wanted to be involved, and we had several sessions. The one I remember a couple of incidents, one with the Senate when I was testifying with George Mueller and Jim Webb, the three of us on the stand, and we got into the issue, Mondale brought up the issue of, had there been a report on the performance of North American. We discussed this informally, but just to put it on the record, George Mueller said no, there had never been such a report. I remembered that we'd had a discussion of the project status review where Sam Phillips had trotted out some of the viewgraphs. I'd never seen a "report," but I felt that I should just interject, I said, "Mr. Chairman," after Mueller was through, "you should recogize that we have from time to time had special studies of the situation at North American," or something.

    What I tried to do was just to leave a little opening so that we couldn't be accused of not being forthcoming, and on the way back in the car, with just Paul Demling and Jim and myself in the back seat, Jim Webb was very upset with me. He said, "You don't volunteer information. You can't look at these as ordinary hearings, in the sense that we've had them in the past. You've got to look at these as almost legal proceedings, and don't volunteer information unless you're sure, don't volunteer information, period, and only respond to questions with information that you're really sure of," etc. etc. And so it ended up in my office, and a very short time later Paul Demling came in and showed me the document, that said, "This report was made after such and such a review of North American," and I said, "Paul, take it into the man's office. It's up to him to deal with it."

    We soon then started getting into the issues of relationships with North American. We had meetings between Lee Atwood and Jim Webb, and I was present I believe at all of them, and they were not very pleasant meetings. Jim Webb made it clear that changes were going to have to be made, and Lee Atwood was saying, "Let's not panic, we've had accidents before. We're not part of the government. We're a separate institution. We have to manage things the way we believe is right." In effect, "You're not going to dictate terms to us."

    And so, I believe partly at my suggestion, we decided we'd have some converations with other potential contractors, let North American realize that although they had the contract, we wouldn't necessarily continue with them. If they wanted to really dig in, we could dig in too. And one of the contractors that we talked to--we talked to Lockheed, I know, and I went out and talked to Boeing. And I think the documentation will show, you know, who met with whom in what sequene. I can't out of my memory tell you exactly what the order was. But there was enough respect for Jim Webb, and realization that if pressed he would take some strong measures, that finally North Amerian did agree to make substantive changes, including changing the key personnel, and took Harrison Storms out of the role he'd had, and agreed to a ten million dollar reduction in their fee. I believe that was the number. Webb also put together sort of a special task group, and a guy, what was his name, Bernie somebody or other--


SEAMANS: Yes. Was sort of the chief honcho of--you know, getting into the details of what to do about the North American contract and all of that side of it.

COLLINS: To what extent were you involved in that process?

SEAMANS: Well, I guess you don't know what you don't know, but I would say that as time went on, I could recognize that a lot of the--that at least some of the key decisions and so on were going to be made out of my orbit, that I was not going to be involved.

LAMBRIGHT: The fire was a significant milestone in your relationship.

SEAMANS: No question about that. It wasn't absolutely instantaneous. And I'll have to say that I was responsible for worsening the relationship, and I'll tell you about that. There were other hearings. There was one where we met, not in the normal rooms, meeting with the Senate, but up right in the Capitol building. There was some key vote that was going to take place, and we were all crammed into a little room. This I guess must have been after the report was submitted, because there were reporters in the room and there were TV cameras, and the bright lights and everything. This was George Mueller and myself. Jim Webb was not there. And after a vote, I've got this in my story, but Mondale came in and he said, "Well, now I know what the inside of a capsule must look like." You know, trying to be a reasonably cooperative witness, I did generate a small smile. I had my picture taken, which then appeared on the front page of the POST the next day, "Robert Seamans testifying in the tragic death of--"

COLLINS: --and a big smile.

SEAMANS: It was a rough time, I'll tell you. Herb Bloch cartoons you wouldn't believe, of blood coming off the fingers of people involved in the program. The technicians at North American. But as I say, the immediate contractual change that had really tremendous significance was bringing Boeing in to be the integration contractor. That's what finally evolved from these discussions. And that was a very important move. We'd wrestled with the question of how to do this.

    At one time, we'd talked to GE about taking on the total responsibility for integrating the packages and doing the testing and everything. But that hadn't worked out, for a variety of reasons. GE was a reluctant dragon on that one. They could see some of the problems. I guess they would have had to take a clause that would have kept them out of working on the project. In any event, they'd come in on the testing side of it, but we'd still set up the Mississippi Test Facility as a government entity.

    We had not brought GE in to take full responsibility there. But we really hadn't resolved the integration problem. We were still thinking of doing it, you know, from center to center, and I guess it was pretty obvious from our study, I think you'll find it in the Apollo Report, that we needed to have an overall manager for integration purposes, and now we're talking about proper mating mechanically, electrically, hydraulically, between all the different stages and the ground environment. And Boeing was probably the best selection we could possibly have made, anyway because of their talent, but particularly since they had responsibility for the first stage of the Saturn, and were already heavily involved in the project.

COLLINS: Just to be clear, what's the relationship between the need for enhanced integration capability and the type of accident that occurred, and the examinations that came out of that accident?

SEAMANS: I don't think there's any relationship between the lack of an integration contractor and the actual fire. But if you look at the--what we levied on the board, they were asked to look very broadly at what had happened, and they definitely got into that area. Let's see--"Develop recommendations for corrective or other action based upon its findings and determinations. Consider all other factors relating to the accident, including design, procedures, organization and management. Consider the impact of the accident on all Apollo activities, involving equipment, preparations, testing and flight operations." I'm reading this backward. "Report its findings relating to the cause of the accident to the administrators expeditiously as possible and release such information through the Office of Public Affairs." Well, let me just tell you where I made a bad mistake.


SEAMANS: Obviously by this time I had considerable experience dealing with the media. And although I'd been tripped up a few times, I really had quite a bit of confidence in the media. I was tripped up a few times on a TV taping kind of incident, where they'd flipped questions and answers on me. Where what they actually showed on television had a different question than the question I'd been asked. You know, you begin to understand that it's not perfection, the media, but at the same time, there were people in the media that I had a lot of respect for, that I felt had done a responsible job, and I rather thought that Jim was being a little too hyper about some of these things, and that it should be possible and would be helpful if a few responsible individuals from the media were a little more knowledgeable about what was going on.

    Julian Scheer was in charge of public affairs, and I worked very closely with him, you know, over the years, and I didn't suggest this, but when he came to me and said, "I've invited," I think it was Howard Simons and, I can't quite name the people, four or five people in to lunch, "what would you think about just sitting down and having an off the record discussion with them about, you know, where things stand and how NASA's doing?" It seemed like a good idea. Now, I don't think it was because of this, but it did so happen that Jim Webb was out of town, so this is one thing I did not check out with him.

    And we had this sort of informal lunch, and they'd ask questions like, "Why couldn't you get the astronauts out of there?" And I said, "Well, do you realize that we designed the door so that we wouldn't make a mistake in space and suddenly the door would fly out because somebody put their elbow in the wrong place and the latch opened, or something like that, and so the door opened inward." Well, when the pressure's built up, and I pointed out that the pressure in there a few seconds after the fire, it would take 8000 pounds of pull to get that door open. You couldn't do it. And this was just by way of explaining some of these things. And Jesus--and this was all off the record. The next day, stories in the paper about, the astronauts struggling and they couldn't open the door and suddenly realized they couldn't open the door and they were screaming, and you know, stuff like that. I would say, from then on things were pretty downhill between me and Jim Webb. And that was just a stupid mistake.

LAMBRIGHT: Well, this brings up a question, then, in terms of how did Webb direct you and others to deal with the outside world?

SEAMANS: Well, it was obvious--

LAMBRIGHT: --did he give you?

SEAMANS: It was obvious, I knew that the way we were dealing with the media was for me to go down there and come up and write a report and he'd clear it with the President and the Congress. Now, we'd had a little experience with the media, though. I think even before this stupidity on my part, we'd had a closed session with the Senate, and to get into the room, which was closed off, you had to go by the media, and they were there, you know, all the networks and all the paraphernali and three deep with correspondents, and then I remember that, you know, because it was, how to get out of there after the hearing? I was trapped in the door there. I came out through the big door there into this, going into the hearing room, looked the other way, and here you're just standing there with the bright lights right in your face, and you couldn't avoid saying something, you know. You've seen these kind of TV opportunities again and again recently. How do you deal with them? So there had to be some expression there. Maybe that was partly an excuse for what I did, namely, to try to deal with a few thoughtful people and get them to understand what we were dealing with. But you know, I knew damned well I wasn't supposed to pass on a lot of information. But I really thought that Julian had hand-picked this group, that this was a responsible group, and that we could provide some background that would be useful. But what it tended to do was undercut Jim Webb's understanding with the President and the key chairmen up on the Hill.

LAMBRIGHT: Is that right?

SEAMANS: Yes, because the agreement was that they would know first what was going on. And some of these things that suddenly appeared in the paper, they didn't know about.

LAMBRIGHT: What I know is that Lyndon Johnson just hated to have anything known that he didn't know--

SEAMANS: --oh yes. So help me, I don't know whether any one of them actually called Jim Webb on the phone and gave him hell or not, but anyway, and I don't say that that was necessarily the only factor that led to what I would call more and more of a strained relationship. Now, as time went on, and before we actually had the hearings when the board actually came up and presented their findings, we were starting to work on what to do about it, you know, what design changes should be made. Simple things like, henceforth there will be no loose papers in the cabin. Everything will be stowed in metal containers. Obviously we want to do something about the suits. The suits had burned through in a relatively short period of time, and I guess it was DuPont had this new beta cloth and the question was, could you make a suit that would stand temperatures up around you know, 800 to 1000 degrees F., and what to do about the atmosphere, so that those kinds of design changes, considerations were commencing.

    But the final decisions on some of the modifications weren't made until--I think the oxygen decision wasn't made for almost a year. And the solution was very simple, namely, when you're testing on the ground or when you're just about to lift off, you have a normal atmosphere in the capsule, but you never replenish the nitrogen, you only keep measuring the amount of oxygen and keep replenishing it, and it turns out with natural leakage and so on, in about an hour and a half's time you're up there with essentially a pure oxygen atmosphere, at the partial pressure, which is enough for the breathing, and the fire hazard is no worse then than it is here on earth. And we obviously started testing boilerplate capsules, and starting fires, and were appalled at what we saw, with 100 percent oxygen at sea level pressure.

LAMBRIGHT: Could I ask you, you mentioned something that you thought you had done wrong with respect to media.

SEAMANS: Yes. I know it.

LAMBRIGHT: Could you reflect a little bit on what you think that Webb did right and what Webb did wrong during this period?

SEAMANS: Well, I'll tell you some things he obviously did right. He prevented the kind of a review that took place after the Challenger accident, which you know, was very unfair to all the parties involved, to have something that's sort of continually exposed but you don't have the full information, to sort of try everybody before you got all the facts. And even if you say, well, they deserved it, or something, you can also say, but it also took a lot longer to arrive at a conclusion, because of the circus type flavor that tended to creep into it. So to me that was in the role that he had played for seven years or since he was at NASA, putting a proper umbrella over the activities of NASA so that the work could be accomplished. And so I'd say that was you know, A number 1.

    What did he do wrong? Well, I'm not sure I can give you a good answer to that. Because even before this had happened, I had--let me double back. I would say that I'd always felt as long as we had a triad that I was being taken into his confidence, on what he really was thinking, what he wanted to do, how he was going to deal with the issues, and at least I was taken into his confidence on things that I should have been taken into. Obviously there were some things going on that I didn't need to know about.

    But when we got into this management rearrangement kind of thing, even before the accident, I was having a hard time sort of figuring out exactly why he was doing it and what he wanted to do, although I believe now, in looking back on it, I should have taken it just at face value, that what he was trying to do was to put in place a management system that would stand up over time, would do the job required over time. And the fact that he looked at himself as an administrator who had a lot to offer in this area. I think he did, and so it was appropriate that he'd be putting this in place. At the time I wasn't sure but what we weren't overdoing it and sort of running it as an experiment, that was a little bit unnecessary, that our job was to get on with the Apollo and the other parts of the job.

    But anyway, afterwards he was so--on the one hand, you had somebody like Joe Shea who would become almost psychopathic; Jim on the other hand was just, you know, terribly tense. I'm not saying he was making a mistake by being tense, but you sort of had the feeling you're dealing with somebody who was about to explode, and also somebody, I realized as time went on, who had lost confidence in the ability of the organization, including--first it was George Mueller. He started talking about George, and I tried to explain that sure, George might have done some things to avoid this, but at the same time, don't forget all he has done on the positive side. And then I started getting feedback that Jim was talking about me, external to the organization, about some of my imperfections. And I feel that that was unnecessary. That he could have dealt with the problem without trying to hang George Mueller or hang me.

    But you know, as time went on and we had meetings with the other associate administrator, I'd find that assignments were being given that I wouldn't know about, to study the future role of NASA in space or come up with ideas of what to do with the Large Saturn Vehicle, and I'd say, "Jim,"--in front of everybody I said at one time, "Well, Jim, if you want to call on me on this, maybe I can add a little insight into it," and he looked at me and all of a sudden he realized what I was saying, in public, and he got really mad and said, "Let's not have any more of that stuff."

    It became obvious as the summer evolved that it was not a good thing for the organization, to have this kind of, it was pretty obvious to everybody that knew me, knew him, that there was a very strained relation, and it just seemed as though, I'd only planned to be down here in Washington a couple of years and this was undoubtedly a good time to get out. And so I got ahold of a good friend of mine who had been counsel to NASA, and my brother, got him to come down to Washington, and figured out the best way to get out.

LAMBRIGHT: I'm asking these questions because Martin has criticized me for being too much of a Webb admirer, so I'm trying to bend over backwards to see where he was part of the problem.

SEAMANS: Well, okay. I'm almost through. So I wrote what--it's obvious that I had to get out, but you wanted to get out in such a way as to do the most, call it the most good to NASA and the least harm to myself, and it proved to be quite easy to do. But it wasn't clear at the time. I got a letter which I got typed up outside of the agency, and then I handed it to Jim Webb and explained I thought the time had come to leave, and he looked at me and said, "What do you think your peers are going to say about the job you've done over the years here at NASA?" And I said, "I think they'll feel that I did a satisfactory job." And he got up and left the room and the announcement was made. He went immediately over to see Johnson, and they announced in a relatively few hours that I was leaving NASA.

COLLINS: About what month did you give him this letter?

SEAMANS: I gave him the letter in September.

COLLINS: Then it was around January of '68.

SEAMANS: Yes, I stayed on for three months.

COLLINS: Who was the counsel outside of NASA? This wasn't John Johnson, by any chance?

SEAMANS: No, it wasn't. It was Walt Sohier, whom I knew well. Walt had taken Johnny Johnson's place. I didn't work with Johnny for too long.

COLLINS: Did you and Mr. Webb make any attempt to resolve some of these tensions that had grown up between you?

SEAMANS: I didn't think it was possible. And you know, he had in mind making these organizational changes, and how premeditated you could say--obviously he didn't anticipate having such a horrible accident take place, but definitely the situation permitted him to make some changes that he sort of had in mind anyway. And they weren't all bad changes. I don't mean to imply that they shouldn't have been made. But it definitely was taking the role of the deputy administrator and turning it into you know, a true sort of deputy kind of role, rather than a general manager's role. Okay, if you're doing that and at the same time you've got a strained relationship between the two individuals, clearly the then deputy ought to get out. Let him pick a deputy that--hm?

LAMBRIGHT: If he was leaning away from you, then on whom was he relying?

SEAMANS: Harry Finger was one. George--well, in Headquarters, he was leaning I would say on some of the legal staff there. He was not leaning on George Mueller. It's a good question, I don't--

LAMBRIGHT: --Phillips?

SEAMANS: No. He was not very pleased with Sam either at the time. The Phillips Report and so on really bugged him.

COLLINS: What, because of anything Phillips had done with Congress?

SEAMANS: Well, just anybody who was involved directly in the program at the time of the fire tended to be suspect.

LAMBRIGHT: Is this because of what we talked about, Martin, ... Webb's sense of NASA being the personification of excellence, so he personally--

SEAMANS: --Jim had worked very hard in the State Department on organizational matters, and I don't know anything about the details except that there was a secretariat that had been put in. I'm not sure that he put it in, but he certainly talked a lot about the secretariat in the State Department. He had a somewhat strained relationship there with Dean Acheson. There were those in Washington who came to me when Webb was selected and said, "Aren't you going to be in deep trouble? Things didn't go very well in the State Department, you know, when he was there," kind of attitude. But you know, what I saw of Jim in those first, this long period of time, was very positive, and I didn't hear any of those kinds of criticisms after a while. But the this, we went into this sort of strange period when we didn't have both a true deputy and a true associate administrator, and you could see that Jim was wrestling with this organizational matter. I'm sure he didn't intend it, but it was very hard to separate out exactly what he was trying to accomplish, except in general terms I could see what he was trying to do. And you know, he's a person who is very intense, and he tends to have these I guess very serious migraine headaches and so on, and all this was sort of coming to the surface, too.

LAMBRIGHT: At the time of the fire he had headaches?

SEAMANS: Yes. But you know, as time went on, I would like to sort of quickly say here, almost on the same tape, that my view of all of this changed over time quite dramatically. I still think I did the right thing to leave when I did, for the good of all parties. But I don't think I fully appreciated the superb job that Jim did over the years, in permitting NASA to do what surely is one of the most difficult technical jobs that's ever been done. And making sure that the organization, it wasn't just a question of putting an umbrella over it, which is a term I've used, but making sure that the organization had the resources to do the job, both the contractor resources, the financial resources, the facilities, and so on. It's hard to imagine--to sort of dream up a person who could come in and would have done that as well as he did.

    When I became Secretary of the Air Force, it wasn't comparable to the job Jim did, because you had the Secretary of Defense sitting there, and the Secretary of the Air Force is within the Pentagon. But when I got involved with ERTA, there was no place to turn but the President of the United States or the Congress, and I got a much better understanding then of what Jim Webb was faced with, and I did have a chance to express my views on this at a dinner party that we had, that the Acheson's gave, Dave Acheson, Dean Acheson's son gave for us. I don't know, there might have been 10 or 12 people there, friends of ours, and my wife grew up in Washington and knew the Achesons well. And Mrs. Acheson, Dean Acheson's wife, was there. It suddenly became obvious to me sitting there that an appropriate toast would involve Jim Webb and the job that he did for NASA, and I did it in the context of, I hadn't truly appreciated all that he did until I became administrator of ERTA. I'd been out of the government but I could say this.

    And it was about perhaps a year after this dinner party when Jean and I went to see the Webbs, and I was talking to Jim and Mrs. Webb and my wife Jean were off in another part of the house chatting, and she said to my wife, "You'll never know how much that meant to Jim, when Bob said what he did about the role that he played in NASA." She said, "You may not know it, but Jim had considerable difficulty in the State Department dealing with Mr. Acheson." So--

LAMBRIGHT: That's--I did interview someone else who told me a little bit about that problem, really difficult.

SEAMANS: Yes. So anyway, maybe that gives you a little bit of insight.

LAMBRIGHT: Will you tell me why he left when he left? Have you any idea?

SEAMANS: Well, I think I ought to take it on face value. He felt that he was so political that the incoming administration would be bound to put somebody in there who was a heavyweight--not bound to, but would likely put in a heavyweight in the Republican Party, but that Tom Paine really wasn't as much of a political animal as Jim was, and there would be a reasonable chance that Tom could stay on as the administrator. That proved to be the case.

    And I can give you the sequel to that, which was, on a surprising number of matters, President Nixon turned to Mel Laird, and I got a call, while I was there as Secretary of the Air Force, I had two calls from Mel, two conversations that related to the administrator of NASA, and the first one was, he said, "The President's called me and wants to know my views on continuing Tom Paine in NASA, but not as the acting administrator but as the administrator, and what do you think of that?" I said, "Well, I can give you a very straightforward simple answer, Mel. Ask the President if he wants to carry out the lunar landing this year. If he does, make Tom Paine the administrator. But if he wants to run the risk of not going this year, then bring in somebody else."

    And the next day the President announced that Tom Paine is nominee for administrator, and Mel Laird called me just about the time it came out and said, "You see what's happened, have you already called Tom Paine?" I said, "You've got to be crazy, I would never do that, until it was announced." And I never did tell Tom Paine that I had the call.

LAMBRIGHT: Maybe you're responsible for Paine.

SEAMANS: Well, at least, if I hadn't been there to talk to, Tom Paine might still have been made the administrator. The other one that bears on this has to do with Jim Fletcher, and I can't remember the name, Jamison? The guy who was married to Zsa Zsa Gabor. Very strong Republican from California, and they're thinking of making him the administrator, and I got the same kind of call, and I said, "Well, you know, what does the President want to do with NASA? If he wants to have it a good scientific and technical organization, for heaven's sake put somebody in there who knows something about it."

LAMBRIGHT: Going back to, if I may, to the recovery period, among the things that were done right, you talked a little bit about the fact that the successful nature of the recovery period wasn't just Webb. Who else do you think was key to this whole recovery process?

SEAMANS: Well, I think--there's one time when we were trying, what we called the 76 project. We put up Gemini 7 with Frank Borman, and then the idea was, we'd have a quick turnaround on the pad and from the same pad we'd launch Number 6 with Tom Stafford, for a rendezvous. No docking of course. And we got--I think I've got the right people. Anyway, 6 was sitting there on the pad. Maybe it was Wally Shirra. But anyway, they had the countdown, and I think they even had engine ignition, but they didn't have sufficient lift and so they shut the thing down and had to back off and had to get the astronauts out. This occurred on a Sunday morning.

    And I got a call from Jim Webb about 9:30 and he said, "The President's on my back on this thing, how do I deal with it?" And the implication was, NASA's not a very good organization, they didn't get off the Gemini. I said, "I suggest you tell him it takes a damn good organization to recover successfully from that kind of a situation, and bring the guys back alive, and maintain the facility and the vehicle and so on, so we still have a fighting chance of carrying out the mission successfully."

    I feel the same way about the Apollo fire. Sure, changes were made as a result of the fire, but by and large, it was the same group of people, George Mueller and Sam Phillips and George Low was put into more of a key position than he had been, but still the same Marshall team and the same team down at the Cape, Kurt Debus and Rocco Petrone and so on, and that team was able to recover and make the necessary changes and not clutch up. Tom Paine deserves a lot of credit, I think, for his recommendation to Jim Webb the following summer that they have the lunar orbit rendezvous. No, that they have the lunar fly-by, you know, when Frank Borman went up there with Bill Enders and they flew around Christmas Eve and so on. That was a pretty gutsy thing, to do that.

LAMBRIGHT: Was that Webb's last decision?

SEAMANS: Well, he and I happened to be over in Vienna at the time that the recommendation was made to him, and he told me about it over there, and he decided to go ahead. It was pretty close to his last decision, wasn't it.


SEAMANS: I don't know, I guess he made some decisions after that. I will say, I think I performed an important role by getting the study set up properly in a healthy, in a good hurry.

LAMBRIGHT: If I ever get the energy, what I want to do is compare the recovery process for the Apollo fire to the sort of non-recovery process for Challenger, because they make a good comparison.

SEAMANS: See, from the time of the fire until the first--let's see, the unmanned flight--of course, at the time of the fire they weren't ready to fly yet. They were getting close to it but they weren't quite ready. They were what, a month away or something like that. They had not flown. And the first Apollo flight was, what, Wally Schirra in earth orbit, the following spring?

LAMBRIGHT: The first Apollo?

SEAMANS: The first manned Apollo flight was when?

LAMBRIGHT: Was October or November of '68.

SEAMANS: No, that was unmanned. Wasn't that the full all-up Saturn, Apollo Saturn?

LAMBRIGHT: I've got it here somewhere.

SEAMANS: Let's see. Let me get the dates right. You're right. It was in '67 in the fall, late fall, that we had the first Apollo Saturn flight which was unmanned. So it had to be--I can trot out all the dates if you want.

LAMBRIGHT: I've got this here somewhere in my report, because I sort of marked recovery by successful flights. That's how I sort of measure reality. The Saturn 5, November '67, the first big technical test for NASA involved the Saturn 5 rocket, that's November '67.

SEAMANS: Yep. I was down there for that.

LAMBRIGHT: In January '68 Apollo 5 went up, with a smaller Saturn 1 B.

SEAMANS: Yep, the first manned, right then. Right.

LAMBRIGHT: Let's see, Apollo 5 with the smaller Saturn lB which was another unmanned test.

SEAMANS: Oh, it was unmanned, okay.

LAMBRIGHT: April 4, (crosstalk ) .. Saturn went up--

SEAMANS: --Okay--

LAMBRIGHT: Then the big, the manned one--

SEAMANS: It must have been in the summer.

LAMBRIGHT: October 11, that's it.

SEAMANS: Not till then?

LAMBRIGHT: October 11, Apollo 7. This was a fully redesigned Apollo capsule, this time with men aboard.

SEAMANS: Okay. So that--see, that's almost two years, isn't it, from the fire.

LAMBRIGHT: Over 18 months.

SEAMANS: Okay, then the Challenger was a little over two years.

LAMBRIGHT: I think that's right.

SEAMANS: What I'm saying really is that the timing isn't that different.

LAMBRIGHT: No, but I think the recovery process started earlier with Apollo. Before that manned one, there were other events along the way that indicated things were going right. It was a psychological feeling that I think was different then than it was now. Right now there's a sense of drift.

SEAMANS: The final decisions on the redesign and how to deal with the atmosphere in the capsule and all of that were made in the winter of '68. Because I remember, I stayed on as a consultant to NASA. I actually had an office and came in. I remember Sam Phillips coming in and spending a couple of hours going over all the different changes that were being made.

LAMBRIGHT: If you were thinking about what made--one of the real issues here is to try to understand what is the essence of a good administrator leader, and you observed Webb for all these years. Is there any one quality that stands out in your mind, or two or three? Because I find it hard to understand. His ability to communicate can't be it.

SEAMANS: Well, his understanding of political process is certainly one attribute, of understanding the interaction of forces, between parties, Republican Democrat, as between Congress and the White House, as between the contractual relationships, the importance of universities as a sort of place for ideas to ferment and so on. It seems to me, he used to tell the story about somebody who had a long and extended career in the Congress, and people would say, "How have you stayed in this important position so long?" And he said, "You've got to know when to bend a little." You know, it sounds like a trivial thing in a way, but knowing when to stand firm, knowing when it's the part of good sense to bend a little, but as he also would say, you've got to decide ahead of time, you know, what's your threshhold. What are you going to decide that you will countenance? What are your limits, the point beyond which we will agree, and this gets into ethical and moral, call them values.

LAMBRIGHT: Another question about this communication issue, because Martin raised it with me the other day. He said that he thought--I'm putting words into your mouth--but here you are a man who's a politician, political politician, lawyer, heading an organization, a technical organization. You're kind of in a pivotal role between the political lawyer type and basically a technical organization. How did that factor into everything?

SEAMANS: I think Jim Webb is a hard person to understand. And I can't tell you exactly how it happened, but I think both Hugh Dryden and I understood him pretty well, and Hugh had his clientele, if you will, which was in the scientific community, nationally and internationally, you know, the Academy of Sciences, and I think there were times when Hugh would say, "Well, look, okay, so you don't understand him, believe me, he's doing the right thing." You know. And I think I was able to serve as his interpreter, if you want to call it that, with the more technically oriented people, both in NASA and outside.

    I mentioned this to Martin. Coming out of some meeting, maybe it was a program review, and somebody was saying to me, Jim had been talking about, wouldn't it be a good idea if you, I guess it was to Brainerd Holmes and a couple of other people, to get together and you had some time to really think about these issues and ponder on them and discuss them, and Brainerd saying, "I don't know what that man's talking about." And I said, "Well, take it a little bit on face value. He's just saying that some understanding of more than just your technical objective is important, that you've got to understand what the implications are in other areas and other pursuits, where by just a little extra effort, a lot more could be accomplished."


COLLINS: To follow up our morning discussion of the events that led up to and followed the 204 fire, I thought we might just talk through a few documents that I found relating to the aftermath of the fire, and see how they might amlify some of our discussion this morning. This is a memo from the Office of the General Counsel to Sam Phillips, entitled "Documents Required for Office of General Counsel Project Concerning North American Aviation Work on Apollo Program," dated 3/2/67, and it details the kind of information that the legal staff feels that it needs to prepare for I guess the upcoming Congressional testimony. I thought you might take a look at the state of affairs.

SEAMANS: Well this is an interesting document, coming from five weeks I guess after the Apollo fire. Some of the information was already available to the general counsel, namely the famous Phillips "report" did get into some of the issues addressed in this memorandum, such as schedule performance, workmanship, quality control, and I guess this was just a sweep of the key program office and Headquarters of whether or not they had other information that might pertain to the relationship with North American.

COLLINS: I was curious, in this document, why the strong statement that they only wanted documents in Headquarters and not from the field centers or the contractors.

SEAMANS: My immediate reaction when I saw that, I don't know if this is true, was that they wanted to gather this information in quickly and with as little fuss and feathers as possible, without alerting the organization which in turn might alert North American that there was this gathering of data going on, but I'm not sure that's the reason. Both time and the fact that it says on this memorandum, "Not to be reproduced, no information or records are to be requested, either--" Okay. This is a sensitive memorandum.


SEAMANS: Shall I lay it down here?

COLLINS: Yes. The next one I have here is called "A Second Draft" dated 3/7/67 from Mr. Webb to Colonel Vogel entitled "Problems Related to Release of Staff Notes and Reports of Joint Actions Taken by Contractor and NASA Personnel as Results of Site Surveys at Contractors' Plants," obviously in a very oblique way referring to the Phillips Report, but one thing that is mentioned in here is the relevance of the Source Evaluation Board materials for this question of the evaluation of contractor performance. I don't know whether that's just sort of an ambiguity in the way Mr. Webb is expressing this, but it seems like he's suggesting that these documents are reasonably fundamental for relating to questions of contractor performance. It struck me as a bit unusual.

SEAMANS: Larry Vogel had been the executive officer to Jim Webb. Was he not still in that role as of 3/7/67?

COLLINS: Apparently, if you read between the lines here, you get the impression that Vogel was and then was on another assignment and then came back for the purpose.

SEAMANS: Yes, that's right. But again, this is another document that's only relatively a few weeks after the accident, and this is again a gathering in of fundamental information, in this case related to the Source Evaluation Board, at least in part. And there's an implication here that the GAO may be called in to examine some of the information, and I guess, I don't know, I haven't read it carefully, but relates to why North American was selected. This was an issue that came out at the time. Since North American was second to I guess the Martin Company, and so why did we reach over Martin and grab hold of North American? And there are implications of, you know, the kind of thing that Bobby Baker was involved in and some of those shenanigans. We didn't discuss this morning anything about the Source Evaluation, the source selection of North American, and maybe there's time just to say a few words about that, if you want me to.

COLLINS: You can. If you recall, we examined that rather closely in another discussion.

SEAMANS: Fine. Let's leave it at that, then. But since we've now gotten into the tensions that existed at this time, it's a little easier to see why that became so important, and I don't quite remember how I happened to have in my file Hugh Dryden's handwritten note on the subject, which had a list of some of the reasons for North American, in particular a list of the important aircraft developments that they'd been responsible for, whereas Martin did not have any aircraft design work going on. They were out of the airplane business.

COLLINS: Let's see--I put a note on there "see page 3." I forget why that was. Okay, this I thought was a useful point to amplify. In addition to examining these materials for their relevance to the fire, Mr. Webb says, "Along this line, it might be well to consider how the materials which we have on one or more contracts relate to our NASA management reporting and decision making system documents, as well as to kinds of requests that are being made from outside the agency." Was there a more general evaluation on his and your part of what this review of materials said about the management systems that were in place?

SEAMANS: You're talking now about, at this time?

COLLINS: Yes. Down here at the bottom of page 2, and on page 3.

SEAMANS: It says down at the bottom, "NASA is very fortunate in having your experience in recording and handling the files of the procurement determinations made by Dr. Dryden, Dr. Seamans and me, which you can now use as a basis for considering these new operating problems which have come along after the contracts were let." I don't seem to remember this review, call it, and I guess you can't tell, this is not the final draft, but I don't thinkthat I was, that this was circulated to me, at the time.

COLLINS: The next one I thought we might take a look at is from very close to the same time period, and this is again another draft, a memorandum to Mr. Shapley, Finger and Colonel Vogel from Mr. Webb, apparently first version was by Mr. Webb on 3/11/67, and reprise by Shapley on 3/13. I thought the first paragraph was interesting and revealing, about the range of factors that you and others and Mr. Webb had to handle at NASA in working through the problem of the fire.

SEAMANS: They're all a pattern, it seems to me.

COLLINS: Right. I guess what I thought was interesting about this was just this very quick sketch of what the activities were that you needed to be concerned about and the range of issues.

SEAMANS: Yes. Continued presentation of the President's program, which means to me, both to the Congress as well as to the media. The investigation of the fire, and management implications for NASA, and 3, the problems of constantly improving our management and making sure that the new structure does in fact perform the way it's designed, that we have clear written understandings and do not have to go back over the same decisions several times. Now, the clear written understanding means to me, what we were discussing this morning, namely, defining what the various responsibilities are that different people have, which is to me sort of separate from the issue of making decisions, sort of going back over things several times.

It does say down here, "The work is not to be specifically related either to the problems with 5-2 or Apollo, but rather to give our senior management, including Dr. Mueller, Dr. Seamans and me particularly, an overview of what the records of the agency show with respect to the operation of the company and the contracts." To me this indicates that at this time, Mr. Webb was really getting into a review of what had been going on from a management standpoint, a contractual standpoint, with particularly North American, and that he was thinking of organizational changes that would be made with regard to the relationship with companies like North American. But it's sort of interesting that he's talking in here about having this available to a senior management that includes George Mueller and myselfand himself.

COLLINS: To me it's also interesting because what it's saying is that our top staff has to think on several levels, think about continuing the program as expressed by the President, the fire investigations and improvement in management.

SEAMANS: Yep, right.

COLLINS: All at once as you're proceeding with this work.

SEAMANS: Yes. And that is true, that that did have to be done. I mean, you had to find out all you could about the fire and what the implications were. You obviously wanted to keep going with the objective of landing men on the moon in the decade, and the other parts of the Presidential program, and still it was Mr. Webb's strong view that we had to make some dramatic changes in management. And certainly some changes did have to be made. So it's interesting.

COLLINS: Right. On page 3 of this same document, he, in the first section there, gives a very brief description of the actions that Harold Finger will be taking in the very short future.

SEAMANS: "Mr. Finger will proceed with the work necessary to establish the office space as agreed to for Mr. Lilly, Mr. Smith"--I guess Mr. Smith was the person from Langley. Lilly was sort of the comptroller for the Manned Spaceflight Program, and himself, and Finger, and "arranging for Mr. Williamson" who was my assistant "to be in close association with the operation of Mr. Wyatt at the earliest possible time." Mr. Wyatt was the person who had been working for me in charge of all resource allocation for the organization; all these pads and things that were signed were all brought to me by Wyatt, and after I'd signed them, would be disseminated throughout the organization, which was the basis for releasing funds for the various programs. And so here again, you can see that what Mr. Webb has in mind is pulling all of this activity that had been the responsibility of the general manager over onto Mr. Finger. Or maybe not under him, but in close relationship with Mr. Finger's operation.

COLLINS: How did this activity, we discussed a little bit how it affected you, how did it affect George Mueller and Sam Phillips?

SEAMANS: I don't think it directly affected them. The manner in which, call it the front office, worked, how effective it was and so on, what kind of reviews were involved, did affect them, but it did not change their internal organization, except for Mr. Lilly who was sort of George Mueller's right arm on the financial side of things being moved out of his office. That didn't necessarily mean that the function was moved out. I don't know the answer, whether that was intended or not. I notice that it also says here, "Mr. Finger will also do all possible to prepare anoverview of the various relationships between the segments of our management, particularly the relationship between the Office of Organization and Management," that's his office, "of Programs Plans and Analysis," which is really I guess that's Wyatt, "of' Policy Analysis," I'm not quite sure what that is, "and the Executive Secretariat," which was just at that time being instituted.

COLLINS: You raised a point earlier that we didn't really follow, and that was the question of the wisdom from your point of view of having this centralization of information control and flow and general planning organized under a nontechnical person or greatly removed from the technical activities.

SEAMANS: Well, let's see. Harry Finger was a technical person. He'd come out of the NACA experience and so on. So I'm not quite sure I'm registering the connect there, but having Harry Finger set up as the overall czar on organization and management wasn't per se in my view the wrong way to go. It was just, it was some- what of a staff function. It wasn't in--the line organization was administrator, deputy, associate, down to the associate administrators who were managing the programs, whereas this was sort of an entity not--more of a staff entity but being given line responsibility, I would say. Well, these were really being cranked out at a merry pace here! I don't think I've ever seen any of them, but I may have.

COLLINS: I'm not sure there's terribly much comment on this. What I'm interested in is the note down at the bottom of it, and I guess I should read it. This is dated March 22, 1967, and this is not a memorandum but a note for Mr. Webb from Colonel Vogel, and Mr. Webb has written an annotation down at the bottom of the page, responding to Mr. Vogel's note. I'll read it for you, for I'm adept at reading the handwriting.

SEAMANS: All right.

COLLINS: "Now a turning point re Congress, DOD, others. Need of NASA as new institution to establish its legitimacy and function (R and D and as to method of operation, industry, with proper safeguards for executive elements with Congress). Need to know clearly established but with agreed safeguards. This memo part of process of finding way to these objectives and meeting requirements of AS 204 review." It seems to indicate the kind of way he was sort of framing the issues here.

SEAMANS: Yes. Okay, this is moving along in time. This is now almost two months after the fire. I'll leave it in this fourth draft format.

COLLINS: Yes, the memorandum that was attached to that is for some reason not with these materials.

SEAMANS: Okay. All right. Copy has been sent to Dr. Seamans and Mr. Shapley. Okay.

COLLINS: This is again another draft, it's a so-called fourth draft memorandum for the record, subject, " Meeting on NASA Review of NAA Contracts, March 13, 1967." I guess actually this is probably meant to be the attachment to that, that letter there. And the attendees were Mr. Webb, Dr. Mueller, General Phillips, General Bowman, Mr. Demling, Mr. Hosenbaum, Mr. Ulberg and Colonel Sicam and Colonel Vogel. I was I guess intrigued by your omission from this particular meeting. Then I thought some points in this were worth going over.

SEAMANS: I guess, if you look at the dates, this could be the date that--I was away for two weeks. This is a trip I'd planned to take and it involved among other things participating in a conference in Paris, going to Africa to visit the Italian San Marcos Project, visiting in India with the people who were working on the advanced technology satellite, and going to Australia for the dedication of a new tracking facility at Honeysuckle Creek, and then to Hawaii and then back. As I say, it took a couple of weeks. The real question of course, whether there's a go at this time or not.


SEAMANS: Anyway, I think that accounts for my not being there.

COLLINS: Maybe this would be a useful point to interject this question I was thinking about this morning, as you were talking about your activities with the review board. In addition during this time period, from the immediate aftermath of the fire to the presentation of the final report, which I guess must have come in April, is that right?

SEAMANS: I think so. I think this was a time when there wasn't new information coming along, but around the 20th--I can remember one specific date, because we arrived in Mobasa on the coast of Africa on my wife's birthday, and it happened to be, that was March 11th. And I think my role of going back and forth was over about that, sort of in early March. That would have taken us through February, and it was sort of a time of wrapping up and putting stuff together before submission, which I guess was in early April.

COLLINS: My question was, in addition to having this role of summarizing on a weekly basis the activities of the 204 board, what else were you doing during this time?

SEAMANS: There were still other projects going on, for one thing, so I was having regular status review meetings with space science and the other projects, and I was going to places like Houston, not as part of the review process but trying to figure out where to help with some of the personnel problems that we had. I think we were still involved in presenting pieces of the budget and so on to the Congress, in areas other than the manned flight program. I think that I had sort of the same kinds of things going on that I had prior to the accident, in relationship to the remaining NASA programs and then I had sort of special types of things I was doing that related to the manned flight program. As I say, you know, how to deal with the Joe Shea situation for example.

COLLINS: There are some elements of this memorandum that I thought were very interesting. In essence here in this first part, there's a concern about how you talk about to Congress and the public a very complicated R&D project, and what its basic nature is and how that affects situations like the AS 204 acci- dent. I thought that was an interesting point.

SEAMANS: Whose writing is this, yours?

COLLINS: That's my writing, right.

SEAMANS: Certainly it's a good point. Some of the basic problems involved were, this is a management kind of think piece here, "in a large R&D effort we want to be able to freeze design at a certain stage of development to maintain schedules and allow for proper contract administration. However, in R&D which presses the state of the art, there still has to be flexibility to change, and there will always be last minute changes." That's absolutely true.

COLLINS: What I found interesting with this was that this is an insight that needed to be provided to Congress.

SEAMANS: Yes. The fact that Mr. Webb feels that you have to make this point understandable to the non-technical person. Yes. And this sort of almost describes the whole process that we're involved in for six years when I was there, rather nicely, and I guess that those involved in it see it as so self-evident that they don't see the need to sort of explain it in "simple terms" because just reading this seems so simple and straightforward, as you read it you'll wonder, why is that a problem? But it certainly is an important point, that you can't have every idotted when you say, we've now got to go and build this thing, whatever it is, because if you do that, you'll never start. You'll always be dotting some i's. Okay.

COLLINS: There are other points in this document. Following this, there's a sentence on the next page, page 2, that says "The system we have is the system that we want and need, as it provides the desired self-policing in a dynamic situation. There will be mistakes in big R6D programs. Large R&D efforts are aniterative? process. " And then in parentheses, a note to the people at the meeting that we need to find some better expression for the phrase iterative process. To describe the NASA pproach as a kind of a self-policing approach, in the way that the management systems are set up, struck me as an interesting characterization of the management control process.

SEAMANS: Well, I'm having a little trouble with it, becausem "self-policing" is a term that we did use. Jim Webb used it quite a bit. We want to have self-policing systems. One thing I learned from him was that you can't do what, exactly what I'd been trained to do under Draper, which was to put people in charge of a project and just make sure that they're good enough and you keep in touch with the people who are in charge, and everything will tend to come out all right. That you've got to have other sources or other methods for determining how things are going than just relying on the line organization, if you want to call it that, and by "self-policing" you've got built in to the functions that you provide for the overall management, roles for other people that, if something is going wrong and the line organization tries to stonewall it, you'll still know up at the top that something's not right. I believe that's what he means by self-policing.

Isn't it the implication here that we sort of have that? "NASA must preserve the system under which we get 90 to 95 percent of our work done by industry," Okay, and "this system involves good government work as well as government errors and good something work and contract errors. The system we have... and need as it provides the desired.." How are you going to know if there's a breakdown in a contractor's operation that such is taking place? And if you just rely on the contractor's senior people telling the senior people, project people in the government, there's a very good chance that they'll think they solved the problem or they'll want to solve a problem before it becomes public and there's a big brouhaha over it, and so it tends to remain hidden. So how do you police that situation? I think that's what's being talked about here.

COLLINS: Well, I think the other element that's introduced here is concern about the question of protecting the confidentiality of the NASA contractor relationships in the face of Congressional scrutiny.

SEAMANS: Does it say that here? That certainly is true. Well-- it's very interesting. But it seems to me that that scenario where Mr. Webb was not satisfied that we had the setup that was needed, and certainly he did want to preserve the relationship between the, you know, the 90 percent 10 percent kind of relationship is the way to get things done, not have too much of the work government, but at the same time have enough government work, not have it 2 percent in the government, but at the time particularly that this was written, I think he felt that there needed to be more policing. So it's not a question of preserving that part of the organization, it's a question of strengthening it, it would seem to me, would have been the thrust of the memo.

COLLINS: Right. The other thing, page 3 of this document, that I thought would bear emphasis was the point that he felt it preferable to give testimony to Congress rather than providing them with records.

SEAMANS: Yes. Well, this is very interesting, and although I'm not certain that he had this in mind when he wrote it, his concerns about my raising certain things when we were testifying before the Senate ties in with this. If you just supply a lot of paper and records say to the Congress, then you've got all kinds of staff people who can pour over it and nitpick it and find out fine inconsistencies and so on, and you're not then laying the kind of record--he was always trying to lay a good record when he went before the Congress. If you're up there, you can sense what the concerns are, and you're familiar enough with it and you talk and explain things well enough, then you can retain the confi- dence or regain the confidence of the people who are responsible, namely, the committee members, and not--and you can deal directly with them, and you're not sort of working through Congressional staff people up to the committee. There's no question, I certainly agree with that, and it's certainly what we were trying to do before the fire as well as after the fire.

COLLINS: Okay, then on page 4 he refers to the collection of records within NASA, and that it must be done in a very responsible comprehensive manner, and then he says, "It should be realized that the equipments delivered by NAA considering all factors, particularly the greater degree of complexity involved, are relatively in just as good shape as equipments that were delivered in the Mercury and Gemini programs."

SEAMANS: That's interesting. On that subject, in the very beginning, there would be a buy-off of equipment from--NASA group would receive them there, often be dissatisfied with what they saw and tend to take stuff apart and retest it and revalidate it and so on. This was obviously taking a lot of time and was not necessarily giving the best results, so we instituted pretty early on after I got there a system, I think it's under Brainerd Holmes, where you'd send a team of people from the Cape to McDonnell who would receive the equipment, and then travel with it to the Cape, so that you had the same people buying it out of the factory that were actually going to use it down at the Cape, so you didn't have what I call a "through the wicket" kind of operation.

But what that proves is that--I bring that up not to get into the organizational side of it, but to show that the Mercury and Gemini capsules weren't always perfect, and we did have to continue to update things and make changes in equipment and revalidate and so on even when we got to the Cape. So the QED here is that, here's Apollo which is considerably more compli- cated even than Gemini, so you're gound to have some problems. I think that what he was getting at was the issue of, how could you have such a tremendous success with Mercury and Gemini and then you fall flat on your face when you get to Apollo? It wasn't all North American's fault. Trying to build up some defense for North American, on the one hand, you know, in the public arena or the Congressional arena, at the same time trying to deal with North American to get them to do a better job, a little bit off on the side out of the public view. You want this one?

COLLINS: No, that's all. He just talks a little bit more about releasing information in a controlled fashion.



COLLINS: This is an interesting document. It's a handwritten note from Mr. Webb to you dated April 1, 1967, and I'll try to decipher the handwriting here. "Believe you may want to have this Goddard lecture and all recent talks by Shea looked over to see which parts you feel he should continue to speak out. Next period is one in which all NASA offices should do," I think it is "positively. What will show ability to carefully and expeditiously move back into action on any front that has slowed down, and arrival at other images, such as that of feeling we are apostles of a new ideology, as a new semi-religion of technology. We are workmen at a hard job needing to overcome a setback, and in that role we will hold our support." So I think what he's saying here is, there's an interesting problem associated with this accident, and that is that NASA has built up a certain kind of almsot religious character in the way that its technology and achievements have been presented to the public, and he wants a much more humble attitude conveyed.

SEAMANS: Well, you have to have in mind what Joe Shea was involved in. He'd been selected to give the Goddard lecture, and you can, as we've already discussed, this was a very critical time in his professional career, and he had this whole business of the fire so much on his mind, and this Goddard lecture, he wanted to call it "Crucible of Fire." I think he finally did have that as the title. And he had sort of built into this talk a lot of imagery, almost religion, having to do with what happens to organizations when they're cemented together by fire, and it was a scary almost kind of a talk that Joe had put together. But we couldn't tell him not to give the lecture. I had the job of trying to work with Joe, to try to weed out some of the "imagery" and things of that sort, for which I was not terribly successful. We knew it was going to be of questionable value to NASA, to have Joe give that speech in Washington at that time. As it turned out, even though in my view at least it was a bad speech, partic- ularly to give at that time, it didn't really make that much difference. I think the letter accompanying it is most interesting.

COLLINS: I'm not sure why that's attached.

SEAMANS: Well, it's attached only because it says, "Look forward to perhaps seeing you in Washington next week at the Goddard affair."

COLLINS: This is a letter, for the record, from Joe Shea to Mr. Webb, I'm not sure what the date is there, can you read it off the letter?

SEAMANS: That's March 10th.

COLLINS: March 10, 1967, in which Joe Shea thanks Mr. Webb for his hospitality immediately after the fire.

SEAMANS: "Neither Barry nor I can ever really express in words what our visit with you and Mrs. Webb meant to us. The protective cloak which you threw, both literally and figuratively, over our shoulders has been a source of much warmth this last week, and will be I'm sure in years to come. Even the symbolism of the coat with holes in its pockets was a perfect touch." I'm not quite sure what that symbolism meant.

COLLINS: This is a, actually it was drafted by Alan Ulberg for Mr. Webb's signature, in which Rumsfeld had requested a copy of the Phillips Report. What I thought was interesting was some of the rationale for being careful about the release of this report, and let me just read a couple of sentences here. "Often the views of contractor and government personnel as to the most critical problems and their causes are reduced to findings and recommenda- tions. In many cases by careful examination of all relevant factors, the number of these findings and recommendations may be substantially reduced. They are therefore often in the nature of unevaluated or early in the process of analysis working drafts. Neither the senior government nor contractor officials involved believe them to be at that stage of first impression a fair statement of the overall situation. Public disclosure of such material could be manifestly unfair, and cause irreparable harm, not only to the contractor immediately involved but more importantly to the working concept of the R&D partnership between government and industry."

SEAMANS: Okay, Don Rumsfeld was one of the Young Turks in the Congress, and was a member of the Authorization Committee on the Republican side, and was not always very friendly towards the Democratic administration, in particular the space program. Don Rumsfeld also had been a pilot and understood quite a few of the things related to aeronautics and astronautics. I think the point Mr. Webb makes is a very good one.

COLLINS: In part, it's his argument for executive privilege here, although he doesn't quite frame it that way.


COLLINS: And I guess I have to ask, what was your position on the release of this Phillips Report material? You clearly wanted to be a little more open about it than Mr. Webb. But to the extent that it provided, by withholding this information, provided possible protection to this special kind of relationship between NASA and the contractor, do you see that as a genuine kind of argument here, as something to be carefully considered in making this kind of release of material?

SEAMANS: Well, as I think--I'm sort of trying to collect my own thoughts on this, but as we discussed again this morning, Mr. Webb's great concern about information about contractors and internal management of NASA getting into, going public, or getting in the hands of the Congress. He said, you know, "These are big issues. There's a lot at stake here. There can be tremendous lawsuits," and so on. That always seemed to me to be, you know, a little bit exaggerated. But the relationships, which is what he's talking about here, are important, and if you get something up and sort of flagellate either the contractor or NASA or both, you can make it harder then to work for the two, for the two entities to work together in the future. I guess. It seems to me that's a pretty good point. But I haven't looked at that so-called Phillips Report recently enough to be really sure. But I think the way we tried to stonewall its release could have given, caused it to receive more attention, rather than less, and built up more interest in it, and since almost everything that was in it, you know, and then some, came out in the final review board report and so on, I'm not sure that it was worth the effort that Mr. Webb made to try to keep it all under wraps. Of course, it's a judgment call.

COLLINS: Here's a--I don't know if you want to go into this, it goes into a fair amount of detail. I have some correspondence here. First of all, it starts with a summary of the Phillips Report prepared, or at least under Mr. Webb's signature, to Olin Teague. In lieu of providing him with the actual report.

SEAMANS: Okay Olin Teague was the key person. He was head of a subcommittee on Manned Space Flight. George Mueller was the chairman of the full committee.

COLLINS: Right. And then there's a series of exchange of letters between Lee Atwood and Jim Webb, regarding the performance of North American and the actions to be taken. I think what might be a more interesting thing to look at right at this point is a letter from Mr. Webb to Ramsey Clark, regarding the proposed merger of McDonnell Douglas--of McDonnell and Douglas--and its impact on the--

SEAMANS: This was well before the accident.

COLLINS: That's my understanding, let's look this over and see if we can't get it straight. This is dated April 25, 1967, Webb to Ramsey Clark.

SEAMANS: Really?

COLLINS: ... Resuming after a brief pause.

SEAMANS: The issue we're talking about in relation to this letter to Ramsey Clark is whether or not the government should allow a merger, the merger of two aerospace companies, one of them being McDonnell and the other being Douglas--McDonnell, which was on the rise at the time, and Douglas having considerable difficulty, in part because of the DC-9 and Donald Douglas in order to keep the company going had gone out in competition with the 727 and bid low on a lot of contracts, and they were in real financial difficulty for that reason. They also had been a very important contractor for the government, things like the Delta vehicle and I guess the 5-4 stage of the Saturn and so on. The anti-trust division of the Justice Department was very much against this merger. They thought that we needed the competition, you know, of the two companies, and if you merge them you're losing out on that competition.

Mr. Webb's point in here is that there weren't very many companies really that could compete with Boeing and Lockheed. You had North American, but he points out that they're in great dif- ficulty, and he cites as the example in some detail the Apollo fire and so on, to prove his point, and he feels that you'd have more real competition by allowing these two companies, somewhat smaller companies, to merge, so you'd have one healthy larger company that would be then in the same ball park with Boeing and Lockheed, that that would provide greater competition, rather than less. And I had thought this had all come up previous to the Apollo fire, but I'm obviously inaccurate on that.

A person I knew very well by the name of Zimmerman was in the anti-trust, I think maybe he ran it, and he was outraged that NASA was stepping into this area. That's a little strong, but he was very upset by it, and this would, it had not really been a policy in the very beginning to try to play God in this arena, but we'd felt pretty keenly about Douglas maybe even going by the board. It seemed like the right thing to do, to have those companies merge and have the financial strength and technical capability of McDonnell tied in with Douglas. This letter says it all.

COLLINS: It addresses pretty clearly the special character of the aerospace industry.


COLLINS: These considerations come under the auspices of government policy.

SEAMANS: Yes. Quite a letter. It's interesting, to look over all of this correspondence taking place right after the Apollo fire. I'd say that Mr. Webb's adrenalin was up pretty high.

COLLINS: This is a letter from Mr. Webb to Lee Atwood, dated April 15, 1967, and it in a general way expresses some of the concerns and how he intends to proceed by establishing what he calls an administrative review panel to look into some of the contract questions. Then he goes on to say, "I'm mentioning these thoughts because I believe it is very important that NASA and NAA establish a base for examination of the improvements in North American's performance following the management review team work in late 1965, and the matters that caused the failure to reach a meeting of minds on contract terms between North America and NASA before December 3, 1966. After the experience of the December 1965 joint review, and after the improvement that ensued, we ended up in the post-December 3, 1966 period without a continuation of the incentive features of the contract that you knew we felt were essential to keep momentum going in the direction of better performance on cost, schedule and quality. It is this breakdown that disturbs me most, and seems to me directly relatedto whether we can find a basis on which a future satisfa ctory relationship can rest." Then he goes on to say, "I do not see how we can achieve such a relationship unless we can work together under a strong incentive arrangement." That raises some questions about the contract situation.

SEAMANS: Yes, and I think that points out that it was not--my memory was inaccurate this morning. I thought we had, this morning thinking about it, I thought we had a definitized contract, and I guess that was one of the problems that came out of all this, that at the time we had this accident, we still didn't have a definitized incentive contract. I guess that's what this says here, and the more I think about it during the day, I guess that is correct, that we had not been able to nail it down even as late as 1967. That's something I'd really like to--to comment on it in a substantive way, I'd really have to go back and look at the data, to be really sure. But I guess, as I think about it in the course of the last few hours, North American had been a particularly difficult company to deal with on contract matters and definitizing the contract and so on. In the previous letter, the one just before this--and I remember this quite clearly, Mr. Webb saying, you know, in effect asking where we could go to get a little help in getting Atwood to face up to the facts, and that he knew Levitt, and it's a pretty unusual step to deal with a director the way he did, but he certainly got Atwood's attention.

COLLINS: Levitt at that time?

SEAMANS: --was a director of North American.

COLLINS: Right. Okay. The former Secretary of the Air Force, is that right?

SEAMANS: No, he was a former Secretary of Defense, I believe. Bob Levitt, very high regarded person. And as I remember it, when Webb called Levitt, Levitt didn't know much about all this, what was going on. "We do not want to do the management job we're paying North American to do. Still we cannot stand aside when our level of confidence in the results of North American's effort is not high enough to enable us to accept the risks of tests of latches which are high enough under the best of circumstances in rocketry." The risks are high enough, under the best--

COLLINS: This next document here is dated April 28, 1967. This is again a draft memorandum apparently from Mr. Webb to the Boeing Company. Could you take a look at that? It explicitly sort of addresses the North American problem, Boeing being considered in some way to help NASA out of this situation at that time.

SEAMANS: "Discussing ways and means to proceed with a Block 2, CSM, and to establish the various required changes in spacecraft, schedule and launch time estimates. North American is informed that NASA is not satisfied with the situation, and has asked to determine whether additional industrial strength over and above that which NASA believes to be available at North American can be brought into the situation in a way that will give greater assurance of flight-worthy hardware, and most rapid recover from the recent setbacks in the program. As a first step, NASA is requesting a number of companies to submit their views in discussions between Dr. Seamans, Dr. Mueller and Mr. Webb and the most senior and knowledgeable officials." Okay, who signed this? Let's see, Webb dictated it.

"NASA wishes frank suggestions from these companies as to how NASA can act with responsibility toward the overall Apollo con- tract pattern, and also take advantage of any additional capabilities the country has to offer." This is what we talked about earlier today. And the extreme case would be to have shifted the responsibility for the command and service module to another company. That would have been a very difficult thing to do without burning up and losing enough time so that carrying out the lunar mission in the decade would have been, I would guess, well nigh impossible. But better that than a continuing series of disasters.

In any event, we were asking Boeing, and I'm pretty sure we had McDonnell and Lockheed, invited their senior management to come in and discuss what they felt they might be able to do to help, and these were candid conversations with the senior executives in these companies, and ultimately led to the Boeing Company getting the system integration contract. And so we really achieved two objectives. One objective was to bring North American to the bargaining table, in a frame of mind that they would bargain, and the other was to really bring in greater management skills than we had at the time.

COLLINS: ... Resuming after a brief pause. This is a memo, handwritten memo or note really from Alan Oldberg to Mr. Webb. It's undated but it must be after the middle of May, after the 16 of May, because there are a couple of attachments so dated. It says that "Yesterday's dry run, your remarks in response to questions re the Phillips Report indicated you had forgotten that you had furnished the Phillips Report, the NAA response and the NASA assessment thereof to the staff of the Senate Space Committee for its review. This was done on May 17th, 1967. Also Colonel Vogel and I offered to assist the staff in its review. This of course is in addition to our offer to the Comptroller General and the full committees in executive session." I thought that was an interesting indication perhaps of the stress that was experienced by Mr. Webb and others at the time.

SEAMANS: Yes. I would certainly concur that this Phillips Report loomed so large in everybody's mind that I would expect that Jim would have remembered something as significant as the fact that the report had been, and some other documents, delivered to the staff to review, because those are the kinds of things that Jim Webb really paid a lot of attention to, and when he made things available, made available documents that he considered to be proprietary or things of that sort, he went to great lengths to try to make them available to those that really had the right to see them, but in such a way that it wouldn't be harmful to the organizations in question. So I would think he would have remembered that. I don't frankly remember the specifics of the dry run. I'm not quite sure which hearing this was. We had an awful lot of hearings at that time. I remember one time we were sitting there, I think it was in front of the Senate, with the TV cameras on and the bright lights for four straight hours, which was--took us a fair amount of staying power to sit there and not leave the room for even a moment during that period of time.

COLLINS: Okay. Let's do one more, because I've come across one here that's a memorandum to the file, dated May 19th, 1967, prepared by you, and it's entitled "Negotiation of North American and Boeing Contracts for the Apollo Program." We might just quickly review this, as a snapshot of what was going on in that period in May. ... Resuming after a pause and I believe we already read this into the record, but the document we're referring to is dated May l9, 1967, "Memorandum to the Files from the Deputy Administrator, Subject, Negotiation of North American and Boeing Contracts for the Apollo Program."

SEAMANS: I guess the backdrop for this has to be, first of all, a little understanding of how things had gone prior to this, namely that the negotiations with the contractor had been through the program offices and through the center directors, and the centers, in most cases. In the case of Apollo, some of the negotiation was actually done at the program office level, which was above or outside of the centers, and now as a result of the organizational changes that have been made, after the fire, you've got Bernie Moritz working directly with Mr. Webb on a num- ber of affairs, including the negotiation with North American, and the question then is, what is Bernie Moritz's role in this and what is Sam Phillips' role?

I note in looking at the charts that I drew, which are in my own handwriting and my own lines, and I can--that I show several possibilities, one which really takes Sam Phillips and Gilruth, von Braun and so on really out of the negotiating loop, and puts Hosenball and Macchetti (?) from Headquarters in the loop along with an individual from Marshall Center, on one part of the negotiation, and somebody from the Manned Space Flight Center on the other. Then another possibility appears to be one of involvement of Moritz taking over the whole thing directly, I guess, and it was only a dotted line relationship to the Apollo Program Office, and the final one actually shows the Program Office still responsible for all of the matters relating to statement of work, work packages, schedules and costs, with the Moritz function responsible for the Memorandum of Understanding, the negotiating, the boilerplate and things of that sort.

I think--this is conjecture, but at that time I was really concerned about getting a member of our general counsel's office, namely Bernie Moritz, directly into the negotiation of work packages and so on, since he didn't know much about it, and when I drew up the alternatives, so that we could get together and discuss them, I did throw in here the--as it says, "In the discus- sion which took place on May 18," this is May 19, "Mr. Webb felt that a seventh guideline should be included as a negotiating principle, namely that it may not be possible to work out a new satisfactory relationship with North American."

So we'd go ahead and try to negotiate, but as an alternative, if we weren't successful, we might end up working this out with another contractor. At the very least that would put pressure on North American, if they knew that we felt that way. But the whole method of operation was, you can see from this, was after six years of time suddenly being thrown open for review. This wasn't a question of what to do with North American. What the issue here is, how to organize within NASA to get the job done, and it raises the whole question of the responsibility of the Program Offices vis-a-vis this new and somewhat ad hoc relationship that Mr. Webb established as advisory to him on how to deal with situations like North American. Very interesting. I'd completely forgotten writing this memorandum.

COLLINS: I'm unclear whether this memorandum settles the question of how the Moritz function related to the requirements for technical understanding.

SEAMANS: I don't think it did. I think it said that--what it says, this is now a memorandum that was written on May 19 that said, "In preparation for a meeting with Mr. Webb and Dr. Mueller on May 18th, at 10 AM, I prepared the attached notes and figures for discussion purposes." This is an after the fact, wanting to put in the record what we had done.


SEAMANS: It doesn't say in here which way it was going to come out.

COLLINS: Do you recall how it, organizationally, was put in place?

SEAMANS: My recollection is that the program offices maintained jurisdiction, with a very strong "helping hand" from the general counsel's office.

COLLINS: I think we've gone quite long enough today. Thank you very much.

Seamans 10 || Table of Contents

Rev. 09/06/96

© 1996 National Air and Space Musuem