Author Topic: NASA Apollo scandals  (Read 305 times)

Offline Peter B

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NASA Apollo scandals
« on: December 22, 2018, 01:33:52 AM »
I said:
Quote
We probably know more about the actual scandals that are part of the history of Apollo than you do (as well as the stunning achievements) such as:

- The decision to locate Mission Control in Houston;

- The process which determined that Mission Control would use IBM computers; and

- The process by which North American won the contract for the construction of the Apollo CSM.

AtomicDog said:
Quote
Now I'm curious. Care to spin those real NASA scandals off into their separate thread? I'd like to learn more.

I won't go into detail, as the odds are that others here know more than me about each of them. But each is mentioned in the Murray & Cox book "Apollo - the Race to the Moon".

Houston: Of all the places in the continental USA Mission Control might have been located, the decision-makers just happened to choose a city where there was a parcel of available land which was close to another parcel of land owned by a good mate of a certain Vice President. That good mate's parcel of land was converted into a large number of residential blocks, and he made a lot of money out of it.

IBM computers: When architects asked NASA engineers for specifications for the buildings which would become Mission Control, one spec they had to provide was the size of the rooms for the computers. The engineers just assumed that NASA would use IBM computers, and so the rooms were designed to be exactly the right size for the IBM computers they had in mind. In due course people from other computer manufacturers heard about this and they noisily pointed out to Jim Webb himself that the choice of computer had to be a competitive tender, just like everything else. Webb, realising he couldn't silence these people, told the execs of the companies that Kennedy's deadline meant NASA now didn't have time to go through the normal tender process. So he challenged them to provide what IBM would be providing and on better terms, and they all backed down and agreed that NASA should stick with IBM.

CSM contract: When all the companies put together their bids and presentations for the construction of the CSM, North American Aviation was rated third of five bidders (I forget who was first or second) by the panel responsible for the decision. Then the panel was leaned on and asked to recalibrate their scores based on a couple of extra criteria. NAA performed a bit better but still weren't first. Then NASA announced that NAA had won the contract. The word was that the astronauts had played a big role in the decision, possibly due to NAA's construction of the X-15.

Or at least, that's how I remember it without the book as a reference.

Online bknight

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Re: NASA Apollo scandals
« Reply #1 on: December 22, 2018, 09:32:10 AM »
I said:
Quote
We probably know more about the actual scandals that are part of the history of Apollo than you do (as well as the stunning achievements) such as:

- The decision to locate Mission Control in Houston;

- The process which determined that Mission Control would use IBM computers; and

- The process by which North American won the contract for the construction of the Apollo CSM.

AtomicDog said:
Quote
Now I'm curious. Care to spin those real NASA scandals off into their separate thread? I'd like to learn more.

I won't go into detail, as the odds are that others here know more than me about each of them. But each is mentioned in the Murray & Cox book "Apollo - the Race to the Moon".

Houston: Of all the places in the continental USA Mission Control might have been located, the decision-makers just happened to choose a city where there was a parcel of available land which was close to another parcel of land owned by a good mate of a certain Vice President. That good mate's parcel of land was converted into a large number of residential blocks, and he made a lot of money out of it.


This isn't really that conspiratorial.  I suspect although not researched, that most government physical locations are "chosen" in this manner.  The location is in a congressional district, or state and in this case the state was the VP home state with all those juicy jobs.
Quote

IBM computers: When architects asked NASA engineers for specifications for the buildings which would become Mission Control, one spec they had to provide was the size of the rooms for the computers. The engineers just assumed that NASA would use IBM computers, and so the rooms were designed to be exactly the right size for the IBM computers they had in mind. In due course people from other computer manufacturers heard about this and they noisily pointed out to Jim Webb himself that the choice of computer had to be a competitive tender, just like everything else. Webb, realising he couldn't silence these people, told the execs of the companies that Kennedy's deadline meant NASA now didn't have time to go through the normal tender process. So he challenged them to provide what IBM would be providing and on better terms, and they all backed down and agreed that NASA should stick with IBM.

CSM contract: When all the companies put together their bids and presentations for the construction of the CSM, North American Aviation was rated third of five bidders (I forget who was first or second) by the panel responsible for the decision. Then the panel was leaned on and asked to recalibrate their scores based on a couple of extra criteria. NAA performed a bit better but still weren't first. Then NASA announced that NAA had won the contract. The word was that the astronauts had played a big role in the decision, possibly due to NAA's construction of the X-15.

Or at least, that's how I remember it without the book as a reference.
History is full of bidding "anomalies" considering government contracts and a lot of the decision making is political, not monetary in nature.

ETA:  From Wiki
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnson_Space_Center

Political pressures not a conspiracy directed the choice to the Houston (Actually Clear Lake a suburb of Houston)
« Last Edit: December 22, 2018, 09:57:34 AM by bknight »
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Offline Peter B

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Re: NASA Apollo scandals
« Reply #2 on: December 22, 2018, 11:52:17 AM »
History is full of bidding "anomalies" considering government contracts and a lot of the decision making is political, not monetary in nature.

That may be, but these examples seem to stand in fairly stark contrast to other Apollo procurement processes and decisions which seem to have been awarded on their merits.

Quote
ETA:  From Wiki
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnson_Space_Center

Political pressures not a conspiracy directed the choice to the Houston (Actually Clear Lake a suburb of Houston)

Just to be clear, I wasn't suggesting there was any conspiracy in any of these cases (at least not in the traditional Apollo Hoax sense). Rather, these were political scandals, which I submit is a slightly different animal.

And just to provide a modern counterpart, the Australian government has announced in the last couple of weeks that the new Australian Space Agency (which will not be named Australian Research & Space Exploration!) will be located in Adelaide, South Australia. Pretty much every state government had put in a bid to have the agency based in its capital city, along with the ACT government. And while there are a number of companies with interests in space which are based in Adelaide, it's hard to shift the idea there was a strong political element to the decision. After all, similar companies are based in other cities, and the agency's parent department is based in Canberra.

Offline AtomicDog

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Re: NASA Apollo scandals
« Reply #3 on: December 22, 2018, 05:35:44 PM »
Typical government pork, to which not even NASA is immune. Thanks, Peter B.
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Offline Glom

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Re: NASA Apollo scandals
« Reply #4 on: January 03, 2019, 10:17:11 AM »
Isn't there a rocket launch site near Adelaide?

Might have something to do with it.

Offline Glom

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Re: NASA Apollo scandals
« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2019, 10:24:15 AM »
Besides, what's the angle? Doesn't look like many ministers are South Australian, particularly those with relevant briefs. Who's shilling for that state in the federal government?

Offline JayUtah

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Re: NASA Apollo scandals
« Reply #6 on: January 03, 2019, 11:56:31 AM »
Typical government pork, to which not even NASA is immune. Thanks, Peter B.

Not only is NASA not immune, it's particularly susceptible.  And NASA isn't happy about it.  For many years NASA's budget has been a dumping ground for vague science-related projects to benefit individual constituencies -- "aerospace" museums in cornfields, etc.  NASA hates it because it fragments their resources in ways that don't contribute to any sort of national space policy or program.  NASA is already fragmented enough, being a loosely-associated collection of relatively independent research and operations stations.  Bidding and procurement is more a nightmare at NASA than at many other government agencies, which is why it's easy for legislators to shoehorn useless pet projects.
"Facts are stubborn things." --John Adams

Offline Obviousman

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Re: NASA Apollo scandals
« Reply #7 on: January 03, 2019, 03:03:21 PM »
Isn't there a rocket launch site near Adelaide?

Might have something to do with it.

Yes and no. There is the Woomera Range Complex, which started life as a rocket testing ground for joint UK / Australian projects. That fell into decay from the early 1970s, IIRC. The range itself is now used as a weapons test area.