Surveyor Day–Monday December 14, 1964

Editors Preface:

Prospects for a successful Surveyor mission appeared exceedingly dim in 1964. The first launch, originally scheduled for August 1963, was no longer a possibility in 1964. The spacecraft development suffered many difficulties over the year. The crucial drop test program, necessary to validate the descent flight control system, had suffered two failures without a success. NASA headquarters became quite concerned about the program and conducted a full-scale review in March. This was followed by a detailed JPL review in April. NASA concluded that the JPL staff assigned to the project was insufficient and as a result was increased from 100 to 500 engineers assigned to monitor Hughes in more detail. These problems caused both the JPL and Hughes project managers to be replaced. In addition, the Centaur program was also having difficulties. As of the end of 1964 there had only been one successful Centaur flight of the four attempted.   As the year came to an end there were concerns about the morale of both the Hughes and JPL staff and it was felt necessary to provide the project team with a new, more realizable program schedule. In order to publicize these objectives, a meeting of the entire project staff was planned and held on December 14.

Surveyor Day – a time to remember—Hughes News December 18, 1964 transcribed by Faith Macpherson.

The Surveyor spacecraft’s role as a prime element in U.S. space policy and its importance to national and company prestige was highlighted as more than 2500 members of the Hughes-Jet Propulsion Laboratory Surveyor Team met Monday to start the drive down the homestretch toward the late 1965 launch date.

Terming the Surveyor program “unbelievably important” in its impact on the rest of the world, Vice President and General Manager L.A. Hyland told the huge “Surveyor Day” throng that they are “carrying the torch for the United States and the rest of the world in direct competition with Russia. We must not fail.”

Feel the Challenge

No one in the audience, composed primarily of Hughesites from throughout the company who are involved in the gigantic Surveyor effort, could help but feel the challenge and the responsibility for meeting admittedly difficult delivery deadlines.

All, however, were assured by Space Systems Division Manager Fred P. Adler that the program is “feasible, reasonable, and well defined.”

“The success of Surveyor is crucial to the division and the program will make or break the Hughes reputation as a contractor on major space programs,” Dr. Adler said. “The individual has a real contribution to make. All of us have a real chance to become real heroes to the company….or the opposite. To succeed takes a team of dedicated and success-oriented people who each will take responsibility for his own contribution.   We are going to make sure that you are aware where the program stands and how it is going.”

Essence of the Day

And that was the essence of “Surveyor Day” – to inform people associated in any way with the program of where it stands now, where it is going, and what has to be done to get there.

An impressive list of speakers charted the path.

William H. Pickering, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, manager of the unmanned lunar program for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said that the Surveyor program holds the highest priority in unmanned projects and is clearly essential as the next step in lunar exploration.

“Surveyor, with its challenge of actually making a landing on the moon, is one of the most fascinating programs in the nation today,” Dr. Pickering said. “It certainly is one of the most sophisticated NASA has undertaken.”

He pointed out that Surveyor will make the first controlled lunar landing and will provide information on the landing site for the Apollo manned lunar landing later on.

“Exert Every Effort”

“Surveyor is committed to support Apollo,” Dr. Pickering said. “Growing costs and slipping schedules, however, are of concern to NASA and it behooves both JPL and Hughes to exert every possible effort to meet the launch date. This date is real. It can be met. But time and money are short.

“There is no room for mistakes. Design must be right, manufacture must follow design. There is no room for incompetence or mistakes anywhere in the project,” the noted scientist declared.

After showing pictures of Ranger 7’s successful moon shot, Dr. Pickering put it all in a nutshell when he said:

“Ranger does not answer many of the key questions which must be answered before man lands on the moon. It is up to you. Surveyor is the next big event in moon exploration.”

Hyland Speaks


Mr. Hyland, before introducing Dr. Pickering, said “there’s no alibi for anybody anymore. It’s up to us. Economically and as a matter of national prestige the landing of an instrumented vehicle on the moon is extremely important.”

Then Mr. Hyland added a personal note, which explains his own dedication to the program.

“Most of you have 20, 30, or 40 years of your careers remaining – time to become involved in many other great projects. But my career is drawing to a close and I can’t think of any better way to wind up a long career than to participate in a landing on the moon.

“I want to land one of our vehicles on the moon! There will be no lack of interest, no lack of support from the central office.”

Vice President Allen E. Puckett, Aerospace Group executive cited some of the frustrations and uncertainties early in the program, along with some of the accomplishments of the past. But he said, “what lies ahead is the most crucial part of this program. We are coming into the homestretch – the real dash for the finish. The part of the program between now and the first launch in an attempt to land on the moon is the crucial time.”

He pointed out that many tough technical problems had to be solved and that there were difficult compromises to arrive at, measured against the boundaries of time and cost.

“By means of a truly intensive joint effort we (HAC-JPL) have arrived at a definition of the program between now and the first launch. We know what we are going to do,” Dr. Puckett declared.

He said that the actual launch date, still classified, was selected because it represents essentially the last practical moment for a launch that will permit a day-light landing on the moon so that television pictures can be transmitted back to earth under best possible conditions.

Much to Be Done

There still is much work to be done, specific equipment improvements to be accomplished, and there is the element of risk, but the Surveyor program is practical, “do-able,” Dr. Puckett said.

“We must understand the program plans clearly and implement them with great precision and accuracy,” he added. “And I hope that we share a feeling of great excitement as we near our goal and that you will accept individual responsibility as we move to meet our objectives.”

Details of the “hard core” Surveyor program were spelled out by R.L. Roderick, assistant manager of Space Systems Division and manager of the Surveyor program.

Subsystem testing is continuing, Dr. Roderick said, with the drop-tests of T-2 at Holloman AFB the most dramatic – and presenting considerable difficulties though being pursued with success following one major setback.

“Subsystems tests to date, however, give us confidence in the future,” he said.

Important Milestone

Aug. 2 looms as the fifth and most important milestone in the “hard core” program, Dr. Roderick said.

“That’s the delivery date of the completed spacecraft, SC-1, to Cape Kennedy. And that’s Aug. 2 – not Aug. 4 or Aug. 5. These are vital days. Aug. 2 is the latest we can possibly deliver to use the last ‘window’ of 1965 that will permit us to land on the moon in daylight.”

Then, he listed the five key dates between the time of the meeting and shipment of spacecraft:

Dec. 17 – A Thursday – From upgrade to systems test (accomplished). This involved putting the first spacecraft into systems test.

March 23 – A Tuesday – Start of first mission sequence, sequence of events the spacecraft will meet on the way to the moon.

May 6 – A Thursday – Start of vibration tests, on the X-axis, part of the flight acceptance test.

June 23 – A Wednesday – Pumpdown starts for the solar thermal vacuum tests which simulate all the conditions, including radiation, the spacecraft is expected to encounter in transit to the moon.

Aug. 2 – A Monday – Shipment of spacecraft from El Segundo to Cape Kennedy.

“That gives us 160 working days from now,” Dr. Roderick said. “We are wholly committed and hope all of you are, to achieving this goal.”

Russians Ready

As if to stress the challenge to Hughesites, Mr. Hyland pointed out a sobering fact. Every time there has been a suitable window for a launch, the Russians have had a vehicle ready.

“It is our best hope that when the window takes place we will be able to fire. We know that the Russians will be able to.”

Vice President John H. Richardson, who conducted the “Surveyor Day” meeting, introduced Howard Haglund, head of the Surveyor program for JPL, then closed with these remarks:

“You have heard of the difficult job it has been to nail down these dates, to define the program in the detail we now have, of the shipping dates, and of the magnitude of the job ahead. These are sobering factors to consider. Much must be accomplished by all of us in the few months in front of us.”

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About Jack Fisher

Jack was a systems engineer at Hughes from 1961 to 1992. He contributed to various programs including Surveyor, Pioneer Venus, Galileo, Intelsat VI and innumerable proposals. He was the manager of of the Spacecraft Systems Engineering Lab until his retirement. Upon retirement Jack taught systems engineering at a number of national and international venues.