Manned Spacecraft Center

MSC.jpgThe Manned Spacecraft Center (Modern day Johnson Space Center) has its origins in legislation shepherded to enactment in 1958 by then-U.S. Senator Lyndon Johnson. The Space Task Group (STG) was created on November 5, 1958 with Langley Research Center engineers under the direction of Robert Gilruth, to direct Project Mercury and follow-on manned space programs. The STG originally reported to the Goddard Space Flight Center organization.

Apollo program
After President John F. Kennedy set the goal in 1961 to put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade, this group was assigned the responsibility to lead the Apollo Program, and it became clear Gilruth would need a larger organization, with new test facilities and research laboratories suitable to mount an expedition to the Moon. In August 1961, John F. Parsons, Associate Director of the Ames Research Center, was tasked with heading a site selection team. Requirements for the new site included the availability of water transport and an all-weather airport, proximity to a major telecommunications network, availability of established industrial workers and contractor support, an available supply of water, a mild climate permitting year-round outdoor work, and a culturally attractive community.

Houston was initially included because of the proximity to the US Army’s 4,700-acre (19 km2) San Jacinto Ordnance Depot located on the Houston Ship Channel, and two nearby universities: the University of Houston and Rice University. The land for the new facility was donated by Rice University and was situated in an undeveloped area 25 miles (40 km) southeast of Houston near Galveston Bay.

On September 19, 1961, NASA Administrator James E. Webb announced the conversion of the Space Task Group into the new Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) to be located at the Houston site. Immediately after Webb’s announcement, Gilruth and his staff began planning the move from Langley to Houston, using what would grow to 295,996 square feet of leased office and laboratory space in 11 scattered sites. On November 1, the conversion of the Task Group to MSC became official.

Gemini_Mission.jpg

Construction of the center, designed by Charles Luckman, began in April 1962, and Gilruth’s new organization was formed and moved to the temporary locations by September. That month, Kennedy gave a speech at Rice University on the US space program. The speech is famous for highlighting the Apollo program, but Kennedy also made reference to the new Center:

What was once the furthest outpost on the old frontier of the West will be the furthest outpost on the new frontier of science and space. Houston, … with its Manned Spacecraft Center, will become the heart of a large scientific and engineering community. During the next 5 years the National Aeronautics and Space Administration expects to double the number of scientists and engineers in this area, to increase its outlays for salaries and expenses to $60 million a year; to invest some $200 million in plant and laboratory facilities; and to direct or contract for new space efforts over $1 billion from this Center in this City.

—John F. Kennedy, Speech at Rice University, September 12, 1962

The 1,620-acre facility was officially opened for business in September 1963. The facility was to be the primary flight control center for all subsequent U.S. manned space missions from Project Gemini forward. The MSC’s Mission Control Center first became operational for the flight of Gemini 4 in June 1965.

Manned Spacecraft Center

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