Winning the Bid that Changed History

The Cradle of Aviation’s Docent Sam Koeppel was the Technical Editor on the Proposal that won the winning bid. He is available for interviews upon request.

So well within the time frame set forth by President John F. Kennedy on May 25, 1961 – that of putting a man on the moon and returning him safely “before this decade is out” the job has been done, and the future beckons.

But getting that task accomplished in the first place deserves some attention, for it’s been called the single greatest achievement in the history of man. And for Grumman, it has been the finest hour, although it didn’t start that way.

In 1960, the Corporation submitted a preliminary study on Project Apollo. It was turned down. A year later, Grumman submitted another proposal to NASA. Again it was rejected. And in 1962- convinced that a lunar orbiting rendezvous was the best approach-the Company did a feasibility study.

By mid-1962 The Grumman engineering team was convinced that the lunar orbit rendezvous was the best method. This approach called for the Lunar Module to orbit the moon attached to the Command¬† and Service module then separate from them, descent to the lunar surface when the mission was complete to ascend and allow the astronauts to rejoin the remaining orbiting modules r the return trip to Earth. Kelly further recalled that the lunar orbit rendezvous approach was selected because it was more economical. One o f the main advantages…was that it allowed you to specialize the spacecraft..

Specifically, the Command Module could be specialized for re-entry which was a very demanding environment the Lunar Module was able to be specialized for operations in space and on the moon.

NASA was convinced of this approach, which was originally derived by John Houboldt of NASA, as superior. Requests for proposals were issued by NASA with Grumman submitting its response in September 1962.

According to Joseph Gavin, VP of Grumman, The request for bid on the Lunar Module was unique…in that it did not ask for a specific design. It was almost like a game of “Twenty Questions”. You answer these questions and if we think you know what you’re talking about , well talk to you later.”

At 5 pm on Wednesday, Nov 7 word was received at Bethpage that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is entering into negotiations with Grumman on a $350mm dollar contract to build Project Apollo’s Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) – a spacecraft in which Americans will land on the moon and return to a moon-orbiting mother craft for the journey back to earth.” Persistence and a good idea had carried the day.

Grumman President Clint Towl released the following statement. “We are more than pleased to have been selection to negotiate as the contractor to produce the vehicle which will send our astronauts on the moon and return them to their space rendezvous. Full credit for this achievement must be given to the engineering and technical staff who have worked hard on the LEM (particularly known as the ‘moon bug’) Proposal, and the studies leading up to it. But our initial reaction here is much more than a sense of this accomplishment. Rather it’s is a sense of the important job that must yet be done.

Grumman News Special Bulletin, Nov 9, 1962; November 30, 1962

The Lunar Module: A National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark, 2002

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