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Dr. Dale Myers, PhD is a United States space program pioneer, and the father of our friends Janet Myers, '63 and Barbara Myers, '65

NASA engineer reached for stars

Myers had roles in Apollo moon missions, space shuttle program

By Bruce Lieberman

March 23, 2008

CARLSBAD – Nearly 40 years ago, in late October 1968, Dale Myers took part in a decision that led to one of the greatest achievements in human history.

Former NASA engineer and administrator Dale Myers of La Costa played an important role in the Apollo moon missions.
The question came from NASA headquarters: Are we ready to fly men around the moon?

Myers was in charge of the Apollo command and service modules for North American Rockwell, a major contractor that helped build the Saturn V rocket.

Myers recalls choking when he read the memo.

“A lot of people said: 'You can't do it. You haven't had any real development of the program,' ” he said in a recent interview at his home in La Costa. (continued) (click on photos to enlarge and view)

It was an amazingly bold move back in the fall of 1968. The U.S. space program was a decade old, and only seven years earlier Alan Shepard had become the first American to be launched into space.

As a boy growing up in Kansas City, Mo., Myers had been enthralled by Charles Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927. As a young aerodynamicist during World War II, he had helped design the P-51 Mustang, one of the most recognizable fighter planes of the war. Myers took part in the birth of the jet age, helped develop missiles and was now in charge of building the spaceships that would go to the moon.

But were they ready?

Only 21 months earlier, on Jan. 27, 1967, astronauts Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White had died in a fire during an Apollo launchpad test.

Apollo 7, NASA's return to manned spaceflight on Oct. 11-22, 1968, had been a success. But its astronauts had gone no farther than Earth orbit.

Apollo 8 would rocket astronauts for the first time out of the grip of Earth's gravity and into lunar orbit a quarter-million miles away.

NASA's question may have given Myers pause, but the engineer in him methodically worked toward an answer.

“I got all my top guys together, and we went though every system again to be sure about how we felt about them – what failures had occurred, and what little anomalies we had that stayed within the specs but still might have been a problem,” he said. “We didn't have any, so we said, 'Yeah, let's do it.' ”

Apollo 8's Christmas Eve broadcast in 1968 stands as one of those unforgettable events.

As millions watched a live TV transmission from Apollo 8 in lunar orbit, astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders took turns reading from the Book of Genesis.

Then Borman signed off with the words, “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”

It was a hopeful message that concluded a terrible year.

In Vietnam, the Tet Offensive obliterated any hope that the war would end soon. On March 31, a weary President Johnson announced he would not seek re-election.

In April and June, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. In August, violence erupted at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Student protests cascaded across the United States and Europe. On Aug. 21, Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia to crush a period of political liberalization known as the Prague Spring.

After so much upheaval, Apollo 8's photograph of Earth rising above the lunar horizon gave humanity pause, and it remains to this day one of the most historic images ever.

“You saved 1968,” a stranger wrote to Borman after the mission.

“NASA, then and now, looks back on the 1960s as its Golden Age, in which a bunch of people who were very, very smart and very technically savvy were able to do something that nobody else in the world has ever done previously,” said Roger Launius, chief historian for NASA from 1990 to 2002 and now senior curator for space history at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

“Just being associated with (the Apollo program) was a terrific thrill for me, and a highlight of my career,” Myers said.

“The thing that a lot of people don't see is what an enormous accomplishment that was, that all those flights worked – or most of them worked. My God – how did we get that kind of reliability in that number of flights? That's what amazed me. . . . It was a terrific revolution in engineering.”

In 1970, NASA hired Myers away from North American Rockwell to become associate administrator for manned spaceflight. During his four-year tenure, NASA nearly lost and then rescued a stricken Apollo 13 – a mission profiled in Ron Howard's 1995 film, “Apollo 13.”

Four more missions made it to the moon, and Skylab, America's first space station, was launched. NASA also orchestrated the meeting of U.S. and Russian astronauts in space with the Apollo-Soyuz mission. Finally, the agency began development of the space shuttle.

Twenty-two years ago, after the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch, Myers was recruited by President Reagan to become NASA's deputy administrator to help put the agency back on its feet and get the shuttle flying again.

“We had a number of people who had worked on Apollo in one way or another, and that experience was invaluable to me and to NASA,” said Richard Truly, a shuttle astronaut who became associate administrator for spaceflight in 1986 and worked closely with Myers after the Challenger accident.

Myers brought an optimism to the agency at a time when the future of the space program was unclear, Launius said.

“He had a very can-do attitude,” Launius said. “He was really technically savvy.

As NASA works toward sending humans back to the moon and on to Mars, Myers said he is confident the agency will succeed. In 2003, he testified before Congress and advocated a return to an Apollo-like configuration for NASA's next-generation spacecraft, with a capsule that sits atop a rocket during launch.

Today, Myers and his wife, Marge, live in La Costa. Two grown daughters and their families live in San Marcos and Fallbrook.

Myers is now taking an astronomy class, taught by a University of California Berkeley professor on a DVD. “He's terrific,” Myers said of his instructor. “He can almost talk down to my level.”

In his den, Myers displays models of the space shuttle, Apollo spacecraft, missiles and airplanes he worked on over more than half a century.

The oldest is the P-51 Mustang he worked on at North American Aviation. But Myers' love of flying predates that.

In 1927, when the space shuttle and Apollo were the stuff of science fiction, Myers met Lindbergh. At an airport in Kansas City, Myers' father pushed his son through a crowd to shake the pilot's hand.

Standing well over 6 feet in his long flying jacket, leather helmet and goggles, Lindbergh was a giant.

“He pushed me through the crowd, and he wasn't a pushy guy,” Myers said of his father. “I don't even know why he did it, but he pushed me through the crowd and I shook hands with Lindbergh.

“I was 5 years old, and that did it. That did it.”


1. To read more about the P-51 Mustang, see:


2. To read more about Dr. Myers and the Hound Dog program, see:

www.aerospacelegacyfoundation.org/ img206.jpg



Age: 86

Residence: La Costa

Education: B.S., aeronautical engineering, University of Washington, 1943

1989-present: president, Dale Myers and Associates aerospace consultancy

1986-89: deputy administrator, NASA (during space shuttle Challenger investigation and recovery)

1984-86: president, Dale Myers and Associates

1979-84: president, Jacobs Engineering Group, Pasadena

1977-79: undersecretary, U.S. Department of Energy

1974-77: vice president, Rockwell International; president, North American Aircraft Group

1970-74: associate administrator, manned spaceflight, NASA (during Apollo 13-17, Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz, space shuttle development)

1964-69: vice president and program manager, Apollo command and service modules, North American Rockwell, Downey

1957-64: vice president and program manager, Hound Dog air-launched missile, North American Aviation

1943-57: aerodynamicist to deputy director, aerophysics department of North American Aviation


More about Dr. Myers:

From: http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4209/ch6-6.htm

SP-4209 The Partnership: A History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project
Estimating the Costs of a Mission

[175] The possibility of flying a joint mission with the Soviets in mid-1975 posed some interesting problems for Dale Myers' staff in OMSF. When they began to look at this problem in the fall of 1971, it became apparent that they would have to make some quick decisions about this yet-to-be-authorized project if they were to meet the proposed launch date. MSC would need to start the development work on the docking module and the docking system in early 1972. And modification of the CSM should start immediately. Limits on time and money were not the only problems. OMSF [176] had been advised by North American Rockwell that beginning in October 1971 the labor force that had been building the command and service modules (CSMs) would be reduced. A decision on which CSMs to set aside for an international rendezvous and docking mission (IRDM) had to be made quickly. Gilruth had requested that 115 and 115A be completed because they were of the most recent series of CSMs, with a scientific instrument module (SIM) bay into which earth resources survey instruments could be placed. The older 111 CSM was closer to being ready for launch, but it did not have a SIM bay. CSM 119, the Skylab backup and rescue spacecraft, could not be allocated to IRDM until the final Skylab visit, then scheduled for 1974. When the money, time, and labor issues were balanced against the wishes of the mission planners, some hard choices had to be made.28

Dale Myers had written to Bob Gilruth four days before the delegation's departure to Moscow to ask him to look over a list of "Suggested Guidelines for a Minimum Cost International Docking Module." This list, prepared by William C. Schneider, Director of the Skylab Program, reflected OMSF's concern for keeping the IRDM equipment simple and cost effective. Schneider, drawing from his experiences with Skylab, suggested that the module be kept as small as practical and that it be designed with a high safety factor. He thought it best to follow the Gemini design principle of placing many systems, particularly wiring, on the outside of the docking module, thus lowering flammability concerns. At the end of his recital of 20 items, he said:

The fundamental, you can see, is keep it simple. Of course, that's how Skylab started in 1966. I have no solution to maintain that posture other than a generalized observation that an active Headquarters staff is invaluable in detecting and controlling policy variations. . . .

I strongly urge that the Skylab system of PRR, PDR, CDR[*] be adhered to and that short cuts be resisted despite the immediate lure of maintaining schedule. Each time we've rushed, cancelled, or hurried by one of these milestones, I've come to regret it later on.29

Schneider had additional thoughts when it came to keeping costs to a minimum. He proposed that Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, develop and build the docking module; according to Schneider they had a proven capability (Saturn launch vehicles, Apollo telescope mount, multiple docking adapter for Skylab), existing facilities, and the [177] proper labor mix. These elements would permit Marshall to do the job more cheaply than MSC and a contractor. Furthermore, he believed that with Shuttle Orbiter and Skylab drawing heavily on Houston's personnel, the docking module development "probably would not receive much attention or would divert talent from the other tasks." Schneider could see only one area in which MSFC might have some difficulties - working with the Flight Operations Directorate at MSC. To solve that problem, he recommended that Clifford E. Charlesworth, Eugene F. Kranz, or Glynn Lunney be transferred to Marshall as "Module Manager to insure a clean interface."30

Myers sent Schneider's list of 20 guidelines to Gilruth, with the request that the MSC program plan include these points, but Schneider's other thoughts about building the docking module at Marshall were not included.31 Gilruth responded that his team basically agreed with Schneider's guidelines but countered that these points had already developed somewhat differently. He enclosed the fourth revision of the "International Rendezvous and Docking Mission Guidelines and Constraints Document" for OMSF's perusal. Gilruth told Myers that MSC "would be glad to discuss the guidelines and the method of implementation in detail with you and your personnel at the appropriate time."32 Implicit in his remarks was the idea that the IRDM was a Houston project. It involved Apollo spacecraft, and MSC knew how to get the job done. Only Frutkin, the interpreters, and several secretaries from Washington had joined the Houston delegation that went to Moscow in November. As the joint effort progressed, Marshall would be noticeably absent during the negotiations. The Americans might fly with Salyut, but it was not likely that the Soviets would rendezvous with Marshall's Skylab. At the November-December meeting, the Soviets and Americans ruled out a union with the first Skylab; if such a mission was ever undertaken, it would be with "a Skylab or another type [of station] to put into orbit after 1975."33

Continuing his dialogue with Gilruth, Myers sent his comments on the International Rendezvous and Docking Program Plan to MSC on 14 December 1971. Myers agreed that this document could serve as the basis for further discussions with the Advanced Missions Program Office at Headquarters, and he advised Gilruth that Phil Culbertson's staff would "work with you and your people in finalizing such a plan." OMSF and Advanced Planning had some specific items that they wanted Houston to look at again. MSC had proposed that North American Rockwell undertake developing the docking module on a sole source procurement plan. Myers' staff questioned the justification for not soliciting other contractors in open competition, and they wanted Gilruth to think about competitive selection. Likewise, OMSF preferred that the prebreathing requirement during transfer be eliminated, if [178] possible, and that the planing schedules be further refined.34 Gilruth's staff worked on these problems throughout December and into February 1972.

MSC's studies of the costs of an International Rendezvous and Docking Mission and the best way to contract for its equipment produced an avalanche of paper. Data indicated that such a mission, using CSM 115 and 115A, would cost in excess of $267 million and could run nearly as high as $280 million for three docking modules (one test, one backup, and one flight), seven docking mechanisms (two flight, four test, and one spare), and experiment packages. These investigations convinced the Center management that experience would produce economy in this case, so North American Rockwell should develop and fabricate the docking module and docking mechanism. As the builder of the CSM, Rockwell would be able to work with the command module docking module interface with minimum difficulty. In addition, they had the Apollo manufacturing equipment and the necessary labor skills, if the job were begun before the company started laying off their experienced employees. However, the ultimate decisions about how much money NASA could afford to allocate to the mission and who the contractor would be had to come from Headquarters.35

Dale Myers met with the top management** on 24 February to discuss the cost of the proposed docking mission, and they reached three key decisions. First, the planning effort was to be oriented toward a program that would include a demonstration flight, but the total program effort was not to exceed $250 million. Based upon the data already generated, this ceiling precluded the use of either CSM 115 or 115A. Second, Houston would have to base its planning on the use of CSM 111 as the likely flight test vehicle and CSM 119 as a potential backup vehicle (assuming that it was not flown during Skylab). The budget included the necessary modifications for CSM 119 to make it flight ready, but it did not cover the expense of an actual mission based on 119. The final decision made on 24 February concerned experiments. Since the 111 and 119 service modules did not have scientific instrument bays, the experiments would have to be much simpler than the earth resources survey originally proposed. Of the $250 million total, $10 million were allocated for developing experiments that could be housed in the command and docking modules. No more work on CSM 115 and 115A was contemplated.36

Managing the development of the IRDM hardware was the task of the Manned Spacecraft Center and its new Director, Christopher C. Kraft. Effective 14 January 1972, Robert Gilruth had assumed the position of [179] Director of Key Personnel Development for NASA, and Deputy Director Kraft had moved into the number one position. Like his predecessor, Kraft was an old-timer in the American space program, joining NACA in 1945 and becoming one of the original members of the Project Mercury team. Before becoming Gilruth's deputy in 1969, he had been Director of Flight Operations in Houston. The tasks facing his center in 1972 included preparing for Skylab, developing the multipurpose Space Shuttle*** and proceeding with Apollo/Salyut - whose teams were already preparing for the next round of discussions with the Soviets as Kraft settled into his new office.37

* Preliminary Requirements Review, Preliminary Design Review, and Critical Design Review were elements of the NASA spacecraft development cycle, which had evolved since the early days of Apollo.

** Those present were Administrator J. C. Fletcher, G. M. Low, W. H. Shapley, and A. W. Frutkin.

*** The Space Shuttle had received Presidential approval on 5 Jan. 1972.

28. Myers to George M. Low, memo, "Need for FY 73 Funding for Post Skylab CSM Mission," 22 Oct. 1971; letter, Myers to Gilruth, 16 Sept. 1971; Myers to Rocco A. Petrone, memo, "Excess Apollo Flight Hardware," 29 Oct. 1971; Gilruth to Myers, 25 Mar. 1971, with NASA, MSC, "Post Skylab Missions Summary Report," 17 Mar. 1971 enclosed; and Gilruth to Myers, 25 Aug. 1971. This latter letter from Gilruth had argued for completion of 115 and 115A for the IRDM mission and provided specific cost figures. In the final months of 1971, several briefings were held at MSC on the subject of how best to use the remaining CSMs. See [MSC], "CSM Utilization Briefing," 28 Oct. 1971; NASA, MSC, "Utilization of Apollo Hardware Between Skylab Period and Shuttle Availability," 15 Nov. 1971 and, as revised, 7 Dec. 1971.

29. William C. Schneider to Myers, memo, "Docking Module," 24 Sept. 1971; and Myers to Gilruth, 22 Nov. 1971. (HTML formatter's note: the book, from which this transcription was taken, omitted a reference to note 29. I have assigned it to the quote on page 176 of that book.)

30. Schneider to Myers, memo, "Docking Module," 24 Sept. 1971.

31. Myers to Schneider, note, 28 Sept. 1971.

32. Gilruth to Myers, 13 Dec. 1971.

33. "Summary of Results," 29 Nov.-6 Dec. 1971; and Myers to Lunney and Frutkin, memo, "Sample Summary of Results," 22 Nov. 1971.

34. Myers to Gilruth, 14 Dec. 1971, with enclosure, NASA, MSC, "International Rendezvous and Docking Mission Program Plan," 21 Sept. 1971.

35. A sample of the documentation includes [MSC], "International Rendezvous and Docking Mission Contracting Situation," 23 Dec. 1971; [MSC], "Cost Estimate for USA/USSR Docking Mission," 7 Jan. 1972; [MSC], "Cost Assumptions," 27 Jan. 1972; [MSC], "Cost Assumptions," 28 Jan. 1972; [MSC], "Cost Assumptions," 1 Feb. 1972; [MSC], "CSM/AMDS Status Briefing," 1 Feb.1972; [MSC], "Program Options," 17 Feb. 1972; NASA, MSC, "CSM/AMDS Planning Briefing," 8 Mar. 1972; NASA, MSC, "Residual Apollo Hardware Status," 21 Mar. 1972; NASA, MSC, "Residual Apollo Hardware Status," 27 Max. 1972; and NASA, MSC, "NR Sustaining: Currently Negotiated Manpower NR Recommended Sustaining," 14 Mar. 1972.

36. Myers, memo for record, "Compatible Rendezvous and Docking Study and Potential Flight Test," 29 Mar. 1972.

37. NASA News Release, MSC, 72-15, 14 Jan. 1972; and Carol H. Sweeny to distribution, memo, "Agreements and Action Items from January 11-12, 1972 Meeting [OMSF]," 31 Jan. 1972.


Thank you to Rick Wilson, '65 for noticing this article and sending it to the SPOON.