Methodology for Choosing a Contractor for the Apollo Spacecraft Command and Service Module
Contributing USMA Research Unit(s)
Center for Innovation and Engineering, Civil and Mechanical Engineering
AIAA SciTech 2020 Forum, 6-10 January 2020 Orlando, FL
The decision of selecting a contractor to design and build the Apollo spacecraft was a critical decision that would seemingly have a direct effect on the ultimate success or failure of the manned lunar landing program. This paper attempts to piece together the complete and official story of NASA’s selection of North American Aviation, Inc. (NAA) for the Apollo Command and Service Module (CSM) contract. By analyzing Webb, Dryden, and Seamans’ direct remarks it is possible to gain insight into one of the most crucial management, engineering, and historical decisions of the 20th century. The paper begins by covering the background on the methods used to source contracts as they evolved from the NACA into a relatively-new NASA of the era. A detailed breakdown from primary sources investigates the methods behind the NASA source evaluation board (SEB), including asking: (1) what weight was a company’s ability to do zero-defect, high reliability manufacturing; (2) what weight was the ability to maintain cost and schedule; (3) was flight simulation a critical factor; and (4) what other external factors were weighed subjectively? Upon reviewing the process in place, the paper analyzes the decision reasoning of the SEB results by each bidder and their decision to choose the Martin Company over the other major bidders. The paper then covers the NASA administrators’ reasoning to overrule the SEB by ultimately choosing North American Aviation, Inc. over the Martin Company. Next, the paper discusses North American in the well-established debate on the aftermath of the Apollo 1 fire in 1967. The paper concludes with lessons-learned by examining the immediate lessons of the decision to choose North American Aviation over the Martin Company, such as the low weight that actual design played in their final selection and the high weight that experience played. Additionally, the paper discusses the significant penalties that companies faced by forming joint ventures with industry partners regarding business organization and the inherently high costs that came with it, that ultimately played a large role in the final selection. Finally, the paper concludes with a cohesive discussion of these lessons and potential forward work.
Paquin, Jeremy, "Methodology for Choosing a Contractor for the Apollo Spacecraft Command and Service Module" (2020). West Point Research Papers. 288.
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