Follow this link to skip to                                      the main content

Web Broadcasts

Text Size

Dr. Kurt Debus - Kennedy Space Center's First Center Director
 
Before the webcast of the "Dr. Kurt Debus - KSC's First Center Director," space enthusiasts from all over the world submitted questions for our program guests, Carey McCleskey, JoAnn Morgan and Sigi Northcutt. The questions were answered during the show. In case you missed the webcast, or would like to review each of the questions and answers, we have provided the program Q&A in its entirety below.

Dorie from Aurora
At the time Dr. Debus was the first Center Director, how many other NASA centers were in existence?
McCleskey: I believe almost all of them were in existence with the exception of Stennis Space Center and Dryden Flight Research Center. Also, really, Kennedy Space Center and the Johnson Space Center, which was known as the Manned Spacecraft Center when it first became a center for NASA, both entered at about the same time in the early 1960s, approximately the 1962 time frame.
Richard from Melbourne, FL
How much of Cape Canaveral facilities as we know them now existed before Dr. Debus arrived?
McCleskey: I know that I have seen some things written by Dr. Debus, describing how he and Dr. Gruene, who was one of his close confidantes, had come down to scout out the area. This area was a Joint Long Range Proving Ground established around 1950. And they came down for the Redstone, they were going to field the Redstone missile, their first missile project after they had moved up to Huntsville. And I think he described it as they came across an old wooden bridge from Cocoa over to the beach to just about nothing. I think he described Cocoa Beach as consisting principally of a traffic light, temporary buildings down to the south and Patrick Air Force Base, and to the north there was just one launch facility under construction. So there really wasn't much that existed when Dr. Debus arrived with his team in the early 1950s. But that would change through the 1950s as you saw on the history just recently presented.
Jaclyn from Melbourne, FL
What are the historical milestones best associated with Dr. Debus term of service as KSC Center Director?
McCleskey: Of course, KSC being in 1962, 1963 would overlook a couple of key milestones, such as the launch of America's first satellite, the Explorer I. But Mrs. Morgan, you lived through that era, what would you say were some of the other key milestones in Dr. Debus' career once the Center was established in 1963?

Morgan: Well, in terms of launch milestones, I think first of all, simply the decision to launch humans on the first rocket, I mean the Alan Shepard launch I think. As you know, Carey, we launched first a primate, a monkey, and I think Dr. Debus was very instrumental in helping assure that the timing was right, and that we were ready as a nation to risk putting a human on a vehicle. So I'd have to call that really one of the historic milestones. In the Apollo program, Apollo 8 was a huge, huge milestone, to first put people on that Saturn rocket. Obviously landing on the moon, Apollo 11, I mean it's hard to discriminate among the Apollo missions, but Dr. Debus of course was basically our first launch director, he helped put in place the safety in launch decision processes, starting early with the Redstone program, and making sure that people knew how to have a rigorous and safe process. Obviously that got reviewed by Dr. von Braun and a lot of the players up at the Space Center in Huntsville, but I think the initial aspects of that were so historic, and they still follow us today. I look at launch procedures today and I see so many commonalties with the procedures that we use that go all the way back to those beginnings in the 1950s.
Terry from Cocoa
What were the three top characteristics that you recall that enabled Dr. Debus to develop this Center from a fledgling arm (MFL)of then ABMA into the successful NASA Launch Operations Center during the Apollo era?
Morgan: Well, what I remember about him is when he wanted or needed something addressed, a problem solved, or a process delineated and written down where everybody used it, he didn't always just ask one person for the answer. He would cast a net out, and he'd say "Here's the problem; I want to have all of you go off and come back with what you think might be the solutions." Now, he might ask one of the chief engineers, like Andy Pickett or Ike Rigell or somebody, to take a look at all of those. But he wanted every idea, and sometimes he would pick and choose and knit those ideas together with a logic process. He was a working systems engineer, and a very professional, knowledgeable one. So he was engaged in that process. He was never just rubber-stamping something. I can remember meetings when he asked the most extraordinarily penetrating questions to try to understand, then he'd say "Will this and this work together?" Before we would see a decision and they'd landed on a plan of attack on resolving the problem.
Davis from New York
How did Dr. Debus get along with the other Germans? Was he high-ranking among them when they first came over from Germany?
Morgan: Well of course I saw the professional perspective. What I saw was both an environment of great mutual respect. I didn't see anything in the professional setting, if we were in a review or at the Launch Control Centers, or one of the blockhouses out at the launch pads, anything but professional respect for each other. I noticed that that environment extended to almost the entire team. I don't know if personally they liked each other or hated each other, but I have to say that you could observe an incredible environment of mutual respect between all of them.

Northcutt: I think that carried on to their private lives. They would get together, especially when we lived in Huntsville, there were a lot of Germans that lived on top of the mountain, and we all got together. They would socialize, they would do things in small groups but also in large groups. And they did have a mutual respect, I think they all did, for each other.
courtney from perry
What was the first rocket called?
McCleskey: We kicked this around in our office and I think the consensus was that in all probability it was called a failure! But I think the first rocket that flew out of Cape Canaveral was called Bumper. And I'd like to invite you all to stay tuned to KSC Direct! next month, when we have a special from Stan Starr covering the Bumper launch. But you know, this also brings up another point, and I find in Dr. Debus' lectures and papers he would like to describe history, he would go back to the medieval Chinese, who launched rockets and they had one called the Arrow of Flying Fire. So I'm not sure which time frame of rockets you're looking for, Courtney, but we've got a couple of different answers for you.
Aren from Vermont
Did Dr. Debus like Florida or Alabama better, as a place to live?
Northcutt: I think he liked both of them very much. He liked the mountain, as I said earlier, and he loved the ocean. So I think when he was traveling back and forth he probably liked that part the best, and then when he got older he liked Florida better, especially when they got rid of the mosquitos.
 
 
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center