But where to build it? On July 7, 1961, NASA Administrator James E. Webb directed the establishment of preliminary site criteria and a site selection team. Essential criteria for the new site included the availability of water transport and a first-class all-weather airport, proximity to a major telecommunications network, a well established pool of industrial and contractor support, a readily available supply of water, a mild climate permitting year-round outdoor work and a culturally attractive community. By August, some 23 sites had been selected as possibilities including Jacksonville, Fla.; Miami; Baton Rouge, La.; Corpus Christi, Texas; San Diego; and San Francisco. Houston was initially included by virtue of the San Jacinto Ordnance Depot, since military rather than commercial facilities were judged best for helping handle NASA's large retinue of jets and specialized equipment, and because of its recognized, prominent universities-Rice and Texas A&M.
Image above: U.S. President John F. Kennedy pays tribute to astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. for his February 1962 flight aboard Friendship 7. The Mercury-Atlas 6 mission marked the free world's first orbital manned flight. Vice-President Lyndon Baines Johnson (for whom the Manned Spacecraft Center was later to be named), NASA Administrator James Webb and Glenn family members are among others also in the scene. Credit: NASA + View Image
"We were using criteria such as the city location," said Charles F. Bingman, who served as the Manned Spacecraft Center's chief of the Management Analysis Division. "It had to be a city, an urban area that was substantial and could support a major new high-technology institution. It had to be near the kind of airport that could serve as a service organization primarily for handling of spacecraft and conducting certain kinds of flight tests. It had to be on the water, because at that stage they thought they were going to transport spacecraft by barge, which they ultimately never did. It had to be at the site of at least one substantial, high-quality university, and it had to have what looked like an appropriate kind of work force to staff a number of the positions in the center."
It isn't surprising that when members of the site selection team visited Houston in September 1961 to check out property owned by Rice University and located close to Ellington Air Force Base, they were less than enthusiastic. What they saw was a flat cow pasture scoured by brisk winds off Galveston Bay. Along Farm Road 146 and 528 leading to what would soon be the main entrance to the MSC, boats had been hurled into the highway, pieces of houses and buildings lay in the field, trees were flattened, and fields and pastures were still flooded or sodden with heavy rains from Hurricane Carla. Ellington, which would provide temporary quarters for many of the STG, offered dreary wartime military housing with peeling paint and a sense of high disrepair.
Much effort would be required to turn it into the new flagship facility of a new age of exploration. But the challenge of turning the site into NASA's new flagship for human space exploration paled in comparison with sending an astronaut to the moon within the next nine years.
On Sept. 19, 1961, NASA announced that the $60 million manned space flight laboratory would be located in Houston on 1,000 acres of land to be made available to the government by Rice University. The land was owned by Humble Oil Co. and given to Rice to give to the government. In addition to acquiring title to this donation from Rice, the federal government subsequently purchased an additional 600 acres needed to give the site frontage on the highway. A 20-acre reserve-drilling site fell within NASA's total 1,620-acre site.
The STG would be relocated to Houston and it would be redesignated the Manned Spacecraft Center. Just the day before, Houston's population had topped the one million mark. About a month later, on Oct. 24, the MSC was formally established by NASA.
Image above: A front exterior view of the Farnsworth/Chamber building in Houston. This is one of several edifices located around Houston and southern Harris County that served as temporary office facilities for the early Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) while the present 1625-acre site was being developed. Credit: NASA + View Image
While the new NASA center was under construction, MSC personnel opened temporary offices in the Gulfgate Shopping Center in Houston in about 3,000 square feet of floor space donated for the purpose by the Gulfgate management. MSC had a continuing operation there until additional office, engineering and laboratory space could be leased and made ready for occupation. The major operations conducted at the Gulfgate offices were largely concerned with procurement, personnel and public affairs. The STG personnel were located in eight other offsite locations scattered along the Gulf Freeway.
In December 1961, Project Gemini was initiated to provide experience in flight endurance, rendezvous and extravehicular activity until Apollo became operational. For several years before being finally relocated at the Clear Lake site in June 1964, the work of the space center included construction of the MSC, the recruitment and training of employees and astronauts, the operation of Project Mercury, design and contracting for projects Gemini and Apollo, the design and the testing of both Gemini and Apollo hardware, and initial flights of both Gemini and Apollo.
The MSC had been planned as a unique, aesthetically pleasing workplace of laboratories, development and test areas, and administrative offices grouped around a landscaped quadrangle with artificial ponds. Numerous state and national contractors and suppliers participated in construction. Contracts for the first 11 buildings were awarded in December 1962.
Page 1: JSC Celebrates 40 Years of Human Space Flight
Page 2: JSC Origins
Page 3: JSC Origins
Page 4: JSC Origins
Page 5: Engineering the Future
Page 6: Home of the Nation's Astronaut Corps
Page 7: America's Nerve Center for Mission Operations
Page 8: America's Nerve Center for Mission Operations
Page 9: America's Nerve Center for Mission Operations
Page 10: The Triumph of Apollo
Page 11: The Triumph of Apollo
Page 12: The Triumph of Apollo
Page 13: America's First Space Station
Page 14: Expanding the Center's Role
Page 15: The Last Apollo
Page 16: Space Shuttle
Page 17: Space Shuttle
Page 18: International Space Station
Page 19: International Space Station
Page 20: The Next 40 Years