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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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