Category After Apollo?

NASA Gets a New Administrator

As George Low had led NASA through the process of developing the agen­cy’s FY1972 budget request, at the White House Peter Flanigan continued his search for a person to take on the administrator’s job on a permanent basis. By late 1970 two promising candidates had been identified—Frank Jameson, president of Teledyne-Ryan Aeronautical Corporation in San Diego, California and James Fletcher, president of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah. Neither had been on the White House radar screen a few months earlier. The White House ran background checks on the two. Director of personnel Fred Malek reported the results to Flanigan on January 6, 1971, noting that there had been “no attempt to contact the candidates” and “no attempt to determine their political philosophy.” Of Jameson, Malek reported that he was known as “an accomplished and marketing-oriented executive” and “an extroverted, hale, hearty, and well-met type of individ­ual,” but “not generally well regarded for his administrative skill.” This led Malek to suggest “if we are seeking a tough minded, control-oriented, inside executive, to really manage the agency, Frank Jameson would not seem to be a top choice.” With respect to Fletcher, Malek reported that he had “a unique combination of management and technical skills,” was “intelligent, articulate, and a proven leader of technical people,” and was “reported to have an uncanny ability to embrace a large spectrum of diverse business and technical activities simultaneously.”1

The suggestion of Jameson for the NASA position had come from House Minority Leader Gerald Ford (R-MI). Supporting Fletcher was Senator Wallace Bennett (R-UT). In addition to their Utah and Mormon connec­tions, Fletcher and Bennett were related by marriage; Bennett’s daughter was married to Fletcher’s brother. In early February, Bob Haldeman asked Flanigan “what’s the status of NASA? Gerry Ford is pushing Jameson. Have we got a candidate yet or is that still hanging fire?” Flanigan responded a few days later that “Gerry Ford has been informed. . . that Jameson is not getting the position. Subject to clearance Jim Fletcher will.”2

On February 17, Flanigan formally recommended to President Nixon that he nominate Fletcher as NASA administrator. He told Nixon that of “a large number of candidates proposed for the post,” Fletcher “appears to be by far the strongest.” Flanigan noted that in his role as president of the University of Utah Fletcher “has had unusual success in running the university while pla­cating both radical and conservative students.” He also noted that Fletcher, a physicist and engineer with a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology, had served for many years as a member of the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC). He alerted the president that Fletcher had just been offered the position of chancellor at the new University of California campus in San Diego, and thus it was important “to assure Fletcher now that he is our first choice.” He closed his memorandum by noting “Fletcher’s high business, management and technical qualifications would seem to be an ideal blend for a NASA Administrator.” It is not clear whether Richard Nixon saw the memorandum and told Haldeman he approved the choice of Fletcher, or whether Haldeman made the choice himself without bothering the president, something that happened on occasion with respect to issues of secondary interest to the president. At any rate, the initial in the “Approve” box on the Flanigan memo was Haldeman’s, not Nixon’s.3

The White House sent Fletcher’s nomination as NASA administrator to the Senate on February 27. Although easy Senate confirmation seemed likely, the nomination soon ran into trouble with the president. On March 9, vet­eran CBS correspondent Daniel Schorr on the evening’s nightly news pro­gram reported that Fletcher had advised President Nixon to take more time before endorsing a proposed antiballistic missile system called Safeguard. News anchor Walter Cronkite said that Schorr had gotten his information from overhearing a Fletcher conversation. Nixon was enraged by this report; his reaction was caught in his newly installed taping system. Meeting with Flanigan on the morning of March 10, which was the day of Fletcher’s Senate confirmation hearing, Nixon said “I am going to withdraw his nomination today unless that [the Schorr report] is denied.” Regarding Fletcher, Nixon said “I have never met the son of a bitch. I shook his hand once in my life. . . I am not going to have the new director of NASA, that good job, not meeting this flatly. . . We want him to say that he is in support of the ABM program. He has got to say that or I will withdraw his nomination this afternoon. I mean it, we are going to get tough around this place.” Nixon’s anger soon passed, and Fletcher’s nomination was not withdrawn.4

International Participation in the Shuttle

Once NASA in 1970 made the decision to defer the space station and focus its hopes on the space shuttle, potential European contributions to shuttle development became central to its planning for international cooperation in the post-Apollo program. Preliminary discussions between NASA and European space officials suggested that Europe might contribute up to 10 percent of the costs of developing the shuttle. Three possibilities for that contribution emerged. One was Europe building a portion of the shuttle air­frame, such as the vehicle’s vertical tail. Another was Europe contributing a “research and applications module,” also called a “sortie module” or “sortie

can,” which would fit into the shuttle’s payload bay and serve as a facility for scientist astronauts to carry out on-orbit research. The third, which became Europe’s preferred option, was its taking on responsibility for the space tug needed to move payloads from the shuttle to higher orbits. This last possi­bility was troubling to the national security community, which was leery of depending on a foreign-made system to position its sensitive and often highly classified satellites. How to reconcile national security uses of the shuttle and international participation in the effort was a continuing issue.

The prospect of significant European participation in shuttle develop­ment had been troubling to Tom Whitehead for some time; as the March 1970 presidential statement on space had been drafted, he had been skepti­cal of any specific commitment to space cooperation. Whitehead, by 1971 the director of the new White House Office of Telecommunications Policy, was no longer working for Peter Flanigan on NASA issues, but occasion­ally became involved. In a February 1971 memorandum, Whitehead took a very skeptical position with respect to NASA’s attempts to engage Europe in the U. S. post-Apollo program. He noted “NASA is aggressively pursuing European funding for their post-Apollo program. It superficially sounds like the ‘cooperation’ the President wants,” but asked “is this what the President would really want if we thought it through?” Whitehead was concerned that “if NASA successfully gets a European commitment of $1 billion [to the shuttle program], the President and the Congress will have been locked into NASA’s grand plans because the political cost of reneging would be too high.” He suggested that “the kind of cooperation now being talked up will have the effect of giving away our space launch, space operations, and related know-how at 10 cents on the dollar.”1

Issues of international space cooperation were discussed in a February 22 Oval Office meeting attended by the president, science adviser Ed David, and Nixon assistants Flanigan and John Ehrlichman. Excerpts from the con­versation at the meeting include:

Ehrlichman: “Well, Mr. President, you have urged that we get international involvement in the space program. . . [You have said] let’s get an actor up there from a foreign government. But that’s been interpreted to a large extent by NASA, as bringing foreign countries into the development of the space shut­tle . . . To the extent that we have developed a very significant technology here which is all ours, it would seem to some of us that we risk giving that away for a pretty small amount of money.”

Flanigan: “I am all for getting their astronauts up there and letting them walk around. . . We get a lot of visibility. But I wonder if for a little bit of money we aren’t selling our heritage.”

Nixon : “Well then, don’t do it. . . What I want is symbolism. Nothing more. Give us a little cosmetics. . . What you are doing for cosmetics, do for cosmetics. Let’s appear to be very liberal.”2

There were continuing talks with Europe regarding participation in the shuttle program through 1971 and 1972, but the potential for international cooperation was not a major factor in the 1971 debate over whether to approve shuttle development. In June 1972 the United States would give Europe a “take-it-or-leave-it” choice of contributing a research and applica­tions module. Europe decided to take that offer; the result was the program that came to be known as Spacelab.3

Incidentally, Nixon’s “what I want is symbolism” comment certainly applied to another space cooperation initiative under discussion during 1971. This was the idea of a space rendezvous between a leftover Apollo spacecraft and a Soviet spacecraft. George Low had traveled to Moscow in January 1971 for a round of discussions with his Soviet counterparts regarding the feasibility of such an undertaking, which had little substantive justification but would help the Nixon administration symbolize a changed U. S.-Soviet relationship. Approval for what became the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project would have to come soon if the cooperative initiative were to move forward; funds for that effort would have to be allocated at the same time as a commitment to shuttle development was made.4

Rallying Support for the Shuttle

Soon after submitting its budget proposal to OMB, the NASA leadership set about seeking support for the space shuttle from the aerospace industry, members of the Congress, and the DOD. Fletcher and Low in October held a meeting with the top leadership of the companies involved in the shuttle studies to explain to them NASA’s current plans and the reasoning behind them. The executives welcomed this information, and told NASA that “it was imperative to move out with the shuttle as soon as possible.” Low noted that “the meeting was frank and open, and perhaps the first of a kind in NASA history.”

With respect to the Congress, Low thought that “support will be a little more difficult to obtain because there really is no center of power within either the Senate or the House.” As NASA leaders began to visit individual members of Congress, they discovered that since they were “now deeply involved in so many other things, that most members would just as soon not hear about NASA until after the first of the year.”20

Engaging the National Security Council

While Nixon’s most senior domestic policy advisers, Ehrlichman and Shultz, had become engaged in discussions of NASA’s future, that was not the case with respect to national security adviser Henry Kissinger. Kissinger had got­ten involved in evaluating post-Apollo space cooperation with Europe and the Soviet Union, but had not had much exposure to the broader issue of future U. S. space activities. Fletcher set out to remedy this situation, first by talking with Brigadier General Alexander Haig, Kissinger’s deputy on the National Security Council staff. Fletcher reported to Low that “in suggest­ing that the National Security Council become more involved with NASA affairs, Al Haig needed absolutely no persuasion. He has, for the last year and a half, been convinced of this and so has Henry [Kissinger], but they have been so busy they haven’t really tried to work the problem.” Haig had suggested “that someone who regularly meets with the President ought to be intimately familiar with NASA affairs” and that, if Kissinger were to play that role, “some mechanism has to be set up whereby Henry is regularly informed on what the major issues are in NASA.” Fletcher told Haig “that perhaps the principal issue before the President now was the space shuttle,” and gave Haig a copy of the November 22 “best case” memorandum on the shuttle rationale, while observing that “it is doubtful whether he is going to have the time to read” the document.13

NASA’s somewhat belated attempts to engage Kissinger as an advocate for the national security and foreign benefits of full capability shuttle and a strong civilian space program were intended as a corrective to the real­ity that from the start of the Nixon administration the future of the space program had been treated as an issue of domestic policy and thus had been evaluated in terms of employment effects, technological benefits, and budget priority. Whether NASA would have fared better in its post-Apollo aspirations if the Nixon White House had from the start seen the space program as a foreign policy and national security effort, as had been the case during the Kennedy administration, is an interesting but unanswer­able question.

A New Name for the Space Shuttle?

On December 29, Flanigan had asked NASA to suggest a new name for the program. Fletcher replied on December 30, telling Flanigan that the names he was proposing were “drawn from a much longer list previously generated by our Public Affairs department and by the people working on the shuttle itself, with the addition of several contributed by George Low and me.” That longer list included suggestions such as: Mayflower, Starship, Spaceliner, Star Frigate, Caravel, Star Packet, Star Freighter, Rocket Clipper, Star Ferry, Space Tram, Star Schooner, and Space Schooner, all of which were rejected. Fletcher’s preferred names were Skyclipper, Skyship, Pegasus, and Hermes. He gave second priority to Space Clipper, Astroplane, Skylark, and Dragonfly.20

In a January 4 memorandum to the president, Flanigan told Nixon that the name “space shuttle” does “not have the lift or importance that the project deserves. The word ‘shuttle’ has a connotation of second class travel and lacks excitement.” Flanigan added “assuming that you wish to choose a name other than ‘space shuttle,’” the suggested names were

1. Space Clipper—Generally agreed upon by NASA, Shultz, Safire, Moore, Davis and me, this name would describe the overall project. Individual vehicles might have individual names, the first being Yankee Clipper;

2. Pegasus—Preferred by the classicists, such as Jim Fletcher;

3. Starlighter—Dick Moore’s favorite.

Commenting on the choice of names, speechwriter Bill Safire had sug­gested Space Clipper, The Yankee Clipper, Rocket Ship #1, and Space Ship #1. Safire was attracted to The Yankee Clipper name “because of its historic and patriotic association,” which had been used to describe “a fleet of ships designed for speed and passengers rather than cargo and helped make the American merchant fleet preeminent in the early 19th century.” (Safire’s his­tory of clipper ships was not quite accurate.) He added that “the name would be criticized as nationalistic, but I think that heat would be good.” Safire advised against the name Pegasus “because it would soon be named Peggy and parodied with the old song title ‘Peg of My Heart.’”21

National Security Uses of the Space Shuttle

Another of the influences on the choice of the full capability shuttle was President Nixon’s interest in its ability to launch the most advanced intelli­gence satellites and to carry out innovative national security missions. Those missions included the shuttle launching on demand during a political or military crisis, conducting a single-orbit satellite deployment or rendezvous, or inspecting or even destroying a potentially hostile satellite.

While the president himself may have been attracted by such national security uses, the reality was that support for the shuttle within the military and intelligence community was at best tepid, both at the time the shut­tle decision was made and afterwards. Deputy Secretary of Defense David Packard’s 1971 flexibility on shuttle requirements is suggestive of an ambiva­lent Department of Defense attitude toward the vehicle, and the effort in late 1971 to get a joint NASA-DOD statement to the president in support of the shuttle apparently did not bear fruit. During 1972 Congressional hearings on the shuttle program, DOD and Air Force testimony was supportive but guarded in character; the military took the position that the DOD would commit to depending on the shuttle only after its capabilities and constant availability had been fully demonstrated. During the mid-1970s top-level Department of Defense support for the shuttle ebbed and flowed. At lower levels of the national security community, there was strong opposition to phasing out expendable launch vehicles until the shuttle was demonstrated to be completely reliable. The DOD did agree to pay the costs of a west coast launch site for the shuttle at Vandenberg Air Force Base, since that location was primarily needed for national security launches into polar orbit. In addi­tion, DOD agreed to be responsible for funding the “space tug” to move pay­loads from the shuttle to higher orbits and for covering the costs of separate launch control centers in Houston and Colorado Springs for managing classi­fied shuttle missions. With the urging of Hans Mark, first as Undersecretary and then as Secretary of the Air Force from 1977 to 1981, and for much of that time also director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), some national security satellites were redesigned to take advantage of the shuttle’s attributes. When in 1979 President Jimmy Carter considered canceling the shuttle program because of its cost overruns, it was the national security uses of the shuttle, particularly in terms of launching the photo-reconnaissance satellites needed to verify arms control agreements, that convinced the presi­dent to continue the program. Once the Reagan administration took office in 1981, an early action was to confirm as national policy that the shuttle would be “the primary space launch system for both United States military and civilian government missions.”21

This policy declaration represented the high point of the notion of using the shuttle for national security missions. Within the first years of the Reagan administration, Air Force and NRO resistance to total dependence on the shuttle escalated into a conflict that required a presidential decision to resolve. The consequences of total U. S. dependence on the shuttle had been predicted. In the midst of the shuttle debate in 1971, the OMB had warned “for national security purposes, we may not want all our eggs in one basket.” The Air Force and NRO in 1984 won the right to develop an expendable launch vehicle as a backup to the shuttle for the largest national security payloads; this turned out to be the Titan IV booster. In the aftermath of the January 1986 Challenger accident, most national security payloads were removed from the shuttle and expendable launch vehicle production lines were activated; the nearly complete multibillion dollar West Coast launch site for the shuttle was mothballed.

Only ten dedicated national security missions, eight of which were classi­fied, were launched aboard the space shuttle, including eight missions after the 1986 Challenger accident; the payloads for most of those missions had been uniquely designed for shuttle launch. Some of the capabilities relevant to national security uses, such as satellite repair, recovery, and refueling, were demonstrated on other early shuttle missions. But as a national security system, the shuttle had no continuing utility. One historian of national secu­rity space activities cites a Department of Defense 1992 report that set the cost of redesigning military and reconnaissance spacecraft first to launch on the shuttle and then reconfiguring them again to launch on the expen­sive Titan IV expendable launch vehicles after the Challenger accident as “in excess of $20 billion.”22 None of the ten national security shuttle mis­sions required the cross-range capability that had been an original DOD demand, and none of the innovative missions described in the 1969 DOD/ NASA space shuttle report that had influenced Richard Nixon’s support of the NASA shuttle were ever attempted. Rather than provide new capabili­ties used by the national security community, the shuttle turned out to be a multibillion dollar drain on the national security space budget.

The Nixon Tapes

Beginning on February 16, 1971, most White House conversations involving President Richard Nixon were recorded. Nixon through his chief of staff Bob Haldeman ordered the Secret Service to set up a tap­ing system. Seven microphones were installed in the Oval Office—five on the president’s desk and one on each side of the office fireplace. Two microphones were located in the Cabinet Room. In April 1971 Nixon’s hideaway office in the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House was also wired for recording. Telephones in the Oval Office, the hideaway office, and the Lincoln Sitting Room in the

White House family residence, where Nixon often spent his evenings working, were also tapped. Other than the Cabinet Room, where a switch had to be thrown to turn the tape recorders on and off, the recording systems were sound activated and linked to a locator device worn by the president, and thus only operated when the president was in the room. Only the president, Haldeman, a few of Nixon’s close personal assistants (but not Ehrlichman, Kissinger, and Shultz of his inner circle), and the Secret Service knew about the recording system.

Nixon had been advised by former president Lyndon Johnson to reinstall a recording system; Johnson had used one during much of his presidency. There were two main reasons for having a taped record of presidential conversations. One was protecting against others misrep­resenting what was said in meetings with the president; the other was as a source for the eventual memoir that Nixon, like all former presi­dents, would write after leaving office.

The Nixon tape recordings are difficult to understand. The tapes used and the slow speed at which they were recorded were not appro­priate for voice recording. Various sounds, ranging from ringing tele­phones to the sound of coffee cups being set down, obscure parts of many conversations. Those conversations and meetings were often rambling, filled with incomplete sentences, and unstructured, making them difficult to follow. Participants interrupted each other and fin­ished each other’s sentences. (More information regarding the Nixon tapes can be found at www. millercenter. org/presidentialtapes.)5

The author, assisted by George Washington University student Luis Suter, made a “best effort” attempt to transcribe conversations relevant to the space program on the Nixon tapes. Any errors of transcription are the author’s responsibility.

In contrast to Frank Jameson, who in his White House interviews appar­ently argued for bold new initiatives in space, Fletcher was known from his years on PSAC to be somewhat skeptical of the value of human space flight. Fletcher was aware of the proposal to develop a space shuttle; as a member of the PSAC, he had been exposed to the thinking of the committee’s panel on space science and technology about the need for low-cost space trans­portation and was aware of the content of the Space Task Group report. During PSAC deliberations, Fletcher had asked “why is it necessary to have a manned system to get [a payload] to and from space?” Before Fletcher was nominated, several members of Congress supportive of human space flight sent a telegram to the White House opposing Fletcher’s selection as NASA head, saying he was “a negative person on [manned] space,” but their objec­tions did not prevail.6

After his nomination was announced, Fletcher was quickly invited to attend, two days later on March 1, a large White House dinner in honor of the Apollo 14 astronaut crew—Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, and Stuart Roosa—whose mission had taken place from January 31 to February 9. NASA’s Willis Shapley remembered that as he went through the receiving line before the dinner, he noticed a person “sitting by himself with his little pad of pink papers.” Someone told Shapley that the person was Fletcher, his new boss. Shapley went to say hello, and later commented “that was Fletcher to a tee. He was always trying to find out who the key people were, keep his notes as to who was worthy of note. . . He was using his chance at this White House thing just to get a look at the people that were going to be significant to him in the future.”7

The next day, Fletcher and Low spent several hours together discussing the state of NASA. Low’s “first impression” was that Fletcher was “excel­lent” and “that he will be very good for NASA.” In several subsequent meet­ings during March and April, Low and Fletcher discussed the major issues facing NASA and plotted the approach they would take to managing the agency. They “spent considerable time discussing the space shuttle.” Fletcher indicated that he understood “that the space shuttle decisions this summer will be some of the most important decisions that he will make early in his career at NASA.” According to Low, Fletcher came into NASA “negative on manned space flight. He was selected. . . by the people close to Nixon for being the kind of person who would support an unmanned space pro­gram. . . He came in probably not to support” the space shuttle, but he “very quickly turned himself around.” Fletcher admitted that he “changed from the time I was on PSAC to the time I came to NASA,” recognizing that “neither the president nor I wanted to go ahead with a program that didn’t really have a manned element to it.” Before he decided to support the shuttle, Fletcher pushed hard on Low, Dale Myers, and Myers’s deputy Charles Donlan, who was overseeing shuttle studies, to convince himself that a shuttle, rather than some other human space flight system like a recoverable capsule, was the best option for NASA to advocate.8

Low early on also shared with Fletcher his growing concern that NASA should not take on the task of developing a two-stage fully reusable shuttle “without having clear-cut support for a space agency budget in excess of $4 billion.” The two discussed “the possibilities of other shuttle concepts and of phasing the orbiter and booster separately.” They also discussed whether there really was a need for more Apollo flights; they agreed both to examine this question after the Apollo 15 flight, scheduled for July. Given the sensi­tivity within NASA of possibly not going forward with the Apollo 16 and Apollo 17 missions, they agreed to not to raise the question with anyone else in NASA.9

The Senate confirmed Fletcher as NASA administrator on March 11, but Fletcher did not plan to arrive at NASA until around May 1. Flanigan recommended that President Nixon personally swear in Fletcher, noting that there had been a “long hiatus” since Tom Paine had left the agency

The Nixon Tapes

James Fletcher is sworn in as NASA administrator by Judge James Belson as President Nixon and Fletcher’s wife Fay stand by. Science adviser Ed David and NASA Deputy Administrator George Low are visible behind the president. (NASA photograph 71-H-791)

and that “interest in NASA and Congressional support has been declin­ing.” This suggestion was accepted, and Fletcher came to the Oval Office on April 27, 1971, to be sworn in as NASA’s fourth administrator as his family looked on.10

Fletcher reported for duty at NASA on May 3. He made his first speech as NASA administrator on May 20; his venue was the annual meeting of the Aerospace Industries Association. The speech was attended by senior people from all parts of the space industry, anxious to hear what the new head of NASA had in mind. Fletcher noted that it was “not the time for me to attempt to make definitive policy statements.” He observed that NASA was “in a period of uncertainty” since its major programs for the 1970s were “still in the study stage.” Fletcher claimed that he had “been backing the shuttle concept for a number of years” and that he was prepared “to advocate it vigorously.” He added “if we are going to put most of our eggs in the shut­tle basket, it had better be the best basket the American. . . aerospace indus­try can devise.” Fletcher said “we will take as much time as we need right now to be sure we make the right decisions” regarding which shuttle design to develop, on what schedule; he added “let’s not go off half-cocked on the shuttle.” In a statement that likely was troubling to the companies working on shuttle study contracts, Fletcher indicated that “we are not committed at this time to a two-stage fully reusable concept for the shuttle.” Rather, NASA would “continue to consider the various possibilities as cold-blooded engineers.” He argued that “we are not trying to justify the shuttle as a money-making project, but as a new capability of great promise.”11

Fletcher’s speech was a mixture of the preexisting NASA arguments for the shuttle and his own ideas. In particular, the emphasis on the shuttle as offering important new capabilities, not primarily as a means of reducing the cost of space activities, was his. He had not been previously involved in the shuttle program, and thus was free to indicate that he was not committed to the shuttle design that had been central to NASA’s thinking in preced­ing months. Within the first few weeks of his time at NASA, Fletcher had become convinced that the shuttle was NASA’s most important program for the 1970s. Now it would be up to Fletcher and Low to convince the White House that the space shuttle deserved presidential support.

Bill Anders and the Space Council

Since the beginning of the Nixon administration in 1969, the National Aeronautics and Space Council at the principal’s level had met infrequently, and its staff had not become closely involved in policy decisions related to human space flight. There had been proposals to eliminate the council during 1970, and in mid-1971, its future remained very much in doubt, although by that point the council staff members had developed good working relation­ships with their peers in the White House and the Office of Management and Budget and had become involved in policy choices related to NASA’s robotic space science and application programs and aeronautics program and to other government aeronautics and space activities.

Although the council’s executive secretary, Bill Anders, had carved out a personal role as adviser on space issues to the Office of Management and Budget’s Deputy Director Cap Weinberger, he was somewhat frustrated by the marginal role being played by the Space Council and its staff in the decisions regarding future human space efforts. He shared his frustration with Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater; Goldwater relayed that concern to Richard Nixon during a June 17, 1971, Oval Office meeting:

Goldwater : “I hate to burden you with a problem, but this young Bill Anders, who I think is one of the smartest boys around, I spoke to him today and I think he’s thinking of quitting. . . He’s in charge of the Space Council.”

Nixon : “I’ve got to use him someplace else. He’s bright as a tack. . . Let’s put him in that new deal [the ‘new NASA’] where we’re trying to develop the new, the water and all that sort of thing, the NASA management approach and so forth. Anders has got to be held.”5

Anders told George Low in early August that he had “about decided that a staff function without an active council had reached its point of diminishing returns” and that “he might propose to the White House that the National Aeronautics and Space Council should be abolished.” (He would make such a proposal in late 1972.) By the end of August, Anders had also become “extremely pessimistic” regarding White House staff attitudes, especially within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Science and Technology (OST), with respect to the human space flight pro­gram. Meeting with NASA Administrator Fletcher, he suggested that NASA “drop the shuttle completely and focus on evolving a space station out of Skylab.” Anders thought that “a vastly trimmed down manned space pro­gram, presented simultaneously with the closing of one of our centers, might make NASA more credible (and incidentally, more popular) with the ‘White House.’”6

As it became clear that the FY1973 budget process would be conten­tious, Tom Whitehead suggested that Vice President Agnew loan Anders to Peter Flanigan’s office to help Flanigan work with David, Don Rice, Al Haig (Henry Kissinger’s deputy at the National Security Council), and Whitehead “to square away coordination between the various elements of the Executive Office and the White House in the space area.” Whitehead thought that Anders’s help in “getting the various Executive Office agen­cies working along the same track” and “tiding us over a bit of confusion among all the players” was “almost essential.”7 Although Whitehead’s sug­gestion that Anders temporarily become part of Peter Flanigan’s staff was not pursued, Anders was one of those over the next several months working to bridge the gap between the views of OMB and OST on one hand and NASA on the other, hoping to arrive at a sensible presidential decision on the space shuttle.

Seeking DOD Support

Fletcher lunched with Deputy Secretary of Defense David Packard on October 19. It was Packard, with a background in high-technology indus­try, who was the most senior DOD official dealing with space issues, rather than Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird. Fletcher found that Packard had “two general points to make” with respect to the shuttle. The first was that Packard personally felt “very uneasy” about the three requirements laid down by those at lower levels within DOD that were driving the shuttle design—“the cross-range requirement, and payload [weight] requirement, and the size requirement.” Packard “felt that the cross-range requirement might have been an artificial one” and “that if it were causing difficulties, it could easily be modified.” Fletcher assured Packard that the payload bay width “came primarily from NASA and not the Air Force, but that the length probably came from the Air Force.” Packard “knew quite well which program caused the length difficulty” (the successor to the then highly classified Hexagon photo-intelligence satellite program) and sug­gested “that something could be done about it.” Fletcher and Packard also agreed that “the payload [weight] requirement was somewhat arbitrary at this point.”

The fact that Packard suggested that there was flexibility in the national security requirements had levied on the shuttle was likely surprising to Fletcher, since both the DOD representatives on the DOD/NASA Space Transportation Systems Committee and Air Force Secretary Bob Seamans and Assistant Secretary for Research and Development Grant Hansen had been adamant in their pressure on NASA to meet those requirements. DOD support was seen by NASA as a key to White House approval of the shuttle, and this had been a major driver of NASA’s determination to pursue a shuttle design that met all the DOD requirements. So Packard’s flexibility was not exactly an asset in the final stages of the shuttle debate; rather, it suggested that the top leadership in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, including Packard and Director of Defense Research and Engineering Johnny Foster, were not yet fully committed to supporting NASA’s preferred shuttle on national security grounds.

By October 1971 NASA’s engineers had come to recognize that “whereas the initial request for a 1500 n. m. [nautical mile] cross range capability originated as an Air Force requirement, it became evident with increased depth of study that a substantial degree of aerodynamic maneu­vering capability at hypersonic and supersonic speeds is fundamental to the operation of the orbiter.” So even if DOD were to relax its cross­range requirement, NASA would still want a delta-winged orbiter that was capable of such maneuvers.21 In contrast, Packard’s suggestions that “something could be done” about the DOD-imposed payload bay length requirement of 60 feet and his view that the payload weight was “arbi­trary” would influence NASA’s thinking during the final stages of nego­tiations over shuttle design.

Packard’s second point was that NASA’s approach to selling the shut­tle “was all wrong.” Packard suggested that the real reason for the shuttle “has to do with national security and an intangible thing which might be called ‘men’s presence in space.’” Packard suggested that he and Fletcher put together a team “to develop a rationale for the shuttle.” He thought “it is probably desirable to write a letter to the President indicating recent prog­ress on the shuttle development, incorporating perhaps the rationale. . . and asking for a chance to explain it to him in person.” In reporting this conver­sation to Low, Fletcher indicated that it was important for NASA that any rationale developed on the basis of NASA-DOD effort “includes all of the essential points that NASA wants to make” and “doesn’t become unduly military in its flavor.”22

Following his conversation with Fletcher, Packard quickly convened a meeting to begin the process of developing a revised shuttle rationale. Attending it were Fletcher and Low from NASA, Packard, Foster, Seamans, and Under Secretary of the Air Force John McLucas, who was also the director of the National Reconnaissance Office. As a result of the meet­ing Foster, thought to be a recent convert to supporting the shuttle, was charged with preparing a paper to be used within the executive branch and the White House to support the shuttle. Low suggested that “this single event is probably the most important in NASA’s ability to move out with this [shuttle] program. Without DOD support, we would not have been able to do it. If Fletcher and Laird together can go to the President to seek Shuttle support, we just might get approval.”23

NASA and OMB Conflict Escalates

On December 12, George Low reported that “during the past two weeks we met with Don Rice, Tom Whitehead, Jonathan Rose, Ed David separately, and finally with Rice, David and Flanigan together, to discuss the kind of space shuttle that should be developed.” Low once again stated that “the basic issue on the space shuttle concerns whether or not the shuttle should capture a majority of the payloads that will be flown in the 1980’s.”14

White House Support

NASA’s efforts to gain support for its shuttle concept seemed to be paying off, at least in the view of Tom Whitehead. Whitehead wrote Flanigan on December 2, noting that he and Flanigan “had succeeded when we first came into office in averting NASA’s high flying plans for space stations and Mars trips, and in bringing the budget down to a more realistic level con­sistent with the President’s wishes.” But, added Whitehead, it had not been their intention “to continue to erode NASA’s budget indefinitely, but to induce them to come up with a sound, forward-looking evolutionary space program for the coming decade.” Whitehead observed that “over the last few months, OMB and NASA have been bickering, principally about the space shuttle.” He thought that Fletcher had “done what I believe to be an outstanding job of devising a space shuttle concept that is consistent with reasonable budget levels and sensible technology, and still builds for the future.” Whitehead was aware of the alternative shuttle concepts then under discussion, and tended “to believe that the larger shuttle is the more prudent course, but the differences are so small that the choice should reasonably be left to NASA’s discretion.” He suspected that “OMB will try to push fairly hard for the smaller version. NASA might buy this as a last choice, but the impact on their morale and that of the aerospace industry would be unneces­sarily negative.”15

Attached to Whitehead’s memorandum was a chart prepared by Bill Anders that summarized on one page the various shuttle alternatives that had been examined in the preceding months. Anders characterized the fully reusable shuttle that had been NASA’s original hope as “Fat Albert” and the small glider that had been proposed during the Flax committee deliberations as “Weird Harold.” The chart compared the then-current NASA and OMB shuttle configurations, noting that there were “relatively small (15-20%) payload differences and with reasonably broad consensus that we are talking about the right animal now, there would seem to be little further gain by delaying publicized commitment.”16