Category After Apollo?

The Space Task Group-Getting Started

The first meeting of the STG was set for March 7. It was a “principals only” gathering. Attending as the Department of Defense (DOD) member was Secretary of the Air Force Robert C. Seamans, who had been assigned by Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird to be his surrogate on the STG. In formal organizational terms, this role might more appropriately have been filled by Director of Defense Research and Engineering Johnny Foster as DOD’s senior science and technology official, but Seamans had been a top official in NASA from 1960 to 1968 and the Air Force also managed the bulk of DOD’s space activities. This made Seamans’s assignment logical. Others attending were Vice President Agnew, science adviser DuBridge, and NASA Acting Administrator Paine, whose nomination for the permanent position had been announced the previous day.

The principals agreed to appoint a senior staff representative from each of their organizations “to lead and coordinate the necessary studies.” This “Staff Director’s Committee” was to carry out the bulk of the STG work. Staff representatives included Homer Newell, seconded by Milt Rosen, from NASA; Russell Drew from the Office of Science and Technology (OST); Jerome Wolff from the vice-president’s office; and Nevin Palley from DOD. Palley worked for Foster, not Seamans. The group also agreed to include as high-level STG “observers” Robert Mayo, director of the Bureau of the Budget (BOB), who was already at the meeting; Glenn Seaborg, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC); and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs U. Alexis Johnson. Reflecting on the meeting, Paine felt that it had gotten “the new administration’s review of the U. S. space effort off to an excellent start: the right problems were addressed, the urgency of timely decisions recognized, and a reasonable process for reaching wise con­clusions organized.”3

Penultimate STG Meeting

Because Vice President Agnew had to be at the Western White House in San Clemente, California for a September 4 cabinet meeting, he scheduled a STG meeting on September 3 in nearby Newport Beach.45 Both Newell and Milt Rosen of NASA were unable to attend, and so the senior NASA staff person present was DeMarquis Wyatt, a top agency planner; Wyatt was to play a key role in finalizing the STG report over the next ten days.

The meeting was rather contentious, as the STG principals for the first time learned of Whitehead’s and Flanigan’s insistence that the STG report include an option with the NASA budget for the 1970s at the $2.5 to $3.0 billion level. By this time the draft report included four program options, A through D, each still including the same program elements in the 1970s, with even option D requiring a peak budget of almost $6 billion per year even though it included deferring a decision to send astronauts to Mars. In option C, that decision would be made in the late 1970s and the initial Mars mission would leave Earth in 1986. Drew of OST and Mayo of BOB pro­posed, in accordance with White House demands, to add a Program E that would reflect a hiatus in manned space flight after the end of the Apollo pro­gram, with no new starts on a space station or space shuttle. An angry Paine said that unless the implications of such an option were spelled out in detail, which would take some time, he would not sign the STG report. Seamans introduced into the discussion a totally new program plan that he and the DOD staff had developed as an alternative to NASA’s Programs C and D. Seamans’s alternative plan put more short-term emphasis on space applica­tions and robotic exploration and maintained a human space flight program by extended use of Apollo-derived spacecraft and launch vehicles through most of the 1970s. This would be followed by sequential development, first of a space shuttle and space tug, then in the 1980s a space station, with a decision whether to send people to Mars made in the mid-1980s. Seamans argued that such a human space flight program could be carried out for $2 billion a year, thereby keeping NASA’s budget in the $4 to $4.5 billion a year range for the next two decades.46 Vice President Agnew suggested including the Seamans plan in the report rather than a Program E without human space flight; Mayo responded that this alternative would not satisfy the White House directive. Seaborg commented that the draft report before the principals was “very thoughtful,” and that it made little sense at this late date to add a new option such as the one Seamans was suggesting. There was agreement with this position, and the Seamans proposal was tabled as far as the STG report was concerned (although it was embraced by the BOB staff preparing for the FY1971 budget review). Finally, the principals agreed that a Program E would be added to the report, but it would be added “to show a kind of limit that no one will want to adopt,” giving the president “a better possibility of choosing one of the higher level options.”

During the meeting, it became even clearer than it had been in August that the STG principals were not going to agree on a single program option to recommend to Richard Nixon. Paine suggested that all options be pre­sented to the president without a STG recommendation, and then Nixon could consult with individual members of the STG and others to get their recommendations. Agnew agreed with this idea, saying that it allowed the inclusion of a Program E option even though none of the STG members agreed with it. The STG members decided that they would meet one more time to review the final draft of their report, revised to reflect the decisions and comments of this meeting. That meeting was set for September 11.

A revised draft of the STG report, now including Options A through E, was ready for review on September 8. The report noted that the STG had not attempted “to classify the space program in a hierarchy of national pri­orities.” Rather, the STG had “concentrated on identifying major technical and scientific challenges in space in the belief that returns will accrue to the society that takes up those challenges.” The draft recommended a “balanced program” aimed at

• “application of space technology to the direct benefit of mankind”;

• “operation of space systems to enhance national security”;

• “exploration of the solar system and beyond”;

• “development of new capabilities for operating in space”; and

• “international participation and cooperation.”

The draft noted that if there were significantly lower budget levels in the future, it would not be possible to develop new space capabilities and that at lower budget levels “if important increases in science and application pro­grams were to be pursued, no manned space flight program would be pos­sible.” In its concluding section, the draft said that the STG had concluded “as a focus for the development of new capability,” the United States should “accept the long-range option or goal of manned planetary exploration with a manned Mars mission before the end of the century.”47

President Nixon Explains His NASA Budget Decisions

The meeting with the president that Administrator Paine had requested in his January 15 letter was set for 4:00 p. m. on January 22. Earlier that after­noon, the president had delivered his first State of the Union message to a joint session of the Congress. He had said “the Seventies will be a time of new beginnings, a time of exploring both on the earth and in the heavens,” but otherwise made no mention of the space program. As was standard prac­tice in preparing Nixon for a meeting, Flanigan composed a briefing memo­randum. He told Nixon that the purpose of the meeting was to allow Paine “to express his convictions regarding the importance of the Space Program as it relates to your Administration.” He added that Paine had taken the first two cuts in the NASA budget “in a spirit of complete cooperation.” But with regard to the final cut, “he did resist as he believed NASA was bearing a disproportionate share of the reduction.” Flanigan characterized Paine as “consistently loyal and cooperative.” He suggested that “no doubt you will wish to assure Dr. Paine of your personal interest in and support for the Space Program in the long run.”43

The Nixon-Paine meeting went off as scheduled; Ehrlichman as well as Flanigan were present. Nixon began the meeting by saying “how much he regretted having to make the last additional cuts in NASA’s ’71 budget. He understood these were very severe and he had done it most reluctantly,” but had no choice given the overall budget situation. He worried that “NASA might find it difficult to defend even this low space budget” against charges it represented misplaced priorities. The president said that “the polls and the people to whom he talked indicated to him that the mood of the people was for cuts in space and defense.” Nixon also said that the people of the country seem to think all they want is a nice environment and a turning-away from challenge and sacrifice. Even so, thought Nixon, there were areas like “sci­ence, space, and the SST [supersonic transport] the nation must put money into.”

Paine asked Nixon what he should tell the NASA workforce about the thinking behind the budget cuts. Nixon responded that the FY1971 NASA budget should be “rock bottom” and that he was “committed to the space program for the long-term future,” adding “we should have a strong space program and it should be on an increasing [budget] curve.” Paine’s conclu­sion after the meeting was that Nixon “honestly would like to support a more vigorous space program if he felt that the national mood favored it.” This seems to have been a valid reading of Nixon’s position; in the hours following his meeting with Paine, Nixon called Bob Haldeman, directing him to make sure that the message accompanying the release of the FY1971 budget would include “the flat statement ‘We shall plan to go to Mars.’”44

Conspicuously absent from discussions in the preceding weeks on the space budget was Tom Paine’s putative White House ally, Vice President Spiro Agnew. Paine had thought as the STG process went forward that Agnew’s recommendations would carry weight within the Nixon administration, and that Agnew as chair of the Space Council could play an ongoing role in space policy and budget decisions. By the end of the budget process, Paine cer­tainly recognized that these assumptions were not valid. Agnew had become marginalized in administration policy discussions, and the Space Council had not carved out a useful role. Thus it was of limited consolation for Paine to receive a January 30 memorandum from Agnew, saying that while the vice president could not fault the “decision to reduce all budgets in a fashion commensurate to absolute national requirements,” he was “concerned about our ability to maintain the high quality of performance that NASA enjoys.” Agnew told Paine “you may be assured that I will do whatever I can to per­suade the President to move the space program back to a more ambitious level at the earliest possible moment.” There was little to no chance that Agnew could be successful in such an undertaking.45

For 11 months, Thomas Paine had been depending on the work of the Agnew-led STG and the recommendations in its report to provide the char­ter for the bold space program he thought was in the nation’s, and NASA’s, interest during the post-Apollo period. He had consistently tried to use the report as a basis for arguing against cuts in the NASA budget. With the continued reduction in that budget, Paine’s aspirations were close to being dashed. In an almost plaintive sentence in his record of the meeting with President Nixon, Paine lamented “the President didn’t mention the Space Task Group Report.”46

Who Ended Apollo?

Richard Nixon has frequently been identified as the individual who decided to truncate the Apollo program. As the above account shows, this is not fully the case. Nixon’s personal attitude toward the desirable number of Apollo flights was not consistent. In January 1970, Nixon and his advisors approved a NASA FY1971 budget that anticipated seven more Apollo flights, even though the president had in early December 1969 expressed skepticism regarding “the need to go to the Moon six more times” and “didn’t care about building more [Apollo] hardware.” After the April 1970 Apollo 13 accident, which had a strong emotional impact on Nixon, the president indi­cated that the Apollo program would continue as planned. It was a Nixon decision to hold NASA to the tightly constrained budget that forced a choice between existing missions and getting started on future programs. But it was the NASA leadership that proposed not flying all remaining Apollo missions. In June, reflecting on NASA’s future outlook, George Low had even contemplated canceling four, rather than just two, of the remaining six Apollo flights. He noted that “if we make a major program change like this, we will attribute it to the budgetary situation and to the manpower situation in NASA, and not to the fact that it may programmatically also make more sense.”11 The United States decided in 1970 to retreat from exploring the Moon; that decision had several parents, not just Richard Nixon.

NASA Seeks Support

As OMB began its review of the NASA budget, Low set out on an intense effort through both face-to-face meetings and letters to communicate the NASA story, both inside the agency and to anyone outside the space agency who might offer support to NASA’s plans. One of those targeted by Low was William Pickering, the long-time director of the NASA-affiliated Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology; Pickering had expressed some skepticism regarding whether NASA was indeed prepared

to begin shuttle development. Low suggested to Pickering that “the technol­ogy for the shuttle appears to be as well or better in hand than the technology was for the Apollo lunar mission when that program got started.” Low in 1961 had been in charge of human space flight at NASA headquarters and had prepared a key report saying that there were no technological barriers to a lunar landing mission.9

One of the meetings Low organized as he explained the NASA budget request was with science advisor Ed David and his space staff person Russ Drew. Low was quite surprised to discover that David and Drew were “very much opposed to Skylab.” The two argued that the only reason for getting experience with long-duration space flight was preparing to send astronauts to Mars, and, since there was no intent in a relevant time frame of undertak­ing a Mars mission, there was no need for Skylab. Low found it “inconceiv­able” that “there would be serious consideration given to the cancellation of Skylab,” given all the money that had already been spent on the program. Following this meeting, Low wrote a letter to David discussing the rela­tive priority of Skylab and Apollo. With respect to Apollo, Low was rather guarded, reflecting his own concerns about additional Apollo missions, say­ing that although the final four Apollo missions would increase scientific understanding of the Earth-Moon system, the missions “would in another sense be dead-ended. No new capabilities or techniques would be explored that could be further exploited. . . no major new opportunities for leadership and prestige would likely accrue; and the potential of Apollo for interna­tional cooperation is limited.” By contrast, with respect to Skylab “there has been no return from considerable investment to date. . . We simply have no data on man’s ability to live and work in space for long periods of time.” Low suggested that “on balance, the weight of evidence seems to favor Skylab over Apollo if a choice must be made.”10

One of the other people to whom Low wrote in this period was national security advisor Henry Kissinger. Kissinger and his staff had not gotten deeply involved in NASA-related decisions, with the exception of monitoring the discussions in 1969 and 1970 between NASA and European space offi­cials about possible European participation in the U. S. post-Apollo program. Low pointed out to Kissinger that, given the NASA decision to defer space station development, the space shuttle program provided the only opportu­nity for international participation in human space flight, something that the president wanted. He hoped that Kissinger would support a decision to begin shuttle development in FY1972, since without “forward motion on the space shuttle system. . . the prospects for the major advance in interna­tional cooperation that we have hoped for will dim to the vanishing point.” The letter had little impact; Kissinger did not get involved in the budget


Low also tried several times in October to set up a meeting with Peter Flanigan, but Flanigan “cancelled each time because of other commit­ments.” In comparison to his active role in the deliberations that had led to the NASA budget decisions a year earlier, Flanigan was noticeably missing from the FY1972 discussions. The OMB was approaching its review of the NASA budget request in a much more orderly fashion than had been the case in late 1969 and trusted Nixon assistants were in charge of the budget process. In addition, the Domestic Council was monitoring space options. Flanigan may have felt no need to intervene in the budget process to make sure that the president’s priorities were heeded.12

NASA’s informal contacts with the OMB staff working under Don Rice had alerted it to the areas where OMB was considering NASA budget reduc­tions. Trying to preempt such cuts, Low wrote Weinberger on October 28, saying that he wanted to make “especially sure” that several elements in the NASA budget request were “clearly understood and given careful consider­ation.” Low gave particular emphasis to the reasons for going ahead with the space shuttle, saying that shuttle development “can be justified as a versatile and economical system for placing unmanned civil and military satellites in orbit, entirely apart from its role in conducting or supporting manned missions.” This was the newly developed NASA argument as the agency recognized that the shuttle now had to be justified as a launch and orbital operations vehicle, absent a space station to service. Low added what would turn out to be a winning argument: “With the shuttle the U. S. can have a continuing program of manned space flight. . . without a commitment to a major new manned mission goal.” Recognizing that the Nixon administra­tion had no intention of setting out an Apollo-like goal for the post-Apollo space program, NASA was basically arguing that the country could have, almost “for free,” a continued human space flight program by approving a system justified by reducing the costs of space launch and in-orbit opera­tions, which incidentally happened to be operated by a human crew and could carry humans as passengers.13

A final NASA move in making the case for shuttle approval was to pre­pare for OMB Director George Shultz a paper “from a national—not just a NASA—standpoint of the need for and importance of a continuing pro­gram of manned space flight.” Shultz was reputed to be skeptical about the value of humans in space, and the NASA paper was aimed at countering that skepticism. In his cover letter, Low emphasized “that manned flight to Mars is not a goal or justification of the program that NASA is recommending for the 1970’s. Skylab and the space shuttle, for example, are necessary ele­ments of the United States space program without a manned Mars mission.” This statement was intended to rebut the claims of Congressional critics of the two programs such as Senators William Proxmire and Walter Mondale and Representative Joseph Karth, who had linked the station and shuttle in Congressional debates to preparing to send astronauts to Mars. Karth’s attempt to cut station and shuttle funds from the NASA FY1971 budget had failed, but only on the basis of a 54-54 tie vote.

The 11-page NASA paper discussed both “the role of manned space flight as a means for accomplishing objectives in space” and “the importance of manned space flight to the United States as an end in itself.” With respect to the former role, the paper stressed that the space shuttle was “not a ‘manned spacecraftit is a space transportation system” that “would bring about a fundamental change in space operations and result in very substantial cost reductions.” With respect to the latter role, the paper argued for “acceptance of manned exploration of space as an important and continuing goal in its own right” one which “the United States, as a great nation, should continue” and “take a leading role.” It suggested that “manned space flight will con­tinue to be the best and perhaps the only arena of worldwide interest where the United States can demonstrate at the same time technological strength, peaceful intentions, power without confrontation, and the openness of a free society.”14

Preface and Acknowledgments

Th, s study has had a very long genesis. When my first book, The Decision to Go to the Moon: Project Apollo and the National Interest, was published by the MIT Press in summer 1970, I gave a copy to NASA Deputy Administrator George Low. By that time there had been two successful landings on the Moon—Apollo H and Apollo 12—and one near-tragedy—Apollo 13. Low told me that NASA at that point in time was in the midst of a confused pro­cess of dealing with Richard Nixon’s White House with respect to what the space agency should do after Apollo. He suggested that I take a look at that post-Apollo decision-making process similar to the one that had led to my Apollo study, and provided a modest NASA grant to facilitate such an effort. That suggestion set me on the lengthy and winding path that 44 years later has resulted in this book.

Working with NASA chief historian Gene Emme and especially Nat Cohen of NASA’s policy office, during late 1970 and 1971 I carried out a series of interviews with many of the key actors in the post-Apollo debate; these interviews took place as NASA was struggling to get White House approval for developing the space shuttle as the central focus of its efforts for the 1970s. Those interviews are one basis for the current study; they provide an “at the moment” look at what was on the minds of those trying to decide what kind of post-Apollo space program was in the nation’s, and President Nixon’s, interest. In 1973, I wrote up but never published an initial account of post-Apollo decision making, and put that draft and transcripts of the supporting interviews in the NASA Historical Reference Collection at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC; other researchers have drawn on that material over the years. I continued on a sporadic basis over the follow­ing years to interview individuals involved in post-Apollo decisions; the last of those interviews was with top Nixon assistant John Ehrlichman in 1983. I published several articles on the space shuttle, most notably a controversial analysis titled “The Space Shuttle Program: A Policy Failure?” that appeared in the journal Science a few months after the January 1986 Challenger acci­dent. But the press of teaching and administrative responsibilities was a bar­rier to completing the book-length study needed to tell the full post-Apollo story.

It was only in 2008 as I left after 38 years the active faculty at the Space Policy Institute, part of The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, that I could turn my full attention to my backlog of policy history work. First up was a relook at President John Kennedy’s 1961 decision to send Americans to the Moon and a fresh examination of what he did to turn that decision into reality. The result was published by Palgrave Macmillan in December 2010 as John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon. One of those reading an early copy of the Kennedy manu­script and providing a book jacket endorsement was Bill Anders. Bill had flown around the Moon in December 1968 on the Apollo 8 mission and had taken the iconic “Earthrise” photograph, then came to Washington to be executive secretary of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, the organization set up in 1958 to provide White House level space policy coor­dination. Anders was thus a participant in post-Apollo policy discussions from fall 1969 through the decision to approve the space shuttle, and he encouraged me to continue my research and writing to present a full account of space decision making during the Nixon administration. Bill backed his encouragement both with continued involvement as the study progressed, commenting on chapter drafts, and with crucial financial support from the Anders Family Foundation. That support helped me visit various archives during my research and avoid other compensated activity so I could focus on my writing. I thus owe a strong “thank you” to Bill Anders for all his effort in helping bring this book into existence.

If I had completed my study of post-Apollo decision making on its origi­nal schedule, it would have been a far less rich account. The availability of books by senior White House staff and of the Nixon administration papers at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California, and the release of Nixon’s tape recordings, which can be accessed at a variety of websites (I used www. nixontapes. org) were all essential to a full narrative. At the Nixon Library, the staff of the research room was extremely researcher – friendly. I owe particular thanks there to audio-visual archivist Jon Fletcher, who was very responsive in my search for fresh images to include in the book. Freelance researcher Alicia Fernandez provided useful help in tying up some last-minute loose ends.

I also consulted the papers of Caspar Weinberger, Clay Thomas Whitehead, and Tom Paine at the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress; George Low’s papers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; James Fletcher’s papers at the University of Utah (at an early stage in my research); material in the Johnson Space Center Historical Collection at the University of Houston Clear Lake; and interviews available in the Archives Division of the National Air and Space Museum. The staffs at all these venues were very helpful; I am grateful to them all but owe particular thanks to Jean Grant at Clear Lake for provide a large amount of useful material. The NASA Historical Reference Collection is a treasure trove for researchers into NASA’s his­tory and was absolutely crucial to my work, and I owe thanks to the NASA history office staff, particularly its director, Bill Barry, chief archivist Jane

Odom, and archivists Colin Fries and Liz Suchow for their help. I have put the documents and interviews that form the basis for this study on deposit at the NASA Historical Reference Collection as “Logsdon Source Notes.”

As I completed the study I was able to interview a number of those involved in the 1969-1972 events, including Bill Anders, Don Rice of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and former astronaut and Nixon adviser on space Frank Borman. Russell Drew of the White House Office of Science and Technology, Dan Taft of OMB, and original shuttle program manager Bob Thompson provided useful comments on chapter drafts. In addition, Frank Borman, Richard Speier, Chuck Friedlander, James Dewar, and Jim Behling were good enough to share material from their personal files, and Paul Shawcross gave me access to the few files on the shuttle decision that had been retained at OMB.

I owe a particular debt of gratitude to “space shuttle guru” Dennis Jenkins. Dennis shared material from his voluminous files and read and perceptively commented on drafts of every chapter. My book is not a history of the early evolution of the space shuttle; rather it is an account of the decisions made by the Nixon White House and the NASA leadership in Washington that made the shuttle central to what the United States has done in space for over four decades. I hope that when I do discuss the early years of the shuttle program, I make no major errors. When it becomes available in 2015, Dennis Jenkins’s three volume compendium on the totality of the space shuttle program will be the definitive work.

My former student and colleague Andre Bormanis also read every chap­ter with an eagle eye, catching my many typos while providing thought­ful substantive comments. Other colleagues who commented on chapter drafts include Roger Launius, Teasel Muir-Harmony, Russ Drew, Dan Taft, Dwayne Day, and L. Parker Temple III. I must thank Scott Pace, my suc­cessor as director of GW’s Space Policy Institute, for his hospitality in pro­viding an aging professor emeritus continuing work space at the university. There have been a number of people at GW who helped in the early stages of my research on post-Apollo decisions, but frankly I cannot remember any specific names. If any of those individuals happen to read this book, I thank you for your help and apologize for my poor recall. More recently, student assistants Caitlan Dowling helped with archival research and retyping some of the early interviews, Luis Suter took on the unenviable task of trying to transcribe the often-garbled conversations on the Nixon tapes, and Gaurav Dhiman helped get the manuscript in shape for submission. Rachel Nishan of Twin Oaks Indexing did an extremely thorough job of compiling the book’s index, and she and Dwayne Day provided invaluable “second eyes” in reviewing the study’s page proofs.

I am appreciative of Roger Launius’s interest in having this book be part of the Palgrave Series in the History of Science and Technology that he and Jim Fleming co-edit, and to editors Chris Chappell and his successor Kristin Purdy, editorial assistant Mike Auperach, and production editor Erin Ivy at Palgrave Macmillan for seeing the book through to publication.

The time taken in completing this study covers most of my professional career—38 years on the active GW faculty and six as an emeritus professor. I tell people that I have not retired, and offer John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon and this book as evidence. There are likely to be more books to fol­low, both in terms of policy history and perhaps also a collection of my own insights and opinions over the years. In those same 44 years, my two sons have grown to be outstanding men and three delightful grandchildren have been born. I am dedicating this book to Jacob, Sara, and Aaron Logsdon with the hope that they will see a future in space with more purpose and pay­offs than the one created by the Nixon administration decisions chronicled in this work. Throughout these 44 years, and even before, my wife Roslyn has provided the loving foundation of my life. Maybe now that this long- running opus is finished we can find more time to enjoy life together.

Needless to say, I am responsible for all errors of fact (including what was actually being said on the Nixon tapes!) and interpretation. I am sure that many people will not agree with my assessment of the Nixon space heritage, especially with respect to the space shuttle, and my characterization of the recent and current state of the U. S. space program. After a career devoted to that program, I regret that my conclusions are so downbeat. I can only remain hopeful that better days are ahead.

John M. Logsdon January 2015

NASA Not Ready for Success

While Richard Nixon came to the White House knowing that he would soon have to make choices regarding the future of the United States in space, the NASA leadership was not well prepared to present the new president with attractive options for that future. At what should have been a moment of great triumph, with the spectacular success of the bold Apollo 8 mission and with the first landing on the Moon just months in the future, the top offi­cials of NASA in January 1969 did not have a clear sense of what might best follow Apollo. According to one of those officials, “the general atmosphere [among NASA’s leaders] in terms of decisiveness, purpose, dynamics—a feel­ing that you were in an agency moving forward—that was not there.” Those at the helm of NASA did not accurately perceive the broad societal changes that would influence political decisions on what space future was sustainable; “the dramatic political, cultural, and socioeconomic changes of the tumul­tuous decade of the 1960s” had left NASA, focused on the Cold War goal of beating the Soviet Union to the Moon, “in a time warp not completely of its own making.” Apollo’s message of America’s technological power stemming from the concerted actions of government and industry “ran up against a powerful shift in American culture that was beginning to push in the opposite direction, and which ultimately undermined the very premise (and promise) of the manned space program.”5 Decisions on the post-Apollo space program would be made in a very different context than that existing as John F. Kennedy in 1961 decided to send Americans to the Moon.

Initial NASA Proposals

Paine on February 24 had responded to a January 23 letter from BOB Director Mayo asking NASA to identify areas for budget reductions. Rather than offer such reductions, Paine requested an additional $189 million for Fiscal Year 1970. The proposed budget additions were:

• $70 million for increasing the stay time on the Moon of the lunar module, developing a lunar rover vehicle, and other enhancements to allow the six additional Apollo missions (Apollo 15-20) then planned after the first four landings to carry out more intensive scientific activities;

• $52.2 million to preserve the option of continuing to produce Saturn V boosters; without additional large rockets, NASA would not be able to launch the large space station that was central to its post-Apollo planning and to carry out other large-scale future missions;

• $66.6 million for accelerating the pace of space station and space shuttle definition studies.4

Two days later, Paine sent directly to President Nixon a nine-page memoran­dum on “Problems and Opportunities in Manned Space Flight.” The memo­randum made NASA’s case both for the additions to the FY1970 budget and for an early presidential commitment to a large space station. Paine organized his justification for the space station in several steps. First was accepting “as a matter of policy [that] the nation must and will continue in manned space flight,” adding that “no responsible and thoughtful person, to my knowledge, advocates or is prepared to accept the prospect of the United States abandon­ing manned space flight to the Soviets to develop and exploit as they see fit.” Paine then characterized a space station as “a central point for many activities in space,” but added that “we believe strongly that the justification for proceeding now with this major project as a national goal does not, and should not be made to depend on the specific contributions that can be foreseen today . . . Rather, the justification for the space station is that it is clearly the next major evolution­ary step in man’s experimentation, conquest, and use of space.”5

This justification met a critical response. DuBridge asked the Space Science and Technology Panel of the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC), his elite external group of science and technology advisers, to assess Paine’s February 26 memorandum. That panel was chaired by Lewis Branscomb, a physicist and director of the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics in Boulder, Colorado. During the presidential transition, the panel had pre­pared an assessment of NASA’s status that was a significant input into the Townes transition task force on space. The panel was “not reassured by the characterization of the space station’s justification as a technological end in itself, accompanied by a reluctance to discuss the station in terms of its potential contribution to science, applications, and defense.”6

A High-Level White House Intervention

The text of the September 8 draft of the STG report appeared to make presidential choice of either Option A or Option B the best course forward. Selecting Option A would have required the White House to commit to simultaneous development of a space station and a space shuttle in its upcom­ing decisions on the Fiscal Year 1971 budget; selecting Option B meant that this commitment could be made a year later. It was already clear to the president’s policy and budget advisors that, given the high priority President Nixon had assigned to avoiding running a deficit in government spending, the budget could not accommodate such a commitment in either year. The president, if the report was not changed, could be placed in the position of rejecting the recommendations of the group he had chartered to define the post-Apollo program.

Flanigan brought this situation to the attention of John Ehrlichman, who had emerged during the year as Richard Nixon’s most trusted adviser on domestic policy. Ehrlichman in his 1982 book Witness to Power provides a vivid account of what followed. On the morning of September 11, just before the final STG meeting, Ehrlichman, Flanigan, and DuBridge met with Vice President Agnew. Ehrlichman told Agnew that the STG “owed it to the President not to include a proposal our budget couldn’t pay for.” Since an early Mars mission would be very popular, “if the committee proposed it and Nixon had to say no, he would be criticized as the President who kept us from finding life on Mars.” Agnew argued that a mission to Mars was “a reasonable, feasible option.” Ehrlichman “saw no excuse for Agnew’s insis­tence” and was “surprised at his obtuseness.” He “took off the kid gloves” and told Agnew “Look, Mr. Vice President, we have to be practical. There is no money for a Mars trip. The President has already decided that.” He told Agnew “it is your job, with Lee DuBridge’s help, to make absolutely certain that the Mars trip is not in” the report. Agnew, doubting that Ehrlichman was actually speaking for Richard Nixon, “demanded a personal meeting with the President.” Ehrlichman’s response was “I’ll arrange it at once.” Upon leaving Agnew’s office, Ehrlichman asked Dwight Chapin to set up the meeting with Richard Nixon that the vice president had requested.48

The Nixon Space Doctrine

The decisions about the NASA budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 1971 that emerged from the chaotic budget process were a result of two general influences. One was the need to fit spending on space within the very tight constraints on discretionary government spending if the overall fed­eral budget were to be in balance with expected revenues. This meant determining how the civilian space program would fit within the Nixon administration’s overall priorities. In developing the FY1971 budget, the Bureau of the Budget (BOB) had identified the administration’s highest priority domestic goals: implementing revenue sharing between the federal and state governments, reducing the crime rate, expanding family and food assistance, increasing manpower training, environmental protection, and improving surface and air transportation.1 Space did not make this list of top priorities, and that had been reflected in the FY1971 budget decisions. The other influence was the rather ad hoc policy framework President Richard Nixon and his policy advisers used to evaluate the recommen­dations of the Space Task Group (STG) and the NASA budget proposal based on those recommendations. The White House had not articulated a strategic perspective on the space program to guide it as it evaluated the STG’s proposed initiatives. The Nixon administration, by treating space as a domestic rather than foreign policy issue, did not feel compelled to evaluate future space activities in the context of broader geopolitical goals beyond the general thought that there should be increased emphasis on cooperation rather than competition.

The FY1971 budget decisions reduced the priority of space spending within the overall federal budget to a ranking significantly lower than it had held at the peak of the Apollo program in 1966, when the space agency com­manded 4.4 percent of total government spending and 19 percent of nonde­fense discretionary spending. By the time Congress approved NASA’s budget for FY1971 in mid-1970, NASA’s share of federal spending had shrunk by almost two-thirds, to 1.6 percent of the total and 7 percent of discretionary spending. This was certainly not a budget allocation that could support the kind of program NASA was advocating for the 1970s.