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account of post-Apollo decision making, and put that draft and transcripts of the supporting interviews in the NASA Historical Reference Collection at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC; other researchers have drawn on that material over the years.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