Category THE RACE

Space Statements during the Campaign

By 1960, it had become customary for specialized publications to ask presi­dential candidates to state their positions on issues of interest to their readers. Thus the trade magazine Missiles and Rockets on October 3, 1960, published an “open letter to Richard Nixon and John Kennedy,” proposing a nine – point “defense and space platform” and asking the candidates to reply, “stat­ing your views and making your stand quite clear on these two closely related problems.” Kennedy’s response, which appeared in the October 10 issue of the magazine, was drafted by Dr. Edward C. Welsh, at that time working for Senator Stuart Symington; Symington had competed with Kennedy for the Democratic presidential nomination and reflected the views of the more military-oriented elements of the Democratic Party. Both Symington and Welsh were vigorous champions of a strong U. S. space effort; the statement was “full of the clash and clamor of the space race.”14 The Kennedy state­ment said:

We are in a strategic space race with the Russians, and we are losing. . . . Control of space will be decided in the next decade. If the Soviets control space they can control earth, as in past centuries the nation that controlled the seas has dominated the continents. . . We cannot run second in this vital race. To insure peace and freedom, we must be first.

The target dates for a manned space platform, U. S. citizen on the moon, nuclear power for space exploration, and a true manned spaceship should be elastic. All these things and more we should accomplish as swiftly as possible. This is the new age of exploration; space is our great New Frontier.15

How accurately this statement reflected John Kennedy’s actual thinking as of October 1960 with regard to the strategic and military importance of space is questionable; the fact that it was prepared by someone with­out a central role in Kennedy’s campaign suggests that neither Kennedy nor his close policy advisers had much involvement in its content. Many in the space community, however, took the statement at face value and anticipated that if elected Kennedy would favor an accelerated space effort and would put additional emphasis on the military dimensions of the U. S. space program.

Webb Soon Challenged

James Webb faced an almost immediate challenge to his freedom to man­age NASA as he saw appropriate, especially in the context of the preva­lent NASA-Air Force tensions. The first attempt in July 1960 to launch a Mercury capsule atop an Atlas booster had ended in an explosion. The cause of this failure had been localized to the area where the spacecraft and the capsule were joined. Since the Air Force retained responsibility for booster performance and launching while NASA was responsible for the spacecraft and the overall mission, this meant that both organizations were intimately involved in attempting to correct whatever had caused the failure. A “quick fix” using an improvised steel band was adopted. The NASA top management had agreed to this approach before Webb took office, but the Air Force remained extremely concerned about the possibil­ity of another major accident. There had been a highly visible Atlas failure on December 15, 1960 as NASA attempted to send a robotic spacecraft to the Moon, increasing the level of concern on the part of the Air Force. That worry was linked to the important question of what another failure would communicate about the reliability of the Atlas ICBM, a key element of the U. S. nuclear deterrent force, and thus to the credibility of the U. S. deterrent threat.21

Webb was briefed on the situation on February 18 by NASA’s Project Mercury managers, who wanted his approval for a launch of the improved Mercury-Atlas combination on February 21. Webb approved the launch, but soon after got a call from the Air Force asking him to reverse that decision. From the White House, Wiesner also expressed his opposition to going ahead. After Webb checked again with knowledgeable people both within and outside NASA, he refused to reverse his decision, although the Air Force “protested vehemently” and made its concerns known to the White House, most likely through one of Kennedy’s military aides, Air Force General Godfrey McHugh. The White House decided not to intervene in the dispute, “making the issue a major test for Webb and NASA and their credibility with the president.” The February 21 flight was a total success; Webb had passed his first challenge with flying colors.22

Reactions to the Gagarin Flight

Congressional and media reaction to the Soviet achievement on April 12 and the next several days resembled—indeed, in some ways exceeded—the rather hysterical reactions after the launch of Sputnik 1 in October 1957. Clearly, this second Soviet space achievement was a major political setback for the new administration.

The Soviet Union was quick to capitalize on the propaganda significance of the successful flight. In his first telephone conversation with Gagarin after his return to Earth, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev boasted: “Let the capi­talist countries catch up with our country!” The Central Committee of the Communist Party claimed that the flight “embodied the genius of the Soviet people and the powerful force of socialism.” East German Communist leader Walter Ulbricht said that the flight “demonstrates to the whole world that socialism must triumph over the decaying system of yesterday.” Reacting to claims such as these, a New York Times correspondent suggested that it appeared likely that “the Soviet leaders can further alter the atmosphere of international relations so as to create more pressure on Western governments to make concessions on the great world issues of the present day.”7

The rest of the world was almost unanimous in its admiration of the Soviet achievement. In Great Britain, “universal praise for the Soviet achievement from Cabinet ministers, diplomats, scientists, and the general public was accompanied by some anti-American barbs from men in the street.” The French press “relegated all other news to a secondary position. . . Even com­ments and reactions to President De Gaulle’s news conference were put into relative obscurity.” In Italy, “news of the successful Russian space flight was heralded . . . in banner headlines.” Romans snapped up the papers, emptying kiosks in a matter of minutes, then stood around discussing the event. The Vatican newspaper called the flight “a universal good” and a Geneva paper termed the voyage “the number one event of the twentieth century.”8

The U. S. Information Agency summarized world reaction to the Gagarin flight in an April 21 report, which noted that “media coverage of the Soviet man-in-space has been extraordinarily heavy,” with its initial volume “com­parable to that received by Sputnik 1, if not greater.” The “general tenor” of the press reports was “to acclaim the first manned space flight as (1) a great event in human history, ( 2) a tremendous scientific and technical achieve­ment, and ( 3) a triumph for the USSR that would have many repercussions in the Cold War,” since it would “increase Soviet military, political, and propaganda leverage.”9

American reaction to the Gagarin flight was characterized by disappoint­ment and chagrin. No high official had prepared the general public to expect the Soviet flight, and thus for many it came almost as much of a shock as the 1957 Sputnik 1 launch. The Washington Post commented editorially: “The fact of the Soviet space feat must be faced for what it is, and it is a psychologi­cal victory of the first magnitude for the Soviet Union. . . The general excite­ment from Europe to Asia, Africa and the Americas will not be diminished by the recognition that no immediate military, commercial or other actual advantage accrues to the Soviet Union. In these matters, what people believe is as important as the actual facts, and many persons will of course take this event as new evidence of Soviet superiority.”10

The New York Times correspondent Harry Schwartz commented that “the President, of course, had attempted to present himself as an image of a young, active, and vigorous leader of a strong and advancing nation. . . But none of these and other measures have had the effectiveness or the spectacu­lar quality of Soviet efforts. Moreover, since he took office the President’s image has been beset by the difficulties he has had with Congress, by his failure to spell out the promised ‘sacrifices’ to be required of the American people and by the continued recession.”11

The hawkish New York Times military correspondent Hanson Baldwin was even sharper in his criticism.

This same philosophy, which cost the nation heavily in prestige and marred the political and psychological image of our country abroad, hobbled our

space program even before the Russians put the first sputnik in orbit_____ It is

high time to discard this policy. In fact, if the United States is to compete in space, we must decide to do so on a top-priority basis immediately, or we face a bleak future of more Soviet triumphs.

Even though the United States is still the strongest military power and leads in many aspects of the space race, the world—impressed by the spectacu­lar Soviet firsts—believes that we lag militarily and technologically.

The dangers of such false images to our military power and diplomacy are obvious. The neutral nations may come to believe the wave of the future is Russian; even our friends and allies could slough away. The deterrent, which after all is only as strong as Premier Khrushchev thinks it is, could be weak­ened.

Baldwin concluded by pointing out that “only Presidential emphasis and direction will chart an American pathway to the stars.”12

John F. Kennedy was an avid newspaper reader. He very likely had criti­cisms such as these in mind as he considered how best to respond to this new Soviet challenge.

Kennedy Accepts Recommendations

The recommendations contained in the Webb-McNamara report did not stay secret for long. In a story dated May 9, The New York Times, based on a leak from Senator Robert Kerr, headlined a page one story: “600 Million More Planned to Spur Space Programs.” The story reported in some detail the specific recommendations of the report, but did not mention the pro­posal to set a lunar landing as a national goal.12

By the time President Kennedy met on the morning of May 10 with his advisers, including Sorensen, Wiesner, and Bundy; budget officials Bell and Staats; Webb and Dryden from NASA; and Welsh from the Space Council, to review the Webb-McNamara report, his decision to accept the report’s recommendations was almost foreordained. McGeorge Bundy, who was somewhat skeptical of the validity of the arguments in support of setting the lunar landing goal, suggests that Kennedy “had pretty much made up his mind to go” and was not particularly interested in hearing arguments to the contrary.13 It was thus at this meeting that Kennedy finalized his policy decision to go to the Moon. Kennedy did ask the BOB to carry out its normal assessment of the financial and policy implications of his decision before committing to the specific programs and budget recommendations contained in the report.

In parallel with Lyndon Johnson’s review of the space program, others within the Kennedy administration had been reviewing issues related to the defense budget, military assistance programs, foreign aid, civil defense, and overseas information programs. Sorensen says that “since space, like these other items, obviously did have some bearing upon our status in the world, it was decided to combine the results of all those studies with the President’s recommendations [on space] in the special message to Congress,” which was billed as a second State of the Union Address on “Urgent National Needs.” Sorensen checked with the Library of Congress regarding whether past presi­dents had addressed a joint session of Congress at times other than the annual State of the Union speech, and was told that while President Eisenhower had done so only once in his eight years in office, President Harry Truman had made eight such speeches, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt five. There was this ample precedent for a second address to Congress less than four months after Kennedy had spoken on the State of the Union. The Kennedy address was originally scheduled for May 23, but then was postponed for two days, until May 25, 1961.14

There is some evidence that during the two weeks after Kennedy approved the Webb-McNamara memorandum his economic advisers evaluated the likely impact of the increased space spending Kennedy would propose. Their conclusion was that these expenditures were neither large enough nor prop­erly designed to inject enough stimulus into the economy to by themselves mitigate the ongoing recession. Walter Heller, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Secretary of Labor Arthur Goldberg proposed that Kennedy approve a substantial public works program rather than (or in addi­tion to) new space spending. Such a program, they thought, would provide the needed stimulus. Kennedy turned down this suggestion; it is reported that Heller viewed Kennedy’s decision to spend money on the space pro­gram rather than on public works as one of Heller’s worst defeats during the Kennedy administration.15

Soviet Successes—and Failures

In mid-August 1962, the United States was also reminded that the space race with the Soviet Union was still on. A year had passed since the second Soviet orbital flight of cosmonaut Gherman Titov on August 6, 1961. That flight had had its share of troubles; in particular, Titov, unlike Yuri Gagarin, had experienced significant motion sickness during his seventeen-orbit, day-long flight; in contrast, Gagarin had completed his one orbit with no ill effects. On August 11, 1962, the Soviet Union launched its third human space flight and then, on the next day, much to the surprise of Western observers, launched a fourth human mission. In the United Kingdom, astronomer Bernard Lovell, who was a year later to become involved in a controversy over whether the Soviet Union intended to send people to the Moon, called the two launches “the most remarkable development that man has ever seen.” The two Soviet spacecraft passed close to one another early in their joint mission; the two cosmonauts communicated using their on-board radios, and, according to at least some reports, saw each other’s spacecraft, but they did not have the maneuvering capabilities required for a rendezvous attempt. Until the lack of that capability became evident to U. S. observers, there was concern that the Soviet Union had beaten the United States to another important milestone, the ability to carry out a space rendezvous.35

After rejecting the suggestion that he make a formal statement on the space competition with the Soviet Union at the start of his August 22 press conference, President Kennedy chose instead to respond to an inevitable question about the Soviet feat. His response suggested both his continuing commitment to catching up with the Soviet Union and his recognition of how expensive the space effort was becoming.

Q: Mr. President, the Soviet Union’s latest exploit, the launching of two men within 24 hours, seems to have caused a good deal of pessimism in the United States. You hear people say that we’re now a poor second to Russia. How do you size up the situation, Mr. President, for the present and the future?

Kennedy: We are second to the Soviet Union in long-range boosters. I have said from the beginning—we started late, we’ve been behind. It’s a tre­mendous job to build a booster of the size that the Soviet Union is talking about, and also have it much larger size, which we are presently engaged in the Saturn program. So we are behind and we’re going to be behind for a while. But I believe that before the end of this decade is out, the United States will be ahead. But it’s costing us a tremendous amount of money. . . And it’s going to take us quite a while to catch up with a very advanced program which the Soviets are directing and there’s no indication the Soviets are going to quit.

We’re well behind, but we’re making a tremendous effort. We increased after I took office, after 4 months, we increased the budget for space by 50 percent over that of my predecessor. The fact of the matter is that this year we submitted a space budget which was greater than the combined eight space budgets of the previous eight years. So this country is making a vast effort which is going to be much bigger next year and the years to come and represents a very heavy burden upon us all. But we might as well recognize that we’re behind now and we’re going to be for a while. But what we’ve got to do is concentrate our efforts.36

While publicly President Kennedy was acknowledging the continued Soviet lead in space, behind the scenes the White House was debating whether to counter the public awareness of Soviet space successes with what the U. S. government knew about Soviet failures. The Soviet Union had attempted on August 25 to send a spacecraft to Venus, but the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) informed Carl Kaysen, McGeorge Bundy’s dep­uty, that “the evidence points to a failure of the probe to eject from earth orbit.” By contrast, the U. S. launch of its Mariner II spacecraft to Venus on August 27 went well; for the first time, the United States was on its way to another planet, and the White House was anxious to contrast the U. S. success with the Soviet failure. On August 31, Kaysen sent a memoran­dum to White House press secretary Pierre Salinger discussing how best to announce this and prior Soviet failures without revealing the classified means through which the information had been acquired. On September 5, Lieutenant General Marshall Carter, acting director of the CIA, provided to President Kennedy a “fact sheet” on six Soviet failures of probes to Venus or Mars. He noted that “the information from which the fact sheet was developed has been obtained from many intelligence sources, some of them our most sensitive,” but that “there is enough collateral information avail­able to warrant unclassified publication of this fact sheet without blowing the cover of our sensitive sources.” Carter was worried about such a release, however; he told the president, “I am concerned over the opening up of this entire matter of our knowledge of Soviet activities to the general scrutiny of the public, and particularly the probing press,” who might be able to discover “our entire box of tricks.”

The White House decided to accept this risk, and on September 5 James Webb sent a letter to the chairmen of the Senate and House Space Committees detailing the Soviet failures; the letter was intended to be leaked to the media, and the press soon picked up the story. The New York Times on September 9 reported the release of information on Soviet failures and com­mented that “this week the Administration finally decided that the infor­mation was too good—from the standpoint of embarrassing and deflating the Russians—to keep secret any more,” and that the release was a “neat propaganda ploy.”37

A British Intervention

An unsolicited suggestion that the Soviet Union did not in fact have a lunar landing program came from a somewhat questionable source, but was widely reported. On July 17, 1963, there were press accounts that British scientist Sir Bernard Lovell, director of the Jodrell Bank Radio Observatory, who had just returned from a visit to the Soviet Union, was saying, “a month ago I believed, like everyone else in the West, that the US-Soviet Moon race was a real struggle. Now I seriously doubt it.” One NASA official deeply involved in international affairs characterized Lovell’s attempt to influence the course of affairs in 1963 “by all odds the strangest chapter in US/USSR space relationships.”17

Asked at a press conference on July 17 about whether, in light of Lovell’s statement, the United States intended to continue its lunar landing pro­gram, President Kennedy replied “in the first place, we don’t know what the Russians are—what their plans may be.” But “there is every evidence that they are carrying on a major campaign and diverting greatly needed resources to their space effort. . . I think we ought to go right ahead with our own program and go to the moon before the end of the decade.” Pressed on the issue, Kennedy continued, in apparent agreement with the position taken by James Webb in November 1962: “The point of the matter always has been not only of our excitement or interest in being on the moon, but the capacity to dominate space, which would be developed by a moon flight. . . I think we should continue and I would not be diverted by a newspaper story.” Asked about the possibility of the United States cooperating with the Soviet Union in a lunar mission, Kennedy said for the first time publicly “we have said before to the Soviet Union that we would be very interested in coop­eration.” However, he added, “ the kind of cooperative effort which would be required for the Soviet Union and the United States to go to the moon would require a breaking down of a good many barriers of suspicion and distrust and hostility which exist between the Communist world and our­selves.” Kennedy concluded that he would “welcome” such cooperation, but that he “did not see it yet, unfortunately.”18

In a July 23 letter to NASA deputy administrator Dryden, Lovell provided more details on his conversations with M. V. Keldysh, president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. He reported that Keldysh had informed him of “the rejection (at least for the time being) of the plans for the manned lunar land­ing” because of several uncertainties regarding the feasibility of such a mis­sion. Keldysh also said that “the manned project might be revived if progress in the next few years gave hope” that such an undertaking would indeed be feasible. Keldysh was reported as saying that “he believed the appropriate procedure would be to formulate the task on an international basis.” More specifically, Keldysh suggested “that the time was now appropriate for sci­entists to formulate on an international basis (a) the reasons why it is desir­able to engage in the manned lunar enterprise and (b) to draw up a list of scientific tasks which a man on the moon could deal with that which could not be solved by instruments alone.”19 As noted earlier, the Soviet Academy of Sciences had limited involvement in, and knowledge of, the Soviet space program, and particularly its human spaceflight aspects, yet Keldysh’s state­ments were seen by the media and some politicians as authoritative.

President Kennedy was kept aware of the issues raised by Lovell’s letter. The CIA told the White House that the letter was “another step in a Soviet move to internationalize manned lunar exploration.” Wiesner forwarded to Kennedy a July 25 article in the New Scientist magazine written by Lovell about his views on the Soviet program; Wiesner highlighted the sections of the article dealing with human space flight.20

During August, “speculation mounted. . . with more and more of a ten­dency to move to an assumption that the USSR has in fact indicated that it wanted to cooperate rather than compete in a moon landing. . . There was a feeling in NASA that the state of Soviet thinking should be fully checked out,” on the outside chance that “the USSR may indeed wish to inspire a slowdown or mutual accommodation in this space race.” Thus, in an August 21 letter to Soviet Academy President Keldysh, Dryden offered to meet with Blagonravov “to discuss further proposals for cooperation.”21

The two met over lunch at the United Nations in New York on September 11. Dryden reported that “Blagonravov stated that ‘Lovell’s statement (i. e., that there was a temporary hold in the lunar program) might be true as of today.’ ” Dryden told his counterpart that “it was not necessary to use Lovell as a channel to convey Soviet desires to the U. S.” Blagonravov also raised “the possibility of cooperation in manned lunar exploration after instrumented landings on the moon had been made.” According to Dryden, “this is a real change from previous discussions in which he had taken the point of view that there was no use in discussing cooperation in this area because of the political situation.” Dryden judged “that the Russians as well as us are having discussions on the value of manned lunar landing,” but that it was “dangerous” to rely only on statements coming from the Soviet Academy for an understanding of Soviet plans, since he was convinced that the Soviet lunar landing program “is a program originated and operated by the military.”22

The reality was that neither President Kennedy, nor NASA, nor anyone else in the U. S. government knew the true state of Soviet space efforts and internal debates as of September 1963. Each participant in the decision pro­cess brought his own values and objectives to the deliberations. Thus it is somewhat ingenuous to have observed, as did one senior NASA official, that the Lovell letter and the Dryden-Blagonravov conversation “contributed to an apparently coherent and progressive picture of Soviet readiness either to abandon their own lunar program or join in a cooperative effort,” and that this was “a dangerously misleading view for the credulous, the uninformed, and the wishful thinkers in official and unofficial places.”23

Project Apollo in Management and Schedule Trouble

Congressional budget cuts and widespread criticism were not the only threats to Apollo’s success during 1963. The relationship between James Webb and “Apollo czar” Brainerd Holmes never recovered from their differences in the final months of 1962 with respect to requesting additional funding to try to move forward the date of the initial lunar landing attempt. It became increasingly clear in the following months that Webb and Holmes could not work together effectively. As the accomplishments of Project Mercury were being celebrated by various ceremonies and receptions in Washington on May 21, 1963, Holmes became incensed that he was not mentioned at any point during the day; he called Robert Seamans, complaining that “there is absolutely no excuse for the lack of recognition” and that Webb “hates me.” Seamans later commented that “to say he was upset is to put it very mildly,” and that Holmes’s reaction that day “was really the start of the sequence of events that led to his leaving.” During a reception that evening at Webb’s home, Holmes and Webb got into a public argument. In a series of meetings a few days later, first with Seamans, then with Seamans and Dryden, and finally with Seamans, Dryden, and Webb, Holmes was asked to resign. On June 12 he announced that he would be leaving NASA within the next few months to return to industry.29

NASA sought the president’s assistance in quickly finding a replacement for Holmes. On June 11, Webb sought JFK’s help in recruiting to the NASA position Ruben Mettler, president of Space Technology Laboratories, an organization providing systems engineering support for the Air Force ICBM and space programs. Webb told the president that Mettler had “exactly the qualifications and the experience necessary. . . and has the complete confi­dence of men like Secretary McNamara and Dr. Wiesner.” Webb suggested that the president could assist the recruitment effort by joining McNamara and Webb in signing a letter to the chairman of the Board of the Thompson – Ramo-Wooldridge Company, the parent company of Space Technology Laboratories, requesting Mettler’s services and indicating that “we all will be working together in this program and that we all want and need him and are presenting the request in the form of a national draft.”30 It is not clear whether such a letter was ever sent.

At any rate, NASA was not able to convince Mettler to leave his West Coast position, and so turned to one of his senior associates at the Space Technologies Laboratories, George Mueller, as Holmes’s successor. As he formally joined NASA on September 1, 1963, Mueller was greeted by a front-page article in The New York Times headlined “Manned Test Flight Lags 9 Months in Moon Project” and saying that such a delay “has led some space officials to question whether it will be possible to achieve the Administration’s objective of landing men on the moon by the end of the decade.” Newsweek in its September 23 issue reported that “the Apollo man – on-the-moon program is almost a year behind its original timetable—and almost certainly will not meet the target set by Mr. Kennedy.” The magazine suggested that “the crux of the delay is threefold—money, machines, and men,” and suggested that there was “lagging morale and confusion inside NASA.”31

Soon after assuming his position at NASA, George Mueller asked two senior NASA engineers to conduct a quick and discreet inquiry into the state of the Apollo program. On September 28, the two reported to Mueller that “if funding constraints. . . prevail,” the “lunar landing cannot be attained within the decade at acceptable risk,” and that the “first attempt to land men on the moon is likely about late 1971.” Mueller showed this report to Robert Seamans, who directed that it not be distributed, much less publi­cized; there are reports that he told Mueller to destroy the report since it was so at variance with what NASA was saying publicly, but at least some copies were retained. On the basis of this report and his own experience, by the end of October Mueller mandated a dramatic change in the Apollo schedule, known as “all up” testing; this required that all parts of the Saturn V launch vehicle be tested together, rather than separate tests for each launcher stage. This critical management decision made feasible getting to the Moon by the end of the decade.32

Whether NASA’s problems with the Apollo schedule were known to the White House is not clear from the written record. Given John Kennedy’s avid reading of the general media, it is probable that he noticed the Times and Newsweek stories. The program’s troubles in maintaining its schedule are likely to have played a role in a major White House review of the nation’s civilian and national security space programs that was just beginning in early October 1963.


Certainly if the Soviet Union had responded positively to Kennedy’s September 20, 1963, offer to cooperate in sending people to the Moon, there could have been profound changes in the character of the Apollo program. But even if such cooperation were not to have materialized, there is strongly suggestive evidence that Kennedy’s advisers, if not the president himself, were thinking about significant changes in the national space program in the October-November 1963 period. Those changes might well have included relaxing the schedule aimed at an initial lunar landing by late 1967, or even abandoning the Moon goal altogether. The New York Times noted as NASA celebrated its fifth birthday in early October that “technically, politically, financially, the space agency was in trouble. . . After five years of seemingly unlimited growth, the agency had suddenly and unexpectedly found its future ambitions and growth questioned by segments of the scientific com­munity it had tried so hard to patronize and by a Congress that had always seemed so open-handed and enthusiastic.”33 That questioning extended to John Kennedy’s inner circle, and it was very uncertain in the fall of 1963 whether the White House would maintain the lunar landing program on its planned course.

The Symbolic Role of Space

John Kennedy laid out his basic argument for his candidacy in one of his early campaign speeches. He told an audience in Portland, Oregon, that

Other countries of the free world—troubled and restless—are looking for new leadership from the United States, and I believe they are willing to accept and respect the leadership of an administration that will move vigorously on these five fronts:

1. An administration that moves rapidly to rebuild our defenses, until America is once again first in military power across the board;

2. An administration that moves rapidly to revamp our goals in education and research, until American science and learning are once again preeminent;

3. An administration that moves rapidly to reshape our image here at home, until it is clear to all the world that the revolution for equal rights is still the American revolution;

4. An administration that moves rapidly to renew our leadership for peace, until we have brought to that universal pursuit the same concentration of resources and efforts that we have brought to the preparation of war; and

5. Finally, an administration that moves rapidly to remold our attitudes toward the aspirations of other nations, until we have a fuller understanding of their problems, their requirements, and their fundamental values.16

Theodore Sorensen notes that there was a single theme that Kennedy stressed throughout the campaign: “the challenge of the sixties to America’s security, America’s prestige, America’s progress.” Kennedy on the campaign trail proclaimed over and over again that “it is time to get this country moving again.” Eventually that phrase or a variation of it appeared in every campaign speech. By the end of October, “the issue of slipping prestige had become the dominant one of the campaign”; according to the polls, Kennedy had a substantial lead over his Republican opponent, Richard M. Nixon, on this issue.17

It was in this context that Kennedy made frequent references to the space program in his campaign appearances. For example:

If the Soviet Union was first in outer space, that is the most serious defeat the United States has suffered in many, many years. . . Because we failed to recognize the impact that being first in outer space would have, the impres­sion began to move around the world that the Soviet Union was on the march, that it had definite goals, that it knew how to accomplish them, that it was moving and we were standing still. This is what we have to overcome, that

psychological feeling in the world that the United States has reached maturity,

that maybe our high noon has passed. . . and that now we are going into the

long, slow afternoon.18

Although a speech devoted solely to space issues was drafted for Kennedy’s campaign use, it was never delivered.19

Kennedy’s campaign rhetoric with respect to the loss of U. S. prestige because of the Soviet space successes was reinforced by a classified U. S. Information Agency report that was leaked to The Washington Post. The title of the October 10 report was “The World Reaction to the United States and Soviet Space Programs—A Summary Assessment.” The report was based on polls taken in Great Britain, France, West Germany, Italy, and Norway. On the basis of the results of these surveys, the report concluded that “in antici­pation of future U. S.-U. S.S. R. standing, foreign public opinion. . . appears to have declining confidence in the U. S. as the ‘wave of the future’ in a number of critical areas.”20

Vice presidential candidate Lyndon B. Johnson in his campaign appear­ances did not stress the space issue as strongly or as frequently as did Kennedy, even though from the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957 on, Johnson had taken the lead in the Senate on space issues. In late October 1960, in response to Richard Nixon’s defense of the space record of the Eisenhower administration, Johnson released a “white paper” prepared by the staff of the Senate space committee, which he chaired. Johnson criticized the admin­istration’s space policy but stressed that both Democrats and Republicans in Congress had recognized the need for a strong space effort. The paper contended that “The sad truth is that U. S. progress in space has been con­tinually hampered by the Republican administration’s blind refusal to rec­ognize that we have been engaged in a space and missile race with the Soviet Union and to act accordingly.” In a statement released with his white paper, Johnson echoed the sentiments of Kennedy’s October 10 statement regard­ing the strategic significance of space: “It is a fact that if any nation succeeds in securing control of outer space, it will have the capability of controlling the earth itself.”21

Throughout the campaign, Kennedy frequently linked the Eisenhower administration’s failures in space to its allowing the Soviet Union to achieve a significant advantage vis-a-vis the United States with respect to the devel­opment and deployment of ballistic missiles—the so-called “missile gap.” On July 23, after the Democratic convention, candidate Kennedy had a highly classified briefing from the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Allen Dulles. A wide variety of topics were covered, including “an analysis of Soviet strategic attack capabilities in missiles.” Kennedy asked Dulles “how we ourselves stood in the missile race.” Dulles told him that “the Defense Department was the competent authority on this question.” After subsequent meetings with defense officials, Kennedy told Sorensen that the briefings “were largely superficial” and “contained little he had not read in The New York Times.”22

The reality was that at the time of the Dulles briefing, there was limited information available to the U. S. leadership on Soviet deployment of intercon­tinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The missions flown by the U-2 spy plane prior to the May 1, 1960, downing of a flight over Russia piloted by Francis Gary Powers had suggested that there had been very limited deployment of the initial Soviet ICBM, and thus that a prospective “missile gap” was not likely to emerge. The first successful U. S. spy satellite mission was not launched until August 18, 1960, after Kennedy’s CIA briefing, and it took several additional missions later in 1960 and in early 1961 to confirm that the indications from the U-2 flights were correct. (In fact, only four of the original ICBMs were ever deployed; it took some twenty hours to prepare the rocket for launch, making it an unwieldy military weapon. Its main role turned out to be as the workhorse launch vehicle for early Soviet space missions.23)

According to Sorensen, the U-2 evidence was not made available to Kennedy in the various intelligence briefings he received during the cam­paign. Also, from Kennedy’s September 1960 question to Trevor Gardner about whether the United States or the Soviet Union would be first to have a reconnaissance satellite, it appears Kennedy was not briefed on the CORONA intelligence satellite program that Eisenhower had approved in February 1958; its existence was known to very few people within the Congress. Even so, Eisenhower was “reportedly furious” that Kennedy continued to raise the missile gap issue throughout the campaign, while his opponent, Richard Nixon, could not provide information that would counter Kennedy’s claims because of its highly classified nature.24

NASA-Air Force Tensions Reduced

The Air Force push for a larger role in space had continued after the Kennedy administration came into office; the major aerospace trade magazine Missiles and Rockets reported late in March 1961 that “the showdown on who will take charge of the U. S. man-in-space program—and with it the main role in space exploration” would come soon, and that in the choice between NASA and the Air Force, “the best bet on who will win when the cards are dealt: the Air Force.”23 By the time this report appeared, however, Air Force ambi­tions had been significantly tempered by both the president and the new managers of the Department of Defense.

Webb’s conduct with respect to the Mercury-Atlas test flight had dem­onstrated to the Air Force that he was not easily intimidated. Bolstered by this success, Webb and other top NASA officials embarked on a conscious campaign to establish close working relationships with the new civilian lead­ership of the Department of Defense. This was an attempt, reported Robert Seamans, to “so handle ourselves that, rather than have things pull fur­ther apart, the wounds got healed and things got pulled together.”24 Webb did not know well Kennedy’s hard charging and intellectually brilliant sec­retary of defense, Robert McNamara (and the two apparently did not get along from the start of their relationship), but he knew McNamara’s num­ber two person, deputy secretary of defense Roswell Gilpatric, from their time together in the Truman administration. Gilpatric says that one of the reasons he was named McNamara’s deputy was “to work with NASA and Webb” and “to help avoid conflicts between DOD and NASA.” He also noted that McNamara “was impatient with Webb” and “felt that he talked too much.”25

Congress Calls for a Crash Effort

The most vocal demands for an immediate response to the Soviet flight came from the House of Representatives, and particularly its Committee on Science and Astronautics. Committee hearings took place in a highly charged atmosphere.13 On April 12, the committee held a previously scheduled hear­ing on the proposal to revise the 1958 Space Act to make the vice president the chairman of the Space Council. Edward Welsh was the only witness. But the minds of the representatives were on the Gagarin flight, not the Space Council. Committee chair Overton Brooks stated that “we ought to make a determination that we. . . are going to be first in the future.” Republican James Fulton proclaimed that “we in the United States should publicly say that we are in a competitive space race with Russia and accept the challenge.” On April 13, James Webb and Hugh Dryden appeared before the commit­tee to defend the NASA budget increases that the president had approved on March 23. The focus of the hearings was not on those additions to the NASA budget to speed up the booster programs; rather, it was on the funds for human space flight on which the president had deferred approval. Fulton told Webb and Dryden that “I believe we are in a race, and I have said many times, Mr. Webb, ‘Tell me how much money you need and this committee will authorize all you need.’ ” Congressman Vincent Anfuso suggested that he was “ready to call for a full-scale congressional investigation. I want to see our country mobilized for war because we are at war. I want to see our schedules cut in half.”14