Category THE RACE

James Webb Selected

In the wake of President Kennedy’s pressure, a new name was suggested, apparently to Lyndon Johnson by Senator Kerr and independently to President Kennedy by Wiesner. Wiesner later argued that his suggestion was the one that was decisive, although other accounts suggest that it was Lyndon Johnson who first brought Webb’s name to White House attention. The new candidate was James E. Webb, a businessman and lawyer with prior experience in high-level government posts. During the Truman administra­tion, Webb had been head of the Bureau of the Budget (BOB) and then the number two person under Dean Acheson at the Department of State. Webb also had experience in managing large organizations; he had worked in Oklahoma heading one of Robert Kerr’s companies from 1953 to 1958. After leaving Kerr’s employ, Webb had been active on issues of science and engineering education, in the process becoming well known to many of the leaders of the scientific community, including Wiesner.

According to Wiesner, Kennedy asked him to check whether Johnson agreed that Webb would be a good choice. Johnson did agree, and because he had had such little success with the people he had contacted, asked Wiesner to call Webb. On Friday, January 27, after clearing the contact with the presi­dent, Wiesner telephoned Webb, who was at a luncheon in Oklahoma City, and asked him to be in Washington the following Monday to meet with the vice president to discuss the NASA position.

Webb left Oklahoma City on Friday and spent the weekend in Washington discussing the prospects for space under Kennedy with several former associ­ates in the BOB and the Kennedy White House staff and with others whose views he valued. One of them was Webb’s longtime friend Lloyd Berkner, who was the current chair of the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences, NASA’s primary source of scientific advice; Berkner had himself been approached for the NASA job and had said that he was not interested. By Monday morning, January 30, as he arrived at Johnson’s Capitol office, Webb felt that he had a fairly good idea of what was going on with respect to space and had concluded that “I would not take the job if I could honorably and properly not take it.”

Before meeting with Lyndon Johnson (whom he did not know well), Webb chatted with acting NASA administrator Hugh Dryden, who was there for the meeting, and Frank Pace, who had been Webb’s successor as director of the BOB in the Truman administration. Webb had also known Dryden since the late 1940s. Both Pace and Dryden agreed with Webb that he was not the right man for the job, and Webb asked Pace to convey that view to Johnson. Pace tried to do so, but Johnson was unwilling to listen and in essence threw Pace out of his office. Webb then met with Johnson, who, Webb says, was “very anxious” for Webb to accept the NASA job. Webb made it clear that he would only accept the position on the basis of a direct offer from the president. Arrangements were quickly made for Webb to meet with Kennedy, whom Webb previously had met only once or twice on social occasions.

After lunch with Dryden, Webb met with Kennedy one-on-one in the Oval Office. Kennedy told him that he did not want a technical person for the NASA job, saying that “there are great issues of national and interna­tional policy” related to NASA, and that Webb, with his previous govern­ment experience, was well qualified to address such issues. Webb felt he could not refuse the president’s direct invitation, and so accepted the nomination.

James Webb Selected

President Kennedy and James Webb on January 30, 1961, as Webb accepted the president’s offer to become the second NASA administrator (JFK Library photograph).

He asked Kennedy to keep Hugh Dryden as deputy administrator, and he also asked the president whether he was being hired to implement a prede­termined policy. Kennedy assured him that this was not the case and that he was looking to Webb to propose the best direction for NASA. Kennedy then escorted Webb from the Oval Office to the office of press secretary Pierre Salinger, who took Webb to the press room to announce his nomination. Only then could Webb call his wife to tell her what had happened; she had already heard the news on the radio.16

Webb’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, with Robert Kerr in the chair, was held three days later, even before Webb’s formal nomination papers reached Capitol Hill; there were no questions after Webb’s opening statement. The committee voted unanimously to support the nomination; the Senate followed suit on February 9. Lyndon Johnson swore in Webb as NASA’s second administrator on February 14, and Webb set to work with the goal “to end uncertainty, to make unmistakably clear . . . support for manned space flight, to define necessary additions to the budget for Fiscal Year 1962 . . . and to establish personal and official relationships conducive to effective leadership.”17 It was thus clear from the start of his tenure that James Webb had a different, more ambitious, vision for the future of NASA than his predecessor. Getting this vision accepted would not be an easy task. In preparation for Webb’s first meeting with the new director of the BOB, David Bell, on February 16, the BOB staff suggested that “we are pretty much still in the dark as to what position the [Kennedy] administration desires to take in the space field, or whether any general direction has been decided upon.”18

In addition to getting President Kennedy’s agreement to continue Hugh Dryden as deputy administrator, Webb also asked Robert Seamans to stay on as associate administrator. He was happy to learn that Seamans was a Republican, since that would give a bipartisan appearance to the top NASA management team. Webb told Dryden and Seamans that he wanted NASA to be managed jointly by the three of them as a “triad,” hammering out the major decisions together. Webb would handle NASA’s external political and public relations, Dryden would be the primary link to the U. S. and interna­tional science communities, and Seamans would act as NASA’s general man­ager. Seamans describes the arrangement: “Jim was the charismatic leader with long-range vision and a great knack for understanding how policy and politics interacted in Washington. Hugh. . . possessed a quiet, invaluable sense of practicality. . . I managed NASA’s programs while Jim lined up out­side support and Hugh provided sound guidance on our goals.”19

As he took on the NASA job, Webb was fifty-four years old. He was “stocky and voluble, vigorous, noisily garrulous, and with a broad North Carolina accent.” He had a strong physical presence; “though not a tall man, his strong, square head and bullish neck, his sturdy chest, an obsti­nate jaw and narrowed grey-blue eyes lent him a dominant demeanor.” Sorensen notes that “Webb was not. . . a Kennedy type individual. He was inclined to talk at great length, and the President preferred those who were

James Webb Selected

The “triad” of men who managed NASA during the Kennedy administration: Deputy Administrator Hugh Dryden (left); Administrator James Webb (center); and Associate Administrator Robert Seamans, Jr. (left) (NASA photograph).

more precise.” He adds, however, that “I don’t know that the President ever regretted his appointment of Webb.” Wiesner remembers that Kennedy “understood that he had somebody with real ability in Webb” and adds that he never heard Kennedy say anything “snide or negative” about him. One account of Project Apollo, however, comments that “only because Kennedy was indifferent to space did Jim Webb end up in the administrator’s position.” While a number of other men had turned down the job because of NASA’s uncertain future, if they had “known that four months later NASA would become a custodian of the nation’s honor, most of them would have snapped up the job. If the men in the White House had known, they would not have chosen anyone like Jim Webb.” The president’s brother Robert Kennedy agreed with this view. He commented in 1964 that if his brother “had realized how much money would be involved and how impor­tant it [the space program] was going to be, he never would have made Jim Webb the head of it.” Robert Kennedy added that Webb “talked all the time and was rather a blabbermouth. . . The President was very dissatisfied with him.”20

"Part of the Battle along the Fluid Front of the Cold War&quot

The thirty-page report, classified “Secret,” was titled “Recommendations for Our National Space Program: Changes, Policies, Goals.”10 It called for an additional $686 million for the space program above the increases that President Kennedy had already approved in March; all but $137 million of that amount was for NASA. In particular, “to achieve the goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him to earth in the latter part of the cur­rent decade requires immediate initiation of an accelerated program of space­craft development”; the report called for adding $210.5 million dollars for developing the Apollo spacecraft. At the time in mid-1960 when it was first identified publicly as the project to follow Project Mercury, the objective of

Project Apollo had been to support a three-person crew either in Earth orbit or on a circumlunar flight; now the Project Apollo was to carry Americans to a lunar landing. An additional $112.5 million was requested to allow NASA to accelerate development of the large F-1 liquid-fueled rocket engine and related facilities; $62 million was requested for DOD to develop a large solid propellant rocket motor in parallel to F-1 development. Another $15 million was allocated to DOD for a back up to the Centaur upper rocket stage that NASA was developing. Other increases included an additional $50 million to NASA for communication satellites; $75 million for meteorological satel­lites, $22 million of that amount for NASA and $53 million for the Weather Bureau; and $30 million for nuclear rocket development, $23 million for NASA and $7 million for the Atomic Energy Commission.

The specifics of what programs would receive additional funding was NASA’s primary input into the report; the second section was based on John Rubel’s draft material. That section argued that “projects in space may be undertaken for any one of four principal reasons.” These included “gain­ing scientific knowledge,” “commercial or chiefly civilian value,” “potential military value,” and “national prestige.” The report noted that the United States was not trailing the Soviet Union in the first three categories, but that “the Soviets lead in space spectaculars which bestow great prestige.” The central argument of the report was:

All large scale space projects require the mobilization of resources on a national scale. They require the development and successful application of the most advanced technologies. They call for skillful management, centralized control and unflagging pursuit of long-range goals. Dramatic achievements in space, therefore, symbolize the technological power and organizing capacity of a nation.

It is for reasons such as these that major achievements in space contribute to national prestige. Major successes, such as orbiting a man as the Soviets have just done, lend national prestige even though the scientific, commercial or military value of the undertaking may by ordinary standards be marginal or economically unjustified.

The nation needs to make a positive decision to pursue space projects aimed at enhancing national prestige. Our attainments are a major element in the international competition between the Soviet system and our own. The non­military, non-commercial, non-scientific but “civilian” projects such as lunar and planetary exploration are, in this sense, part of the battle along the fluid front of the Cold War.

In order to undertake such projects, suggested the report, “what was needed were management mechanisms capable of centralized direction and control.” It was “particularly vital” that the United States avoid the “error of spreading ourselves too thin.” The report analyzed the results of the rapid build-up of defense capabilities in the 1950s, suggesting that “we have over­encouraged the development of entrepreneurs and the proliferation of new enterprises.” While the report did not suggest that the United States should “apply Soviet type restrictions and controls,” it said that “our American system can be and must be better utilized in the future.” It added that “we must stress performance, not embellishment. We must insist from the top down, that, as the Russians say, ‘the better is the enemy of the good.’ ”

The final section of the report spelled out the specific new space goals that were being recommended. They included the following:

• “Manned Lunar Exploration”: Webb and McNamara recommended “that our National Space Plan include the objective of manned lunar exploration before the end of this decade. . . The orbiting of machines is not the same as the orbiting or landing of a man. It is man, not merely machines, that captures the imagination of the world.” The report noted that there was no information about Soviet plans for a similar program, but suggested “even if the Soviets get there first, as they may, and as some think they will, it is better for us to get there second than not at all.”

• “Worldwide Operational Satellite Communication Capability”: Webb and McNamara noted that while “advances in technology will make it pos­sible to set up an operational satellite-based telecommunications capability within a few years,” it was “too early to be sure what kind of capability we should create.” Even so, they were “confident that an operational satel­lite capability can have far reaching applications and implications for the U. S.”

• “Worldwide Operational Satellite Weather Prediction System”: Such a sys­tem, Webb and McNamara suggested, “would be of great value to people in every country, to public and private interests in the U. S., and to our military forces.”

• “Scientific Investigation”: Webb and McNamara suggested that it was “essential that the national space sciences program be broad and compre­hensive both in content and in participation by the scientific community of the world.”

• “Large Scale Boosters for Potential Military Use”: Webb and McNamara noted that while “the military potential and implications” of space tech­nology were “largely unknown. . . without the capacity to place large pay­loads reliably into orbit, our nation will not be able to exploit whatever military potential unfolds in space.”

The Webb-McNamara report was necessarily vague with respect to whether the Soviet Union was already embarked on a lunar landing program. It noted that while the United States was “uncertain of Soviet intentions, plans, or status,” the Soviet Union had announced a lunar landing as a “major objec­tive of their program” and that the Soviet Union “may have begun to plan for such an effort years ago” and “may have undertaken important first steps which we have not begun.” The memorandum suggested that Soviet suc­cesses in space were the result of “long-range planning” and that the slow pace and disappointments in the U. S. space effort “are symptoms of the lack of adequate national planning and guidance for the long pull.” It concluded that “even if the Soviets get there [to the Moon] first. . . it is better for us to get there second than not at all. . . If we fail to accept this challenge it may be interpreted as a lack of national vigor and capacity to respond.” These words were certain to resonate with President Kennedy.

Were the Soviets Actually Racing?

One issue as Kennedy considered resurrecting a cooperative proposal was whether the U. S.-USSR race to the Moon was real. The White House in 1963 in fact did not know whether there was an ongoing Soviet effort to send people to the Moon. A December 1962 National Intelligence Estimate regarding the Soviet space program had observed: “Our evidence as to the future course of the Soviet space program is very limited. Our estimates are therefore based largely on extrapolation from past Soviet space activi­ties and on judgments as to likely advances in Soviet technology.” The estimate went on to say that “the top Soviet leaders have not committed themselves publicly to competition with the US in achieving a manned lunar landing, and it is highly unlikely that they will do so. . . On the basis of present evidence, we cannot say definitely at this time that the Soviets aim to achieve a manned lunar landing ahead of or in close competition with the US, but we believe that the chances are better than even that this is a Soviet objective.”13

It seems as if the president was not aware of this intelligence estimate. He asked CIA director John McCone on April 29, 1963, “Do we have very much information, and if so, what does it indicate, on the Soviet effort in space?” Kennedy that day had read an article in The Christian Science Monitor sug­gesting that there was an increased Soviet effort in space and asked McCone “What is our view on it?”14

A formal response to Kennedy’s question did not come for several months. In a CIA analysis dated October 1, 1963, and titled “A Brief Look at the Soviet Space Program,” the agency gave an even less precise estimate of Soviet capabilities and intentions than it had the prior December, saying that the Soviet space plans

unquestionably include manned lunar landings. . . but there is no evidence that the program is proceeding on a crash basis. . . It is believed that the Soviets intend to compete vigorously in the early exploration of the moon and that this effort will include manned flights, although probably not early manned landings.

It is not yet possible to settle with assurance whether the Soviets are engaged in a manned lunar landing program competitive with the United States. Definitive indications of the Soviets being in such a race have not been found, but could be submerged to such an extent that they might exist with­out being so identified. In December 1962, it was estimated that there was a better than even chance that the Soviets had a competitive manned lunar landing program though no firm conclusion could be reached. A later review of pertinent material produced essentially the same judgment. At present there is still no firm evidence of the existence of such a program, but because of the passage of time, it is estimated that a competitive program aimed at the 1968-1970 time period is somewhat less likely than before. Though the flight testing of a new larger booster and a new manned capsule have been predicted, no firm evidence of their early introduction has as yet been noted.15

The uncertainty in the United States at this time about the exact character of a Soviet program to send men to the moon is in retrospect understand­able, since the situation in the Soviet Union was both complex and confus­ing. While design work on a large booster able to carry out a manned lunar mission was already underway, those developments were not yet known to U. S. intelligence services. There was a debate within the Soviet space system over both the wisdom of a lunar mission and the assignment of responsibil­ity for such a mission, should it be initiated. Final Soviet approval of a lunar landing mission did not come until 1964.16

Race to the Moon

Th, s book has had an extremely long gestation period. Understanding its evolution is important to an appreciation of its character and intent.

My involvement with President John F. Kennedy’s role in the race to the Moon began as I prepared my doctoral dissertation in political science at New York University in the late 1960s, even as I began my academic career in Washington, DC, at The Catholic University of America in September 1966. I actually signed a contract to publish the dissertation before I defended it. As I moved from Catholic to The George Washington University in 1970, the MIT Press brought out a hardcover edition of the dissertation as The Decision to Go to the Moon: Project Apollo and the National Interest. The University of Chicago Press published a paperback edition in 1976. (As a side note, working on the study of the Apollo decision provided an opportunity to be present at the July 16, 1969, launch of the Apollo 11 mission, and also the Apollo 14 and Apollo 17 launches. Those experiences alone were worth the effort that went into research and writing the dissertation and subse­quent book.)

My detailed study of the decision-making process by which President Kennedy became convinced that it was in the national interest for the United States to enter, with the intent of winning, the space race with the Soviet Union has been described as “classic” and “powerful and seminal” by lead­ing space historian Roger Launius.1 Such an assessment is, of course, very gratifying. But as the years passed, I became increasingly dissatisfied with the completeness of the study’s narrative elements. The basic story stood the test of time, but because my research for the book was carried out even before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin reached the Moon, only a very lim­ited base of primary documents on which to base the study was available. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library had not yet opened, and Lyndon B. Johnson was still president. That meant the narrative lacked the fullness made possible only by using the documentary record; also, many oral histo­ries discussing the Kennedy presidency were not yet available. The flip side of this situation was that the events and considerations that led to the deci­sion to go to the Moon were still fresh in the minds of the key participants in that decision, and I was fortunate enough to be able to interview most of them. Of those involved with the decision to go to the Moon, only Robert McNamara and President Johnson declined interview requests; of course, by that time both John and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated. Early on,

NASA chief historian Gene Emme and through him NASA administrator James Webb became convinced that I was trying to prepare an unbiased account of the decision process, and their support greatly facilitated my research. Thus the 1970 book was based primarily on my interviews with participants in the decision process and the secondary literature, although I was able to gain access to a few key documents. That meant that the story of JFK’s lunar landing decision was not complete.

I also came to realize that I had totally missed an important theme in President Kennedy’s thinking in the January—May 1961 period. His first instinct on coming to the White House had been to seek cooperation in space with the Soviet Union, not competition. Even after he announced his decision to send Americans to the Moon on May 25, 1961, Kennedy had suggested to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, as they met face-to-face for the only time ten days later in Vienna, that the United States and the Soviet Union should go to the Moon together. Khrushchev responded negatively, and at least for the time being, the cooperative alternative was foreclosed. There was no mention of this alternative path in the 1970 book.

I also came to realize that I had told only one part of the story of John F. Kennedy and the lunar landing program. Achieving large-scale objectives through government action has two requirements. One is a well-crafted decision on what objective to pursue. I believe that JFK’s lunar landing decision was indeed an example of choosing a course of action only after careful thought and examination of possible alternatives. But turning a decision into action, and carrying that action through to completion, is also needed for success. While there have been a number of studies of Project Apollo that examined its technical and management elements, surprisingly I found that there had been no focused attention paid to the actions and decisions of President Kennedy and his White House associates from May 1961 through November 1963 that generated the political will needed to mobilize the financial and human resources which made the lunar landing program possible.

This recognition led me in 1998 to propose to the NASA Headquarters History Office a comprehensive study of John F. Kennedy and the U. S. space program. Then NASA administrator Dan Goldin and his associate admin­istrator for policy and plans Lori Garver (now NASA deputy administra­tor) gave top-level support to my request, and NASA’s chief historian Roger Launius approved a modest contract to help me get started. Over the next several years, I carried out a first round of gathering primary documents and other material from the Kennedy Library and the NASA Historical Reference Collection at NASA’s headquarters, and drafted a few parts of the book. But my duties as professor and director of the Space Policy Institute of George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, plus a seemingly unquenchable appetite for international travel, took me away from sustained writing.

I never lost my interest in finishing the study, however. As I prepared to leave GW’s active teaching faculty in June 2008, once again it was Roger

Launius, by now senior curator in the Space History Department at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, who suggested that I apply for the museum’s most senior fellowship, the Charles A. Lindbergh Chair in Aerospace History. I was awarded that position, and from September 2008 through August 2009, I was in residence at the museum, finishing another round of research in the Kennedy Library and the NASA archives and get­ting most of the writing of a first draft completed. As I finished a chapter draft, both Mike Neufeld, chair of the museum’s space history department and Wernher von Braun biographer, and Roger Launius provided very useful comments. I returned to GW’s Space Policy Institute as professor emeritus in September 2009, and finished my research and drafting of the manuscript there.

The current study is thus much more than a warmed-over version of my 1970 book. It adds a great deal of new material to the account of the initial decision-making process in that study, providing a fuller understanding of the factors at play as Kennedy made his choice. In addition, the MIT Press graciously provided its permission to incorporate as much of the contents of the earlier book into the new manuscript as I wished, and I have drawn upon many text passages and used almost all of the earlier interview material in crafting this narrative. In doing so, I have tried not lose any of the quali­ties that have made The Decision to Go to the Moon the standard account of that decision. The earlier book ended with President Kennedy’s speech to a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961, in which he announced: “We should go to the Moon.” This new study carries the story until the tragic day in Dallas when Kennedy’s presidency was so abruptly terminated. Even on November 22, 1963, John Kennedy was intending to speak in positive terms about the future of the U. S. space program.

I have attempted to maintain throughout this study a focus on the deci­sions and actions of President John F. Kennedy, his inner circle of advisers who made decisions and took actions on behalf of the president, the career executive office staff who supported the Kennedy presidency, and the agency heads with whom the president interacted. Kennedy before he was inaugu­rated assigned a lead role in space policy to his vice president-elect, Lyndon B. Johnson, and I have also characterized Johnson’s role with respect to space decisions during the Kennedy administration. What I have not done, except when it was necessary to understand deliberations at the White House level, is give much attention to the technical and management aspects of Project Apollo itself. There is a very large literature on those topics.2

This study is not a complete account of John F. Kennedy and the American space program. Providing such an account was my original aspiration, but the realities of time and page count led to a decision to focus only on Kennedy and the race to the Moon, since that is the singular space achievement with which Kennedy will forever be associated. John Kennedy personally had only limited involvement in the steps taken during his administration to bring communication satellites into early use. But he was deeply involved in mak­ing sure that there were no international restrictions placed on the ability

of the United States to operate photoreconnaissance satellites, in limiting the spread of military conflict into the new environment of outer space, and in banning tests of nuclear weapons beyond the atmosphere. In his annual address to the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1961 and 1962, he laid out the principles that became the basis of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. Kennedy also became personally involved with all seven Mercury astro­nauts and particularly friendly with the first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn. The astronauts represented a personality type quite attractive to Kennedy and about which he had written about in his book Profiles in Courage—individuals who had responded successfully to challenging cir­cumstances. So there is more to be written about Kennedy and space than is contained in this study.

While this narrative draws on what is available in the documentary record and has the benefit of interviews and oral histories that took place close to the events being discussed, it can never be really complete. One cannot know which of the many memoranda addressed to President Kennedy he actually read, and of those he read, to what issues and views he gave most attention. Kennedy enjoyed discussing policy issues with his advisers and associates; few of those conversations can be re-created. (A fascinating exception is the tape recording of a November 21, 1962, cabinet room meeting during which Kennedy and James Webb debated Apollo’s priority. What Kennedy said in this private meeting, including the phrase “I’m not that interested in space,” is rather different than his public rhetoric.) John Kennedy’s brother Robert was his closest confidant, but there is a very limited record of their discus­sions about the U. S. space program. So inevitably this study is a reconstruc­tion of history based on extensive, but still partial, evidence.

Given the more than a decade over which I have been working on this book, there are many people to thank, and I am bound to have forgotten to mention some who deserve recognition. It is obvious that I owe multiple expressions of gratitude to Roger Launius, and it is only fitting that this book is part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology series of which Roger is co-editor. At NASA, in addition to the original sup­port provided by Lori Garver and Dan Goldin, I want to thank archivist Jane Odom and Colin Fries and Liz Suchow of the NASA History Office for their responsiveness in helping me locate key documents and other research mate­rial. The research staff of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library has been supportive during my many visits to the library; Maryrose Grossman was particularly helpful in digging through the photo archives to locate several of the images included in this book. (I must add my frustration in not being able to access a still unreleased audio tape of a meeting between President Kennedy and NASA administrator James Webb on September 18, 1963, during which Kennedy told Webb of his plans to invite the Soviet Union to join the United States in sending people to the Moon as he addressed the United Nations General Assembly two days later.) I had a very productive visit to the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in March 2010; the staff there was also very helpful.

I, of course, have to express thanks to the Smithsonian Institution for the offer of the Lindbergh Chair; without that year to focus on my writing, I might still be procrastinating. Mike Neufeld and his colleagues in the Department of Space History at the National Air and Space Museum were welcoming; I felt quite comfortable working in their midst.

George Washington students Krystal Brun and Megan Ansdell and MIT student Teasel Muir-Harmony provided occasional but valuable research assistance. My colleague Dwayne Day read the draft manuscript and pro­vided useful comments while also catching my many typos. My successor as director of the Space Policy Institute, Professor Scott Pace, welcomed me back to GW after my year at the museum. I am proud of having created the Space Policy Institute in 1987 and of the accomplishments of the many students who have learned about space policy there, my first students dur­ing my years at Catholic University four decades ago, and the young people from many countries I encounter during my continuing involvement with International Space University; these students, together with what I have written through the years, are my lasting heritage, and it is to them that this book is dedicated.

At Palgrave Macmillan, Chris Chappell has been enthusiastic about this study, and I have appreciated his guidance in getting the manuscript into print. Sarah Whalen and Heather Faulls have been very helpful in shepherd­ing the manuscript through the production process. I also welcomed the very useful comments by several anonymous reviewers of my book proposal.

It goes without saying that I am responsible for any errors in this account and for the interpretations of all the actions and decisions detailed herein.

In 1970, I dedicated The Decision to Go to the Moon to my wife Roslyn. Forty-one years later, she is still my wife and still a constant source of sup­port and encouragement. She deserves in gratitude much more than a book dedication.

Johnson Seeks a Major Policy Role

Acquiring an expanded role with respect to space was just one element in Lyndon Johnson’s early push for influence within the Kennedy administra­tion. His ambition was apparently to serve as the president’s alter ego with respect to all areas of national security policy, not just the space program. Many prior vice presidents who had served under Democratic presidents, such as John Nance Garner, Harry Truman, and Alben Barkley, were not informed about or involved in national security matters, and Johnson did not want to repeat that pattern.

To achieve this objective, a few days after the inauguration Bill Moyers of Johnson’s staff drafted an executive order for President Kennedy’s sig­nature that would have given the vice president authority “at all times” for “continuing surveillance and review with respect to domestic, foreign and military policies relating to the national security” and would have allowed the vice president to chair the National Security Council in the president’s absence. To exercise this responsibility, the vice president would be “autho­rized to obtain pertinent information concerning the policies and operations of the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Bureau of the Budget and other departments and agencies affected [sic] with a national security interest.” The reasons for such an expanded role, suggested Moyers, included that “the nature of our times requires that the Vice President be adequately informed on vital matters” and that “the possibility of immedi­ate succession to the number one job, however remote and however dis­tasteful to think about from the President’s viewpoint,” would require a fully informed vice president. Even as he prepared the draft order, Moyers recognized that it would likely be opposed by many of JFK’s advisers, and suggested to Johnson that “a better way to achieve your objective, perhaps, is for the President simply to issue a directive to you, instructing you to play a greater role in national security.”2

While the new president and his White House staff were indeed resistant to the kind of publicly visible executive order that Moyers had drafted, they did accept the suggestion of a nonpublic presidential directive. On January 28,

Kennedy signed a letter to Johnson that had been drafted by Moyers, asking Johnson to review policies relating to the national security so that Kennedy could “have the full benefit of your endeavors and of your judgment” and to “maintain close liaison” with “departments and agencies affected with a national security interest.” In this letter, NASA was added to, and the BOB deleted from, the list of agencies subject to vice presidential review that had been in the draft executive order. Copies of the letter were sent to heads of all agencies involved in national security matters.3

These attempts at the start of the Kennedy administration to give Lyndon Johnson an expanded policy role were not successful. John Kennedy had needed Johnson to attract enough Southern voters to get elected, but Kennedy, and particularly his top aides, had no intention of making Johnson a major player in national security affairs. This quickly became evident. The weeks following the inauguration “were ones of despair for Johnson,” according to one of his biographers; “He felt trapped, useless, ridiculed.”4

Locating the Facilities

It was clear to NASA managers that as part of the decision to start a rapid space buildup, NASA would have to quickly create several large new facili­ties. The decision on what kind of facilities to build and, politically more important, where to locate them, was thus a high priority issue in the months immediately following President Kennedy’s May 1961 speech. Although a formal announcement of facility decisions could not be made until August 1961, after the Congress had actually appropriated the increased FY1962 budget that the president had proposed, planning for the facility buildup began in earnest even before the speech. While most decisions with respect to launch vehicle production, testing, and launch were made without signifi­cant White House involvement, such was not the case with respect to locat­ing the new NASA “field center” which would train the men who would go to the Moon and oversee the development and operation of the spacecraft that would carry them there.11

Well before President Kennedy’s approval of the lunar landing mission, it had been clear to the NASA leadership that, if there was to be a follow-on

Locating the Facilities

President Kennedy meeting with his senior advisers for a late 1961 budget review at his father’s house in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. From left to right: Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the president, budget director David Bell, deputy secretary of defense Roswell Gilpatric, science adviser Jerome Wiesner, special counsel Theodore Sorensen, and national security adviser McGeorge Bundy (JFK Library photograph).

effort to Project Mercury, the Space Task Group, which was managing Mercury, needed to be moved from its location at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. This move was necessary because human space flight required engineering development, flight operations, and especially project management skills, not the engineering research-oriented approach that was characteristic of Langley.

As early as NASA’s creation in 1958, there was a specific view on where to locate the next new NASA installation; that view came from a politically

powerful source. Soon after NASA opened its doors for business on October 1, 1958, Administrator Glennan heard from Congressman Albert Thomas, whose district included Houston, Texas. Thomas was chairman of the House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee that controlled NASA’s fund­ing. Glennan learned that Thomas “was anxious that his district. . . should benefit from the space program.” Thomas suggested that Houston’s Rice University was willing to give NASA 1,000 acres of land as a location for a new NASA “laboratory.” Glennan told him that NASA was “not about to build any new laboratory facilities beyond the one already authorized and on which con­struction had begun.” (This would become the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.) Thomas responded “somewhat peevishly” that the decision to locate the new facility in Maryland “had gone through without his sanction since he had been absent” from Washington. Thomas persisted in his advocacy. He made several more calls to Glennan in late 1958 and finally told the NASA administrator: “Now look here, Dr., let’s cut the bull. Your budget calls for $14 million for Beltsville [actually Greenbelt], and I am telling you that you won’t get a god-damned cent of it unless the laboratory is moved to Houston.” Glennan was able to fend off this threat, but when it became evi­dent in 1961 that there would be a new NASA installation for human space flight and that many locations in the United States would compete for host­ing it, Glennan, who by then was back at Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, Ohio, advised Ohio state officials not to waste their time in that competition because “Houston would be the site chosen.”12

In late April 1961, as it was becoming clear that President Kennedy was likely to approve a major acceleration of the NASA human space flight program, NASA administrator Webb recognized that a separate, new NASA center would indeed be needed to manage the effort, and instructed his staff to begin the site selection process. He put $60 million in the NASA budget estimates being prepared for the White House as a down payment on constructing the new center. The site selection team considered locations in Florida and California, but was also well aware of Representative Thomas’s long-standing interest in having a new NASA installation in Houston. Thus NASA representatives visited Houston on May 16, even before the presi­dent’s announcement of the lunar landing goal. They were met there by George Brown of the Houston-based Brown & Root construction company, a Lyndon Johnson ally who had been consulted by the vice president dur­ing Johnson’s recent space review, and by a representative of the Houston Chamber of Commerce.13 But this turned out to be a false start in the site selection process; it was not restarted in earnest until August 7, when the Congress passed the appropriations bill that included the $60 million in funding for the new center.

As it became widely known in May that the president was going to propose a major acceleration of the NASA program, Representative Thomas made it clear to NASA administrator James Webb that the 1958 Houston offer, and the implied threat of problems for the NASA budget if it were not accepted, still stood. On May 23, Webb reported to Vice President Lyndon Johnson that Thomas had “made it very clear” that he was “extremely interested” in Houston being selected as the location for the new manned spacecraft center that clearly was going to be needed to manage the lunar landing program.14 In 1961, being the location for this center was a much more attractive proposition than it had been earlier, since the demands of Apollo would clearly require a major facility with many jobs created and thus a sig­nificant demand for housing and services in the areas adjacent to the new NASA installation. Rice University was still prepared to donate to NASA a sizeable plot of land some thirty miles south of downtown Houston as the location for the new center; Houston construction, real estate, and other business interests recognized that the facility would generate a wide variety of economic opportunities for the area. Humble Oil, the Houston corpo­ration that had donated the land to Rice now to be transferred to NASA, still owned most of the surrounding property, and realized that its value would increase substantially if a major new government facility were located on the university’s land. George Brown’s construction company, Brown & Root, hoped to get the contract to build the new NASA installation. Brown was chairman of the Rice Board of Trustees, had been a major contributor to Lyndon Johnson’s senatorial campaigns, and was also closely allied with Albert Thomas. Securing NASA’s agreement to locate its new center in the Houston area thus became a political issue of the first order.15

The opportunities presented by the decision to develop a new NASA center of course did not go unnoticed in other parts of the country, and both the White House and NASA were bombarded after the president’s May 25 speech by communications from members of Congress and state and local officials suggesting that the area they represented would be an ideal location for the new installation. Pressing the case for California was Representative George Miller, who was the acting chairman of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics after Overton Brooks fell ill. Missouri directed its advocacy through powerful Senator Stuart Symington. Making the case for Texas in addition to Thomas were Representative Olin “Tiger” Teague, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Manned Space Flight, and Representative Joe Kilgore; in addition, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn and Vice President Lyndon Johnson advocated the Texas cause. Johnson and Albert Thomas were not political allies within the fractious Texas Democratic Party, but they were united on this issue.

Of particular political concern to President Kennedy and his top political assistant Kenneth O’Donnell was continuing pressure from the governor of Massachusetts, John Volpe, to locate the new center at Hingham Air Force Base near Boston. Volpe wrote Kennedy on July 19, before the site selection process had formally begun, saying that “as one Bay Stater to another,” he wanted to call the advantages of the Massachusetts location to the president’s attention. By this time, NASA had made public its preliminary criteria for deciding on the location for the new center, and Volpe outlined the ways in which the Hingham location met those criteria, conveniently omitting the requirement set by NASA for “a mild climate permitting year-round, ice-free, water transportation; and permitting out-of-door work for most of the year.” Volpe closed his letter by saying to Kennedy, “may I urge your help in bringing this project to Massachusetts.”16 In the succeeding two months, O’Donnell and NASA’s Webb had a series of interactions reflecting Volpe’s hope that Boston would be chosen as the location for the new center.

The final criteria for site selection, including both eight “essential crite­ria” and four “desirable criteria,” were approved by top NASA managers in mid-August. Before that approval, conscious of the Massachusetts interest, Administrator Webb had reviewed and specifically reiterated the “mild cli­mate” requirement as being essential. In a September 14 memorandum to the president discussing the site selection process, Webb provided five justi­fications for the climate requirement, concluding that “selection of a site in an area meeting the stated climate criterion will minimize both the cost and the time required for this project” and noting the many ways in which the Boston area failed to meet the requirement.

Upon an initial assessment by the NASA site selection team, nine potential sites, notably not including Houston, met all or most criteria, and arrange­ments were made by the team to visit those areas. While visiting the original nine locations, an additional fourteen sites were brought to the attention of the team; the Rice University site favored by Representative Thomas was one of those additions to the list. In all, the site selection team visited twenty- three potential sites; they were located in Florida (2), Louisiana (3), Texas (9), Missouri (4), and California (5). At each site, the routine was similar: an afternoon arrival and greeting by state and local dignitaries, a meeting to explain the selection criteria, a breakfast meeting with local representatives, and a visit to the proposed site and a nearby college or university. The site selection team “felt that locations north of the freezing line were unlikely to meet the requirements” and thus did not originally plan to visit any such site.

Delegations representing sites in Virginia and Rhode Island not being considered by the selection team pleaded their case in presentations directly to NASA’s James Webb and Hugh Dryden. Also, on September 1, a Massachusetts delegation headed by Governor Volpe and Senator Benjamin Smith, John Kennedy’s former college roommate who had been appointed in December 1960 to fill JFK’s Senate seat, met with the two NASA leaders to argue for consideration of the Hingham site and to ask that the site selec­tion team at least visit Massachusetts. A large meeting of Boston business interests sponsored by the leading local newspaper, The Boston Globe, also called upon the president to select the Massachusetts site. On September 8, Governor Volpe called James Webb, again asking whether the team would visit Massachusetts. The phone conversation was described by Webb’s biog­rapher as “acrimonious.”17 Volpe told Webb that “great political pressure was building up” for such a visit. Webb responded that “it was most difficult to promise this without doing so in many other cases,” but told Volpe that he could make public his intervention with Webb in order to relieve some of the political pressure on the governor. Webb told President Kennedy in a somewhat self-congratulatory way that he believed that “it was an eminently fair proposal for me to have put to him.” Then, on September 13, without notifying Volpe or any other Massachusetts official, the site selection team did visit the Hingham site “for an inspection of the terrain and existing buildings.” The only other site visited on the basis of political intervention was in St. Louis, to satisfy Senator Symington’s request.

John F. Kennedy followed this process closely, and Webb kept him informed and then on September 11 briefed him on the likely outcome. According to Webb’s public statements at the time of the site selection, Kennedy told the NASA administrator then that even though there had been pressures on him to intervene in the process, he expected Webb “to make this decision in the light of the national interest.” Webb noted that Kennedy had “intervened in no way to try to favor his own state of Massachusetts, or to rule it out of the game.” Rather, the president wanted NASA to have full responsibility for the site selection decision. Webb later revised this account of the selection process, saying that Kennedy had at some point called Albert Thomas to seek his support for several bills before the House of Representatives. Thomas had been vague about his willingness to support the bills until Kennedy told him: “Now, you know Jim Webb is thinking about putting this center down in Houston.” From that point on, Thomas supported the three bills and “felt that he had a commitment from Kennedy” about the location of the new center.18

The site selection team reported its findings and recommendations in the second week of September. The team’s first choice, flying in the face of the political pressures from Texas interests, was MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa, Florida, which was scheduled for closure as a Strategic Air Command airfield. It is interesting to speculate whether Webb and Dryden would have accepted this recommendation, given their broader perspective and the need to consider political factors. But at the last minute the Air Force changed its mind about closing MacDill, and the team’s second preference, the Houston site associated with Rice University, became the top-ranked choice of the site selection group.19

Webb and Dryden met on the evening of September 13 and again on the morning of September 14 to review the site selection team report and hear the results of its last minute visit to Massachusetts. That visit did not change their assessment of the team’s ranking, and Webb and Dryden decided that “this laboratory should be located at Houston, Texas, in close association with Rice University and the other educational institutions there and in that region.” The new installation was designated the Manned Spacecraft Center. (It was renamed the Johnson Space Center after Lyndon Johnson’s death in 1973, even though it was Albert Thomas, not Johnson, who had the greater influence on the decision to locate the center in Houston.)

Webb informed the president of this decision in a September 14 mem­orandum, noting that “a press release has been prepared announcing this decision, and we are holding it for issue after the White House notification of those who your staff feels should have advance information.”20 Kenneth

O’Donnell remembered President Kennedy as saying, after reading Webb’s two September 14 memos, “It’s a good decision. Let’s go through with it.” The public announcement of the selection of the Houston location came on September 19. With that announcement and the choice of sites in Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi for launch-related facilities, the arc of new NASA installations along the Gulf of Mexico coast in the southeastern region of the United States that James Webb had advocated in his May 23 memorandum to Vice President Johnson had come into being.

Debating Space Priorities

In the immediate aftermath of President Kennedy’s May 25, 1961, decla­ration that “we should go to the Moon,” and for most of the following twenty months, there was very little Congressional or public questioning of pursuing the ambitious lunar landing goal as a high national priority. The Congress, by large bipartisan majorities and after only limited debate, approved increases in NASA appropriations of 89 percent for Fiscal Year 1962 and 101 percent for Fiscal Year 1963. Leading newspapers and other shapers of public attitudes seemed caught up in the excitement of Project Mercury and the initial steps toward the Moon. But as 1963 began, ques­tioning of the lunar landing project began to emerge in various circles; the wisdom of the commitment to Apollo became the focus of a national discus­sion on the best U. S. path forward in space.

Civil-Military Relations

The most fundamental policy question to be addressed in the months fol­lowing the 1957 launches of Sputniks 1 and 2 was whether a new organiza­tion for space was needed, or whether all U. S. government space activities, including those with primarily civilian objectives, should be managed by the Department of Defense. In the weeks following the Sputnik launches, both the Army and the Air Force put forward ambitious space plans, and campaigned vigorously for primacy in the U. S. space effort. The Army claim was based in large part on the fact that German emigre Wernher von Braun and his rocket team worked at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) and that they constituted the country’s top reservoir of launch vehicle – related technical talent; in addition, the Army’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory had managed the development of the first U. S. satellite, Explorer 1, and could serve as the organization developing future satellites. AMBA in its struggle to gain an important space role developed ambitious plans in 1957 and 1958, beginning with a suborbital launch of a human and extending to establishing outposts on the Moon. The Army campaign was not suc­cessful, and by mid-1960, both the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and von Braun’s rocket team had been transferred to the new civilian space agency NASA.13

The Air Force claim took a different approach. Its chief of staff, General Thomas White, argued that “there is no division, per se, between air and space. Air and space are an indivisible field of operations.”14 To make this point, the Air Force in early 1958 coined the word “aerospace.” The implica­tion was that the service was the natural choice for the space role. The Air Force also rapidly developed ambitious plans for its space efforts, including putting a man into orbit as soon as possible and eventually sending humans to the Moon.15

President Eisenhower, upset by the competition between the two mili­tary services, established a Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA) in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as an interim step. DARPA, rather than one of the armed services, was to manage all U. S. space efforts, civil­ian and military, but it was not successful in establishing itself as the lead U. S. space agency. After several months of discussion within the Eisenhower administration, a March 1958 memorandum to the president argued that “because of the importance of the civil interest in space exploration, the long term organization of Federal programs in this area should be under civil­ian control.” The memorandum recommended that “leadership of the civil space effort be lodged in a strengthened and redesignated National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.”16 That organization, known by most as NACA, had been the government’s primary aeronautical research and development organization since its creation in 1915. President Eisenhower accepted this recommendation, and on April 2, 1958, proposed the establishment of a National Aeronautics and Space Agency; his message to Congress included a draft bill “to provide for research into the problems of flight within and outside the earth’s atmosphere and for other purposes.”17 After four months of debate by the Congress, the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, was signed by President Eisenhower on July 29, 1958. The shift in organizational des­ignation from “agency” to “administration” upgraded the status of the new space agency within the executive branch hierarchy.18

Eisenhower selected T. Keth Glennan as the first NASA administrator. Glennan was “a Republican with a fiscally conservative bent, an aggressive businessman with a keen sense of public duty and an opposition to govern­ment intrusion into the lives of Americans, and an administrator and an educator with a rich appreciation of the role of science and technology in an international setting.”19 He was an engineer by training and had had a wide-ranging career, including a stint as a member of the Atomic Energy Commission. But he knew little about space science or technology, and had not followed the post-Sputnik debates leading to the creation of NASA; in his own words, “I didn’t have any idea what astronomy or geodesy or any of those things would mean in this strange world. I literally knew nothing.” Glennan agreed to take the position, but only on the condition that Hugh Dryden, the executive director of NACA, would be nominated as deputy administrator.

Many in Washington had expected Dryden to get the top NASA job; trained in aerodynamics, he had been the top official handling day-to-day affairs at NACA since 1949, and was a widely known and respected indi­vidual in the U. S. and international aeronautical research communities. However, some in Congress deemed his approach to space to be too cautious for the leader of the organization they had in mind, and thus had indicated to the White House that Dryden would not be acceptable as the first head of the space agency.20 This outcome was deeply disappointing for Dryden, but he overcame that disappointment to serve as NASA’s deputy administrator until his death in 1965. According to Keith Glennan, Dryden was “held in esteem by people all over the world” and was “gentle, quiet, wise, very wise, and an astute politician without being a politician.”21 Dryden stayed on in his position during the Kennedy administration and played a key role in the deliberations leading to the decision to go to the Moon.

NASA inherited three programs from the Department of Defense (DOD) that would later play important roles in the space efforts of the Kennedy administration. In August 1958, DARPA transferred its human space flight project (which in fact was originally an Air Force initiative) to NASA; the effort was soon named Project Mercury. According to the NASA history of the project, NASA “received authorization to carry out this primitive manned venture into lower space mainly because Eisenhower was wedded to a ‘space for peace’ policy. . . In 1958 there simply was no clear military justification for putting a man in orbit.”22 Even so, Eisenhower decided that the first U. S. people to fly in space, to be known as “astronauts,” should be drawn from the ranks of military test pilots.

Another DOD program inherited by NASA was a much more powerful launch vehicle than any rocket available to NASA in its early years. Known as Saturn C-1 and conceived and managed by the von Braun team, the lift-off thrust of the Saturn C-1 vehicle was to be 1.5 million pounds, four times more powerful than the 360,000 pounds thrust of the Atlas ICBM that NASA was planning to use for orbital flights in Project Mercury. The von Braun team also proposed developing a second version of the Saturn launch vehicle, known as the Saturn C-2. This version would have an upgraded ver­sion of the first stage of the Saturn C-1 and upper stages that would use very energetic but difficult to handle liquid hydrogen as its fuel; because of its very low temperature in a liquid state, this fuel was called “cryogenic.”

The third inherited DOD project was the very powerful F-1 rocket motor, designed to provide 1.5 million pounds of thrust, equivalent to the eight engines that were to power the first stage of the Saturn C-1. The F-1 was originally an Air Force project. During 1959-1960, the von Braun team developed the concept of an extremely powerful heavy lift launch vehicle called Nova, which was based on the use of up to eight F-1 engines in its first stage.23

By the end of 1959, just over a year after it began operation, NASA had developed a ten-year plan that identified various mission milestones and esti­mated the costs of achieving them. Among the highlights of the plan were the following:

1961-1962 Attainment of manned space flight, Project Mercury

1965-1967 First launchings in a program leading to manned circumlunar flight and to a permanent near-earth space station

Beyond 1970 Manned flight to the moon

The cost of this ten-year program was estimated to be between $12 billion and $13 billion.24

While the Army reconciled itself to a minor role in space with the loss of the von Braun team, the Air Force never accepted its loss of space leader­ship to NASA. Air Force leaders and supporters were encouraged by the tone of candidate Kennedy’s public statements on space, especially his stri­dent October 1960 response to Missiles and Rockets. The service by 1960 had gained the lead role for space within the Department of Defense from DARPA; then it turned its ambitions to recapturing from NASA the primary role overall in U. S. space activities. After the 1960 election, the Air Force launched “an intense public and internal information campaign to express Air Force views on space to congressmen, journalists, businessmen, and other influential people.”25 For example, The New York Times reported that “The Air Force has drafted a publicity offensive to stake out a major role for itself in the nation’s space program” and that “this offensive is clearly keyed to the change in administrations. It is the openly expressed belief of the Air Force that the Kennedy administration will look more favorably on military operations in space than does the Eisenhower administration.”26

To help in its campaign, the Air Force asked Trevor Gardner, former Air Force assistant secretary for research and development and a prime mover in the Atlas missile program, to chair a committee to recommend a more dynamic Air Force space program. As noted in the previous chapter, Gardner had been one of Kennedy’s advisers on missile and space issues during the presidential campaign. In December 1960 Gardner also became a member of the group President-elect Kennedy chartered to advise him on space matters during the postelection transition; this was interpreted as another sugges­tion that Kennedy favored a larger role for the military in space.

Space Plans Reviewed

.According to Jerome Wiesner, as of April 1961, “Kennedy was, and was not, for space. He said to me, ‘Why don’t you find something else we can do?’ We couldn’t. Space was the only thing we could do that would show off our military power. . . These rockets were a surrogate for military power. He had no real options. We couldn’t quit the space race, and we couldn’t condemn ourselves to be second. We had to do something, but the decision was painful for him.” Wiesner added that he and Kennedy

talked a lot about do we have to do this. He said to me, “Well, it’s your fault. If you had a scientific spectacular on this earth that would be more useful—say desalting the ocean—or something that is just as dramatic and convincing as space, then we would do it.” We talked about a lot of things where we could make a dramatic demonstration—like nation building—and the answer was that there were so many military overtones as well as other things to the space program that you couldn’t make another choice.

If Kennedy could have opted out of a big space program without hurting the country in his judgment, he would have. Maybe a different kind of man could have said to the country, “Look, we are going at our own pace. We are going to let the Russians be first. We don’t care.” But Kennedy said, “If we could afford to do something else, we would do it. If we can’t, we had better get back where we belong.” I think he became convinced that space was the symbol of the twentieth century. It was a decision he made cold bloodedly. He thought it was good for the country.1

To the Moon in 1966?

At some point during his tour of NASA’s installations, President Kennedy asked NASA administrator James Webb whether it was possible to get to the Moon earlier than the late 1967 target date that NASA was using in its planning. This question was most likely prompted by Kennedy’s conversa­tion with manned space flight head Brainerd Holmes, whom Kennedy met for the first time during the Huntsville stop on the tour. Holmes had come to NASA in October 1961, and a year later was becoming impatient with the pace of the Apollo program and James Webb’s resistance to Holmes’s sugges­tion that it might be accelerated.

Seamans, Holmes’s immediate supervisor, describes Holmes as having “blinders on. . . All he was going to do was just move to the best of his abil­ity on manned flight, but the devil take the hindmost on anything else.” Holmes also did not operate on the same wavelength as the verbose Webb; Holmes told Seamans, “I don’t understand what the hell the boss is talk­ing about a lot of the time on these general [management approach] things, and I could care less.” Holmes also “was a very exciting person for the news people. . . He had a way of expressing himself that made news because it was a little bit controversial.” Time magazine featured Holmes on the cover of its August 10, 1962, issue; in the issue’s six-page story “Reaching for the Moon,” Holmes was frequently mentioned, Webb not at all. Seamans also suggests that “among others who were sort of captivated. . . by Brainerd was the President.” After Holmes was introduced to Kennedy as they watched the firing of the Saturn 1 first stage at Huntsville, the press asked Holmes whether this was indeed the first time the two had met, suggesting “this is shocking that a man of your great responsibility should only be meeting the President for the first time right now.” According to Seamans, “this hit Brainerd sort of in a sensitive area. He was a somewhat egotistical guy.”16

The controversy between Holmes and NASA’s top management sim­mered in the two months following President Kennedy’s September trip as NASA’s budget request for Fiscal Year 1964 was under review at the White House. On October 29, Webb wrote to Kennedy, responding to the presi­dent’s question of what it would take to move the target date for the first lunar landing to 1966. Webb told the president that NASA’s current target date of late 1967 “is based on a vigorous and driving program but does not represent a crash program,” while “a late 1966 target date would require a crash, high-risk effort.” By this time, NASA had sent BOB a request for a $6.2 billion budget for FY1964; this represented a 68 percent increase over the agency’s FY1963 budget. NASA also estimated that the first lunar land­ing might be targeted six months earlier if there was an immediate $427 million supplement to the FY1963 NASA budget. To target the first landing in late 1966, a year earlier than then planned, NASA planning would have to be drastically revised and a supplementary $900 million would have to be provided in FY1963; in addition, the NASA budget for FY1964 would have to increase to $7.0 billion. Webb told President Kennedy that the budget and program projections were “preliminary” and not based on “detailed pro­grammatic plans,” but “we are prepared to place the manned lunar landing program on an all-out crash basis aimed at the late 1966 target date if you should decide this is in the national interest.”17

Holmes at some point in this period had formally asked Seamans to approve a $440 million FY1963 budget supplement, saying that such an increase would allow the first lunar landing attempt to come in late 1966. Seamans “couldn’t believe” Holmes’s claim that the program could be accel­erated by twelve months with such a relatively modest budget increase. He denied Holmes’s request; Holmes then asked for a meeting with Webb and Dryden; both also gave him a negative response. Holmes then turned to his friends at Time magazine, telling them that there was “an upheaval at NASA,” with Holmes and Webb “locked in deadly combat” and that “one of them might have to go, and it wasn’t necessarily Brainerd.”18

The possibility of a story about this internal dispute appearing in Time caught President Kennedy’s attention, and he asked science adviser Wiesner to meet with Hugh Sidey and Lansing Lamont, the Time/Life reporters pre­paring a story on “the lagging manned lunar program.” Wiesner did so on November 16; only Lamont was able to make the meeting because Sidey’s plane was grounded. Lamont reported that Time was being told “by NASA staff [undoubtedly Brainerd Holmes] and contractors that the lunar pro­gram is slipping for lack of funds,” that “$400 million is needed now to prevent a loss of six months,” and that “Mr. Webb discounts the lunar effort and is not backing your [Kennedy’s] commitment.” Wiesner contradicted Lamont’s conclusions, telling the reporter that “we have a hard driving pro­gram,” that “we had long since passed the point where money would make a major impact on the schedule,” and what was needed now was “good plan­ning and management.” Wiesner told the president that he did not think he “changed his [Lamont’s] views much, though I really tried.” After meeting with Lamont, Wiesner called Seamans, who told Wiesner that he also had met with the reporter and delivered the same message as had Wiesner.19

The White House attempt at managing the Time story failed. In its issue dated November 23 (which was on newsstands on November 19), the maga­zine reported that “the U. S. man-to-the-moon program was in earthly trou­ble” due to the “clashing personalities and ideas of the project’s two top officials.” Holmes was described in the article as a “brilliant, aggressive elec­trical engineer with a hard-bitten talent for ramming through tough proj­ects,” while Webb was characterized as having “a cautious eye where money is concerned.” Time reported that Holmes believed that the lunar landing pro­gram “is already four to six months behind schedule—and the reason is that Webb is dragging his feet.” Webb was reported as saying, “the moon program is important, but it’s not the only important part of the space program,” while Holmes argued that Apollo was “the top priority program within NASA.” The article concluded that “such are the differences between Webb and Holmes that the whole program is in danger of bogging down.”20

John Kennedy was not the type of person, or president, to ignore this public reporting of a dispute with respect to one of his high priority initia­tives. He quickly called a cabinet room meeting to find out for himself what was going on.