Category THE RACE

The Diminishing Role of LBJ and the Space Council

On April 20, 1961, President Kennedy asked Johnson, as chairman of the Space Council, to carry out a survey of the status of the space program. Johnson did indeed take charge of the review, but on a highly personal basis. There were no formal meetings of the National Aeronautics and Space Council before Johnson forwarded the May 8 Webb-McNamara recommen­dations to Kennedy with his endorsement, and in the April-May 1961 time period, there was only one Space Council staff person, executive secretary Edward Welsh.

Kennedy made the final decision to approve the recommendations of the Webb-McNamara report and to announce them before a joint session of Congress while the vice president, at Kennedy’s request, was traveling in Asia. The absence of Johnson during this critical period was symbolic of his declining role after May 1961 as the first among equals with respect to advis­ing the president on NASA’s programs. It is very likely that Johnson’s urg­ing Kennedy to approve a major acceleration of the civilian space program was an important influence on JFK’s decision to go to the Moon. However, once Kennedy had made the basic decision, he relied primarily on his White House policy, technical, national security, and budgetary staff and on the NASA leadership to provide him information on the implementation of that decision and to relay his concerns and decisions to the NASA workforce. Kennedy soon realized that what he was likely to get from Johnson and the Space Council staff was unquestioning advocacy for a strong space effort, not the kind of dispassionate analysis that he most welcomed. Science adviser Jerome Wiesner and his staff and David Bell and his BOB staff thought it was their role, whatever their personal views, to raise questions about the choices NASA was making with respect to various aspects of the space effort. The predictability of the positions that Lyndon Johnson and the Space Council staff would take on most space issues limited their influence on Kennedy’s policy choices.

Thus—with one important exception, developing during 1961 the administration’s approach to bring communications satellites into early prac­tical use—the Space Council as a body was not central to any of the civilian space decisions of the Kennedy administration. James Webb characterized the council’s role as different from “the popular image that the president had turned everything over to the vice president” with respect to space; that was “simply . . . not true.” Rather, Kennedy “wanted to control the agenda of the council” and did not want “to abandon the normal budgetary process by having the Space Council make the space budget.” On the other hand, Kennedy was “very happy” to have Johnson “to take the lead in talking about things and making speeches and participating actively in carrying out things that the president decided he wanted.” Johnson may have wanted “different instructions” from Kennedy about his responsibilities for the space program, but in practice Webb “never saw him go beyond what Kennedy had indicated he wanted done.”5

In his role as chairman of the Space Council, Vice President Lyndon Johnson “appeared to take his duties seriously, even if his responsibilities were only advisory and minimal.” Johnson had originally hoped that the budget for the Space Council staff would be $1 million; “the bigger the budget, the bigger empire Johnson could build.” But Congress, sensing “that Johnson’s role in the space effort was not a significant one,” cut the budget request in half; this left Johnson “bitter and hurt.” Even so, by the end of 1962, the council staff had grown to twelve professional staff mem­bers, several consultants, and a large support staff; the total staff complement was twenty-eight. This made the council a sizeable element of the execu­tive office of the president, comparable in size to the Office of Science and Technology, which had been created in 1962 to give an organizational foun­dation for Kennedy’s science adviser Jerome Wiesner and which dealt with all other areas of science and technology. The Space Council budget during the Kennedy administration grew to just over $500,000 per year.6

The main role of the council during the Kennedy administration “was to keep a dialogue going between the people responsible for the military, peace­ful and diplomatic uses of space. . . If there was a dispute between any of the Council members and between their agencies, Johnson was to umpire that dispute.” Johnson and the council staff in practice seldom intervened in dis­putes between operating agencies, especially NASA and the Department of Defense (DOD). In addition to this mediating role, Johnson saw the Space Council as a vehicle for explaining to the American public the importance of the U. S. effort in space; he suggested to Welsh that the council should enlist “the cooperation of the various agencies to produce a series of comprehen­sive reports to inform the public upon the actualities of the space program.” When Welsh responded, suggesting a series of “Vice President’s Reports on Space,” Johnson’s reaction was “I sure like that. Get on it.” There were fourteen formal meetings of the Space Council during the Kennedy admin­istration, but most were devoted to discussion of already-decided activities, rather than to formulating recommendations for presidential decision or for settling disagreements. During 1962 and early 1963, the council staff devoted a great deal of time and effort to drafting a statement of national space policy, but this initiative was abandoned when both NASA and the Department of Defense opposed issuing such a statement.

In the fall of 1961 Johnson toured a number of space installations, “trying to seek out problems and to boost morale.” Johnson had been advised by his press secretary George Reedy that such a tour “would attract tremen­dous attention” and “provide a natural basis for a series of reports which would be extremely helpful in informing the public and clarifying the pro­gram.” Johnson frequently gave speeches prepared by the Space Council staff on space issues and allowed staff-prepared articles to appear under his name in various publications. At White House breakfasts before presidential

The Diminishing Role of LBJ and the Space Council

Chairman of the National Aeronautics and Space Council Lyndon Johnson (seated) listens to a space program briefing. Standing are (left) Space Council member and chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission Glenn Seaborg and (right) Space Council executive secretary Edward C. Welsh (NASA photo).

press conferences, Johnson came prepared with responses to potential press questions. The vice president was eager to associate himself with the public attention given to the Mercury astronauts; these occasions “were important to him because they were almost the only times he received national attention and he wanted to keep his name before the public.”7 As Johnson biographer Merle Miller suggests, “the Space Council chairmanship was. . . only briefly satisfying for Lyndon. Once the present program had been evaluated, new directives issued and the revised program set in motion, there was little for him to do.”8

Kennedy’s approach to governance placed heavy responsibility on the line officials in charge of the executive agencies of government; in the case of space, that meant that Kennedy delegated most decision-making author­ity for the civilian space program to NASA administrator James Webb, and backed Webb up when Webb’s choices were challenged by JFK’s White House advisers. As a veteran of Washington bureaucratic politics and as the head of an agency newly charged with an effort that was a top presidential priority, administrator Webb was insistent on having direct access to the president. Webb was scrupulous in keeping Johnson informed, but he made it clear that he worked for the president, not the vice president. This also left little room for the vice president and the Space Council staff to play a central role in most of the decisions on how best to move forward in sending Americans to the Moon.


U. S. ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson was scheduled to make a speech to the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space on November 27, and the speech was already in preparation in early November. Recognizing NASA’s reluctance to move out aggressively in sup­port of Kennedy’s proposal, Schlesinger suggested to Bundy that “it might help the current State Department-NASA debate” over the seriousness of the president’s offer if Bundy were to send a message to the State Department saying “I trust that Governor Stevenson’s speech. . . will include an adequate follow-up of the President’s moon proposal.”60

Drafts of Stevenson’s speech prepared prior to November 22 had indeed included such a reiteration. The senior State Department official on U. N. mat­ters, Harlan Cleveland, in a lengthy November 21 memorandum had devel­oped a reasoned justification for continuing to push the cooperative effort. He noted Nikita Khrushchev’s “somewhat erratic” statements on accepting Kennedy’s proposal, which, thought Cleveland, “no doubt reflect internal differences in the Soviet leadership over the desirability of cooperation with the U. S. They may also reflect financial difficulties.” Further, “by postulat­ing that it takes two to make a race. . . Khrushchev has put himself in the best position available in the circumstances—unless it can be demonstrated that it is he who is declining international cooperation.” Thus, “if the U. S. were to go silent on a dialogue initiated by the President, the conclusion no doubt will be drawn that the President has given in to advocates of non-cooperation.” Cleveland noted that “it is assumed that the Soviet Union has much more dif­ficulty with the mere thought of cooperation than we do and that they will have more serious ‘security problems’ at any realistic level of cooperation than we will have.” Thus, the United States would be “safe in shooting for the maximum amount of cooperation that the Soviets can be talked into yield­ing”; the United States should “egg on the Russians to cooperate in an open forum where the maximum influence of the on-looking world community can be brought to bear.” Cleveland opposed integrating the two programs, so that the United States would not have to “weld a U. S. capsule on a Russian rocket, or to mate a clean-cut American astronaut with a chubby cosmonette, or to compromise the security of either state, or to make progress of one national program dependent upon the progress in the other.” Rather, “the point is to put a largely symbolic umbrella over both national programs, plus the contributions of other countries, and to create the image of a mutually cooperative world program to put men on the moon as ‘representatives of all our countries’ regardless of the nationality of the first arrivals.”61

In the aftermath of President Kennedy’s assassination, Cleveland noted in a November 23 memorandum that “the entire world will be watching every Administration statement in the days ahead for hints of a change in policies enunciated by President Kennedy.” Cleveland reported that after a November 23 Cabinet meeting, Ambassador Stevenson had raised with new President Lyndon B. Johnson the question of what he should say about President Kennedy’s proposal. Stevenson understood Johnson’s response to be that “he did not want to retreat an inch from the idea of international cooperation in the lunar program.” To make sure that this was indeed the case, Cleveland suggested that President Johnson be asked to review and con­cur with the specific language on this issue in the final draft of Stevenson’s speech. Secretary of State Rusk sent the draft speech to the White House on the next day for presidential review.62

The White House did change the speech draft. Originally the draft said with respect to Kennedy’s proposal: “that offer stands.” The revised version said: “President Johnson has instructed me to reaffirm that offer today.” It also said: “If giant strides cannot be taken at once, we hope that shorter steps can. We believe that there are areas of work—short of integrating the two national programs—from which all could benefit. We should explore the opportunities for practical cooperation, beginning with small steps and hopefully leading to larger matters.” Stevenson included those words in his speech, which was actually delivered on December 2. Although Webb apparently would have preferred that Stevenson not mention space in his speech, he was reported “resigned thereto and will not raise the same with the President.” Frutkin was reported as “very pleased” with the revised text, which reflected the NASA approach to cooperation.63

According to Harvey and Ciccoritti, President Johnson “wanted to keep his options open with respect to cooperation with the Russians, but he wanted to do so in a way that would end controversy at home. . . He was pre­pared to keep faith with the Kennedy lunar offer provided that the Russians came through with something worthwhile on their side.” But as the United States waited for a Soviet offer, “he wanted to get the lunar issue off the front burner. Emphasis for the moment needed to be shifted back to small first steps that were compatible with existing political realities.”64

James Webb on January 31, 1964, transmitted to President Johnson the report that had been prepared in response to JFK’s November 12 request. In his transmittal letter, Webb proposed guidelines to govern negotiations with the Soviet Union on space cooperation: “substantive rather than propaganda objectives alone; well-defined and comparable obligations for both sides; freedom to take independent action; protection of military and national security interests; opportunity for participation by friendly nations; and open dissemination of scientific results.” These guidelines severely limited the scope of potential cooperation. Webb suggested that “on balance, the most realistic and constructive group of proposals which might be advanced to the Soviet Union. . . relates to a joint program of unmanned flight projects to support a manned lunar landing. These projects should be linked so far as possible to a step-by-step approach, ranging from exchange of data already obtained to joint planning of lunar flight missions.” Webb also suggested that “no new high-level US initiative is recommended until the Soviet Union has had a further opportunity (possibly three months) to discharge its cur­rent obligations under the existing NASA-USSR Academy agreement or, in the alternative, until the Soviets respond affirmatively to the proposal you have already made in the UN.”65

The January 31 Webb report was a return to exactly the step-by-step approach the space agency preferred; it reflected “a considerable lowering of sights for cooperation in the lunar area.”66 It certainly did not represent the kind of dramatic approach to space cooperation that had led John F. Kennedy to make such cooperation a continuing element in his strategy for reducing tensions in the U. S.-Soviet relationships.

Whatever the U. S. approach, it was made irrelevant by the lack of a for­mal Soviet response to President Kennedy’s September 20 proposal or to its reiteration by the Johnson administration. Indeed, the Soviet Union did not fully honor even the agreements on limited cooperation that had been reached in 1962, even though some modest U. S.-Soviet cooperation did eventually take place, especially in the biomedical area. As the months passed, President Johnson turned his attention to his ambitious agenda for the Great Society. The United States was of course first to the Moon, and the Soviet Union experienced a series of failures in its lunar program. The opportunity to test whether dramatic space cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union could serve as a counterweight to their Cold War rivalry had passed.

Making the Transition

As John F. Kennedy’s election as president was finally confirmed shortly after noon on November 9, there were seventy-two days before his inauguration—“seventy-two days in which to form an administration, staff the White House, fill some seventy-five key Cabinet and policy posts, name six hundred other major nominees” and “to formulate concrete policies and plans for all the problems of the nation, foreign and domestic, for which he soon would be responsible as President.”1

Kennedy did not begin this crucial transition period from scratch. After the party conventions, the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, had urged both candidates to begin to prepare for the transition, should they be elected. In September, Kennedy had asked high-powered Washington law­yer Clark Clifford, who had been a senior adviser to President Harry Truman and who had successfully represented Kennedy against allegations that he was not the author of the Pulitzer-prize winning Profiles in Courage, to be his primary transition adviser. Kennedy also had asked Columbia University professor Richard Neustadt, a leading scholar of the American presidency and author of the recently published Presidential Power,2 to provide his views on how best to organize the presidency.

Neustadt earlier in 1960 had begun to work on transition issues at the request of Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA). Jackson and Kennedy were similar in their strongly anticommunist views and on giving priority to military strength, and Kennedy had included Jackson on his short list as a running mate. Neustadt had prepared a twenty-two page memorandum by September 15 on “Organizing the Transition.” In this memo, Neustadt made a prescient observation: “The Vice President-elect will be looking for work.” Jackson took Neustadt to meet Kennedy on September 18, and the candidate was immediately impressed by Neustadt’s memo. Kennedy asked Neustadt to elaborate his arguments in additional memoranda, saying some­one in the campaign would get back to him in due time. As was typical of Kennedy’s style, he asked Clifford and Neustadt to work without consulting

one another, ensuring that he would have two independent sources of transi­tion advice.3

Neustadt heard no more from the Kennedy campaign until late October, when he was contacted by one of JFK’s associates, asking how he was pro­gressing. On November 4, Neustadt joined Kennedy on his campaign air­plane to hand the candidate several of the memorandums he had prepared. Within thirty minutes, Kennedy came to Neustadt, saying that he found the material “fascinating.” What he may have found most interesting in Neustadt’s analysis was the recommendation that he adopt a staffing pat­tern in the White House that was much closer to that used by Franklin D. Roosevelt than the military-like arrangements that had been set up by Dwight Eisenhower. “You would be your own ‘chief of staff,’ ” suggested Neustadt. “Your chief assistants would have to work collegially, in constant

touch with one another and with you_____ There is room here for a primus

inter pares to emerge, but no room for a staff director or arbiter, short of you. . . You would oversee, coordinate, and interfere with virtually every­thing your staff was doing.” Neustadt noted that “no one has yet improved on Roosevelt’s relative success in getting information in his mind and key decisions in his hands reliably enough and soon enough to give him room for maneuver.”4 This was a pattern that Kennedy as president would adopt for his space decisions, among many others.

Clifford delivered his transition memorandum and back-up notebooks to Kennedy on November 9, the day on which Kennedy’s election victory was confirmed. The president-elect then asked Clifford to serve as his liaison with the outgoing Eisenhower administration during the transition. Kennedy’s biographer Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who lunched with the president-elect that day, reports that Clifford’s memorandum was “shorter and less detailed than the Neustadt series,” but that “in the main the two advisers reinforced each other all along the line.” Both Neustadt, who stayed on as a consultant dur­ing the transition and in the early months of the Kennedy administration, and Clifford emphasized that Kennedy should organize the White House to serve his needs as president, with no chief of staff to control who had access to the president and thus whose advice he received.5

On November 10, John Kennedy met with his key campaign advis­ers before heading off for a much needed vacation. After the meeting, he announced three key appointments to his personal White House staff: Pierre Salinger as his press secretary, Kenneth O’Donnell as his special assistant and appointments secretary, and Theodore Sorensen as his principal adviser on domestic policy and programs, with the title of special counsel to the president. Salinger was a former journalist who had served as Kennedy’s press secretary during the campaign. O’Donnell had served as the orga­nizer and scheduler of Kennedy’s senatorial and presidential campaigns, and was part of the protective Massachusetts “Irish mafia” that had emerged around Kennedy during his political career. Sorensen was from Nebraska, the son of a Unitarian minister, and very different in style from Kennedy’s Massachusetts associates. He had joined JFK’s Senate staff in 1953 and had

become his chief speechwriter and domestic policy adviser and in many ways his alter ego on policy matters. Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the Harvard histo­rian who was Kennedy’s link to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, notes that with respect to Sorensen, “it was hard to know him well. Self­sufficient, taut and purposeful, he was a man of brilliant intellectual gifts, jealously devoted to the President and rather indifferent to personal relations beyond his own family.”6 All three of these men were a generation younger than their equivalents in the Eisenhower administration; as they entered the White House in January 1961, Salinger would be 35, O’Donnell, 36, and Sorensen, 32. Kennedy was 43, the second youngest man ever to become U. S. president.

Salinger reports that during the 1960 campaign, O’Donnell “was con­stantly at JFK’s side. He took his orders directly from the candidate and saw to it that the rest of us carried them out—and to the letter.”7 Once Kennedy was in the White House, O’Donnell as appointments secretary controlled most access to the President; he also acted as Kennedy’s chief “enforcer” within the executive branch, making sure that senior agency officials acted in accordance with White House priorities. However, it appears that O’Donnell had relatively limited involvement in space-related issues other than those associated with the political ramifications of NASA’s facility location and contract award decisions.

Sorensen saw himself serving “as an honest broker, determining which decisions could be made by me and which could only be made by the presi­dent. . . In meetings where the president was not present, I often did not distinguish between my views and his.” Sorensen also notes that he and Kennedy were “close in a peculiarly impersonal way”; there was little social contact between him and Kennedy either as senator or president. There was no love lost between O’Donnell and his staff and Sorenson and his depu­ties during the time they served President Kennedy. Although O’Donnell’s hostility toward Sorensen and his staff was well known to most in the White House, Sorensen professes to have been unaware of the antagonism until years later.8

On space issues, it clearly was Sorensen who had more influence on President Kennedy’s thinking than O’Donnell, particularly during their early months in the White House. Sorensen, in fact, appears to have been something of a latent space enthusiast. As he speculated during the cam­paign about what job he might want if Kennedy were elected president, he wondered whether he “might fit in at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, using my ability to translate scientific and technologi­cal terms into layman’s language.” He also comments that “I had no real aptitude for science and astronomy. . . Space, like so many other issues, was one I learned on the job.” Sorensen later suggested that this “was just free­wheeling speculation as to whether I would have a post and what would be the most suitable post for me. But it didn’t take me too long to realize that that would have been totally inappropriate for me and inconsistent with the President’s wishes.”9

After this November 10 meeting, the exhausted president-elect did not return to active engagement with the transition process until the end of the month, although Clifford, Sorensen, and others were meeting during this period with their counterparts in the Eisenhower administration. Once he did become fully engaged, Kennedy first focused on selecting the ten mem­bers of his Cabinet; his first nominee was announced on December 1 and the final one on December 17. On that latter date, sixty additional key policy posts and several hundred more other key positions remained to be filled. As he met with Neustadt and Clifford while the search for the people to fill administration positions continued, Kennedy complained about the diffi­culty of finding the best individuals to staff his “ministry of talent,” saying: “People, people, people! I don’t know any people. I only know voters.”10 To help him understand the issues he would confront in the White House, the president-elect had during the campaign commissioned seven task forces; in December, an additional nineteen more were added, and three more in January. One of the December groups, discussed in more detail below, was on outer space; it worked under Sorensen’s guidance. The Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report called these task forces an “important innovation” in the presidential transition process, noting that there was “no precedent for the large number of task forces. . . with wide memberships.”11 As he received the reports of his twenty-nine teams, which were composed of the best avail­able individuals and who worked without compensation, Kennedy’s reac­tions ranged from “helpful” to “terrific.” Twenty-four of the twenty-nine teams, including the outer space group, turned in their reports before the January 20 inauguration.

"The Perfect Failure&quot

There was another urgent matter on President Kennedy’s mind as he con­sidered options for the future in space. Kennedy had inherited Eisenhower

administration planning for an invasion of Cuba, since 1960 under the control of Fidel Castro, by CIA-trained Cuban exiles. Kennedy had reluc­tantly given the go-ahead to the plan a few days before April 14, and bomb­ing of Cuban airfields by what were characterized as airplanes flown by the exiles but actually flown by U. S. pilots began on April 15. The exiles went ashore at the Bay of Pigs on the morning of April 17. Within thirty-six hours, it was clear the plans had been ill-conceived, and that the invasion was a “perfect failure.”26

The fiasco in Cuba greatly distressed Kennedy; Sorensen describes him on the early morning of April 19, after the failure was evident, as “anguished and fatigued” and “in the most emotional, self-critical state I had ever seen him. He cursed not his fate or advisors but himself.” The days surrounding the failed invasion were “the worst week of his public life.” In the follow­ing days, “Kennedy’s anguish and dejection were evident to people around him.” Not only John Kennedy but also his brother Robert was affected. One account of a top-level meeting in the aftermath of the failure reports that Robert Kennedy, just after the president stepped out of the room, “turned on everybody,” saying, “All you bright fellows. You got the president into this. We’ve got to do something to show the Russians we are not paper tigers.”27

How much Kennedy’s emotional state and competitive character deter­mined or merely reinforced his resolve to proceed rapidly in space cannot be definitively known, but most evidence suggests that they were influential but not decisive factors. The failure was never explicitly linked to the review of the space program that took place in the days following the Bay of Pigs; Edward Welsh maintains that the fiasco was “not a factor at all” in that review. But Wiesner says of the Bay of Pigs, “I don’t think anyone can mea­sure it, but I am sure it had an impact. I think the President felt some pres­sure to get something else in the foreground.” He adds that, although the failed invasion was never explicitly linked to space, “I discussed it with the President and saw his reactions. I’m sure it wasn’t his primary motivation. I think the Bay of Pigs put him in a mood to run harder than he might have.” JFK’s national security adviser McGeorge Bundy suggests that “it is quite possible that, if the Bay of Pigs had been a resounding success, the President might have dawdled a little longer on the space decision.” Sorensen adds that Kennedy’s attitude toward the acceleration of the space program was influenced by “the fact that the Soviets had gained tremendous world-wide prestige from the Gagarin flight at the same time we had suffered a loss of prestige from the Bay of Pigs. It pointed up the fact that prestige was a real and not simply a public relations factor in world affairs.”28

One certain impact of the Bay of Pigs failure was to heighten White House concern regarding a possible failure of the first human launch in Project Mercury, which at that point was scheduled for May 2. A mission failure, especially if it resulted in the death of the Mercury astronaut on live televi­sion, was a possibility that the president and his advisers viewed with great concern.

A White House-NASA Argument: How Best. to Go to the Moon

The first stop on President Kennedy’s two-day tour to inspect the facili­ties being developed for Apollo was the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. There he was briefed by Wernher von Braun on the approach that NASA had finally chosen for carrying out the lunar landing mission, called lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR). This approach had emerged in the first half of 1962 as NASA’s preferred approach to getting to the Moon, but the White House Office of Science and Technology and its exter­nal advisers on the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) were at the time of JFK’s trip embroiled in a dispute with NASA over the wisdom of that choice. As von Braun described the LOR approach, Kennedy inter­rupted, saying that “I understand that Dr. Wiesner doesn’t agree with this,” and calling his science adviser to join the discussion. “Some lively dialogue” then ensued among Wiesner, von Braun, Webb, Seamans, and others; this discussion was just out of the earshot of reporters. According to Seamans, the reporters “obviously knew we were discussing something other than golf scores.” Wiesner suggests that he and von Braun were having a “friendly” talk in front of the president when Webb, who thought the two were arguing, “moved right in,” so that “what had been a friendly discussion became a real argument” as the press “watched, heard, and listened.” Kennedy ended the five-minute discussion by saying, “Well, maybe we’ll have one more hearing and then we’ll close the books on the issue.”1

Key to the LOR concept was separating the functions of the lunar landing mission between two spacecraft, rather than the single heavy spacecraft con­templated in both the direct ascent and the Earth orbit rendezvous (EOR) approach to the lunar landing. One spacecraft, designated the command and service module (CSM) , would carry the crew to lunar orbit and back to Earth; the other, designated the lunar excursion module (LEM), would carry two crew members from lunar orbit to the Moon’s surface, and then, after they had finished their exploration, back to a rendezvous in lunar orbit with the CSM. After the crew and lunar samples were transferred to the CSM, the LEM could then be discarded. Since the LEM would operate only in the atmosphere-free vicinity of the Moon and would not have to carry the

A White House-NASA Argument: How Best. to Go to the Moon

The presidential party as President Kennedy toured the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama on September 11, 1962. Identifiable in the image, in addition to President Kennedy are (left to right) center director Wernher von Braun, NASA administra­tor James Webb, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, presidential science adviser Jerome Wiesner, and director of defense research and engineering Harold Brown. NASA associate administrator Robert Seamans, Jr. is partially visible behind von Braun. Most of those in this photograph participated in a brief but spirited debate about the wisdom of the lunar-orbit rendezvous approach to the lunar landing mission (NASA photograph).

heavy fuel and even heavier heat shield required for the return to Earth, it could be much lighter than a spacecraft that would both land on the Moon and also have to carry the crew back to Earth. This weight reduction result­ing from this separation of functions made it possible to launch the whole lunar landing mission with one Saturn V booster, rather than the two that would be required by the Earth orbit rendezvous (EOR) approach.

The LOR concept had been brought to Seamans’s attention in an impas­sioned nine-page November 15, 1961, letter from John Houbolt, an engi­neer at NASA’s Langley Research Center, who had bypassed several layers of the NASA chain of command in sending the letter. NASA in late 1961 was focusing on some form of EOR as its preferred approach to the lunar mis­sion, but Houbolt argued that the LOR approach was the better way to get­ting to the Moon before the end of the decade, was safer and less expensive, and required only one launch.2

After extended analysis of the concept, NASA’s top leaders by early July 1962 had agreed that LOR was indeed the best choice for achieving the

lunar mission by the end of the decade and were preparing to announce their decision at a July 11 press conference. In anticipation of the announcement, NASA on July 3 sent a summary of its comparison of the various options to science adviser Wiesner. By the end of the day, Wiesner called Webb “in a highly emotional state” to say that “L. O.R. is the worst mistake in the world.” Webb asked Joseph Shea, the NASA systems engineer who was lead­ing the effort to select the lunar landing approach, to go to the White House immediately; when he met with Wiesner, the science adviser called LOR a “technological travesty.”3

There were several reasons for Wiesner’s reaction.4 One was the intuitive sense that a mission that depended for its success, and for the crew’s survival, on a rendezvous in lunar orbit, 240,000 miles from Earth, would be exces­sively risky. This was especially the case since there had been no experience with rendezvous, and Project Gemini, the just-initiated effort to gain that experience, was at that time not scheduled to have its first flight until late 1963. (The first flight actually did not come until early 1965.) Given the end of the decade deadline, the choice of mission approach would have to be made before the feasibility of its key element, rendezvous, had been dem­onstrated. (This of course was also true for Earth orbit rendezvous, but if a problem developed in an Earth-orbiting mission, the astronauts could easily return home.) NASA’s engineering analyses showed that LOR was safer than EOR, but Wiesner and his staff did not trust those analyses. The principal staff person supporting Wiesner on space issues was Nicholas Golovin, who had been forced to resign his position at NASA the preceding fall and left the space agency with “bitter gall” in his throat, only to be quickly hired by Wiesner as his top staff person for space issues. Golovin was tenacious in his criticism of NASA’s choice of LOR during 1962 and became a particular irritant to the space agency as NASA attempted to move forward.

Wiesner was also hearing from the space vehicle panel of PSAC that it had serious reservations about the LOR choice. The panel had followed NASA’s planning for the lunar mission throughout the year. Members of the panel together with Wiesner met with the NASA leadership on July 6 to outline their concerns. As a result of this meeting, NASA was forced to change its message for the July 11 press conference to saying that the LOR choice was tentative and subject to further study and review.

Jerome Wiesner transmitted the PSAC views as an attachment to a July 17 letter to James Webb; in that letter Wiesner also set forth his own views. Like the PSAC panel, he was concerned about “which mission mode is most con­sistent with the main stream of our national space program, and therefore the one most likely to be useful in overtaking and keeping ahead of Soviet space technology.” In particular, Wiesner wanted more attention paid to “the ques­tion of which mode is likely to be most suitable for enhancing our military capabilities in space, if doing so should turn out to be desirable.” Wiesner told Webb that he had “reported the results of our discussions to the President.”5

Webb replied to Wiesner’s letter on August 20, listing the various studies that NASA was undertaking based on the Space Vehicle Panel’s suggestions and assuring Wiesner that NASA had thought carefully about the issues raised in Wiesner’s letter. He told Wiesner that “it is our considered opinion that the LOR mode. . . provides as comprehensive a base of knowledge and experience for application to other possible space programs, either military or civilian, as either the EOR mode or the C-5 [Saturn V] direct mode.” Webb thanked Wiesner for his and PSAC’s efforts, saying that “this con­structive criticism by eminently qualified men is of tremendous value.”6 This final comment may not have been totally sincere. The pressure resulting from President Kennedy’s “end of the decade” deadline was being felt within NASA, and continued criticism from the White House science office was a barrier to NASA’s moving ahead with its plans.

Wiesner and his assistant Golovin continued to intervene in NASA’s deci­sion process during July and August, and on September 5, a few days before the president was to visit various NASA installations, Wiesner once again wrote Webb reiterating his concerns regarding the LOR choice. Wiesner sent a copy of his letter to the president. In this letter, Wiesner called the contribu­tion of the LOR choice to the overall space capabilities of the United States “seriously questionable,” noting that any military applications of those capa­bilities “will be in the near earth environment” and that “whether manned military missions are to be either of a defensive or offensive character. . . the obvious needs for maneuverability and reasonable stay-time in orbit would require that refueling techniques be developed more or less contemporane­ously with those for rendezvous and docking.” While James Webb was sym­pathetic to using Apollo to build up overall U. S. space capabilities, his main focus in 1962 was selecting the approach that gave the best chance of getting to the Moon before the Soviets; Wiesner appeared less interested in the race to the Moon and more focused on developing near-Earth space capabilities with military relevance.7

This is where the situation stood as President Kennedy visited Huntsville and was party to the Wiesner-NASA debate. As Kennedy flew to Cape Canaveral, the next stop in his tour, he was asked what the likely outcome of the controversy would be. “Jerry’s going to lose, it’s obvious,” replied the president; “Webb’s got all the money, and Jerry’s only got me.”8

Wiesner and Golovin did not give up their fight easily and continued to contest NASA’s choice and supporting analyses in September and October. NASA finally assembled all of its analyses into a document that it hoped would be a final comparison of the approaches to carrying out the lunar landing mission and sent it to Wiesner on October 24. In that report, NASA estimated that the probability of success for any one lunar landing attempt was 40 percent for the LOR approach, 36 percent for the direct ascent approach, and 30 percent for EOR; probabilities of crew safety were 85 per­cent for LOR, 83 percent for direct ascent, and 89 percent for EOR. Wiesner and Golovin continued to question the NASA figures, but their fight was coming to a conclusion.9

The NASA report was accompanied by a “peevish” letter from Webb to Wiesner. Webb told Wiesner that “my understanding is that you. . . will examine this and you will let me know your views as to whether we should ask for an appointment with the President.” Webb’s view was “we should proceed with the lunar orbit plan, should announce our selection of the con­tractor for the lunar excursion vehicle, and should play the whole thing in a low key.” Webb said that unless he heard to the contrary, he would advise President Kennedy’s appointments secretary Kenneth O’Donnell “that nei­ther you nor the Defense Department wishes to interpose a formal objec­tion” to NASA’s going ahead with LOR. “In that case,” wrote Webb, “I believe Mr. O’Donnell will not feel it wise to schedule the President’s time and that the President will confirm this judgment.”10

As Webb wrote his October 24 letter, President Kennedy was totally involved with dealing with the problem of Soviet missiles in Cuba, and most certainly was not going to take time to referee the NASA dispute with his science adviser. Webb and Wiesner talked by telephone on October 29, the Monday after the weekend during which the Cuban missile crisis was resolved. Wiesner said that his message to the president would not be to overrule any decision NASA might reach, but rather to be sure that a full and honest assessment had been made of all the options; Wiesner still questioned whether this was the case. Webb told Wiesner he “thought it better not to go to a formal hearing or involve the President personally in the decision,” but Wiesner thought that “involving the President couldn’t be avoided” because someone was sure to ask Kennedy whether the decision was made after the best possible analysis. On November 2, Wiesner and three PSAC members met with Webb and his senior staff to go over once again the White House objections to LOR; Wiesner recommended that NASA select instead a new alternative, a two-person flight using the direct ascent approach that was being strongly advocated by the builder of the Apollo command and service module, North American Aviation. Choosing this approach would mean that North American would manufacture spacecraft that would land on the Moon, not just the ship that would ferry astronauts from the Earth to lunar orbit and back. Again NASA refused to alter its position that LOR was the preferred approach. After discussing his reservations with the president, Wiesner decided not to insist on a formal meeting with Kennedy to make a final decision.11

On November 7, the day that NASA confirmed its tentative choice of lunar orbit rendezvous and announced its intent to issue the contract for the lunar lander to Grumman Aerospace, McGeorge Bundy wrote Wiesner, saying that the “President’s conclusion on the moon method is that he would like a last letter from Wiesner to Webb saying that Kennedy “thinks the time is coming for a final recommendation and relies on Director Webb to review all the arguments and to produce that recom­mendation.” Bundy also told Wiesner that “we should make Webb feel the responsibility for a definite decision and the importance of weighing all opinions, without trying to make his decision for him.” This com­munication was somewhat after the fact, given the NASA announcement that day.12

Webb did write the requested letter to President Kennedy. He told the president that “by adopting LOR, the mission can be accomplished at least one year earlier in comparison to the EOR mode.” By this time, Webb was aware of Kennedy’s desire to accomplish the initial lunar landing at the earli­est possible date in order to give maximum assurance of accomplishing the landing before the Soviet Union did. The cost of LOR approach, suggested Webb, would be “10% to 15% less than for the EOR approach.” He told Kennedy that the decision to go with the LOR mode “had to be made at this time in order to maintain our schedules, which aim at a landing attempt in late 1967,” and that, with this decision made “we intend to drive forward vigorously on every segment of the manned lunar landing program.”13

With NASA’s November 7 announcement and Webb’s letter to Kennedy, NASA now indeed had all the pieces in place to “drive forward vigorously” on Project Apollo. Kennedy’s approach with respect to the LOR decision was again typical of his management style as president. He welcomed a wide variety of views being expressed while decisions were being made, but sel­dom if ever forced on an operating agency of the executive branch a course of action with which its leadership disagreed. If Kennedy felt that a wrong policy was being pursued, he was more likely to remove the agency head than insist on his carrying out a White House-imposed perspective. Now it was up to NASA to deliver on its commitments.

A Final Kennedy Visit to the Apollo Launch Site

On November 16, 1963, John Kennedy made the short flight to Cape Canaveral from his family home in Palm Beach, Florida for an inspection tour of progress being made by NASA in the Gemini and Apollo programs. He also took a helicopter to a Navy ship offshore to witness the launch of a submarine-based Polaris missile. The president’s visit was seen as “an effort to focus attention on the nation’s space program” as the Congress made final decisions on the NASA FY1964 budget.

Kennedy was first briefed on the Gemini program by astronauts Gus Grissom and Gordon Cooper. He then had a short presentation on Apollo by George Mueller in the launch control center at Launch Complex 37; a Saturn 1 booster was sitting on that launch pad for a planned December launch attempt. As his party left the control center, the president lagged behind to inspect the models of the various launch vehicles being used by NASA, ranging from the small Redstone booster that had been used for the suborbital launches of Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom to the mighty Saturn V that would be used to send astronauts to the Moon. When he was assured that the models were all to the same scale, Kennedy used words like “amaz­ing” and “fantastic.” Robert Seamans, who accompanied Kennedy through­out the visit, suggests that the President “maybe for the first time, began to realize the dimensions of these projects.”

A Final Kennedy Visit to the Apollo Launch Site

President Kennedy is briefed on Apollo plans by associate administrator for manned space flight George Mueller on November 16, 1963. In the first row (l—r) are: manned space flight official George Low; director of NASA’s Launch Operations Center Kurt Debus; NASA asso­ciate administrator Robert Seamans; NASA administrator James Webb; the president; NASA deputy administrator Hugh Dryden; director of Marshall Spaceflight Center Wernher von Braun; commander of the Air Force Missile Test Center at Cape Canaveral Major General Leighton Davis; and Senator George Smathers (D-FL). In front of the president is a model of the massive Vehicle Assembly Building within which the Saturn V moon rocket, also shown, would be assembled before being transported to the launch pad (NASA photograph).

Kennedy then walked to the vicinity of the Saturn 1 booster, where he was briefed on the rocket’s dimensions and capabilities by Wernher von Braun (see cover image). Before leaving the launch pad, and much to the discom­fort of his Secret Service detail, Kennedy walked over and stood directly underneath the rocket. At that moment, he asked whether the upcoming launch “will be the largest payload that man has ever put in orbit.” When told that this was indeed the case, Kennedy responded: “That is very, very significant.” He recognized that with the upcoming launch the United States would finally surpass the Soviet Union in lifting capacity, a goal that he had pursued from his first presidential decisions on space. The party then flew by helicopter over the Saturn V launch facilities under construction at Launch Complex 39 on the adjoining Merritt Island; Kennedy had been shown a model of the complex during his earlier briefing by Mueller.

As he returned to the mainland after witnessing the Polaris launch, Kennedy said to Seamans, “I’m not sure that I have the facts really straight” with respect to the launch capability of the Saturn 1. “Will you tell me about it again?” Seamans responded that “the usable payload is 19,000 pounds, but we’ll actually have 38,000 pounds up there in orbit.” The rocket’s lift­off thrust would be 1.5 million pounds. Kennedy then asked, “what is the Soviet capability?” and Seamans told him that it was approximately 15,000 pounds of usable payload and that the Soviet booster had only a lift-off thrust of 800,000 pounds. Kennedy once again said: “That’s very impor­tant. Now, be sure that the press understands this.” As he was preparing to return to Palm Beach, he turned to Seamans and said: “Now, you won’t forget, will you, to do this?” He asked Seamans to get on the press plane to emphasize that the United States would soon close the weight-lifting gap in space. Seamans was successful in his presidentially assigned mission. The New York Times reported the next day that Kennedy was “enthralled by the sight of the Saturn 1 vehicle, which is expected to make space history next month” by putting the United States ahead of the Soviet Union in the weight placed in orbit.13

Six days later, on the short flight from Fort Worth to Dallas, John F. Kennedy told Representative Olin Teague that “he wanted to go to the Cape for the Saturn launch in December. He thought the space program needed a boost and he wanted to help.”14

Finding a NASA Administrator

The most pressing of these issues was finding someone to run NASA. As the new administration took office, no one had been selected as the nominee for the job of NASA administrator, which thus became the most senior unfilled position as the Kennedy presidency began. That no nominee had been named was not for lack of trying. There are several versions of how many people were considered for the position. The number in various accounts ranges from nineteen to twenty-eight.7

In their December discussions on space issues, John Kennedy had given Lyndon Johnson the responsibility of identifying the person to be the next NASA administrator. In turn, Johnson asked the staff director of the Senate space committee, Kenneth Belieu, to coordinate the search for the nomi­nee. Belieu had told Johnson on December 22 that “the Administrator of NASA doesn’t have to be a technician. He does need to have firm adminis­trative ability, and be able to work with scientists and technicians.” Belieu’s initial thoughts about people qualified for the NASA position included Karl Bendetsen, an industrialist who had served in the Truman adminis­tration; General Maxwell Taylor, retired Army Chief of Staff; and George Feldman, who had been the staff director of the House committee estab­lished in 1958 as proposals to create NASA were being considered. Belieu noted that Feldman had been “actively seeking” the NASA job. He also noted that the current Air Force chief of staff, Thomas White, who was soon to retire, “might be interested,” and that he had gotten suggestions that Jet Propulsion Laboratory director William Pickering and Marshall Space Flight Center director Wernher von Braun might be good candidates.8

Most of these possibilities did not survive a first round of scrutiny. On January 23, Belieu gave a list of possible picks to now-Vice President Johnson. They were Laurence (Pat) Hyland of Hughes Aircraft; Charles (Tex) Thornton of Litton Industries; James Fisk of Bell Laboratories; James Doolittle, World War II hero and former chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics; and William Foster of Olin Mathieson

Chemicals. On January 25, Belieu reported to top Johnson assistant Bill Moyers, who was interviewing candidates and then deciding whether or not to send them forward to the vice president, that “we have run through about 25 names to date,” and that the 25 did not include “Generals Maxwell Taylor, Jim Gavin, Bruce Medaires [sic – the correct spelling is Medaris], Earl Partridge, [and] Thomas White.” An unsigned January 26 memorandum, most likely composed also by Belieu, reflected a view that NASA should not be headed by an active military man because “the Communists would scream that this proved our militaristic intentions in space and that NASA was and is a facade”; because “it would have the effect of scaring off allies and neutrals from a program of international cooperation in space”; and because “many of the scientists in NASA might prefer to work elsewhere if NASA took on a military look.”9 According to Lyndon Johnson, at some point Kennedy had suggested appointing retired General James Gavin, who had been a campaign adviser, to head NASA, and Johnson had told Kennedy that “that’s the worst thing we could do for the program, would be put a man with stars on his shoulder and a general’s uniform, in charge of the space effort of this country, because it would frighten other countries and do a great disservice to our own program.”10

Belieu reported to Moyers that “at the Vice President’s direction” he had called several of the people on his list and would meet with William Baker, head of Bell Laboratories, and Tex Thornton. Belieu also reported that he had interviewed William Pickering, who was “definitely interested,” but “we might do better.” The head of General Dynamics, Frank Pace, was also involved in the search process. Belieu on January 26 said that Pace “would call me back this afternoon with a check on some of these people and fur­ther suggestions.” He told Moyers, “it looks as though it will be impossible to find anyone who is completely satisfactory to all factions involved in the space program.”11

Kennedy, tired of the delay in identifying a candidate for the NASA job, reportedly told Johnson and new science adviser Wiesner soon after his inau­guration that he would find someone himself if they did not act soon. On January 25, he told his first press conference that he was “hopeful” that a NASA administrator would be named in the next few days.12

One underlying reason for the difficulty in finding a person to take over NASA was the pervasive uncertainty about the future of the agency and of the U. S. civilian space program. John Kennedy had given little indication during the campaign of how he would approach space policy as president. In addition, the Air Force campaign to take over the U. S. lead in space was at a peak, and no individual was interested in presiding over the dissolution of NASA. There were three general perspectives on what kind of person should head NASA. One view favored a person with administrative experi­ence in a science and technology setting; this had been the background of Keith Glennan. Another argued for a top-flight scientist with an academic background. A third argued that political savvy in addition to administrative skill was a more necessary background than either a scientific or engineering background. The first of these positions was supported by Wiesner.13 The second position was held by many nongovernmental scientists, who wanted NASA priorities determined solely by scientific criteria. The third was the position of Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kerr.14

Another significant barrier to getting someone to accept the NASA position was the probability that the NASA administrator would find himself having to work closely with, or even for, Johnson, given LBJ’s anticipated new role as Space Council chairman. The new vice president was known for “his tantrums and his wheedling and bullying.” Few senior people who had experienced the “Johnson treatment” were eager to undergo it on a continuing basis. According to Wiesner, “no good scientists wanted to take the job on because they didn’t want to come under LBJ.” Wiesner remembered that “8 or 9 of the best scien­tists in America were asked to head NASA, and they all said no.”15

Alan Shepard Visits Washington

On the morning of May 8, Alan Shepard and the six other Mercury astro­nauts were flown from Grand Bahama Island, where Shepard had been brought after his recovery from his suborbital mission, to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington and then by helicopter to the White House lawn. They were met in the Rose Garden by a gathering that included President Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline, members of Congress, NASA leaders, and others. Awarding the NASA Distinguished Service Medal to Shepard, the president said: “how proud we are of him, what satisfaction we take in his accomplishment, what a service he has rendered to his country.” He noted that “this flight was made out in the open with all the possibilities of failure, which would have been damaging to our country’s prestige. Because great risks were taken in that regard, it seems to me that we have some right to claim that this open society of ours which risked much, gained much.”8 After the award ceremony, the seven astronauts and others in the gather­ing joined President Kennedy in the Oval Office; the group totaled 20 to 25 people, including Vice President Johnson, the chairs of the Senate and House space committees, and several managers from NASA. The astronauts sat on couches on either side of the president, who “gushed with questions.” He and Shepard discussed how Shepard’s flight had demonstrated the abil­ity of a human not only to survive, but also to carry out various functions in space; Kennedy seemed well aware of the reservations of his science advisers on this point. Alan Shepard recalls that “everybody certainly was running over with confidence at that time because the flight had gone so well and we had proved our point. . . that a man can operate effectively in space.” Robert Gilruth, the director of NASA’s Space Task Group that was manag­ing Project Mercury, was present. He remembers Kennedy saying, “Look, I want to be first.” Gilruth replied: “Well, you’ve got to pick a job that’s so difficult, that it’s new, that they’ll [the Soviets] have to start from scratch. They can’t just take their old rocket and put another gimmick on it and do something we can’t do.” Gilruth added, “it’s got to be something that requires a great big rocket, like going to the moon. Going to the moon will take a new rocket. . . and if you want to do that, I think our country could probably win because we’d both have to start from scratch.” Kennedy’s reply was “I want to go to the Moon.” Gilruth, himself only five years older than Kennedy, added that while Kennedy seemed to accept Gilruth’s view, “he was a young man; he didn’t have all the wisdom he would have had. If he’d been older, he probably would never have done it.”

After leaving the White House, Shepard was taken by President Kennedy to a meeting of the National Association of Broadcasters; this was not on the planned schedule for the day, but Shepard’s surprise visit provoked a tumultu­ous welcome. After his stopover at the broadcasters’ meeting, Shepard and the other astronauts, accompanied by the vice president, paraded up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol as thousands, assembling with little advance notice, cheered. Shepard suggests that “these two things—the successful dem­onstration of man’s capability and the public support of a program which immediately became to them a very thrilling, exciting program—affected him [President Kennedy] in his decision-making process.” After a “throng – packed, pulsing” meeting with members of Congress, the group went to the State Department for a luncheon hosted by Vice President Johnson; then Shepard held a press conference.9

As he left the luncheon to go first to the White House and then to the airport to catch the plane that would take him to Southeast Asia for two weeks, Lyndon Johnson carried a large manila envelope. In it was the Webb – McNamara report recommending sending Americans to the Moon.

Background to the President’s Proposal

The reasons why President Kennedy chose to propose such a major step in U. S.-Soviet space cooperation were well summarized by Theodore Sorensen: I

A New "Strategy of Peace"

In the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis, President Kennedy sought ways of lessening the U. S.-Russian tensions and mistrust that had led to that situ­ation. He first tried to once again engage Nikita Khrushchev in discussions on a test ban treaty, but progress toward that objective was slow. By June 1963, he was ready for a broader approach—a new “strategy of peace.”8 In a June 10 commencement address at American University in Washington, DC, Kennedy outlined his approach to a “more practical, more attainable peace,” one based on “a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. . . Both the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies, have a mutually deep interest in a just and genuine peace. . . Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts.”9

President Kennedy did not mention space cooperation in this speech, an omission seen as “striking” by Harvey and Ciccoritti “in view of the great stress he had placed earlier on space as a means of bridging differences between the two countries.” They suggest that “Kennedy for some time had been having second thoughts about pushing space cooperation under existing circumstances.” They offer as evidence for this view Kennedy’s disappoint­ment with the results of the 1962 space cooperation agreement and the fact that “Kennedy had become more and more enthusiastic over the competitive aspects of the space endeavor.” Kennedy, they suggest, “was really interested [in space cooperation] only if the Russians should prove ready to cooperate in a manner and on a scale that would involve meaningful movement toward a genuine rapprochement between the two countries. Otherwise, the US would continue with its program in strict competition with the USSR, since he considered it essential to the national interest that the US continue to develop the capabilities for the full mastery of space.”10

A somewhat different interpretation of Kennedy’s views at the time is more convincing. As suggested in Sorensen’s view cited earlier, in the post-Cuban missile crisis detente atmosphere of 1963, and with the increasing costs and mounting criticisms of the lunar landing program, it is likely that President Kennedy was even more interested in U. S.-Soviet space cooperation than had previously been the case. The President in mid-1963 was actively consider­ing resurrecting the idea. He certainly did not seem to think that he was “in pursuit of an illusion,” but rather pursuing a course of action that was in the U. S. interest. Other than a call for negotiations on a nuclear test ban treaty, Kennedy did not mention any other area for potential U. S.-Soviet coopera­tion in his American University speech, so the fact that he did not mention space cooperation specifically is less than “striking.” It was logical for him to return to a proposal for cooperation in the lunar landing program as one of the “concrete actions” needed to implement his “strategy for peace.”

An August 9 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) memorandum on “The New Phase of Soviet Policy” provided evidence that Kennedy’s strategy was well conceived. On July 25 the Soviet Union agreed to sign a Limited Test

Ban Treaty, including a prohibition on tests in outer space. The CIA analysis thought that Nikita Khrushchev in the post-missile crisis period had “a vested interest in perpetuating. . . the impression that a new era in East-West relations has begun” and that “the USSR intends to sustain an atmosphere of reduced tensions for some time.” These observations were certainly sup­portive of a proposal for enhanced space cooperation as part of President Kennedy’s new approach.11

By mid-1963 there was increasing criticism of the lunar landing program from both sides of the political spectrum. Theodore Sorensen was asked whether by 1963 “the size of this [space] program and its rate of growth were beginning to worry the President, and that he was more eager to stress the cooperative issue because he was dubious about either the wisdom or the possibility of maintaining the rate of increase that NASA was suggesting.” Sorensen replied that Kennedy “was understandably reluctant to continue that rate of increase. He wished to find ways to spend less money on the program. . . How much that motivated his offer to the Russians, though, I don’t know.”12

Apollo and History

The set of judgments that led President John F. Kennedy to decide to send Americans to the Moon combined lasting characteristics of the American peo­ple, a conviction of American exceptionalism and a mission derived from that conviction, the geopolitical situation of early 1961, and the individual values and style that Kennedy brought to the White House. Apollo was a product of a particular moment in time. Apollo is also a piece of lasting human history. Its most important significance may well be simply that it happened. Humans did travel to and explore another celestial body. Apollo will forever be a milestone in human experience, and particularly in the history of human exploration and perhaps eventual expansion. Because the first steps on the Moon were seen simultaneously in every part of the globe (with a few exceptions such as the Soviet Union), Apollo 11 was the first great exploratory voyage that was a shared human experience—what historian Daniel Boorstin called “pub­lic discovery.”30 John Kennedy’s name will forever be linked with those first steps. Like other ventures into unknown territory, Apollo may not have fol­lowed the best route nor have been motivated by the same concerns that will stimulate future space exploration. But without someone going first, there can be no followers. In this sense, the Apollo astronauts were true pioneers.

Apollo and History

The iconic “Earthrise” picture taken on Christmas Eve 1968 by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders as he and his crewmates became the first humans to orbit the Moon and to look back at their home planet from 240,000 miles away. (NASA photograph).

Leaving the Earth gave the Apollo astronauts the unique opportunity to look back at Earth and to share what they saw. The Apollo 8 “Earthrise” picture is surely one of the iconic images of the twentieth century. It allowed us, as poet Archibald McLeish noted at the time, “to see earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats” and “to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveli­ness in the eternal cold—brothers who truly know that they are brothers.”31 That perception alone cannot justify the costs of going to the Moon, but it stands as a major benefit from going there, one that has influenced human behavior in many ways.

I hope that sometime in the future—if not in the coming decades then in the coming centuries—humans will once again choose to venture beyond the immediate vicinity of Earth. I believe that the urge to explore—to see what is over the next hill—is a fundamental attribute of at least some human cultures. Michael Collins, the Apollo 11 astronaut who remained in orbit as Armstrong and Aldrin experienced being on the Moon, has commented that the lasting justification for human space flight is “leaving”—going away from Earth to some distant destination. As future voyages of exploration are planned, I also hope that the United States chooses to be in the vanguard of a cooperative exploration effort involving countries from around the globe. There are two things I judge as certain, whenever those voyages take place. One is that they will not be like Apollo, a grand but costly unilateral effort racing against a firm deadline to reach a distant and challenging goal. The other is that President Kennedy’s name will be evoked as humans once again begin to travel away from Earth. As he said in September 1962, “We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.” John F. Kennedy, like the astronauts who traveled to the Moon during Apollo, was a true space pioneer.

[1] have asked Jim Webb, Dr. Wiesner, Secretary McNamara and other respon­sible officials to cooperate with you fully. I would appreciate a report on this at the earliest possible moment.

[2] “The pace at which the manned lunar landing should proceed, in view of the budgetary implications and other considerations,” and

2. “The approach that should be taken to other space programs in the 1964 budget, i. e., should they as a matter of policy be exempted from or

[3] think the President had three objectives in space. One was to ensure its demilitarization. The second was to prevent the field to be occupied to the Russians to the exclusion of the United States. And the third was to make certain that American scientific prestige and American scientific effort were at the top. Those three goals all would have been assured in a space effort which culminated in our beating the Russians to the moon. All three of them would have been endangered had the Russians continued to outpace us in their space effort and beat us to the moon. But I believe all three of those goals would also have been assured by a joint Soviet-American venture to the moon.

The difficulty was that in 1961, although the President favored the joint effort, we had comparatively few chips to offer. Obviously the Russians were well ahead of us at that time. . . But by 1963, our effort had accelerated con­siderably. There was a very real chance we were even with the Soviets in this effort. In addition, our relations with the Soviets, following the Cuban missile crisis and the test ban treaty, were much improved—so the President felt that, without harming any of those three goals, we now were in a position to ask the Soviets to join us and make it efficient and economical for both countries.7

[4] think the President had three objectives in space. One was to ensure its demilitarization. The second was to prevent the field to be occupied to the Russians to the exclusion of the United States. And the third was to make certain that American scientific prestige and American scientific effort were at the top. Those three goals all would have been assured in a space effort which culminated in our beating the Russians to the moon. All three of them would have been endangered had the Russians continued to outpace us in their space effort and beat us to the moon. But I believe all three of those goals would also have been assured by a joint Soviet-American venture to the moon.

The difficulty was that in 1961, although the President favored the joint effort, we had comparatively few chips to offer. Obviously the Russians were well ahead of us at that time. . . But by 1963, our effort had accelerated considerably. There was a very real chance we were even with the Soviets in this effort. In