Category THE RACE

Kennedy’s Final Words on Space

The recommendation to continue Apollo on its current path would most likely have been welcomed by the president. As the BOB review was under­way, John F. Kennedy repeatedly made clear his view that the United States should continue its effort to assume the leading position in space. Kennedy’s excitement during his November 16 visit to Cape Canaveral in recognizing that the upcoming Saturn 1 launch would give the United States the weight­lifting lead in space reflected this determination; he referred to that soon-to – be-realized achievement several times in remarks on November 21 and the morning of November 22 as he moved forward with his tragic Texas tour.

Perhaps Kennedy’s attitude on the space program on the last full day of his life are best reflected in remarks he made at the dedication of an aerospace medicine facility in San Antonio on November 21:

I think the United States should be a leader [in space]. A country as rich and powerful as this which bears so many burdens and responsibilities, which has so many opportunities, should be second to none. . . We have a long way to go. Many weeks and months and years of long, tedious work lie ahead. There will be setbacks and frustrations and disappointments. There will be, as there always are, pressures in this country to do less in this area as in so many oth­ers, and temptations to do something else that is perhaps easier. . . This space effort must go on. The conquest of space must and will go ahead. That much we know. That much we can say with confidence and conviction.

Frank O’Connor, the Irish writer, tells in one of his books how, as a boy, he and his friends would make their way across the countryside, and when they came to an orchard wall that seemed too high and too doubtful to try and too difficult to permit their voyage to continue, they took off their hats and tossed them over the wall—and then they had no choice but to follow them.

This Nation has tossed its cap over the wall of space, and we have no choice but to follow it.21

Webb Soon Challenged

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

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

Kennedy Accepts Recommendations

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

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

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

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

A British Intervention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We Should Go to the Moon&quot

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy, then just over four months in the White House, addressed a joint session of Congress to deliver what was billed as a second State of the Union address on “Urgent National Needs.” Before the assembled senators and representatives and a national television audience, Kennedy declared: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.” Later in his speech, he reiterated: “I believe that we should go to the moon.” Sixteen months later, in his most memorable space speech, made before a crowd of 40,000 at Rice University in Houston, Texas, Kennedy gave this reason for undertaking the lunar jour­ney: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”1

John Kennedy was a very unlikely candidate to decide to send Americans to the Moon. He had shown little interest in space issues in his time as a sena­tor or during his presidential campaign. According to one journalist who had close ties with Kennedy, “Of all the major problems facing Kennedy when he came into office, he probably knew and understood least about space.”2 Yet just three months after his inauguration, in the aftermath of the Soviet Union on April 12, 1961, sending the first human, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, into orbit, Kennedy asked his advisers to find him “a space pro­gram which promises dramatic results in which we could win.” The answer came back less than three weeks later—sending astronauts to the surface of Earth’s nearest neighbor gave the best chance of besting the Soviet Union in a dramatic space achievement. The resulting prestige from winning a race to the Moon, Kennedy was told, would give the United States a major victory “in the battle along the fluid front of the Cold War.” Kennedy accepted this

"We Should Go to the Moon&quot

President John F. Kennedy as he addressed a joint session of the Congress on May 25, 1961, and declared: “We should go to the Moon.” Others in the image are Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (left) and Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn (right) (NASA photograph).

advice, and soon after announced his decision to begin what he character­ized as “a great new American enterprise.”3

President Kennedy’s involvement with the lunar landing undertaking was much more intimate and continuing than is usually acknowledged. Kennedy not only decided to go to the Moon; over the remaining thirty months of his tragically shortened presidency, he stayed closely engaged in the effort and in making sure the benefits of Project Apollo would outweigh its burgeoning cost. Convinced that this was indeed the case, he pushed hard to make sure that Apollo was carried out in a manner that best served both the country’s interests and his own as president. As the authors of the recent study If We Can Put a Man on the Moon… comment, “Democratic governments can achieve great things only if they meet two requirements: wisely choosing which policies to pursue and then executing those policies.” Many presidents since John Kennedy have announced bold decisions, but few have followed those decisions with the budgetary and political commitments needed to ensure success.4 This study details the full range of JFK’s actions that carried Americans to the Moon.

Kennedy’s commitment to the race to the Moon initiated the largest peacetime government-directed engineering project in U. S. history. Project Apollo by the time it was completed cost U. S. taxpayers $25.4 billion, which would be equal to some $151 billion in 2010 dollars. Apollo is frequently compared to the construction of the Panama Canal as an expensive, long-term, government-funded undertaking. By the time the Canal was completed in 1914, the cost of its construction was $375 million, equivalent to $8.1 billion in 2010 dollars, much less than Apollo. Another compari­son might be with the multidecade construction of the Interstate Highway System, which began in the mid-1950s and for which the federal government paid $114 billion out of a total cost of $128 billion. By any measure available, Apollo required a historically massive commitment of public funds over a relatively brief period of time.5

This study is the first comprehensive account of the impact of John F. Kennedy on the race to the Moon; others have written extensively about the managerial and technical aspects of the Apollo achievement, but none have portrayed JFK’s perspective as he continued to push, in the face of growing criticism and concern about increasing costs, for moving ahead with the lunar landing program. The book contains a detailed narrative of the decisions and actions of President Kennedy, his inner circle of advisers who made deci­sions and took actions on his behalf, the career White House staff who sup­ported the Kennedy presidency, and the agency heads with whom Kennedy interacted. Kennedy before he was inaugurated assigned his vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson, a lead role in space policy; the study also characterizes Johnson’s role with respect to space decisions during the Kennedy admin­istration. Except when necessary to understand deliberations at the White House level, the book does not give much attention to the specific details of Project Apollo itself.

John Kennedy saw his choice to go to the Moon “as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the Office of the Presidency.” Yet most general accounts of JFK’s time as president give only passing attention to his involvement with the lunar landing program. One goal of this study is to create as historically complete a record as pos­sible of that involvement. Doing so fills an empty niche in the record of the Kennedy administration. It also provides a detailed case study of how Kennedy went about conducting his presidency, assessing what actions were needed in the national interest, continuously seeking information from mul­tiple sources, but deferring to his agency heads to carry out the programs he set in motion. Readers of this account can decide for themselves what insights Kennedy’s space-related efforts provide about his personality and the way he carried out his presidency. The book’s concluding chapter, however, reflects on the character and quality of JFK’s space decisions, asks whether the way Apollo was conceived and carried out can serve as a model for other large-scale government efforts, and provides a perspective on the impact of Kennedy’s commitment to a lunar landing “before this decade is out” on both the evolution of the U. S. space program and the U. S. position in the world of the 1960s and later.

The image of John Kennedy that emerges from this study is at vari­ance from how he is often regarded with respect to space. Rather than a visionary who steered the U. S. space program toward a focus on exploring beyond Earth orbit, he emerges as a pragmatic political leader who soon after entering office came to see the U. S. civilian space program as an important tool to advance U. S. foreign policy and national security goals. He was flex­ible in his approach to space activities, willing to compete if necessary but preferring to cooperate if possible.

John F. Kennedy with his actions in the spring of 1961 and in the follow­ing months took the first steps toward the Moon. Eight years later, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong would take another “small step for a man, but a giant leap for mankind.” Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. has suggested that “The 20th Century will be remembered, when all else is forgotten, as the century when man burst his terrestrial bounds.”6 In undertaking the lunar landing program, John Kennedy linked the politics of the moment with the dreams of centuries and the aspirations of the nation. Unfortunately, Kennedy did not live to see the first footprints on the lunar surface, but in the long sweep of history, it is one of the ways in which he will be most remembered.

Reorganizing the Space Council

In the early days of the eighty-seventh Congress, two bills related to the Space Council were introduced in the House of Representatives. One was the Eisenhower administration bill abolishing the council, on which there had been no action in the previous year; Sorensen and Bell had agreed during the transition to have this bill reintroduced, and apparently that decision had not been countermanded even though president-elect Kennedy had at least tentatively decided to retain the council. The other bill was introduced by congressman Emilio Daddario (D-CT). It would have not only have autho­rized the president to make the vice president a member and the chairman of the Space Council, but also would have delegated to the vice president executive functions that were assigned by law to the president.5 No legisla­tive action was taken on either of these proposed bills, but the White House wanted to make sure that the Daddario bill did not move forward, since it would have given the vice president more power than Kennedy desired; in addition, such a delegation of executive power to the vice president was most likely unconstitutional.

On February 14, Lyndon Johnson wrote to Kennedy, telling him that “in accordance with your request, I have made a study of the National Aeronautics and Space Council.” That study had suggested that “the Council as it now stands has the power to make certain decisions between agencies and pro­grams which is a power that under the Constitution only the President can have.” Thus, “if it is your desire to remove the President as Chairman of the Council, it will be necessary to change the basic structure of the Council so that it coordinates the information—not the activities—of the various space projects and advises you accordingly.”6 Following up on this letter, Moyers asked Richard Neustadt, who was continuing to serve the new administra­tion as a consultant on organizing the presidency, for his thoughts on the organization and operation of the council. Moyers also worked with staff members of the Senate Committee on Aeronautics and Space Sciences to prepare the various documents needed to make the changes in the 1958 Space Act that were thought to be required.

Neustadt responded on February 28. He said that he was “much con­cerned” regarding “the Vice President’s position as a constitutional officer who cannot share, so should not be pressed to take on, operating responsibil­ity” that was assigned to the president. In a memorandum on “Organizing the Space Council,” Neustadt noted that “where space programs are concerned, the President should have available the same sort of top-level, politically – responsible advice on policy (and follow through) that he can claim in other fields from a Cabinet secretary,” but that “the Vice President should not be asked to serve as ‘Secretary for Space’ except in the role of senior adviser. It would be unfair to cast him in the role of department head responsible for operations.” Neustadt’s late February critique of an operational role for the vice president implies that at least some on LBJ’s staff, if not Johnson him­self, were continuing to push for such responsibility.

Neustadt recommended that there was no need for the council to have the nine members, including three public members, who were mandated in the 1958 Space Act; in his view, “the Chairman, State, Defense and NASA would suffice.” (At least one prominent space scientist was interested in becoming a public member of the Space Council. On February 4, 1961, University of Iowa professor James Van Allen, 1958 discoverer of the Earth – circling radiation belts that bore his name, wrote Vice President Johnson, saying that “I would be honored to serve with you on this body [the Space Council] as a vitally interested member of the general scientific commu­nity.”) Neustadt proposed a small council staff “with broad experience in government, possessed of balanced judgment, keen analytical ability, and a taste for quiet staff work.” He suggested that the council’s name be changed to either the “President’s Advisory Council on Space,” which was the term that president-elect Kennedy had used in December as he announced the new role for his vice president, or “President’s Space Council.” He felt that any modifications, whether through a reorganization plan or through new legislation, “change the law as little as possible.” Neustadt’s memorandum, which he characterized as “one man’s opinion,” was followed on March 1 by another BOB staff memorandum. This document stressed that “the Space Council should exist solely to advise the President. . . The President should retain executive responsibility, and executive functions should not be del­egated to the Vice President.”7

Vice President Johnson again got personally involved in early March, in particular asking budget director David Bell how best to finance the coun­cil’s staff. Bell told him that since the Space Council was a statutory agency on its own, it was not legal to transfer funds from the NASA or DOD budget to fund its operations, a possibility that had been explored by Johnson’s staff. However, Bell said, President Kennedy had agreed to provide funds from his “Special Projects” budget to fund the council’s executive secretary and two more staff positions, and that NASA had agreed to delegate three or four of its employees to act as council staff. Bell said that it was his understanding “once you have your initial staff on board, you expect to have them prepare necessary modifications to the National Aeronautics and Space Act.”8

With the question settled of how staff salaries would initially be paid, Vice President Johnson could recruit an individual to serve as council execu­tive secretary. On March 20, President Kennedy sent the nomination of Dr. Edward C. Welsh to the Senate; Welsh had been actually chosen for the posi­tion several weeks earlier and had already been actively working on reorga­nizing the council. Welsh was a longtime government employee and was at the time a legislative assistant to Senator Stuart Symington (D-MO). He held a doctorate in economics and had been in charge of Symington’s hearings on air power in 1956, had helped staff LBJ’s Preparedness Subcommittee hearings after Sputnik, and had been the lead staff person for Symington’s hearings on government organization for space in 1959. He had also been the executive director of the task force on reorganizing the Department of Defense set up by Kennedy during the presidential campaign. Welsh had been the primary author of the strident October 1960 Kennedy campaign statement on space, which had argued that “control of space will be decided in the next decade. If the Soviets control space they can control earth.” In Welsh, Lyndon Johnson got a strong, if somewhat self-important, advocate for a vigorous U. S. space effort.

As he was under consideration for the Space Council position, Welsh met with James Webb, who told Welsh that he believed in “a vigorous role on the part of the operating agency [NASA] and did not want to have a Council or any other interagency group be controlling the operating day-to-day func­tions.” Welsh told Webb he agreed with this point of view.9 Welsh’s confir­mation hearings before the Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences were held on March 23. After Welsh’s opening statements, there were no questions. The Senate voted to confirm Welsh on the same day and he was sworn into office on March 24.

Welsh’s first assignment was to draft the changes in the Space Act that were needed to make the vice president its chair and to make other desired adjustments in the council’s membership and organizational location within the executive office of the president. By March 30, Welsh had prepared a memorandum noting that there were three options available to change the provisions of the 1958 Space Act—a reorganization plan, an amendment to the then-pending NASA Authorization Bill, or a separate amendment to the Space Act. Welsh had contacted key members of the Senate and House, and had learned that there was a congressional preference for a simple amend­ment to the Space Act.10 Within the executive office, the BOB still favored a reorganization plan, but such a plan would have had to wait sixty days to allow any congressional comments before it could be put into place. The congressional perspective prevailed, and a decision was made to move for­ward with proposing an amendment to the Space Act.

Before the amendment could be approved by President Kennedy and his top advisers, there were two issues to be dealt with. One was whether to propose a name change for the Space Council, a topic that had been discussed ever since December. Neustadt and Welsh discussed this topic at an April 4 breakfast. Apparently Welsh was concerned that the titles that Neustadt had suggested in his February 28 memorandum, which began with the word “President’s” rather than “National,” would not indicate the intended broad scope of the council’s activities. In a follow-up memorandum to Welsh later that day, Neustadt suggested that the issue of the council’s name was not “all-important or worth getting into a tizzy about.” He added: “I very much appreciate your sensitivity about the change from ‘National’ to ‘President’s’ . . . But isn’t it possible you are being oversensitive?” Neustadt noted that Lyndon Johnson also chaired the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, and “no one conceives its title as an attack on him.”11

The other issue was the wording of the proposed amendment to the Space Act. Edward Welsh and James Webb had not been able to agree on how best to indicate in the amendment the separation of the functions of the Space Council and the functions of the president. While Welsh wanted to put for­ward a simple amendment that retained the Space Act language that speci­fied the functions of the council, Webb wanted to add a new section to the Act that specified the duties that would remain the president’s responsibility. These differences had been discussed in a March 7 meeting between budget director Bell and special counsel to the president Ted Sorensen, and the decision was made to go forward with the Welsh version of the amendment.12 No change in the name of the National Aeronautics and Space Council was suggested. The secretaries of defense and state, the administrator of NASA, and the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission remained council members; the one additional government member and the three public members of the council were eliminated, and the council was made part of the executive office of the president.

Welsh told Vice President Johnson on April 6 that his version of the pro­posed amendment “had been cleared in the Executive Office of the President with Messrs. Bell, Staats, and Neustadt, and that Budget Director Bell had agreed to discuss the paper with Ted Sorensen and President Kennedy.” He also noted that Representative Overton Brooks had agreed to schedule a hearing on the amendment and that there had been preliminary agreement to the amendment obtained from the staffs of Senators Kerr, Bridges, and Dirksen and with Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, Majority Leader John McCormack, and Congressman Thornberry of the Rules Committee.

President Kennedy transmitted the amendment to the Congress on April 10; Welsh testified as the only witness before the House Committee on Science and Astronautics on April 12. This was the day on which the Soviet Union orbited the first human in space, Yuri Gagarin, and that feat, rather than the changes in the Space Act, was the focus of the committee’s ques­tions. In his testimony, Welsh noted that “the Vice President is already by statute a member of the National Security Council,” and that “to make him a member of the Space Council seems to be a comparable action with suitable precedence.” One issue raised by Chairman Brooks during the House hear­ing was “doesn’t the Vice President have some executive authority [under the amendment]? Isn’t he for some purposes a part of the executive branch?” Welsh replied that “in this specific instance this responsibility would be advi­sory and not in a real sense executive.”13

The House approved the amendment by voice vote on April 17. Welsh then testified before the Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences on April 19, again as the sole witness. Committee approval quickly followed and the Senate approved the amendment on April 20. As he signed the bill amending the Space Act on April 25, President John F. Kennedy stated that “Working with the Vice President, I intend that America’s space effort shall provide the leadership, resources, and determination necessary to step up our efforts and prevail on the newest of man’s physical frontiers.”14 By this time, the Space Council under Vice President Johnson’s leadership was already well embarked on a review that would recommend sending Americans to the Moon.

A White House Status Check

While the locations for new Apollo facilities were settled expeditiously, NASA was slower in selecting what approach to use in getting to the Moon and thus what spacecraft and launch vehicle would be needed for the lunar land­ing. On November 20, 1961, almost six months after President Kennedy’s May 25 speech, Jerome Wiesner provided to Theodore Sorensen an “outline of major problems” with respect to NASA’s progress in implementing the lunar landing program.21

Wiesner noted that “six months have elapsed since the decision was announced to put man on the moon, yet none of these crucial hardware programs have progressed beyond the study phase. Lead times on these development and construction programs are of critical importance.” He also noted that “it is hoped that there will be no further field stations beyond these already announced. However, there are major problems related to the activation of these centers.”

NASA was aware of these White House concerns. Webb told Dryden and Seamans that he had “scouted around” and had discovered that President Kennedy “has some concern as to whether we are proceeding rapidly enough and with enough procurement and program commitment activity to accom­plish the goals he has set for the nation.” NASA had issued a contract on August 10 to the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory for the Apollo guid­ance system, and on November 20 was one week away from contracting for the Apollo command and service module, one element of the spacecraft needed for the lunar landing. However, delays in selecting the design of launch vehicle for the lunar mission had meant that its procurement had had to wait. While NASA had chosen the locations for its Apollo-related facili­ties, Webb also reported that “there is some evidence that the President has had some doubts raised as to whether our decisions with respect to the Cape Canaveral, Michoud, and Houston installations were based on the needs of the program or had political overtones.”22

Growing Criticism of Project Apollo

President Kennedy on January 17, 1963, sent to Congress a Fiscal Year 1964 budget request for NASA of $5.712 billion. The New York Times editori­alized that “whether the $20 billion (or $40 billion) race to the moon is justified on scientific, political, or military grounds, we do not think the matter has been sufficiently explained or sufficiently debated. We hope it will be in the present Congress.” In his March 21 press conference, President Kennedy was questioned about the pace of the U. S. space program as com­pared to that of the Soviet Union. He responded: “The United States is mak­ing, as you know, a major effort in space and will continue to do so. We are expending an enormous sum of money to make sure that the Soviet Union does not dominate space. We will continue to do it.”2

On March 29, Congressman Charles Halleck (R-IN) released a letter from former President Dwight Eisenhower in which Eisenhower suggested that “the space program, in my opinion, is downright spongy. This is an area where we particularly need to demonstrate some common sense. Specifically, I have never believed that a spectacular dash to the moon, vastly deepen­ing our debt, is worth the added tax burden it will eventually impose on our citizens.” President Kennedy was asked about Eisenhower’s comments at an April 3 press conference; he responded: “We are second in space today because we started late. It requires a large sum of money. I don’t think we should look with equanimity upon the prospect that we will be second all through the sixties and possibly the seventies. We have the potential not to be. I think having made the decision last year, that we should make a major effort to be first in space. I think we should continue to do so.” He added: “Now President Eisenhower—this is not a new position for him. He has disagreed with this, I know, at least a year or year and a half ago when the Congress took a different position. It is the position I think he took from the time of Sputnik on. But it is a matter on which we disagree.” Kennedy added: “It may be that there is waste in the space budget. If there is waste, then I think it ought to be cut out by the Congress, and I am sure it will be. But if we are getting to the question of whether we should reconcile ourselves to a slow pace in space, I don’t think so.”3

Respected New York Times columnist James Reston soon suggested that “the debate on the nation’s space program is getting out of hand. Some Republicans are attacking the program as if it were a vast boondoggle, and President Kennedy is defending it as if it were the Bill of Rights.” Reston added that “the space program deserves a more serious response. For a large and influential sector of the scientific community of the nation. . . believes that the scientific objectives of the program can be achieved at a fraction of the cost by putting instruments, rather than man, on the moon.” Thus scientists see the issue as “whether the immense additional cost of the man­landing should take a higher priority than using a part of the savings for other essential tasks that would invigorate the economy and create jobs.” Three weeks later, Reston reported that “the debate over the Government’s space budget is getting rough and threatening to create a crisis of confidence in the Administration’s whole space program.” Reston cited the contradic­tions between Vice President Johnson’s claims that the space program was having a positive economic impact with statements by others in the Kennedy administration that in fact the program was taking scientists and engineers away from economically more valuable pursuits. The result, he suggested, was “a confusion of testimony that is bewildering the Congress and drag­ging the space program into the arena of politics.”4

The scientific community’s critique of Apollo was very visibly articulated in an April 19 editorial in the leading journal Science signed by its editor, Philip Abelson. Abelson suggested that “the lasting propaganda value of placing a man on the moon has been vastly overestimated. The first lunar landing will be a great occasion; subsequent boredom is inevitable.” He added that “most of the interesting questions regarding the moon can be studied by electronic devices” and suggested “a re-examination of priorities is in order.” Abelson’s editorial received attention well beyond the scientific community; his criticism was noted in front-page articles in prominent news­papers and in an April 20 appearance on the Today television program.5

The Future of the Space Council

A contentious issue in developing the U. S. organizational approach to space during 1958 had been how best to coordinate the activities of the new space civilian space agency NASA, the Department of Defense and the military services, the Atomic Energy Commission, and other government agencies that might become involved in space activities. The Senate as it considered space legislation hoped to create a single integrated national space program, with civilian and military elements, rather than separate programs carried out by different agencies, and thought that some kind of formal policy­making and coordinating body was needed to achieve this objective. The White House did not want to interpose such a body between the operating space agencies and the president, and thus was resistant to the Senate pro­posal. After a July 7, 1958, one-on-one meeting at the White House between Dwight Eisenhower and Senate majority leader Lyndon Johnson, a primary advocate of the integrated approach to space, an agreement was reached on creating a policy-level body, to be chaired by the president. According to some accounts, at their meeting Johnson convinced President Eisenhower to chair the board. Other accounts suggest that it was Eisenhower who sug­gested this approach.27 Immediately after Johnson left the White House, Eisenhower phoned his deputy chief of staff, Wilton Persons, and told him that he and Johnson had “specifically agreed upon the President’s proposal of modeling the advisory group along the lines of the National Security Council: that the authority would be placed with the President.”28

Following the White House meeting, the policy board was named the National Aeronautics and Space Council. It would have eight members in addition to the president as chair. Other members would include the sec­retaries of state and defense, the NASA administrator, the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, one additional government member, and three individuals from outside the government. Although Eisenhower had accepted the creation of such a Space Council, he made it clear to his associ­ates at the White House that

he had no intention of convening this body regularly, nor of acting as its pre­siding officer. He refused to use his discretionary power to appoint an execu­tive secretary or create a separate staff for the Space Council, and he asked [his science adviser James] Killian to preside at its infrequent meetings. Lyndon Johnson may have forced Eisenhower to accept the Space Council as his price for creating NASA, but the president would make sure it would remain a minor body that would never threaten his full control over the nation’s space policy.29

The Space Council indeed met infrequently and had little influence on space issues in the months following its creation. In a memorandum dated November 16, 1959, NASA administrator Glennan told President Eisenhower that the National Aeronautics and Space Council had not been “particularly useful or effective” and he doubted whether it could “usefully be employed in the management of the nation’s space program.” He rec­ommended that the president propose amendments to the 1958 Space Act to abolish the Council. However, when Glennan met with Eisenhower on January 8, 1960, he found that the president “seemed to have forgotten our earlier discussion,” even though in the interim the proposed changes in the Act had been drafted and were ready to be sent to the Congress. After this meeting, it was clear to Glennan that “discussions between the president and the legislative leaders (especially Lyndon Johnson) as well as with the mem­bers of the Space Council would be necessary before the amendment could be proposed to Congress.” Eisenhower and Glennan met with Johnson and senior Republican senator Styles Bridges at the White House on January 13 to let them know about the proposed changes in the Space Act; Glennan quotes Johnson as saying “Well, Mr. President, you will remember that you were the one who really wanted this Space Council, and if you want to do away with it now, I’m certain it will be all right with me.”30

The proposed amendment to the Space Act was sent to Congress in January 1960 and approved by the House of Representatives five months later, on June 9. But the Senate refused to act, primarily because Lyndon Johnson, majority leader and, at the time, still candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, opposed the changes, despite what he had told Eisenhower in January. Glennan met again with Johnson on June 23, but was unsuccessful in convincing him to bring the proposed changes before the Senate for approval. Glennan reports Johnson as saying “I don’t see any reason for giving you a new law at the present time. If I am elected president, you will get a changed law without delay.”31 On August 31, Johnson, speak­ing not only as Senate majority leader but also by then as the Democratic candidate for vice president, justified his opposition to changing the Space Act in a memorandum inserted in the Congressional Record: “One fact is of overriding importance. A new President will take office on January 20, 1961—less than five months from now. The next President could well have different views as to the organization and function of the military and civil­ian space programs. Any changes in the Space Act at this session will have little or no effect on the space program during the next few months, but could restrict the freedom of action of the next president.”32

It is unlikely that at this point Johnson envisioned a scenario in which John Kennedy, if elected president, would decide to revitalize the Space Council and turn over its chairmanship to his vice president, i. e., Lyndon Johnson. But four months later, that is precisely what happened.

Options Assessed

Lyndon Johnson and his space assistant, Space Council executive secretary Edward Welsh, quickly set to work after receiving JFK’s April 20 memo. Welsh was the only staff member of the Space Council at this point. The orga­nization of the review reflected the “Johnson system” of obtaining informa­

tion through personal contacts rather than formal organizational channels. Johnson consulted many of individuals whom he thought would signifi­cantly contribute to examining the space program. He met with officials from NASA, the Defense Department, the Atomic Energy Commission, and Wiesner’s office. At the suggestion of Welsh, a Bureau of the Budget (BOB) representative attended most of the meetings, so that the bureau could remain informed of the alternatives under discussion and assess their financial implications.2

As the review was getting underway, President Kennedy on April 22 reported to the National Security Council, meeting in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs failure, that “he had asked the Vice President. . . to direct an inquiry into our space effort and make a report to me which I hope will constitute the basis of a Presidential Message on this subject to Congress.”3 It is worth noting that even before he received the vice president’s report, Kennedy anticipated a positive recommendation justifying a “Presidential Message” to the Congress; it is not clear whether at this point he had also decided to deliver that message in person. One indication that he was being pushed, if not already leaning, in that direction was an April 19 memoran­dum from Walt Rostow, who as a MIT professor had been a Kennedy cam­paign adviser and was in April 1961 on McGeorge Bundy’s national security staff. Rostow suggested that “as the first hundred days draw to a close, I believe you should consider a major address taking stock of where we are and where we should go, both at home and abroad.” Rostow identified an accelerated space effort as one of the potential topics in the speech.4