Category THE RACE

"Before This Decade is Out&quot

Preparation of Kennedy’s message to Congress began in mid-May; the sec­tion on accelerating the space program was first drafted by the BOB’s Willis Shapley; NASA, DOD, AEC, and the Space Council provided their comments. The overall theme of the speech was the need for U. S. citizens to make sacri­fices to meet the challenges facing the country and to insure the U. S. position as the leading power in the world by addressing “urgent national needs,” the title given to the address. After Kennedy received messages from Moscow suggesting that he was likely to encounter a belligerent Nikita Khrushchev in their meeting in Vienna, the speech was “quickly redrafted” and “the language toughened to signal his [Kennedy’s] resolve to Khrushchev.”25 On May 25, in a nationally televised address,26 President John F. Kennedy told the assembled lawmakers that “these are extraordinary times. And we face an extraordinary challenge. Our strength as well as our convictions have imposed on this nation the role of leader in freedom’s cause.” He noted that “there is no simple policy that meets this challenge.” But “there is much we can do—and must do. The proposals I bring before you are numerous and varied. They arise from the host of special opportunities and dangers which have become increasingly clear in recent months.” Then the presi­dent turned to his specific proposals, which included measures to continue economic recovery from the recession the new administration had inherited; measures to help developing nations make economic and social progress; cooperation in terms of military alliances and military assistance to U. S. allies; an enhanced overseas information program; an additional build-up of U. S. military power beyond what Kennedy had requested just two months earlier; a strengthened civil defense program; and an increased emphasis on disarmament negotiations. All of these initiatives, Kennedy said, would involve substantial costs. Echoing his inaugural address call to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” Kennedy argued that “our greatest asset in this struggle is the American people—their willingness to pay the price for these programs—to under­stand and accept a long struggle.” He warned that “this Nation is engaged in a long and exacting test of the future of freedom.”

After listing all of the other areas he was recommending for new action, the president turned last to space. As he did, he deviated from his pre­pared text to emphasize the sacrifices involved and the commitment he was requesting; Sorensen says that this departure from the text was “the only time I can recall his doing so in a formal address.”27 Kennedy’s words as they deviated from the prepared text are indicated in bold italics below. Kennedy also skipped a few portions of the prepared text or deleted passages by hand. These deletions from the prepared text are in brackets:

Finally, if we are to win the battle for men’s minds, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to us all as did Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take. Since early in my term, our efforts in space have been under review. With the advice of the Vice President, who is Chairman of the National Space Council, we have examined where we are strong and where we are not, where we may succeed and where we may not. Now it is time to take longer strides—time for a great new American enterprise—time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.

I believe we possess all the resources and all the talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or mar­shaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never spec­ified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.

Recognizing the head start obtained by the Soviets with their large rocket engines, which gives them many months of lead-time, and recognizing the likelihood that they will exploit this lead for some time to come in still more impressive successes, we nevertheless are required to make new efforts on our own. For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make [find] us last.

We take an additional risk by making it in full view of the world—but as shown by the feat of astronaut Shepard, this very risk enhances our stature when we are successful. But this is not merely a race. Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.

I therefore ask the Congress, above and beyond the increases I have earlier requested for space activities, to provide the funds which are needed to meet the following national goals:

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. No single space project in this period will be more [exciting or] impressive to mankind or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. [Including the necessary supporting research, this objective will require an additional $531 million this year and still higher sums in the future.] We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar spacecraft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fueled boosters much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations—explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon—it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.

* * *

Let it be clear—and this is a judgment which the Members of Congress must finally make. Let it be clear that I am asking the Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action—a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs, 531 million dollars in fiscal 1962—an estimated $7-9 billion additional over the next five years. If we are

[were] to go only halfway, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment it would be better not to go at all.

Now this is a choice which this country must make, and I am confident that under the leadership of the Space Committees of the Congress, and the Appropriating Committees, that you will consider the matter carefully.

It is a most important decision that we make as a nation. But all of you have lived through the last four years and have seen the significance of space and the adventures in space, and no one can predict with certainty what the ultimate meaning will be of the mastery of space.

I believe we should go to the moon. But I think every citizen of this country as well as the Members of Congress should consider the matter carefully in making their judgment, to which we have given attention over many weeks and months, because it is a heavy burden, and there is no sense in agreeing or desiring that the United States take an affirmative position in outer space, unless we are prepared to do the work and bear the burdens to make it success­ful. If we are not, we should decide today and this year.

[Let me stress that more money alone will not do the job.] This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, material and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other impor­tant activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedi­cation, organization and discipline which have not always characterized our research and development efforts. It means we cannot afford work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful interagency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel.

New objectives and new money cannot solve these problems. They could, in fact, aggravate them further—unless every scientist, every engineer, every serviceman, every technician, contractor, and civil servant involved gives his pledge that this nation will move forward, with the full speed of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space.28

Sitting near the rostrum as Kennedy delivered his speech, Sorensen “thought the President looked strained in his effort to win them over.” Kennedy apparently had sensed that some in the Congressional audience were “skeptical, if not hostile, and that his request was being received with stunned doubt and disbelief”; this likely led to his decision to deviate from his prepared text to try to convince the congressmen of the need for what he was proposing, and to skip a few passages toward the end of his address. Returning to the White House, Kennedy remarked to Sorensen that “the routine applause with which the Congress greeted” his proposal for a national commitment to go to the Moon had struck him as “less than enthusiastic.”29 Indeed, during the speech the Senate and House Republican leaders “took notes, inspected their fingernails, brushed their hair back and joined in the almost complete Republican silence.”30

The New York Times the next morning had a banner headline saying “Kennedy Asks $1.8 Billion This Year to Accelerate Space Exploration, Add Foreign Aid, Bolster Defense” and also “Moon Trip Urged.” The news­paper reported that “Members of Congress embraced with some warmth today the objectives outlined in President Kennedy’s speech, but shied at providing all the funds to meet them,” and that “some fears were expressed by Democratic liberals, however, that the huge spending in the effort to reach the moon. . . might divert funds from programs such as aid to the aged.” The Times editorialized that “there is an element of ‘race’ involved cannot be denied, but that is only secondary to the main purpose” and that “it is in the spirit of free men, and the cherished traditions of our people, to accept the challenge and meet it with all our resources, material, intellectual and spiritual.” The editorial thought that “the majority of our people will agree” with the lunar landing goal.31

Kennedy need not have worried about congressional, and particularly Senate, support of the accelerated space effort he had proposed. Lyndon Johnson’s earlier consultations with congressional leaders had helped lay the foundation for strong bipartisan support of the initiative. The Senate on June 28 took up a House authorization bill passed the day before the May 25 speech, and amended it to include the full $1.784 billion for NASA that White House had requested for Fiscal Year 1962; the bill passed with­out even the formality of a roll-call vote. The House of Representatives agreed to this increase in a conference committee, and the authorization bill passed the House on July 20 by a 354 to 59 vote. The appropriations bill containing NASA funds had a similarly easy ride through Congress; it passed both houses on August 7 and contained a $1,671,750,000 NASA appropriation for Fiscal 1962, only $113 million less than Kennedy had requested.32 This amount represented an 89 percent increase over the pre­vious year’s NASA budget, the last one enacted during the Eisenhower administration.

Kennedy’s speech called for sending Americans to the Moon “before the decade is out.” There is some uncertainty on how the decision was made to use this phrase, rather than the 1967 date for the first landing attempt that was being used in NASA’s internal planning. The May 8 Webb-McNamara report had suggested an “end of the decade” target for the first lunar landing. The BOB review of the Webb-McNamara memorandum had suggested that there should be “a major effort to avoid any public commitment to a specific target date.” Robert Seamans reports that the first draft of Kennedy’s speech “called for a lunar landing by 1967” and that NASA was “aghast” at speci­fying a particular year. He says that James Webb “called Ted Sorensen and convinced him, and later the President, that the stated goal should be by the end of the decade.” Sorensen, by contrast, says that Kennedy’s “self-imposed deadline, ‘this decade,’ was chosen and inserted by JFK himself to exert pressure on NASA. The phrase deliberately left some flexibility—it could mean within the decade of the sixties, or within the next ten years.”33 A “within the next ten years” interpretation was never acknowledged; “before this decade is out” was universally seen as setting a target of the end of 1969 (or, for some, before the end of 1970) for the initial lunar landing. Indeed, as the Apollo program gained momentum, John Kennedy pushed for a landing as soon as possible, in 1967 or even late 1966.

"Not Because They are Easy, but Because They are Hard&quot

Kennedy’s September 1962 trip to space installations was intended to give him a sense of the character and scope of the accelerated space effort he had approved in May 1961. At Huntsville, he saw one of the very large F-1 engines that would be used to power the Moon rocket, and witnessed a test firing of the engines of the first stage of the Saturn 1 booster that generated 1.5 million pounds of thrust. At the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the NASA Launch Operations Center on Merritt Island in Florida, he saw the launch pad from which two Saturn 1 boosters had already been success­fully launched, and was briefed on the Gemini and Apollo programs. He told the NASA staff at the Launch Operations Center that “as long as the decision has been made that our great system and others will be judged at least in one degree by how we do in the field of space, we might as well be first.”14 On the flight from Florida to his next stop in Houston, Kennedy spent more than an hour in informal conversation regarding both the civilian and the military space programs with BOB director Bell, director of defense research and engineering Harold Brown, and Seamans of NASA. Kennedy was surprised to discover that he and Seamans had both been members of the Class of 1940 at Harvard. (James Webb was on a separate plane with Vice President Johnson.)

The trip also provided an opportunity to make a major speech on the reasons behind his decision to go to the Moon; that speech is often con­fused with the May 25, 1961, address to a joint session of Congress during which Kennedy had announced his decision. At 10:00 a. m. on September 12, 1962, on a day that was oppressively hot and humid, President Kennedy addressed a Houston crowd of more than 40,000 people, mostly students, in the Rice University football stadium. Like many other of the president’s speeches, various government agencies had suggested to the White House what Kennedy might say; in this case, material had been submitted to JFK’s top speechwriter Theodore Sorensen from at least NASA, BOB, the State Department, and by Sorensen’s brother Tom at the U. S. Information Agency. Sorensen drew on ideas, phrases, and words from most of these inputs in drafting Kennedy’s Rice University speech, but he was a consum­mate master of spoken rhetoric, and his drafts transcended the sometimes pedestrian content of the agency submissions. Even so, most of Kennedy’s speeches as president, including this memorable space address, were group products.

The Rice University speech is perhaps most remembered for the line “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.” The original version of this sentence was actually suggested by NASA; the agency’s lengthy input into the speech preparation included the sentences: “We chose to go to the moon in this decade not because it will be easy, but because it will be hard. It will bring out the best in us.” These words formed the basis of a much more eloquent declaration. As Kennedy spoke, he substituted the word “choose” for the word “chose,” and said, “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.” Among the other memorable sentences in Kennedy’s Rice University address are the following:

“The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.”

“This generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the com­ing age of space. We mean to be part of it—we mean to lead it.” (This last sentence was extemporized rather than in the prepared text of the speech.)

“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.”

“But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain. Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?” (This last sentence was written into the speech’s reading text in Kennedy’s hand.) “Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, ‘Because it is there.’ Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.”15

President Kennedy completed his tour of space installations later in the day, first visiting the temporary quarters of the new Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, then flying to St. Louis to visit the plant of the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, where the Mercury and Gemini spacecraft were devel­oped. By the time he returned to the White House, Kennedy had had an apparent change of mind; rather than giving high priority to controlling the costs of sending Americans to the Moon, Kennedy wanted to know “how soon can we get there?”

Congressional Criticism

While some in Congress, such as Senator William Fulbright (D-AK), chair­man of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, received the presi­dent’s proposal positively, many members questioned whether the Kennedy was intending to back away from the commitment to a U. S. lunar landing program for which they had been willing to approve exponential budget increases in 1961 and 1962. Webb was “a little surprised” by this reaction, thinking that “a President ought to be able to put that kind of thing for­ward in a speech at the UN for discussion on a world-wide basis.” Based on his September 18 conversation with the president, reducing his support for Apollo was not Webb’s understanding of the reason for Kennedy’s pro­posal; Webb took “Kennedy’s word on the basis of full faith and credit” that his reason for suggesting cooperation was related to broader strategic issues.

Columnist Drew Pearson noted that “one of the most significant points about JFK’s U. N. speech was that he bucked the wrath of the senior and sometimes wrathy moguls of Congress.” Pearson expected Representative Albert Thomas to “bellow like a Texas steer at the idea of taking part of the moon project away from Houston and putting it in Moscow.” Pearson recog­nized that the reasoning behind Kennedy’s proposal was “his new strategy of pushing for peace: The belief that you have to build one success on top of another if the peace is to be won. He had scored one important international success with the test-ban treaty. And he had the alternative of sitting still and letting the favorable atmosphere which it created slowly get nibbled away by the harpies, or of proposing new dramatic moves to strengthen the founda­tion for peace.”34

Pearson was correct about Albert Thomas. Thomas, who had used his position as chair of the House appropriations subcommittee in control of NASA funds to bring the Manned Spacecraft Center to the Houston area, wrote to President Kennedy on September 21. He first commended the president on his speech the previous day, saying that “it clearly sets you out as the leader of the world in international affairs.” He then noted that “the press and many private individuals seized upon your offer to cooperate with the Russians in a moon shot as a weakening of your former position of a forthright and strong effort in lunar landings.” Thomas asked Kennedy for “a letter clarifying your position with reference to our immediate effort in this regard.”35

Kennedy quickly replied in a letter that stands as the clearest statement of his rationale for the cooperative proposal. He stated that “in my view an energetic continuation of our strong space effort is essential, and the need for this effort is, if anything, increased by our intent to work for increasing cooperation if the Soviet Government proves willing.” He noted that “the idea of cooperation in space is not new,” and that “my statement in the United Nations is a direct development of a policy long held by the United States Government.” He added:

This great national effort and this steadily stated readiness to cooperate with others are not in conflict. They are mutually supporting elements of a single policy. We do not make our space effort with the narrow purpose of national aggrandizement. We make it so that the United States may have a leading and honorable role in mankind’s peaceful conquest of space. It is this great effort which permits us now to offer increased cooperation with no suspicion anywhere that we speak from weakness. And in the same way, our readiness to cooperate with others enlarges the international meaning of our own peaceful American program in space.

In my judgment, then, our renewed and extended purpose of cooperation, so far from offering any excuse for slackening or weakness in our space effort, is one reason more for moving ahead with the great program to which we have been committed as a country for more than two years.

So the position of the United States is clear. If cooperation is possible, we mean to cooperate, and we shall do so from a position made strong and solid by our national effort in space. If cooperation is not possible—and as realists we must plan for this contingency too—then the same strong national effort will serve all free men’s interest in space, and protect us also against possible hazards to our national security. So let us press on.36

Even before the president’s United Nations speech, the House of Representatives had reduced NASA’s budget for Fiscal Year 1964 from the $5.7 billion that had been requested by the president to $5.1 billion, a cut of almost 11 percent. A post-speech attempt on the floor of the House to reduce the NASA budget by an additional $700 million was defeated by a 47 to 132 vote after four hours of acrimonious debate, but the House did approve by a 125-110 margin a resolution saying that no part of the NASA appropriation could be used for a cooperative program involving any “Communist, Communist-dominated or Communist controlled country.”37

James Webb was able to convince the Senate Appropriations Committee to modify, but not delete, this prohibition, and the final NASA FY1963 appropriations bill included a statement that “no part of any appropriation made available to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration by this Act shall be used for the expenses of participating in a manned lunar landing to be carried out jointly by the United States and any other country without the consent of Congress.”38 This statement was incorporated into the appro­priations bill over the objections of the White House.

Apollo to Go Forward as Planned

What might have happened to Project Apollo if John F. Kennedy had not been assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963, is an unanswerable ques­tion. Historian Roger Launius has suggested that “had Kennedy served two full terms, it is quite easy to envision a point. . . in which he might have decided that the international situation that sparked the announcement of a lunar landing ‘by the end of the decade’ had passed and he could have safely turned off the landing clock.” Such a thought could well have been the president’s mind as he worried during the summer and fall of 1963 about the increasing criticisms and costs of Apollo and sought Soviet cooperation in a lunar mission; it was certainly one of the options being considered at the White House senior staff level. However, backing off of being first to the Moon did not seem to be on Kennedy’s mind in November 1963. In remarks he planned to deliver in Dallas on November 22, Kennedy would have said “the United States of America has no intention of finishing second in space. This effort is expensive—but it pays its own way for freedom and for America.”15

As already noted, during October and November, NASA and DOD car­ried out independent reviews in response to the October 5 White House questions; they then began to prepare joint reviews on several key questions, such as what should be the Earth orbital human space flight effort and what should be the country’s launch vehicle program. The pace of the lunar land­ing program was not an issue in the joint NASA-DOD effort. Rather, the focus with respect to human space flight was the balance between NASA and DOD in Earth-orbital spaceflight activities. The Department of Defense at this point was becoming increasingly interested in the military and intelli­gence potentials of humans in orbit, and there were suggestions that DOD at some point might take over from NASA the leading role in the Gemini proj­ect. NASA during this period examined what was “the minimum manned earth-orbit program required to support a manned lunar landing”; the space agency wanted to make sure that there were enough Gemini flights to satisfy its requirements in support of Apollo before any consideration was given to the potential transfer of the project to Air Force control. The NASA study operated under the assumption that the White House objective in the joint program review was “to find ways and means of reducing the projected cost of the total (NASA and DOD) national space program without abandoning the objective of the manned lunar landing, while at the same time increasing the responsiveness of the program to military needs.”16

The pace of the lunar landing program was an issue in the BOB review of the national space program, which was taking place in parallel with the NASA-DOD effort. In late November, a report summarizing BOB’s conclu­sions was drafted by the BOB staff, primarily Willis Shapley, in consultation with senior representatives of NASA and the Department of Defense. This report had two sections, one dealing with the “Manned Lunar Landing Program” and the other with “Military Space Objectives,” with a particular focus on the future of a separate Air Force effort in human space flight.

A November 13 draft of report of this “Special Space Review” contained a clear statement of the goal of the lunar landing program: “to attempt to achieve a manned lunar landing and return by the end of the decade” with “principal purposes” of (1) “demonstrating an important space achievement ahead of the USSR”; (2) “serving as a focus for technological developments necessary for other space objectives and having potential significance for national defense”; and (3) “acquiring useful scientific and other data to the extent feasible.” (This statement reinforces the reality that science was never the primary goal of going to the Moon.) The conclusion of the draft review was that “after examining the pros and cons and the fiscal implications of possible alternatives. . . the goal as stated above should be adhered to at this time, with due recognition of the problems involved and of the possibility that it may be necessary to change the objective at some future date.”17 The next draft of the report was dated November 20. It expanded on the analysis of why it was prudent to stay with the lunar landing program as planned, saying that “the feasible alternatives available for major changes. . . are quite limited.” First, “there were generally good and sufficient reasons” for setting the lunar landing goal which were “still valid today.” In addition, “previous administration policy statements, testimony, and ‘commitments’ tend to limit the flexibility for major changes.” Also, “significant losses in time, money, and other disruptions are likely to result from major changes at this time.”18

The final draft of the Special Space Review was dated November 29, one week after President Kennedy’s assassination. This draft best represents the analysis and conclusions that would have been presented to the president for final decision if he had lived. The draft noted that its contents had been prepared “by Bureau of the Budget staff in consultation with senior repre­sentatives of NASA and the Department of Defense.” The report first asked: “Should consideration be given at this time to backing off from the manned lunar landing goal?” Three alternative actions were offered:

1. “Adhere to the present goal.”

2. “Decide now to abandon current work directly related to the manned lunar landing objective but to continue development of the large launch vehicle (Saturn V) so that it will be available for future space programs.”

3. “Decide now to abandon both current work toward the manned lunar landing objective and the development of the Saturn V large launch vehicle.”

In support of alternative 1, the report suggested that “in the absence of clear and compelling external circumstances a change in present poli­cies and commitments would involve an unacceptable ‘loss of face’ both domestically and internationally” and that cancelling Apollo would not “in fact reduce criticism of the total magnitude of the budget or increase sup­port for other meritorious programs to which the funds might be applied.” The arguments in support of alternative 2 included “doubts that Congress will provide adequate support for the manned lunar landing program in 1965 and succeeding years” and “the apparent absence of a competitive USSR manned lunar landing program at this time.” Arguments in support of alternative 3 included “that an adequate continuing space program can be built around the use of the Saturn IB (and perhaps Titan III) launch vehicle.”

The report also raised the possibility of deciding “that the [manned lunar landing] program should be geared to a schedule slipping the first manned lunar landing attempts one or two years later than now planned to the very end of the decade (i. e., end of CY 1969 or 1970, depending on the defini­tion of ‘decade’).” The review pointed out that “some slippage in present schedules is recognized as inevitable, so that eliminating the present mar­gin. . . would be tantamount to and generally recognized as an admission that the achievement of the goal has been deferred beyond the end of the decade.”

Another issue addressed was “should our posture on the manned lunar landing program attribute a greater degree of military significance to the program?” The review concluded that “the facts of the situation justify the position that the launch vehicle, spacecraft, facilities, and general technology being developed by NASA. . . do have important future military significance.” However, “overplaying this point could have the effects of undercutting the general peaceful image of the program.” The review concluded with respect to a joint effort with the Soviet Union that “in the present situation we must necessarily take the posture that we are prepared to enter into any construc­tive agreement which will not jeopardize our national security interests and which will not delay or jeopardize the success of our MLL [manned lunar landing] program.”

After it spelled out these various options, the BOB report concluded that “in the absence of clear changes in the present technical or international situations, the only basis for backing off from the MLL objective at this time would be an overriding fiscal decision.” (This conclusion had first appeared in the November 20 draft of the report.) That decision might be either “that budget totals in FY1965 or succeeding years are unacceptable and should be reduced by adjusting the space program” or “that within present budgetary totals an adjustment should be made shifting funds from space to other pro­grams.” The BOB analysis was that the lunar landing program could indeed be accommodated within the projected FY1965 and subsequent budget lev­els, and thus that there was also no basis on fiscal grounds for recommend­ing significant changes in the program’s character or pace.19

The bottom line of the 1963 Special Space Review was that there was no reason for “backing off” the lunar landing goal. It is very unlikely that either President Kennedy’s top advisers or the president himself would have coun­termanded this conclusion, had Kennedy lived to consider that choice.

When James Webb, Robert McNamara, Jerome Wiesner, Edward Welsh, new budget director Kermit Gordon, and their top associates met on November 30 to consider the draft Special Space Review, the possibility of changes in Apollo was not even discussed; the meeting focused on the second part of the report dealing with the Air Force program of human space flight. The group decided to cancel the Air Force DynaSoar program and replace it with the Manned Orbital Laboratory program, a small outpost combining the Gemini spacecraft and an attached module with room to experiment with various military and intelligence payloads. With respect to Apollo, Secretary of Defense McNamara was insistent that there was no military justification for a lunar landing effort, but the group agreed that broader national secu­rity considerations were part of the rationale for sending Americans to the

Moon. Without even reaching the level of a presidential decision, Apollo had survived an intense and wide-ranging review with its basic character intact.20

Civil-Military Relations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1961-1962 Attainment of manned space flight, Project Mercury

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

Beyond 1970 Manned flight to the moon

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

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

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

Project Mercury Reviewed

The Wiesner task force on space had recommended that “a thorough and impartial appraisal of the MERCURY program should be urgently made.” Those managing the Mercury effort welcomed this suggestion, but for rea­sons different than those which had led the Weisner group to call Mercury “marginal.” The NASA team was confident that Mercury was a sound program, and feared that without the positive assessment they believed would result from such an independent review, President Kennedy might decide that even the suborbital mission planned in the next few months was too risky, and would not allow NASA to carry it out.

A first step was to inform the White House that there was a rehearsal flight for the suborbital mission, with a chimpanzee named Ham as its passenger, scheduled for January 31. After not hearing from anyone at the White House for several days after the inauguration, acting administrator Dryden was able on January 26 to meet with new science adviser Wiesner to let him know about the upcoming mission; Dryden wanted to make sure that President Kennedy “would not be surprised by reading about it in the morning paper.”32

Robert Gilruth, the head of the Space Task Group that was in charge of Project Mercury, suggested to George Low at NASA headquarters that NASA push for an early start on the review. Low agreed, and relayed the suggestion to Dryden.33 Then Dryden in early February met again with Wiesner, who agreed to charter an ad hoc panel of the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC), again chaired by Donald Hornig of Princeton University, to conduct the review. Dryden met with Wiesner and Hornig on February 11 to discuss the composition of the panel. They agreed that the basic question the panel would address was: “Was Mercury ready to fly?”34

That question was also being debated within NASA. Originally the first suborbital flight with an astronaut in the spacecraft, Mercury-Redstone 3 (MR-3), had been scheduled for late March. But the January 31 flight with Ham aboard had landed 132 miles downrange from its target point and had subjected the chimp to a 14.7 g force on reentry, 3 g more than planned.35 These deviations from the flight plan were primarily the result of the overac­celeration of the Redstone launcher and early firing of the spacecraft escape rocket. Even after these problems, NASA managers at the Space Task Group and some at NASA headquarters were ready to commit an astronaut to the next flight. However, “key members of von Braun’s team quickly decided that they wanted another booster test before a man could fly,” and von Braun did not overrule them. This decision “likely cost the United States the distinction of putting the first human in space. . . NASA was more afraid of the consequences of an accident than those of coming in second.”36 On March 3 the first crew-carrying Mercury mission was postponed until late April. The extra Redstone flight was launched on March 24 and went well; from NASA’s point of view, there now was no obstacle to launching the first U. S. astronaut on a brief ride through the lower reaches of space.37

If the MR-3 mission had gone forward on its original schedule, the astro­naut aboard would have been not only the first American, but also the first human, to go into space, albeit not into Earth orbit. If this had happened, it is unlikely that the Soviet launch of Yuri Gagarin into orbit three weeks later would have had such a dramatic impact on U. S. space policy. But of course this was not known in March, and with the review of the PSAC panel not completed and given von Braun’s judgment that Mercury was not yet ready to fly with an astronaut aboard, it would have been difficult if not impossible for NASA to get White House permission to go ahead with the mission on its original schedule.

The ten-person Hornig panel spent four days in early March visiting the facilities at the McDonnell Corporation factory in St. Louis where the Mercury capsule was built; the launch facilities at Cape Canaveral, Florida; and the Space Task Group at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Science adviser Wiesner on March 7 thanked Hugh Dryden for the “thorough and candid presentation of all elements of the program,” and suggested that “this complete cooperation is evidence of a continuation of the excellent relationship” between NASA and the White House. This was a somewhat ironic suggestion, given the critical tone of the Wiesner task force two months earlier and the lack of preinaugural contact between the incom­ing administration and NASA. Dryden noted that as the result of the panel’s review, “certain members. . . who, previously, had no contact whatever with the program, changed their minds completely after they visited factories and the laboratories and saw what was going on and talked with the people car­rying on the work.”38

Although the panel had finished most of its work by mid-March, its report was not formally submitted to the White House until April 12. The reason for the delay was continuing reservations by a biomedical subgroup of the panel. The panel report concluded that the planned suborbital flight, which by then had slipped to early May, would be “a high risk undertaking but not higher than we are accustomed to taking in other ventures.” The report reviewed the accomplishments and failures of the Mercury program and assessed the risks involved and the probability of success. It noted that “the Mercury program has apparently been carried through with great care” and that “almost everything possible to assure the pilot’s survival seems to have been done.” The panel rated all aspects of the Mercury system as being more than 85 percent reliable except the booster and telemetry, which were rated 70 to 85 percent reliable. Even these items were “not per se a cause for alarm” for astronaut safety, just for mission success. The probability of the astronaut surviving the suborbital mission “appears to be around 90 to 95 percent although NASA estimates are somewhat higher.” The panel noted that “it was too early” to estimate similar probabilities for an orbital flight.39

The only serious reservations about the readiness of Mercury to launch an astronaut were expressed by the medical experts on the Hornig panel. They were worried about the fact that the astronaut’s blood pressure would not be monitored during flight and that high pulse rates such as those observed on Ham in the January flight, combined with the possibility of low blood pressure during the most stressful parts of the flight, could mean that the astronaut would be near collapse. NASA met with members of the medical panel on March 17 and then again on April 11 together with science adviser Wiesner, who shared the panel’s concerns, but were unable to allay their reservations. The experts suggested various additional tests prior to clearing MR-3 for launch, and particularly a high number of ground and flight tests with chimpanzees. Hugh Dryden thought that such a step was “totally unre­alistic” and Robert Gilruth facetiously suggested that if so many tests with chimpanzees were needed, the program ought to move to Africa. The panel’s final report worried that “it is not known whether the astronauts are likely to border on respiratory and circulatory collapse and shock, suffer a loss of con­sciousness or cerebral seizures, or be disabled from inadequate respiratory or heat control,” and that the degree of risk associated with the mission “is at present a matter for clinical impression and not for scientific projection.” Although no additional chimpanzee tests were added to the program, the three astronauts from whom the MR-3 pilot would be chosen did undergo additional runs at a Navy centrifuge in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, that simu­lated the stresses of reentry.40

On April 12, the same day on which the panel’s report was delivered to the White House, the Soviet Union launched Yuri Gagarin into Earth orbit, and Gagarin returned to Earth with no obvious ill effects. This feat made moot many of the concerns of the panel’s medical experts.

Space Plans Reviewed

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

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

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

The Race Begins

In the six months between December 1960 and May 1961, the status of the U. S. civilian space program was elevated from a scientifically oriented effort with an uncertain future for human space flight to a key instrument of national strategy. This shift was the end result of a process in which many factors were involved. The change in administrations was clearly vital. In addition to putting a new president and his advisers into the White House with a clearly different set of values and objectives than their predecessors, the new administration meant new leadership for NASA. NASA planners convinced James Webb, who probably needed little convincing, that human space flight was key to the agency’s future, and Webb became an effective advocate of NASA’s interests. The support of the Space Science Board helped allay some of the scientific criticism that the human space flight program had little scientific value. The success of Alan Shepard’s flight demonstrated both human capability to survive and function in space and the great public enthusiasm for human space flight. The ability of NASA to withstand an Air Force and industry challenge to its role as the nation’s primary space agency strengthened NASA’s claim that it could undertake new, ambitious mis­sions. Lyndon Johnson’s personal conviction about the strategic importance of space, coupled with his assignment as head of the Space Council, placed a forceful advocate of a larger space effort at the side of the president. The consistent call from the Congress, particularly from the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, loosened one constraint on the president’s free­dom to choose a bold course of action. The flight of Yuri Gagarin and the world’s reaction to it provided a strong impetus to make space decisions quickly; the Bay of Pigs added to that pressure.

Walter McDougall suggests that “how this change occurred in so short a time is not a mystery,” but rather an “overdetermined event.”

New men arrived and brought with them those ideas of the “seed time” of the 1950s. Among those ideas were the notions that the Third World was the main theater of the Cold War and that in that contest prestige was as important as power. Their ideas validated a far greater role for government in planning and executing social change. The new men also cared more for imagery and felt increasing pressure to display their control over affairs in the wake of early setbacks in foreign policy. Finally, each of the major figures in space policy—Kennedy, Johnson, Webb, Dryden, McNamara, Welsh, Kerr, and others—saw ways in which an accelerated space program could help them solve problems in their own shop or serve their own interests. . . They were technocratic, applying command technology to political problems.

* * *

We will probably never know precisely what was in Kennedy’s mind when he decided that Americans should go to the moon. What may have tipped the balance for him and for many was the spinal chill attending the thought of

leaving the moon to the Soviets. Perhaps Apollo could not be justified, but, by

God, we could not not do it.34

All of these factors converged on the White House and particularly on John F. Kennedy. In the weeks between the Gagarin flight and his May 25 speech, Kennedy had “fired off” to his advisers “a constant stream of written questions. . . on costs, risks, manpower, alternatives, and administrative responsibility. He had heard from hundreds of individuals in the process of making his decision—scientists, engineers, experts of all kind—and became convinced that the United States must not remain second in this race.” From “a tentative premise” in the aftermath of the Gagarin flight there emerged in Kennedy’s thinking a “firm conclusion” about the importance of space achievement, but “only after it had been carefully studied, the estimated costs calculated, the risks weighed, and the responsibilities allocated.”35 Robert Kennedy commented that his brother thought that winning the space race was “very important. As he used to say, it compared to the explor­ers in our country, Lewis and Clark. . . He thought we needed to do it for our position throughout the world, that our efforts should be for excellence and that we should do whatever was necessary.”36 Willis Shapley, the longtime staff person from the BOB who was directly involved in the decision process, suggests that “after having been through quite a few major decisions, there was never a major decision like this made with the same degree of eyes-open, knowing-what-you’re getting-in-for” character.37 President Kennedy, at first uncertain but finally convinced that the United States should accept the Soviet challenge in space, decided that “whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.”

To the Moon in 1966?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Soviet Response

There was no immediate response to the president’s proposal from Nikita Khrushchev or any other official Soviet source. The newspaper Za Rubezhom on September 28 suggested that Kennedy’s proposal was “propaganda” and “distracts attention from joint earthly exploits directed at attaining peace and reduction of world tension.” Pravda, the Communist Party newspaper, on October 2 reprinted without comment a column by Walter Lippman, who was widely respected in both the United States and the Soviet Union; the column had appeared in the American press on September 24. In the column, Lippman had suggested that “the main merit of the proposal” was “the opportunity it offered for the US to escape its commitment to the moon goal.”39

As the White House waited for a Soviet reply, a report from a new source appeared that seemed to counter the idea that the Soviet Union had aban­doned or postponed its lunar landing program. The Washington Post on October 8 reported that Leonid Sedov, characterized as the “father of the Sputnik,” had said that it would be two or three years “at least” before an initial Soviet lunar landing attempt. The headline for the story read “Red Expects Moon Shot in 3 Years.” Wiesner reported to the president that there was nothing in the story that “really supports the headline that was attached to it.”40 When cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova (the first woman in space) visited the UN General Assembly in October, they made no direct mention of Kennedy’s proposal.

In response to an October 25 question posed to Nikita Khrushchev about whether the Soviet Union had a lunar landing program planned for the not too distant future, the Soviet leader said: “It would be very interesting to take a trip to the moon. But I cannot at present say when this will be done. We are not at the present planning flight by cosmonauts to the moon. . . I have a report to the effect that the Americans want to land a man on the moon by 1970. Well, let’s wish them success. . . We do not want to compete with the sending of men to the moon without careful preparation. It is clear that no benefits would be derived from such a competition.”41

There were a number of interpretations of Khrushchev’s remarks within the U. S. intelligence community. A “current intelligence memorandum” prepared by the CIA suggested that “Khrushchev’s statement on a manned lunar landing suggests that at least one program bearing on defense may already have fallen victim to his new economic priorities,” interpreting the Soviet premier’s remarks as acknowledging the cancellation of an ongoing lunar landing program. This memorandum noted that “Khrushchev’s actual remarks hardly warrant the dramatic US news agency treatment that the Soviet premier has ‘withdrawn’ from the moon race.” A different office in the CIA on October 29 advised McGeorge Bundy that “the primary intent of Khrushchev’s statement was to change the focus of the space race.” This analysis noted that Khrushchev’s remarks were similar to statements he had made to visiting journalists in 1961 and 1962 and to views “deliberately given to Western scientists by Soviet scientific officials earlier this year.” (This presumably referred to the Soviet contacts with Bernard Lovell.) Thus, the analysis suggested, Khrushchev’s statements should not be interpreted as indicating “that the Soviet leaders have taken some major decisions in recent weeks affecting the scope or pace of their lunar program.” Rather, a major intent of Khrushchev’s statement was a “deliberate effort to downgrade the urgency of a manned lunar landing” and thus influence “U. S. Congressional and public opinion on the question of the expenditures and pace of the U. S. lunar program,” thereby “making it clear that the Soviet Union is unwilling to allow the United States to set the terms for competition in space.” The head of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research told Secretary of State Rusk that in his answer at the press conference, Khrushchev “did not withdraw from the space race,” “did not say that the USSR might not make the first successful moon landing,” “did not accept President Kennedy’s pro­posal,” and “committed to nothing.” The State Department analysis sug­gested that Khrushchev regarded Kennedy’s offer of cooperation “as a vague one, to which he can appropriately respond in vaguely approving terms with­out undertaking negotiations or obligations.” One of Wiesner’s staff sug­gested that Khrushchev’s statement “recognizes that the U. S. determination to send a man to the moon and back has called the bluff of their pretentions since 1957 to world technological leadership.” The U. S. lunar landing deci­sion has also “contributed in a non-belligerent way to imposing major strains on the Soviet economy and their ability to carry out expansionist objectives. Our technological challenge, along with steadfastness over Cuba exactly a year ago, has been successful in getting them to trim their sails.”42