Category THE RACE

Another Round of Presidential Questions

As he began during the summer to think again about suggesting to the Soviet Union that sending men to the Moon become a cooperative under­taking, President Kennedy was faced not only with the lingering doubts regarding whether Russia in fact was intending to go to the Moon, but also questions regarding the possible hostile purposes of the Soviet space pro­gram. The August 1963 issue of the widely read Reader’s Digest featured an article headlined “We’re Running the Wrong Race with Russia!” that asked “are we suffering from moon madness?” and suggested that “the over­publicized ‘race’ to get a man on our faraway neighbor has obscured an imminent threat to our security—Soviet strides toward military conquest of the space just over our heads.”20

Not surprisingly, this article caught President Kennedy’s attention. On July 22 he sent a memorandum to Robert McNamara and James Webb, not­ing “the lead article in the Reader’s Digest this month states that the Soviet Union is making a major effort to dominate space while we are indifferent to this threat. I wonder if you could have some people analyze this and give me a response to it.” A week later, he wrote a similar memorandum to Vice President Johnson: “The attack on the moon program continues and seems to be intensifying. Note Reader’s Digest lead article this month.” Kennedy asked the vice president to develop answers to two sets of questions: (1) “Did the previous administration have a moon program? What was its time schedule? How much were they going to spend on it?” and (2) “How much of our present peaceful space program can be militarily useful? How much of our capability for our moon program is also necessary for military control in space?” Kennedy added: “I would be interested in any other thoughts that you may have on the large amounts of money we are spending on this program and how it can be justified.”21

In his response to this second Space Council review, Webb suggested that “all” of the civilian space program “can be directly or indirectly militarily useful.” An important justification for the sums being spent on the NASA program, said Webb, was to develop “the power to operate in space” and “as insurance against surprise and as the building of the necessary underlying capacity” for an accelerated military space program, should the United States decide that such a speed-up was needed. The Department of Defense reply to Kennedy’s questions was signed by deputy secretary Roswell Gilpatric. He told the president that “the article is based for the most part on Soviet propaganda statements, faulty and greatly exaggerated interpretation of technical data, quotes by U. S. authorities taken out of context or distorted, excerpts from Air Force magazine articles, and the author’s personal opin­ions and unsupported statements.” Gilpatric added: “At the same time, he [the author] deliberately ignores or is strangely uninformed about our on­going military space program.”22

A rapidly convened meeting of the Space Council on July 31 discussed the appropriate reply to the president’s questions. Vice President Johnson noted that “we had entered a very tricky period,” and that there seemed to be a “political basis” for much of the criticism of the lunar landing program, with “more trouble to be expected as we get closer to [election year] 1964.” Johnson suggested that “we are facing a Congress where a majority is for the program, but there is a very vocal minority.” The group discussed the language to be included in the response to the president, and agreed to have Edward Welsh draft that response, which took the form of a one-page letter signed by Johnson that told the president that “there was no Administration moon program until your message to Congress in 1961.” Johnson, agreeing with Webb’s argument, added that “all of the scientific and engineering abil­ity in space has direct or indirect [military] value” and that “the space pro­gram is expensive, but it can be justified as a solid investment which will give ample returns in security, prestige, knowledge, and material benefits.”23

Webb on August 9 sent to the White House a separate response to Kennedy’s original July 22 memorandum, noting that NASA had also “received from the Vice President a number of questions which we under­stand he is answering.” This somewhat disingenuous comment, since Webb had participated in the July 31 Space Council meeting, was indicative of the preference on Webb’s part to report directly to the president rather than working through the Space Council. Webb associated himself with the views in Gilpatric’s July 31 memo to the president and added that Apollo would require extensive operations in near-earth orbit and that “75-80% of the cost of the Apollo program will be devoted to the development of a capabil­ity for conducting near-earth orbital operations which could form a basis for any military systems we may require.” Webb noted that “the Reader’s Digest article ignores the fact that these basic resources—large launch vehicles, advanced spacecraft, extensive and complex ground facilities—are vitally important resources for future military missions as well as in fulfillment of the NASA program.” Webb’s belief in the military value of NASA’s activities was not shared by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Webb observed that McNamara “was unwilling to stand up and be counted for the [NASA] program.” He told President Kennedy later in 1963 that “the Secretary of Defense will not want to support the program as having substantial military value.”24

John F. Kennedy’s late July 1963 questioning of the justifications for con­tinuing to spend large amounts of money to get to the Moon before the Soviets came at the same time as very public discussion of the suggestion that the Soviet Union in fact did not have a lunar landing program. At the end of August, Kennedy in a conversation with Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin “raised the question of activities in outer space, pointing out that these are very expensive.” “If outer space was not to be used for military purposes,” thought Kennedy, “then it became largely a question of scientific prestige, and even this was not very important, as accomplishments in this field were usually only three-day wonders.”25 This was certainly a rather dif­ferent attitude toward Project Apollo than what Kennedy had been saying publicly, and may well have reflected his emerging doubts about proceeding with the lunar landing program at its planned pace and increasing costs.

Space during the Transition

In the period between the November 8 election and his inauguration, presi­dent-elect Kennedy dealt with only one of these pressing space policy issues, asking vice president-elect Lyndon B. Johnson to assume the chairmanship of the National Aeronautics and Space Council. This request was widely viewed at the time as an indication of the secondary priority that Kennedy was assigning to space. Kennedy also was briefed on January 10 on the report of his task force on outer space, which was chaired by MIT engineer Jerome

Wiesner, who had served as a technical and arms control adviser during the presidential campaign and was the top candidate to be Kennedy’s White House science adviser. Wiesner’s report was very critical of NASA’s organi­zation and management and on the emphasis being placed on the Project Mercury human space flight effort; it also had harsh words for the national security space program.

The Weisner task force had prepared its report without any briefings or other input from NASA, and there was no other direct contact between the incoming administration and NASA’s managers during the transition period. The position of NASA administrator was one of the few senior positions for which no one had been nominated as Kennedy became president. Robert Seamans, who was the NASA associate administrator during the transition, later commented that “during the interval between Kennedy’s election and his inauguration, a sword of Damocles hung over NASA.” Seamans added that rumors that the report of the Weisner group would contain ideas such “as a merger of NASA and the military or a transfer of manned space flight to the military, along with hints about the incompetence of NASA leader­ship,” were “quite unnerving.”47

Some with Reservations

Although science adviser Wiesner attended some of the meetings Johnson called, at no time during this review was the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) as a body consulted about the wisdom of what was being recommended. Wiesner, reflecting the conclusions of the PSAC report that had been presented to President Eisenhower in December 1960, viewed the decision to accelerate the space program with a lunar landing mission as a central undertaking as “a political, not a technical issue. It was not an issue of scientific versus non-scientific issues; it was a use of technological means for political ends. It was on these considerations that I did not involve PSAC.” Wiesner did tell the president that PSAC “would never accept this kind of expenditure on scientific grounds.” Kennedy accepted this and in turn promised Wiesner that he would never justify the lunar mission in terms of its scientific payoffs.21

Somewhat surprisingly, there was another key individual who was some­what skeptical of the push for a major acceleration of the space program, with landing on the Moon before the Soviet Union as its central feature—NASA administrator James Webb. Webb described himself as “a relatively cautious person. I think when you decide you’re going to do something and put the prestige of the United States government behind it, you’d better be doggone well be able to do it.”22 Webb was reluctant to commit himself to a lunar landing effort until he was convinced that it was technologically sound, that NASA had the capability to execute it, and that it “did not go beyond what I thought Kennedy was willing to approve.” Webb wrote Wiesner on May 2, noting that the budget figures that had accompanied NASA’s April 22 presentation to the vice president had been put together “in a great hurry” and did not represent the results “of a careful study of the technological bottlenecks or difficulties.” Webb asked Wiesner to join him in insuring that the program to be recommended to the president “has real value and validity and from which solid additions to knowledge can be made, even if every case of the specific so-called ‘spectacular’ flights or events are done after they have been accomplished by the Russians.”23 By acting to emphasize his con­cern with the underlying validity of the accelerated program, Webb hoped both to maintain his good working relationship with Wiesner and, through Wiesner, the scientific community, and to influence the program recom­mendations so that if necessary he could later defend the program against charges that it was aimed only at prestige and was fundamentally distorted and unsound. Webb, in essence, “wanted to contain and shape the decision to reflect favorably on NASA, the nation, and himself.”24

Initial Proposals for U. S.-Soviet Space Cooperation

Bilateral U. S.-U. S.S. R. cooperation was thus the preferred alternative to cooperating through the United Nations, and active discussion of this pos­sibility had begun soon after the president’s January 30 speech. Philip Farley, special assistant to the secretary of state for atomic energy and outer space, told Secretary Rusk on February 9 that he had been meeting with Wiesner and acting NASA administrator Dryden and had found “a good deal of uncertainty and diversity of expert opinion as to what makes technical and practical sense in the three areas mentioned in the President’s State of the Union message. . . as well as other possible areas of space cooperation.” To address this situation, the White House set up a “Task Force on International Cooperation in Space” in early February. The group was composed of both non-governmental people, particularly members of and consultants to the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC), and officials from NASA, the Department of State, and the White House science office. The task force was charged both with identifying “the full range of possibilities for coop­erative efforts” and describing “the optimum shape of possible international cooperation in outer space. . . on the basis of pooling or even merging of efforts in a world-wide venture. . . Such a description of optimum interna­tional cooperation in space activities would be an important contribution to re-examination of U. S. objectives and programs in outer space.”11 The group was chaired by Bruno Rossi, a professor of physics at MIT, who had been a member of the Wiesner transition panel on outer space.

The task force carried out its examination between February 17 and mid-March.12 It came up with twenty-two specific proposals for U. S.-Soviet space cooperation, ranging from projects involving only data exchanges or coordination of separate projects, to intimate cooperation in ambitious proj­ects for the human exploration of the Moon and the robotic exploration of the planets, particularly Mars. At the first meeting on February 17, one of the members of the task force, Richard Porter of General Electric, submit­ted a memorandum suggesting a U. S.-Soviet “Rendezvous on the Moon” project to establish an international base on the surface of the Moon, along the lines of scientific bases in the Antarctic. Porter suggested that “if agree­ment could be reached on this major project between the United States and the USSR, all other bilateral and multilateral cooperative projects involving the USSR would become feasible and operative”; the group found this pro­posal intriguing. The thought was that if the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to cooperate in lunar exploration, they would then invite other nations to join in.13

As the Rossi task force was completing its examination, senior govern­ment officials were also discussing U. S.-Soviet space cooperation. On March 8, Rusk met with new NASA administrator Webb and deputy administra­tor Dryden. Rusk told the NASA officials that there was “keen interest in the possibility of a productive approach to the Soviet Union for outer space cooperation.” Webb’s reaction was that, given the current uncertainty regarding the Kennedy administration’s approach to space, a “decision on approaches to the Soviets was secondary to deciding what the United States wanted to do in space.” Webb spoke of the opportunities for foreign rela­tions inherent in the space program, and told Rusk that in his three weeks since becoming NASA administrator he had concluded that there was a need for acceleration of the NASA program and increased funding “by a substantial amount.” Rusk in reply wondered “what the purpose was of activities in space on this major scale. Should not the objectives be clearly identified and undertaken not competitively but on behalf of the human race as a whole.”14 State Department leadership remained throughout the Apollo program a source of skepticism of the value of a unilateral large-scale space effort.

The Rossi task force submitted its final report to Wiesner on March 20. The report noted that “a cooperative enterprise in this new and bold ven­ture would stimulate constructive thinking on the part of people all over the world and help reduce world tensions,” and that “it is vitally important for the avoidance of future conflicts to establish early cooperation in such fields where unchecked competition is likely to produce a dangerous situa­tion” such as “meteorological activities that might eventually lead to weather control, and large scale exploration of the moon and planets.” The report suggested that the United States should “give preference to projects that avoid the difficulties connected with a high degree of [Soviet] involvement or else to projects that are sufficiently bold and dramatic to sweep aside these difficulties.” Wiesner told Rossi that the task force had done a “superb” job in providing “the essential scientific judgment that is prerequisite for any political action that may follow.”15

The task force report was next reviewed and revised by several of the government agencies involved in the space program. An April 4 draft report of this second review set out the political rationale for expanded U. S.-Soviet space cooperation: “ The objectives are to confirm concretely the U. S. pref­erence for a cooperative rather than competitive approach to space explora­tion, to contribute to reduction of Cold War tensions by demonstrating the possibility of cooperative enterprise between the U. S. and the USSR in a field of major public concern, and to achieve the substantive advantages of cooperation that in major projects would impose more of a strain on eco­nomic and manpower resources if carried out unilaterally.”16

Interestingly, this paragraph was missing in an April 13 draft of the report, perhaps reflecting a shift in White House thinking toward a more competitive stance in space in the wake of Yuri Gagarin’s April 12 orbital flight. Three categories of cooperative proposals were suggested in that draft: (1) use of existing or easily attainable ground facilities for the exchange of information and services; (2) coordination of independently launched satel­lite experiments; and (3) “coordination or cooperation in ambitious projects for the manned exploration of the moon and the unmanned exploration of the planets.” With regard to the third category, the document suggested “as a first step in non-limited cooperative effort, the U. S. and the USSR would each undertake to place a small party (about 3) of men on the moon.” Such an undertaking would have the “greatest potential for matching the President’s theme that ‘Both nations would help themselves as well as other nations by removing these endeavors from the bitter and wasteful competi­tion of the Cold War.’ ”17

An early start on U. S.-Soviet space cooperation was not in the cards, how­ever. Even as the task force began its work, President Kennedy was receiv­ing initial indications that the Soviet Union was unlikely to be receptive to the kind of initiatives he had in mind. On February 13, he congratulated Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev on the launching of a Soviet scientific probe to Venus. In his reply, Khrushchev took note of Kennedy’s coopera­tive overtures in his inaugural address and State of the Union speech, but indicated that the creation of “favorable conditions” for space cooperation would require “settlement of the problem of disarmament.”18 This repeated the Soviet policy line of several years standing, linking cooperation in vari­ous areas, including space, to a U. S.-Soviet disarmament agreement, and did not auger well for the Kennedy approach of isolating areas of common U. S.- Soviet interest for cooperation even if tensions remained in the two coun­tries’ security relationship. Even so, as he met with new NASA administrator James Webb on March 22, the president stressed to Webb “his desire that we try to work out as many ideas as possible for utilization in the proposed conference with the Russians [a hoped-for Kennedy-Khrushchev summit meeting] for international cooperation. He said he hoped we would give this very high level attention.”19

Commitment Reviewed and Reiterated

It is important to realize that Kennedy’s decision to go to the Moon was not made once and for all time in April and May 1961. By mid-1961, Kennedy began questioning the costs associated with Apollo, and several times in 1962 and again, more intensely, in 1963 there were in-depth reviews of Apollo’s cost and schedule, asking each time whether the benefits of going ahead as planned justified the very high costs involved. In 1963, Kennedy saw an opportunity to cooperate with the Soviet Union in going to the Moon as a means of reducing U. S. costs while achieving other important strategic objectives; if the Soviet Union had responded positively, it certainly would have changed the character of Project Apollo.

There was thus not a single decision to aim at a lunar landing, but rather a series of decisions, each time with alternative paths being considered and each time with the resulting choice being to proceed with the program to land Americans on the Moon “before this decade is out,” either as a uni­lateral undertaking or cooperatively. Only at the very end of the Kennedy administration was serious consideration given to slipping the end of the decade schedule, and even then the decision made was to reject such slippage and to stay with the planned schedule.

Kennedy’s consistently reiterated commitment to Apollo can be best understood in terms of how he carried out his presidency overall. Theodore Sorensen, as he prepared Columbia University lectures which were later pub­lished as his book Decision-Making in the White House, asked national secu­rity adviser McGeorge Bundy for suggestions on what to say. Bundy replied that “the modes of Presidential decision are enormously varied,” that “deci­sions are made through the ceaseless process by which, if an administration is lively, recommendations and proposals are ground forward,” and that in a sense “the entire presidential existence is. . . a process of decision.” Viewing JFK’s commitment to Apollo in these terms is particularly useful. Bundy suggested that “the president’s larger policies: an open door to Moscow, an open door to all underdog Americans, an open door to intelligence and hope, honor to bravery, equal sense of past and future, gallantry to beauty, and pride in politics” were “colors of a permanent palette” and were reflected “in the small as well as the large decisions, drawn from in a hundred ways.”9 Policies in the space arena were indeed a reflection of Kennedy’s broader objectives as president. As Sorensen suggests, reflecting the multiple facets of Kennedy’s space strategy: [4]

addition, our relations with the Soviets, following the Cuban missile crisis and the test ban treaty, were much improved—so the President felt that, without harming any of those three goals, we now were in a position to ask the Soviets to join us and make it efficient and economical for both countries.

President Kennedy himself explained the subtlety of his space strategy as he wrote Congressman Albert Thomas in the aftermath of his September 20, 1963, proposal at the United Nations that the journey to the Moon become a cooperative undertaking: “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.” Kennedy added: “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.”

One analyst of the Kennedy presidency correctly comments that “there would have been no race to the moon without the Cold War; the space pro­gram became as much a part of that conflict as Cuba, Berlin, and Laos.”10 Whatever President Kennedy, Vice President Johnson, and NASA admin­istrator Webb said about the purposes of Project Apollo in their public rhetoric, from the time that Kennedy asked Johnson to identify “a space program that promises dramatic results in which we could win,” it was well understood within the government that the primary objective of Apollo was winning a Cold War-inspired competition to be first to the Moon. To those more focused on the totality of the U. S. space program than was John Kennedy, it was also clear from 1961 on that a program aimed at sending Americans to the Moon could serve as a focal point for the develop­ment of space capabilities of strategic value for the United States. By 1963, President Kennedy had seemingly also embraced that view. The November 1963 “Special Space Report” recommending proceeding with Apollo on its then-planned schedule clearly stated that “principal purposes” of the lunar landing program were (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.” These were the reasons John F. Kennedy decided in 1961 to go to the Moon, and they remained the objectives of Apollo at the time of his death.

This stability in the actual reasons for the lunar race served as the politi­cal foundation for White House decisions to allocate the massive resources required for Apollo’s success, even after Kennedy’s assassination. It is perhaps his willingness to stay the course in the face of increasing criticisms of the path in space that he had chosen that most indicates the quality and strength of John F. Kennedy’s original decision to go to the Moon.

Kennedy Takes a Position

The publicity-seeking chairman of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, Overton Brooks, was aware of and concerned by the Air Force campaign. Unsatisfied by Air Force assurances that it did not hope to take over the lead role in the U. S. space program, Brooks wrote a three-page let­ter to President Kennedy on March 9, saying that he was “seriously disturbed by the persistence and strength of implications reaching me to the effect that a radical change in our national space policy is contemplated.” Brooks told Kennedy that he did not want to see “the military tail wag the space dog.”30 Brooks followed this letter with hearings on the NASA-Air Force rivalry, but he was not able to get top DOD officials to testify, most likely due to an administration decision not to cooperate with the committee. The hearings shed little light on the evolving situation.

Despite the hopes raised by Kennedy’s campaign rhetoric, it is unlikely that the new administration could have, or would have, agreed with the Air Force hope for a larger role in space at the expense of NASA. As he left office, Dwight Eisenhower had warned of the increasing power of the “military- industrial complex,” and a move in the early months of the administration to increase Air Force activity in a visible area such as space would have been politically very difficult. Secretary of Defense McNamara was trying to get the management of defense activities under centralized control. The top peo­ple in DOD were not particularly space conscious, and McNamara and Webb had reached an understanding of the respective roles of their agencies that the White House would have been unlikely to countermand. NASA under Webb’s direction seemed to be shaping up in terms both of its organization and program success, and there were no compelling reasons to downgrade the importance of the agency. One of presidential science adviser Wiesner’s major priorities was to control the spread of the arms race into new areas; he too was unlikely to have supported an expanded military space effort.

President Kennedy replied to the Brooks letter on March 23, telling the congressman that “it is not now, nor has it ever been my intention to subor­dinate the activities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to those of the Department of Defense.”31 With that response, the con­troversy over the NASA-Air Force relationship became a secondary policy issue, although it never completely disappeared.

"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.

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.

Campaign Advice on Space

To develop background material on the various issues he would have to address during his presidential campaign, Senator Kennedy in December 1958 established a “brain trust” drawn primarily from the faculties of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Even before the presidential campaign began, Harvard law professor Archibald Cox began collecting research memoranda and reports from experts at both universities and from across the country. According to the authoritative account of the Kennedy campaign, “The professors were to think, winnow, analyze and prepare data on the substance of national policy, to channel from university to speech writers to Cox to Sorensen—and thus to the candidate.” This process failed in its execution. While an impressive amount of material was generated, little of it was read by Kennedy or used during the campaign. Regarding the products of Cox’s efforts, Theodore Sorensen comments that “not all of their material was usable and even less was actually used. But it provided a fresh and reassuring reservoir of expert intellect.”10 The differ­ent perspectives of those caught up in the frenzy of Kennedy’s presidential campaign, such as Sorensen, and those with the time to reflect on issues that Kennedy would have to address if he was elected were a continuing source of campaign tensions.

Kennedy himself on September 2, 1960, asked Cox to contact Trevor Gardner, former assistant secretary of the U. S. Air Force for research and development, and a man to whom Kennedy looked for advice on space and missile issues. Kennedy wanted from Gardner “an account of the Administration’s failures in missiles, 1953 to today” and his “judgment on the significance of our being in a secondary position in space in the sixties.” Kennedy also asked, “Will the Soviet Union have a reconnaissance satellite before we do, and what will it mean?”11

Another source of largely unused but remarkably prescient input into Kennedy’s campaign was the Advisory Committee on Science and Technology of the Democratic Advisory Council, which in turn reported to the Democratic National Committee. Among its inputs was a September 7 “Position Paper on Space Research.” Leading the preparation of this paper was physicist Ralph Lapp, who, after working in the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb, spent most of the rest of his career warning about the dangers of nuclear war. The position paper pointed out that “the United States has failed to define its real objective in space. If purely scientific, this should be so stated so that the American people and others understand our objective. If aimed at ‘winning the space race’ then this must also be stated and the U. S. program must be directed toward this goal.” The paper went on to discuss landing a man on the Moon as a possible objective of a compet­itive space effort, asking, “Can the United States afford to allow the Russians to land on the moon first?” and noting that the answer to this question was “more political” than technical, since “there is no great scientific urgency” in a manned lunar landing. It noted that “in the psycho-political space race the rewards for being first are exceedingly great; there is little pay-off for second place.”

The paper outlined two alternative space programs. One of the programs was “an imaginative and vigorous program of research in space science and technology and to exploit useful applications of this new technology. . . in collaboration with other nations.” The other suggested program aimed at “American supremacy in the exploration of space,” including “early attain­ment of a thrust capability consistent with manned flights to the Moon.” The paper noted that “Senator Kennedy must make the decision, essentially political in character,” between the two programs. The costs of the politi­cally driven second program were estimated to be $26 billion from 1960 to 1970, compared to the then planned expenditures during that period of $12 to 13 billion. The scientifically oriented but faster-paced program was estimated to cost $19 billion. While this paper was unlikely to have been read by Kennedy or his top advisers, it was a quite insightful statement of the central space issue that would occupy Kennedy once he entered the White House, and its cost estimates were surprisingly close to the actual costs of the program that President Kennedy in 1961 chose to pursue.12

Yet another input into Kennedy’s position on space during the campaign was a briefing paper prepared for the candidate’s “Position and Briefing Book”; this was a resource that traveled with the campaign team as a ready source of speech material and responses to media questions. The briefing paper suggested “eliminating the unrealistic distinctions between civilian and defense space projects” and said that there should be “one coordinated space program with joint civilian and military space uses.” The paper pro­posed that Kennedy should “place one man in charge of all space activities, reporting directly to the President.”13

"There’s Nothing More Important&quot

On Monday April 10, 1961, John F. Kennedy threw out the opening day baseball pitch as the Washington Senators played (and lost to) the Chicago White Sox on a chilly and damp afternoon. Baseball was not the only thing on the president’s mind that day. Sometime early in the game, Kennedy’s deputy press secretary Andrew Hatcher told him that the United Press International news service was about to report that the Soviet Union had successfully recovered the first human to orbit the Earth. Kennedy asked Hatcher to check on the report; he had known for several weeks from intel­ligence briefings that such a launch was imminent. The Soviet Union had successfully completed one-orbit missions of a spacecraft carrying a dog as a passenger on March 9 and March 25. It was almost certain that the next step would be a mission with a human on board. Hatcher reported back a few innings later that the news reports “have not materialized” and that “elaborate Russian plans to make this anticipated announcement have been abandoned for today.” Also, said Hatcher, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) “could not confirm or deny the report” of the Soviet launch.1

By the end of the next day, April 11, the CIA did report that the Soviet launch was likely within the next few hours. Press Secretary Pierre Salinger prepared and Kennedy approved a statement for the president to issue once the Soviets had announced a successful mission. The president also had an approach ready to take if the launch were unsuccessful and the cosmonaut died. Famed journalist Edward R. Murrow, whom Kennedy had chosen to head the U. S. Information Agency, in an April 3, 1961, memorandum for McGeorge Bundy had suggested that “in the event of a Soviet manned shot failure we should express, with all the sincerity we can muster, the deep regret and distress of the President and the people of the United States.” Simultaneously, suggested Murrow, one of the Mercury astronauts might “publicly express the regret of his group” and his confidence that “the Soviet astronaut was prepared,” as were the Mercury astronauts, “to give up his life for the advancement of human knowledge.” However, “covertly, the

U. S. might encourage commentators in other countries to deplore the low regard for human life which prompted the Soviets to attempt a manned shot ‘prematurely.’ ”2 As he retired for the evening on April 11, Kennedy told his aides that he did not want to be woken if the Soviet announcement came while he was sleeping.

The expression of regret was not needed. Within a few seconds of the launch of the first human in space at 1:07 a. m. on April 12, Washington time (11:07 a. m. at the launch site in Soviet Central Asia), U. S. intelligence systems knew that it had taken place. They monitored the in-orbit communications during the single-orbit flight and decoded the television transmissions from the spacecraft that showed the cosmonaut moving about.3 It took several hours for Moscow to announce the successful mission; the Soviet dispatch said that “the world’s first space ship Vostok with a man on board has been launched on April 12 in the Soviet Union on a round-the-earth orbit. The first space navigator is Soviet citizen pilot Maj. Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin.” Science adviser Wiesner called Salinger at 5:30 a. m. with this news. The pres­ident was informed of the Soviet achievement when he woke up around 8:00 a. m.; he authorized Salinger to release the prepared statement, which said: “The achievement by the USSR of orbiting a man and returning him safely to ground is an outstanding technical accomplishment. We congratulate the Soviet scientists and engineers who made this feat possible. The exploration of the solar system is an ambition that we and all mankind share.”4

Later that morning, NASA administrator James Webb and Senator Robert Kerr came to the Oval Office for a previously scheduled meeting with the president to discuss a planned national conference on space to be held in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Webb brought with him a model of a Mercury space­craft. Theodore Sorensen recalls that Kennedy, “who had no real grasp of the enormous technology involved, and remained skeptical about the cost and importance of space missions,” quipped about the “Rube Goldberg – like contraption” that “Webb might have bought it in a toy store. . . that morning.”5

President Kennedy had a previously scheduled news conference on the late afternoon of April 12. Inevitably, the questioning turned to the Soviet space achievement. The first question was relatively friendly, and Kennedy’s response predictable:

Q: Could you give us your views, sir, about the Soviet achievement of putting a man in orbit and what it would mean to our space program, as such?

Kennedy: Well, it is a most impressive scientific accomplishment, and also I think that we, all of us as members of the [human] race, have the greatest admiration for the Russian who participated in this extraordinary feat. I have already sent congratulations to Mr. Khrushchev, and I send congratu­lations to the man who was involved.

I indicated that the task force which we set up on space way back last January, January 12th, indicated that because of the Soviet progress in the field of boosters, where they have been ahead of us, that we expected that they would be first in space, in orbiting a man in space. And, of course, that

has taken place. We are carrying out our program and we expect to-hope to make progress in this area this year ourselves.

Then the questioning became a bit more pointed:

Q: Mr. President, a Member of Congress said today that he was tired of seeing the United States second to Russia in the space field. I suppose he speaks for a lot of others. Now, you have asked Congress for more money to speed up our space program. What is the prospect that we will catch up with Russia and perhaps surpass Russia in this field?

Kennedy: Well, the Soviet Union gained an important advantage by securing these large boosters which were able to put up greater weights, and that advantage is going to be with them for some time. However tired anybody may be, and no one is more tired than I am, it is a fact that it is going to take some time and I think we have to recognize it.

They secured large boosters which have led to their being first in sputnik and led to their first putting their man in space. We are, I hope, going to be able to carry out our efforts with due regard to the problem of the life of the man involved this year. But we are behind and I am sure that they are making a concentrated effort to stay ahead.

We have provided additional emphasis on Saturn; we have provided addi­tional emphasis on Rover; we are attempting to improve other systems which will give us a stronger position—all of which are very expensive, and all of which involve billions of dollars.

So that in answer to your question, as I said in my State of the Union Message, the news will be worse before it is better, and it will be some time before we catch up. We are, I hope, going to go in other areas where we can be first and which will bring perhaps more long-range benefits to mankind. But here we are behind.

Earlier in the press conference, Kennedy had mentioned one of the areas “where we can be first” and which might bring “more long-range benefits to mankind”—desalinization of sea water. He told the press conference, “we have made some exceptional scientific advances in the last decade, and some of them—they are not as spectacular as the man-in-space, or as the first sputnik, but they are important.” For example, added Kennedy, “I have said that I thought that if we could ever competitively, at a cheap rate, get fresh water from salt water, that it would be in the long-range interests of human­ity which would really dwarf any other scientific accomplishments.”6 Over the next few days, as he absorbed the political reaction in the United States and around the world to the Soviet achievement, Kennedy would change his mind; by the evening of April 14, he would say “there’s nothing more important” than finding a way to overcome the Soviet lead in space.