NASA under Nixon

As Viking got under way, Nixon became president, on January 20, 1969. He retained Paine and eventually appointed him NASA Administrator, but he gave him little or no access to advocate his post-Apollo vision. Paine wanted to advance a comprehensive post-Apollo program, the central element of which would be human spaceflight to Mars. It would feature also a space station, a space shuttle, and a lunar base.27

In July, NASA launched Apollo 11 to the Moon and Neil Armstrong took “one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” It was a remarkable moment that brought the world’s people briefly together. It was an epic mile­stone in human history. However, the euphoria over Apollo did not transfer to post-Apollo. When Nixon and Paine flew to meet the returning astronauts, Nixon—in one of his few conversations with Paine—stressed that he supported NASA, but money was tight given the continuance of the Vietnam War and domestic economic troubles.28

Paine tried hard to use Apollo 11 to generate public enthusiasm for a post – Apollo human Mars mission. But winning the race to the Moon removed much of the competitive urgency space had. Paine hoped the 1969 Mars flybys (Mari­ners 6 and 7) would help his cause. Instead, they actually hurt to some extent. These flybys, which went up in late July and August, provided the best view yet of Mars, but like Mariner 4, they revealed a planet hostile to life. The media praised the twin probes, but some commentators asked why Paine would want to send astronauts to such a desolate planet. Indeed, critics said that robotic flight could do Mars reconnaissance relatively cheaply, and hence human flight was not necessary.29

Getting Congressional Support

While Paine labored to promote the goal of human exploration of Mars, it was left mainly to Naugle to sell Viking politically. He had been working the scien­tific community. He negotiated with the Bureau of the Budget (BOB), renamed Office ofManagement and Budget (OMB) in 1970. He now looked to Congress. Paine’s decision to go for the most ambitious Viking option more than doubled the cost. Project Manager Martin told Naugle in August 1969 that the cost would be over $600 million. Naugle then added $150 million as a contingency from his own reserves and went to see Rep. Joseph Karth (D-MN). Karth was chair of the House subcommittee that had authorized Viking, and he was the project’s most influential champion in Congress.

When Naugle told Karth that the project originally sold for $364 million was now $750 million, the lawmaker exploded. He accused NASA of “low-balling the cost to get Viking’s ‘feet in the door.’ ” He gave Naugle “a very rough time,” as the NASA official had anticipated. Naugle responded that NASA was just getting started on the project, and if Karth felt strongly, he should cancel it now, before major development costs were incurred.

Naugle had lived in Minnesota for 10 years and understood Karth’s problems in justifying space expenditures to his fiscally conservative district. However, the Soviet competition for Mars loomed large for Karth. Naugle recalled that he knew that Karth would not want to be the one who cancelled Viking and let the Soviet Union be the first to soft land on Mars. Viking stayed in the NASA bud­get.30 With Karth leading the charge in Congress, NASA had sufficient allies on the Hill to keep Viking going. The political environment, however, was harsh, and Paine was not doing well with his campaign for human flight to Mars with Nixon. Viking’s fate could not be separated from NASA’s future.

Leave a reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>