NASA-Air Force Tensions Reduced
The Air Force push for a larger role in space had continued after the Kennedy administration came into office; the major aerospace trade magazine Missiles and Rockets reported late in March 1961 that “the showdown on who will take charge of the U. S. man-in-space program—and with it the main role in space exploration” would come soon, and that in the choice between NASA and the Air Force, “the best bet on who will win when the cards are dealt: the Air Force.”23 By the time this report appeared, however, Air Force ambitions had been significantly tempered by both the president and the new managers of the Department of Defense.
Webb’s conduct with respect to the Mercury-Atlas test flight had demonstrated to the Air Force that he was not easily intimidated. Bolstered by this success, Webb and other top NASA officials embarked on a conscious campaign to establish close working relationships with the new civilian leadership of the Department of Defense. This was an attempt, reported Robert Seamans, to “so handle ourselves that, rather than have things pull further apart, the wounds got healed and things got pulled together.”24 Webb did not know well Kennedy’s hard charging and intellectually brilliant secretary of defense, Robert McNamara (and the two apparently did not get along from the start of their relationship), but he knew McNamara’s number two person, deputy secretary of defense Roswell Gilpatric, from their time together in the Truman administration. Gilpatric says that one of the reasons he was named McNamara’s deputy was “to work with NASA and Webb” and “to help avoid conflicts between DOD and NASA.” He also noted that McNamara “was impatient with Webb” and “felt that he talked too much.”25