An Initial NASA-DOD Agreement

The first result of this “peace-making” effort was a February 23 agreement signed by Webb and Gilpatric, confirming the desirability of a single national launch vehicle program and indicating that neither NASA nor DOD would begin the development of a new space launcher without the written acknowl­edgment of such a step from the other agency. On February 24, Webb and Dryden met with McNamara, Gilpatric, and director of defense research and engineering Herbert York, an Eisenhower holdover. The group agreed that Webb and Gilpatric would meet “from time to time for lunch and would bring others as needed” as a way to coordinate NASA and DOD space activi­ties at the top level. They agreed on the need for a review in “about four weeks” from the date of the meeting to determine the need for accelerat­ing the existing space program; there was “a general feeling that we should accelerate the booster program.” There was discussion of a possible omnibus bill to cover all space activities in both NASA and DOD (an idea which was never implemented). Writing to budget director David Bell a few days later, Webb described the February 24 meeting as “splendid.”26

Webb’s biographer W. Henry Lambright suggests that NASA-DOD agreement was possible because Robert McNamara was already “trying to constrain the expansionist tendencies of the services” and wanted to use NASA “as a check on the air force.” In addition, both McNamara and Webb recognized that “if they failed to settle differences at the NASA-DOD level, Lyndon Johnson would have the opportunity to stake out a stronger claim for coordinating them through the National Aeronautics and Space Council.” Webb saw this period as part of a process in which NASA and the DOD were “like two strange animals. . . sparring around, smelling each other, seeing what could be done, testing each other out.”27

Shortly after taking office, McNamara had requested a review examining whether the Wiesner Task Force criticism of a “fractionated military space program” was valid. Based on this review and conversations within DOD, McNamara decided to centralize management of Department of Defense space efforts in the Air Force, and on March 6 issued a directive to that effect.28 This was not, however, exactly the outcome that the Air Force had hoped for, given the preceding NASA-DOD agreements; from McNamara’s perspective, centralizing space activity in one organization made it easier for him to exercise tighter control over that activity.