NASA and DOD Present Their Views
Johnson lost little time in getting started with his review. At 10:30 p. m. on April 20, he called Welsh and asked him to arrange a meeting with NASA administrator Webb and “such other NASA people as NASA requires” for 9:30 a. m. on April 22, a Saturday, to outline “what now needs to be done in the space program, what it would cost, and whether more funds are required at this time (FY1962).” A similar meeting with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was set up for later the same day; the two organizations were told not to coordinate their views in advance of meeting separately with the vice president.5
Hugh Dryden accompanied Webb to the meeting with the vice president and presented the NASA response to the questions in the president’s April 20 memorandum. Dryden said that there was “no chance of beating the Soviets in putting a multi-manned laboratory in space since flights already accomplished by the Russians have demonstrated that they have this capability.” He told Johnson “with a determined effort of the United States, there is a chance to beat the Russians in accomplishing a manned circumnavigation of the moon,” perhaps by 1966. He added, “there is a chance for the U. S. to be the first to land a man on the moon and return him to earth if a determined national effort is made.” Dryden thought it “doubtful” that the
Russians had a meaningful head start on a manned lunar landing program and “because of the distinct superiority of U. S. industrial capacity, engineering, and scientific know-how. . . the U. S. may be able to overcome the lead the Soviets might have up to now.” A first landing might be possible in 1967 “with an accelerated U. S. effort.” Other areas in which the United States might be first included “returning a sample of the material from the moon surface to the earth in 1964” and “developing communications satellites,” which, “although not as dramatic as manned flight,” would have benefits to people throughout the world. NASA at this point in the review estimated the cost of an accelerated effort in all areas over the period through 1970 as $33.7 billion, an increase of $11.4 billion over its then-current ten-year plan.6 Although the potentials of a lunar landing program had been discussed with President Kennedy in the April 14 cabinet room meeting, Dryden’s report was likely the first time that Lyndon Johnson had heard a top-level analysis of what it would take to surpass the Soviet lead in human space flight. Although others, especially Wernher von Braun, are often credited with being first to propose a lunar landing to the White House as the “space program which promises dramatic results in which we could win,” it seems that honor should go to Hugh Dryden, who had also raised the lunar landing possibility at the April 14 cabinet room meeting with President Kennedy.
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s response to Vice President Johnson drew heavily on material provided by John Rubel, deputy director of Defense Research and Engineering, who was the top space official within the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Rubel was an engineer who had worked for Hughes Aircraft before coming to Washington during the Eisenhower administration and who had strong views on how best to organize the national space effort. Rather than provide responses to the questions in President Kennedy’s April 20 memorandum, McNamara articulated a particular philosophy with respect to space. He remarked that “all large scale space programs require the mobilization of resources on a national scale. They require the development and successful application of the most advanced technologies. Dramatic achievements in space, therefore, symbolize the technological power and organizing capacity of a nation.” For these reasons, “major achievements in space contribute to national prestige” and “constitute a major element in the international competition between the Soviet system and our own.” (These words, most likely written by John Rubel, would reappear in a May 8 memorandum to the vice president recommending the lunar landing goal.) “Because of their national importance and their national scope,” McNamara added, “it is essential that our space efforts be well planned. It is essential that they be well managed.” Effective management was needed so that “engineering resources be focused and not spread too thin,” for “our national posture may be worsened rather than improved if added expenditures result in the still greater dispersal of scientific, engineering and managerial talent.” McNamara called for an orderly but accelerated program to close the booster gap. With respect to various Department of Defense space programs, he recommended no budget increases above those that had already been approved by the White House the previous month.7