"Part of the Battle along the Fluid Front of the Cold War"
The thirty-page report, classified “Secret,” was titled “Recommendations for Our National Space Program: Changes, Policies, Goals.”10 It called for an additional $686 million for the space program above the increases that President Kennedy had already approved in March; all but $137 million of that amount was for NASA. In particular, “to achieve the goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him to earth in the latter part of the current decade requires immediate initiation of an accelerated program of spacecraft development”; the report called for adding $210.5 million dollars for developing the Apollo spacecraft. At the time in mid-1960 when it was first identified publicly as the project to follow Project Mercury, the objective of
Project Apollo had been to support a three-person crew either in Earth orbit or on a circumlunar flight; now the Project Apollo was to carry Americans to a lunar landing. An additional $112.5 million was requested to allow NASA to accelerate development of the large F-1 liquid-fueled rocket engine and related facilities; $62 million was requested for DOD to develop a large solid propellant rocket motor in parallel to F-1 development. Another $15 million was allocated to DOD for a back up to the Centaur upper rocket stage that NASA was developing. Other increases included an additional $50 million to NASA for communication satellites; $75 million for meteorological satellites, $22 million of that amount for NASA and $53 million for the Weather Bureau; and $30 million for nuclear rocket development, $23 million for NASA and $7 million for the Atomic Energy Commission.
The specifics of what programs would receive additional funding was NASA’s primary input into the report; the second section was based on John Rubel’s draft material. That section argued that “projects in space may be undertaken for any one of four principal reasons.” These included “gaining scientific knowledge,” “commercial or chiefly civilian value,” “potential military value,” and “national prestige.” The report noted that the United States was not trailing the Soviet Union in the first three categories, but that “the Soviets lead in space spectaculars which bestow great prestige.” The central argument of the report was:
All large scale space projects require the mobilization of resources on a national scale. They require the development and successful application of the most advanced technologies. They call for skillful management, centralized control and unflagging pursuit of long-range goals. Dramatic achievements in space, therefore, symbolize the technological power and organizing capacity of a nation.
It is for reasons such as these that major achievements in space contribute to national prestige. Major successes, such as orbiting a man as the Soviets have just done, lend national prestige even though the scientific, commercial or military value of the undertaking may by ordinary standards be marginal or economically unjustified.
The nation needs to make a positive decision to pursue space projects aimed at enhancing national prestige. Our attainments are a major element in the international competition between the Soviet system and our own. The nonmilitary, non-commercial, non-scientific but “civilian” projects such as lunar and planetary exploration are, in this sense, part of the battle along the fluid front of the Cold War.
In order to undertake such projects, suggested the report, “what was needed were management mechanisms capable of centralized direction and control.” It was “particularly vital” that the United States avoid the “error of spreading ourselves too thin.” The report analyzed the results of the rapid build-up of defense capabilities in the 1950s, suggesting that “we have overencouraged the development of entrepreneurs and the proliferation of new enterprises.” While the report did not suggest that the United States should “apply Soviet type restrictions and controls,” it said that “our American system can be and must be better utilized in the future.” It added that “we must stress performance, not embellishment. We must insist from the top down, that, as the Russians say, ‘the better is the enemy of the good.’ ”
The final section of the report spelled out the specific new space goals that were being recommended. They included the following:
• “Manned Lunar Exploration”: Webb and McNamara recommended “that our National Space Plan include the objective of manned lunar exploration before the end of this decade. . . The orbiting of machines is not the same as the orbiting or landing of a man. It is man, not merely machines, that captures the imagination of the world.” The report noted that there was no information about Soviet plans for a similar program, but suggested “even if the Soviets get there first, as they may, and as some think they will, it is better for us to get there second than not at all.”
• “Worldwide Operational Satellite Communication Capability”: Webb and McNamara noted that while “advances in technology will make it possible to set up an operational satellite-based telecommunications capability within a few years,” it was “too early to be sure what kind of capability we should create.” Even so, they were “confident that an operational satellite capability can have far reaching applications and implications for the U. S.”
• “Worldwide Operational Satellite Weather Prediction System”: Such a system, Webb and McNamara suggested, “would be of great value to people in every country, to public and private interests in the U. S., and to our military forces.”
• “Scientific Investigation”: Webb and McNamara suggested that it was “essential that the national space sciences program be broad and comprehensive both in content and in participation by the scientific community of the world.”
• “Large Scale Boosters for Potential Military Use”: Webb and McNamara noted that while “the military potential and implications” of space technology were “largely unknown. . . without the capacity to place large payloads reliably into orbit, our nation will not be able to exploit whatever military potential unfolds in space.”
The Webb-McNamara report was necessarily vague with respect to whether the Soviet Union was already embarked on a lunar landing program. It noted that while the United States was “uncertain of Soviet intentions, plans, or status,” the Soviet Union had announced a lunar landing as a “major objective of their program” and that the Soviet Union “may have begun to plan for such an effort years ago” and “may have undertaken important first steps which we have not begun.” The memorandum suggested that Soviet successes in space were the result of “long-range planning” and that the slow pace and disappointments in the U. S. space effort “are symptoms of the lack of adequate national planning and guidance for the long pull.” It concluded that “even if the Soviets get there [to the Moon] first. . . it is better for us to get there second than not at all. . . If we fail to accept this challenge it may be interpreted as a lack of national vigor and capacity to respond.” These words were certain to resonate with President Kennedy.