Apollo under Pressure

A combination of factors—the increasing costs of Apollo, emerging Congressional opposition to those rapid increases, growing critiques of Apollo from leaders of the scientific and liberal communities, the uncer­tainty of whether the Soviet Union was in fact racing the United States to the Moon, and suggestions, coming primarily from the Republican opposi­tion, that there needed to be additional emphasis on the national security uses of space—led to President Kennedy’s asking several times during 1963 whether the original justifications for keeping Project Apollo on its planned schedule—and indeed, for the project itself—were still valid. In addition, the successful outcome of the Cuban missile crisis, the easing of tensions over Berlin, the signing of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, and Kennedy’s over­all desire to reach out to the Soviet Union with a new “strategy of peace” may have suggested to Kennedy that demonstrating U. S. technological and managerial superiority vis-a-vis the Soviet Union through a spectacular space achievement had lost some of its urgency.

President Kennedy’s rationale regarding the reasons why he had decided to accelerate the U. S. space program matured in the course of 1963. In November 1962 he had disagreed with James Webb, who had argued that the goal of the acceleration was preeminence in all areas of space activity; in response, Kennedy had insisted that “everything we do ought really to be tied to getting on the Moon ahead of the Russians,” and that he was “not that interested” in being the leader in other areas of space activity. Webb won his point; from mid-1963 on, Kennedy justified the fast-paced space pro­gram primarily in terms of its overall contribution to national power rather than as a race to the Moon. For example, in his July 17 press conference following reports that the Soviet Union did not in fact have a lunar land­ing program, Kennedy said: “The point of the matter always has been not only of our excitement or interest in being on the moon, but the capacity to dominate space, which would be demonstrated by a moon flight, I believe is essential to the United States as a leading free world power. That is why I

am interested in it and that is why I think we should continue.” Again in his October 31 press conference, Kennedy had said: “In my opinion the space program we have is essential to the security of the United States, because as I have said many times before it is not a question of going to the moon. It is a question of having the competence to master this environment.”1